Although all sentient beings have the potential to become Buddhas, certain causes are required to fully manifest this potential. A perfect human life is one of the most important causes. It is the working basis for attaining of Buddhahood i.e. one can have the opportunity to encounter the precious Dharma, and the mental capacity, intellect and ability to practise the Dharma. In order for our practices to lead us away from suffering, and to progress towards enlightenment, we need to be guided by spiritual teachers who are qualified. A qualified guru is what is deemed a contributory cause for our Enlightenment.
Responsibility of a Student
Even though we may have precious human lives, we are not free from samsara and we are overpowered by confusion, so we need the guidance of wise, compassionate teachers to show us the path toward enlightenment. This is a crucial factor. Even to get a general samsaric education, we need to rely on a good teacher who has studied for a long time, and who has the necessary qualifications and a good personality. Without these necessary qualifications, we will not receive proper instruction. What in more spiritual education and training?
Now this is a matter of how to free ourselves from samsara, a much more difficult subject. If a teacher does not know the nature of samsara and enlightenment or, especially, no experience with the required practices, then it is like the blind leading the blind. Instead of dispelling confusion, more confusion will arise. So therefore, certain qualifications are set forth for spiritual masters were explained by Buddha in many sutra and tantra texts.
Hence, a person who is keen to learn Buddha Dharma must never take someone as his spiritual master without proper investigation. Sakya Pandita has said, “Before starting a small business of buying or selling horses or jewels, one must investigate deeply and ask other people’s advice. Similarly, it is not correct to seek teachings on the spot from any person without first anlysing the spiritual master, since Dharma is the only means for achieving the ultimate goal [liberation]”.
This also applies to seeking spiritual advice in the vinaya, sutras or tantras. One has the responsibility of ensuring that the person one is turning to for advice has met the individual sets of qualifications required to teach each of these subjects.
Qualification of a Spiritual Guide
Pabongka Rinpoche referred to Manjushri’s Own Words to guide those who are seeking a teacher on how to investigate a potential spiritual master in his Lamrim teaching known as “Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand”. Pabongka Rinpoche explained that relying on any spiritual guide is not good enough. One must rely on a spiritual guide who can teach the whole path, who can embody the true meaning of a “qualified guru”. A guru who himself has not mastered the sutras and tantras will not be capable of teaching the whole path. This will limit the ability of students to fully make use of their good human rebirths.
Here the focus is on the ten qualifications of a guru of the Mahayana path which is taught in Maitreya’s Ornament to the Sutras:
Rely on a spiritual guide who is
Subdued, pacified, most pacified,
Who has more qualities than you,
Perseverance, a wealth of scripture,
Realization into Suchness,
Who is a skilled speaker, has love,
And has given up disappointment
[In the disciple’s performance].
It means that the mind-stream of the guru must be subdued by ethics; his mental distractions pacified by single-pointed concentration and his grasping of a ‘self’ most pacified by wisdom. Just like the pieces of wood would acquire the fragrance of a single stick of incense placed among them, a student will acquire both the guru’s faults and good qualities. So a guru must have more good qualities than you. The wisdom of realization into Suchness is the correct Prasangika view of emptiness gained through studies. A guru must be a skilled speaker who is able to explain the simplest to the most profound teachings in a manner that will enable the student to grasp the true essence of the teachings. A guru having love means he is filled with bodhicitta, which is among the most important qualifications of a spiritual guide. If the spiritual master has received bodhicitta vows, has practised it for some time, and cherishes it as he does his own life, then he maybe trustworthy even if he is not a scholar or very articulate. The guru has given up disappointment in the disciple’s performance means that no matter how grave a transgression by the disciple, the guru’s love for the disciple will not wane and he will continuously employ skillful means to transform the disciple’s mind-stream to lead him towards enlightenment.
A guru should have all the ten qualities, but, in the least, he must have these five: a mind-stream subdued by the Three Higher Trainings of ethics, concentration and wisdom, love and compassion, and realization into emptiness. These five qualifications are highly praised by Geshe Potawa when he referred to his master Yerpa and Nyaentoenpa:
Everyone in my master Yerpa’s family believed that Yerpa had never studied much and had no patience when frustrated, all of which counts for nothing. Yerpa has five qualifications and anyone who meets him benefits.
Nyaentoenpa has absolutely no skill in teaching, although he can discuss all the required topics. One would not think that anyone attending Nyaentoenpa’s teaching could understand it, but that is not so. He has the five qualifications and anyone near him benefits.
In short, one must rely on a guru who has mainly good qualities and not faults, who puts future lives before this life, and others before himself. A person having all the tantric paraphernalia such as the long-life vase, elaborate robes of brocade and headgears and knowing the ceremonies by heart does not make him a qualified guru. A person who uses Dharma to enrich samsaric enjoyment e.g. wealth and fame, is committing the grave faults of “watering down the Dharma” and “misusing the Dharma”. Thus we must avoid going down the road of Angulimala who was taught perverted path by wrong spiritual guide and made to commit horrendous negativities. So one must always thoroughly investigate the guru, and rely on him if you see he is worth of it.
1.Liberation in the Palm of Your Hands, Pabongka Rinpoche, edited by Trijang Rinpoche, translated by Michael Richards;
2. Commentary on the Thirty Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
3. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation - Dharma Lord Gampopa