The Fall 2015 issue of Buddhadharma features a conversation between Rob Preece, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and Lama Palden Drolma on tantra. In this web exclusive, Buddhadharma asks the three teachers about a complex issue at the heart of tantra practice: guru devotion.
What does it mean to be devoted to one’s guru?
Rob Preece: This is one of the trickier, more challenging dynamics for Westerners, because we don’t have any precedent for it in the West. There have also been problems in the way some Eastern and Western teachers have treated their students, which cannot be ignored.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: The guru, who is referred to as the guide master, is the one who teaches us and shows us the path to liberation. But every experience in our life constantly teaches us the nature of reality and impermanence if we are open to learning. So appearances are also considered our teacher and master. Our own true awareness, or rigpa, is considered the ultimate master. These are the three masters: your guide master or root master, appearances as master, and the nature of mind as master. These three together merge with awareness and that is the ultimate realization of guru yoga—to become one with the master. To arrive at that level you have to transcend your ego and your pain identity, which is difficult to do.
Lama Palden: It’s definitely easier to open to an awakened being outside of ourselves than to the awakened presence within us. So the guru link is very important, but we should carefully investigate our choice of teacher and let trust develop over time rather than right away. The true guru helps us open the channel to our own wisdom and discover our guru within.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche: When working with Western students, who have a lot of problems with the notion of a teacher, I’m sensitive not to immediately expect they should do everything that we as teachers tell them to do. However, one of the important dynamics of guru yoga is to come to a place in yourself where you have to say, I’m going to trust somebody. I’m going to listen to somebody rather than try to be in charge and in control all the time. I’m going to listen to somebody because I need help. Of course there is a process of coming to that place in yourself and of finding a teacher whom you trust. But once you do, you make a decision: I’m going to listen, even if what he or she says goes completely against my will. I know my usual patterns are addictive—clinging to emotions and negative situations, so I trust this person to guide me. My teacher is guiding me and I have to be totally open to saying yes rather than discussing, negotiating, and then going against the advice.