Relying upon the outer spiritual guide is actually quite simple. All we need to do is regard him as a living Buddha and then put his instructions into practice to the best of our ability.
How can we regard him as a living Buddha?
Whether somebody is a Buddha from their own side or not is irrelevant, what matters is our view. If we understand deeply the emptiness of a Buddha, we realize that nobody is a Buddha from their own side because nothing exists from its own side. Beings become Buddhas for us when we karmically construct them as such. If we viewed an ordinary being as a Buddha, we would receive a Buddha’s blessings; if we viewed a Buddha as an ordinary being, we would receive nothing. The way this works is wherever you imagine a Buddha, a Buddha actually goes, so when you regard somebody else as a Buddha, a Buddha enters that person. Wherever a Buddha goes, they accomplish the function of a Buddha, which is to bestow blessings. A blessing is the activation of a karmic seed that directs our mind towards enlightenment. Through our viewing this person as a Buddha, we receive the blessings of a Buddha and what we understand is directing our mind towards enlightenment. We can do this with anybody, but it is easiest to do this with our Spiritual Guide.
When it comes to pure view, it is very important to make the difference between attachment to perfection and pure view. Attachment to perfection is when we project our own expectations of how a Buddha should supposedly act, and then we judge the other person against this standard. They inevitably don’t, and then we see only faults in this person and we lose faith. The outer spiritual guide will never appear pure and perfect from their own side, because no such being exists. Because our mind is impure we project something impure. If we want to see the outer spiritual guide as completely pure, it depends upon our own practice. Sometimes we think pure view is something we have or we don’t. Usually in the beginning we see only good qualities, but then over time we see only faults. This is just the exhaustion of our imprints of having practiced pure view in the past.
Pure view is a practice. The practice of pure view has two parts. With respect to the qualities that appear, we rejoice in the good qualities of the outer spiritual guide. We practice appropriate attention with respect to their good qualities. We admire their good qualities and allow ourselves to be inspired by their example (the good parts). With respect to the apparent faults that appear, we practice pure view by asking ourself the question, ‘how can I receive perfect benefit from what this person did, from this apparent fault?’ When we receive perfect benefit, the person functions for us as a Buddha with just extremely skilful means. We need to train ourselves in this view. One of the main functions of the spiritual guide is to create situations that kick up our delusions so that we can identify them and then work through them.
But pure view does not mean we say everything the Spiritual Guide is doing in a conventional sense is perfect and can’t be questioned. We will, for example, see our teachers doing something which is not correct – they make a mistake. If we have a wrong understanding of pure view, we think we are supposed to say that the mistake was correct in a conventional sense. But if it is a mistake, it is a mistake, so we get ourselves tied in all sorts of knots. The resolution of this is actually very straightforward: view the mistakes as teachings. Who says a Buddha’s teaching methods are limited to declarative direct transmissions of meaning? We learn many valuable lessons learning from the mistakes of others, why can’t our Spiritual Guide also teach us in the same way? So their mistakes are just another form of teaching, one that makes us learn to think critically for ourselves. Ultimately, pure view doesn’t mean viewing the object itself as being pure, rather it means we receive perfect, pure benefit within our mind no matter what appears conventionally, be it a mistake of a skilful deed. Pure view does not mean we view objects as objectively perfect, rather it means we know how to look at everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, in a perfect way. Everything our Spiritual Guide, our teachers, our sangha, our friends, our family, and eventually everybody do teaches us something.
Putting the instructions into practice to the best of our ability
What does it mean to put their instructions into practice to the best of our ability? It means to use the Dharma as a solution to our problems. The point of departure on the spiritual path is a redefinition of the problem to be our own mind, not our external circumstance. Seeing that our problem is our mind, we then use the Dharma we learn from interacting with our Spiritual Guide to change our mind in a way consistent with the Dharma. When we do so, we are putting the instructions into practice. Through training in Lamrim, we can gradually realize and feel like we actually have these problems. Then our practice will be sincere.
I wanted to talk about a specific instance I have struggled with a lot, namely thinking that the Spiritual Guide or a teacher thinks badly about us. We need to identify the attachment/aversion in our minds, where we think our happiness and suffering depends upon what others think. This is a mistaken mind, our happiness depends only upon whether we respond to the situation with virtue. When we feel our Spiritual Guide or teacher thinks something bad about us, there are three possibilities: If we are doing something wrong, we admit it without guilt and change. If we are doing something correct, we continue to do it. Or we think we are doing something right, but the teacher thinks we are doing something wrong. When this happens, we have an open, honest discussion about it. It is important to make sure we are not going to the extreme of exaggerating the bad of what the teacher thinks. We often exaggerate thinking the teacher thinks only bad about us, and doesn’t see our good qualities. We then become defensive and try to justify why we are right and the teacher is wrong. This shuts down the learning process.
When we do have a discussion, we need to learn to accept ourself and our mistakes without judgement. We often project that the spiritual guide is viewing us the way we are viewing ourselves. We think he is judging us and thinking bad about us and not liking us because of our faults because that is how we are relating to ourselves.
We also need to seek clarification until you have clarity about what is correct. We need to be more concerned with doing what is right than in being right. Motivated by this, we should try seek clarification through external and internal methods until all doubts are resolved. For example, if we see our teacher doing something we perceive to be wrong, Geshe-la advises that with an open mind we approach the other person and tell them how we are viewing their actions, but we wanted to understand their perspective. If we have such a conversation without attacking our teacher, then one of two things will happen. Either the teacher will realize they were making a mistake, they thank you, and everything functions better in the future; or your teacher will explain their perspective, you will realize why you were wrong, and your faith and understanding will increase. Either way, everybody is better off from having the conversation. If instead, we think they are making a mistake but we keep it all bottled up inside because we think we are supposed to view everything they do as perfect, then eventually this view will eat away at our faith in and relationship with our teacher like a cancer until eventually it dies completely. Our teacher will continue on making their mistakes and we will have lost our path. Everybody is worse off. Geshe-la says, again and again, we need to behave conventionally exactly normally like everybody else. When we have a problem with what somebody is doing, we have a normal conversation about it. To not do is a mistaken and externally exaggerated relationship with the Spiritual Guide.
One final possibility is after clarification you conclude that you are right and the teacher is wrong but they can’t admit it and they don’t change. If this happens, then keep an open mind that your view could change later and continue repeating the methods above. Eventually, things will become unblocked.