There are so many instructions on the Kadampa path it is very easy to lose sight of what is important or how it all fits together. I believe it was Kenneth Galbraith, one of history’s most famous economists, that said there is no concept too complex that cannot be explained in two words; and that there are no two words you cannot give a discourse on for two hours! So if we are to look at all of the Kadampa path and need to reduce it down to two words, those two words would be “guru yoga.” All of the path can be understood as one single practice, namely guru yoga, and everything else is in support of that.
The logic is simple: the guru is already an enlightened being, so instead of reinventing the wheel and going through the laborious process of building from scratch within ourselves every quality of a Buddha we simply import the final product within our mental continuum. We simply replace the basis of our self from being the ordinary, deluded being we currently are with the enlightened body, speech and mind of the guru. There is one activity on the path: changing the basis of imputation for our I from our ordinary self to that of the guru.
Here, guru does not merely mean the external appearing form of our Spiritual Guide, rather, here guru means all of the different levels of the guru. There is the external spiritual guide who teaches us, writes books, grants empowerments, etc. The practice with the external spiritual guide is to learn and to emulate. The external spiritual guide introduces us to the internal spiritual guide who has many many levels and aspects. One meaning of a “Buddhist” is “an inner being.” So it follows that a Buddha is a being that lives within the realm of our mind. The guru, by definition, is the synthesis of all of these Buddhas.
First we are usually introduced to Je Tsongkhapa, who we understand is the same mental continuum of Buddha Shakyamuni. We are introduced to his three principal qualities: wisdom, compassion and spiritual power which assume the forms of Manjushri, Avalokitehshvara and Vajrapani respectively. We are also introduced to his Sangha. The principal function of Sangha is to arrange the conditions for our practice. The inner sangha assumes the form of Dorje Shugden and his retinue. While by nature Dorje Shugden is the wisdom Buddha Manjushri, he accomplishes the function of inner Sangha within our mind. This is why he appears with the Sangha jewel in the field of merit.
Through learning from and relying upon these inner emanations we are eventually introduced to the Guru in the aspect of the Yidam, which in the context of the Kadampa tradition assumes the form of Heruka and Vajrayogini. The Yidam is like our ultimate role model. The Yidam is like our new car! Our main practice is to let go of our old, ordinary car of our body and mind and instead to hop into and identify with our new spiritual all-performance vehicle of the Yidam. We basically adopt the body and mind of the Yidam as our own. But then we go even deeper. Just as we went inside our ordinary mind and met certain Buddhas, when we go inside the Yidam’s mind, we discover new Buddhas assuming different aspects and we start the whole process over again. These Buddhas assume the form of the seed letters of the principal and supporting deities (the body mandala) of the Yidam. We then do the same thing of coming to identify with the seed letters, in particular the nada. What is inside the nada? The Dharmakaya, the final nature of the guru, the ocean where all enlightened waters find their final destination.
All throughout this process of admiring, emulating and finally identifying with the different levels and aspects of the guru we need positive mental energy (merit) we need to remove obstructions (purification) and we need to the strength to make these transitions (blessings). These three are our preparatory practices. We need to have the motivation to become the guru, in all of his forms, so that we can then liberate all beings – this is bodhichitta. We need to realize that our self does not inherently adhere to our ordinary body and mind, these are the meditations on the emptiness of the self, body and mind.
Viewed in this way, we come to understand that in reality the entire path is guru yoga, and all of the other practices support that main practice.
Your turn: Take some difficult situation in your life, now view it as an emanation of your guru for your practice. How does your mind change towards your difficult situation when you view it in this way?