THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GURU IN VAJRAYANA BUDDHISM
As has been noted here previously, there is a feeling amongst a certain segment of Western Vajrayana practitioners who feel that devotion to the guru is simply Lamaism, not Buddhism, that it is wrong to venerate another person so much as it becomes all about the teacher and is not Buddhism.
In a 1998 interview with Chagdud Khadro, wife to His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (1930-2002), teacher of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, she speaks about her life history with HE Chagdud Rinpoche, discussing many topics including her personal journey, her name given by His Eminence himself, and what that meant to her, the many blessings of meeting great Lamas, the definition of Sangha and Mandala, and lastly her perspective on Dharma in the West and Guru Yoga.
“From the bottom of my heart, I hope every Buddhist practitioner finds the teachers with whom he or she has a karmic connection. Of course, there are some false teachers in the Dharma and some mishaps in teacher-student relationships. This means we should thoroughly explore our connection with a teacher before making a full commitment, not that we should allow our fears to cut us off from avenues to liberation. Those who deny the primary importance of a teacher can only be ignorant of what an authentic teacher-student relationship is. Through guru yoga, intellectual understanding evolves into meditative realization, and transitory meditative experiences evolve into recognition of mind’s absolute nature. Along that trajectory faith blossoms. We see that the greatest lamas demonstrate the greatest devotion to their gurus.”
It is this special relationship with the guru that makes Vajrayana known as the speedy path to enlightenment. If a student wholeheartedly supplicates a guru who has gone beyond dualism, then he or she can achieve the very same state in an instant.
His Eminence Chagdud Rinpoche often spoke about the many women who have achieved profound spiritual realization over lifetimes through dedicated practice and mind training. He often spoke about the life stories of Machik Labdron, Yeshe Tsogyal, Mandarava, and his own mother, Delog Dawa Drolma. He would discuss with his students, to include his wife, especially in those early years of their marriage, that women and men alike, “…anyone who diligently exerts enthusiastic and one-pointed effort can attain enlightenment.” In an intimate teaching that he gave in 1997, his last visit to the United States, His Eminence offered spiritual advice focusing his own guru yoga and devotion, and the profound impact his teacher’s advice had on his life.
Many great Buddhist Masters have discussed how vast the teachings of the Buddha are, and in fact, so vast that a person probably could not even read them all in one lifetime, much less accomplish them. But in Vajrayana, it is not necessary to do all that. The entire path can be accomplished in less time than it takes to read the sutras. In fact, it can be achieved in a single instant because of the relationship with the guru. Why would anyone put their faith in an ordinary samsaric being when such a relationship is possible?
In the interview with Chagdud Khadro, she eloquently described the story of when Padmasambhava departed for Ngayab, leaving Yeshe Tsogyal behind to hide treasure text and continue her dharma activities on earth, and how Yeshe Tsogyal wept, screeching and crying out to him as he departed into the sky. She was completely grief-stricken. Guru Padmasambhava made a bequest to Yeshe Tsogyal three times before complete confidence of absolute guru yoga rose in her heart, “…and she realizes the illusion of being together or apart from the teacher. But also, by the spontaneous wisdom of her conduct, she has three more gifts from Guru Rinpoche to use for the benefit of beings.”
Many great Buddhist Lamas have talked and written about the extraordinariness of Guru Rinpoche. It is said that he literally sleeps outside the door of anyone with faith in him. His emanations have been innumerable, and his blessings are without end.
But no matter how great a guru is, in the final analysis the ball is still in our court. Attainment comes because of our devotion, our love and compassion for sentient beings, and unfluctuating and ruthless honesty. It is not the guru’s fault if we fall away from the path or fail to receive the blessing. It is always up to us, but the guru is always there, waiting for us.