Kinder Than the Buddha
Khenpo Palden Sherab
translated by Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal, Rinpoches,
November 9, 1995
Tonight I am going to talk about the relationship between the teacher and students and the real nature of their bond. Before we begin, it is very important to understand that the whole point of the Buddha's message is to bring joy, peace and calmness to oneself as well as to other beings, and then to reveal our true nature. No matter what teaching we approach in Buddhism, all are basically concerned with the realization of these qualities. That is the essential teaching or Dharma.
'Dharma' is a Sanskrit word that has many meanings. One meaning is 'to adjust'; another is 'to redirect'. What is being redirected here? Our current state of mind is very wild. Having observed this, we can redirect awareness toward the true nature, awakening the beautiful qualities of the primordial reality of the mind. We have to turn the mind away from anger and negative emotions and tune into the ways of love and compassion. This change of direction does not mean that we are trying to get love, compassion and wisdom from somewhere else. We already have these within us and only have to reveal them, to learn to appreciate them and so bring them forth. This is extremely important to understand.
Who is going to redirect the mind? No one is going to do it from the outside. It is your responsibility, 100% of it, and you are fully capable, so I think you will have to do it yourself. To redirect ourselves, we have to maintain a balance among the three states; the body, the speech and the mind. Work on keeping these in balance with courage and commitment, and joyfully redirect the wild mind and restless emotions towards the mind of love, compassion, and wisdom. The moment we do that, we find that peace and happiness are already there. We don't have to search outside of ourselves. In developing true love, genuine compassion, and wisdom, the mind automatically becomes balanced with the speech and body. The freedom that we have been looking so hard for externally is actually experienced.
Buddha gave 84,000 different teachings. All of them are designed to bring more happiness and ease into our lives and then ultimately to reveal our Buddha-nature. That is the whole purpose of the Dharma. The 84,000 teachings do not merely repeat the same thing again and again, but offer an abundance of approaches to realizing the true nature. Because people have different ways of understanding, Buddha explained things in many different ways. To begin awakening all beings to the true nature of the mind, he presented the Dharma from all angles, offering us plenty of choices. It is not like Buddha has forced us to accept one single method of teaching or practice and left us no alternatives. That limitation is not here. This is why Buddha is known as the gracious teacher. He offers us many possibilities, so that we can all begin to explore our primordial nature.
All 84,000 teachings can be categorized into two vehicles; the Hinayana and the Mahayana. The Mahayana teachings are deeper than the Hinayana, and within the Mahayana, the Vajrayana is deeper than the sutra Mahayana. Deeper in that they reveal more of the true, primordial nature of the mind as it is. To bring balance to the body, speech and mind, and to reveal their nature, it is important to integrate all levels of these teachings.
In the Vajrayana and Dzogchen texts, it is repeatedly stated that the authentic ground, free from all obscurations, is the always already enlightened state, the primordial nature of the mind. They clearly and precisely explain that the original condition of mind is already awakeness. These are known as secret teachings and they are very special and important in revealing the ultimate state of the true nature.
It is not enough to just read books. To actually follow this path and understand the meaning of the secret teachings, you should approach qualified teachers who can transmit pure lineage teachings. Beyond that, it is not sufficient to simply hear or know about these things. We must practice to gain an experiential realization of the meaning. You might be inspired on the basis of hearing or knowing something about the teaching, and of course that will bring some benefit, but this is relatively superficial and does not sink deeply enough into your mind to bring about full awakening. Realization will not come merely by receiving teachings. Realization only comes by actually putting the instructions into practice through meditation.
In order to practice and meditate and be able to absorb the Dharma within your heart, mind and body, you must have devotion and confidence. That is really the only method. Enlightenment will not come through the intellect or external pursuits, but only by looking within, with joy, confidence and devotion. This attitude will merge the teaching with your body, speech and mind.
It is always important to practice and meditate on the teachings you receive. Meditation and study are not separate from each other. Both can be done at the same time. When you hear a teaching or start contemplating a text, you are also beginning to practice meditation. In this way, you begin to actualize the teaching while you are studying and contemplating. And meditation clarifies the meaning of the teaching, so in a way, it is like gathering knowledge, helping us gain insight into what the Buddha really meant. Understanding more and more, realization inevitably comes.
When you study, don't just think, 'Oh, this was said by the Buddha or a great master, so it must be true.' Buddha Shakyamuni taught not to believe what he said is true simply because he said it. Your own discriminating wisdom must be applied to the teaching. You should analyze and think about it; you can reject it. Discuss it with others, freely investigate the truth and implications of all these statements. Do this as much as you'd like. Inquire and find out for yourself whether what is being said is true or not. But once you come to your own conclusions and find the true path, then you must follow it. If you hesitate and vacillate about the truth of the path after that, this is an obstacle. It has become doubt. In the beginning, be sure to analyze and investigate, but once you develop certainty wisdom, do not retreat from it. To waver then is an obstruction that will weaken understanding and delay realization indefinitely. Doubt stops spiritual growth and destroys the foundation of effective practice. Once you have a good understanding and certainty wisdom arises, you should courageously follow through. Then full realization will inevitably come. But having already established yourself in the practice, to be stopped by thoughts is a fetter and will block realization. It wastes all previous efforts. Problems like these may arise.
In the course of practice you will experience the entire spectrum of emotions. Practice is not limited to things always working smoothly. Awakened states can shine through in many ways. Emotions reflect the condition of the winds in the channels and many different configurations are possible, but once we establish true confidence with courage and commitment, no matter what comes up, whether it is a good sign or a bad sign, - whatever, we should continue to hit the target and persevere in moving toward the realization and full revelation of love and compassion in our heart and mind. That is really the goal. Until then, don't falter but continue to press forward.
Devotion includes loving respect and appreciative understanding, but the ultimate form of devotion is characterized by deep confidence or faith. In practice, these three qualities tend to reinforce each other. First you investigate the teaching to contemplate what it really means. Once you develop certainty wisdom and become intimate with the meaning, you feel a sense of great appreciation. A wonderful feeling of closeness develops in relation to the teacher and the teaching and this leads to a clearer understanding and greater confidence. If you analyze this, as Buddha advised, you can see how closely all three are interconnected.
For example, one of the Buddha's teachings is that every compounded thing is impermanent. If we have never heard this before, we might think, 'What does this really mean?'
All compounded things are impermanent.
Is this the case or not? Think and analyze to see if this statement is true or false. Impermanent means changing. Each instant everything is changing. Time, the kinetics of mass-energy, and the flow of mental events, everything is continually changing states. If you consider this and can see for yourself that it is true, you will develop certainty wisdom and recognize the truth of impermanence. As you come to discover the truth through both your own wisdom and in the teaching, these two merge together so that it becomes unnecessary to backup and say,' Oh, that's not true.' Such is doubt and it is an obstacle.
All the Buddha's teachings reveal the true nature; therefore it is called the truth. Buddha never talked about anything outside of this. He said love and compassion are the ultimate state of realization, that the Buddha-nature is inherent in all sentient beings as love, compassion and wisdom. All these teachings point to the true nature, so once you connect with your own deeper intelligence, you should not back out or pull away as this will not bring any benefits to you or to others. Having developed certainty in relation to the dharma, joyful effort arises spontaneously. With good causes and conditions, the ultimate result will inevitably ripen.
This is a general explanation of the teachings.
Now the one who shows the teaching is known as the teacher. There are many different classes of teachers, but as Buddha Shakyamuni said many times in both sutra and tantra, the teacher should be seen as kinder than all the Buddhas. The Buddhas left this world long ago and have since passed into history, but their liberating message continues to be carried and preserved in the world by qualified masters so that there remains direct contact and communication for those wanting to explore their natures, to learn the meaning of the dharmas and to develop their realizations. The teachings are made available through the teacher so it is said that his kindness exceeds that of the Buddha himself. This expresses a great appreciation of the importance of a qualified master.
Qualified teachers are also lineage holders. The lineage began with the Buddha and has continued into the present. This is known as the chain of wisdom. According to one system, there are two lineages; these are known as the oral transmission lineage, consisting of the actual words and explanations, and the chain of the powers of the wisdom blessing. In the Vajrayana it is said that from Buddha Samantabhadra until now, qualified teachers have maintained both the oral and wisdom powers intact. The Nyingma school recognizes three lineages: the mind to mind transmission lineage, the symbolic transmission lineage and the oral transmission lineage.
There are also many teachings which describe qualified students. The relationship between a teacher and a student depends on the strength of their spiritual bond, in sharing a warm feeling of closeness, discriminative appreciation, and true confidence. These are the key elements, the heart of their connection. If these come together, great realization is forthcoming because awakening is based upon meeting the teacher, analyzing and investigating the teaching argument, and applying oneself to the practice with devotion.
Devotion is the doorway to receive the light of the Dharma. It is said in the Buddha's teaching that devotion is like a channel to bring continuous blessings. If we aren't devoted, we have no to receive these blessings. Devotion is connected to your heart; it even penetrates your bones. It deepens our inherence in the natural state and then begins to work on and redirect the body, speech and mind. So devotion is very important in making a close connection with the lineage and in bringing about full realization. Without it, we are not prepared to actualize the practice and teaching. As I said before, devotion is a combination of appreciation, closeness and confidence based in wisdom. If we don't have it, we are not ready.
In many of the biographies of the great masters of Tibetan Buddhism, it is said that your realization will correspond to your devotion. If your devotion allows you to see the master as a living buddha, you will develop the realization of a buddha yourself. If you see the lineage masters as just good lamas or nice people, then you also will have just a good or nice realization. If your devotion to the master is small, your realization will be small. If you have no devotion at all, you will have no realization at all. The degree of realization depends upon the quality of devotion.
Take for example, the very renowned Tibetan teacher Milarepa. He was not a scholar. He did not go through monastic training programs or have any academic education at all. However, the moment he met his teacher Marpa, he gained complete certainty wisdom and unfailing, unshakeable confidence. Milarepa saw Marpa as a true living Buddha. Even though Marpa put him through so much difficulty, Milarepa's confidence, courage, and commitment never wavered. If he didn't have this kind of commitment, if it was someone else, there would be no such realization. Perhaps he would not have stayed around his teacher for more than a few weeks before he decided to go away and never come back. He might say 'How could I stay? Marpa is completely cuckoo!' However Milarepa's faith and commitment were never shaken throughout all those hardships, and soon afterward he became realized.
The life of Milarepa is well known in Tibet and I am sure many of you have read the story. He is just one very good example of the power of devotion. If you have similar confidence, courage and commitment to the true teaching, you can observe the precepts and you will get the same realization. There is no question or doubt about any of this.
Marpa asked Milarepa to build a nine-story watchtower. Milarepa had finished the first level when Marpa's children came along playing and one of them helped him move a boulder. Marpa visited the site when the tower was almost half done. He watched for awhile and expressed his approval until he noticed this big rock in a lower wall. He asked Milarepa where he got it and Milarepa told him that one of his sons had helped him move it. Marpa got very angry when he heard this. He said, 'How is this possible? You think you can use my children as your servants? I never said you could do that! Remove this stone immediately!' Then he left without waiting to hear any excuses. That was that. Milarepa had to break the tower down to the ground and return the boulder back to the space from where he'd dug it out. Marpa did this kind of thing to Milarepa many times. If Milarepa did not have devotion, he would think Marpa was crazy for making such a big fuss over that rock. But Milarepa never backed down from his original motivation, his initial feeling of love and devotion. He bravely persevered.
In the Vajrayana, the practice of devotion involves a lot more than just trying to be nice. Whatever Marpa asked, Milarepa considered part of the practice and purification designed to release and remove his negative karma and obscurations. He thought in this way and saw it was true. He did exactly as Marpa said and accepted it as his meditation and practice. When he finished these labors, Marpa gave him a few teachings and then directed him to go to the mountains and practice. He continued to do exactly as Marpa instructed by meditating in the wilderness and soon became enlightened. With Marpa's help, Milarepa realized Buddhahood in one lifetime. All the hardship he went through became meaningful. It was all understood to be part of the teaching, purifying his karma and revealing his true nature. This type of understanding and realization is only possible through a continuity of deep devotion, confidence, courage and wise appreciation.
In the Tantras, it is taught that everything is already in the condition of enlightenment, not only the teacher, but all beings, the elements and world systems they comprise abide as primordial purity. In studying the Vajrayana teachings, you must have heard many times that we are to see everything as the pure land, to see everyone in the already awakened state. This is the essence of the Vajrayana vision. And it is based in truth. Everyone is really grounded in the enlightened state all the time and we can know this if we recognize their real condition. When we look into the ultimate reality of everyone's qualities, these are all enlightened states. Devotion is the door opening mind to the original purity of the true nature and in this way, it is a very special Vajrayana practice.
If we just continue living with regimented attitudes and old habit patterns, clinging to our ideas and biases, we reify the regular, mundane, ordinary world view. Carrying on like that, there is no way to reveal the other side of the true nature and we are not really mantra practitioners. Without devotion, we won't discover the secret aspects of existence. As long as our habit patterns are rooted in dualistic conceptions, there is really no way to discover our transcendent qualities. To refocus or redirect ourselves, devotion is extremely important. Devotion is the gateway between mundane conceptions and the non-conceptual. It is the bridge that connects habit patterns to the natural expression of primordial reality. It allows conditional habits to dissolve and transform into wisdom qualities so that you can experience the unity of everything abiding in one inseparable, dynamic display of the true nature.
To actually practice Dharma and redirect our energy, we must have devotion which manifests as love, a sense of closeness, appreciation and confidence. In exercising devotion, we are also practicing pure perception. The teacher may be very different or quite similar to ourselves. Perhaps there is no difference at all in our realizations. The teacher may be a little more advanced than the student but sometimes the student has more realization than the teacher. In any case, devotion is the way to develop pure perception.
Pure perception is to appreciate the primordial qualities of the true nature. Start with the teacher and then begin to apply the same pure vision to all beings. Practice on the teacher first, and then gradually see everything in the state of primordial purity, just as you would observe the teacher. Echoing Buddha Shakyamuni, the great Nyingma master known as Patrul Rinpoche, said, 'You must see your teacher as kinder than Buddha, even though he may not have the realization of a first bhumi bodhisattva. Why is that? Because regardless of his realization, he is carrying and preserving the true lineage teachings and his transmission can spark you into full enlightenment if you apply joyful effort, courage and commitment in living your response to that teaching. Because we can't be served by the historical Buddha in this way, the kindness of our teacher may be said to exceed that of the Buddha himself. Therefore we should see the teacher as even kinder than the Buddha.
A Dzogchen tantra describes the nature of the connection between the teacher and the student and concludes that their relationship is one of true love, true compassion. Love is the bond. True love awakens pure perception. You will recognize something precious and unique in the teacher. And not just there. True love allows us to see that everyone is special, even beautiful, not just the teacher. The quality and power of love will transform perception and deepen understanding.
Throughout the teachings, from the Hinayana scriptures all the way to Dzogchen, the Buddha spoke again and again on the importance of love. Real love has nothing to do with attachment, dualistic habit patterns or neurotic grasping. True love is pure and beautiful with no trace of negative emotion, so it allows us to see everything in the state of beauty. Genuine love for each other is the heart of the teacher-student relationship. With unconditional love or devotion as the foundation, we may begin to practice and meditate. That is the next step.
Meditation practice must be done in three stages. Begin by arousing bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the non-dual wisdom of love and compassion in relation to all living beings, including ourselves. Also, cultivate a sense of appreciation for our opportunities and the good situation we have. This circumstance has not just come about accidentally, but has many causes and conditions, beautifully detailing who you are and what you have. We should feel happy with all this. Think about it, wish for the good of all and hold a strong and courageous commitment to use this opportunity to gain a better insight into the ultimate meaning, to develop more love and compassion so as to realize greater benefits for both ourselves and all others. This is the initial stage of practice.
On that basis, generate devotion and feel the presence of the teacher. Guru Padmasambhava is our real teacher. See every qualified master as an emanation of Padmasambhava and understand Guru Padmasambhava as the supreme embodiment of all Buddhas and realized teachers. Feel his presence strongly and keep a heart connection with Guru Rinpoche. Many of you have thangkas and pictures of Guru Padmasambhava, so learn to visualize and feel him in a strong way, with joy, happiness and heartfelt appreciation. Make wishes such as, 'May I actualize my Buddha-nature instantly, so that I can benefit all beings. May everyone be realized.' Arouse a strong aspiration and positive thoughts. These are very good and important foundations, opening the door to pure perception and transcendent understanding. Then maybe you can do the Seven Line Prayer three times or Calling the Lama from Afar.
The third and main part of the practice is often referred to in the teaching as the non-grasping state. This non-dual freedom from grasping is the essential meditation and is divided into two; the developing and completion stage practices. When we are doing the visualization or the creation stage, we begin to see ourselves as Buddhas. This is also the practice of pure perception and inseparable from devotion. You will begin to see yourself as a true living Buddha; Guru Padmasambhava, Chenrezig, Vajrasattva, Tara, or whatever you practice. You should totally merge with the deity when you are in that state. You are not just wearing a mask of the deity as if it were Halloween or a Broadway show, but you are really seeing things as they are. Without any doubt or hesitation you must seat yourself completely in that understanding. You are not trying to become something that you are not. Attachment to dualistic conceptions creates obstacles, so that we shrink from embodying reality qualities, but when we begin to break through that conceptual prison, collapsing and removing the wall, we are coming back to the original state. You must learn to abide as the deity in a Buddha field, without any hesitation. This is known as perfect visualization. When you see yourself as a Buddha, you do not simply consider yourself as Buddha and the rest of the world as ordinary, but everything is transformed into that state, both subject and object, the universe and all sentient beings, everyone is in that Buddha field together. This is known as true visualization.
Many times in the teachings you will hear that all forms are the body of the Buddha. Whether in the shape of human beings, mountains, trees, water or furniture, all appearances are emanations of the body of the Buddha.
There is also Buddhas' speech. Every sound, whether it originates with human beings, animals, natural phenomena, or even inaudible frequencies, such as the primordial sound, are all the speech of the Buddha. Not just mantra or human speech, but every vibration is a manifestation of the original purity of the Buddha's voice. This is the true understanding of the speech of the Buddha.
Then there is the Buddha mind. Every mind, including your own, is no other than the Buddha mind. Not only individual sentient minds, but openness or space itself is a display of the mind of the Buddha. In Dzogchen, this is known as kun-khyab rigpa, pervasive awareness. What is pervasive awareness? The state of openness is pervasive awareness. It is also called the unimpeded true nature, which indicates that Dzogchen realization or the Buddha mind is not just a limited, biased attitude or narrow understanding. The Buddha mind is the unbounded, expansive reality, which pervades the whole of space. Again, it is referred to as the fresh, naked state. It is always already fresh. It is completely naked. It is never deluded or mixed up. It is never second hand. It is the original purity, as it always is; pervasive, unimpeded, fresh, naked and original. All this terminology is used in order to awaken the perfect realization of this all-pervasive nature which is the primordial mind of the Buddhas.
Clearly comprehending these three dimensions of the Buddha while we meditate and recite mantra, is known as perfect visualization, perfect recitation and perfect meditation.
Now if we look at all of this, where does it come from? Where does it exist, where does it go? It is all beyond conception. Conceptions cannot comprehend this because concepts do not go beyond the surface. Limiting judgements accompany the arising of conceptual subject and objects. We begin to hallucinate, superimposing delusions over the true nature. The original state is beyond conception. It can only be perceived by the pervasive nature of the mind. The kun-khyab rigpa alone can understand that realization which is beyond conception. When conceptions are informed by the true nature qualities, they are transcended in place. As Guru Padmasambhava said, all phenomena, all dualistic conceptions, disappear like clouds in the sky. Where do clouds come from? From space. Where do they exist? In space. Where do they go? Back into space. The whole of phenomenal existence arises, abides and dissolves within the primordial state. Nothing separates or moves away from the sphere of reality. Things are always in that condition. Similarly, all emotions, whether they are positive or negative, are part of the display of openness, the Buddha mind. All phenomena appear, exist and dissolve within that context. If you aren't deluded, you will recognize the original purity flowing through the movement of the emotions. The real nature of emotions is not as you might think. What we call negative is just a superficial perception, another aspect of the beauty of the true nature. Therefore, it is said that the emotions are already liberated, already happening as a display of wisdom energy. Also, in the higher tantra or Dzogchen teachings, it is repeatedly stated that all emotions and conceptions are expressions of freedom and realization. To practice with this understanding is known as non-grasping, non-judgmental, non-dual meditation. Continue to maintain this meditation without distraction. Without ego-clinging or grasping phenomena, be part of reality as it is. Applying that view to the whole of our life can really become a very special practice.
At the end, dedicate the merit to all beings and make aspirational prayers on their behalf. In offering them the benefits of our practice, we again invoke the power of Bodhicitta. Having begun with the right motivation and then to practice in a non-grasping, non-judgmental way, is good, virtuous activity. To end a session, we should offer to share whatever energy or merit we may have generated through this practice with all beings. The dedication and aspirational prayers are an important part of regenerating Bodhicitta. At the same time, understand that dedication practice defines a transition in the overall form of the meditation. But if we are devoted practitioners, we don't have to make any limiting divisions. When one form of practice ends, another begins. The end of formal meditation is the beginning of the post-meditation state.
The great Master Patrul Rinpoche taught that there is no fundamental distinction between the states of meditation and post-meditation. With a good understanding of the teachings, we transcend any differences. Both are aspects of one whole. In this way, the closing prayers do not indicate the end of our practice but signal the beginning of carrying the meditation experience into more externally active levels of participation. After the dedication and aspirational prayers, bring that same realization forward into the post-meditation state and begin to engage your daily activities. Sometimes it may be difficult to sustain a strong meditative continuity in the post-meditation state, but we must be brave and stay inspired. Think, 'I am going to take the essence of this practice back into the world.'
Once in a while throughout the day as you're working, reflect on the value of love, compassion, bodhicitta, courage and commitment. When strong emotions arise, don't hold on to them; simply notice to let them go and move forward. This is the way to begin practicing post-meditation awareness.
Non-grasping meditation is the best kind. That means not clinging, not holding on to things. This doesn't mean that you give up everything indiscriminately, but you do not cling to emotions. Learning to let go brings patience and tolerance. Courage also comes quite easily then. If emotions come up, don't just immediately buy them. Check yourself with mindfulness and look within before you act. That will make the whole situation a little softer. It will be easier to handle the emotional energy and liberate it.
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
Q#1: If the student is trying to develop devotion to the teacher and they hear these teachings of Patrul Rinpoche which say that the teacher should be considered to be like the Buddha and even better than the Buddha because he is here and now, and you go to your teacher and your teacher tells you to do something that you wouldn't do, if you are devoted, will you go ahead and do it anyway?
A: I think so, yeah, I think you'd have to do it. (laughter) If you read the life stories of the great ancient masters, you will see that is definitely what they did. Most of you know the story of Milarepa because his life story has been translated. I think many of you know it , but there are many other great masters from both India and Tibet who faced similar ordeals before they were enlightenened, revealing their courage, commitment and unshakeable confidence. Of course if the teacher asks you to do something, and you don't really think you can do it, then I think you can probably negotiate, however I really think you should be motivated to carry it out if it is within your capabilities. In general, I don't think a teacher would ask you to do something that you cannot do. So you may have to readjust or negotiate the conditions. I think that is the way of handling this. We should always be inspired and courageous.
Q#1: That sounds very dangerous to me.
A: (Laughter) That's true, but if you're going to get enlightened....
Q#2: The student is operating from egoic mind and doesn't really have the awareness or the enlightenment to judge what is being asked of them so devotion is necessary to carry on.
A: I think that is the teaching. If you have full confidence and devotion, then you will go ahead without hesitating, you will just do it. It is not just only in the relationship between the teacher and the student that we are talking about here; if you have confidence, courage and commitment in relation to anybody, even if you don't see them as a teacher, even if they are a friend, you'll do it. There is no doubt that you will do it because of your courage, your confidence and commitment to that friend. Now of course in the teacher-student relationship many things may come up, however as I said, we have to respond according to our capabilities. We should not make excuses about our incapacity, but must bravely learn to expand our capabilities. We don't immediately have to do as much as Milarepa and all those great masters, because that might be too dangerous.
The Buddha gave many teachings on how to recognize a true teacher, as well as qualified students. This is very important. There are descriptions of qualified teachers according to the Theravada schools, in Sutra Mahayana, as well as in the Vajrayana. Buddha said many times, the teacher is not to be accepted merely because he is referred to as a teacher; s/he must must have certain qualities. Not only the teacher, but the student must be qualified as well. There are many teachings which explain these qualities. When you really meet a qualified teacher, I don't think you will encounter any of the extremes which you might imagine.
Turtle Hill Sangha © 2010
back for more