The Kindness of the Guru

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Bodhgaya, India (Archive #477)

A teaching by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche to mark the occasion of Ösel Hita's fifth birthday.

This teaching was given under the bodhi tree at the Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya, on February 12, 1990.

To read more about Ösel Hita, who is recognized as the incarnation of FPMT's founder, Lama Thubten Yeshe, visit this FPMT web page.

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the veranda at Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala, India, 1973. From the collection of Adele Hulse.

Someone asked for some explanation about guru devotion. I thought to talk just on the last part, the kindness of the guru. Otherwise, it might take a long time, and it’s cold and we’re being eaten by mosquitoes, so there might be nothing left, no bodies to sleep tonight or go to the teachings tomorrow.

I will speak briefly about the kindness of the guru, but first I will mention a short quotation from Padmasambhava.

If one does not recognize the guru as Buddha, one’s mind cannot be liberated by the blessing. Therefore, one should reflect upon the qualities of the guru and make request to him.

This quotation explains why there is need of a guru. It is saying that if one does not recognize, or realize, that the guru is Buddha, there won’t be the devotion that sees that the guru is Buddha, having ceased all faults and perfected all qualities; and without this guru devotion, no blessings will enter one’s heart. Without the devotion, there is no cause of blessings. And without blessings, there is no change in the mind; there is no way to generate the path within one’s mind and to transform the mind into the graduated path to enlightenment. Just as a seed cannot produce a sprout without water, the mind cannot be transformed and generate the path without blessings. Therefore, there is no way that one’s mental continuum can be liberated from the two obscurations, the disturbing-thought obscuration and the obscuration to achieving the fully knowing mind.

Now, what makes it possible to receive the blessings of the guru? As Padmasambhava says next, we need to “reflect upon the qualities.” In other words, if we look at the side of the guru’s qualities, the thought of the guru’s faults will be stopped. The more we reflect on the side of the guru’s qualities, the less thought we will have of their faults. Reflecting on the qualities helps to stop the arising of the thought of faults. This is the psychological method that enables the disciple to succeed in all their wishes for happiness.

Next, make request to the guru. We make request to the guru by reciting mantras, such as the migtsema, or requesting prayers to the lineage lamas, such as the one in Jorchö. We request the guru to pacify all the obstacles, all the obscurations, and to generate all the realizations, to achieve the two kayas.

In regard to correctly devoting ourselves to the virtuous friend, there are two types, with thought and with action. In regard to devoting with thought, the Fifth Dalai Lama gave some brief, practical advice. I often use this quotation. “One should understand that all one’s own faults appear in the actions of the guru.” In other words, our own delusions, the faults of our three doors, appear in the guru’s actions. To our hallucinated mind, which apprehends the object in the wrong way, our own faults appear in the actions of the guru. “It is definite that one’s own heart is rotten. By realizing it is one’s own fault, abandon it as poison.”

What we should abandon is the hallucinated mind, the thought of faults, but do we abandon this? As I mentioned just before, we do this by constantly training our mind, by constantly keeping the awareness, the faith, that the guru is Buddha. The purpose of doing this is for the disciple’s own sake, for our own sake, for our own development of mind, and not for the sake of the virtuous friend. It is for our own happiness in this life and in future lives, for all the happiness, including enlightenment. Practicing awareness of this guru yoga, that the guru is Buddha, free from all faults and complete in all qualities, is for our own sake. Once one has established Dharma contact with a guru and formed a guru-disciple relationship, one should constantly, single-pointedly keep the mind in this guru yoga.

When you think of Buddha—the deities in sadhanas, for example—remember that they are manifestations of your guru; and when you see, hear, or remember your gurus, remember that they are Buddha. As His Holiness Zong Rinpoche used to explain, when you think of Shakyamuni Buddha, if you think of the guru, you receive greater blessing and by visualizing the guru in the aspect of Buddha, you receive blessing more quickly. When you think of buddhas and are naturally aware that they are the guru and when you see, hear, or remember your guru and are naturally aware that they are Buddha, at that time you have the realization of guru devotion.

During the time when you are practicing guru devotion, the thought of faults does not arise.

And the guru is the most powerful among the holy objects, starting from the parents of this life. And that person becomes the most powerful object for you as soon as Dharma contact has been established, as soon as a guru-disciple relationship has been established through receiving teachings from them. It is like the meeting of two atoms to produce nuclear power, which can be used to destroy, as in an atomic bomb, but which can also be used for the survival and happiness of human beings. Among all the holy objects, the guru—who becomes your guru through the establishment of Dharma contact—is the most powerful object for you. Therefore, the arising of even a small thought of faults brings a degeneration of your mind, and having devotion makes it easier to experience the path.

Also, during the time when your mind is filled with devotion, there is tranquility, peace of mind. On the other hand, the nature of your mind is kind of empty when you do not devote yourself correctly to the virtuous friend, but are instead filled with thoughts of faults, heresy, anger and so forth, and you see them as just ordinary person. At that time, there is not that happiness, that pleasant feeling, that richness that you feel when there is devotion in your mind.

Since the guru is the most powerful object, even a small mistake made in relation to the guru becomes the greatest obstacle to developing your mind in the path to enlightenment, the greatest obstacle to achieving your own happiness from this life up to enlightenment.

This is why Lama Tsongkhapa set up the meditation subject of guru devotion before the beginning of the lam-rim, which starts with perfect human rebirth. It was done by knowing its importance in generating successfully the practice of the path. This is the reason.

The need to check, or analyze, the guru is emphasized in the teachings. Panchen Lama Chökyi Gyaltsen said, “If you cherish yourself, you should not regard whoever comes along as a guru who reveals Dharma, like a dog seeking food in the street; you should follow a guru after examining them well.” Take the example of Lama Atisha when he went to Indonesia to meet Lama Serlingpa. He traveled for months on a boat and faced many dangers. After he reached Indonesia, however, he didn’t go immediately to see Lama Serlingpa, even though Lama Serlingpa was very well known. Lama Atisha rested, then spent one or two days with the disciples of Lama Serlingpa, asking them about Lama Serlingpa’s practices and so forth. He then took received from Lama Serlingpa the complete teachings on bodhicitta for twelve years and generated bodhicitta.

Although many different qualities are mentioned in the texts, the simplest way of expressing it is to say that the guru should at least be one who emphasizes cherishing others. This gives the disciple the possibility of achieving enlightenment through generating bodhicitta, the altruistic wish to benefit others. If not that, then the guru should emphasize liberation from samsara; if not that, then the lowest qualification is that the guru should emphasize more preparation for the happiness of future lives than the happiness of this life, because this allows the disciple to create the causes for happiness in future lives. In this way the disciple won’t waste their life being completely caught up in meaningless works for the happiness of this life. If the guru is someone who emphasizes morality, protecting karma, the disciple is then able to achieve temporary and ultimate happiness.

In regard to meditation on the kindness of the guru, the first outline is that the guru is kinder than the buddhas; the second kindness is in having taught Dharma; the third is in blessing the mind; and the fourth is in inspiring the disciple to practice Dharma by giving material gifts, such as food, clothing and so forth.

I will mention a little about the guru being kinder than the buddhas. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha accumulated merit for three countless great eons. In the first countless great eon he made offerings to 75,000 buddhas, such as the Buddha ___________. In the second countless great eon, from the Buddha [Lekdzä] up to Buddha [Ompo Gyaltsen], he made offerings to 76,000 buddhas. In the third countless great eon, from Buddha [Marmedzä] to Buddha Kashyapa, he made offerings to 77,000 Buddhas. This is according to the general vehicle, but specifically according to the Mahayana, as explained in various sutras, such as [dawa dumä do], [pag po chä] and __________, Buddha made offerings to many trillions of buddhas. I don’t know the exact number, but the Tibetan term means many trillions. Many buddhas appeared, but we were unable to be subdued by them. You, who were unable to be subdued by all those previous buddhas, are now being guided by this present guru.

Today is the birthday of Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche, the incarnation of Lama, who is incomparably kind, kinder than all the buddhas of the three times. There is no doubt about this for those who had direct Dharma contact with Lama, but even for those who have had contact through the establishment of Dharma centers. First of all, the Dharma wisdom that we now have, which enables us to know what is right and wrong and which gives us that much freedom to be free from suffering and to achieve temporary and ultimate happiness, liberation and enlightenment, all came from Lama, from Lama’s kindness. Our Dharma wisdom, our understanding of lam-rim, came from Lama. We don’t need to talk about bodhicitta, emptiness or tantra, just about the subject of karma or about knowing how to make life meaningful, about the three great meanings of life. All the understanding, all the qualities, all the wisdom, that we have, all the various practices that we do and the merit we have accumulated from them, and our ability to eliminate our faults, the cause of suffering, were completely given to us by Lama. They are Lama’s actions.

Even the Dharma that we teach other sentient beings to guide them to the happiness of this life and of future lives, to liberation, and to enlightenment, that we are able to benefit others temporarily and ultimately by revealing Dharma to them and leading them to create the unmistaken causes of happiness, that we are able to benefit others and accumulate so much merit is all by the kindness of Lama. What we are doing is also Lama’s action. Not only our scriptural understanding and our explaining of Dharma, but our establishing and running of Dharma centers is dependent on Lama’s kindness.

As mentioned generally in the lam-rim outline and especially in tantra, the guru is the doer of all the Buddhas’ actions. And Sangye Yeshe explains that before the guru there is no Buddha. What is the guru? The transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness, the primordial mind, what in the request verses in Lama Chöpa is called “the first savior” [dang-pöi gön-la]. This is what guru means. When we say or hear “guru,” we should be aware of this, the absolute guru, the dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness. Before this there are no buddhas; all the buddhas are manifestations of this. The whole Lama Chöpa is practiced on the basis of this one mind. From beginning to end, if you analyze the meaning of the prayers, they are all practiced on the basis of this meditation that the guru is the doer of all the buddhas’ actions. This means that the doer of the actions of the buddhas has to come from the dharmakaya. The whole Lama Chöpa is practiced on the basis of the understanding that the guru is all the buddhas.

Through training our mind in guru devotion, when we receive the blessings, we actually see it that way, we realize it. If that were not possible, the realization would be a wrong conception. A person who has not realized guru devotion does not see it that way, but anyone who has trained their mind and attained the realization actually sees it that way.

Therefore, all the gurus of the past, present and future are one, because they are all manifestations of the [dang-pöi gön-la], the primordial savior, the transcendental wisdom of bliss and voidness, the dharmakaya. So, even our past-life gurus are also Lama Yeshe. We created the causes of our perfect human rebirth by the kindness of Lama; in our past life we created the causes for all the necessary conditions that we have in this life. Therefore, all our past, present and future happiness came from each of our gurus. We have to realize that they are only one.

We should feel Lama’s kindness. Even those who didn’t have direct Dharma contact with Lama have met Dharma at the centers established by Lama. Since the conditions were arranged by Lama, you received the opportunity to practice Dharma indirectly from Lama, either through Lama’s disciples or through the other teachers who teach at Dharma centers established by Lama.

In relation to this fortunate eon, Buddha Krakucchanda descended in the 80,000 eons, Buddha Kanakamuni descended in the 40,000 eons, and Buddha Kashyapa in the 20,000 eons. Even though these Buddhas descended, revealed Dharma, and enlightened many sentient beings, we were left out, we were still not subdued by them. Think, “How kind of my present guru to guide me.” Those who have Dharma connection with Lama Yeshe should relate this Lama.

In this way, the guru is kinder than all those other numberless buddhas. As mentioned in Lama Chöpa, “I make request to you, O object of refuge, the compassionate one who reveals exactly the pure path of Those Gone to Bliss to the migratory beings, who are so evil and so difficult to subdue that they were not subdued even by the countless buddhas who have descended.” [Verse 46]

Now the second outline. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the fourth founder, descended, revealed the teachings, and enlightened many sentient beings. And there appeared the Seven Patriarchs, the hearer-listener Kashyapa, Ananda, and so forth. The arhat ?Upagupta made a hole in the ground, eighteen cubits long and sixteen cubits deep. Each time one of Upagupta’s disciples became an arhat, he put one stick in the hole. In this way the hole became completely filled with sticks. There were 1,800,000 of his disciples who directly perceived emptiness. However, we were unable to be subdued by them.

There also appeared the Six Ornaments, such pandits as Nagarjuna, Asanga, and so forth, who led so many sentient beings to enlightenment, but you were unable to be subdued by them.

Then, during the early spread of the teachings in Tibet by Padmasambhava, the bodhisattva, and the Dharma King of Tibet, there were twenty-five disciples who achieved enlightenment in one lifetime. At Thag Yerpa, a holy place near Lhasa, there appeared eight mahasiddhas, Nyingma yogis who practiced secret mantra. But you were not subdued by them.

Think, “It is extremely kind that even though I have been left out and could not be subdued even by these yogis in Tibet, I am now guided by my present gurus.”

Lama Atisha then appeared, and then many Kadampa geshes, Lama Atisha’s disciples, revealed Dharma and led so many sentient beings on the path to enlightenment, but you were not subdued by them.

The five Sakya lamas, Kunga Nyingpo and so forth, also appeared; they led so many sentient beings to enlightenment, but you were not subdued by them.

Marpa, Milarepa and so many Kagyu lamas appeared. Just among Milarepa’s disciples twenty-eight achieved enlightenment and thousands achieved the clear light. You were not subdued by them.

Lama Tsongkhapa then appeared and founded the New Kadampa tradition; he revealed the teachings and led so many sentient beings to enlightenment, as did many of Lama Tsongkhapa’s disciples. But you were not subdued even by them; you were completely left out.

This shows how unsubdued your mind has been. You have been left aside, like the bone left aside when you eat meat. Like the discarded bone, you have been unable to be subdued. So think, “How extremely kind these gurus are to guide me.”

This is how the guru is kinder than even Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. As Lama Chöpa says, “The sun of the teaching of Buddha is setting at this time, but you, O compassionate savior, being very close to us, show the Buddha’s actions to the many migratory beings who have no refuge-protector.” [Verse 47] In this way the guru is kinder than the present founder, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.

In regard to the kindness of the guru in revealing the teachings, Panchen Losang Gyaltsen says, Even if I offer everything—my body, life and possessions—for as many eons as the number of syllables of Dharma that I have been taught, there is no way I could repay the kindness of you, the Lord, Je Chökyi.” “Lord” has much meaning in relation to the graduated path of the three capable beings and in tantra, it means one who has achieved dharmakaya.

Use these words to reflect on and to realize the kindness of Lama Yeshe. If you have not received teachings from Lama, relate the words to other gurus.

As Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says in the lam-rim, meditators who generate the great path of merit see what they used to see as statues in nirmanakaya form and when they become Mahayana arya beings—in other words, bodhisattvas on the first bhumi—they see the statues in sambhogakaya aspect. In a similar way, as meditators develop their minds, they can see the guru. We see the statues here just as painted stone; they are simply statues, and we don’t see them as something alive that can speak. However, great yogis who have purified their karma and have pure minds, see them as actual living deities. For example, when Lama Atisha was circumambulating the Bodhgaya stupa before going to Indonesia, Tara and the other statues, and even the paintings on the walls, spoke to Lama Atisha. They told him, “If you want to achieve enlightenment, practice bodhicitta.” Many of them spoke to him and advised him to practice bodhicitta.

How things appear to us is completely determined by our own level of mind. In accordance with different levels of mind, there are different worlds, different views. We should be aware of this and not think that the view we have, what we see, is the only way the objects; we should not think that this is how the people, place, statues and so forth actually exist. There are different views. The same object can appear in different ways, and we should be aware that there are different views. This awareness is very helpful in dealing with problems in our daily life, in controlling and developing our mind, in controlling our delusions, especially in controlling the thought of faults in guru yoga practice. But it is helpful even in dealing with others in our daily life. We need to be aware not only that the same object at the same time can appear differently to other people but that things will appear differently to our own mind as our mind develops. The quality of objects will become more pure.

With a pure mind there is pure appearance; with an impure mind there is impure appearance. You should realize that the appearance has to come from your own mind; you shouldn’t expect it to come only from the side of the object. Thinking this becomes an obstacle. Living your everyday life with the understanding that pure appearance has to come from your own mind helps not only in guru yoga practice but in many other cases.

The example that I often mention is that of the fully ordained monk, Lekpai Karma. Even though Guru Shakyamuni Buddha had become an enlightened being an inconceivable number of eons before, the Hindus saw him only as an ordinary monk; they didn’t even see the beams, one arm span in length, radiating from his holy body. They just saw a very simple monk. Lekpai Karma, who served Buddha for twenty-two years, did not devote himself to Buddha as a virtuous friend. He did not think he was an enlightened being, but only looked at him as having faults. During those twenty-two years, he did not find any qualities in Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. As he looked at Buddha as having only faults, he saw only faults. In the same way, enlightenment has to come from our own mind. Our own mind has to create enlightenment.

In his lam-rim teachings Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s says: Even if your teacher in this present life is very vicious and cruel and even if he acts very evil toward you, the disciple, if you correctly devote yourself to him as Maitreya Buddha or as Manjushri, you create the karma to actually meet gurus in your future lives who are like Maitreya Buddha and Manjushri. Otherwise, if you don’t act like this, you will experience the last of the eight shortcomings: in all lifetimes you will lack a virtuous friend. You will never meet a virtuous friend, someone to guide you to liberation and to enlightenment. Endlessly you will have to wander in samsara and experience suffering.

So, those who directly or indirectly received his help to practice Dharma, please remember the kindness of Lama, and please also remember his incredible kindness in again reincarnating to help us, to guide us. Lama has not left us out; he has not given up on us, but has again reincarnated. He has taken birth in a form very beneficial to the world in terms of opening peoples’ minds, especially of those sentient beings whose Dharma wisdom is blind. For those whose minds are very closed, he will open their wisdom eye to reincarnation, to liberation, to enlightenment, to the path. Remember especially his kindness in having reincarnated in a most beneficial form to guide us again.

Please dedicate as mentioned in the prayer, which has a very rich meaning. The prayer mentions showing all qualities and doing the most beneficial actions.

[Rinpoche recites Ösel’s long-life prayer in English.]

Practice guru yoga by being aware that Lama Tenzin Ösel, Lama Yeshe in this new form, is the embodiment of all the objects of refuge, of all the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, then do the meditation practice.