Guru, Deity, Protector 2b

Section 1

All of these are viable ways. The one we’re going to focus on here is the path of devotion.

In the Tibetan tradition we have several words: we have devotion, which in Tibetan is mos gus (pron. mugu), and we have faith. The Tibetan for that is dad pa (pron. depa). And we also have the English word, belief. The first distinction I want to make very clear is that I see faith and belief as opposites. That may not be how they’re commonly understood in English. But I find it’s helpful to look at faith as the willingness to open to what arises in experience.

Sharon Salzberg’s most recent book is called Faith. It’s actually a very personal book, in which she describes how she came to essentially the same view of faith, through various incidents and challenges and interactions with teachers in her life. You get a good sense of the things that have shaped her understanding. It’s very good. I asked her for whom she wrote this book, and she said, “For those in despair.” That fits. Often we have to be driven to despair in order to open to what’s right there—because nothing else works.

On the other hand, belief—in my view—is the effort to interpret experience to conform to what’s already inside. One often runs into a rigidity when people are functioning on the basis of belief, and a very different kind of stability when people are functioning on the basis of faith. That’s something to look at and observe.

Section 2

In the Tibetan tradition there are three kinds of faith.

First is clear, open faith. It’s a kind of radiant clarity. It is similar but not the same as falling in love. You know how when you fall in love everything just opens up. Everything’s beautiful—it has that same quality. And, like falling in love, it can and does incite projections. But it’s important to cultivate, and that’s what we are going to be focusing on today. But it’s difficult because it cannot be contrived. It is essentially a clear, open appreciation, though that language in English doesn’t carry the emotional and deeper quality of it. The language is too intellectual, but it is accurate.

Section 3

The second kind is the faith of longing. This is an expression of our yearning. In the sutras, there’s a story of the always-weeping-one. He just wanted to be awake and to be present so much. He could never find the right teacher or the right instructions, and so he was always in tears. That’s why he was called the always-weeping-one. But he’s an expression of this intense heartfelt longing. And it can take different forms: longing for clarity, longing for peace, whatever. But it doesn’t matter. It’s all about longing for presence, basically.

This form of faith can be used to transform the energies of emotions into the clear, open faith that I just spoke about. And that’s basically how it’s used. The prayer that we did this morning, The Far-reaching Cry to the Guru, is an expression of that longing. And that’s how such a prayer is used. You feel this intense longing. You use prayers such as this. There are hundreds of these in the Tibetan tradition, if not thousands, to give rise to this longing. Through really feeling that deep, deep longing, something begins to open up, which is this clear, open appreciation of the wonder, the magic, whatever you want to call it, of presence. And that’s what gives rise to insight and understanding.

Section 4

The third kind of faith is the faith of confidence. It comes out of a rational appreciation of how things work. People will say, “How does this practice work?” Or, “Why should I do this?” This is not an expression of clear, open faith. It’s not an expression of yearning. It’s an expression of a desire: “I want to be able to understand this so I can feel confident in what I’m doing.”

In terms of actually moving you forward, confident faith or faith coming from confidence, is not such a big step. But often it’s the first step that many of us require. When we begin to understand and feel that, okay, this make sense, then it lays the basis for that longing to start to arise. And out of that longing matures this clear appreciation. The clear appreciation can also mature out of the confidence as well. So basically, the second two kinds of faith—longing and confidence—power the first: clear, open appreciation.

Section 5

As an aside, this may be helpful to some of you: In one way, these three kinds of faith are ways of transforming the three poisons. It’s easy to see, for instance, that cultivating longing is a way of transforming desire or attraction. You shift the focus of the desire from an object which you think is going to satisfy you to presence, which is something that never satisfies you. It never satisfies your emotional needs. But you can use all of that energy to long for that, and it begins to transform internally.

Faith coming from confidence is how we transform aversion. There’s a very close relationship between aversion and the rational process. When we approach things rationally, it’s actually a form of anger energy. You know about this do you, Guy? That’s why academics are such loving people. [Laughter] But you use that anger energy to dissect things and generate this basis of confidence, which allows you to move forward to some kind of opening.

Of course, that leaves clear, open faith to be the transform of indifference, which is exactly what it is.

So, time to look at practice.

Section 6

I’m going to go into this in more detail later, but: guru, yidam, deity, protector. We call them the three roots. They seem to be distinct, but at a deeper level they actually define a spectrum. One could say, a spectrum of energy from emptiness to form. So, when one’s doing guru practices, you’re working with respect to the nature of things, the nature of experience—dharmakaya—for those of you who know that term. The ineffability of experience itself. And the essential practice at the guru level is a practice called guru yoga. If we put this into English, it would be guru union.

The guru is simultaneously a teacher, a person that you actually interact with, and a symbol of the ineffability of experience, of this totally open, indefinable quality of presence. And in a practice such as guru union, you are seeking to join—that’s how it’s literally said—your mind with the guru’s. Well, if the guru’s mind is presence, then you’re seeking to join with presence.

I want to make a point here which is often overlooked. We say, “Join our mind with the guru’s,” but the word for mind in Tibetan and in Sanskrit is also the word for heart. You may feel that this practice has a little different flavor if you think of it as joining your heart with the guru’s heart. It translates a little differently in English. Feels different, doesn’t it? And when you do that, it becomes much less intellectual. More like, “Oh God! What would that be like, for those hearts to actually join?” That’s how it comes across to me—maybe it comes across to you differently.

Section 7

In the booklet on page 9, there is a translation of the Prayer to the Guru that’s used in the Karma Kagyu Ngöndro, or foundational practices, or groundwork. This is my latest translation, that I actually quite like. This is set in the whole context of practice with many, many, really very beautiful prayers.

May I realize mahamudra as ground,

the basis of all, yet free from such concepts as existing or not-existing;

and free from positing, negating, accepting or rejecting anything in samsara and nirvana.

May mahamudra as path become apparent,

the path which completely surpasses destination, traveler or path;

which neither rejects the obscured, obscurations or the obscuring, nor conceptualizes the realized, realizer or realizing.

May mahamudra as result become apparent,

result which is the inseparability of basis and result, which is neither rejection nor attainment;

but no conceptualization of goal, attainer, or faith in attaining; not existing, yet the nature of all that is.

Well, just from that, you know, this is like, just being there—nothing else.

Section 8

What I’m trying to do here is not actually give you formal practices in guru, yidam, and protector, but the flavor; and working very directly with your own mind. With the guru practice, you’re really working with the nature of your mind. And that, of course, is inconceivable in expressing it.

The guru—however you want to think of that—is a symbol of that ineffability of experience. In the Kagyu tradition, it’s imagined as Vajradhara, the Primordial Buddha. In the Nyingma tradition, as Guru Padmasambhava. Very frequently in the Gelugpa tradition, it’s Je Tsongkhapa.

You can, if you wish, take any figure living or dead. Many people take someone like Milarepa as their guru in this sense. And with respect to that figure, or symbol, they cultivate these three forms of faith. Each of you will probably start at a different place. For some of you, I know from talking with you, you know something about that clear, open appreciation and you let yourself feel it. And when you let yourself feel it, at some point you’re going to feel what doesn’t want to go there. What holds back. Now you’ve reached the edge of your practice. And that’s where you work. You use that clear, open appreciation to open to those areas of you that don’t want to open. Follow?

For others, it’s going to be about longing. Let yourself feel that longing, and you notice the prayer for the Far-reaching Cry to the Guru? Its devotion pierces your heart. And that’s how you practice with that—you let that longing go right through you, all the way. And you use the symbol of the guru, whatever form you take, as a way of helping you to focus that longing so it can go right through every piece of you. So in a certain sense, you’re completely destroyed by your yearning, your love. And you know, that’s a little intimidating.

For others, you’re probably going to start with confidence. How does this feel to you? Does this make sense? [Unclear] bit by a few questions about this. But you also are experienced people. There’s nobody who’s starting practice here. You all know what you have learned or been able to do or understand through your own practice. That is the basis of your confidence.

So, you bring that to mind and you rest in it, and as you rest in it, you will start to feel the parts of you that don’t really want to go any further. You’ll say this is fine, we can just stay right here. But you can’t. So you use that confidence as a way of opening to those parts. Does this make any sense, Denise?

Denise: [Unclear]

Ken: I don’t know; this is the first time I’ve done this. If you find it helpful, as I said last night, memorize this prayer.

Section 9

Student: Which one?

Ken: The one on page nine. It’s relatively short [Guru Yoga Prayer].

Treasured teacher I pray to you.

I chose to translate the word Rinpoche as treasured in this way because I think this captures emotionally the sense of how we treasure our teachers. They are a treasure for us. That just seemed to make more sense than Precious Teacher, which works, but doesn’t work the same way. Maybe it’s the alliteration that makes it better.

Student: More accurate.

Ken: Pardon?

Student: More accurate.

Ken: Yeah, I think so. In most translations, you’re going to see the Tibetan phrase byin gyis rlobs (pron. jin gyi lop ) translated as, Give me the blessing. Well, ethnologically it’s wrong. The word bless is from an old English word bledsian, which is derived from, to sprinkle blood on, to make a sacrifice. And it has come to mean, to make something holy.

The Tibetan phrase itself, byin, is the idea of “being given,” and rlobs is like a wave. When you give something, there’s an energy in that. So, this is like praying for a wave of energy. And we’ve all experienced that, so that’s why I’ve chosen:

Give me the energy to let self-fixation go.

In older translations that I did, what’s very common is the use of the term ego-clinging, to let go of ego-clinging. I’ve moved away from that because ego is a very precise term in psychology. It means the opposite—it has nothing to do with what ego has come to mean popularly and in Buddhist circles. It’s much more about self-fixation. I find that we fixate on an idea that I am some thing. And that’s what you’re praying to let go.

Give me the energy to be free of need.

Interestingly enough, in several translations, this is translated—I’m not quite sure how they got there—as to know that samsara is futile. That’s not what the Tibetan says at all. We have this idea that we need something from outside. And so we’re always looking outside. But when we’re always looking outside we’re simply reinforcing the dualistic framework through which we interpret experience: “I need something out there.” One way of moving away from that dualism is you pray for the energy to be free of need. And there’s a transformative quality there which creates the conditions in which you can perhaps begin to rest in just what you are.

Give me energy to let ordinary thinking stop.

The actual Tibetan is chos min (pron. chö min), which means non-dharma, and I remember a conversation I had with Trungpa Rinpoche in the 70s when I was still not terribly fluent in Tibetan. And I said, “What is the Tibetan for ’cutting through spiritual materialism?’” It was [the title of] one of Trungpa’s books. “Oh,” he said. “Chos min gcod pa (pron. chö min chö pa).” “What?” “Chos min gcod pa, if you translate it literally, means cut non-dharma. So spiritual materialism is what is not dharma.” Well, that makes sense. This is an example of Trungpa’s wonderfully poetic way of doing things.

Ordinary thinking is the kind of thinking that takes us into distraction, a duller state of mind. You notice that this isn’t about stopping thoughts—it’s about stopping thinking. There’s a big difference there.

Give me the energy to know mind has no beginning.

In the usual translation, mind is unborn, which is fine. But somehow I wanted to try this translation. No beginning is like whoa!

Give me the energy to let confusion subside on its own.

This is a key element. When things are experienced completely, they release into awareness and become what they originally were, which is the energy of awareness. And it’s our reluctance to experience things when they arise that prevents that process from taking place. So, you’re really praying for the ability to be able to experience everything, because then all your confusion would just release. It’s actually very simple—it’s just a little difficult.

Give me energy to know that experience is pure being.

I took a little bit of a leap with the Tibetan here. Everything that appears in experience, that’s what the literal Tibetan is. And pure being—I cheated here. I’m being honest with you.

The word is dharmakaya in Tibetan and I usually translate dharmakaya as the dimension of what is, but that just didn’t fit here. But dharmakaya is synonymous with dharmata, which I translate as pure being. So I did that. It doesn’t change anything in terms of meaning. But it’s not an absolutely literal translation. Again, this is taking the previous idea where you have the capacity to experience things so that they can just return to what they are. The next step from that is when things arise you already know what they are. That is, you know experience as pure being as it arises. Then there’s nothing to release. It just is.

Section 10

So, you can use this prayer if you wish. Or some of you may have verses or phrases you’re already familiar with. The purpose of using a prayer is simply to give an expression to the feeling of devotion and faith in any of the three ways that I’ve described it. Your actual practice—once you let your mind settle—is to take teacher as symbol of what is, dharmakaya, however you want to think of it, in whatever form teacher takes for you, and then let yourself feel the three faiths. Whether you start with clear appreciation, with longing, or confidence—this I leave entirely up to you. But the practice is to feel those three faiths, begin to feel them in you. I want you to work with all three, but each of you will find your own path. I’ve gone quite a bit over, so we’ll just take a few minutes for questions. Susan?

Section 11

Susan: I think what might be confusing me is I’m used to instructions where you have to do it as an object of meditation. This seems like it’s more of a mahamudra practice.

Ken: Well, you can take a symbol for the teacher, like Milarepa or whomever. You have your own longings, you have your own appreciation, you have your own confidence. Just feel it, and let yourself feel it more and more deeply. That’s the practice. When you get distracted, you come back. And if you get really distracted, then you may find saying the prayer over and over again helps you to stay in that.

Susan: Usually I see some thought processes coming up where I don’t know which faith I am…

Ken: That’s right. So just pick one and do it. And then you may find, okay, that’s fine, and then you pick another and do it. But don’t be moving them every minute or two. When I say pick one, do it for at least half of one of our half-hour periods, ten or fifteen minutes, if not for the whole period. Just keep coming back and doing it so it really deepens. And you’re going to hit some material inside. Other questions?

Student: Do we have to use the same teacher for each practice; do we have to stick with one?

Ken: I think for the purposes of this retreat, pick one and stay with it. The reason I say that is if you move around a bit it, it allows things to slip through the cracks. If you stay with one, then things are going to come up in reference to that with a consistency which will allow you to work with it. Okay. Any other questions? Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Of the ideas that we’ve studied, the symbol of the teacher as the embodiment of these faiths…

Ken: Not as an embodiment of the faith. As an embodiment of presence, with respect to which these faiths arise in you. It’s your working contact with presence.

Student: How do you keep from experiencing the duality while longing for something?

Ken: It’s like falling in love. You let that longing penetrate you so completely that all sense of separation dissolves. That’s the fruition of blind faith. That is the actual form of practice in the Christian tradition. It’s what the whole love of God is about. You use the love of God to dissolve the separation with God. And you also find Rumi talks about this all the time. I didn’t bring Rumi with me.

Okay. It’s five to eleven. Let’s take ten minutes and then we’ll adjust the periods from there.

Creative Commons LicenseThis transcript by Ken McLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. This transcript has been edited to make it more readable. There may be minor differences between the audio file and the transcript.