1 Engaging with the Buddha - Geshe Tenzin Zopa Session 2 This short text that we will be going through, Foundation of All Good Qualities (FGQ) is a Lam Rim text. Lam Rim is Tibetan for the Graduated Path to Enlightenment. It is a roadmap, a guide set out by Lord Buddha to lead us from our present lost, samsaric state up to full enlightenment. Buddha learned from, practiced and was blessed by his Gurus including Manjushri, Amitbha over many lifetimes, over many eons in the past. So the text that you are going to study is one which contains the entire path with no contradictions and was practiced by all the past Buddhas by Amitabha, by Kuan Yin, by Shakyamuni Buddha, by Tara, by Lama Tsongkhapa, by all the great Indian Pandits and all the great mahasiddhas of Tibet, China etc. The Lam Rim is not new age Dharma created by some ordinary scholar but is the Dharma handed down by the Buddha which enables us to attain full enlightenment. This text was composed by Lama Tsongkapa, whose qualities embodied those of Manjushri and Shakyamuni Buddha himself, based this text on Lama Atisha s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment which in turn, came from the Kangyur which is the complete collection of all the teachings of the Buddha himself. So it is all connected. This FGQ text is written in verse form and I will cover one verse in each class soon there will be a book published by LDC for free distribution, containing the commentary of these verses which you can use as your textbook. If you can manage it, you can also progress to the Lam Rim Chenmo which is a much more detailed Lam Rim text and was also composed by Lama Tsongkhapa. Otherwise, just try to get some understanding from these classes. The main teaching in this text is the 3 principal aspects of the Path, namely renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness. Other words that are sometimes used for these 3 principles are renunciation, method and wisdom. These teachings help us purify 3 countless eons of obscurations, obstacles and many negative imprints and enable us to accumulate 3 countless eons of merits/good karma. Without learning these 3 principles, it would be as if we have a body but no limbs. For us to gain realisations on the Dharma, we need to engage in meditation to habituate our body, speech and mind with these 3 principles. All the Buddhas possess the great compassionate bodhi mind (bodhicitta) and this altruistic mind is what we need to cultivate. To do this, we need to make it a habit for to think compassionately. Right now, we have emotional and discriminating minds. We need to transform that into the bodhi mind. For this to happen, we need to familiarise ourselves with compassion and virtue through meditation. However, to be a successful meditator, we need to engage into the cultivation of knowledge obtained through contemplation on the Dharma. Contemplation can only happen after one learns the Dharma. Studying, contemplating and meditating: The first step is to get the info, learn the correct path. After learning, we need to contemplate and analyse what was taught to see whether those teachings have the power to eliminate negative mind and action or not; after this contemplation, we adopt the key points derived from our contemplation and treat those key points as the object of meditation. The result of meditation is realisations. Realisations of what? Of bodhicitta, of wisdom. What is the measure of successful meditation on bodhicitta? Your heart becomes bodhicitta itself, free from emotional negative states of being, always
2 wanting to benefit others. Through applying these 3 stages of practice onto the teachings on the 3 principal aspects of the path (renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness), you perfect them within yourself and become a Buddha. In this text, the first verse is about the Guru. How to find a right Guru and after finding a Guru, how to relate to the teacher. As you already know and saw in the slide show just now even in ordinary life, you require a teacher to develop any knowledge or skill, not to mention the spiritual path. In terms of ordinary life, samsaric activities, we have learned the skills over many lifetimes and yet still need to learn them again in this lifetime, e.g. how to cook; how to drive. Likewise, we may have met Dharma before but we never gained Dharma realisations and that s why we need a teacher to guide us now. Verse 1 of FGQ: Here the word foundation refers to your spiritual teacher, Master, Guru, mentor. All these may have different connotations but overall, one s Guru is all those things. Here one is talking about one spiritual master to whom you have spiritual connection. The advice that the Guru is the foundation of all of one s good qualities up to the perfect qualities of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas means that if we wish to gain the great qualities of Buddhahood, we need to rely on a Guru. Although one should be grateful to all forms of teachers, the spiritual Guru is special because he/she guides you to attain your highest potential i.e. enlightenment. If you wish to be free from lower realms, you need to rely on a Guru; if you wish liberation from samsara, you need to rely on a Guru; if you wish to become a Buddha, you need to rely on a Guru. Since the Guru is so important, can one just go out and grab anyone as your Guru? No! You need to search for a guru but there is a method of finding a Guru. First of all, you need to have within yourself, some sense of wishing to be free from suffering; to be free from this confusing samsaric life; wishing to get a genuine and lasting state of happiness. If you have this basic feeling, then you are ready to search for a Guru. When looking for a Guru, the Teacher should possess 10 qualities. As a minimum, that Teacher must have a compassionate heart; cares for others more than oneself; lives an ethical life (i.e. someone who practices at least the 5 lay vows. If the Teacher is a Sangha member, then that Teacher should be one who abides by the Vinaya Vows and puts maximum effort into upholding them). Where does one go to look for such a Guru? Do we wait somewhere for the Teacher to come along? Do we go to every temple to search for a Guru? Don t rush on this. There will be some sense of karmic force to make you to look for a teacher. When you experience this, use your wisdom and tell yourself I shouldn t blindly search but observe and seek out a Teacher who has qualities and can teach the entire path and not only partially. The entire Buddha s teachings refers to both sutra and tantra and your purpose in finding a teacher is to be able to gain knowledge of that whole path and not only part of it. The student should resolve I m not going to blindly jump into a Guru-disciple relationship after merely listening to one teaching from a master. Let me listen to more of the teachings first and think about them and when I gain conviction that the master is teaching the complete path and the master is ethical & selfless, then at that time, it may be appropriate to enter into a Gurudisciple relationship.
3 When you are on the search for a Guru, you should keep a questioning mind because establishing faith without wisdom is risky; it can even become an obstacle to your spiritual path. Analyse the qualities of the master before accepting that person as one s Guru. Ask questions and analyse the answers yourself. Do not merely rely on other people s comments on the master but whether this master can answer your questions and clear your doubts. One needs this kind of conviction. So keep some key points in mind when searching for a Guru: It is very important to find a spiritual Guru but I wish to say again that one cannot rush into it without analysis. Put effort to attend Dharma classes, listen to his teachings or read his books. You need to put some effort. Otherwise, you cannot discover anything. Whenever you listen, you should maintain a curious investigative mind, to establish the qualities of the Teacher and the teachings being given. Don t merely rely on other people s comments and assessments of the teacher. You need to engage directly and observe. Ask yourself when you meet the master or listen to the master or remember the master, does it cause your mind to be subdued or not? If it does, that is one indication that there is some karmic link with that teacher. Use your wisdom. After hearing the teacher, read up, check whether there are any contradictions between what the teacher taught and what the Buddha taught. There is no negative karma when doing this checking and analysing the person you are thinking to regard as Guru, it is required. But once you establish the Guru-disciple relationship, no more doubts are to arise in your mind, as that becomes an obstacle to your cultivation and realisations. The story of Asanga when he was searching for his guru Maitreya, to meet him directly and it took him 12 years. He didn t do it in a simple way he engaged in a long solitary retreat and put much effort to find this Guru. After the first 3 years of retreat, he hadn t met his Guru but he did see a rock with a deep groove made by the feather of a bird. Due to the frequency of the bird flying past that rock, the wings made a deep cut into the rock. This Asanga understood to mean that he should persevere in his search, since through consistent effort, even a soft feather could cut rock. After the next 3 years, he still didn t see his guru. He went out of his cave and observed that some dripping water falling onto a rock had over time, made a deep hole in the rock. This Asanga took as a lesson that perseverance enabled even drops of water to bore a hole into rock. With this, he returned to the cave. In the final round of 3 years, he went out again hoping to see his guru and this time, he saw an old, wounded dog outside his cave, which had many sores filled with maggots. When he saw this dog, he generated deep compassion in his heart. Seeking to help the dog and yet not wanting to harm the maggots while removing them from the dog s sores, he used his tongue to lift the maggots out of the dog s wounds. As he bent down to do that, the dog disappeared and before him was his Guru, Maitreya. Asanga was so happy but asked Maitreya why he didn t come sooner. Maitreya explained to him that he was with Asanga all those years but because of Asanga s karma, he was not able
4 to see him; however because Asanga generated such strong compassion that day, it purified so much obstacles that he was now able to see Maitreya. Asanga didn t quite believe that Maitreya was with him all those years. To convince him, Maitreya said Look at my robes and these spit marks on them. During your retreat, you would spit and your spit would stain my robes and here you can see it. Asanga was so happy to see Maitreya that he wanted to carry him on his shoulders through the nearby village to let the villagers meet Maitreya. Maitreya told Asanga that it was pointless because most people there had t the karma to see him directly. Asanga didn t quite believe this could be so and thus carried Maitreya as he had asked. True enough, many of the villagers either couldn t see anything on Asanga s shoulders, some saw an old dog being carried and only an old woman of some virtue was able to see Maitreya s golden foot. Therefore, encountering the Guru is not easy. But if the perfect disciple can meet the perfect Guru, enlightenment can happen right there. Maitreya brought Asanga to the Pureland for one morning which was equivalent of 5 human lives, and there Asanga received all the teachings the 5 Treatise. So we need to put a lot of effort and purification of karma to meet the right teacher, whose teachings will be the cause of liberation and enlightenment. Correct devotion to him after finding a proper Teacher, the student needs to correctly devote to the Guru. By doing so, whatever practice one does becomes the root of enlightenment. How to devote correctly? There are 2 ways through physical action and mentally, through one s thoughts. Devoting through action refers to various ways of showing respect. Imagine if you met Amitabha Buddha in person, how would you behave? Would you march up to him to shake hands? You d probably put your palms together and call his name respectfully. That s how one should behave with the Guru. Verbally, use honorific terms for the master. Mentally, must see the Guru as embodiment of all the Buddhas. Once, one of the Pandits (Atisha) was meditating on Green Tara. At that time he also had a vision of Chenresig (Kuan Yin) and also of Tara. He said whilst Tara appeared green and Chenersig appeared white, to him they were inseparable from his master. This is to denote that whilst Buddhas may have different manifestations, they are of one essence and of the same essence as that of one s Guru. In short, Guru devotion practice is seeing the Guru as being in oneness with the Buddha, as the embodiment of the Buddha. This is the realisation to be cultivated and attained. When one sees Guru, one sees all aspects of the Buddha in him. It is not an easy practice. If both Guru and disciple do not abide by the guru devotion practices, the practice will degenerate e.g. if you met your Guru on the street and you fear that if you started to bow down to him, people will laugh at you, so you don t offer your respects to him or if one s master in not wanting you to face being ridiculed by others, stops you from paying respects, then there is the danger of degeneration of the practice.
5 Devote oneself to a qualified master one who knows the entire path and upholds vows and lives ethically. If one devotes correctly and devotes well, it will bring success to one s cultivation. Having understood the importance of correct devotion to the Guru, one should put effort to sustain this guru devotion practice and pray for blessings from the Buddha to practice well. When you see Buddha directly, you purify so much negative karma and this can happen when one truly from one s heart, sees the guru as inseparable from the Buddha. During the Buddha s time, there was once where there were 3 kids playing in the sand, as the Buddha was passing by. One of them was inspired to make offering to the Buddha he had nothing and thus, picked up some sand and put it into the Buddha s begging bowl as an offering. Through this single act, the boy became a Wheel Turning Dharma King. So whether one gains benefit from devotion depends on the mind of the disciple if one regards one s Guru as merely an ordinary teacher, then one will get ordinary benefit from that relationship; but if one seems one s Guru as the Buddha with all the virtuous qualities, one then gains the maximum benefit. Conversely, if the Buddha appears before you and you only see the Buddha as ordinary, then the merit will be ordinary. In the famous ancient Buddhist Monastic University called Nalanda, all the scholars practiced seeing the Guru as the Buddha and hence they obtained the benefit of high realisations and some attained enlightenment. Can one have one or more teachers? It is up to the individual. In the early times in Buddhist India, there were many realised beings who by devoting to one Guru, were able to obtain great realisations but here, we rely on many Gurus but cannot get any realisations! Lama Atisha (7 th century) explained that the practitioners in India, by seeing the Buddha in Guru, they were able to actualise the entire knowledge of the Dharma; whereas in Tibet (during Lama Atisha s time there) they didn t have such a view, hence, they gained no benefit. Similarly, by correctly devoting to one Buddha-deity, one is able to attain enlightenment and be of one taste with all the Buddhas. Hence one needs devotion and devote correctly. The fundamental point is to be able to see the Buddha s qualities in one s Guru. Thus if your level of devotion can handle multiple gurus, go ahead; but if not, then having one Guru is safer. If having established a guru-disciple relationship, you don t devote correctly, it becomes obstacle to your cultivation. What are the ways to establish a guru-disciple relationship? There are several ways: It could be through the process I earlier set out i.e. finding a Guru through analysis and finally requesting the Guru to be one s Guru or having developed faith in a master as Guru, listening to that master s teachings; or it could also arise as a result of a master giving you a vow (e.g. Refuge Vow, Bodhisattva vow, vows from initiations). Once that happens, one needs to devote correctly to that Guru. In my case, I have none of the qualities of a qualified Guru, yet I give Refuge vows, so upon taking those vows, the teachings on Guru Devotion apply. Correct guru devotion brings vast merit; whereas a breach of guru devotion brings heavy negative karma. Therefore, one needs to understand the significance of taking vows, taking transmissions and initiations and creating a Guru-Disciple relationship.
6 The reason for exercising caution in establishing a Guru-Disciple relationship is because our minds are fragile, hence our devotion is fragile and karmic consequences will follow. HH Dalai Lama says it is easier to devote to master sitting on high throne and whom one rarely meets. But it is much more challenging to sustain guru devotion towards a guru who lives with you or is in regular contact because it is easy for one to project our own faults onto the guru. In conclusion, mentally, one should always be one with the guru but physically, best to remain as far as possible. Let s say you do find your Guru but subsequently, you see or hear something seriously negative about your guru, what do you do? As a disciple, think that the Guru is manifesting a negative display in order to teach us not to be that way. For example, when the Guru scolds you, see it as a teaching; see it as a mind-training exercise for you. Having established the Guru-Disciple relationship, one needs to abandon one s sceptical mind in relation to that guru. No more checking about whether Guru is pure. One should focus on the qualities, not the faults. If Guru gives you a very heavy task and you cannot do it, what should one do? The teachings say that one can respectfully and without any loss of faith in Guru, explain that whilst one will do that task one day but right now, one is not ready to do so and therefore respectfully request the guru to postpone the task till later. But note that although one may postponed a task many times, there will come a time when you have to do it! Questions & Answers Question: As ordinary people, it will be difficult to practice the 3 principal aspects of the path in our daily lives. How can we do it? Ans: In order to be able to practice renunciation, one needs to engage in being more detached towards common distractions such as avoiding intoxication, negative friends who indulge in unethical activities, learn to be contented with one s gains e.g. we need to work hard to earn money but one shouldn t be overly attached to money. Earn money with the mind of right purpose e.g. helping others. If one earns money just to be rich and enjoy life for one s own benefit alone, that kind of self centredness will deny us satisfaction, plus bring a lot of suffering to oneself. Satisfaction comes when engaging in activities that help others (within your means), preserving virtue, Dharma teachings. All these help in the practice of renunciation. To integrate bodhicitta into one s daily life begin by at least expressing unconditional, unbiased love towards all beings and not just express care for the person/object of your desire; cultivate the heart that wishes all other beings to be happy. Learn about karma, life and rebirth and try to see the interdependence between all sentient beings. Remind oneself that one has the ability and responsibility to ease the suffering of all sentient beings and do your best to serve others. Cultivate compassion and as minimum, wish all beings to be free from suffering. Before going to sleep, generate this thought too. Think, When I go to college, it is for the ultimate purpose of helping sentient beings I go to work to free sentient beings; I eat
7 to free sentient beings. Repeatedly think this way until it becomes second nature to oneself to have this kind of thinking. When you are well trained in this way, bodhicitta will naturally arise. The highest level of compassion is called bodhicitta. To integrate emptiness or right view into daily life: Learn to view how everything is like an illusion; everything is a creation which comes about from various factors. Analyse it - when you try to grasp at a person/object and try to pin-point something that is the essence of that person/object, you will discover that there is no solidly, independently-existing object for one to grasp at. There is no fixed permanent object to hold onto for us to be angry at. Of course, at first, to meditate this way takes time and one s affliction like anger might have already arisen. So one begins by training in emptiess by holding the thought that there is no object of anger or object of desire that is independent of one s mental projection. Start by training in having such a thought. Then progress to exploring this concept further and you will find that there is not a single atom of an object of anger or an object of attachment. Let s say you like this cup and someone breaks it; you get upset. If we train in thinking that this cup (and its attractiveness which gave rise to our being liking it) does not exist on its own but came about due to many factors, our grasping towards the cup will loosen. Our misconception makes us believe that things exist on their own out there. Instead, think that all things are empty of inherent existence. Or you could also think this way think that all things are a dependent arising e.g. why do people hurt me? Because I ve hurt people before. For me to stop experiencing hurt, I must now not retaliate and cause harm in return. By realising inter-dependence and cause & effect, we come to understand the emptiness of self and phenomena a bit more. Q: We are supposed to generate more compassion but how do we generate great compassion and bodhicitta without attachment? Ans: The practice of bodhicitta and emptiness must be done on the basis of renunciation. This way, the complication of attachment and afflictions will not arise. If by generating compassion towards someone gives rise to attachment, our compassion is not pure nor stable. Hence we first need to cultivate renunciation towards samsara and the causes of samsara which include objects of desire, anger and indifference. Further, compassion must be unconditional without any expectation of return or result. Compassion towards family and friends is mixed with attachment and hence not really pure. Whenever you feel hurt, it shows there is some underlying attachment there. In all situations, one should first check one s motivation to see whether it is pure or not. Q: Can I have a Guru from any Buddhist tradition? Ans: Yes, why not? Q; Is it possible not to follow any particular Buddhist tradition but seek direct teachings from Kuan Yin?
8 Ans: Yes, why not. There are some situation of special connections with Buddha-deities, so why not? Q: Why do Buddhas have to continue their work in the form of Teachers? Ans: Because we do not have the merit to meet the Buddha directly and hear the words directly from the Buddha. Thus, the teachings have to be transmitted from person to person, as an oral tradition. For this, the Buddha has to manifest himself as a human being so that we can interact with him. The Buddha taught that during degenerate times, he will appear in the form of Teachers who manifest birth, aging, sickness, death. Buddha is indestructible yet we may see that one s Guru manifests sickness, aging and death. Why? Because these are teachings on the contaminated nature of aggregates; of samsara; teachings of impermanence. But does it mean that Guru is samsaaric being? No. Guru is only manifesting a body that is subject to decay. Buddha has to manifest different bodies to teach and reach different sentient beings. Q: How are we to differentiate between guru devotion and guru attachment? Ans: If you feel jealous when someone gets closer to the Guru, then you are most likely affected by Guru attachment. But if you are more happy that others are getting closer to the Guru and learning more Dharma, then it s more like devotion.