[This is part of an ongoing Lamrim series. All related posts can be found here.]
Contemplation 1 – Relying on a Spiritual Master, the Root of All Paths
To rely on something means to have confidence in it, to consider it to be, well… reliable. This confidence is typically based on some kind of experience in which the thing has proven to be dependable.
Let us use a simple example – a car. Imagine that each morning you put the key in the ignition and the engine fires up. You drive into work. After work, you put the key in the ignition and again the car faithfully starts up. You drive it back home. Say you do this over and over for six months. You never hear any strange sounds, the engine purrs and hums like it is supposed to. At this point you can say your car is reliable and that you have confidence in it. You can also say that you rely on the car to get you to work each morning. Of course, this doesn’t mean that your car will last forever or that every single car is reliable. You know that the car is made of various mechanical parts and that normal wear and tear occurs so you are diligent about general maintenance and upkeep – gas in the tank, proper air pressure in the tires, regular oil changes and tune ups, etc. A year passes, still no issues with the car. Two years pass, then three, then four. All along you have kept up with the general maintenance. The car might not be as shiny and new as it was when you first bought it, but it still gets you back and forth to work. You have a reliable car.
In Vajrayana it is said that the guru (teacher, lama or vajra master) is the root of all accomplishments. Why is this so? This is because it is the teacher who accurately transmits the Dharma, provides clear instruction for practice, offers empowerment (initiation) and thereby aids the student in generating the causes and conditions which lead all the way to Buddhahood. In the West (North America, Europe, etc) there is a tendency to dismiss or be suspicious of spiritual teachers. While there are some good reasons for this (there are many charlatans and hucksters out there) one should not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. There is often a very strong bias against ‘gurus’ coupled with a tendency to assume ‘I don’t need any help, I can do it all on my own!’ Yet if this perception is analyzed more fully and with complete honesty it may reveal a bit of arrogance and/or egoism. It may also reveal some glaring inconsistencies. Let’s say a person who thinks like this all of a sudden falls ill. They have a severe pain in their chest, they are short of breath and they experience a depletion of energy. What do you think they will do? Most likely they will go see their doctor and get checked out. Why is this? Most likely because they did not spend years at university learning all the technical and specialized intricacies of medical science followed by many more years of subsequent hands-on practice in the field. They might know some general things about staying healthy – eating right, exercising, abstaining from risky habits like drugs, alcohol and so forth – yet this does not mean that when they have distressing signs like I mention above they should simply ignore them or attempt to treat them on their own. Do It Yourself heart surgery is probably not a good idea and would almost certainly lead to their unfortunate demise.
Now, a guru is not a car, nor is a guru necessarily a medical doctor. Yet just like many of us rely on our cars (or some other means of transportation) to get us to work and our doctors to treat us when we are seriously ill, a practitioner of Vajrayana relies on his or her teacher when it comes to the Buddhadharma. That is, we have confidence in our teacher which is backed by practical experience.
In the next section of this series I will continue discussing this same topic as there are special considerations in regards to the relationship between a student and his or her teacher which were not covered in this present more generalized post.
Continue to part 4