Exerpt from chapter 12, How To See The Guru As A Buddha
from "The Heart of the Path" by Lama Zopa Rinpoche
There is nothing to trust in our own view.
There are many stories in the lam-rim about great yogis who looked very ordinary even though they were actually buddhas. There are also many stories of enlightened beings who appeared to be ordinary beings engaging in killing and other unethical actions, as if they had no compassion. Many past yogis, including Lama Yeshe, were seen as great yogis only later, after they had passed away.
When the lineage lama Buddhajnana met his guru, the great yogi Manjushrimitra, he saw him as an ordinary family man. He saw Manjushrimitra, his head wrapped in a monk's yellow robe, plowing and fertilizing a field. His children were picking up the worms he turned up with the plow and making soup with them, which the whole family then ate. Buddhajnana saw this great master as an eccentric person.
This is similar to when Naropa first saw Tilopa - Naropa didn't think that it could be Tilopa. People commonly saw Tilopa as a beggar or a simple fisherman, even though from Tilopa's side he was an enlightened being, the actual Buddha Vajradhara. When Naropa first saw Tilopa, Tilopa was cooking live fish in a fire and eating them. When Naropa saw this he doubted that it could be Tilopa. At that time, when Naropa asked, "Are you Tilopa?" Tilopa shook his head. At a later time, when Naropa had developed some devotion and could see some of Tilopa's qualities, he began to think it was Tilopa. At that time, when Naropa asked, "Are you Tilopa?" Tilopa nodded his head in agreement. Tilopa's response was determined by what Naropa was thinking.
Also both Krishnacharya and his disciple Kusali saw Vajravarahi as an ordinary leper woman, her skin black and oozing pus.
When Milarepa met Marpa for the first time, Marpa appeared to be just an ordinary farmer, covered in dust, drinking wine as he plowed a field. Even though Marpa was an enlightened being, the actual Vajradhara, he appeared to Milarepa to be an ordinary being.
The Guhyasamaja text 'Twenty-one Small Letters' explains that both Nagarjuna and Saraha remained in their old bodies after achieving the unification of no more learning and commonly appeared to other people as ordinary beings.
Maitripa saw his guru, the great yogi Shavaripa, as simply an ordinary person hunting animals in the forest. Shavaripa's cave is the Mahakala Cave near Bodhgaya, which many people go to visit: a small monastery has been built nearby. Shavaripa wrote the praise to Six-Arm Mahakala ater seeing Mahakala at that cave.
The great yogi Luipa appeared externally to be a destitute beggar but when King Dharigapa and his retinue took teachings from Luipa, they became enlightened. With his psychic powers, Luipa also tuaght Dharma to the creatures in that place and even they became enlightened.
The great Sakya pandit, Kunga Nyingpo, had two sons, Dragpa Gyaltsen and Sonam Tsemo, who he always held close, often in his coat, as if he were very attached to them. The people around hm were upset by this and lost faith in him because he appeared to be an ordinary man living an ordinary family life.
Kunga Nyingpo, understanding what they were thinking, warned, "You mustn't give rise to wrong views about the vajra master," then said, "Look at this." He then stretched his legs out toward the people, showing them vivid mandalas of Chakrasamvara and Hevajra, complete with all the deities, on the soles of his right and left feet. When the people saw this, all their wrong conceptions of him were destroyed and they generated much devotion to him. Even though Kunga Nyingpo was the actual Chakrasamvara, the actual Hevajra, his neighbours saw him only as someone attached to ordinary family life.
Even Lama Yeshe appeared differently to different people in accord with their karma. Many practitioners with great devotion saw Lama as an actual buddha in human form. Some, who didn't have devotion, saw him as a very ordinary, difficult person.
Our not seeing the guru as a buddha doesn't prove at all that the guru is not a buddha. Our seeing faults isn't logical proof that our guru really has faults. All the manifestations that we see accord with the level of our own mind. Our own karma determines how many good qualities and how many faults we see in our guru. Our seeing beings as enlightened, or pure, depends on our purifying our karmic obscurations. Therefore, there is nothing to trust in our view of reality.
Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo explains that since we have such great obscurations, we can't see our guru as a buddha, and adds that we should be grateful that at present we are able to see him in human form, as even this is quite a high level.
The great yogi Chengawa Lodro Gyaltsen said,
Since our karmic obscurations are so heavy,
We should be happy to see our guru even in human form.
We have great merit not to see him as a dog or a donkey;
Therefore, generate heartfelt respect, sons of Shakyamuni.
We are very fortunate to see our guru in an ordinary human form and not in the form of a dog, as Asanga saw Maitreya, a donkey or some other animal. If we saw our guru in the form of a dog, a donkey or a pig, what could we do? Even though in our karmic view we do see faults in our guru we are still lucky because we are also able to see many good qualities.
It is practical to think as Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen explained,
I am fortunate even to be able to find a few good qualities
in my guru. If even my impure mind is able to see this
many qualities, how many more good qualities there must
be for someone whose mind is purer.
Think of how so many more non-virtuous than virtuous thoughts arise in our mind each day. Our mind is overwhelmed by disturbing thoughts and negative karma, which constantly obscure and create obstacles in our mind. It's a miracle that with a mind so heavily obscured by impure karma we are able to see the guru as purely as we do.
What appears to us and what we believe don't necessarily accord with reality. There are so many aspects of reality that we don't see or that we see wrongly. Even without taking LSD or any other hallucinatory drug, we see many hallucinations in accordance with our wrong conceptions.
We don't necessarily see an object in the way that it actually exists. Our life, our possessions and all other causative phenomena are impermanent in nature, changing, or decaying, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, and even within each second because of causes and conditions. Because of that subtle impermanence, there is then gross change, which is noticeable, such as when people become old and wrinkled. Although impermanence is the reality of causative phenomena, we don't see them in this way. They appear to us to be permanent and we cling to our belief in that appearance of permanence.
Also, even though Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Nagarjuna, Lama Tsongkhapa and all the other great enlightened beings have explained that there is no inherent existence, we cannot see this. Even though everything - including I, action and object - is empty of inherent existence because it is merely labeled by the mind, we don't see it that way; everything appears to us to be only inherently existent. We see everything in a completely wrong way, as existing from its own side without depending on our mind.
From morning until night, from birth until death, from beginningless lifetimes until enlightenment, everything comes from our own mind through being merely labeled. That is the nature of phenomena, but it doesn't mean that they appear that way to us; it doesn't mean that we realize this is the way they exist. Even though in reality everything exists in mere name, it doesn't appear to us in this way and we don't see it in this way. We see something else, a total hallucination. The permanent, independent, inherently existent phenomena that we see don't exist at all; they are simply not there. The way they appear to us and the way we apprehend them completely contradict reality.
Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo tells the story of a monk who, in previous times in India, one night experienced the karmic appearance of being a preta. Feeling incredible thirst, he went outside to the big river nearby but couldn't see even a drop of water. He walked across where the river should have been, put his ceremonial robe in a tree, then returned home.
When he awoke the next morning, the karmic appearance of the preta realm had finished, but as proof that his experience wasn't just a dream, he found his robe hanging in the tree on the other side of the river. For that one night the monk had experienced the appearance of preta karma. All those appearances - feeling incredible thirst, being unable to find water even though it was normally there, seeing the water the next morning - came from his own mind, from his own karma.
In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo suggests using some of the logical reasoning from du-ra and ta-rig, such as "a person who doesn't have the karma to directly see a guru as a buddha has no chance to see the guru as a buddha because he doesn't have a valid mind that realizes that the guru is a buddha."
By using quotations and logical reasoning, we're trying to establish the valid mind that is able to directly see the guru as a buddha. Our mind is so limited and ignorant. Since our mind is so obscured, how can we judge whether someone is a buddha or a sentient being?