In my view, this post is the deep inner core of this entire series of posts. If you read only one of these posts, this is the one.
The fundamental issue of reliance upon the spiritual guide is asking ourselves the question: upon whose mind do I rely? If we are relying upon our own mind alone, then we will never get anywhere since we are not already enlightened. We would be like a blind person trying to lead ourself. It is precisely because the guru has attained enlightenment and we haven’t that we need to rely upon his mind. But this does not mean that we blindly follow. We have a huge habit of relying upon our own mind to understand things, to reason and so forth. We may think we are intelligent, but if we are choosing to rely upon our own mind and not the mind of the guru, then in fact we are quite foolish. If we have a choice to use a nail gun or a hammer, which do we choose? Obviously the nail gun. In the same way, if we have the choice of relying upon the guru’s mind or our own, which one do we choose? Obviously the guru’s mind.
In the Heart Jewel practice just before we engage in our Lamrim meditation, we dissolve the guru into our heart, and imagine that our mind is mixed indistinguishably with our guru’s mind. We don’t then forget this and engage in our Lamrim meditation! We dissolved our guru into our heart and mixed our mind with his precisely so that we can then meditate with his mind.
It begins by learning how to reason using our guru’s mind. One of the unique abilities of a Buddha is their ability to manifest their realizations in form. The Guru’s mind is not inherently separate from our own, which means he can manifest his mind inside our own, and we can use his mind as if it were our own. I have a choice of which mental factors I use to engage in my spiritual practices. I can use my own limited mental factors, or I can use the fully developed mental factors of my guru. We can literally use his concentration, his mindfulness, his compassion, his attention, his powers of reason, and so forth as if they were our own. Wherever we visualize a Buddha, they actually go. If we imagine that we are ‘using’ or ‘relying upon’ our guru’s mental factors, then literally his mental factors enter our mind and we can use them as if they were our own. I have difficulty understanding topics, I have difficulty holding my object with single pointed concentration. My guru doesn’t. I don’t have to rely upon (use) my ordinary mental factors, there is nothing preventing me (except my own lack of faith) from relying upon or ‘using’ my guru’s mental factors as my own.
His mind has already gained all the realizations of the stages of the path perfectly. Since we have mixed our mind with his, we can validly say that all of his realizations are inside our mind. He is emanating his realizations perfectly inside our mind.
So if we are meditating on compassion, for example, we imagine that his perfect compassion is emanated inside our mind. We ask ourselves, what would his compassion be like? What would it be like to have his compassion? How would I view this situation if I had his compassion? etc. Then, like an actor playing a part, we then imagine that this is our compassion, and we come to identify with it as our own compassion.
Identifying with a realization is a powerful way of ‘downloading’ the guru’s realizations into our own mind. This is very similar to our divine practice in highest yoga tantra. Kadam Bjorn calls practicing like this, ‘resultant Lamrim practice.’ We bring the result of our Lamrim practice into the path, we imagine that we already have mixed our mind indistinguishably from our guru’s realizations, and then we ‘try it on’ to ‘see what it is like.’
It is important to recall the logic of wherever you imagine a Buddha, a Buddha actually goes. Wherever you imagine your spiritual guide, all the Buddhas go. Wherever a Buddha goes, they accomplish the function of a Buddha, namely to bestow blessings. A blessing is something that transforms our mind into a more positive state, it moves our mind in the direction of virtue. If we imagine that we are meditating with our guru’s mental factors of mindfulness, altertness, and concentration, then as a result of this correct imagination, he literally will enter our mental factors of mindfulness, alertness, and concentration, and transforms ours into his. Then we can ‘use his mental factors as if they were our own.’ His power enters our mental factors. This takes a while to get used to, but it makes all the difference in the world to our meditations.
To meditate with our guru’s mind all we need really do is ‘call upon’ his mind to understand and generate our object instead of calling upon our ordinary mind to do the same. If we check the thinking process carefully, what we find is that when we think we ‘call upon’, or ‘make requests to’ our ordinary mind. We are confronted with some problem and we are trying to understand. What do we do? We ‘make requests’ to our ordinary mind. We ‘call upon’ our ordinary mind for a response to our question. It then thinks, and gives back to us some type of response (namely, an unreliable one). This is how we ‘think’ with our ordinary mind.
The only difference between thinking with our ordinary mind and thinking with our guru’s mind is not the process of thinking (making requests, calling upon) but the mind that we make requests to or the mind that we call upon. Instead of making requests to our ordinary mind, we generate our guru at our heart imagining that he is mixed indistinguishably with our root mind (we feel his living presence inside our mind), then we ‘call upon’ his mind, ‘make requests to’ his mind to understand (‘Please reveal to me X’, ‘Please help me understand Y’, ‘Please bless me to find this object’, ‘Please bless me to hold this object with single pointed concentration’).
All of these practices take some time to get used to, but with familiarity, it makes all the difference in the world. It is no coincidence that all of the most senior teachers say the same thing: in the end, the path comes down to reliance. It is no coincidence that reliance on the spiritual guide is considered the root of the path. It is no coincidence that all that is really required in our Tantric meditations is faith and imagination. Yet, we hold ourselves back, we try do things with our ordinary mind. Of course we are free to do so, but why drive a wooden soap box when you can drive a Ferrari?
We conclude the Je Tsongkhapa part of Heart Jewel with its dedication:
Through being cared for throughout all my lives
By Conqueror Tsongkhapa as my Mahayana Guru,
May I never turn away, even for an instant,
From this excellent path praised by the Conquerors.
This reveals two things: (1) the function of the Je Tsongkhapa and Lamrim parts of our practice, and (2) what we should dedicate our merit towards. This is the goal we should be striving for.
‘Cared for throughout all my lives’ means if we practice sincerely our spiritual guide will find us in our future lives as he has found us in this life. I asked Geshe-la once how to guarantee to always meet him in all my future lives, and he said to “concentrate on practicing Dharma and always keep faith.” ‘Mahayana Guru’ means we rely upon him as our guru. He is at our heart, and he will lead us to any virtuous destination we want to go. ‘Never turn away’ means by some amazing good fortune we have found a way out of samsara, there is a big danger that we could get swept away by samsara and lose the path for aeons remaining trapped for all that time. It is just too dangerous. So we need to remain with our guru and maintain the continuum of our practice. If we don’t seize this opportunity while we have got it, we will not get it again for close to forever.