By Narayan Choyin Dorje October 2004 To awaken to our own enlightened nature, we need the help of an enlightened being to pacify obscurations, increase longevity, merit and wealth, master energies of the seen and unseen universe, and destroy interrupting forces in us and around us The genuine guru, like the skilled gardener, has the ability to nurture and enrich the student’s quest If in the teacher there is a notion that he is a teacher giving precious teachings… then there is no teacher and no teaching h.w.l. poonja “The embodiment of the Enlightened Ones of the past, present and future is your root guru, the one who has all qualities and shows you the threefold kindness of sharing with you material support, dharma teachings and enlightenment. So you should keep him (or her) at all times on the crown of your head. To meet such a guru is as hard as for flowers to appear in the sky. To receive his (or her) teaching is as rare as the appearance of stars in the daytime. Therefore, you should pray that you merge inseparably with the mind of your guru.” —Padmasambhava When we talk about the guru in the present-day context, it is helpful to differentiate between a mentor and the genuine master or satguru. Some traditions call the mentor kalyanamitra, ‘a friend who supports you in everything that is wholesome’. Naturally, this spiritual friend will also point the way to ultimate liberation, but not necessarily challenge your subject-object relationship with yourself and the world at large. Thus the spiritual friend most likely will not directly confront psychological and societal patterns that make up the fabric of our lives. These patterns will most often, as we are enmeshed in them and unconscious of their hold over us, prevent us from experiencing directly our own enlightened nature. Rather than directly challenge the way we lead our lives, the spiritual friend will point out how to operate within our given framework in a more wholesome and enlightened manner. The spiritual friend thus acts as a soothing presence in our life. Most people, who say they are looking for a guru, are actually looking for a spiritual friend to help ease their burden and better their lives. They wish for a mentor who helps them but doesn’t lead them too far off the beaten track. The satguruThe genuine master or satguru, on the other hand, acts as an enlightened being. Thus the guru will compassionately, but on occasion also radically confront everything in us that is inhibiting and suppressing the coming forth of our inborn enlightened nature. Being with a guru is not always pleasant. The famous meditation master Kalu Rinpoche said: “The grace of the enlightened ones resembles the rays of the sun. Even in the hot season, the sun cannot make a piece of paper on the ground catch fire, but if you have a magnifying glass, the paper will easily burst into flames. The direct path consists of inserting the magnifying glass of the guru between the grace of the enlightened ones and the mind of the disciple.” For all human beings, nearness to fire is generally too close for comfort. In the guru, roles of spiritual friend and genuine master often overlap. Thus the guru is not merely, and in all instances of his or her interaction with us, focused on challenging the status quo. Satgurus can be very supportive and helpful, including in everyday matters. They can even act like doting grandfathers, as H.W.L. Poonja (better known as Papaji) frequently did, who was one of the great inspirations in my own life. Yet, one of his nicknames was also ‘the butcher’, due to his ability of cutting away any layer of falsehood, which he did when necessary with ferocity, humour and uncompromising directness. Directness in dealing with the ego, by the way, does by no means imply that the ego is fought like an enemy that really exists. Most often the method consists in the immediate pointing out of its ultimate non-existence. Or the guru demonstrates how limited and contrary to the path or to enlightened nature a certain attitude or behaviour is. What makes up a genuine teacher and the way he or she expresses relevant insights is quite complex. In this article, we will examine it along the lines of the so-called ‘four activities of the enlightened ones’ to elucidate the many facets of a guru’s actions. This may help us understand what we can expect when we actually start working with one. We need to bear in mind, however, that whatever we state in general terms cannot even come close to the spontaneity of the real encounter. When working with a genuine master, always be open to the unexpected—but don’t expect it to always happen. Scope of guru’s actionsThe introductory lines summarising the guru’s role by Padmasambhava, the great Indian siddha who established the Buddha’s dharma in Tibet, can be applicable to any spiritual tradition. In the past, the guru supported students with room and board, and protection in the jungle or mountain wilderness. General teachings together with individual instructions were freely given. On their basis, liberation from the constraints that make us suffer followed as surely as the fruit follows after the flower has been pollinated and the maturation period has passed. In India like in other Asian and indigenous societies, this relationship has been known and respected for ages. Its purpose is the sharing of a mode of being that, for lack of a better word, can be loosely described as re-enchantment of our being in the world, or ‘enlightenment’. Enlightenment thus refers to a mode of existing beyond conceptualisation and is free of the imprisonment of any conditioned state, yet likewise doesn’t deny the existence of any circumstance or condition. Rather enlightenment is akin to partaking in a free flowing dance of appearances, which are both totally open and of luminous clarity in nature. As a guide to the enlightenment that is always already here, “the primary role of the guru is to help us experience the relationship between form and emptiness in every instance of our lives as non-duality”. The best guru is one who is fully realised and embodies all the qualities that he or she wishes to awaken in their students. This ability of the guru to evoke the ‘one-taste’ and unconditional awe for all of reality in the student is of crucial importance. In Kashmiri Shaivism, it is called spanda, the ‘tremor of wonderment’ permeating all existence. The teacher has to be open to this wonderment and allow it to move through his or her system. Otherwise, transmission cannot happen. The teacher needs to be able to speak from the heart of realisation. As one western master aptly pointed out: “A genuine teacher is there to speak for our essential nature and act on its behalf, until we can learn to do so for ourselves.” Four activities of the enlightened beingPacifying: The first time I met a genuine master who was able to issue forth waves of blessing such that everyone around him could palpably feel them was in 1975 in the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh. I had just visited Bodhgaya, where I met a man from Argentina who told me of this extraordinary Tibetan Rinpoche, abbot, master artist, father and mother of his students and living Buddha all rolled in one. At least, this is what I was told in glowing words of praise. As I was bound for the Himalayas anyway, I decided to check out this Rinpoche and see for myself. When I finally met Khamtrul Rinpoche at his community of Tashi Jong one crisp morning in March, not even for one second arose the slightest doubt that I was sitting at the feet of a rare and warm-hearted human being of ungraspable presence and simplicity. I had never met a man like this before, combining the freshness of a newborn with the wisdom, and no doubt, cunning of middle age. And never had I felt so accepted in the moment as I was, enveloped by the kind of love that is not tied to anything and asks for nothing in return. Khamtrul Rinpoche was of medium height and exuded tremendous vitality. He appeared to be strong as an ox, yet possessed the grace of movement of a dancer. He also had a winning smile and a soft voice that resonated from a space whose location was hard to pinpoint. It seemed as if the heart of hearts was addressing me, not his mouth. He spoke broken English, and enjoyed joking about his lack of eloquence in this foreign tongue. After pleasantries over several cups of tea, he unexpectedly looked at me straight, and said pointedly: “Today after breakfast you will go up on the hill behind the monastery and gaze into the blue sky. Look into the blue sky in a relaxed soft manner, the whole day long, okay.” After which he excused himself. It was strange, even when I heard him say these words, his practice instructions didn’t seem to come from a source other than the entire relational field of our interaction—not from his mind separate from mine, and definitely not from the teacher’s ego talking to the student’s ego. Spoken with great clarity of purpose, the words floated like feathers but deeply sank in with the weight of realisation. I followed the advice and spent the day on the hill looking into the blue sky, although I nodded off when the sun was high. It was probably around noon when I stretched out on the grass still green and soft from winter moisture, to wake only shortly before dusk, totally refreshed and feeling whole and endowed with a sense of great flexibility of body and mind. As I walked down to my host family’s home, a poem formed out of nowhere, which I wrote down and gave to him later. The overarching feeling was that of peace. I felt entirely pacified and inspired. All thoughts and cares that I had brought with me had melted away, which is not unusual and happe
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