“…Here in this womb-like spaciousness,
In the spontaneity of the now,
Samsara is all good and while nirvana is also good
In this all-good matrix, in the now,
Neither samsara nor nirvana exist.
Appearances are all good,
And while emptiness is also all good
In this all-good matrix, in the now,
Neither appearance nor emptiness exist.
Life is all good, and while good and bad feelings are also all good
In this all-good matrix neither life nor feelings exist.
Self and other are both all good
And while acceptance and rejection are also all good
In this all-good matrix, no self and other,
No affirmation or negation is possible….”
It is my observation that aversion is one of the most frequent and also underestimated obstacles in the lives of many practitioners here in the West. Aversion in this context translates to pushing away, negating or suppressing, a certain aspect of normal human existence. Been there, done that – it didn’t and still doesn’t work (for me).
It is so very easy to focus only on the spiritual, amazing and more fulfilling transcendence, isn’t it. Mantras, murtis, sacred objects, stupas, secret teachings, emptiness……oh, my.
Who wants to deal with problems in everyday life, financial difficulties, the coldness of parents, lies of the business world? This is not at all spiritual!
And, even more, who wants to deal with inner emotional needs (for closeness, love, respect, warmth) and yearnings for stability, security and acknowledgment? All of this is not spiritual, either!
Well, there is the absolute reality and there is the relative reality.
And sooner or later, in this life or the next, sincere and dedicated practitioner will be brought (by his/her own aspirations and inspirations) face to face with the relative reality of everyday life, or if we put it into other words, inner conceptions about the normal human experience. And these, after profound transformation, meditation, and awakening turn out to be non-dual with the awakened nature, dharmakaya, Mahamudra.
Aversion should not be entertained, true masters proclaim:
“…We should experience everything totally, never withdrawing into ourselves as a marmot hides in its hole.
When we engage in the practice of discovering space, we should develop the feeling of opening ourselves out completely to the entire universe. We should open ourselves with absolute simplicity and nakedness of mind. This is the powerful and ordinary practice of dropping the mask of self-protection.
The everyday practice of Dzogchen is just everyday life itself…”
– Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (see the whole text on practice in everyday life here >>)
It is so easy, it seems, to withdraw from everyday life experience, basically negating the natural Reality itself.
The King of Yogis, beloved Milarepa, clearly knew this quite well, for he stated:
“My religion is not deceiving myself”.
How long can a sincere practitioner avoid or deny everyday life experience in the name of spiritual enlightenment?
Tantric master Chögyam Trungpa puts it quite interestingly:
“There’s no need to philosophize your work in order to make it spiritual. It has spiritual bearing anyway. If you regard yourself as a person on the spiritual path, then whatever you do is part of the path, an expression of the path.
Decentralization, the absence of ego, the lack of searching for happiness, and not avoiding pain — all of that brings us into the reality of dealing with things directly and thoroughly.
Dealing with things in this decentralized, egoless manner is known in the buddhist tradition as upaya, or skillful means. Without that, there is no means of discovering the inner guru, or inner teacher, as one might call it, which is the constant instruction that you begin to receive on the path.
The daily living situation becomes the teaching; it becomes a constant learning process. There’s no way of developing that sense of inner teacher if you fail to relate with daily living situations directly because without that, there’s no interchange with your world.”
– Chögyam Trungpa, see the book below:
The non-dual states of awareness are described in great details in various sutras and tantras by making it abundantly clear that these states can only be pointed at through symbolism. In the Heart Sutra, for example, a well known Mahayana scripture, the awakened state is described using negation (no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no form, no sound, no odor, no taste, no touch, no object of mind, etc.)
And in tantras, we can read a lot about terms like space, non-arising, non-abiding, self-liberating, emptiness, timelessness, spaciousness, mirror-wisdom, enlightened-mind, etc.
But what do these states actually mean in daily life?
How do they manifest?
And, how does it feel like to integrate these (for the lack of a better word) “ultimate” states into daily existence?
Well, knowing pretty well that words are quite limited, and, taking into consideration my limited experiences, I will try to share my current empirical knowledge on this (to me) rather important matter.
After studying the Sutrayana path (the Theravada system) and after attaining various non-dual insights or states (anatta, sunyata, cessation trance) several years ago, my perception at the time has been transformed quite deeply. It was a challenge for me to sleep, wake up, live and indeed to breathe knowing empirically that in reality there is nothing independent to base my cognitive processes (reasoning, learning, remembering, learning, decision making, and everything else) on.
It was like walking around with a great black hole in my chest. But in time, after several years, things got more relaxed. There indeed was more space in my inner psychological climate and more peace manifested.
I say “more peace manifested” because, at times, there was still quite an articulate disharmony present. Now I know that it was because my attachments, emotions, passions and especially aversions have not been brought onto the path yet, meaning, that I really haven’t dealt with these aspects of everyday life, at all.
My previous well-established methods of dealing with daily and spiritual life simply did not work. Whatever I did, nothing helped. I like to use the ‘old keys – new doors’ analogy quite often, so I might as well use it here: old keys cannot open new doors.
In my case, old keys were my attempts to withdrew from burning emotional life and windy mental atmosphere into monistic samadhi. Even taking refuge in samadhi, the blissful state of being at-one-with-the-only-true-reality did not help.
I am talking about the Advaita reality here, or the Causal level as per the established Wilber map. Being a witness to the inner and outer drama did not bring inner peace.
It is almost funny now, and as difficult as it is for me to admit, even with entering samadhi, I was merely trying to escape from this fu**ed-up life, never really succeeding.
Well, my Gurudev must have seen that I would have never ever made it on my own, and instead of letting me re-invent the wheel, He silently guided me to Vajrayana.
To make a long story short, using the specific methods of transforming ordinarily perception of the outer world and inner misconceptions (a part of anuttarayoga tantra), the inner disharmony abated to some extent over the years. The process still goes on…
Nowhere to escape
Non-dual states are very precious to me! There is one main reason for that, as far as I can see currently:
I can escape nowhere. Wherever I go, my inner reality (thoughts, feelings and everything else), well, I take along.
And regardless of “outer” reality or how things appear on the outside, there is still my inner state that takes the precedence.
And having empirically tasted the ‘spaciousness’, ’emptiness’, ‘non-arising and non-abiding’, there is not much left to hide behind.
In whatever form the outer world appears to me (my friends, my daughter, everyday duties, etc.), there is always this inner silence and ‘absence’ present.
In practice and in everyday life that translates to being open like a highway, and the world is so close, even intimate. And that used to scare the hell out of me. Not being able to explain these things to others was the least of my problems. Also, living in daily life here in the West did not really contribute. In time, however, things got more relaxed or better yet, I relaxed more into this openness.
Also, being open like that, I could easily see through the charade and clowning of others…and that used to make me upset and sad. There was so much pretense, drama, and lies all around me…
…until I realized that all of that negativity I perceived all around me was (and still is) only on the inside, in me in the form of misconceptions.
The difference now, however, is that slowly, slowly, even the so-called ‘negativity’ inside is self-liberating.
What does that mean in real life?
Well, it means that I cannot really point fingers and blame others anymore. It is getting exceedingly difficult to argue with others. It also means that, as I already mentioned, others and the world is so up close and even intimate. And I value that the most.
My daughter for example, only in the last few years have I been able to really see her, hear her, feel her emotions and needs. And my dear friends, only now there is space present to really understand them, without trying to force my perception of reality onto them.
There is no escape: this is glad tidings! The non-dual states of awareness are the most down-to-earth living and breathing natural states of awareness I have experienced thus far.
And sometimes it is really difficult for me to live like that. But, then again, when I am relaxed, present, aware, there is so much joy and freedom on the inside. And continuously trying to not deceive myself, embracing everyday life as it comes is the path for me, no need to go someplace else.
In time, may I relax even more.
May my loved ones, my friends, my family, and all others experience what is joyful and liberating for them.
OM NAMO BHAGAVATE
VAJRA SARVA PARAMADANA
TATHAGATAYA ARHATE SAMYAKSAMBUDDHAYA
OM VAJRE VAJRE
MAHA TEJA VAJRE
MAHA VIDYA VAJRE
MAHA BODHICITTA VAJRE
MAHA BODHI MANDO PASAM KRAMANA VAJRE SARVA KARMA AVARANA VISHODHANA VAJRE SWAHA
(chanted by Lama Zopa Rinpoche)
Salutations and homage to the perfectly accomplished pramordial Buddha who crushes ignorance with the vajra essence.
It is thus:
Praise to the one who is the vajra,
is the great vajra,
is the splendorous vajra,
is the vajra of great knowledge,
the vajra of the great awakening mind, the essence of great bodhicitta and
the vajra of removing the veils of ignorance and purifying all actions.
This mantra is not only for blessing, it also has the power to multiply the offerings. There are numberless buddhas and by reciting this mantra each buddha receives skies of offerings. That’s why it’s called the Mantra of the Clouds of Offerings. The mantra has two functions: blessing and increasing.
There are eight benefits of reciting this mantra explained in the Buddha’s teachings, the Kangyur:
FIRST, the minute you remember this mantra, you gain the benefit of having made offering to all the Buddhas abiding in the ten directions, equaling the number of the atoms of the sand grains of the Pacific Ocean.
SECOND, you get the benefit of having prostrated to the holy feet of all those Buddhas.
THIRD, you receive the benefit of having made offering of flowers, incense, garlands of flowers, ornaments, ointments, Dharma robes, umbrellas, banners, flags, animals, sitting cloths, divine dress, food, various ornaments and so forth to all the Buddhas abiding in the ten directions (as above).
FOURTH, you are freed from all negative karmas.
FIFTH, you gain all the merits.
SIXTH, you will see all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and they will “give you breath”.
SEVENTH, you will be protected by nagas, devas, nöjin, smell-eaters, asuras, garudas, myemchi, dorje chenpo, Vajrapani the Owner of the Secrecy, and the Four Guardians. They will always follow you perfectly, protect you and guide you. If others try to inflict harm, they will hide you from that.
EIGHTH, when you die, your consciousness will transfer from this world to Amitabha Buddha’s pure land, the Blissful Realm.
NINE, you get these special qualities without need for special preparation and practice, just by reciting the Clouds of Offerings mantra, whether you have made one light offering or one hundred light offerings.
You receive all these qualities and benefits just by remembering this mantra once, without any need to do retreat.
Buddha has explained in the Kangyur:
“Those who do not memorize and recite this mantra, are extreme fools.”
Why? They have no opportunity to get the extensive benefit of the mantra.
“…Sometimes when we practice the dharma we think that we need to show some sort of external sign,
so we pay a lot of attention to the rituals of our body and speech.
But what we really need to do is turn our attention inwards….”
H.H. the 17th Karmapa
‘My religion is to have nothing to be ashamed of when I die.’
But the majority of people do not give any importance to this way of thinking. We pretend to be very calm and subdued and are full of sweet words, so that ordinary people, not knowing our thoughts, say, ‘This is a real Bodhisattva.’
But it is only our outward behaviour that they see. The important thing is not to do anything that we might have to regret later on. Therefore we should examine ourselves honestly.
~ Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
om ah guru hasavajra sarva siddhi hum
“How senseless to disregard one’s life by fighting foes
Who are but frail flowers.
How foolish to spend your lifetime without meaning
When a precious human body is so rare a gift.”
– Milarepa, The Song of the Snow Range
om ah guru hasa vajra sarva siddhi hum
After spending almost a quarter of a century on the spiritual path and having been able to enter samadhi or satori at will since 2007, coming into contact with the Buddhist teachings through direct experiences, has really been a turning point.
Especially the entry-level nondual and anatta insights have changed my inner (and outer) orientation pretty much completely. And after those initial, thorough and permanent insights, Vajrayana came into my life. Dzogchen and Mahamudra experiences have made a real difference!
There is one aspect of the Mahamudra and Dzogchen nondual realizations that I really love: they are completely grounded into everyday life. Completely.
Tantric Master Khyentse Rinpoche has put this beautifully:
“The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself.
This produces a tremendous energy which is usually locked up in the process of mental evasion and a general running away from life experiences.
Clarity of awareness, may, in its initial stages, be unpleasant or fear-inspiring; if so, then one should open oneself completely to the pain or the fear and welcome it.
In this way, the barriers created by one’s own habitual emotional reactions and prejudices are broken down. When performing the meditation practice one should develop the feeling of opening oneself completely to the whole universe with absolute simplicity and nakedness of mind, ridding oneself of all protecting barriers.
One should realize that one does not meditate to go deeply into oneself and withdraw from the world. In Buddhist yoga, even when meditating on chakras there is no introspection concentration; complete openness of mind is the essential point.”
(Source >>, emphasis mine)
And opening up like that requires letting go of a lot of things within, the most important being the innermost identity:
“It is simply impossible to keep any trace of any kind of identity (whether from the Centuar, Subtle or even from the Causal stage as per Wilber map) when really moving on to the Buddhist Nondual, i.e. anatta and sunyata. No way. Even the slightest trace of identity implicates and indeed induces duality, albeit unperceivable.
If we consider Vedanta Advaita (monism, non-separateness), there are no problems with some kind of ultimate or causal identity or entity or inherent quality still present. No problems there.
But as soon as we move on to the Buddhist Nondual, namely anatta, and sunyata, then every single trace of identity, entity and inherent quality (even the higher Causal notions of the unmanifested Being or Brahman) must be left behind, entirely and unconditionally.”
– from my upcoming book, After Anatta
These experiences of identity transformation and collapse can indeed be quite challenging, to say the least. All in all, however, letting go of the identity and other notions of some kind of inherent existence within or without, is the most liberating experience!
It is so much easier to live without constant and energy-consuming re-animation of identities!
“The very meaning of the ‘Dzogchen – Great Perfection’, refers to the true primordial state of every individual and not to any transcendent reality.”
— Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, my Dzogchen master
What do you think?
Relationship between a student and a teacher in Tantric tradition is all important. And, as we can witness nowadays, there have been a lot of abuses, misconducts and concrete issues in many instances here in the West in various Buddhist Tantric groups all over the world.
In the article below, H.H. Dalai Lama shares important notions regarding the said relationship.
Here we go:
From notes taken during the meeting of H.H. the Dalai Lama and Western Buddhist Teachers in Dharamsala, 1993
Western Buddhist Teacher: What are the qualities of a good teacher?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: There are specific requirements for each kind of teacher. These are described in the Vinaya, in Mahayana texts such as Mahayanasutralamkara, and in the tantras.¹
In the past teachers were not appointed. Rather, through diligent training a person became a good practitioner. If others came and asked that person to teach, he or she taught those few students. As those students practiced and developed good qualities, others gained respect for their teacher, and gradually that person became known as a great teacher. Because this is a natural process, there is less danger of a corrupted person becoming a well-known teacher. In the monastic system, the process of becoming a teacher was organized to some extent. But in modern times the word “teacher” reminds us of someone in an academic field who, after completing certain requirements, is appointed as a teacher by an organization, whether or not that person has any students. In the future, perhaps Buddhists could form an organization to certify people as teachers after examining their Dharma understanding as well as their conduct.
Each Buddhist center could make available the requirements for the various levels of teachers and instruct people how to select teachers. As I always emphasize, in the beginning one should consider the person explaining the Dharma not as a guru, but as a Dharma friend. After a year or two, when both people know each other well, the student may develop the conviction that this person is reliable and entrust this teacher to be their guru. Then their relationship becomes one of guru-disciple.
Many of the problems Buddhism is currently facing in the West have arisen because this is an early stage of the transmission of the Dharma to Western countries, and there is the opportunity for charlatans and unqualified people to teach. However, as Buddhism becomes more rooted in the culture and people understand it better, they will know how to judge teachers’ qualities and will protect themselves. This is part of a natural process as Dharma takes root.
Tibet in the last thirty years has seen the extensive destruction of Buddhism. Now, with comparatively more freedom, there is a revival, but here too some people are taking advantage of the situation. In Lhasa there are some men who in the morning dress like monks and do puja for those who pay, but in the afternoon they get drunk and even steal. People are so eager to learn the Dharma and to meet religious people that they are easily deceived. In Tibet before 1959 and in India now, there are many lamas and many monastics, so people can choose, and there is less danger that they will be deceived or abused. In time, more people in the West will have a better knowledge of Buddhadharma and of the qualities to look for in a good teacher, and problems arising from unskillful teachers will decrease. Still, at this moment, we are facing problems, and we have to find ways to minimize the harm.
There are cases of lamas or monks who would never be in a position to give teachings or initiations to the Tibetan community, but in the West they suddenly become great lamas. This is admirable if it is someone who did not have the opportunity to show their great qualities yet remained humble in the Tibetan community. But if someone is merely taking advantage of the situation in the West to promote themselves, it is sad.
WBT: Some teachers say that if you are a student, you need to follow the precepts, but once you have become an enlightened teacher, you do not. Some teachers’ unconventional behavior is explained as a display of that person’s skill, realization and compassion which those of us of lesser attainment cannot understand. Claiming this, some Buddhist teachers have misused money, power, sex, drugs, and alcohol. This is disconcerting to many people and makes some lose faith in the Dharma. Are such behavior and the explanation for it valid?
HHDL: Historically, although some Buddhist saints have acted with strange modes of ethical conduct, they were fully realized beings and knew what was of long-term benefit to others. But nowadays, such conduct is harmful to the Dharma and must be stopped. Even though one’s realizations may be equal to those of divine beings, one’s behavior must conform to convention. If someone says that since everyone has Buddha mind, any kind of conduct is acceptable, or that teachers do not need to follow ethical precepts, it indicates that they do not correctly understand emptiness or cause and effect.
Everyone is accountable for his or her behavior. For someone with full realization, ingesting urine, feces, alcohol, and human flesh are all the same.² But if those Buddhist teachers who ethically misbehave were to eat feces or drink urine, I doubt they would enjoy it!
The practice of tantra is never an excuse for unethical behavior. If one understands Vajrayana well, there are no grounds to excuse bad behavior. One of the tantras states that the ideal lay tantric practitioner should follow all of the Vinaya (monastic discipline), but without wearing robes or engaging in monastic ceremonies. On a very advanced level of highest tantric practice, the joining of the male and female organs is a technique used to manifest the subtlest mind and gain the deepest wisdom of reality. This is using the physical body as a mechanical device for furthering insight, but there is no desire, emission, or orgasm. In fact, this is a method for overcoming desire. In the past, in Tibet, a practitioner had to be able to demonstrate supernatural powers, such as flying through the air, to qualify for such practice. If someone could not do that, they were not permitted to use these techniques. At present, there are very few Tibetan masters at that level. Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, whom I respect, commented that there are a few highly realized practitioners nowadays who can practice like this. I do know that some meditators in the mountains who keep the Vinaya strictly have attained extraordinary realizations.
If one presents the teachings clearly, others benefit. But if someone is supposed to propagate the Dharma and their behavior is harmful, it is our responsibility to criticize this with a good motivation. This is constructive criticism, and you do not need to feel uncomfortable doing it. In “The Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattvas’ Vows,” it says that there is no fault in whatever action you engage in with pure motivation. Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. This may embarrass them and cause them to regret and stop their abusive behavior. Exposing the negative allows space for the positive side to increase. When publicizing such misconduct, it should be made clear that such teachers have disregarded the Buddha’s advice. However, when making public the ethical misconduct of a Buddhist teacher, it is only fair to mention their good qualities as well.
Buddhist teachers at Dharma centers should have nothing to do with the finances of the center. They should concentrate on teaching while the members manage the center’s finances. Also, alcohol is often at the root of ethical misconduct. In Tibetan society, most laypeople drink alcohol although they consider themselves Buddhist. But the Buddha said clearly that anyone who calls him their teacher should not drink even a drop of alcohol.³
WBT: Some scriptures advise us to see the guru as the Buddha, but this seems inappropriate if a teacher is acting unethically. How do we relate to such teachers? Must we follow all instructions that a teacher gives even if they seem unethical or unwise to us?
HHDL: It is not skillful to teach beginners to see the guru as the Buddha. By studying the Vinaya, Mahayana, and tantric texts, we see a progression in how to regard and relate to one’s teacher. On the first level, the Vinaya, Buddha Shakyamuni is accepted as the only enlightened teacher during this period of the flourishing of the Dharma. There is no mention of seeing your teacher as a Buddha. You see your teacher simply as a teacher, your abbot as an abbot, and relate to them on a human level. You see them as a wise elder, a sincere practitioner from whom you can learn. On the second stage, the guru is seen as equal to, or like a Buddha in the sense that the karma accumulated in relation to your teacher is similar to that accumulated in relation to the Buddha. In other words, by offering to or harming your teacher, the karma accumulated is equal to acting in the same way toward the Buddha himself.
Only when you are sufficiently mature should you be taught the tantric view of regarding the guru who gives you initiation as a Buddha. In tantric practice, we try to see all beings as Buddhas and the environment as a pure land, so it would be absurd not to see our teacher as a Buddha. However, this view should not be taught to beginners. If it is misunderstood and gives the guru free license, it is like poison, destroying the teachings, the guru, and the disciple.
Just as there are three ways of relating to a guru, there are three ways of responding to his or her instructions if they contradict the Dharma. According to Vinaya, if a teacher tells you to do a non-Dharmic action, you should reject that advice. According to Paramitayana (the bodhisattva vehicle), if an instruction conforms with the Buddhist path, follow it. Otherwise, do not. According to Vajrayana (or Tantrayana), if a guru gives an instruction that is not in accord with the Dharma, the student should not follow it and should go to the teacher to clarify and explain why they cannot. This advice comes directly from the Buddha and is found in the scriptures. The same applies if you think the advice of your teacher is unskillful or unwise, even though it may be ethical. The purity of the teacher’s motivation is not enough: the instruction must be appropriate for the situation and the culture of the place.
If the guru refuses to accept your reservations about following their non-Dharmic or unskillful instructions and kicks you out, pack your bags and leave. Your guru can tell you to leave physically, but they cannot make your mind leave the Dharma.
On the level of our personal spiritual practice, it is important to have faith in and reverence for our guru and to see that person in a positive light in order to make spiritual progress. But on the level of general Buddhism in society, seeing all actions of our teacher as perfect is like poison and can be misused. This attitude spoils our entire teachings by giving teachers a free hand to take undue advantage. If faith were sufficient to gain realizations, there would be no need for qualified teachers. Then the Buddha would not have needed to list the qualifications of a Vinaya, Paramitayana, or tantric guru.
Since I began to teach others, I have worked hard, so I do not have to depend on such license by telling others to see all my actions as pure. If I make a mistake, people should see it as a mistake and openly say so. Some people may say this attitude is rebellious, but if we all acted in accordance with it, we would be facing fewer problems today.
The Buddha was always humble, and he is our guru. He worked very hard on the path—living simply and practicing continuously. Many people nowadays think they are more privileged than the Buddha himself and do not need to do as he did. In fact, no one is above the Buddha, and we should follow the Buddha’s example.
I have had many teachers, and I cannot accept seeing all their actions as pure. My two regents, who were among my sixteen teachers, fought one another in a power struggle that even involved the Tibetan army. When I sit on my meditation seat, I feel both were kind to me, and I have profound respect for both of them. Their fights do not matter. But when I had to deal with what was going on in the society, I said to them, “What you’re doing is wrong!” We should not feel a conflict in loyalties by acting in this way. In our practice, we can view the guru’s behavior as that of a mahasiddha,⁴ and in dealings with society, follow the general Buddhist approach and say that that behavior is wrong.
What is in the best interest of the Buddhadharma is much more important than anything concerning an individual guru. Therefore, if it is necessary to criticize a guru to save the Buddhadharma or to benefit several hundred of their disciples, do not hesitate. Afterwards you can go to that teacher and explain that you acted as you did with a pure motivation. If the guru gets angry, this is another indication of their shortcomings.
The scriptures say that because we cannot be sure who is a bodhisattva and who is not, we should not criticize anyone. In that context, Mao can be seen as a bodhisattva and we do not criticize him. That is on a private level, how we see it in our own mind. But in terms of Tibetan independence, I cannot say Mao was good because he destroyed our religion and our country! I must speak out! There is no conflict between these two views.
If you have not yet taken someone as your guru and you find out about their misconduct, then you can stop the relationship. If you have already taken tantric initiations from them, avoid developing disrespect or antipathy. In such cases, the Kalachakra Tantra advises us to maintain a neutral attitude and not pursue the relationship any further. You can keep your distance, while still considering that person as your guru because they have benefited you Dharmically in the past.
If someone is a student of an abusive teacher and you see that their relationship with that teacher is harmful, you should warn that student. But if that relationship is not harmful, you should leave it alone. The key to whether you create the negative karma of separating a disciple and teacher is your motivation. Actions motivated by an angry, judgmental attitude are to be avoided, while those based on compassion and tolerance are fine.
When Asian teachers pressure Westerners to raise or give money for their monasteries, you must use discrimination. In some cases where there is a legitimate need and the funds will benefit people and not just go towards constructing a lavish, empty building, it is good to help if you can. But when such funds will be used for other purposes, such as buying jewelry for members of the teacher’s family, this is corruption and to cooperate with it is merely spoiling the teacher.
WBT: There are some teachers who seem to have deep realization of emptiness and yet their ethical behavior leaves a lot to be desired. How can someone have such realization and yet still conduct themselves in this way?
HHDL: Problems arise due to lack of inner strength. Even though a person teaches the Dharma, there can still be a gap between the Dharma and their lives. When there is contradiction between someone’s apparently high realization and their ethical conduct, that realization may not be as high as it seems. Although the ability to remain in single-pointed concentration or in a non-conceptual state is a realization, it is not a very deep one. It is not a realization of emptiness, the ultimate nature.
People can err in their way of meditating on emptiness. Some mistakenly go to the extreme of negating cause and effect, in which case their “realization” of emptiness is incorrect. Others meditate on a non-conceptual state and mistake it for emptiness. Or, their meditation is influenced by subtle dullness, and that is mistaken for realization. This happens due to lack of study of potential pitfalls in meditation and their antidotes.
Emptiness is not nothingness. On one side, a thing is empty; on the other it arises dependently. Emptiness is not empty of existence; it is empty of independent existence. So it must depend on other things. It is important to make sure one has the correct understanding of emptiness. Those who understand emptiness correctly as meaning dependent arising see that if they misbehave, they will have to face the consequences. Thus they refrain from acting in an unethical manner.
We have a positive and a negative sense of self. The realization of emptiness destroys the negative, not the positive one. Without strong will, bodhisattvas are unable to confront and fight their self-centered attitude. To develop such will requires tremendous self-confidence, and this is the sphere of the positive sense of self. The negative sense of self works without sound reason, just on the grounds of “I want this or that,” and this is to be eliminated. The positive sense of self, on the other hand, operates on the basis of reason, and with it we can develop the confidence and will necessary to overcome negativities. Therefore do not misunderstand and think that the realization of selflessness makes you weak.
An actual realization should bring about a change in your life. The sign of having truly listened to teachings is that your outward behavior becomes calm. The sign of having experientially realized the teachings is that your afflictions are eliminated. If you meditate properly on emptiness, your compassion and ethical self-discipline will grow naturally. Although you may have meditated for thirty or forty years, if you do not obtain these results, something is wrong with your practice and the time has been wasted. This is due to a lack of proper study at the beginning. Before engaging in extensive meditation, it is essential to learn how to meditate properly: what are the obstacles to perfect concentration? What are their antidotes? What is meant by “emptiness” and how do we go about perceiving it in meditation? What are the broader implications of emptiness in our daily life? When we have learned about these from qualified teachers, then our meditation practice will go more smoothly and will bear good results.
Afflictions are overcome in stages, not all at once. The first time you actually eliminate a portion of them is at the path of seeing, when you have direct, non-conceptual perception of emptiness. Before that stage, when you encounter circumstances that give rise to afflictions, you must use ethical self-discipline to prevent these attitudes from manifesting as negative behavior. To develop such self-control, two factors are crucial—a sense of personal integrity and a consideration for others. Since those Buddhist teachers who misbehave lack these two factors and do not care about the consequences of their actions for themselves or others, it is helpful, as a Dharma friend, to speak up and voice your disapproval. This may help them develop a sense of personal integrity and consideration for others, which will curb their destructive conduct.
The mind is so complex and afflictions are so sophisticated and powerful that one single practice alone cannot eliminate all negative states completely. Therefore, the Buddha devised a complex strategy for overcoming afflictions. In battle, if we underestimate the power of our enemy, we are in big trouble. Similarly, in Dharma practice we must not underestimate the power of our afflictions.
Some traditions or people speak of high practice and a direct path. Although this may be sufficient for some special people, for most it is not. Some people talk very high, but if something upsetting happens in ordinary life, they are unprepared and cannot handle it. Therefore, in general, I prefer a gradual path.
WBT: Many students are afraid of breaking samaya—the commitment and bond with their guru—if they speak openly about what they perceive to be abuse. Does a teacher’s abusive behavior destroy the samaya and release the student?
HHDL: I don’t know. Although the guru has in a sense broken the samaya, that does not allow the student to break it as well. If the guru kills, that does not mean I can too! We shouldn’t emulate bad examples! We should respect the common perspective of the world in terms of what is right and wrong. Earlier I spoke of the situation with my two regents. Even though I have deep faith and respect for my teachers and consider them high spiritual beings, I did not hesitate to criticize their behavior because those actions were wrong no matter who did them. I didn’t speak out of hatred or disrespect, but because I love the Buddhadharma and their actions went against it.
It is essential to distinguish between two things: the person and their action. We criticize the action, not the person. The person is neutral: he or she wants to be happy and overcome suffering, and once their negative action stops, they will become a friend. The troublemaker is the afflictions and actions. Speaking out against the action does not mean that we hate the person. For example, we Tibetans fight Chinese injustice, but it doesn’t mean we are against the Chinese as human beings, even those who are ruthless. In meditation, I try to develop genuine compassion for these people while still opposing their actions. Thus, we may criticize a teacher’s abusive actions or negative qualities while we respect them as a person at the same time. There are still some beneficial aspects of the guru. A mistaken action doesn’t destroy their good qualities. If you criticize in this way, there is no danger of hellish rebirth as a result. Motivation is the key: speaking out of hatred or desire for revenge is wrong. However, if we know that by not speaking out, their bad behavior will continue and will harm the Buddhadharma, and we still remain silent, that is wrong.
WBT: There is much discussion in the West about the appropriateness of sexual contact when the two partners do not have equal power or status in the relationship. What is your opinion: are there times when sexual relationships between a Buddhist teacher and their student could be appropriate?
HHDL: It may happen that an unmarried teacher meets an unmarried student while teaching. If the relationship develops in a normal way with mutual agreement and mutual respect and they decide to marry, it is fine. When two people in a relationship treat each other equally, there is no difference in power or status during sexual intercourse. The teacher is not on a throne then! However, if the teacher is with one student one month and another the next, that is not right. Also, imposing or forcing sexual contact is wrong. So is misusing the idea of dakinis by saying things such as “You have signs of being a qualified dakini,” or flattering the student, “You have very great Dharma potential.” Women should not be afraid to say no!
WBT: In the West many professionals are thinking deeply about methods to use in cases of abuse. Are there Asian methods for dealing with abuse and for helping the involved parties?
HHDL: In the case of monastics, if any of the four root vows—to abandon killing a human being, stealing an object of value, sexual intercourse (heterosexual or homosexual), and lying about one’s spiritual attainments—is fully transgressed, that person must leave the monastery and is no longer a monastic. Aside from that, I do not know of any institutional methods for dealing with other cases.
All forms of abuse are against the general Buddhist rule. If an individual does not listen to the Buddha’s instructions, it is doubtful that they will listen to ordinary people like us. Earlier I suggested that when a teacher is clearly acting unethically and students have tried to discuss it with them but without result, then the only recourse is to publicize it in the community. I assume the teacher would feel ashamed and embarrassed and would decide to alter their behavior. I welcome your ideas on this topic.
Some people nearly give up their faith and respect for the Buddha if they are sexually abused by a Buddhist teacher. This makes me very sad. When it is explained that such actions are against the general Buddhist rule, their doubts in the Buddha and the Dharma decrease. As explained before, if a teacher gives instructions that contradict the path, you should not follow them. If anyone wishes to see scriptural sources to substantiate this or other points, we can show them.
As Buddhists, our motivation must be clear and sincere. Because there is a moral crisis in developed countries, we must explain what is proper behavior according to the Dharma and live that way ourselves. We are not inventing ethical conduct and imposing it on others: the Buddha himself described this and established the various sets of vows. As sincere followers of the Buddha, we are simply reminding ourselves and others of what the Buddha said. If someone does not want to follow this, that is their right. But if someone considers the Buddha their teacher, it is important to respect the ethical principals set out by the Buddha.
¹ Tibetan Buddhism speaks of three types of practice: the Vinaya, the Mahayana, and the Vajrayana (Tantrayana). In Vinaya practice (here the word “Vinaya” is used in its more general sense as explained in a previous note), one seeks liberation from cyclic existence. To bring this about, one takes refuge in the Three Jewels, tries to avoid the ten destructive actions, and takes precepts as a lay or monastic follower of the Buddha. The lay precepts include the five precepts, and the monastic precepts include those of the novice and the fully ordained monastic. In Mahayana or Paramitayana practice, one seeks full enlightenment in order to benefit others most effectively. To actualize this, one takes the bodhisattva precepts and practices the six paramitas (the six perfections or far-reaching attitudes)—generosity, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom. Vajrayana is a branch of the Mahayana, and thus the motivation is the same: to be able to benefit others most effectively and thus to become a fully enlightened Buddha. There are various classes of tantra, all of which involve initiation into the practices of meditation deities. In the higher classes of tantra, one takes the tantric precepts. The Vajrayana has special meditation techniques such as visualizing oneself as a Buddha figure and working with the subtle energies of the body and subtle levels of mind. Practicing Vajrayana is based on practicing Mahayana, and that in turn is based on practicing Vinaya. Because there are these three types of practice, there are three types of teachers, with different qualities to look for in each and different ways of relating to each. Although the above may not be the structural perspective of all Buddhist traditions, His Holiness here is speaking from the viewpoint of the Vajrayana as practiced in Tibet.
² At very high levels of the path, when a person has direct, non-conceptual realization of emptiness and has subdued all conceptions of inherent existence, they do not view phenomena in the same ordinary, dualistic ways that we ordinary people do. Thus, if they take urine, alcohol, and so forth, they do not react as we do, but see these things with a pure view.
³ His Holiness is speaking here from the general view of the sutra path. In the tantra path, there are times where alcohol is used in certain rituals. Because tantric meditation deals with overcoming and transforming ordinary appearance and grasping at the ordinary, the alcohol is transformed by the power of one’s meditation into a pure substance, and with that awareness it may be tasted. It is recommended that people who lack tantric realizations only taste a small amount during the ritual. However, those people with high realizations may take alcohol and it disturbs neither their mindfulness nor the clarity of their minds.
⁴ A mahasiddha is a highly realized tantric practitioner who may at times act unconventionally. Although the behavior may not fit in with that of social norms, the person’s motivation, realization, and actions are pure.