The fourteen root downfalls of the Secret Mantra vows
Abusing or scorning our Spiritual Guide.
In this context our Spiritual Guide is anyone from whom we have received both the empowerment of our personal Yidam and the commentary to that practice. If we decide not to rely upon our Spiritual Guide any more we incur a root downfall. Developing non-faith or anger towards our Spiritual Guide are very heavy negative actions and block Tantric realizations, but are not downfalls.
The reason why abusing or scorning our Spiritual Guide results in such heavy negative karma is clear: The Spiritual Guide is the synthesis of all of the Buddhas, so any negative action towards the Spiritual Guide is kamrically the same as a negative actions against all of the Buddhas. Just as you cannot separate the sun from its light, so too you cannot separate the Spiritual Guide from his instructions. At a very profound level, the light is part of the sun, and the instructions are part of the Spiritual Guide. To abuse or scorn the Spiritual Guide is to create a particularly horrible karma in the mind that obstructs our ability to appreciate (much less realize) ALL of the instructions of that Spiritual Guide. In this way, it sabotages everything.
At a practical level, the only way we can gain any realization of any Dharma subject is through receiving the blessings of all of the Buddhas. But it is through our relationship with the Spiritual Guide that we can receive these blessings. He introduced us to them, he gave us empowerments into them, he explained to us how to practice them. By abusing or scorning the Spiritual Guide, we cut off our mind to being able to receive these blessings. The sun of Dharma stops shining anew in our mind, and it is just a question of time before all of its light has passed us by and we are replunged into a world of spiritual darkness.
To publicly abuse or scorn the Spiritual Guide is even worse negative karma, because our actions function to destroy the mind of faith in a holy object, we cause others to abandon their path, and often they just wind up turned off from all spiritual paths. But as with all the vows, we need to be careful. In many of the Tibetan traditions, they strongly emphasize this concept of “samaya.” Its practical interpretation can be downright abusive. It often is interpreted to mean once you have taken an empowerment from somebody, they own you and you have to do everything they say for the rest of your life, otherwise you will burn in hell forever. It makes people feel trapped, like some form of spiritual enslavement from which there is no escape. Such an interpretation is ridiculous and spiritually abusive.
Within the Kadampa tradition, we have regrettably had quite a few high profile teachers who, through the force of delusion, broke their spiritual vows. This created a good deal of confusion for people. What do I do if the person who has granted my Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment winds up disrobing in disgrace? Since they broke their commitments to their Spiritual Guide and I am “bound” to them due to having received empowerments from them, should I follow them? Do I go to hell with them? Are my empowerments still in tact? And what do I do if I decide this person or this tradition is no longer for me? If my karma draws me to another path, am I going to burn in hell if I follow my karma? Am I trapped in some commitment I didn’t even realize I was taking when I signed up for that festival? This sort of tight grasping at a wrong understanding can and has led to extreme inner turmoil in many people.
Within the context of the modern Kadampa Tradition, we have a very elegant, and yet subtle, solution to this problem. Geshe-la explains that when we receive teachings or empowerments, we should view that the living Je Tsongkhapa enters into the vessel of our teacher, and it is our actual Guru Je Tsongkhapa who gives the teachings and empowerments through our teacher. Geshe-la said we should do this even with him. Our actual Spiritual Guide is the living Je Tsongkhapa. He enters into our different teachers, gives us instructions, empowerments, blessings and so forth. Our “guru commitment” is not made to the appearance of the human being of our teacher, but rather to Lama Tsongkhapa (or Lama Action Vajra as the case may be) at his or her heart. Since there is no danger of Lama Tsongkhapa ever breaking his vows, even if the human appearance of our teacher does, there is no problem for us.
Likewise, some people’s karma may take them to another tradition. But if they likewise view Je Tsongkhapa entering their new teacher, then in reality they have the same spiritual guide, just speaking through somebody else. Because they have never abused or scorned Je Tsongkhapa, they have never abused or scorned their Spiritual Guide, and so therefore they are protected against creating this particularly heavy negative karma.
Venerable Tharchin said, “we must be clear, our ultimate refuge is in the Dharma, not the person.” He explains, if our ultimate refuge is in the person, then if that person does something stupid, then we will be plunged into a crisis of faith and possibly lose everything. Instead, if we are clear our ultimate refuge is in the Dharma, then if our teacher does something stupid, it serves for us as yet another Dharma teaching – teaching us what not to do, teaching us the power and deceptiveness of delusions, etc. We are protected. It is for this reason that during the empowerments, our actual commitment is not to the person, but is instead a commitment to engage in certain practices. Our actual commitment is, “to strive our best to one day keep all of our commitments purely.”
The only way we break this commitment is if we say, “no, I will no longer try become a better person. I reject Lama Tsongkhapa and his teachings, they are wrong and deceptive.” So even if we go to another tradition, if we never lose our intention to try become a better person by putting into practice Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, we have not broken our commitments. We need not feel trapped. This modern Kadampa special view of the relationship between the Spiritual Guide and the student has many advantages, but the main one is it preserves the central importance of our commitment to the spiritual guide while at the same time protecting us against the spiritually abusive interpretations of “samaya” found in so many other traditions. If you check Geshe-la’s works, he never uses this term. We reject spiritual abuse, we embrace a commitment to relying upon the living Je Tsongkhapa.