The Guru-Disciple Relationship

 by Jamgon Kongtrul the Third


Before beginning with the instructions, I want to ask everyone to generate the correct attitude before receiving Lord Buddha's teachings and to maintain a pure frame of mind while receiving them.

 I first wish to speak about what Buddhism actually is. Shakyamuni Buddha originally taught in India; his teachings spread to neighbouring regions from there. The skilled translators, qualified teachers, and realized Indian masters were invited to Tibet and introduced the Buddhadharma on the Tibetan Plateau. All Lord Buddha's instructions as well as all the commentaries were then translated into the Tibetan language. Based upon the original texts and translations, realized yogis and scholars upheld the transmission lineage in Tibet and wrote commentaries. This is how the vast body of Lord Buddha's teachings concerning the view and the practice was disseminated and thrived in Tibet.

 I will conclude the introduction here and wish to make everyone aware of the fact that there are two means to integrate the Buddhadharma into our lives; we need to distinguish them.

Two Approaches

First, one may study the instructions and contemplate them for many years in order to gain a correct understanding of the main Buddhist topics. Flawless knowledge is the basis to generate confidence. Based upon personal valid reasoning, one comes to know in which way the teachings are correct and applicable for oneself. Eventually, confidence and trust increase and certainty is established when a practitioner engages in meditation practice.

 Second, one needs deep confidence and faith in the Buddhadharma. This doesn't mean that one need not know anything about the teachings. Actually, one needs to understand the basic topics. One doesn't study for a very long time, though, but engages in meditation practice in order to gradually experience the view and the context of the Buddhadharma.

 In short, it is possible to develop the Buddhist view by studying and then meditating or by mainly meditating. I want everyone to be aware of these two possibilities.

 What do the two approaches have in common? Whichever approach we decide to engage in, each is beneficial in bringing forth and developing awareness. Should one cling to definitions and words while studying, no beneficial import will arise. Shakyamuni Buddha said, "Do not rely upon what I have taught but validly establish the meaning for yourselves." The meaning is to experience wholesome awareness. Words alone are senseless. Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa, summarized this topic in The Mahamudra Prayer and wrote: "Studying the scriptures, developing intellect, may I be freed from the obscuration of ignorance. Contemplating the oral instructions, may the darkness of doubt be subdued. In the light born of meditation, may what is shine forth just as it is and the brightness of the three prajnas grow in power." Rangjung Dorje clarified that superior knowledge can become part of our daily lives through the practice of studying, contemplating, and meditating.

Meditation and Awareness

The ultimate goal in Buddhism is integrating the three superior knowledges that arise from studying, contemplating, and meditating so that our mind stream is liberated. Should one understand the instructions only literally, there would be no possibility to free one's mental stream of consciousness from bondage. For this reason, there is a saying in Tibetan: "The sign for correct study is that one's mind becomes peaceful and calm. The sign for correct meditation is that disturbing emotions diminish."

 I want everyone to know that words alone are of no use. One's mind will only become pacified by integrating one's studies in daily life. Mind is compared with a king, and the body and speech with the royal court that is subservient to the orders of the king. When one's mind has been refined, then all activities of body and speech are peaceful and calm.

 In order to have a peaceful and refined mind, one needs to develop and increase one's awareness. The fundamental theme in Buddhism is recognizing that worldly endeavour is in vain, that worldly ambitions only entail suffering. Merely seeing and recognizing suffering has little effect until awareness becomes alive, if but for short moments. Awareness is very beneficial, even when one acts negatively. Awareness helps pacify disturbing emotional tendencies, i.e., mental patterns. In fact, awareness is the foundation for all beneficial activities.

 The Tibetan term for meditation means habituation. There are many referential objects employed in meditation practice, but they are only a means and not meditation itself. Through practice, concentration develops, which is the ground for awareness. As it is, one's mind is so overwhelmed by external distractions that the sensory consciousnesses become a slave to the innumerable impressions that bring about a completely uncontrolled mental state of agitation and excitement. When wakefully aware, no mental excitement caused by afflicting hopes or fears overwhelms an advanced practitioner anymore.

 Meditation means continuously maintaining wakeful awareness. It is a practice go gradually refine one's mind. Mindfulness and awareness are therefore the actual meditation practices. Should one maintain mindfulness and awareness over a longer period of time, then this is meditation.

 Thoughts arise all the time out of the mental stream of consciousness. Thoughts in themselves are not the source of confusion but are evidence that the nature of the mind is the inseparability of emptiness and lucidity. Thoughts continuously arise out of the mind's true state, which is in truth the inseparability of emptiness and clarity.

 When one searches for the mind, one cannot find it anywhere. Nobody can hold on to it nor identify it. Nobody can find the mind because it lacks inherent existence " it is empty of intrinsic existence. On the other hand, so many things are occurring, which we actually experience. It would therefore be wrong claiming that nothing whatsoever exists. Everything that arises does so on account of mind's lucidity. Mind itself is the indivisibility of emptiness and clarity. Thus, there is no error in the fact that things clearly appear.

 What, then, is the cause of confusion? Confusion means not realizing the indivisibility of clarity and emptiness. Chasing after, identifying, and classifying thoughts brings forth confusion. The habit of following after every thought that arises generates a bewildered disposition. For this reason, awareness is very important " awareness stops one from running after every thought that arises, to then become even more entangled in a darkened vision of the world that is marked by confusion, a process that becomes more rugged as long as one is not restrained. Awareness means being conscientious of mind's luminous aspect, which reveals itself out of and due to its empty nature. When one is aware of the mind's clear aspect, one has then realized the essential theme of Buddhism, which is awareness. Meditation practice is founded upon awareness " an awareness developed by treading the path of listening, contemplating, and meditating the Buddhadharma.

 How does one embark on the spiritual journey of training the mind to gradually become refined, i.e., more and more aware? One first needs a spiritual friend who shows the way and guides us.

The Spiritual Friend

The term "spiritual friend" has many connotations in the various traditions of Buddhism There are the Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Vajrayana traditions of Buddhism and each defines the spiritual friend differently.

 In the Hinayana tradition of Buddhism, the spiritual friend who teaches followers what needs to be rejected and adopted is a guide. In the Mahayana tradition, the spiritual friend is more than a guide. It is most important to see our spiritual teacher as a realized being who does not only convey Lord Buddha's words and the meanings but who actually embodies the Buddha's instructions. He is a Bodhisattva, a representative, and is the personification of the Buddhadharma in every respect.

 In the Vajrayana tradition, the spiritual friend is of utter significant. He is actually a Buddha. Seeing one's Lama as a Buddha isn't a mental construct or contrivance but a vivid experience. It is only possible to recognize him as a Buddha after having developed sincere confidence and devotion in him. Vajrayana practice depends upon the inspiration and blessings the Lama bestows.

 A teacher who merely explains the Buddha nature to his disciples is a spiritual friend. A teacher who personifies the Buddhadharma with body, speech, and mind and helps followers integrate the teachings into their lives by showing them the nature of their mind is a Root Lama. That is the difference between our Root Lama and a spiritual friend.

The Root Lama

There are many scholars of Lord Buddha's instructions who skilfully elaborate the teachings. There are many moments in a practitioner's life when he or she understands those teachings, some more so than others. Sometimes it is possible to easily meditate what one has heard, at other times one doesn't understand anything at all.

 Our Root Lama may not use many words, but his presence strongly inspires us to spontaneously integrate the Buddhadharma in our lives and therefore he enables us to realize the nature of our mind and all things. We must know that our Root Lama is the realized individual who is capable of introducing us to the nature of our own mind.

The Relationship

What are the prerequisites for a Lama-disciple relationship? In the beginning, it is necessary to generate deep devotion, devotion based upon conviction that the Lama's presence and inspiration can help transform all mental negativities one does have and liberate one's mind stream. If one has such trust, then it is correct. Confidence isn't a mental fabrication; it is a spontaneously experienced innermost dedication that never ceases or wanes.

 An analogy is presented in the Tibetan texts to exemplify the significance of the bond between a Lama and his pupils. It is said that the Lama's inspiration and blessings can penetrate one's mind stream so that one experiences liberation. If one has pure devotion towards one's Lama, then confidence spontaneously arises and leads one to experience and eventually realize that he is inseparable with Lord Buddha, who originally turned the Wheel of Dharma and taught the path to liberation. One then sees that there is no difference between one's Lama and Lord Buddha.

 There are many stories about the Lama-disciple relationship. I wish to present one example of such a bond that was held between Naropa and Marpa the Great Translator.

 Once Lotsawa Marpa was seated in front of his teacher Naropa. The yidam Hevajra appeared on the left side of Naropa in the sky. Naropa asked Marpa, "Who do you venerate?" Marpa reflected and concluded that his teacher is always near by, but that Hevajra is special; he made prostrations to the deity in the sky. Naropa told Marpa that he had erred and said, "The Lama is the wellspring of all inspiration." He then taught Marpa that all appearances are a manifestation of the Lama's unceasing activities. The Kagyu Lineage arose from the Lama-disciple connection between Naropa and Marpa. This likeness shows the significance of sincerely and uninterruptedly maintaining confidence in one's Lama.

 Confidence in the fact that the Lama isn't different from the Buddha isn't an idea one somehow picks up and blindly accepts. It isn't confidence born from such circumstances and conditions as a deity appearing in the sky. Pure dedication is spontaneous awareness that never changes or ceases. Pure confidence in the force of one's Lama's blessings and in his inspiration distinguishes Vajrayana practice from other Buddhist schools of thought.

 It is said that the Lama's perfect inspiration can completely penetrate the disciple who possesses genuine confidence. His inspiration is just as powerful and beneficial as Lord Buddha's blessings. He is capable of arousing one's innate Buddha nature so that one attains liberation from one's usual mental stream of bondage.

 I want everyone to understand why Vajrayana practice is different from other vehicles. Vajrayana practice is based upon pure devotion in the transmission lineage, especially the Kagyu Oral Transmission Lineage.

 There is a reason why genuine devotion is necessary. Meditation isn't something one can pick up from books nor does it consist of specific rules and regulations that only need to be followed. Meditation is present by nature and naturally evolves from the mind as its lucidity and it continuously accompanies us.

 There are special means to develop meditation, whereas meditation itself isn't a method since it abides and arises naturally from within. Meditation cannot be introduced to a student as something foreign to the mind. It reveals itself through the Lama's inspiration - only on account of the Lama's presence does awareness and realization arise and evolve. This is why the Lama's inspiration is so important and why confidence and dedication are repeatedly discussed in Vajrayana texts.

 Since confidence and devotion are so important, songs about Guru Yoga were composed, such as the supplication, Calling the Lama from Afar, written by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great. Supplications are special practices to develop dedication and need to be understood as calling to one's Lama from afar " a literal interpretation that doesn't imply that one's Lama is far away or out of reach. Who is the Lama? I have explained that the Lama is actually the Buddha for a Vajrayana practitioner.

 There are different kinds of Lamas. There is the symbolic and the ultimate Lama. The individual, physical manifestation of the Lama isn't everything. The emanated body of the Lama is the symbolic Lama.

The Ultimate Lama

The ultimate Lama, called "the Lama of meaning," is the Lama's mind " awareness of the indivisibility of emptiness and lucidity. The three kayas are perfectly present in his awareness. The Dharmakaya is the aspect of emptiness; mind's emptiness is unimpeded presence permeating all things. The Sambhogakaya is the aspect of mind's lucidity. The Nirmanakaya is mind's aspect unceasingly manifesting for the welfare of living beings in a physical form. The Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya of a Buddha are perfectly present in the Lama's mind. Since this is the case, nothing can be excluded from his awareness. There is nothing that is not embraced and permeated by emptiness; there is nothing ever not touched by emptiness. We therefore realize that all appearances are a manifestation of the Lama. For this reason, a Vajrayana practitioner experiences and realizes that all appearances are the manifestation of his or her Lama. Nothing else is being taught than this fact.

 When a pupil doesn't recognize how everything is " namely, the expression of his or her Lama " then he or she calls the Lama as though he were afar, a symbolical gesture. The Lama permeates all and is inseparably one with our own mind. Not realizing that our mind is the inseparability of emptiness and lucidity " our Lama " we call to him from afar. I want everyone to clearly know that our Lama is not different from our own mind.

 Since this is the case, what is the purpose of calling the Lama? It is important to know in which way one's mind and the mind of one's Lama are not separate. As long as one has not realized the nature of one's mind, one continues wandering in the uninterrupted experience of problems - samsara, the cycle of conditioned existence entailing suffering and pain. Our Lama inspires us to seek liberation from our experiences of delusion and he blesses us to achieve the reward, which is liberation and realization of our own mind.

 All phenomena and experiences are the display or manifestation of our Lama's mind, the Buddha nature. This is the quintessence of the Vajra song of realization, Calling the Lama from Afar. Reciting this song is a means to generate and develop devotion in our Root Lama.

Questions and Answers

Question: Is emptiness space between objects?

Rinpoche: When the aspect that nothing exists is emphasized, then space is taken as an example since it permeates everything. Space isn't only present between things. Emptiness isn't only a lack of presence but the ability for all things to appear clearly. It isn't nothing. Emptiness is never space one could point to or identify. Emptiness can only be cognised.

Question: What is mindfulness and awareness?

Rinpoche: I explained that mindfulness and awareness are the foundation of meditation. There is a Tibetan saying: "There is no one meditating, nothing to be meditated on, and no meditation." A beginner needs to pacify his or her mind by practicing calm abiding meditation. Concentration then increases and engenders mindfulness and awareness. Awareness means being aware of the manifold distractions that mislead one's consciousnesses to become involved with worldly matters. One become conscientious of distractions with wakeful awareness that is developed and increased through calm abiding meditation practice.

Question: Why is awareness more important than concentration?

Rinpoche: I want to answer your question by exaggerating a little. One-pointed calm abiding can itself become a distraction. If one concentrates one-pointedly on the bell on the table in front of me, then the bell can become a distraction and is then a hindrance to meditation. Therefore, it is important to develop mindfulness and awareness, which are stronger and more effective than concentration.

Question: How does confusion arise from ignorance?

Rinpoche: As long as one has not realized that everything arises out of emptiness, one falsely apprehends subjective feelings and calls them "self." This misconception of a truly existing self is born due to not knowing that everything arises because of emptiness and in dependence upon other things.

Thank you very much.

  Presented at Karma Chöling in Frankfurt, 1987. Translated from Tibetan into German by Christoph Klonck, into English and edited by Gaby Hollmann, apologizing for any mistakes.