Guru Yoga
Teaching by Lama Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
September 1998, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I'd like to now ask a question to you, that you might have questions. Do you have questions regarding Guru Yoga? I am sure you have questions. I'm very happy to answer as much as I can.

Q: Some of the questions you brought up at the beginning of the talk, you were talking about the ability to have one or more gurus through the course of your study, and you used Atisha as an example of someone who did have many gurus.

I was also wondering, there being students involved with certain teachers whose conduct caused the teacher-disciple relationship to dissolve. Perhaps the student didn't feel supported or didn't feel the relationship was such that -- even though he took refuge with this particular teacher and took vows with this particular teacher -- perhaps the conduct of that particular teacher left that particular student with a sense of not having fulfilled the expectation the student had of proper conduct. So the student dissolved the relationship between the teacher and student and it also left a lot of students floundering, lost, very damaged actually by the process. And I am wondering how does one begin to rebuild that relationship with another teacher. Very cautiously, no doubt. I am wondering, perhaps you could speak to some of those questions between the guru-disciple relationship where difficulty arises. And perhaps you could cite some other examples where it had occurred in the past with other teachers and other students.

Rinpoche: I think that maybe you have two questions here. First thing is you raised the question about Atisha having many teachers. I think Atisha was exception because Atisha himself was a very highly realized being, right from the beginning. He was known as an emanation or manifestation of Manjushri, and so forth. He was a Bodhisattva; he was born as a Bodhisattva. He was exception, I think.

He received initiations and teachings from various teachers, like altogether 154-155. And he did trainings and so forth because he felt he had a great responsibility to preserve the Dharma. To hold the various lineages, keep them and then preserve them and then introduce them to places like Tibet. So he become the founder of Kadampa tradition. And also, he was in many ways also indirectly the founder of Gelugpa tradition as well. So, because you have responsibility, take all kinds of initiations to save the lineage of the initiation, I think that was the main reason. It's not because he needed 157 gurus. It also doesn't mean that he was implying to people that people should have lots and lots of teachers, lots of gurus.

I think it also says in the teachings, and I think it's our own experience, we know it's hard when you have so many teachers, too many teachers, different teachers. Especially when teachers come from different background, different training, different sect, different lineages. So these practices are quite different, and since they are so different, or quite different, we don't know how to encompass, put it together and make one path. Therefore, it also suggests one should not take too many teachers, and better not to take too many. It's easier to have few teachers. So I think, as I mentioned before, it is important to meet a teacher, have a teacher that you feel there's a karmic connection.

But also, you don't need a lot of teachers, because sometimes we have this grasping -- we want more teachers, more initiations, more practice, more is better. It's part of grasping mind. People do Dharma shopping, guru shopping, initiation shopping, shop, shop, shop. [Laughter.] And so it's better to have fewer teachers.

And I think for guru it is also very hard, difficult, big responsibility having so many students. This is one of the problems, perhaps the problem that you were talking about. When the teacher has so many students, then how can teacher fulfill the wishes and expectations of so many students? It is very difficult for teacher to fulfill their expectations. Teacher has very little time.

Basically you are a human being. I think what happens is, when you have so many students and if the particular lineage and the teacher has so many Dharma centers, big organizations, then the teacher doesn't know really what is happening a lot of times down there. And then, you have below you, other teachers, like junior teachers and meditation instructors, and there are lots of secondhand teachings and third-hand teachings. Different interpretations, people says, "Guru says this, guru says that. Lama said this and that." There's all kinds of interpretations, and then people confused.

And when the teacher has so many disciples, you have to wait for interview sometimes six months. I know, I heard from certain lamas, if you're a student of certain lamas, you have to wait, sometimes six months for interview, sometimes one year. How much can you really talk about, how much can you really say? And how do you really establish relationship? It's very hard.

Then sometimes due to the problem of so many students, so many things going on, there's also problems -- personal dynamics problems. As a Dharma student, ordinary people, we have so many ego problems, delusions, power, competition, jealousy. It's human. There's so much happening, and the teacher doesn't know these things. There's Dharma politics going on, and these become a problem. Sometimes you get confused and sometimes you don't know what the teacher is saying, or the second teacher, or the third teacher's saying. You are not really sure what is going on here. So it is very confusing.

That's why in Tibet some lamas have fixed disciples. They'll say, "Only seventy students. Or only twenty-five students, no more. Can't do it anymore. Too many students no good. Quality is better." I have seen certain Hindu gurus, they have only twenty disciples, maybe twelve disciples. I know one of my teachers only had, only really heart disciples. He gives public teachings, but he won't really formally accept many students. He had only fifteen to sixteen students because then you can work together closely, you can have good quality. You can produce good disciples, good yogis and yoginis. So it is very confusing, difficult. Then due to so much going on, teacher gets old and sometimes becomes sick, and then dies. Then disappointments -- the disciples feel they're abandoned and ignored and unanswered wishes and expectations, and things are falling apart. And then you need to go and find another teacher. So this normally happens because of too many students, too much big organization.

But at the same time, we have to think about also teacher -- it's up to them, up to their choice how many students to have. Students, it's up to their choice how many gurus they want -- or no gurus, it's your choice. Also, many teachers feel it's their responsibility to teach the Dharma to as many as possible. Some teachers prefer to have many students for the sake of the Dharma and Sangha. They want to spread the word of the Buddha as much as possible. Even you can spend very little time, you want to teach and help.

And sometimes -- it's again, as I said before, it's a karmic connection with a certain teacher, and even if you don't see this teacher for years and years. Maybe you see him or her once every three or four or five years, just glimpse of contact, physical contact, maybe have an interview once every four years, sometimes that's good enough, that's all you need. It depends on the karma, depends on your personal connection. It's hard to say exactly what you need.

Like in the Hindu tradition, they have this, what they call in India "darshan." Sometimes the guru doesn't talk, he's silent for thirty years. So he's sitting there -- you go up and he's sitting in front of you. Who is he? Guru sits there, smiles, and so you make contact. You receive darshan, blessings. And you have a heart connection, you have devotion, and by the power of guru, by his presence you are blessed, moment you see him sitting in front of you. And that meeting, just eye contact, just sitting together for hour or half hour, whatever, it itself becomes initiation, without performing rituals, saying words. And that's good enough. So various students have various needs.

So, like your question, like you said, there's bitterness. There is confusion and problems because of conduct of teacher. Whatever the problem was, maybe it could come from the organization, the people under the teacher, or maybe could be problem come from the teacher. Whatever has happened, if the teacher is gone now, so in order to find inner peace and happiness, what we need to do is -- what I would like to suggest is the teacher is gone now, so you should always remember, always be thankful for what you have learned from the teacher, from him or her. We are disappointed because we need all the time teacher's advice. Sometimes we feel we are abandoned, like children when the parents die suddenly, the children can't accept it, feel abandoned. So lot of times teacher-student relationship is like father-son relationship or mother-daughter relationship, similar. There is always this needy thing.

So we have to let go, accept that's the way it is, law of impermanence. Teacher goes. Disciple goes. We all go. Buddha Shakyamuni himself passed away. He left so many disciples behind. He said, "I'm going now. This is teaching. This is teaching. But you have a teacher. I taught the Dharma forty-six years, all the teachings. That's your teacher now. I have to leave this body. This body is like that old tree, it's rotten, falling apart, falling down, and I'm expired." So that we have to accept. Teacher is gone.

Whatever there is problem, we don't really know what the problems are, where the problems come from -- maybe from organization, maybe from teacher, maybe a lot of times our own mind, our own confusions, because we are confused. Normally we are all confused. Because as a samsaric person, if we don't have realization of shunyata, actually bodhicitta, I can say we are all confused. I don't mean all the time, but we are usually, generally, confused. The Tibetan word is called "turpa" -- means confused. We don't have direct perception of shunyata and life is like a dream, an illusion, and we are confused. So there is much confusion happening.

Also the guru's conduct -- if he appears immoral or unethical, whatever happened -- maybe guru who passed away, maybe he had a problem. That also happens. See the thing is, guru -- in one level, he is enlightened being, on a spiritual side. But then a part of guru, you are still human. There is still passion, still desire, still some kind of rigid mind, and fear and maybe insecurity due to childhood upbringing, environment, society. Because being a human, you still have problem, like short circuit, and confusion happens. Even with enlightened beings, it appears they have some problems. But at the same time, also very enlightened, great teacher. He helped so many people, liberated so many people.

So we have to accept it, that's the way it is. So it is unhealthy to keep kind of negative feelings -- "That guru wasn't very good for me. He cheated me, what a rip-off! I had so much faith and I felt I'm cheated. I feel so bad!" So that's unhealthy for us. What we need is we have to find peace. Most important thing is, whatever happened is gone. Now it is finished. So now, "I like to be thankful all the teachings, so many things I learned from you. Thank you very much."

Also, it's possible if you study Lam Rim like the "Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand" it says that certain gurus are emanation of Bodhisattva, emanation of Buddha. And because Buddha and Bodhisattva reincarnate as a human in order to relate to human beings, as I mentioned before, they have to be on a human level. So they help human beings. So some gurus act like they're mad, act like crazy, act like strange or a little lunatic, act like a drunk and does weird things.

You've heard the story of the divine madman of Bhutan. There's this book written by Keith ? and translated, we call Dropa Gelig (?) He was a divine enlightened being, but he appeared like a madman. So we don't know what is really happening. Hard to say what is happening there. Whether this person is divine enlightened being or a madman? Is he a divine enlightened being acting like a madman or is just a madman? [Laughter] Acting like enlightened being! We don't know. Hard to say!

Onward Onward to Guru Yoga, p.8

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