Guru Serum, Not Guru Syndrome
“Why do you Tibetan Buddhists have this Guru syndrome whereby you emphasise so much on your teacher?”. I often hear this judgmental statement expressed in the form of a question whenever I confirm that I am a Buddhist of the Tibetan tradition.
“You should just take refuge in the Three Jewels as this was the path of the Buddha himself.” This is yet another generous piece of “advice” that I receive.
Well, allow me to put it this way: I don’t have a Guru syndrome. Rather, I recognise the potency of the Guru Serum for efficient and effective spiritual learning, practice and progress. Additionally, during this degenerate age as foretold by Lord Buddha, less time and effort will be spent on spirituality. Hence, less opportunity for people to collect the merits to see or learn Dharma directly from the Buddha.
I choose to be direct in my sharing because, why write another diplomatic and polite piece of work that is so sugar-coated that not only do we miss the point but also get “diabetes” as we fill ourselves with pleasantries that boost our ignorance, ego and anger. These are the three poisons that become the source of our suffering. Yes, we all suffer even if we are holding a Louis Vuitton. So, this is why we should allocate and invest resources into understanding some fundamentals to begin an empowering, engaging and fulfilling spiritual journey.
I believe a more constructive question to ask is, “Why not tap into the qualities of the mind?” The scriptures liken our mind to water and its eight qualities. If a Guru can be the bridge between you and the Three Jewels until you reach a level of spiritual awakening that enables you to reconnect directly, would it not be sensible to cross this bridge? The need to be practical is especially necessary when we are not following the footsteps of the Buddha who dedicated his life in search of the answers to alleviate suffering from sickness, old age and death.
Also, we get all caught up in this Guru conversation but should someone pose the question, “What exactly is a Guru?”, I believe most would fall silent almost immediately. Guru is short for ‘Guna Ruchi‘ which translates to ‘a collection of good qualities’. A Guru is not confined by gender, racial background or religious faith but distinguished by his or her consistent code of conduct and impact on the community and society. Who we regard as our Guru will be based on our observations and freedom of choice.
‘Syndrome’ is a word which generally refers to a condition or disorder that “happens to you”. It is an invisible trap that limits us to a type of conduct that we believe benefits us, and then it becomes something we need and soon it is something we cannot live without. An addiction. A typical Malaysian syndrome is the “Maid Syndrome”, where we are conditioned from young to depend on maids for our meals, our laundry, our housekeeping, our groceries… and the list continues. Most interestingly, I consistently hear households with maids complain endlessly about their helpers to no avail and with no solution in the foreseeable future. Months later, they are still complaining about their helpers but they simply cannot live without them. This is a syndrome that nobody seems to challenge or question.
A Guru liberates us as he or she sheds light on the path to make the spiritual journey easier with clarity, support and encouragement. For those of us with stubborn and deeply ingrained negative habits, tough love like that of a mother may be necessary to create any mind shift and spiritual progress. Tough love is nothing new and it is what keeps the younger generations in check to become functional and sustainable adults. I draw this conclusion from the frequency in which the adult population labels their kids “spoilt”.
It is easy to see why tough love is important. The Tiger Mother phenomena was a hit in the global scene a few years back because it created successful results. Similarly, the “boss from hell” often turns out to be the leader from whom we learned the most and who helped us set our career in the right direction… in hindsight, of course. However, society seems to believe that spirituality doesn’t need such tough love.
Why is that so? Is it because society does not see the value of spirituality? Is it not worth it to suffer for spiritual awakening? Yet, if one observes the great successes that are wholesome, sustainable and remain legendary over the years and across the oceans, they have a distinct note of spirituality to them. Spirituality is like the soul food that adds depth and humanity to worldly activities and material accomplishments while the Guru is the “serum” that boosts this nourishment.
Like the Tiger Mum, a Guru “does not give us the fish but teaches us how to fish”. The ability, skills and knowledge we learn from the Guru will lead us to clarity, contentment and ultimate freedom. This in turn enriches all that we do based on the transformation in the way we perceive surrounding phenomena through understanding. This is spiritual awakening and unlike the material wealth we dedicate time, sweat and tears to accumulate, this cannot be taken away, stolen or broken against our will. Spiritual awakening is something that we can truly own without fear of losing it. It is valuable… it is worth the pain to gain.
The empowering teachings of the Guru is brought to an even higher level by H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche who makes Dharma knowledge abundantly available to the global public on his blog, www.tsemrinpoche.com. Only when students are ready (which is determined through close observation) does Rinpoche confer practices that are especially tailored to suit each student’s karma dynamics. As we have read in the Lamrim, Dharma is the medicine that will cure our spiritual illnesses. Hence, having a Guru is likened to having medicine prescribed specifically for our illnesses, living conditions and era.
I have witnessed and experienced the miracle of having a Guru and his kind and generous “prescriptions”. Rinpoche’s direct advice on spiritual practice has saved lives, kept families together, removed spirit disturbances and even provided guidance for successful business dealings. Some may prefer the view that these are the miraculous powers of the Buddha, Shiva, Jesus etc. However, for the sake of common decency and to keep the doors open to these “higher forces”, it serves everyone to practise gratitude and in this case, it is towards the Guru who showed you the door to peace, happiness and liberation. Be grateful always as that nurtures our capacity to be happy. Grateful people remember what they have, appreciate it and this becomes the power of source for more good things to come our way.
Devotion is Powerful Protection
“When Milarepa meditated in the mountains, he was alone for a long time. In spite of this, he always felt that he was inseparable from Marpa because his devotion was so powerful. Milarepa sang his vajra songs in solitude but, through devotion, was always connected to his lama. Devotion to the lama is a powerful protection from negative thoughts and nonvirtuous actions. It is also a special protection that allows us to properly practice meditation. Our awareness of enlightened beings and our knowledge of how to take care of our mind protect the mind so that it doesn’t flow in a wrong direction. Through these joyous practices we develop a feeling of appreciation of how fortunate we are, and we cease feeling lonely or depressed. When we are committed to our Guru, less negative thoughts arise. When less negative thoughts arise, then we can survive another day and become better. Therefore genuinely devote to one’s lama and forget about all the other confusions we are used to.”
~ Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche
The practice of Guru devotion forms the foundation of many Dharma communities and centres that remain strong today, even after the passing of the Guru. Good examples of those who practice Guru devotion and enjoy the fruits of this tradition are the lineage holders of Chogyam Trungpa who founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
Awareness of the Teacher
As a dharmic person, a practitioner, you also have awareness of the teacher and of other realized people whom you are studying with. The idea is to be without shyness and to be able to relate with your teacher, who in the hinayana tradition is an elder. You relate to the teacher as somebody who has accomplished the path already. Because you are without shyness, you can relate with the teacher and emulate him or her properly and fully. You have a sense of appreciation that you are and will be part of a certain tradition, a certain discipline. You have as an example a teacher who is behaving in a way that you should behave, and you have some sense of sacredness in studying and listening to the teacher.
~ Chögyam Trungpa
If not for my Guru, I would still be busy trying to become a better person on the basis that the current “me” is not good enough. Today, I have learned to be at peace with more aspects of myself while recognising the long road of growth and development ahead. Guru Serum has literally and metaphorically made me more comfortable in my own skin and that is the greatest gift one can ever receive. So, I end with this: Open your hearts to dare to pursue your higher potential. Spiritual awakening is not about changing but expanding yourself. If you keep adding pure water to a contaminated vessel, the contamination will be diluted with time. With more time and a larger vessel to contain more pure water, the contamination becomes non-existent.
Please support us so that we can continue to bring you more Dharma:
If you are in the United States, please note that your offerings and contributions are tax deductible. ~ the tsemrinpoche.com blog team