Why be devoted to a Guru??~Ms Sock Wan
Two weeks ago, I asked Ms. Sock Wan (Thank you!) to do a write up on guru devotion. I advised for her to do a good and thorough research on what guru devotions means, why practice guru devotion, the importance of guru devotion etc etc. I also asked her to include the story of Atisha and Virupa in her write up.
Guru Devotion is the heart of our spiritual practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Without it, one would make very little progress in their spiritual practice, or take a longer period of time to gain any form of attainments. Having devotion for one’s Guru is not about being controlled by your Guru or following him/her with blind faith… We choose to be devoted to a Guru when we have checked out the teacher and have found that he/she has benefited us in some way, and will continue to benefit us until enlightenment. Only when we have confidence that this Guru can help us in our spiritual growth do we full-heartedly surrender ourselves to follow this Guru in pursuit of enlightenment.
For example, if you want to be a professional golf player, you would check out different coaches and determine which one has produced the greatest results and displayed the greatest set of skills. After observing a few coaches or a particular one, you would then judge for yourself whether he/she suits you and whether he/she is willing to take you on as a student. You would then engage in training sessions with him/her, trusting that he/she will bring out and develop your greatest abilities. Same thing with a Guru-Disciple relationship.
Two mahasiddhas who had strong guru-disciple relationships with their Guru were Atisha and Virupa. Both of them were highly attained beings who ultimately attained enlightenment through their diligent practice and strong guru devotion. Stories of other great Mahasiddhas also shows us great examples of guru devotion and should be read by everyone who is serious in their spiritual practice.
Sock Wan did a very good job! She clearly put a lot of effort into writing about something profound in a clear and simple manner. Do read the write up. It is very well written… I decided to share it here on my blog for everyone to learn what she has herself has learnt. Do leave a comment to express your thoughts.
What have you learnt from the write-up?
The importance of Guru Devotion in gaining realization and enlightenment.
by Wee Sock Wan
We engage in spiritual practice simply because we want to gain realizations and achieve the state of enlightenment, be free from sufferings then help others to do the same. What is the secret recipe for getting the results we want in our spiritual practice? There is only one secret, Guru Devotion.
A Guru is someone who has gained realizations, whose mind stream is of the Buddha, his responsibility is to teach and guide us how to practice in order to achieve enlightenment. It is a Guru’s role to make sure the students are on the right path all the time. His responsibility to us is not only in this life but many lives, as long as we are still in Samsara. He will not do harm to us, any action he does is for the benefit of the students.
Once we have established a guru-student relationship, we see him and Buddha as one, we surrender ourselves completely to him. This means having trust and faith in him and executing all tasks that are given by our Guru and doing it diligently without complaints or doubts. A Guru has the ability to see what a student needs in order to progress in the spiritual practice. Sometimes we might not understand why we are asked to do something ‘ridiculous’ by our Guru (because we are not at the level where we can comprehend) but there is always a reason behind it.
Here I would like to use the stories of 2 great masters to illustrate the importance of Guru Devotion in gaining realization and enlightenment.
Atisha was born in 982 in a royal family in Bengal, he passed away at the age of 72 in year 1054. When he was born, several auspicious signs appeared such as flowers rained down and the appearance of the rainbow canopy, there were also gods singing hymn. The child was not ordinary at all. At the age of 18 month when Atisha was visiting a temple, he announced that he wanted to pursue in spiritual path. Growing up, he had exhibited his extraordinary capability in understanding Dharma. Atisha learned from more than 150 teachers, he also had a very special affinity with Tara, she often appeared in his vision to give him advices. Eventually Atisha became a great Dharma teacher in teaching Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
Since Atisha was the brightest son among the three siblings, his parents tried to make him the successor of the throne and arranged a marriage for him with a girl, hoping that he would give up his wish to becoming a monk. Upon having a vision of Tara, he was told how his spiritual might be jeopardized by his royal life, Atisha excused himself from the wedding and went away from the palace in order to find his spiritual teacher. Atisha met a holy Jetari in a jungle and took the bodhisattva vows from him. He then went on to Nalanda University and studied with the great master Bodhibhadra. Subsequently, he studied with Vidyakokila and Avadhuyipa. He also studied Tantra with Rahulagupta on the Black Mountain. The first tantra practice he received was Hevajra practice. Rahulagupta would appeared in Atisha’s dream to give him advise on his spiritual practice, Atisha would listen and follow the instructions. Rahulagupta told Atisha that he must develop caring, love, compassion and a boddhicitta aim to benefit others, then he would achieve enlightenment.
At the age of 29, Atisha was ordained as monk, he was still looking for the fastest way to achieve enlightenment so he went to Bodhgaya for a pilgrimage trip. While he was circumambulating the Great Stupa, he heard 2 statues talking to each other. One statue was telling another in order to achieve perfect enlightenment, practice of boddhicitta was the path to pursue. This was again affirmed by another Buddha statue when Atisha circumambulated the cupola of the stupa.
Thus, Atisha decided to travel to Suvarnadvipa to study boddhicitta teaching from Dharmakirti, who was a renowned and a great master in this subject. He was 31 years old when he made the journey to seek his guru. Atisha stayed there for 12 years and was trained under Dharmakirti. Under the guidance of the great master, Atisha had gained amazing realization. Because of what this master had given him, whenever Atisha heard his name, he would cry. He owed his attainment to Dharmakirti. After Atisha went back to India, he became the abbot in Vikramasila Monastic University. A couple of year later, he was invited to Tibet to spread the Buddha’s teachings. Atisha stayed in Tibet for 13 years and passed away in a village called Lethan near Lhasa.
There is a little story about Atisha and Naropa that I would like to share here:
When Atisha was a disciplinarian at Nalanda University, Naropa was a monk at Nalanda too. When Atisha knew Naropa was engaging in consort practice, he expelled Naropa from the University not knowing it was appropriate for Naropa at that point of time to do. Naropa took his robes off, put them down and walked through the wall and left the university. Atisha realized he had made a mistake by disparaging a highly attained master, he was very regretful. 7 days after the incident, Atisha had a vision of Tara in which she said to Atisha, “You have committed a very great fault. If you do not confess and purify your actions toward this great yogi, your mindstream will be reborn in hell.” Tara advised Atisha in order to purify his negative karma resulted from his wrong doing, he had to make five tsa-tsa everyday for the rest of his life. Since that day onwards, Atisha had never missed making 5 tsa-tsa everyday. Some of his students offered to make the tsa-tsa for him but he replied, “Are you going to eat my food for me too?”
Virupa was born in 837 in a royal family in Bengal. When he was born, the astrologer predicted he would become a great spiritual master. He entered into the monastic university Somapura to study at a very young age. Later after he completed his studies there, he went to Nalanda University to receive further teachings from the Abbot, Dharmamitra who gave Virupa Vajrayana teachings and Chakrasambvara practice. After Dharmamitra passed away, Virupa was made the successor and became the Abbot of Nalanda University.
While he was teaching during the day, at night he would do his Tantra practice. He continued to do this until he was 70 years old. At this point of time, he became rather frustrated because after so many years of practice, he could not see any attainments or realizations at all. On top of that, he started to have nightmares in which he saw fire in the lower end of a valley and flood rising in the upper end. He saw his Guru, Yidam and spiritual friends hanging upside down, some of their faces were torn, or were terribly disfigured.
Without a Guru’s guidance, Virupa did not know that he was actually about to achieve a major realizations through his Tantric practice. He had in fact already perfected the Path of Accumulation, the Path of Preparation and was about to attain the Path of Seeing. But since his Guru passed away without leaving him the complete instructions, he took all of these as bad omen. He was so disappointed and discouraged by what he experienced, he threw his Mala away in the toilet.
On the same night, Virupa dreamed of Vajra Nairatmya instructed him to continue his practice bestowed him four initiations which later brought realizations to Virupa. After following the instructions from Vajra Naitratmya strictly, Virupa gained the attainments of becoming a great Boddhisattva in 7 days.
In order to show his gratitude to his Guru and Yidam, Virupa arranged a Ganachakra feast where meat and alcohol were offered. Since other monks did not understand, they thought Virupa, the Abbot was behaving rather strange and started to be suspicious of his conduct as a monk. To avoid other monks making negative comments and disparaging highly attained master, Virupa choose to leave Nalanda University. It was at this time, he name himself Virupa (he was called Dharmapala when he was still the Abbot in Nalanda University) which meant “the wicked one”.
Virupa travelled to various places and performed numerous miracles to bring common people, elites, kings into practicing Dharma. 2 very famous miracles performed by Virupa was when he parted the Ganges river, and stopped the sun from setting down for 3 days.
Learning from the 2 great masters in relation to Guru Devotion
It is interesting to find that both Virupa and Atisha were born in a royal family in Bengal and at a very young age already exhibited their extraordinary inclination towards spiritual practice. Both studied in Nalanda University too. They were not bound to material wealth even though they were born in a wealthy family. They both achieved perfect enlightenment through Boddhicitta practice.
However, if we looked at the journey of these 2 great masters in attaining perfect enlightenment, it appeared that Atisha took shorter time to accomplish than Virupa.
Atisha studied with many Gurus, more than 150 gurus. Not a single period in his life before he gained perfect enlightenment he was without a Guru. Atisha spent 12 years in Suvarnadvipa to study boddhicitta teaching from Dharmakirti, he follows instructions of his Guru strictly. Under the guidance of his Guru, Dharmakirti, he achieved perfect enlightenment at the age of 43. He always remembered his Guru’s kindness, he said he owed his achievements to his Guru.
Virupa, on the hand followed a guru too who was the Abbot of Nalanda University called Dharmamitra. However, his guru passed away before he gained attainments, Virupa still continued to practice with the instructions left to him by his guru. He kept practicing until he was 70 years old but he didn’t seem to gain attainments at all, on top of that he had nightmares that worried him very much to the extent that he gave up his practice until he had a vision of Vajra Naitratmya. With the guidance and instruction of Vajra Naitratmya, Virupa became a great Boddhisattva in 7 days. If Virupa had his Guru guiding him, he would not have mis-interpreted the dreams he had, he would have achieved perfect enlightenment much earlier like Atisha did(who accomplished at the age of 43).
The story on Atisha and Naropa tells us that when a highly attained master disparages another highly attained master, he creates negative karmas too. A highly attained master like Atisha had to also purify the negative karmas (by making 5 tsa-tsa everyday) he created in order to support his practice and it took him his whole life to purify this ‘little’ action he did. Understanding this was his own karma, and he was responsible for it, he had never let anyone making the tsa-tsa for him. It was also his demonstration of Guru Devotion, following what was told by Tara.
In conclusion, if we want to have results in our spiritual practice, we need a guru. After we have found our guru, we have to follow the instructions and guidance strictly without any doubts. The stricter we follow, the faster we see the results. If we have any negative thought arises on our Guru, we have to do a lot of purification works in order to continue receiving the teaching and progress in our spiritual practice. Remember, even Atisha a highly attained master has to purify his negative karma, let alone us.
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