How Guru Shakyamuni Buddha Guides Sentient Beings

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #095)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at Kopan Course No. 15, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in November 1982. This is an excerpt from Section Seven of the course. Lightly edited by Sandra Smith.

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Painted by Jane Seidlitz.

The mighty ones, the buddhas, like Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, have completely renounced the self and only cherish others through generating great compassion for all sentient beings and training the mind in loving kindness. For three countless great eons, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha made charity of his own life to others numberless times and with much hardship, in order for them to have temporal happiness and by that to make the Dharma connection.

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha himself dedicated the merit, praying that those sentient beings—humans, spirits or wild animals—to whom he gave his holy body as charity, would be reborn as human beings and become his disciples, so that he could reveal the holy Dharma to them. Like this, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha led uncountable numbers of sentient beings into enlightenment, into temporal and ultimate happiness. After bringing them into temporal happiness, from there he led them to ultimate happiness.

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha followed the bodhisattva’s path by accumulating extensive merit and doing purification for three countless great eons, with much hardship. He brought benefit to uncountable numbers of sentient beings not only while he was a bodhisattva, but also after he become enlightened. With bodhicitta, renouncing the self and cherishing others, he finished the work of accumulating the two types of merit—the merit of fortune and the merit of wisdom. Through the remedy, the path, he completely removed all obscurations and achieved omniscience, perfect power. In the past, an uncountable number of sentient beings were guided and led from the lower realms into the realms of the happy transmigrating beings, and from there, he led them to nirvana and enlightenment. Even now, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is teaching and guiding uncountable numbers of sentient beings from the lower realms to the bodies of the happy transmigrating beings. He guides them and brings them to enlightenment.

Even though present sentient beings can’t see Guru Shakyamuni Buddha himself in that aspect of Buddha, he is guiding us by appearing in various forms—as a vajra guru giving initiations or as an abbot granting ordination. He may appear as a virtuous teacher giving oral transmissions and commentaries, or teaching the alphabet. He may appear in the form of a monk or a layperson, in the form of a king, a minister or a crazy person, in the form of a spirit, a beggar or even a prostitute. He may appear in the form of a person having great attachment or in the form of a person showing the aspect of great anger, or even in the form of an animal. He may appear in various forms and aspects. Even to guide one sentient being at different times, according to the level of that being’s mind, he will appear in different forms. He guides sentient beings in whatever way fits them. He reveals the teachings to those whose minds are suitable and who have reached the level where the teachings can be revealed to them.

There are so many stories in Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s biography about his qualities and powers, and his skillful methods, guiding sentient beings on the path of refuge. In the commentaries on refuge, in the teachings of the graduated path to enlightenment and in the various texts of the sutra teachings, there are so many stories about Guru Shakyamuni Buddha manifesting in different forms to guide sentient beings. In the commentaries and teachings on how to devote oneself to the guru, there are so many explanations, so many stories. There are quotations by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha himself saying, “I will manifest in this and that form,” and also actual stories. These are very useful and effective for the mind to quickly generate the realization of refuge, and to see the guru as the essence of the Buddha; the realization of the guru yoga meditation.

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s life stories are extensively explained in the sutra teachings. In the past, Guru Shakyamuni was a bodhisattva. He was a wheel-turning king with the holy name “The Rim of the Spoke.” I think his father was Brahma (Brahma maybe is not right) and a sage, the Atom of the Ocean. (I think that is the name, I am not a hundred percent sure). That bodhisattva, the wheel-turning king, had a thousand sons. Each of these sons made prayers in front of the buddha, Rinchen Nyingpo, to guide sentient beings in the future during different time periods in the various worlds of sentient beings. Each of the bodhisattva’s sons made prayers in front of the buddha, Rinchen Nyingpo, in order to be able to subdue sentient beings. Each one pointed to a different world of sentient beings as their chosen object to be subdued. Praying in front of Rinchen Nyingpo, they made vows to subdue and to do the works for sentient beings.

This era of the hundred years’ age, this degenerate time when the five degenerations are flourishing, are exploding—this era was left out. The sentient beings who are living during this time period—the present degenerated sentient beings—were left out. No one chose them except Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, in his past life as the bodhisattva, the wheel-turning king with the name “The Rim of the Spoke.” All the others chose sentient beings of other eras. The sentient beings of this era, the time of the hundred years’ age, were left out because it is very difficult to subdue them. Their minds are so ignorant and vicious that it is extremely difficult to subdue them and to do the works for these sentient beings.

The other bodhisattvas didn’t point to them, as they were unable to accept the work of subduing these sentient beings. But Guru Shakyamuni Buddha in his past life as a bodhisattva, the wheel-turning king, saw that the sentient beings of the era when the five degenerations were extremely flourishing were left out. Those sentient beings who are extremely difficult to subdue were left out. So he made five hundred prayers with an incredibly brave and altruistic will, with the incredibly brave mind of bodhicitta renouncing the self and cherishing others. He felt that he couldn’t stand, couldn’t bear the suffering of these beings. He felt it to be unbearable. So he made five hundred prayers in front of the Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo, praying, “When this hundred years’ age comes, when the extremely degenerated era happens, may those sentient beings who are extremely difficult to subdue, be subdued by me.” He made five hundred prayers like this.