Guru Devotion is the key to Vajrayāna practice, Phakchok Rinpoche explains. When we practice in 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, learned master, or guide. In the Mahāyāna, we see the guru as a respected bodhisattva, blessed by the Buddha. However, guru devotion is very different.
in the Vajrayāna, we see the guru exactly 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 the 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 must develop bodhicitta, or the mind set 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. All practices must be embraced by bodhicitta.
Guru Devotion : Key to Vajrayāna
And on the Vajrayāna path, everything must be connected to guru devotion. When we practice, all our efforts–śamatha meditation, development stage practices, renunciation, bodhicitta, and enhancement methods such as sang practice–need 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 need to understand how 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!