There are numerous qualities in the sutras and their commentaries about the
characteristics of a Master, which can be branched into seven main points.
1) Should know the way of the Bodhisattva's life perfectly and follow it
himself with a pure mind.
2) Should be well versed in the profound and vast meaning of the
Lord Buddha's words as well as commentaries.
3) Should be compassionate to all sentient beings like a mother to her only
4) Should be conversant with the meaning of the Tripitaka (three baskets of
teachings) and should practice their meaning.
5) Should have subdued his emotions.
6) He should have attained a certain level of realization.
7) He should be skilful in gathering disciples through the four means, being
generous, be able to lead them to the path according to their own ability,
and acting according to his word.
A person displaying such qualities is worthy of being a spiritual Master.
In the Yonten Mzod, Treasury of Enlightened Attributes, Jigme Lingpa quotes;
In these degenerate times finding a Master who embodies the complete
teaching is very difficult. The qualities that are compulsory are:
His perfected practice of the three vows should be like the field moistened
by his compassion and wisdom. He should be fully conversant in bestowing
and practicing the rituals as well as the three baskets of sutra, Vinaya
(moral conduct) and Abhidharma (Buddhist psychology). The fruit of the
above is that he should have subdued his own afflicted emotions and attained
certain realizations. The four means of gathering disciples should blossom
as a flower of accomplishment that attracts swarms of disciples (like bees
to a matured flower).
Such a Master should be followed. Most importantly according to the
Bodhisattba precepts, the Master should practice the two levels of
Bodhicitta, aspirational and practical Bodhicitta. At least he should have
these qualities. Like a ships captain leading us to the ocean shore, a
Master endowed with such qualities will surely lead us to liberation and
The four means of gathering disciples: This is the practice of the practice
of the Bodhisattva to actually lead other sentient beings on the path of
enlightenment, They are; giving whatever is necessary, speaking pleasantly,
helping others and having consistency in words and deeds.
Aspirational Bodhicitta is only the intention to attain Buddhahood for the
benefit of all beings and Practical Bodhicitta is the action to realize that
goal, engaging in the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience,
perseverance, concentration and wisdom.
If we chose such a guide, good qualities will naturally arise within us like
ordinary wood becoming fragrant when left to lie in a sandal grove.
Yet the scriptures warn us, that in thse degenerate times, it may be very
difficult to find all these qualties assembled in one person. Hence a
Master who possesses half, a quarter or even an eight of these qualities can
be considered qualified to be a teacher. Furthermore, although a Master
with only a fraction of the qualities required may be found, we, ourselves,
have many obscurations, which may prevents us from recognizing what
qualities may be there. Like the clouds covering the sun, deep veils arising
of our unwholesome actions are creating obstacles for an objective
examination and taint our view. In many cases these obscurations become such
a hindrance that we cannot even recognize any qualities in the Master, we
underestimate him and develop wrong views about him.
So, not only is it rare to find a Master endowed with the required qualities
but also the difficulty is further compounded by our own inability to
recognize them even when they are present as illustrated in Lord Maitreya's
"Although the King of Gods brings about the rain, the rotten seed will not
sprout. Similarily, although Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appear in this world,
those with no fortune will not benefit from their Blessings."
We can easily recognize the authenticity of a Master when, by following him,
our own obscurations diminish and our virtues multiply. We become calmer,
more composed and our concentration is improving. In short, the benefits
are there for all to see and for us to experience.
In the following manner, a Master who is not authentic is described thus: he
doesn't possess any knowledge deriving from listening, contemplation, and
meditation yet boasts of his connections, accomplishments and lineage like a
Brahmin. He is not inclined to use the little knowledge he may possess for
the sake of others or even his own liberation, but mainly directs it to gain
short term earthly benefit. Such a person could not bring about a positive
change in the mind of his disciples, Although he has no special qualities,
some disciples are fooled by his claims and fame. Without examining the
situation, they lend him authority, expecting earthly reward in return.
Receiving adulation and offerings his pride increases. Such a Master does
not recognize authentic greatness and in such a case both Master and
students will gradually loose their way.
His Holiness Penor Rinpoche recounts the story of the shepherd lama. There
was once a simple shepherd who had no education and no interest in religious
matters. He was herding his sheep everyday towards the banks of a river,
where he used to take his mid day meal, There was a large rock on the side
and without any thought or intention, the shepherds used to leave the
reminants of his meal on this rock everyday. He did not particularily
intend to make any offerings; it was just an idle habit. It happened though
that the rock was the home of three spirits, a Mara, a Naga and a Yaksha,
They were very pleased with what they took to be regular offerings to them
and they decided that they should do something to thank the shepherd. It was
decided that the Mara spirit would be the one to help him.
The Mara then entered the body of the unaware simple shepherd. When the
shepherd started to head for home, the Mara enabled him in reciting mantra
and religious texts to the astonishment of all who knew him. As he started
to go across the neighbourhood, people came to listen to him and not
examening his credentials, lineage, teachers or knowledge, spread the rumor
of his fame so that hundreds flocked to listen to the poor shepherd. They
showered him with offerings and sat him on a precious throne, which pleased
the evil Mara spirit. All this carried on until an authentic Master who had
the power of clairvoyance arrived in the area and saw what had happened.
Sending one of his attendents among the crowd, he made him spread incense
close to the lama shepherd, at which point the Mara spirit jumped out of the
fellow's body and returned to his rock. Awakened from his daze, the poor
shepherd nearly fell from the high throne muttering, "Where are my sheep?"
So we are well advised not to act in such foolish ways.
Hence when we first meet a potential Master, we should not rush
indiscriminately but rather set about examining his behavior and qualities
as described above. There is no more important choice we will ever make for
our own existence, because the Master is the one in whom we rest our trust
until enlightenment because he is the one to guide us unmistakenly on the
path to liberation. If through lack of examination we become followers of a
Master who is not genuine, not only will there be no benefit to oneself and
others, but we will waste this precious human life and this will become
cause for both Master and disciples to be reborn in the hell realms.