OPL6: The condition: relying on an authentic teacher

Waking up in this life is the most difficult and most consequential thing we could possibly imagine. Why would we think that we could do it ourselves? Why would we not want to take advantage of others who have been there? … Lineage offers a sort of context for the journey. It offers a vision of what is possible … [and] gives a sense of affiliation with those great men and women who have gone before … [Yet] at the same time that we draw from and depend on a lineage, it is also completely up to us.”

With these words from Tim Olmsted, a senior teacher for both Mingyur Rinpoche and Pema Chodron, Lama Jinzang began the first of two classes on the third and final prerequisite for becoming awakened, reliance on the dharma master or spiritual guide. This quotation introduces both aspects of our relationship with our teacher: why we need an authentic teacher to guide us along the path that he or she has traveled before us, and also what we need to bring to this relationship as students in order to make it effective.

A note on the title / translation: Though spiritual friend, or actually “friend of virtue,” is the literal translation of the Tibetan ge.way.she.nyen, what is meant here is an authentic teacher who is qualified to guide us on the path by having traveled far along it before us and attained a high degree of realization of both relative and ultimate truth. As is explained in the verse 6 post, the term spiritual friend can refer either to such a teacher or to our spiritual companions or peers on the path, and while they are both conditions that nurture our awakening, only the authentic teacher is the essential condition referred to in Gampopa’s third topic.

This will be a relatively short post, since reliance on the dharma master is also addressed in verse 6 of the 37 practices of a bodhisattva. Many of the points Gampopa makes about how to identify an authentic teacher, and what our part of the bargain is once we find one, can be reviewed at the verse 6 link, so I won’t repeat them here.

Gampopa says we need an authentic teacher as a guide, an escort, and a navigator on this unfamiliar path with its many obstacles, sidetracks and potential hazards. As Lama Jinzang observed, there are so many teachers, paths, and resources easily available now that it becomes extremely important to know how to identify those that will reliably lead us toward awakening.

She also shared HH Seventeenth Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje’s, advice, in his teachings on the 37 practices, that no teacher is completely without faults, just as no sentient being is. If we are not sure whether our teacher is truly authentic, we should look at how we have changed under that teacher’s guidance, and if we feel we have benefited, then we have found a teacher who is authentic for us. We should also remember the first reliance, which is to rely primarily on the teachings rather than the individual person. (More on this at verse 6.)

The current Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche, in his teachings at PTC in October 2018, made the point repeatedly that once we find a teacher, the meaning of guru yoga, or the union of our receptive mind with the teacher’s compassionate realization, manifests as ” a constant sense of inspiration, motivation, connection, presence, and clarity.” For more on Kalu Rinpoche’s teachings and a link to the videos, click here.

But … no matter how authentic and skilled our teacher may be, even were we to have the good fortune to study with Shakyamuni Buddha himself, nothing will come of it unless we sincerely and diligently put the teachings into practice. In the words of Ringu Tulku: “In the end, it is the student who must learn and practice. One’s own studies and practice are the most important factor.”

How to do this? That’s what the rest of the book is about — literally everything we need to know in order to put our teacher’s instructions into practice so we can realize our full potential as buddha. In the meantime, our old friend, the 37 practices, offers us the basic method in verse 1 for approaching all the instructions we will receive, beginning with the very next chapter.

Related posts:

“37 practices, verse 6: to rely on spiritual friends”

“28 years”

Class recordings: November 8 and 15, 2018

Next post: three prerequisites and four obstacles