Khempo Ringu Tulku
This practice is very important, as it is the preliminary to Mahamudra, which is the heart and soul of Vajrayana. Considering Vajrayana Buddhism, people sometimes only think of the images, the rituals and the like, which may be a part of it, but only at what is actually a very elementary level. The real Vajrayana practice is Mahamudra, or whatever we call it, different traditions having different names for it. It is without any rituals, deities, not even concepts, nothing! Maybe we cannot say "nothing", but it is more focused on an inner realisation. Mahamudra means to understand, realise or see at an experiential level the complete true nature of “ourselves", talking about "ourselves" here being just a way of expressing it. It means going down back to our real, primordial, pristine true nature in a very clear, unconfused way. We are getting rid of all our confusion, bringing out our true essence, our unaffected, clear, true nature in all our environment and thoughts. That is Mahamudra. We cannot experience it directly and easily because of our attitudes, concepts and assumptions, our emotions and understandings that are a source of problems. The preliminaries are devised to deal with those problems.
The Guru Yoga is a quite simple practice, although quite difficult to talk about. It is not easy to understand why we do the guru yoga. To do it in a proper way requires, I think, certain basic understandings, certain basic attitudes.
The wrong attitude one encounters most frequently is that of people placing themselves under the domination of the Guru: they view their Guru as their master and themselves as his/her slave. They do whatever the Guru tells them to, and as they generally expect Gurus to be quite unpredictable and strange, they are not surprised to be asked lots of funny things, through which they are convinced they will progress and ultimately become like him/her.... This is not a healthy attitude. It is, I think, understandable, but it is not supposed to be like that! Of course, usually, when we talk about the Guru/disciple relationship, we look at it from the ideal point of view. If an ideal disciple meets an ideal Guru, they would have such an ideal relationship, but people tend to mistake this ideal situation for what should actually be and think it should be like that all the time. They discover after a while that the Guru is not an ideal Guru, that the disciple is not an ideal disciple, and that their relationship is far from ideal too! It evokes for me the Western concept of falling in love. In the West you have this - "strange" is not the best word, let us call it “very romantic” - idea of falling in love: when you fall in love, the stars shine brighter, flowers blossom wherever you step, roses fall from the sky, rainbows appear above your head and you enter a completely different realm where you will be happy together ever after. The result?... A lawyer specialised in family affairs told me this very afternoon that the marriage "tragedy rate" in Belgium is one in three. Not too bad...
What I mean is that this is not the right attitude because it just does not work. The Guru Yoga should be viewed as different from the actual Guru/student relationship. We practice Guru Yoga as an ideal because it is a practice, an exercise. The actual Guru/student relationship is something else. I do not mean that you should not have faith in your Guru. It is good to have faith in our guru, but with open mind, open eyes. We cannot completely, blindly trust any person from whom we receive teachings. It is unnecessary and it is good neither for the Guru nor for the student. Therefore, in the actual guru/student relationship, it is very important to gradually develop confidence and trust. I think you will not be able to find a completely perfect guru, because to find one, you would first have to be yourself a completely perfect student. If our way of seeing things is imperfect, how can we find somebody perfect? A perfect guru may exist, I am not denying the possibility, but they very difficult to find. This does not mean however that you should not have a guru, because we are talking here about a question of balance. If the benefit is greater than the negative aspect, it is acceptable. I think it is advisable to have a good guru, maybe not perfect, but somebody a bit better than us, whom we can trust and open to, from whom we can get inspiration and a better understanding.
The main thing is to find out whether he or she is a genuine practitioner of Dharma. If it is the case, you cannot completely go wrong, be completely misled. I think it is very important to find a guru who is genuinely into the practice. In order to find out, we need to know what the genuine practice of Dharma is. If we know a little what Dharma is, then we will know whether someone is genuinely practising Dharma or not. Of course, ideally, the higher and purer perception we have of our guru, the better it is, the quicker we will progress. It is said, and it is true, that if we see our guru as a Buddha, as a completely enlightened being, we will become one ourselves. If we see our guru as a very learned and highly qualified person, that is the result we will achieve. But if we see our guru as very ordinary, just like us, we will remain as we are. I think it is the same thing with teachers or parents. If you think your teacher cannot teach you anything, you will not learn anything from him. How can you learn from a person you do not no respect?
The more we respect the teacher, the more we respect the teachings, and vice versa. The way we see our teacher and the teachings has a profound effect on the way we receive the teachings and the instructions. To find a guru that we consider as highly qualified is very important because it will speed up our progress on the path. This is the core of the student/guru relationship. If we believe our guru is somebody we can trust, from whom we can learn something, then our own state of mind, our own reaction to the whole world changes.
The same thing happens in the parents/children relationship. Those children who have parents whom they can trust, with whom they have a good relationship, those who have received unconditional love, become very healthy in their mind. Those who could not benefit from that kind of relationship usually encounter many more problems. In the same way, if we can find somebody whom we can trust, to whom we can open up, it is a very important step in itself, because we learn how not to be completely shut off from the world, how not to feel completely lonely. If we close ourselves up, we cannot confide, we cannot improve, we cannot change. This is why it is so important.
Didn't you say once that we can have many teachers but only one guru?
No, you can have many gurus, as far as I am concerned. I have myself more than one guru. Not only more than one guru, but more than one root guru. I consider to have two root gurus, one is the XVIth Karmapa, and the second is Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoché. And I have countless gurus, I do not know how many, I never counted them. And I am not the only one. Most Tibetan Lamas have many gurus, and they have no problems ...
Does it poses no problem because they are slaves of everybody? When one takes the Bodhisattva vow, one already becomes the servant of all beings, does one have to become the slave of one's gurus on top of this, this seems very heavy to me.
Because I think I do not have to be slave of anybody. I was using that word
to say that one should not be like that! The Bodhisattva's attitude is to think that everybody is like himself, wishing happiness and disliking suffering. A Bodhisattva thinks he has to help everybody to get the best. He genuinely tries to first learn how to get out of sufferings himself, in order to help all others do the same. A Bodhisattva trains in order to help and he/she will help as much as he/she can. By helping others, he/she helps himself. It is not a question of neglecting one's own welfare. If you are a great Bodhisattva and have no problem for yourself, then you will of course devote all your attention to others. That is good.
Now as to the guru, the main thing I am trying to explain is that how much you are devoted to the guru depends on your own perception. If you are absolutely sure that the guru is a completely enlightened being, that whatever he/she says is right, whatever he/she asks you to do is good for yourself and good for everybody, if you have no doubt about that, then of course you will do it. It is natural. But otherwise, you may not do it. If you do not do something the guru tells you, you do not break anything. The Dalai Lama usually says that if our guru tells us to do something, and we think it is not the right thing for us, we may tell him. And I think it is right. There is no breach of Samaya. I am not giving my own opinion, I am just quoting. It is not even the personal opinion of the Dalai Lama, we can actually find this in the texts.
How should we ask a teacher to become our guru?
Just like that! “Hello, would you become my guru?” “Yes, yes!”
Is there some respectful way of doing it?
Well, there is no procedure, nothing is recorded in the books, but I think you would naturally do it respectfully. How you express that respect does not matter that much. It depends on your culture. In the East, people bow down and show many marks of respect, but it is not necessarily more respectful than a handshake. It is more a question of inner attitude than the way of expressing it. The Indian and Tibetan way is to show very much outward respect: we prostrate, sit on our knees, make ourselves very small, but while doing this, we may at the same time harbour nasty thoughts. One of the ways of showing respect to the teacher is to have him sit on a throne. Sometimes, people in the West are disturbed by this. "Why is this lama sitting on a big throne, not only a throne, but full of brocades? Why so much difference?" It is supposed to be out of respect for the teachings.
In the East, there are many gurus. It is easy to meet them and make your choice. Our quest is more difficult in the West. Do we have to search for our guru, or should we accept one of the lamas that we have the opportunity to meet?
Yes, to search is what we usually do. We search for one, but we do not keep on searching all the time. I have met people who told me: "I have been searching for a guru for 15 years and still I cannot find one. Please tell me when I will find this guru I am searching for." They are really impatient and tense. That is not necessary, you can take what comes, more or less, but it does not mean you do not have to keep on searching, of course. And especially nowadays, the world has become very small, you can just have a look at the Internet ...
When you have found your guru, he is not always present. Is it true that there is a link that is established between the guru and the student, or is it just a romantic idea we get?
I myself think that it is not necessary to be always sitting with our guru, but to have a good communication with him is important. The guru is the person from whom we learn, therefore it is necessary to ask questions, to talk about our experience. It is not enough to say “He is my guru” and finished, that is not enough, we have to learn but not necessarily to be together all the time. Then there is something that is called the inner guru, about which I will talk later. That is most important. What we are talking about now is the outer guru. Sometimes, people are too much dependent on their guru. Not only in the West, sometimes also in the East. They ask his advice on everything, like what kind of colour they should paint their bathroom, and so on. This is not necessary.
The guru's job is to try to teach his student how to actually stand on his own feet, to be independent as much as possible, to try to understand the Dharma and know how to practise by themselves. When you know yourself how to practise, then you become more independent. That is the main teaching. It used to be like that in Tibet also. The guru would give teachings, and when the training was finished, he would send his students away to practise, sometimes to some very far away places.
Of course there is a relationship. It is a heart relationship and therefore there is a certain element of emotion in it. I do not agree at all with a kind of professional relationship, I mean completely without emotions. Since it is a human relationship, emotions will always be involved. You have to like your guru, otherwise you wouldn't chose him as your guru, so if you love your guru, I think it is all right. If you have good students, you would like them too, you would love him or her, that is all right, it does not matter. What matters is that the guru should teach his students how to stand on their own feet.
To summarise, we have discussed so far the guru/disciple relationship, what it means to have a guru and the importance of this relationship.
Generally speaking, the guru is a teacher who has not only intellectual but some experiential understanding, some knowledge and realisation of the Dharma. It is not enough that he just be somebody who knows the subject, he should actually practise the teachings, be genuinely training him/herself and live by the teachings. On top of this, he should have a genuine willingness to pass on to others the teachings that he/she has found helpful for him/herself. He should also have some capacity to teach. These are the main qualifications of a guru or teacher. The concept of the absolute necessity of a guru is not found in all Buddhist traditions. In the Theravada and even in the Mahayana traditions, although the teacher is very important, a greater emphasis is placed on the Dharma itself. In the Vajrayana however, a great importance is given to the teacher because its approach is more experiential.
The understanding of the texts, of the words of the Buddha is very important but it has to go along with the experience. And it is impossible to get some experiential teachings from somebody who has had no experience, hence the importance of an experienced guru. The Vajrayana is not just about learning and teaching, there is something else, which could be called a heart to heart transmission. It is difficult to explain. We can illustrate it with the story of Tilopa and Naropa.
Naropa was a very great scholar, one of the highest, of the five most important professors of the Nalanda university. At that time, it was the custom, the tradition, that anybody could challenge the doctrine, the philosophy you were holding in an open debate, with the king of the country appointed witness and judge. Whoever lost the debate would become the follower of the winner. Therefore, at that time, to become a professor was much more difficult than now.
Naropa was appointed "Gate Keeper of the North". He would debate with any challenger coming from the Northern direction of the University. He became very famous as one of the best scholars and he had many disciples. One day, he was sitting in the sun on his veranda, reading a book, a very high tantric text. He was feeling very good about himself because he understood everything : "Well, I am supposed to be a great scholar, and actually, I am one! Look, I understand everything!"
Suddenly, a strange shadow fell on his book. He looked up and saw an old ugly lady standing beside him. She said: "You do not understand anything of this!" Naropa was shocked and surprised, but realised at once that it was actually true: he understood the words, but not the experience. He asked her: "Who knows?" The old lady answered: 'My brother, Tilopa!"
Leaving everything there without even rolling up the book, Naropa left in search of Tilopa. Naropa asked Tilopa to take him as his disciple and teach him, but Tilopa just stood up and went away without even looking at him. Naropa followed.
This situation lasted for many years, during which Tilopa asked him to do many things, completely crazy things After undergoing many trials and hardships, coming close to death about 13 times, Naropa finally got the transmission. It happened without a single word being uttered. One day, as Naropa was walking towards him, Tilopa got very angry, took his sandal and threw it at him. Naropa was hit on the head and fainted. When he came to, he knew everything that Tilopa knew, he had got the complete experience. He had known everything before intellectually, but now he had the actual experience.
This may not be a very good example because it is too extreme. It does not mean that it should happen like that for all of us, but this story illustrates the fact that there is something else, not just the teachings, the texts and the understanding of their meaning : there is also the experience. The guru is a medium to get that experience.
We already mentioned the inner guru. From the Vajrayana point of view, we always talk about an outer and an inner guru. The outer guru is our teacher, and the medium through which we realise the inner guru. The inner guru is the actual, what we call the ultimate guru, the inner guru of Dharmakaya, which means our true nature.
The guru yoga is a training, a medium to awaken the inner guru. Through our devotion to the outer guru, through his teachings and the practice of guru yoga, we come to see, to realise the inner guru. The guru yoga is a practice, an exercise of devotion, of merging, of being, through which, right from the beginning, we learn how to merge, how to open up completely, how to be without concepts, without manufacturing or constructing our own things, how in a way to just surrender our ego. Through it, we can broaden ourselves, make ourselves non dual, so that we can experientially see, meet our inner guru, our inner light or whatever we call it. That is why, from the Vajrayana point of view, to find the right guru is very important, but as a medium to realise one's inner guru, the practice of guru yoga is even more important.
The guru yoga is very much linked to devotion. True devotion is not a personality cult or hero worshipping. It is not being devoted to somebody. From the Buddhist point of view, devotion is a strong inspiration, a very strong feeling of trust and benevolence. I think people do not understand this emotion very easily in the West. If you know somebody who is really helpful, really all the time wanting to help you, to do everything to benefit you and nothing else, what kind of feeling would you have towards that person? It is that kind of feeling which is the closest to devotion. It is really difficult to "create" or "manufacture" devotion. It has to come of its own. It is a trust, a deep trust, knowing that only good things will come out of this relationship.
Devotion arises from such a background or understanding. Those of us who have been in the presence of real great masters know that devotion is not something that you need to generate, to work on: it just comes. It very much depends on the presence of certain great masters. But for those of you who have not met such people, then devotion is something not so easy to understand. In Tibet and India, there was a lot of devotion and respect towards the teachers, and progressively, in the modern world, that respect is being lost. I do not only blame the students for it, I think a great responsibility also lies with the teachers themselves.
I have studied in a strange way, in a semi-modern system as well as under the completely old system, which remained the same as in the 8th century. I can see the difference so strongly, and it is still in the process of changing... I think the teachers of our time, even those Buddhist teachers like myself - I know myself, so I know what I am saying - do not have that, what can I say, that real compassion that was so striking in teachers of the old tradition. My teachers from the old tradition had such a willingness to teach that we could go and meet them at 6 o'clock or 4 o'clock in the morning, or 10 in the evening, it did not matter. Of course I am afraid we have also sometimes taken definitely too much advantage of them.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoché, when he was over 80, used to start his day at 4 o'clock in the morning, take on teachings, make puja's and different kind of things until lunch time. In the afternoon, he would teach a group of student, then again do different things, work and teach till 10 o'clock at night. He would then go to bed, and that is when we would rush in! He would come down the stairs and without stopping to breath, would start teaching again. We never took an appointment, never asked whether he was too tired, we never even thought he might be tired at all. He was not the only one, there were many like him. When you come in contact with such people, there is no need to analyse or examine, it is so apparent that they have no other motive except concern for your understanding. They are so completely without any selfishness that the devotion is not something you have to worry about, it is just there.
For those who have had the opportunity to have a little connection with such beings, the guru yoga becomes a very strong practice, because the devotion is a powerful medium to develop insight into the inner guru or true nature, to make the real experience of the natural state of our being, of our mind. Devotion is an emotion which is not an analytical process. It is not thoughts, it is not thinking, it is not concepts, it is just feeling, emotion. But at the same time, it is not a negative emotion, like anger or attachment. It is completely positive and at the same time very vibrant, very clear and strong. It is not dull at all. Therefore, within that state of mind, of being, we can just look back at our mind and it is very or more likely that we will experientially see the true nature of our mind, which is unaltered, beyond concepts. The guru is a being, a medium through which devotion can more easily be generated. We remember our own guru and through the affection, the love and strong devotion we feel for him, we look back at our mind. This is how we might be able to see our true nature. Then there are different stages: we merge with our guru, we emerge as our true nature, and we try to "be" in that state, which is the enlightened state.
The empowerments are a very important part of the guru yoga. They are the strongest and most important practice in Vajrayana and they are connected to the guru yoga. Many of you must already have received empowerments which are what we call the “seed empowerments”, meaning that we are given a teaching, we receive the blessings and permission to practise a particular teaching. It is only an introduction to a particular teaching, that has to be taken as a path through regular practice. It is called the path empowerment.
In the guru yoga, we actualise this empowerment because we receive them every time we practise it. This is why I emphasise the importance of guru yoga as a training.
We have not yet come to the actual practice of guru yoga. So far we have just given an introduction. The actual practice is not difficult to understand.
How does the relationship Teacher/student evolve when the Guru passes away?
When the guru dies, the relationship remains the same.
From the Buddhist point of view, when the guru dies, it is believed that the guru's power becomes even stronger, and if he has very good students, they then become like him. There are lots of stories illustrating how students, one, two or many, are transformed after their guru's death. The guru's blessings do not disappear with him. You can still do the guru yoga, and try to realise the inner guru, it remains the same. Of course, if you want to learn more, if you wish to ask questions, you can also take another guru, which does not mean you forsake your previous guru. That is possible, that can be done. In the Tibetan way of thinking; there is no "former" guru or teacher. We never feel that someone is our "former" teacher. If somebody has taught me something, he is my teacher, that teaching has made me what I am now. Once somebody is our guru, he remains our guru. Even if we have another guru, it is all right, it does not matter. But when a guru passes away, his presence and our devotion do not vanish. In fact, usually, practically, it is advised to do the guru yoga of a master of the past, like for instance, in this practice, Dorje Chang. It could be Gampopa, Milarepa, or the Karmapas, like Karma Pakshi. It is very seldom that we do the guru yoga of a living teacher. This is because we can easily see faults in a guru living in worldly situations, whereas we cannot see any faults in a dead guru. Nothing can damage his image. Everything is already known about him, there will not be anything new coming up! There cannot be a scandal about a guru dead for hundred years, Therefore, our devotion becomes stronger, more stable. But when we do the guru yoga of a guru who is no longer alive, we also include our living guru. Our visualisation takes the form of a guru who has passed away, or some deity, but our own present guru is also part of it. Our visualisation is the embodiment of all our gurus, of all the lineage, of all enlightened beings. It is not just one individual, but the embodiment, the unity of them all.
What is the link, the relationship between the disciple of the same guru?
They are called the "Vajra brothers and sisters". They are supposed to be very close, to have very harmonious relations and never fight with each other. And if they fight, it is a very bad thing, breaking a very important link. Usually, the disciples of a guru are supposed to help each other. They will discuss their practice together and the more advanced students will help the others.
What is the relationship of a disciple and the new reincarnation of his former teacher?
He feels the same respect, but the new reincarnation cannot be his teacher any more.
2. The Text of the Practice
We have so far introduced the guru yoga, explained what it is, and we shall now go directly to the text. This text, as you know, is the Mahamudra guru yoga, but whatever guru yoga we do, the general idea remains the same. Sometimes, the guru yoga is not taken as a preliminary but as a main practice. The main practice of Mahamudra or Dzogchen is done along with the guru yoga.
Even if our practice focuses on the guru yoga, we start each session with the beginning (of the Ngöndro): we think for a short while about the 4 foundations, take refuge, develop Bodhicitta, do a few Vajrasattva purifications, offer a few mandalas, and then only concentrate on the guru yoga.
In this text, we are supposed to have done it all before, so it starts immediately with the visualisation of the guru.
Two things always precede whatever visualisation we do: one is emptiness, purification and the second is compassion. This is very much related to the understanding of the view and the actual Mahamudra teachings. As we do not have a perfect understanding of this yet, when we say here that everything dissolves into emptiness at this moment, we do it at an intellectual level only, we "think" of emptiness.
I just read the commentary:
"Meditate that everything is purified into emptiness by means of the Swabhava mantra.”
This mantra: "Om Svabhava Shuddha Sarva Dharma Svabhava Shuddho Ham", is the mantra of purification, of dissolution. When we talk about "emptiness", the true nature of everything, it does not mean that things are empty in the sense that they become nothing. We are talking here about an experience, not about a concept. It is a state of being which is completely clear and aware, without any confusion, clinging, or sense of duality. There is no need of duality, it is completely free. That experience is what we call the understanding of emptiness. It is not easy to get for us. Therefore, when we talk of emptiness here, it is just a beginning, an exercise to transform ourselves, to make us aware that our usual way of seeing, understanding and experiencing things is not the only one possible. The world and ourselves are not as solid and real as we think, it can be something else too if we want to. Therefore we begin our practice with this mantra, and our usual way of seeing things dissolves, nothing remains.
Out of this “emptiness", we appear as Vajrayogini or Vajra Varahi. Although is not mentioned in this text, we can do the guru yoga visualising ourselves as Vajrayogini. What does Vajrayogini looks like? She is a young and very beautiful red lady. You can visualise yourself like her even if you are a tall macho muscled man with beard and all! In the Vajrayana practices, we often visualise ourselves as different deities, sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes very beautiful, sometimes quite ugly. They can be tall or very short, black , blue, red or any colour, with two arms or many, ... I think it is a way of training our mind, of not being completely attached and clinging to our sense of reality, of identity as being this or that. Here we view ourselves as Vajra Vahari, or Dorjé Phagmo in Tibetan -"phagmo" actually means "pig" - a red lady, very beautiful, but wearing a pig's head on one side of her own head, and standing on a corpse.
A corpse is usually considered as something not so nice, but here we are standing on a human corpse lying on a sun disk and a red lotus, holding a curved knife and a skull cup from which we are about to drink. This is also an exercise in diminishing our strong propensity to identify things either as good or bad, clean or dirty. In this visualisation, bad things are not bad, good things are not good. We try to cut that off those concepts of dirty, bad, negative, not wanted, good, very nice, wanted, and so forth.
The Guru yoga can also be done without visualising ourselves as anything particular, we can just remain as we are and that is good enough. However, when we visualise ourselves as Vajravarahi, it is assumed that we have a “yidam” practice. In Vajrayana, there are many different tantras, and we usually have one particular tantra as our main practice. The yidam practice is our main practice or sadhana of a deity. In a sadhana, all that is needed in the practice of Dharma has been concentrated. If we understand it properly, we will be aware that all these different elements are gathered in a compact way, like on a CD ROM disc. Most people in Tibet practice Vajrayana through a yidam practice. It is assumed here that we have a yidam and that this yidam is Vajravarahi because Milarepa, Marpa and many great Kagyü masters all had Vajravarahi as their yidam. Therefore, in the Kagyü school, it the tradition to visualise ourselves as Vajravarahi, because it is believed that we receive in this way the blessings of the lineage.
It is also sometimes explained that if, in the beginning, we just see ourselves as usual, we keep our strong attachment to our deluded way of seeing everything, whereas if we visualise ourselves as a yidam, a purer level of being, it may be easier to develop a new way of seeing, which might help us getting the understanding. When we visualise ourselves as a deity, we do not only try to look different, we also try to feel as an enlightened being, whatever his/her form may be. This is the most important thing.
We are trying to feel, with our limited understanding, like an enlightened being. We may not know completely what it feels like, but we can imagine it to some extent. We have an idea that an enlightened being has complete wisdom, feels complete compassion, unlimited, joy, is completely free of sufferings. At least we have a certain understanding, an idea, an image of enlightenment, so we try to feel like that. In a way, what we are is what we feel like, therefore if we feel more and more like an enlightened being, then, maybe, slowly, we may become one. If I feel I am useless, the worst and ugliest person in the world, someone nobody loves, then I become like that. I start hating myself, and I react to others with the certainty that they dislike me too and are even ready to harm me. My reactions towards people change, the way I walk, sit and behave all reflect my inner attitude.
You certainly have seen such people already. On the other hand, if you think that you are quite someone, rather nice and beautiful, that people like you, that you are capable, you feel good, you are more confident and you actually become like that. Not only you change yourself, but other people react differently to you.
You react in a more direct, honest way and people will naturally feel attracted to you. Such changes can even happen from moment to moment, within the same person. Sometimes we feel very happy, and self-confident whereas a few hours later, we may feel sad and depressed. We can often see somebody's mood from afar.
Here we try to feel not only like a “smart fellow”, but even like an “enlightened fellow”, with lots of joy, happiness, understanding and compassion. That visualisation of ourselves is the first step.
It is also said that we have selected this particular female yidam Vajravarahi because the female energy, the female part of our energy is more open, has the sharpest receptivity.
Having arisen as Vajra Varahi, we now visualise the guru or the refuge tree on top of our head, or in front of us. The text describes it as follows:
"On a lotus, sun and moon above my head is my root guru, Dorjé Chang, exquisitely adorned. He sits in the Vajra posture, holding a vajra and bell in his crossed hands. Gurus and precious ones are gathered around him in great numbers, some above each others, some in great clusters."
If we are sitting, it is easier to visualise this in front of us, whereas if we are walking, it is better to imagine it above our head, facing in the same direction. We imagine our own root guru in the form of the primordial Buddha, Dorjé Chang (in Tibetan) or Vajradhara (in Sanskrit). Dorjé Chang is symbolically represented as blue. Blue is supposed to be the colour of changelessness. Even if we add other shades or colours to a dark blue, it does not change. It is the colour of the sky and depicts the true nature of our mind: it is timeless, changeless, it stands for the truth and an unlimited state of being. Dorjé Chang is holding a bell and a vajra in his hands crossed in the union mudra, which represent the union of wisdom and compassion. He is sitting on a sun and moon disc, on top of a lotus. This is what we visualise, but he is actually our own root guru in the form of Vajradhara.
All the lamas or masters of lineage of Mahamudra are sitting one on top of the other, not really sitting on each other’s heads, otherwise, they might slip and fall. A lama once taught this guru yoga to his student, who misunderstood and thought he should visualise himself sitting on the head of his guru. His guru happened to be bald. The next morning, he came to see his guru, completely tired, and told him: "Please do not ask me to do this again! It is impossible, I tried to sit on your head, but because it is so slippery, I have been falling down the whole night, and now I am completely exhausted." If unfortunately you were to visualise some lamas of the lineage with bald heads, you might see them fall down, which might affect your concentration.
This is just an anecdote, and I think that we do not actually "see" when we visualise. Maybe people who have reached the most advanced stages can see everything completely clearly and distinctly, but beginners like us cannot see completely clearly. It is enough to feel the presence of these people, all the enlightened beings, all the masters of the lineage, and not only of the lineage of our own tradition but all the other lineages, whatever they may be, throughout space, throughout the universe, all of them. We should feel that they are there, feel their benevolence, their trustworthiness and willingness to help. As I explained yesterday, devotion is the very positive, warm, trusting feeling we develop towards a real good friend whose sole concern and motivation is our own good, and who has the capacity to help and benefit us. Here we are only surrounded by enlightened beings, completely good, with no selfish motives, only wanting to help all sentient beings. Moreover, they not only have the willingness to help but the power to do so, therefore, we feel protected, loved, cared for. That feeling is the most important. When we have developed it, we have completed the purpose of this visualisation.
It is similar to that of the refuge tree we talked about before, with not just the guru, but also the Yidams, Buddhas, Dharma, all the Dakinis and Dharma protectors. However, the main focus here is on the guru.
Last time, someone asked whether we could have several gurus at the same time. Is it the reason why here we visualise our guru as Dorjé Chang, I mean because he's the embodiment of all our gurus?
I think it is not the main reason why we visualise Dorjé Chang here. If you have several guru, you can do whatever guru yoga and think that the main figure embodies all of them. Dorjé Chang is mainly the symbolic form of the inner guru. Dorjé Chang is what we call the "primordial Buddha", or first Buddha, which means somebody who has never been deluded, who has been enlightened for all eternity. From the Buddhist point of view, our true nature has never been deluded, it is like the sun above the clouds. What is deluded is below the clouds. That unlimited enlightened state of ourselves is Dorjé Chang, the primordial Buddha. He is a symbol of our completely enlightened nature. That is the main reason. Anyway, whether you have one or many gurus does not matter that much in the guru yoga, it is not the point. The point here is to work with our own devotion, our own inner guru, the introduction to or the recognition and actualisation of our inner guru. How to see or “be” our inner guru is the main purpose.
I was saying yesterday that it was all right to have more than one guru, but it does not mean that we should have more than one. One good guru is enough. And especially, if there are lots of conflicts between gurus, then it is certainly better to stick to one!
How do we look at this visualisation? Do we see it as exterior to
ourselves or do we identify with it?
This is just the beginning. You have already become this beautiful red dancing girl. Now in front of you is your guru, the main guru in the form of blue Dorjé Chang. You can imagine, feel this enlightened energy, really perfect: unlimited compassion and wisdom. It is something you can trust, that has the capacity and the willingness to help you and everybody else, but for the moment, you are not becoming that yet. There are also exercises to actually become like that, to merge and become inseparable with it You will eventually, maybe, when you come to the end of the practice, but for the moment you are just there looking at it, as it were a nice dish. The better you can see it, the better you understand it, the more you will eventually be able to become like it.
I've read somewhere that the primordial Buddha is Samantabhadra. Here you say it is Vajradhara. Are they the same? Does it depend on different traditions?
I think so. You take Samantabhadra, and if you put some more ornaments
on him, you have Vajradhara. They are just different iconographic forms. These iconographic forms can be classified into three main categories: the Dharmakaya form, the Sambhogakaya form and the Nirmanakaya form, On top of this, to make it more complicated, there is the Dharmakaya Dharmakaya form, the Dharmakaya Sambhogakaya form and the Dharmakaya Nirmanakaya form, and then the Sambhogakaya Dharmakaya form, the Sambhogakaya Sambhogakaya form and the Sambhogakaya Nirmanakaya form, and so on. Samantabhadra is a Dharmakaya Dharmakaya form whereas Vajradhara is a Sambhogakaya Dharmakaya form.
We now come to a prayer which is very profound but maybe difficult to explain:
"Om, all pervading ones, you are the very nature of all things, like space you have neither abiding or going, nor any of the material characteristics of coming or going, yet like the moon reflecting in water, you manifest wherever someone thinks of you. Glorious Herukas who conquer the armies of negative forces, gurus, yidams, dakinis and all those who accompany you, if now I pray to you with faith, please manifest here clearly the power of your non conceptual compassion."
What is described here is the nature of the enlightened beings. Enlightened beings, and not only enlightened beings, everything is like this, like space. This is what we have been explaining in our last teaching on Prajnaparamita and other previous teachings. It is also the theme of the actual Mahamudra teaching to which we will come later, therefore we will not explain it in detail now. Either we explain it completely or not at all, and as this would take too long in view of the time we have left, it may be better not to explain it this time.
Then comes what is called the “Seven Branches Prayer”, which I have also explained here previously. It is an exercise, a practice we do in order to work on ourselves. These 7 branches are: prostrations, offerings, purification, rejoicing, requesting the teachings, requesting the benevolent great beings to live long, and dedication. This prayer is written here in a short form, but while reciting it, we can think of it in a more elaborate way.
Prostrations, showing respect by falling on our knees and stretching our body on the ground, is a way of working on our pride. Pride is one of our negative emotions. If it is too big, we cannot improve, we cannot open up. It is said that trying to give something to a proud man is like pouring water on a bowl turned upside down. I think we gave a text on the meaning of prostrations last year, but prostrations are mainly aimed at diminishing our pride.
Offerings work on our stinginess, our clinging, our not being able to give or share. We start in our imagination: we create the best things we can think of and offer them to the 4 objects of offerings, who are firstly the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and great beings who are worthy of our offering, secondly all sentient beings who, as the object of our compassion, are also worthy of offerings, thirdly all kinds of beings who have harmed us, wish to harm us or whom we have harmed, in order to settle our karmic debts with them all, and finally to the beings who are protecting us, who benefit us, as a sign of gratefulness. Besides visualising offerings, we also offer them praises.
We then purify all the negative things we have done in the past, are doing in the present or might be doing in the future. We repent, realising how bad they are, and take the resolution not to do them again. Purification does not mean we have to think of each negative action one by one, but rather in a general way.
Rejoicing at the good deeds others achieved is a means to work on our jealousy. We do not feel diminished because somebody else got something better or succeeded better than us. On the contrary, we feel joyful at the success of others. If we can do this, we will never have reasons to feel unhappy, because even if we have no personal reason to rejoice, we can always find joy in the success of others. This is a very important thing.
Requesting the enlightened beings to give usteachings and to live long is also rejoicing in a way, because it means we appreciate the positive, the attainment, the wisdom and compassion of great beings, so that we wish for the good things to be shared, and for the enlightened beings to live long and remain among us.
The dedication has already been explained at length in the past. From the Buddhist and especially from the Mahayana Buddhist point of view, dedication is regarded as one of the most important practices. It is believed that if we do something that is very positive but do not dedicate it for a big purpose, the result will certainly come, but will be short-lived. We can compare it to getting a large sum of money and going to the supermarket to buy everything. When we have spent it all, we have nothing left. On the other hand, if we dedicate even a small positive action to a great cause, the result will not be exhausted until the goal for which we have dedicated it is accomplished. Therefore the deeper, wider, bigger purpose or cause for which we dedicate, the better, larger, grander positive effects we will get. If we dedicate even a small positive deed to the enlightenment of all sentient beings, its results will be felt until it happens, we will keep on reaping the positive results. Therefore, it is like putting the whole sum on a fixed deposit in a bank, and getting a very high interest rate.
These are the seven branches of the prayer.
After this comes a long prayer enumerating the names of all the holders of the lineage, right from the time of Vajradhara, with whom the lineage of the Mahamudra started. This is a very inspiring prayer if we know the lives of these masters, otherwise it does not make much sense. I am not going to go through this, but I would advise those of you who wish to do this guru yoga to read the biographies of these great masters, the songs and writings they may have left behind, and the stories related to their lives, so that you understand who they were and feel inspired while reading the prayer. It should inspire us, otherwise there is no purpose in reading it. The more we know about these masters, the more we will develop devotion, and the better we will understand the practice, because the more we understand the experiences of the masters who have actually practised and got real experience out of it, the more we understand what the practice is about. All the names listed here are meant to make us so strongly inspired that, as is said in the texts: "all our hairs stand on end, and tears well up in our eyes".
Feeling inspired is what this prayer is all about. This reminds me of a story a little bit related to this. A highwayman, a kind of bandit from Kham was dying. A Lama came by his side and instructed him to think of the Buddhas, the Lamas and so on. The dying Khampa answered he could not think of them. "What can you think of?" asked the Lama. "Well", answered the man, "all I can think of is this: sausages, sizzling on hot ashes, very hot, a little bursting, looking delicious." The Lama then told him: "Actually, the pure land of Dewachen is full of such hot sizzling ash-coloured sausages. They are hanging from every branch of every tree, and you do not even have to pick them up: if you lie down under a tree, they will fall in your open mouth!
Even Amitabha Buddha, the main Buddha of this pure land, is also a little bit ash-coloured. Can you now think of that?" "Oh, yes, yes!" answered the highwayman. He then thought of this pure land, felt very inspired, died peacefully and was reborn in Dewachen. So if all you can think of are sizzling sausages, you can still imagine all the Lamas of the lineage holding sizzling sausages! .... But maybe you would prefer sizzling potatoes, French fries!
After the long lineage prayer comes another prayer to the lineage in a shorter form, which is also very meaningful. It is often used as an instruction for the Mahamudra. One can get a complete Mahamudra teaching on this lineage prayer alone.
The "Manam djekhor", or four lines prayer, comes after the short lineage prayer. It is repeated as much as possible. It says:
"All beings my mothers, throughout space, pray to the Lama, the precious Buddha,
It is not a command but an instruction, an invitation. We are not alone, we think we are surrounded by all the other beings, who are as close to us as our mother (if our mother is close to us - otherwise anybody who is close to us), and we all pray together to the Guru, whom we see as a precious Buddha.
All beings, my mothers, throughout space, pray to the guru, the all-pervading Dharmakaya,
All beings, my mothers throughout space, pray to the guru, the very blissful Sambhogakaya,
All beings, my mothers throughout space, pray to the guru, the very compassionate Nirmanakaya."
We think of the guru as three kayas or three aspects, three forms of an enlightened being: the Dharmakaya, the Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya. The Dharmakaya is the enlightened state of an enlightened being, of a Buddha's mind: completely limitless wisdom and compassion. The Dharmakaya is the aspect of limitless awareness without concepts and duality.
The Sambhogakaya is sometimes called the enjoyment body, or the blissful body. This is a Buddha's own experience of the enlightened state, how an enlightened being feels himself: it is an ever joyful compassionate aspect.
The Nirmanakaya is the manifestation. Wherever there is a possibility of helping anybody, wherever he is needed, a Buddha appears under whatever form is appropriate. That power to manifest spontaneously is the Nirmanakaya aspect.
A completely enlightened being is the embodiment of these three kayas. It is very difficult to describe an enlightened being, because our mind cannot conceive it in its totality. Describing a Buddha through his Kayas is an attempt to approach this other dimension through three or sometimes four aspects, this fourth kaya representing the inseparability of the three others.
Here we pray to the guru seen as inseparable from these three aspects. Whether our own guru is completely enlightened or not does not matter. Here again, what is essential is to feel devotion.
The prayer is followed by the recitation of the mantra:
which we repeat as much as possible. We also repeat the following wishing prayer:
"I pray to the precious guru,
Grant your blessing that my mind may let go of the belief in a self,
Grant your blessing that desirelessness be born in me,
Grant your blessing that non Dharma thoughts may cease,
Grant your blessing that I may realise my mind as unborn,
Grant your blessing that delusion may subside of itself,
Grant your blessing that phenomena be realised to be the Dharmakaya"
We pray like this for ourselves and for all the sentient beings. We never do this Guru Yoga or any Vajrayana practice for ourselves alone: we always think that all other sentient beings throughout space are present around us, and we do our practice together with them.
The prayer "Calling the lama from afar" comes next. It is quite long and whether we do it completely or select several passages will depend on the time we can devote to our practice.
At the end, we have the empowerments. This is a very important part which we cannot leave out. We find empowerments in all guru yoga practices. First we say a prayer to request the empowerments:
"Glorious perfect guru, please grant me the four empowerments that bring spiritual maturity. Bless me that I may quickly be ripe for the four streams of practice. Grant me accomplishment of the four activities"
After we have said this prayer, those who accompany the main figure, all the gurus of the lineage and all the enlightened beings disappear, melt into light and merge with the main guru in the centre, Vajradhara, who represents our own guru and thus becomes the embodiment of all the Precious Ones. The text says:
"Then from him, a white light emanates from his forehead and dissolves in my forehead, it purifies all obstructions caused by physical misdeeds, I receive the vase empowerment, enabling me to practise the visualisation stage of meditation, I now have the fortunate opportunity of achieving the Nirmanakaya.
From his throat, a read light emanates and dissolves into my throat, and dissolves all obscurations caused by speech, I receive the secret empowerment enabling me to meditate on the subtle channels and energies. I now have the fortunate opportunity of achieving the Sambhogakaya.
From his heart, a blue light emanates and dissolves into my heart, and purifies all obstructions of the mind. I receive the wisdom empowerment, enabling me to practise the meditation that establishes the stability. I now have the fortunate opportunity of achieving the Dharmakaya.
Then the three lights, white, red and blue radiate together and purify simultaneously my three centres. I receive the fourth empowerment enabling me to realise Mahamudra. I now have the fortunate possibility of achieving the Svabhavikakaya, the union of the three kayas."
We now feel that we have completely, experientially realised the enlightened state of Mahamudra. This is what we call the Four Empowerments of body, speech, mind, and all three together. When we receive it, we should very strongly feel that we are transformed, that we actualise the enlightened state. This is a very important part and almost the end of the guru yoga.
After having given the empowerments, the guru melts, becomes a ball of light, and that ball of light enters into our body through the top of our head, and we become one with him:
"The guru's three vajras, (that is his body, mind and speech) are undifferentiated and of one taste, endowed with the three-fold mindfulness that integrates everything into the path, spontaneous presence, quality and automatic liberation"
This is a literal translation. It means that we become one with the guru, one with the enlightened state. Our mind and the guru's mind, the enlightened beings mind become one. Our inner guru has been awaken. We are one, there is no difference between the enlightened beings and ourselves.
We try to "be" in that state of mind, to remain in that meditation, and that is the end of the Guru Yoga. We have come to the conclusion that there is no separation between our outer and inner guru. We see our true nature, which is actually the Buddha. In that unlimited, non conceptual state of being, we remain for some time and rest in a relaxed way. Relaxation is important at every stage of practice in Buddhism. We cannot practise with tensions. Although we have to be very diligent (I always tell the story of Milarepa's last teaching to Gampopa to stress the importance of diligent practice), we have to practise in a very subtle, relaxed way. The more relaxed we are, the more spacious we become, the better our practice will be. If we practice in a forceful way, being too tight, too tense, we can encounter some problems, therefore it is advised to relax.
At the end comes a long version of the dedication prayer, which I will simply read out:
"Every being without exception has the vajra mind, eternal and blissful. Idedicate the virtue generated by this practice to them all since it brings Buddhahood, immortality, through the union of skills and understanding and entry into changelessness through the inner path.
Through this virtue may I quickly achieve the Mahamudra and thereafter my I bring all beings, without exception, to that same state.
Through the blessings of the buddhas' achievement of the three kayas, through the blessing of the truth of the changeless Dharma and through the blessing of the sangha's undivided aspiration, may this dedication prayer come true.
Through the goodness of all the roots of virtue I have gathered in the three times, may I, in all my lives, collect and uphold the pure teachings of my Guru, Karmapa, the Lord of Dharma. Thereby may the development of my own and others' understanding be brought to complete maturity. May I, in each and every one of my existences, be like splendid Vajrapani, unerring in everything related to the quintessence of the subtle form, speech and mind.
May I always be a fitting vessel for the study of, and realisation through insight of all aspects of liberation of the subtle form, speech and mind.
May I never be separate from them in all my existences, even for an instant, just as the body is never separate from its shadow.
May I achieve the felicity of the five joys.
May I be able to complete all my projects, just as planned, through learning a vast panorama of activities which cultivate the two accumulations.
May I never be lazy even for a moment in being an instrument of my guru's activity.
May I achieve his works through the four modes of peaceful, increasing, powerful and wrathful activity.
May whatever actions I perform through my three doors carry my guru's instructions to completion.
May what I achieve through the nine modes of service be pleasing to him.
May whatever virtuous, unvirtuous or neutral action I perform be something which is pleasing for him.
May I never for an instant do something which is displeasing for him.
May I be the instrument of the principal activity of my Guru and great master of Dharma.
May I become the inheritor of the teachings of my Guru.
May I become able to quell all sickness, strife and famine throughout the ten directions.
May I truly actualise the Mahamudra at the clear light stage of death.
May there be no intermediate bardo manifestations but integration into the mandala of glorious Vajrasattva.
Abiding in that state, may I elevate all beings to the state of great Vajradhara through the mighty play of the Vajrayana.
In brief, may I become like my guru, the profound master of Dharma, one through whom there is liberation when seen, when heard, when called to mind and when touched.
May I ever be mindful, in the depth of my hear, of the absolute certainty in death.
May I enter the blessing of Mikyo Gawa through complete authentic renunciation born of total weariness with Samsara and the growth of natural faith and devotion.
May there never be, either for myself or any other person, involvement with arrogance about oneself, condemnation of others and delight in others' weaknesses and downfalls.
In all my existences, may I be nurtured and cared for by the best of all friends, the supremely caring holder of the Black Crown, the essence yidams glorious Dewacho and Korlo Dompa.
May I, in each and every one of my existences, achieve the state never separate from guru Mikyö Dorjé, yidam Dorjé Naljorma, Dharma protector Bernarkchen and so forth.
Every being, without exception, has the Vajra mind, eternal and blissful.
I dedicate the virtue (generated by this practice) to them, since it brings Buddhahood - immortality, through the union of skills and understanding and entry into changelessness through the inner path."
The dedication is longer, but we will stop here. This dedication ends the Guru Yoga and this session of teachings.
(Thank you very much. I have enjoyed my stay in Brussels, like last year, like all the time, and I feel a little sad that I have to go. It always happens with me: when I stay somewhere for a longer period of time, I get attached to the place, attached to the people, and it feels bad to leave. And then again, I go to another place, and it happens the same way ...What to do? That’s life ... Anyway, thank you all very much.)
© Ringu Tulku - Bodhicharya.org