[This is part of an ongoing Lamrim series. All related posts can be found here.]
Continuing with the theme of Contemplation 1 (Relying on a Spiritual Master) from Taranatha’s Essence of Ambrosia, I thought it might be helpful to offer some insight from an outside source. Taranatha’s lamrim is concise compared to lamrims from other lineages (for example, Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo, a much larger text with copious amounts of commentary). Taranatha appears to be aiming for a very practical text, like an instruction manual to guide students through various sequential meditations (each of the contemplations). It also appears that Taranatha anticipated lamas teaching this text to include supplemental material and additional background or instructions We know this because in the text Taranatha offers various asides directed to the lamas – suggestions and so forth that they might incorporate into the teachings.
When I received teachings on this text from Khenpo Choejor he included relevant instructions and background information to help clarify points based on our (the students) current levels of understanding. He also provided question and answer sessions at the end of each lesson. In the context of this series of posts, I feel it may be helpful to include some background info. The meditation instructions for Contemplation 1 assume that those listening to the teachings already have an understanding about the general dynamics between a guru and a disciple (at least from a sutra level), which seems reasonable considering the audience Taranatha was writing for at the time. I do not presume the same for all readers of this blog. Along these lines, consider the following:
It is stated in the text Gurupancashika (Fifty Verses on the Guru) written by the Indian philosopher and poet Ashvagosha sometime between the 1st and 2nd century CE that…
A disciple with sense should not accept as a guru someone who lacks compassion, or who is prone to anger, vicious, arrogant, possessive, undisciplined or boastful of his knowledge.
The text also states…
(A guru should be) stable (in his actions), cultivated (in his speech), wise, patient and honest. He should neither conceal his shortcomings nor pretend to possess qualities he lacks. He should be an expert in the meanings (of the tantra) and in its ritual procedures (of medicine and turning back obstacles). He should also have loving compassion and a complete knowledge of the scriptures.
Students will do well to take the above points into account. There is a tendency in contemporary times to either disregard/dismiss the idea of a guru altogether (as discussed in my previous post) or to latch onto a guru without having gone through the process of determining whether he or she has the necessary qualities (some examples of which are listed above). This often leads to confusion, harm and unwholesome states. That said, if a student takes the time to confirm that a potential teacher does indeed have these good qualities before accepting them as his or her guru, then great confidence is cultivated based on actual reasoned experience and a gate is opened leading to a lifelong relationship (and possibly more!) beneficial to Dharma practice.
In my next post I will summarize Taranatha’s actual instructions for this contemplation.
Continue to part 5