Once again, every stage of the path is a mental action. Just as the act of giving becomes a “perfection of giving” when the act of giving is motivated by bodhichitta, or the wish to become a Buddha, so too any stage of the path becomes an “ultimate” stage of the path when it is practiced from the point of view of ultimate truth, emptiness. The ultimate perfection of any stage of the path, therefore, is to engage in the conventional action of that stage of the path motivated by bodhichitta and conjoined with and infused by the wisdom realizing emptiness. Or more succinctly, the ultimate perfection of any stage of the path is engaging in that stage of the path motivated by ultimate bodhichitta. The purpose of the next 30 posts is to explain my understanding of how to engage in the ultimate perfection of all of the stages of the path. In this post, I will begin with the root of the path, reliance upon the spiritual guide. This post is quite long, and for that I apologize, but taking the time to understand it will enable you to understand more easily all of the remaining posts in this series.
From a conventional point of view, reliance upon the spiritual guide is a two-fold mental action: first, we generate a conviction that the spiritual guide is a Buddha (and therefore completely reliable), and second, on the basis of this faith, we put his/her instructions into practice to the best of our ability. The perfection of reliance upon the spiritual guide is to rely upon the spiritual guide so as to become a Buddha with the ability to lead all beings to the same state. The ultimate perfection, therefore, of reliance upon the spiritual guide is to rely upon the spiritual guide to become a Buddha understanding that the spiritual guide, ourselves, all beings and our reliance itself are all empty.
The emptiness of the spiritual guide can be understood as follows: the “spiritual guide” is the mental label we impute upon the basis of imputation that is “a person who is the synthesis of all three jewels.” This is very profound. As will be explained in a later post, according to Buddhism, the three jewels are the three main objects we turn to – namely, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – in order to solve our inner problems of delusions and their karmic imprints. “Buddha” is the mental label we impute upon the basis of imputation of “a person that has purified their mind completely of delusions and their karmic imprints and thereby realized fully within their own mental continuum all good qualities.” “Dharma” is the mental label we impute upon the basis of imputation of “all of Buddha’s advice for how to become a Buddha ourselves.” “Sangha” is the mental label we impute upon the basis of imputation of “all those who are striving to put the Dharma into practice.” The “synthesis of all three jewels” is the mental label we impute upon the basis of imputation that is “the synthesis of all of the Buddhas, all of the Dharma and all of the Sangha fully in mutually reinforcing harmony with one another.” Synthesis, here, means “fully in mutually reinforcing harmony with one another.” The synthesis of all three jewels in turn is comprised of “the synthesis of all of the Buddhas”, “the synthesis of all of the Dharma” and the “synthesis of all of the Sangha.” So the synthesis of all of the Buddhas is how all of the Buddhas mutually reinforce one another in their common task of liberating all beings. The synthesis of all the Dharma is an understanding of the resolution of all apparent contradiction between any of Buddha’s instructions combined with an understanding of how each instruction mutually reinforces every other instruction. The synthesis of all the Sangha is the resolution of all conflict, even the most subtle, within the Sangha combined with the perfect harmonization of all of their efforts aimed at practicing the stages of the path and supporting one another in this endeavor. So building back up, upon the basis of imputation that is the synthesis of all of the Buddhas, all of the Dharma and all of the Sangha we impute “synthesis of all three jewels.” A person who realizes fully the synthesis of all three jewels as their basis of imputation for their “I” is a “spiritual guide.” If we contemplate this fully we begin to glimpse the sheer magnificent splendor that is a spiritual guide and it is difficult to not start to cry. The Spiritual Guide is simply the synthesis of all that is good.
The emptiness of ourselves is explained extensively in every book written by Venerable Geshe-la. Quite simply it is realizing that our “I” is a mere mental label we impute upon the basis of imputation of our body and mind, but if we remove our body and our mind completely there is nothing remaining that is the “I”.
The emptiness of others is also quite profound. Normally we conceive of others as separate, independent beings. I am here, they are there, and their is this unbridgeable chasm that stands between us. We grasp at others existing inherently separate from us. This is completely wrong. In reality, each being, including ourselves, is a wave on the ocean of all living beings. Out of ignorance we grasp at each wave as being inherently distinct from all of the others, but in reality they are all by nature the same ocean and thus inseparable from one another. While we can nominally distinguish one wave from another, we cannot separate them from their underlying unity. It is the same with all living beings. My ignorance tells me I am just the wave called Ryan. I grasp at this wave as being separate from all of the other waves, and on this basis I engage in actions which put the interests of the Ryan wave above the interests of all of the other waves. And everybody else in samsara is doing the same thing. No wonder the waves of humanity are so choppy, full of conflict and turmoil like in a violent storm. But when I realize “Ryan” is just one wave on the ocean of all living beings that is my true self, then I seek what is best for the harmony and mutual stillness and peace of all of the waves. When I conceive of myself as the ocean, as opposed to any individual wave, then each and every living being, including Ryan, becomes but a single aspect or part of my larger self. If I kick the dog, it is one part of myself kicking another part of myself. How senseless is that? To see the emptiness of all living beings is to see how we are all part of one indivisible whole, and upon this basis harming others becomes non-sensical and dedicating our life to leading others to full enlightenment becomes entirely natural.
The emptiness of the mental action of reliance itself is at first difficult to understand because it is very difficult to understand the relationship between emptiness and action. Normally we think if something is empty it can’t act and we think if there is action it must inherently exist. But this too is completely wrong. In reality, action is only possible because the actor, the action itself, the object of the action and the fruit of the action are all empty. If the actor was inherently separate from the object of the action, how could it possibly act upon the object when there is no point of contact? If the action itself was inherently separate from its fruit, how could it possibly produce any fruit since there is no connection between the two? It is only because the actor and the object of action are part of the same entity that they can interact with one another, and it is only because the action and its fruit are part of the same continuum that cause and effect can exist. If we conceive of the mind as a body of water, by changing our mind (the mental action) we change the shape of the body of water and thus cause one wave (the actor) to interact with another wave (the object of the action) producing a new pattern of waves (the effect or fruit). This too is very profound. If we understand the empty relationship between actor, object of action, action and its effect then our understanding of emptiness is very qualified and there is great hope that we will be able to engage in the ultimate perfection of each of the stages of the path to enlightenment.
As this relates to the ultimate perfection of reliance upon the spiritual guide, the conventional action of reliance upon the spiritual guide is to first generate the conviction that the spiritual guide is a Buddha and to then, on the basis of that faith, put his/her instructions into practice to the best of our ability. The actor, here, is ourselves. The mental action is to put any Dharma instruction into practice with the wisdom conviction that the instruction is completely reliable. The object of the action is the instruction itself. And the effect, or fruit, of the action is to make the ocean of our mind more peaceful and calm. The conviction here is particularly important because it is this mental conviction that gives our mental action force or power. The greater our conviction or belief, the more power or force there is in the mental action. Since the object of the action is the instruction and all instructions when practiced function to make our mind more peaceful and calm, the more power with which we engage in the action the more complete will be the resulting inner peace. Venerable Geshe-la once told Venerable Tharchin that if he fully believed that his spiritual guide was a Buddha, he would attain enlightenment in an instant! Such is the force-multiplying power of this conviction on all of our spiritual actions. Understood in this way, the ultimate perfection of reliance upon the spiritual guide is not a singular mental action, rather it is a way of engaging in all of the other mental actions that are the stages of the path. This is why reliance upon the spiritual guide is a transversal practice, in other words it pervades all of our other practices making them dramatically more powerful. It is the root of the path because there is no path without it. Why? Because if we lack any conviction that the mental actions we are engaging in are reliable then our mental actions themselves will lack any power and thus produce no fruit.
Generating the conviction that our spiritual guide is a Buddha is actually easy when we understand his emptiness. He is a Buddha because we have mentally constructed him as such (see above). A person constructs themselves as a Buddha by imputing their I on a mind that has realized all of the stages of the path. A person constructs themselves as a spiritual guide by imputing their I on the synthesis of all three jewels. We construct someone as a Spiritual Guide by viewing not the person as an I imputed upon the ordinary contaminated aggregates of body and mind, but rather by viewing them, their instructions and their actions as the unfolding manifestation of the synthesis of all three jewels within the ocean of our mind. This view alone functions to bestow upon our mind a wisdom that interprets them, their instructions and their actions as this synthesis of all three jewels unfolding within our mind, and as such we receive the wisdom and blessings of the synthesis of all three jewels through this person even if from their own side they are a completely ordinary being! As Venerable Geshe-la said, if we view our spiritual guide as a Buddha, we will receive the blessings of a Buddha; if we view them as a bodhisattva, we will receive the blessings of a bodhisattva; and if we view them as ordinary we will receive nothing.
In summary: first we construct the mental object “spiritual guide” which is the synthesis of all three jewels. Then we impute “spiritual guide” on everything. From this, we will receive teachings from and the blessings of our spiritual guide through everything. Powered by this, we put into practice what we have learned and the result will be a gradual calming of the waters of our mind until eventually it becomes the completely still and translucent clear light omniscience of a Buddha.