Calling the Lama from Afar

by His Eminence the 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

What we presently call Buddhism arose out of India; the Buddha Shakyamuni originally taught there and his dharma teachings spread from there. Later on in history, it was possible for the Buddha’s teaching to arrive in Tibet. This was due to inviting skillful translators, teachers and other accomplished beings who made it possible to translate all of the Buddha’s original words and teachings into the Tibetan language. Likewise, all the commentaries (which explained the dharma) available at the time, authored by Indian masters, were translated into Tibetan. Over time, even the great scholars and accomplished yogis of Tibet wrote commentaries on the basis of the Buddha’s words as recorded in the scriptures.

Through these efforts, all the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni which include the view, the path of meditation and the fruition of realization spread and disseminated. This enabled Buddhist to practice the spoken words of the Buddha.

In general, there are two specific ways in which one can practice the Buddha’s teachings:

The first way is when the practitioner uses the power of one’s own intelligence. One learns about the pure dharma, and afterward deeply contemplates its meaning and understands it. This is accomplished through years of meticulous study, so that an extensive understanding is acquired. Through this method, confidence is developed in the dharma. The practitioner uses one’s own intelligence and discernment to recognize the right and accurate path; a certainty and confidence unfolds which allows us to gradually meditate, and then integrate the teachings into our own experience.

The other possible way is to have deep conviction in the most important points of the dharma; one understands and follows the basic teachings of the Buddha without failure. This means one is not ignorant, as one must understand the teachings accurately. However, the practitioner does not go too deeply into study and contemplation regarding the teachings. Instead, one has confidence and turns towards meditation practice. It is then through meditation practice and actual experience that one develops all the inner understanding and knowledge of the dharma.

Now, what is the connection or commonality that these two specific ways to practice, from which we choose between, have? They both aim at enabling the practitioner to understand the Buddhist view of the world and reality; this view is that the mind should react properly and develop true awareness. Even when studying, one is not attached to the mere words themselves.

The Buddha said, “Do not be attached to the words themselves, but trust and understand the (true, inner) meaning.”

So, the practitioner must first accomplish this state of awareness; if one is not aware then nothing can possibly be accomplished in practice. For example, the first main insight gained by a Buddhist on the path is that worldly life and goals do not guide one to anything ultimately; they have no real meaning. However, if one has no awareness or mindfulness, one is just stuck on the words of this insight; one does not have any experience to understand the meaning of it. Then, this profound insight about the selfless nature of worldly life will not be integrated into one’s own experience. It becomes useless.

Therefore, one must hold onto this awareness for more than a fleeting moment. Once this awareness about the world is integrated into one’s own experience, then whenever a positive or negative situation (or action) arises, one will react properly. One will recognize the truth behind such an action. Awareness is helpful to still all the disturbing emotions, it is the basis for all practice and good-doing.

In Tibetan, we say meditation is not merely just sitting down, it is not just “meditation.” This sounds like a wordplay, but it simply means that meditation is not just this; true meditation is to be accustomed or more closely aware of the truth, to be aware throughout one’s entire experience.

When we practice meditation, one can focus the mind on different objects. But, this is not really the goal of meditation. The point is what develops out of this single-pointed concentration of the mind, which is the basis of awareness integrated into our own experience.

So, meditation is not only just a phase of sitting down and meditating, it is really about using awareness everyday, every moment. Usually our awareness is disturbed and becomes uncontrolled due to distractions created by the five sense organs. But once awareness is there, distraction cannot be spoken of. True meditation is not merely sitting or concentrating on something special, that is just the method to develop the real practice of holding onto awareness.

Once this true meditation is there, one realizes that out of our mind (or consciousness) a continuous stream of thoughts emerge. This fact and thought-process alone demonstrates that the mind’s true nature is emptiness and clarity. Through awareness, one comes to carefully study the consciousness and see directly that it is emptiness; one cannot find it or hold on any aspect or thought! Through awareness, one sees the different thoughts going and coming, one recognizes the clarity of the mind this way. Emptiness and clarity are the clear aspects of the mind or consciousness

If there is this clarity and emptiness, there should not be any fault in the mind. But, then, how does confusion arise? Confusion is when one does not know or understand what the clear aspect of the mind is about. One runs after thoughts and tries to possess them, one attempts to describe the mind with words and expressions, and gets stuck on ideas and beliefs; this is what brings forth real confusion!

Awareness must then be counted on; it is needed so that the clear aspect is fully seen, so that the practitioner does not run after the notional process which ends in confusion. Awareness leads to seeing the clarity and emptiness of the mind. What leads to this awareness and understanding? First we study, and then contemplate the teachings, and then meditate; we rely on these methods to accomplish our task of gaining true awareness.

However, this entire task of gaining awareness has preconditions. To develop this sort of wisdom, one needs a spiritual friend. The need for a spiritual friend has different meanings within the Three Vehicles (yanas) of Buddhism; the role of the spiritual friend is different for the various lineages and vehicles of Buddhism.

In the Hinayana, or lesser vehicle which aims for the self to be freed from suffering, the spiritual friend is a good friend who shows you the teachings and starts the process of understanding.

In the Mahayana, or greater vehicle which aims for the self and others to be freed from suffering, the spiritual friend is a very special person. In the Mahayana, the spiritual friend should not just merely understand the words; he or she should have integrated the teachings into his life. For Mahayana practitioners, the spiritual friend should be at least a Bodhisattva, a noble being who can be a role model in every situation.

In the Vajrayana, or vehicle of expedient means of tantra, the spiritual friend is even more important, he or she is seen as the Buddha himself. One does not just simply see the spiritual friend as the Buddha, but develops deep respect and devotion, and treats him like he really is the Buddha.

The spiritual friend then does not just repeat the words of the Buddhadharma. He guides the practitioner through all his appearances, words and expressions. This is really what a Lama, or Guru in Sanskrit, is.

A Root Guru in particular is more than just a spiritual friend then, there is a difference because with a root guru there is a genuine close communication which transcends mere words. There are many people who explain the dharma only with words, they use many, many words. Sometimes even though they use many words, the dharma becomes less and less clear, and one’s meditation does not improve.

But the root guru uses both words and the whole environment to express the Buddhadharma; his entire expression influences the practitioner. So, one can effectively include the teachings into one’s life and the practitioner can be guided to recognize the true nature of the mind, the clear aspect of the mind. It is important to know that the root guru is the one who enables the practitioner to see the nature of the mind. That is why one must develop a genuine relationship with a root guru.

In the beginning of such a relationship, the practitioner should develop a deep sense of devotion and respect towards all his actions. His actions guide our mind to understanding and to a positive state; his actions liberate our consciousness and we, knowing this, have a deep trust that all aspects of his actions are there to guide us the right way.

One must not simply have trust in the root guru as a thought, this must spontaneously arise from inside oneself. Devotion is not imagined! It never changes, it is stable, it stays within you. Once this is developed, there is a true sense of devotion and confidence that arises spontaneously. One understands that the Root Guru and the Buddha Shakyamuni are not different, one does not serve the two of them differently.

There is an example I will give now, right from Buddhist history, about developing the correct view towards the root guru; the example is from the relationship of Naropa and Marpa.

Marpa Lotsawa, from Tibet, sat in front of his teacher, the Indian siddha and pandita Naropa. Naropa, through his abilities, manifested forth the meditation deity Hevajra. So, Hevajra appeared to the right side of Naropa.

Then, Naropa asked Marpa to make prostrations. Marpa, now, had to make a choice who to prostrate to. Since Hevajra was so special, and seeing the deity in front of him was so rare, Marpa decided he would prostrate to Hevajra instead of Naropa.

Marpa's choice was incorrect, as Naropa pointed out. The root guru is the source of all inspiration; everything else is simply the manifestation and activity of his teaching. Hevajra and all rest of the dharma were manifestations of the root guru. Without the root guru, dharma activity and manifestations would not exist.

Out of this understanding, based on the relationship of Naropa and Marpa, did the Kagyu Tradition develop. This example from the relationship of Naropa and Marpa was meant to bring understanding, that one must trust and have confidence in the activity of the Lama. The Lama and the Buddha are inseparably connected; they are indistinguishable!

This devotion must be more than a thought; trust in the guru should be like Marpa’s reaction to the appearance of Hevajra. At the moment Hevajra appeared, true conviction and respect spontaneously arose out of Marpa.

This spontaneous and unchanging devotion must come out from inside, it is what makes the activity of the teacher special. This devotion is what makes Vajrayana special and expedient. This devotion, which causes one to see the Lama and the Buddha as inseparable, is what awakens one’s inner potential; it allows us to liberate our mind and see our true nature, Buddha-nature, directly.

Meditation (which allows us to liberate our mind) is not something one learns in some special way, one achieves through a special efforts or becomes. Meditation is developed naturally in the mind and should accompany the practitioner all the time. Meditation does not come from the outside, it comes from within one’s mind.

For awareness to develop, the teacher is needed; his or her guidance and inspiration is of such great important.

There are several methods for gaining confidence in the teacher, such as practicing Guru Yoga, or using the prayer titled, “Calling the Lama from Afar,” which is the topic of this teaching seminar.

Practice itself is, especially, the way one works to develop devotion to the guru. Then one understands that there is no such thing as calling the Lama from afar.

The Lama is understood to be the Buddha. The guru appears in different forms, mainly three ones which are the symbolic guru, the real guru and the dharma guru (the mind or essence of the guru which is the entire dharma). The guru's body itself does not represent all his vast activity.

The Lama's mind is the inseparability of clarity and emptiness, and also there lies the Three Bodies of the Buddha without any flaw.

The Dharmakaya is contained within the consciousness of the guru, its nature of emptiness cannot be averted. It is all-pervading. Then manifests out the Sambhogakaya, its nature of clarity continuously is expressed. Finally, out of the nature of emptiness and clarity is manifested the actual activity and body of the Lama, the Nirmanakaya.

So, from the mind of the Lama these three aspects of the Buddha are completely contained. There is nothing in which the mind of the Lama does not pervade, all the appearances of the teacher are there.

Although the Lama is really pervading everywhere and is inseparable from one’s own mind, the student usually is not aware of that. The practitioner does not realize this; one does not know that his confused mind (in its ultimate essence, the mind's nature) is just like the mind of the Lama (which has emptiness and clarity). This is why the student must call the Lama from afar.

The mind of the Lama is not different from our own in its ultimate essence or clear aspect. But since we have, from time without beginning, wandered in samsara and circled through endless rebirths, we call upon the Lama. That is the reason why we call the Lama from afar.

The goal of calling the Lama from afar is to realize that everything is only the expression, manifestation, play and mind of the Lama, or the nature of one's own mind (buddha nature which is the clear aspect). This is the real meaning of calling the Lama from afar.

<Rinpoche bestows the oral transmission for text, so that students can then practice what has been taught. Specific practices of Guru Yoga are given by lineage teachers to the students.>

Question: Can space be used to explain emptiness? When we talk about emptiness, it is very theoretical. So, can space be used as a metaphor for emptiness?

His Eminence: Space can be used as an example. Space, like emptiness, is all pervading. Everything emerges out of emptiness nature of the mind, just like space. However, the concept of emptiness in the Buddha’s teachings is not nothingness. It is not just something we can point at and say “This is it.” Emptiness is an understanding which must be developed within one’s own mind.

Question: Does the concept of a self then also come out of emptiness?

His Eminence: One comes out of emptiness and one disappears into emptiness, yes it is like this. The personal feeling and imagination of a self develops due to not knowing that one comes out of emptiness.

Calling the Lama from Afar

Lama, think of me.

Glorious Lama dispelling the darkness of ignorance; Glorious Lama revealing the path of liberation; Glorious Lama liberating from the waters of cyclic existence; Glorious Lama dispelling the diseases of the five poisons; Glorious Lama, wish-fulfilling gem.

Glorious Lama, please bless me to recall death and impermanence sincerely. Glorious Lama, please bless me to generate contentment within myself. Glorious Lama, please bless me to dwell in isolation in one-pointed practice. Glorious Lama, please bless me to be free of any interruption to my practice. Glorious Lama, please bless me so that all bad conditions appear as helpers. Glorious Lama, please bless me to spontaneously achieve my own and other's welfare. Please bless me now quickly. Please bless me very quickly. Please bless me on this very cushion. Please bless me in this very session!

Call to the Lama from Afar by The First Jamgon Kontrul Lodro Thaye the Great

Lama, remember us! [4 times recite]

Precious Lama, we pray to you; Lord of Dharma full of kindness, I call to you devotedly. We unfortunate ones have no other hope but you. Please bless us so that your Mind and ours be united without differentiation.

Teaching delivered in Frankfurt, Germany transcribed and edited 2002: Simhanada