Just as any other time in history, today here and now, the option to deceive oneself is wide open. Especially a very tricky and subtle type trying to disguise dualistic mind by pretending to be a member of Club Nondualité. It starts in all innocence and suddenly many years have passed; what to do?
Over the years people from all kinds of traditions—Advaita, Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Zen—came to see my teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, and among them were some who had run into problems with their spiritual teacher. Rather than casting blame on their teacher or the person asking, he very kindly quoted an old statement from Padmasambhava: “In the age of kaliyuga you find no perfect masters, so be like a swan who can separate milk and water.”
In the age of kaliyuga you find no perfect masters, so be like a swan who can separate milk and water.Then, with great kindness he explained, “It’s most unlikely to find a perfect master in our times, totally free of faults, and even if an ordinary person meets a perfect buddha today, he or she would not be able to see the perfection. It’s therefore much more important to extract the milk from the water.” Keep the message from the buddhas while filtering out the rest, and use the teaching to improve and deepen your understanding.
I have also seen thousands of people who call themselves Vajrayana practitioners, a huge number who regard themselves as Dzogchen meditators and a large number who says such and such teacher is my root guru or primary Dharma master. Sometimes even people try to find a primary guru before understanding the four seals of the dharma: impermanence, suffering, egolessness and total freedom. When asking just a few questions, I’m surprised at the replies: “He/she is my root guru because he gave me refuge.” That’s nonsense, that’s called a refuge preceptor, not a primary teacher. “He is my root guru, because I sat in the crowd when the empowerment was given.” That could be true, but mostly it’s not. Often people believe, because some urban legend is passed around, “now you belong to this master who gave the empowerment.” We may not even have understood a word during the empowerment, but still walk away with the belief that now have to be part of that mandala forever. That was true in the old tradition of giving initiation to only one, three or twenty-one people, but not in a crowd of thousands.
The word root guru has a sacred meaning, that my teachers define in a very specific way: the person who not only tries, but succeeds in bringing about a complete change in your mind to such an extend that the grip of duality is loosened and that the nature of mind is totally laid bare in its naked state and can be accessed whenever remembered for the rest of your life. Perhaps the meditator only finds out many years later who the primary guru was. The master may be someone famous and important, or someone insignificant, but it doesn’t matter at all. The important thing is very different: that the insight uncovered interrupts dualistic mind and, most importantly, it’s authentic, not make-believe.
Patrul Rinpoche wrote 150 years ago, that there are many Dharma teachers who point out the thoughtfree state of the all-ground as being the nondual nature of mind, and that is why people who believe it may train ten, twenty, thirty years without becoming stable in nonduality. Why? They have instead trained in the very basis for dualistic mind. I don’t think this problem was limited to the time of Patrul Rinpoche. When Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche was once asked to give pointing-out instruction to a group of many thousand people, he simply laughed of the absurdity, because nondual mind needs to be authenticated by the teacher and he knew that he couldn’t check thousands of people. When someone is being told, without being checked, “you have now received the pointing-out introduction,” it’s at best wishful thinking and, at worst, a direct lie.
The process of validation can be short or long, but it requires a competent master who knows you and listens to you while you reply specific questions, not from hearsay or book learning, but from present experience and not from a memory of a peak experience in the past. Then there can be certainty and this certainty can be put to the test next time you get angry, attached, proud, jealous or close-minded. If you are able to step out of that toxic emotion in an instant and stay in nondual mind, then it’s for real. Often a meditator is told by the teacher that nonduality is a quiet thoughtfree state of mind that holds no focus. This may or may not be true, because there is another state of mind that looks like it, just like a rhinestone may look like a diamond. That teacher may be kind and well-meaning, but that is not enough to call him or her primary guru.
Another thing is, why be in such a rush to label someone root guru? Could it be that the urgency stems from group pressure, or perhaps from the neediness of belonging to a elite group of initiated. The smugness and false security of being a nonduality person is exposed the very next time one of the five toxic emotions hijacks your mind. A genuine knowing of nonduality does not wallow in dualistic emotions, be it aggression or self-pity. Fortunately there is also no need for that, the buddhas have given 84000 different types of teachings, the medicine chest is vast and detailed.
There is no need to become someone else’s property and loosing personal freedom just because of wanting to be free. There is no need to limit empathy in order to give room to boundless compassion. There is no need to shut off the intelligence and power of reason in order to achieve wisdom. There is no need for someone else to cut down your ego, since there never was an ego to find anywhere. It was just a belief. There is no need to blindly believe what we are told, when we have eyes to see. The Buddha warned against following conventions and peer-pressure, instead he encouraged everyone to think for themselves and test a true path. As we proceed through kaliyuga, I don’t feel we should expect that everything will become more easy, on the contrary, there will be more deceit both from our collective karma and from self-deception. The only remedy I can come up with is intelligent sincerity. Let’s keep the eyes open!
Here is a little story about seeing one’s teacher as perfect. When Gampopa was about to leave after having received all the pith instructions from his guru, the world-renowned yogi Milarepa, he received this last advice: “There will come a time in the future when you see me as a true buddha. That is when you have reached enough stability in the view of Mahamudra to guide others.” It therefore makes sense that the demand to see the guru as a buddha is fine during meditation, but very difficult when living together and seeing the daily behavior. Until that, just as Gampopa, we can just try our best—from a distance.
Another point, if you discover what you thought was the state of nonduality is actually just a dualistic state of open, calm and clear panoramic awareness, there is no need to blame anyone, neither the teacher, the friends or yourself. Understand that the person who taught you that was not a primary master, but a meditation instructor, and you’re allowed to pursue authentic wisdom wherever you can find it. Within the Buddhist Vajrayana context, how can there be a samaya bond to a root guru, if you haven’t yet found the true nature of mind? To keep the dharma pure and make sure it will last for a long while, the most important is honesty. Be honest to yourself. Don’t believe in myths. Test everything. Don’t be in such a rush. Take the time it takes to be a good swan: give yourself time to filter the milk from the water and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Tulku Urgyen on numerous occasions had to listen to people claiming that they had received initiation into nondual oneness. He listened patiently, asked a few questions and let the whole bravado fall apart. Then he would simply start from the very beginning, asking, “is body, speech and mind same or different?” He would continue from there, making sure that each insights was a mutual agreement. This is the age-old tradition, tried and proven, of transmitting certainty that follows the words of the Buddha:
Rely on the message rather than the messenger.
In the message, rely on the meaning rather than just the words.
In the meaning, rely on that which is really true rather than seemingly true.
Rely on the really true, not with dualistic mind, but realize within nondual wakefulness.
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