Understanding the concept and art of Guru Yoga is one of the essential tools for self-liberation. In this article I hope to dispel some of the darkness and confusion surrounding this loaded and often misunderstood practice.
As you will come to know, I am a study in contradictions. I have mentioned in the Terma article that I am a strange mix between magic and logic, and today I’m going to reveal another aspect of my seemingly dichotomous being. On the one hand, I am an eternal revolutionary who questions authority and instinctively believe in my own ability to judge right and wrong. Yet at the same time I like to do things by the book, follow the rules, do things right. I don’t look for shortcuts, I don’t cheat, I don’t avoid responsibility and I never try get away with stuff, least of all my own weaknesses or mistakes.
Perhaps it was my vivid imagination which, during my religious upbringing thoroughly convinced me that God was looking at me, that every action of my life was being recorded and would be played back upon the change called death for everyone to see. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was vanity, or maybe it was the urge, as an adopted to child to mean something, to do things that would somehow validate my existence as not just another mistake. I am not quite sure how it came about but perhaps, having been adopted, or perhaps due to the stern upbringing by my parents I have always sensed that no one can ever be blamed for anything I do, that I was singularly responsible for every action and that I better do the best I can, when I can, while I can.
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
~ Martin Luther King
As a result of being adopted, my understanding from a very early age on that there are sad things that happen in the world, that there are orphans without homes, mothers without husbands, parents without children, awoke in my a perpetual drive to find the means for a better world. As a child and teenager leadership roles came naturally to me, and with the guidance of many great mentors I have always believed in leading by example. I cannot remember when I first read the teachings of Lao Tzu but the notion that “a ruler leads from the bottom” was something that stuck with me as being the noblest of all paths and I have endeavored ever since to do just that.
The high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule.
~ Albert Einstein
I grew up with loads of encouragement and a concrete belief that I was special, that I had great talent, that I was indeed able if not destined to lead. Maybe that made me a little arrogant? I don’t know. All I know is that seeing myself naturally in the role of leader led me to question every authority figure in my life. Whether it was the teachings of the God I grew up to believe in, the government that segregated people by their skin colour, my principals, teachers, captains of sports teams and eventually even my own father.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
~ Martin Luther King
What I would do is that I would judge those in positions of leadership far more harshly. I would pick apart their teachings and then fine comb their behaviour to see if they ‘walked their talk’ as it were. In the instances that I found them, as they say in Christianity, “too light”, I would openly challenge them. This naturally, and often, made for messy interactions and although I was loved among my peers for standing up for them, the powers that be usually saw me as an unwelcome threat. This was not out of some innate sense of rebelliousness, I was never a rebel without cause. Quite the opposite, I have always believed in the good and the true, and when I came across leaders who seemed to dishonour the principles they espoused, I would, for the sake of the cause, fight it to the bitter end. Being such an eager soldier of justice it seemed only natural to me to make sure that those in the lead were in fact fit to lead.
A leader is best when people barely know he exists,
when his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
they will say: we did it ourselves.
~ Lao Tzu
I haven’t changed much. And I have been biding my time refining my nature so that when the time comes I would be worthy of greater responsibility. Only time will tell whether it will all be worth it in the end...
This urge in me to question consensus reality has lead me to some startling revelations. Most notably that if you want to get to the core message, meaning, ethic, or teaching, it is often best to avoid the middlemen entirely and head straight for the original source. That way there is much less chance of unintentional misinterpretations or intentional corruption. To do this though takes a certain level of stubborn resistance to peer pressure and an unfailing faith in ones own abilities. It can also be time consuming as you spend many months or years getting to the bottom of a particular philosophy. None of which are very easy at the best of times and can leave you not only isolated but often at the receiving end of some very indignant pointed fingers and wagging tongues.
Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
~ Albert Einstein
My rebelliousness has also at times lead to unnecessary and unfortunate friction and frustration. I've certainly got the fervour but still working on the skill of equanimity. The journey continues nonetheless and as I get older and more aware I am finally starting to understand my nature and apply my skills in ever more useful ways. No one that knows me can ever accuse me of a lack of passion and conviction but my ability in skillfully navigating human interactions is most definitely something I have been learning. What this has taught me will be the subject of many a future discussions on this site, but for today I want to focus on what is known in higher Buddhism as Guru Yoga and how this characteristic of lawful rebelliousness has served me in getting to the very essence of what can sometimes seem to be a rather large obstacle on the path of Realization.
For some reason, which I am still trying to understand, I take things very literally. This of course can seem to be quite a tricky thing when it comes to things like religion, although I would argue that the very secret to getting to the heart of any belief system is precisely by taking things literally. I tend to do the same thing with quantum physics, but that is also another topic for another day. In order to demonstrate how I assimilate knowledge I will use an example relating to language and the interpretation of words or concepts and its influence on my view.
The first example comes from the old translations of Christian Lore, found in the old testament. To make a long story short, there is a passage describing the point when Abraham and Sarah has sex and the words used to describe it literally translates into english as “to know”. And to put it simply, the way my mind interpreted this as I became an adult, is that the act of acquiring knowledge is akin to the act of making love. Of course there is an obvious and subtle way to interpret this. On the one hand, if you are of a more tantric bent, you would interpret it that the act of sexual union can become a gateway to cosmic knowledge. This I do not discount, as I would argue that every act imaginable is a gateway to further knowledge, including sex.
However I am far more interested in the subtle interpretation - that the act of knowing something, anything, especially the universe, is a process of total surrender which results in a union of sorts. When I later came across the meaning of the word Yoga, which literally means “union” and is used in the context of different systems of knowledge, it unequivocally confirmed what I had sensed all along. The word Gnosis also means “to know” and when upon investigation of the Gnostic path of Christianity I found that it involves a personal, intimate relationship and experience of the Divine, I was of course not surprised. These kind of instances of making what might seem a strange conceptual leap to some, have proven to me, time and time again, that there is a path of understanding sacred teachings that are so obvious, so literal that it only remains obscure because it seems too simple to be true.
Information is not knowledge.
~ Albert Einstein
Using this very simple interpretation, it makes sense then that there is a big difference between ‘knowing’ something, and KNOWING something. On the one hand one might be able to recite facts, logically argue points, or recall various bits of information and on the other hand one can KNOW something so completely that it is forever a part of you. The first one is related to the function of intellect, the second one related to the actual experience of a state of knowing, fundamental to your very being. The distinction is subtle but absolutely pivotal, especially when it comes to understanding Dzogchen and the meaning of Guru Yoga.
By the time I was officially re-introduced to Dzogchen, I had enough experience to trust my ability in interpreting information implicitly, and sinking my teeth into the Teachings was like slipping into silk sheets. I had tasted and tried various other religions, mythologies, and psychological theories, and here I found a set of techniques and a body of teachings that encompassed everything I had encountered before. Even more so, it was practically applicable with results that manifested right here, in real time - a living teaching as it were.
With time you will come to understand that I do not see Dzogchen as something that replaced all the previous belief systems I have explored, but rather, makes sense of them all, putting them into a context and part of one integrated whole. Nothing is discarded, only viewed from a different perspective, like pieces in a puzzle or different coloured threads in the tapestry of life. Dzogchen is the lens through which I view a reality that is largely the same, and yet forever and irrevocably altered.
Dispelling the darkness of ignorance, I kindle the light of great wisdom.
In fact, not knowing that all the phenomena of existence are precisely the natural condition of enlightenment, beings become enfolded in the thick darkness of erroneous conceptions.
Showing them that everything that exists springs from the supreme source, pure and total consciousness, I enable them to recognize this condition.
In this way, dispelling the darkness of discriminating concepts and judgements, I kindle the light of great self-arising wisdom;
thus, I am called the one who dispels darkness of ignorance and kindles the light.
~ Samantabhadra, the primordial Buddha (The Supreme Source, p151)
The word ‘Guru’ literally means Remover of Darkness. Through another one of my processes of literal inference, and thanks to the work of Jung and many other great writers on the subject, it soon became clear to me when I was younger that Darkness, so demonized in many traditions as ‘evil’ is really just a crude and ignorant way to describe “that which we do not know or understand”. Therefore, in the most literal interpretation possible, a Guru is someone or to be more precise, an agent of illumination, that agent which makes what was unknown and misunderstood, known and understood.
On seeing that their mind is the fundamental condition, all the beings of the world will no longer remain at the level where enlightenment is merely a word but instead will immediately attain the supreme yoga.
~ Samantabhadra, the primordial Buddha (The Supreme Source, p152)
Is it not true that the only time we suffer is when we are forced to deal with things we do not understand - opposing views, obstacles, the inability to change something we are not happy with, and so on? Honestly, I welcome anyone who can refute me on this. The act of knowing why or how something is the way it is, is the logical precursor to finding the solution, and once a solution is found, the way out becomes perfectly clear and before you know it - obstacle overcome. And just to prove my point again regarding the union with knowledge akin to the act of making love - knowledge is indeed bliss.
In the higher schools of Buddhism Guru Yoga is seen as one of, if not the most important aspect. The traditional way of proceeding with this is to meditate in the presence of ones Guru while incorporating the process of Yidam Yoga, in this case the Yidam being the Guru. This process includes creating a devotional link through extensive visualization with all the Gurus of the past, the entire lineage, and then setting the intent to receive their blessings and instructions. This is a tantric method of visualization whereby one creates a detailed external image of the various Gurus, in Tibetan Buddhism usually Padmasambhava, and then once the visualization is strong and clear, drawing the image into oneself. This is basically an elaborate method to connect with the mind of the guru, allowing access to understanding the Teachings. Although I cannot fault the method because as a Ri-Me Buddhist I believe that all paths are necessary according to people’s capacities, my naturally rebellious nature, coupled with my take-things-literally-and-do-it by-the-book attitude, I take a far more direct route.
We should never separate ourselves from that yoga in which we are aware of our own innate presence as being our true Master. Continuing with this mindful awareness … is the root of the practice.
~ Namkhai Norbu (The Cycles of Day and Night, p44)
This being aware of ones own innate pure presence or intrincisc awareness is our True Guru.
~ Namkhai Norbu (The Cycles of Day and Night, p63)
Namkhai Norbu, one of our age’s most illustrious Dzogchen teachers extorts us time and time again, in almost every single one of his many books, that the real Guru is Samantabhadra, and therefore quite literally our own minds. Samantabhadra is, according to Dzogchen, the primordial Buddha. Not an external being at all, instead it is a symbolic being of the state of wakefulness already present in all beings. This means that you are Samantabhadra, that your own state of awakeness is the primordial Guru. Again through no incredible leap of logic this means that your mind, once seen and experienced in its true nature as constant, alert, undivided, open, unlimited, indestructible wakefulness that dispels “darkness from the mind”. Simple really. The very process of being conscious of something removes the confusion around that subject. Deceptively simple. Almost laughably simple. And yet. The process of recognizing this state and then remaining in it at all times, is a lifelong challenge which is where the many techniques of remaining in Rigpa comes in.
This simplicity often leads to people scoffing at my interpretation of the Teachings. I would argue that I am not even interpreting the Teachings, I am taking it word for word, the very core of it, and applying it literally, as I believe it should be.
Great wisdom resides in [oneself]
There is no Buddha somewhere else.
Those obscured by the darkness of ignorance
Attempt to find the Buddha in something other than [themselves]
~ adaptation of the Hevajra Tantra (The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgun Kongtrul, p271)
Understanding ones mind as Guru is a simple process but that does not necessarily make it easy. There are certain definite characteristics that have to be grasped, integrated, and then applied on a moment by moment basis, every single day, for the rest of ones life. This is a full-time job as you will soon discover when familiarizing yourself with the various aspects of the Mind. It is not some theory to believe in though. It is not contingent upon anything other than personal and practical application which, amazingly, affirms itself to be true in very obvious ways as you start playing with it in your day to day life, from eating, to making love, to doing business, to driving your car ... everything.
This has always been the one undeniable selling point for me about Dzogchen. It works. It walks its talk, provided that you do. There is nothing to hide behind, no excuses to justify anything, it is you, on your own, and the rest of your reality and it encompasses everything in it and more. This is not to say that I don’t use my Dzochen comb to fine-comb every detail of the Teachings, but I have yet to find a single flaw in the direct application of it’s fundamental tenets.
Many of the traditional paths to Dzogchen will find my way of proceeding with it downright arrogant. However the more I understand the various levels and layers, something I will go into in a forthcoming article, the more I understand that there is no need to justify my experience. Nor is it useful actually to even engage in a conversation with a Buddhist from another path. It only causes misunderstanding which is unnecessary and potentially harmful to their practice, and mine, because it creates friction where there really needs not be any at all. All good and perfect, and moving right along.
I’ve always been a ‘straight to the source’ kind of girl, that is my nature, and it has brought me agonizing pain but also drenched me in the nectar of astonishing realizations, making every moment of suffering a thousand times worthwhile.
This article might seem like a lot of detailed explanations to prove a very simple point, but it is an essential point and something I will continue to talk about for as long as my inspiration allows. What do I hope to achieve with this article? Simply to point out that we all encounter external Gurus who at various points in time introduce us to Teachings we did not know of at the time. These Gurus are precious. I’m also laying the foundation for understanding that technically speaking every single person that crosses our path, when viewed through the correct lens, is a Guru in one form or another. The recognition of this beautiful truth allows one to navigate reality from a completely different perspective, where each encounter is a possible point of illumination, if we have the eyes to see. From even our most hated enemies down to the stranger in the street, holds some precious realization if we are brave enough to unlock that door. This can be equally true of even the wind, birds, cake recipes, you name it, if a river could do it for Siddharta then it can work equally well for me. And finally that through it all, the understanding, the total surrender and union with our own minds has always, is always and will always be, the one and only Guru - remover of darkness and gateway to total enlightenment.
Manifesto of the Rebellious Buddha
Let him that would move the world first move himself.
That said, Dzogchen is a practical set of techniques, rooted in a certain way of viewing the world. Therefore, any explanation of the meaning of Guru yoga would not be complete with some examples of its practical application in reality. To conclude this article by looking what rebelliousness and leadership or responsibility has to do with Guru Yoga, allow me to demonstrate.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru you are honour-bound to accept total responsibility for your own reality, this means all your own sadness, all your own happiness, as well as your role in the joys and sorrow of others. This tidies up your universe by developing a code of conduct that is beneficial, honourable and characterized by integrity. It also means that any tendencies to become lax or apathetic is nipped in the bud, as you come to terms with the fact that no one can save you but yourself.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru you do not need to bow down to anyone, or any system of teaching, and you do not have to accept what others teach you without question. Instead, you can engage in a lucid exchange of information, respectively contemplate the pros and cons of their information, and accept or decline whatever you feel is useful and integrate it into your personal belief system. In this way you can forge on as a warrior of truth and transformation as you carve out your destiny in a way that does not compromise your values.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru, you are on your own, which means that you simultaneously become more receptive and discriminating about what you choose to believe, and how you express those beliefs. This develops your capacity to graciously follow those who are worthy where they may lead, as well as your own ability to become a benevolent leader in your chosen fields of interest or expertise.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru, you have no problem showing humility when needed because there is no need to hold up a specific idea or identity. You become familiar with what your gifts and weaknesses are. The gifts you share freely, and the weaknesses you actively resolve as you allow your own Guru nature to guid you in finding workable solutions. Understanding that ultimately it is only yourself that can determine your own worthiness, you behave in ways that develop your most noble aspirations.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru, you are obliged to accept that other people’s mind’s are their own Gurus, which naturally makes you more compassionate and tolerant of other people’s views. This is essential in creating networks of people where individuality is celebrated while at the same time forging bonds of belonging to community. Did I hear someone say “Sustainable Revolution”?
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru, you start to see every situation in your life as an opportunity, instead of an obstacle, making the most of accumulating all the possible information that each event might reveal. This leads to the developing of confident fearlessness as you stop struggling against reality by instead welcoming whatever curveballs are thrown your way. This further results in the maturing of wisdom like a soldier who have seen and survived many battles and has mastered the ‘zen’ of swordplay, turning the art of skill into tried and tested enlightenment techniques.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru, there is nowhere to hide from your own anxieties or neurosis, all of these come glaringly into focus and you are forced to deal with them, one way or another. This not only builds character and strength of purpose, it ensures that you earn your badge through personal experience which allows you to be of benefit to others who might be struggling with the same things. This alone is a gem without price, a gift that keeps on giving, as you will no doubt also benefit from the accumulated wisdom of others who have come before you. In this way the cycle of transmission organically continues from generation to generation.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru, you enter an infinite realm of possibilities, a place which holds all your greatest fears, and your most beautiful dreams and only you can determine to what extent they serve or hamper your journey. Becoming your own Knight in Shining Armour as well as your own Great Nemesis, reality turns into an heroic fantasy which affords you the opportunity to achieve not only wholeness, but greatness indeed! Every cause you fight for or against is transferred from external reality into the landscape of your own mind, which is truly the root of all existence, and once conquered results in external reality coming up to meet you by changing in front of your very eyes. This is the only real way to transform your reality and if you don’t believe me, try it out and see for yourself.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru, you become familiar with the fact that no one, and nothing in the world outside can be blamed for how you experience each and every moment. You hold the key to either suffering or joy and can be in one or the other in the blink of an eye - your choice. It is after all literally a matter of perspective and since you are the king and the world is your kingdom, only you can determine how the movie plays out.
~ When you accept your own mind as the ultimate Guru you become familiar with the patterns that perpetuate in your reality as you start seeing how your attitude and approach to life is echoed by real-time manifestations in your reality. You soon realize that you will do whatever you can to free yourself from your own limiting behaviour as you rebel against your old conditioning, insisting on finding a way out. Allowing the rebel and the knight in your nature to free yourself from the injustice of imprisonment by your own hands, no sacrifice is too large in service of your liberation, especially if it means sacrificing ideas about yourself. You can no longer be bothered pretending that that something works when it doesn't. With no time to waste you passionately and one-pointedly pursue paths of liberation without a second thought as to how cool it might seem, or obligation to stay in something which doesn’t serve you, or continue indulging in behaviour or relationships that are detrimental to your growth.
All of this of course with a mind that is like a self-sharpening diamond sword, a heart that is wide open despite the many disappointments experienced before, and the magnanimity of a sultan with an unending supply of glorious riches, gifts of wisdom and beauty, soothing medicines to uplift even the most broken of souls, to be shared unconditionally with all the sacred pilgrims that come your way.
From the Universe, with Love