Guru, Deity, Protector 3
Contemporary perspective on the three pillars of vajrayana practice.

Guru, part 3 – GDP3Download

Questions regarding faith and compassion, balance in a guru-student relationship, the three types of faith and the three doors of freedom, questions from participants regarding this practice.

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Section 1

If there aren’t any questions, then I’ll tell stories. Yes.

Student: Could you go over the faith of confidence again?

Ken: Okay. Essentially, confident faith is described as the feeling of solidity that comes from a rational appreciation. That is, you study the stuff, you think about it, it makes sense. So you say, Okay, I’ll give it a try.“ And this is one of the reasons why I like Buddhist practice and Buddhist perspective, it’s because it actually does make sense.

Christianity, for instance, doesn’t. And the consequence of that is, faith as a practice in Christianity has to be stronger because it doesn’t make sense. And it’s not just Christianity, actually, it applies to most of the Abrahamic traditions, because somehow or other they ended up with a problem. And the problem was, if there is an all-loving, all-mighty God, why do we suffer? The problem of pain which C.S. Lewis wrote about.

Buddhism, on the other hand, says there is suffering. That’s where we start. So its existence isn’t regarded as a problem; it’s regarded as a fact. No explanation required, there it is. And so a rational appreciation is for many people an important starting point. And I know this from my work with people who are not particularly into spiritual stuff. You know, if you want to get them to do something, it’s got to make sense to them ’cause they’re not going to do it out of clear appreciation or longing or anything like that. Okay?

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Other questions. Deborah?

Section 2

Deborah: Along that same train of thought, is confidence also experiential in experiencing their effectiveness or what the teacher is transmitting?

Ken: Well, I think more than what the teacher is transmitting, it’s more its effectiveness in your own experience. So person X says, ”Well, if you do this you may experience Y,“ and so you go out and you say, well, I’ll give this a try, and lo and behold, you do experience Y. Now you have a rational basis for trusting what person X says. You follow? And you have a rational basis for doing X in the future because it actually did produce Y. Other questions, John?

Section 3

John: Do you have to have self—do you appreciate yourself or love yourself before getting…having the confidence to do that, the faith of longing?

Ken: No, I don’t think so. No.

John: Thinking back upon the concept of self-love. Pema Chodron talks about it…

Ken: Well, in Tibetan, and I really doubt—I don’t know Pali well enough—but I really doubt in Pali, and certainly not in Tibetan and Sanskrit to my knowledge, the idea of self-love or self-compassion is a contradiction in terms. And we have these concepts flying around really because of the influence of Western psychology.

In Tibetan Buddhism for instance, the wish that others be free of suffering is called compassion. You want others to be free of suffering, that’s compassion. The wish that you be free of suffering is not called self-compassion. It’s called renunciation. Or if you want another translation it’s called determination. I want to be free of suffering, I’ve got to do something about it—I’ve got to get out of this mess. And so that is the wish that I want to be free of suffering is disenchantment with the current state of affairs, etc., etc., which leads to that renunciation.

And, the capacity to be present with your own pain, that’s not self-compassion—that’s mindfulness. That’s what mindfulness is—just that. I tend to feel—and this may be a bit harsh on my side—you know, it wouldn’t be the first time—that these concepts such as self-love, self-compassion, self-forgiveness are often covert or not so covert ways of protecting a very explicit sense of self that does not want to meet the actual state of affairs.

Student: But Ken, in doing mind-training…

Ken: Yeah?

Student: —it seems to me that part of that is compassion for yourself in doing that with mind-training.

Ken: It’s accepting the pain. What do you mean compassion with yourself?

Student: Sending yourself, you know, light or, you know, taking in the pain.

Ken: Yes, but when we’re doing that we’re doing it with a very explicit conception of self. And the purpose of it is to undo that particular conception. For instance, an instruction I give to people: they have a piece from their childhood, say, where something very uncomfortable, very painful happened maybe, some form of abuse or something like that. And I will instruct people to say you do taking and sending with that child.

What they’re doing taking and sending with is something that is locked inside them. And by doing that with it, they’re actually opening that up and experiencing what’s in there. And when they experience it completely, that literally dissolves, and now they’re free, because—not necessarily from the pain but from having to avoid it.

Student: And it’s almost like an agenda; you’re looking at that part of you—

Ken: Exactly.

Student: —so it’s like a—

Ken: Because it, because the way you’re relating to it inside, is like it’s another.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Okay, and when you were doing the taking and sending retreat last year, anything you feel a sense of other with is appropriate to do taking and sending with. You follow? Which I feel is different than like trying to feel compassion for yourself, whatever that is. The other problem I have is there isn’t any self to feel compassion for. People don’t like that.

Student: Well, neither is there another.

Ken: Yeah, that’s true. Okay.

Now, this afternoon, and if someone could keep an eye on the time because I left my clock down below and let me know at about quarter-past five. You know, wave something frantically or throw pens, whatever. Not darts, thank you.

Section 4

I want to continue on with the bit about guru. This morning I said we’d take a person as a symbol and that person can be living or dead. In the Tibetan tradition we generally are encouraged to take a living person. But it’s not a yidam. It’s not a protector. You can’t take yidam or protector as a guru. They serve different functions, and we’ll be getting to those. And the reason it’s a person is because you can have a relationship with a person. That’s why a living person is sometimes better. Because then you can definitely have a relationship.

The point here—a relationship with another person is primarily emotional. And the purpose here is to form an emotional relationship with what is ultimately true. Much of the time, when we’re discussing what is ultimately true, it’s an idea. You know, it’s like trying to have an emotional relationship with an equation. There are a few mathematicians that do that, but that’s another story.

So the guru is primarily a person who is for you a symbol of what is ultimately true. And I think this is what is meant, or part of what is meant anyway, when we get this—think of your guru as the Buddha. Regard the guru as the Buddha.

A relationship consists of two people relating to each other. And for that relationship to be maintained—

Student: I don’t want to interrupt you in the middle of this but I do want to ask a question.

Ken: It’s okay, go ahead.

Student: I’ve heard it said by other Tibetan teachers that situations in life can be like a guru in the sense where you have a relationship with something that’s got personal importance. You project feeling on that situation…

Ken: Mmm-hmm. What’s the question?

Student: So the question is, is that the case that situations can be gurus or am I being too literal?

Ken: In those situations they’re really speaking metaphorically. For instance, Serlingpa, at the end of Great Path of Awakening, Kongtrul quotes a number of verses. [He] says, Adverse conditions are spiritual friends. And he explains this by saying that they do the same things as a spiritual friend does. You know, challenge you to be patient, bring out your compassion, put you in touch with your internal material, etc., etc., etc. So one can use, and it’s very good to use the situations in life to learn from. But that isn’t the same thing as having a relationship with a person who is a teacher. Okay?

Now, relationship depends on balance. That is, what one is putting into the relationship is commensurate to what one is receiving from the relationship. And if that isn’t happening, then the relationship inevitably moves out of balance, and a relationship cannot survive moving into a permanent state of imbalance. It always leads to problems and eventually dissolution of the relationship.

Section 5

How is the guru-student relationship balanced? Well, I think it’s instructive to look at the parent-child relationship. One of the imbalancing processes which is very prevalent in our culture is that a large number of parents expect their children to return what the parents are putting into the relationship. In other words, they create a demand for attention from the child. This totally screws the child up every time. Right? We’re all the walking wounded here. [Laughter] The way that relationship is balanced is that the child, when he or she has children, provides the same kind of attention that they received from their parents. So balancing a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean a direct balancing.

So, as with the parent-child relationship there’s a kind of generational understanding in the student-teacher relationship. Attention flows from the teacher to the student. The teacher does not place an emotional demand, a demand for emotional attention on the student. That’s not the demand that the teacher places on the student. The teacher places all sorts of other demands—but not that one. And a student receives instruction, guidance, presence—all this kind of stuff—and passes that on. That’s how the relationship is balanced. Did you have a question Justine?

Justine: Well, I was just going to say as soon as the maturation is apparent for the teacher in that transmission—

Ken: Exactly, which doesn’t always happen.

Justine: Which doesn’t always happen.

Ken: But we can be a little idealistic from time to time.

Section 6

But I want to go a little further into the guru-student relationship. There’s a great deal of propaganda about this, too. And what I’d like to do for a few minutes is to look at some of the protocols that are presented around the guru-student relationship as a way of handling a relationship between two people in such a way that the inevitable transference, emotional reaction kind of stuff doesn’t disrupt the intention of the relationship.

Now, one has the instruction: you regard the guru as the Buddha. And many people interpret this, and I would say naively, to mean you have to look at the guru as being perfect in every way.

In my mind the guru-student relationship marks a maturation. A maturation in the student and a maturation in the relationship. Nobody’s perfect. I described the cigar smoking, stone-throwing monk. Kalu Rinpoche greatly enjoyed snuff. I remember when we were preparing to leave India to come on Rinpoche’s first tour. One of Rinpoche’s students brought him in this box—it’s all wrapped up. And Rinpoche opened it up, and it contained about 30 boxes of snuff. And Rinpoche went, ”Oh that was very kind.“ [Laughs] Chime Rinpoche in England—quite a good teacher, quite eccentric—he can’t sit still for five minutes. He’s always running off and doing something. Following him is like trying to pin down mercury. I mean everybody has their foibles.

The guru-student relationship is viable when the student has reached the point through knowing the teacher, knows that the teacher isn’t perfect, has those foibles, and chooses to use his or her own reaction to those foibles as material for their own practice. So there’s no sense of ignoring here. That’s what I mean about a maturing in the student. They’ve reached that point in their practice that, well, my guru wants to take snuff that’s his business. My guru wants to do that, that’s her business. Doesn’t actually disrupt the spiritual intention, the transmission intention, the intention of wanting the student to become awake. So when the student adopts that attitude they’re no longer critical of their teacher, because they’re going to work internally with whatever arises.

It also represents a maturation in the relationship. A maturation which the student now knows that whatever the teacher does, the teacher is actually—in terms of their relationship—only concerned with the student’s waking up and is not going to use the student for personal gain of any kind: getting emotional needs met, affection, sex, power, money, influence, whatever. That is, the student’s hung around long enough to know that is the case. Again that’s a maturation in the relationship.

And on the other side, the teacher knows the student well enough to know that the student is now capable of using whatever comes up for practice. And when you look at it this way, it actually just makes a lot of sense. It’s not particularly magical or mysterious, and it doesn’t involve a lot of denial or power, etc., etc. And it’s quite possible, that something may happen: the teacher may do something, and the student’s gonna go, ”You know, I can’t live with that one. That’s…there’s something wrong.“ And they’ll take it up with the teacher, and if it can’t be worked out, then the guru-student relationship comes to an end. Because the guru-student relationship means being able to use whatever arises in the relationship internally.

And when that happens, you know, in many cases it’s because the teacher has violated the relationship. That is, the teacher has sought to get something from the student. That violates the relationship. Attention goes from the teacher to the student. You know, the teacher can be recompensed, in terms of money or support or something like that—that’s reasonable. But anything above that the teacher has no claim to whatsoever. Because it’s a shared-aim relationship, and the aim of the relationship is the student’s awakening—nothing else.

Robert, do you have a question?

Section 7

Robert: Yes. Isn’t what you’re saying really go to the equality that we were talking about earlier? It’s really what the bargain is between the student and his teacher.

Ken: Yeah.

Robert: Mainly, the three responsibilities of the teacher and the responsibilities of the student—that’s the bargain. That’s what makes it equal.

Ken: That’s right, yeah, yeah. But what I’m doing is going through some of the traditional formulations of this which have created a certain amount of confusion in certain quarters. Or is that putting too small a label on it. Now, what time do you have?

Student: Five after.

Section 8

Ken: Okay. That’s good. Okay, a few points about your practice and then open it up for questions.

You’re going to be better off, generally speaking, having an actual relationship with a teacher, a living person. It’s more challenging. But precisely because there’s more to work there in the relationship. And I go back to what Robert was referring to a few moments ago. That person has those three responsibilities. And the relationship matures or can mature into a guru-student relationship when you, as a student, are completely confident that the teacher is only concerned with your awakening. And that everything he or she does is directed to that end. That’s one thing. And secondly, you are prepared to use your own reactions to whatever he or she may do as fuel for your own practice. Those are the characteristics which make it into a guru-student relationship.

On the teacher’s side, it’s a guru-student relationship when the student is prepared to do that, and the guru is prepared and trusts that the student is prepared to do that. If the guru doesn’t trust the student to be able to do that, the relationship doesn’t come together. Yes?

Section 9

Student: Is there a formality to that?

Ken: There can be.

Student: Or just an unspoken evolution?

Ken: There can be a formality, but most of the time it is actually a process of evolution that they find themselves there. Now, Vajrayana initiation is often taken as a way of formalizing that step. And of course, as we all know, people jump into their idea of the guru-student relationship, and it’s based totally on paternal and sometimes romantic projections. And with the usual predicted consequences. Okay.

Section 10

So, in your practice, I talked this morning about the three kinds of faith. I want to go a little bit further into those. I linked them up with the three poisons. They’re also linked quite directly with the three marks of existence. Or actually, it’s a little fairer to say with the three doors of freedom, which are no characteristics, no aspirations, and emptiness.

Student: Can you say that again, please?

Ken: No characteristics, no aspirations or no wishes, actually, and emptiness.

Let’s take the first one: clear open appreciation. When you experience that clear open appreciation—and I know many of you have some experience of that—who are you? Gail?

Gail: Nobody.

Ken: Yeah. You’re nobody. You’re empty. Non-self, emptiness, okay. Consequently in terms of your practice, if you’re working with that form of faith you’re going to feel like you’re falling. Fall, just fall. That’s the practice. You have that clear open appreciation. There’s no reference there. There’s no up, there’s no down, there’s nothing to hold onto: fall.

Student: Just like falling in love, just falling—

Ken: Yeah, except there’s that little ooomm! [Laughs] We’ll get to that.

Section 11

Longing. This, of course, is connected with suffering. It’s also connected—that’s the mark of existence. It’s also connected with no wishes.

When you start letting yourself feel that longing for peace, for purity, for whatever, all of these other longings come tagging along and say, ”Can I get some too?“ You now want this; you want that. And so you’re going to find all of these longings coming with it. And those are the source of our suffering. Those are our emotional needs, all right?

The way to work with this in practice: experience all of it. All of them. Which gets pretty intense. You may feel as if your heart is going to break with that kind of longing. Good. Let it break. Break totally and completely. The old cliche—a broken heart is an open heart. Very important. And the heart’s broken because as you feel all of those old longings, you know when you feel them deeply enough, you know none of them can be fulfilled, and so your heart breaks.

Section 12

With confident faith this is connected to no characteristics, which is the extrapolation of impermanence. It starts off with a nice rational appreciation: ”Yeah, this makes sense, this makes sense, this makes sense, mmm-hmm, okay.“ But then you have to go the next step. And one steps back at that point. Because that’s where the confidence has to come in. And so this form of faith when you first work with it feels like a rational appreciation, but you quickly find yourself stepping into unknown territory where there are no characteristics. There’s actually nothing to hold onto. You’re just gonna go there.

Section 13

With each of these, I’ve described a way that you work the edge. You work the edge of clear open appreciation by falling. You work the edge of longing by letting your heart break. And you work the edge of confidence by just going the next step. Well, you went this far—take the next step. Ahh!

In terms of how you do this, I really recommend you work deeply with these. Certainly don’t do more than two in a half-hour session. I would actually think you find it probably more fruitful to work with one in each half-hour session. Tom?

Tom: So we should definitely work with all three at some point?

Ken: At some point work with all three just so that you have the flavor of it. But if you haven’t already done that, then make sure you do that this evening, because we’ll have this evening and then tomorrow morning. And then we’re going to move onto another set of practices with yidam. But, so have some experience with all three, and then to work with the one that you resonate with most strongly is fine to do. Okay, Deborah?

Deborah: I’m not clear on the confidence. What would an example of the next step be that you might want to take? I’m not clear how that relates to the guru.

Ken: Well, does practicing meditation make sense to you? Do you practice every day?

Deborah: No.

Ken: There’s your next step. [Laughs]

Deborah: I don’t know if I can do that in a half hour.

Ken: What comes up when you think of taking that next step? There it is; that’s just one example.

Deborah: And another thing…

Ken: That’s…one’s enough. Janaki.

Student: It’s 5:17.

Student: It’s 5:15.

Ken: You guys duke it out.

Student: Ken.

Ken: Yes.

Student: I’m confused because I can’t really separate the three. They’re so intricately related to me. I mean it’s like saying, ”Well, you know, look at the primary colors and…“

Ken: What color is that?

Student: It’s red.

Ken: Thank you.

Student: Okay. To me this process though is not the least, in my mind, it’s not intellectual, it’s not cognitive, it’s—

Ken: Absolutely. It’s emotional.

Student: It’s completely emotional. So when you say look at red, well that’s not emotional.

Ken: Do you know the experience of clear open appreciation?

Student: Uh-huh.

Ken: Fall. Okay. Do you know the experience of longing? Do you know the experience of longing?

Student: Okay.

Ken: Do you?

Student: Well, yes while I’m falling.

Ken: Yes, that’s fine. But then you focus on letting your heart break.

Student: Okay.

Ken: Okay. And yes they’re all intertwined. That’s very…and really these are just—

Student:—just different ways of looking at the same thing.

Ken: No, not completely. But they’re very much…they play off each other, and so forth, and part of my intention here is so that you get a really clear experience of each. And on the basis of that, you’ll be able to experience all three more fully.

Student: All right.

Ken: Okay. Josephine and Dan and then we’ll do the prayer. Yeah.

Josephine: I sort of had a similar experience when I tried to do this, but I would think that I should start with a particular kind of faith, and I would find as I tried to move into that experience that I was wrong. That there was a different kind of faith happening there, you know?

Ken: Yeah.

Josephine: So, I mean, I assume that’s fine, but, I mean, that I think is what you’re talking about, right?

Ken: Well, there are a couple of things that could be happening there.

Josephine: Yeah.

Ken: One is, ”Okay, I’ll work with this, and this little reactive mechanism says no we’re not gonna go there. Let’s go here instead. This is easier.”

Josephine: Well, I stayed—I tried to stay with it for 15 minutes.

Ken: Yeah.

Josephine: I didn’t move into it. I just noticed that…that it would naturally bring up for me that I have this idea about myself that wasn’t accurate.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Josephine: And then I went back to trying to work with it.

Ken: Which kind of faith were you working?

Josephine: Well I started with the one which I thought would be the easiest for me [laughs] which would be longing.

Ken: Longing…

Josephine: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: And then it brought up an idea of yourself.

Josephine: Well yeah that was kind of—

Ken: Right, pardon?

Josephine: Well, yeah.

Ken: And what does that idea of yourself want?

Josephine: It wanted to move to a different meditation.

Ken: Yeah but what did it… [Laughter]

Josephine: Or give it up altogether.

Ken: Yeah, exactly, yeah. Right. Yeah. What does that idea of yourself—what does it want?

Josephine: Well, I’m not sure how to answer that, but what I’ve gotten when I just sort of heard myself say that was, that actually I’m afraid of falling into how much longing I might have.

Ken: Exactly, that’s it. That’s right, good. Yeah.

Section 14

Dan: I’m not exactly clear on the practices of these three types of faith and what you’ve said about your guru-student relationship.

Ken: Oh. This is in joining your mind with the guru. This is how you do it.

What separates us from being one with the guru’s mind: number one, is a sense that we’re separate. So you fall. Secondly is, we want something. And when we feel very, very deeply that wanting that’s gonna be exploded, and now we can actually join. And the third is, we’re trying to understand something. Then that’s the intellect part operating. And when we take that next step we drop into non-intellect. So each of these three forms of faith is a way of joining with the guru’s mind. And don’t forget the guru’s mind is dharmakaya—what is—etc. And we’re using the guru as a symbol of that. That answer your question?

Dan: Yeah, I mean, sort of.

Ken: I am trying to get the flavor. What most of us did way back then was we did the formal stuff, and we kind of happened on this stuff in the process. Okay, and in the same way that I taught Chenrezig last year, what I’m trying to do is give you the essence—what it’s actually about. And then those who choose this as a path, then they can engage the formal practices. But then they’ll—I hope—they’ll know what they’re doing.

Dan: Okay.

Ken: That’s the way I’m approaching it. Okay. All right. Let’s do the Vajradhara Prayer, the second refuge prayer, and then the Fulfilling Intention Prayer on page 25, and then the dedication prayers.

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