I’m interested in Tibetan Buddhism, but I’m uncomfortable about the principle of guru devotion, which seems hierarchical and potentially exploitive. What should I know before accepting a guru?
All schools of Buddhism celebrate the teacher, who helps us to awaken and eases our suffering. How could you not honor such a person? But the teacher-student relationship in Vajrayana Buddhism is particularly intense and personal, maybe even slightly draconian. The guru is totally committed to your enlightenment, knows all your ego tricks, and is willing to call you on them. It’s risky to give someone that much power, which is why it’s said you have to find the perfect teacher. That doesn’t mean he or she is infallible. But it does mean they’re completely committed to others and are not using their position for status, money, or any other form of personal gain. If you find such a person, and are willing commit to them, it is said they will show you that your true nature and theirs are the same—enlightened.