Relying upon a Spiritual Guide
‘All schools of Buddhism agree that the practice of Guru yoga, or relying upon a Spiritual Guide, is the root of the spiritual path and the foundation of all spiritual attainments.
We can understand this from our ordinary experiences. For example, if we want to acquire special skills, become proficient at a particular sport, or learn to play a musical instrument well, we naturally seek a qualified teacher to instruct us. By following our teacher’s example and sincerely applying his or her instructions, eventually we accomplish our aim and become just like our teacher. If reliance upon a qualified teacher is necessary for mundane achievements such as these, how much more necessary is it for spiritual attainments such as liberation or enlightenment?
There are two main streams within Buddhism: the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, and the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle; and the practice of relying upon a Spiritual Guide is fundamental to both.
According to the Hinayana, we should regard our Spiritual Guide as being like a Buddha and, with a mind of faith and devotion, offer gifts and service to him and repay his kindness by following his advice and practicing his instructions.
According to the Mahayana, however, we should regard our Spiritual Guide as an actual Buddha and, with a mind of faith, rely upon him sincerely in both thought and deed.
All spiritual training, whether Hinayana or Mahayana, Sutra or Tantra, depends upon the guidance and blessings of a qualified Spiritual Guide.
Qualities of a pure Spiritual Guide
A pure Spiritual Guide must have authentic spiritual attainments, hold a pure lineage, cherish the Buddhadharma, and with love and compassion give unmistaken teachings to his or her disciples. If we meet such a Spiritual Guide we should consider ourself to be very fortunate. We should develop faith in him and rely upon him or her sincerely by practicing purely what he or she teaches.
Geshe Potawa says that if a pure disciple meets a pure Spiritual Guide it is not difficult for him or her to reach enlightenment.
Our mind is like a field, our Spiritual Guide’s instructions are like seeds sown in that field, and our faith in our Spiritual Guide is like water that germinates these seeds. If these three come together we will quickly and easily harvest a rich crop of Dharma realizations. If we do not have these conditions at the moment we should pray that we will find them in the future.
Once we have met a qualified Spiritual Guide, the way to rely upon him or her is basically very simple. All we have to do is to develop faith in him or her and put his or her instructions into practice to the best of our ability. If we do this, our Dharma realizations will naturally increase and we will quickly attain enlightenment.
We should regard our Spiritual Guide as our mother who cares for us and cherishes us, as our father who provides us with all we need and protects us from danger, as the moon that cools the heat of the delusions in our mental continuum, as the sun that dispels the darkness of ignorance in our mind, and as a kind benefactor who gives us the priceless gift of Dharma.
To meet a fully-qualified Spiritual Guide is infinitely more meaningful than to possess external wealth. Our Spiritual Guide is our real benefactor. He or she gives us the inner wealth of moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom, and eventually leads us to the supreme bliss of full enlightenment.
Even if we have vast material wealth, if we lack these internal realizations, in reality we are impoverished. On the other hand, if through relying upon a Spiritual Guide we develop the realizations of the stages of the path to enlightenment within our mental continuum, we shall be truly rich, even if we have no material possessions.
Therefore, we should not be preoccupied with external wealth and development but should put all our energy into relying sincerely upon a fully-qualified Spiritual Guide.