Vows, commitments and modern life:  How to rely upon the Spiritual Guide

The commitments of reliance.

The commitments of reliance are to rely sincerely upon our Spiritual Guide, to be respectful towards our vajra brothers and sisters and to observe the ten virtuous actions.

To rely sincerely upon our spiritual guide means, quite simply, to regard him or her as a Buddha and to sincerely put into practice the instructions we have received.  It is said that we have the realization of reliance upon the spiritual guide if when we think of Buddha, we think our spiritual guide; and when we think of our spiritual guide, we think Buddha.  When we have both directions simultaneously our understanding is correct.

The reason why it is important to view our spiritual guide as a Buddha is because if we view him in this way, we will receive the blessings of all of the Buddhas through him.  The spiritual guide acts like a focal point through which all of the Buddhas can help us.  He is like the internet browser through which you access the enlightened internet.  If we view our spiritual guide as an ordinary being, we will only receive the blessings of an ordinary being.  Ultimately, our ability to gain Dharma realizations depends entirely upon receiveing the blessings of our spiritual guide.

Likewise, the benefit we receive when listening to teachings depends almost entirely upon our view of our spiritual guide.  Two people, one full of faith the other full of criticism can listen to the exact same teaching and the former will receive great benefit whereas the latter will actually just accumulate negative karma.  The former will feel like they are being given the answers to all of their biggest problems, whereas the latter will spend the whole time cataloging all the faults of the teacher in front of them.  Geshe-la explains that when we receive teachings, we should believe the living Je Tsongkhapa enters into our spiritual guide and teaches through him.  Our actual spiritual guide is Lama Tsonngkhapa, and the person sitting on the throne in front of us is like a stereo speaker.

Additionally, if we ourselves are a teacher we could try give the teachings ourselves, but we would most likely just make a mess of things.  Instead, we should bring our living spiritual guide into our heart, generate a pure motivation wishing to transmit the Dharma that the people in front of us need, and then request him with faith to teach through us.  If we do this correctly, we will feel the spiritual guide enter into us and we will sometimes be amazed at what comes out of our mouth, things we have never understood before.  We can also do this when we are simply with friends, listening to their troubles.  We imagine that they are not telling us their difficulties, but rather they are telling our spiritual guide at our heart, and we don’t give any answers, but we request him to speak through us.

Further, regarding our spiritual guide as a Buddha is the lifeblood of our tantric practice.  When we engage in our self-generation practice we imagine not simply that we are generating as our Tantric Yidam, but rather we are actually mixing our mind completely with our guru’s mind in the aspect of our Yidam.  By doing this, all of the Buddhas of the ten directions enter into our self-generation practice and give it great power.  During the meditation break, we view all forms as the guru-deity’s body, all sounds as his pure speech, and all thoughts as arising from his omniscient wisdom.

To sincerely put his instructions into practice means to just be happy to do our best.  There is no expectation that we be able to put the instructions into practice perfectly.  All of our Dharma training ultimately is a process of creating new mental habits for ourselves.  This takes time and it takes effort.  So we need to be patient and not expect immediate results.  Likewise, we should not expect the virtuous habits we are trying to cultivate to feel “natural” or “spontaneous” in any way.  Many people think that feelings like love, compassion and bodhichitta should be natural and spontaneous to be genuine, and so when it doesn’t feel that way they conclude it is “artificial” and “not real.”  Gen-la Losang explains that what is natural is simply what is familiar.  Right now, delusions come naturally and spontaneously and our virtues feel forced and weak.  This is normal.  But with enough effort over a long enough period of time, we will gradually develop new habits of mind.  At that point minds of love, compassion and so forth will come naturally and spontaneously.

We should understand that progress with realizations is not a linear, where day after day, year after year, things get better.  Sometimes we will be focusing really intently on overcoming a particular delusion and then for many years it will not arise strongly.  We may think we’ve got that one down, and then all of a sudden, out of left field, the delusion rises up with a vengeance.  When this happens, it is easy to become despondent thinking we are regressing.  But actually, this is just the beginning of Round 2 with that particular delusion!  We have countless deluded tendencies similar to the cause on our mind, and just because we work through one doesn’t mean there are not more after that.  But normally we will found Round 2 easier than Round 1, and Round 3, when it comes, will be easier still.  Even if it does get harder, that will merely mean we are opposing a stronger deluded seed, not that our mind is any weaker.

The commitments of reliance also mean we should act respectfully to our vajra brothers and sisters.  The reality is we are social beings.  Whoever we spend time with, we naturally become socialized into their way of being.  It is said we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so choose who that is wisely!  If we spend time with people who get drunk all of the time, we will probably do the same; if we spend time with people who practice virtue all of the time, we will likewise probably do the same.  We often think we learn the most from the teachings we listen to, but the reality is we learn the most through osmosis of hanging out with our spiritual friends.  It is very easy for us to neglect the importance of the Sangha Jewel.  We know the Dharma jewel is our ultimate refuge and we see the value of the Buddha Jewel in our life, but we tend to forget about or belittle the importance of the Sangha Jewel.  As a result, it is very easy for us to begin to drift away from our Sangha friends more and more until eventually we never see any of them.  Then we become re-socialized into being a samsaric being.  It is said that everytime we do a puja with our Sangha friends we create the collective karmic causes to do the same thing again in the future.  When we deeply understand how truly hard it is to find a precious human life, spending time with Sangha will become a big priority for us.  We don’t have to do pujas all of the time, we can just go get a coffee together or even chat on Facebook.  The point is make it a priority to cultivate close relationships with your Sangha friends.

Lastly, the commitments of reliance also mean relying upon the 10 virtuous actions.  The 10 virtuous actions are the karmic opposites of the 10 non-virtuous actions.  It is not enough to just abandon our non-virtue, we must also train in their opposites.  It is not enough to just abandon killing, we need to proactively save life.  It is not enough to avoid divisive speech, we need to proactively try heal divisions between people, and so forth.  Engaging in the 10 virtuous actions are called paths because engaging in such actions lead us to the higher realms, liberation and full enlightenment.

One thought on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  How to rely upon the Spiritual Guide

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s