Buddhist Philosophy

Guru Devotion in Vajrayāna

Guru Devotion is the key to Vajrayāna practice, Phakchok Rinpoche explains.  When we practice this tradition, we see the guru as the Buddha.  This contrasts with the approach of the other vehicles.  For example, in the Theravāda tradition, followers regard the guru as a teacher, a learned master, or a guide. In the Mahāyāna, we see the guru as a respected bodhisattva, blessed by the Buddha.  However, guru devotion takes the view to a new level.

In the Vajrayāna, we see the guru as a buddha–there is no difference at all.  Moreover, we don’t think the guru is only like the form of the historical Śākyamuni Buddha. Instead, we see our guru as inseparable from the perfected primordial first Buddha–the completely enlightened being. Of course, that includes Śākyamuni Buddha, but it is far more encompassing.

Begin with Renunciation

This is how we need to think of our teacher.  And is that simple?  No! In fact, we can acknowledge that it is very difficult for us. And yet, guru devotion is crucial to Vajrayāna practice. In Theravāda teachings, renunciation is primary. So when we study those teachings, we reflect a lot on impermanence. If a practitioner doesn’t have renunciation, he or she will not reach the level of an arhat.

Mahāyāna Practice: Embracing Everything with Bodhicitta

When we practice the Mahāyāna path, we develop bodhicitta or the mindset on complete enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.  If we don’t generate bodhicitta, then regardless of what we say, we are not practicing the Mahāyāna.  We gradually learn to embrace all practices with bodhicitta.

Guru Devotion: Key to Vajrayāna

And on the Vajrayāna path, everything connects to guru devotion. When we practice, all our efforts–śamatha meditation, development stage practices, renunciation, bodhicitta, and enhancement methods such as sang practice–rely on the view of guru devotion to make them truly Vajrayāna practices. Often, when we practice, we do everything very separately without having this all-encompassing package. Instead, we learn to incorporate devotion into all our practices.   And when we understand how to tie everything up into this complete package, then we can make excellent progress on our path!

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.