Choosing a Guru

Dalai LamaThe Dalai Lama
From the Preface of the book “The mind of the Guru”, Rajiv Mehrotra.

I believe that extending our understanding of each other’s spiritual practices and traditions can be an enriching experience, because to do so increases our opportunities for mutual respect. Sometimes, too, we encounter something in another tradition that helps us better appreciate something in our own.

In our Buddhist tradition, someone becomes a guru only in relation to a disciple. There is no special authority to qualify someone as a spiritual teacher. You are a teacher because you have students.

From the student’s point of view it is important not to be hurry in choosing someone as your spiritual teacher. To begin with, you should simply regard your teacher as a spiritual friend and closely observe his or her behavior, attitudes and ways of teaching, until you are confident of his or her integrity.

Although some of the scriptures appear to advise it, I normally recommend that Buddhist practitioners do not try to view literally every action of their spiritual teacher as divine and noble. The scriptures clearly delineate the specific, demanding qualities that are required of a teacher. But if it should unfortunately occur that the teacher seems to behave in an unacceptable way, it is appropriate for the students to be critical of it.

The Buddha advises in the sutras that where the teacher’s behavior is wholesome, you should follow it, but where it is unwholesome, you should not. You do not simply excuse bad conduct because your teacher did it. You should identify what is improper and decide not to follow it.

The tantric texts often mention that all realization comes from the guru. This is true, but it can be understood in two different ways. On the one hand, the guru is the human teacher we interact with; on the other hand, the guru is our own inner wisdom, our own fundamental clarity of mind.

We need the example of someone who, while human like ourselves, has greater knowledge, greater compassion and greater experience than we have. The Tibetan term for guru is ‘lama’ and the connotation of this word for teacher is someone who is the embodiment of knowledge and the embodiment of kindness. The important thing is that when we meet and get to know someone who has these qualities, we find them attractive and aspire to develop them ourselves. The living example this person presents us makes clear that to develop knowledge and kindness is a real possibility. And that, to my mind, is the purpose of the spiritual path.

The Dalai Lama, Permalink

Comments are closed.