Guru Devotion is an often misunderstood aspect of Tibetan Buddhism, and one that has been contentious ever since Buddhism started to hit our western shores in the late 1960’s. With various accounts of sexism, abuse, gender inequality and other obvious examples of a very human and imperfect system which must be taken into account, if we look further into its history with an inquisitive mind, we can also find enough inspiring examples of very fruitful relationships in maintaining a system which has worked now for more than 2500 years.
I can only speak from my own experience, and cannot comment on or judge other people’s views or issues. For me, over the last twenty years or so the issue of guru devotion has been more of a journey about myself and my own projections than the person that I chose to be my Guru. Intrigued? Read on…
As the Buddha taught many years ago (and a teaching which is one of the cornerstones of following the Buddhist path), one should never lose the sense of investigative mind upon commencing the dharma path and just follow the dharma blindly; indeed we are to explore the ramifications of making a bond with another human being, especially those in the teacher /disciple role, very carefully and astutely, before making a decision of commitment to them as teacher. Ultimately though, once that decision is made, embracing your Guru in a trust relationship is paramount to any kind of progress occurring on one’s personal journey.
It is an interesting dichotomy: committing yourself fully to a student teacher relationship, with trust: an element often lacking or abused in our modern-day society.
When I first decided to take to the Buddhist path, I was lucky enough to meet a string of buddhist teachers in my first year of practice. That gave me the opportunity to investigate each of them quite carefully to confirm whether a connection existed between the teacher in question and myself. I had also recently been under the sway of a teacher who had used his position to exert unreasonable willpower on what he expected me to do to assist him in his own quest for spiritual aggrandizement, and I had luckily removed myself from his grasp, wider and much more cautious. That, plus doing the dog eat dog entertainment business world of LA for five years had wizened me considerably. Remarkably, all of the people I met that summer were exceptional of character and honest about who they were, what they were capable of teaching and what they represented.
Once I had made the decision, I was struck with the duality of the situation; the guru is a person outside of me, yet the teachings talk of an ultimate inner guru that must be discovered by the practitioner. As in me myself as my own guru. My teacher, through all these years, has acted more as a mirror than any other quality, guiding me skillfully through layers of self discovery, and helping me to discover my own true path in this world.
There are many times when I have lost my way, for sure, and wandered aimlessly. Yet my teacher was always there, patient, encouraging and supportive, helping me to find my own inner wisdom and trust in my own path more. Like peeling an onion, ony to discover another layer underneath, I have walked this path and allowed the teachings of emptiness and compassion for all beings soak into my very core.
Of progress, I can only report little, but I can say that gradually over time my life reflects the essential teachings more and more. As my teacher and I grow old together, our relationship deepens, and the boundless love which is the core of our connection shows itself more and more.
So my advice is- choose your guru very carefully, but once that decision is made, embrace the opportunity for learning with an open heart and mind.