A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha(Part V)By Acharya ZhiguangAt Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 20154.2 Second practice: “One should associate with the virtuous friends, and never stay away from them even at the cost of one’s life.”The second point the Buddha taught in the Sutra is to “associate with the virtuous friends”. The “virtuous friends” here refer to the spiritual teachers, our masters. There are many doctrines in the Buddhist scriptures on how to follow spiritual teachers.Two years ago, I gave talks about The Lotus Sutra in…
A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha
By Acharya Zhiguang
At Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 2015
4.2 Second practice: “One should associate with the virtuous friends, and never stay away from them even at the cost of one’s life.”
The second point the Buddha taught in the Sutra is to “associate with the virtuous friends”. The “virtuous friends” here refer to the spiritual teachers, our masters. There are many doctrines in the Buddhist scriptures on how to follow spiritual teachers.
Two years ago, I gave talks about The Lotus Sutra in the city of Lausanne in Switzerland. This sutra is known as the king of all sutras. In the “Devadatta” chapter of The Lotus Sutra, the Buddha stated that he attained Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi because he had followed a virtuous teacher. The Lotus Sutra says, “Due to having followed the virtuous teacher Devadatta, I was endowed with the Six Perfections, benevolence, compassion, sympathetic joy, generosity, the Thirty-two Major Characteristics, the Eighty Secondary Characteristics, suvarna skin, the Ten Powers, the Four Kinds of Fearlessness, the Four All-embracing Virtues, the Eighteen Distinctive Characteristics, and Ubiquitous Supernatural Power. It is all due to the virtuous relationship with Devadatta that I attained complete enlightenment and extensively saved innumerable beings.” The Buddha explained clearly in this sutra that he attained the supreme perfect enlightenment because he had followed the teacher and studied The Lotus Sutra in his past lives.
In this chapter of The Lotus Sutra, there is another story about a naga girl attaining Buddhahood in one lifetime. This naga girl, who was only eight years old, had followed the Bodhisattva Manjushri and studied The Lotus Sutra under the sea. At last she “attained Buddhahood in an instant” right at the venue where the Buddha was teaching The Lotus Sutra. She thus manifested the attainment of Buddhahood in one lifetime.
In the Chapter of “Entering the Dharma Realm” in The Avatamsaka Sutra, there is also a famous story about following teachers, in which a young child named Sudhana (“Child of Wealth”) found and followed fifty-three teachers and at last became enlightened in one lifetime.
(a) Three kinds of teachers
Great Master Zhiyi of Sui Dynasty of China was the founder of Tiantai School of Buddhism, known as the Little Shakyamuni of the East. In his work titled The Essentials Of Practicing Shamatha and Vipasyana Meditation, he categorized the virtuous relationships into three kinds as follows:
(i) The relationship of external support. It refers to the friends who support us outwardly. They mainly provide us with the necessities of life such as clothing, food, housing and transportation, so that we can practice Dharma with no worries. Without these friends, we will have nothing to eat, and thus not be able to continue our practice, so they are very important to us.
(ii) The peer relationship. It refers to those who practice Dharma with us. All the Dharma practitioners in a Sangha group or a Buddhist center can be considered as such friends. They can encourage and help each other. So in this sense, all those who practice with us are also our virtuous friends or teachers. The great Tertön Karma Lingpa also taught that “those who practice with us are our teachers”.
(iii) The teacher-student relationship. It refers to the teachers who teach us Dharma. They are the most important of the three kinds because all of our practices come from their teachings.
(b) The three ways in which the teachers regulate our minds
In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, it says that there are three methods that the teachers use to regulate us. What are the three methods? This sutra says, “The first is all-along gentle words; the second is all-along scolding; and the third is gentle words and scolding combined. Due to this sense of teaching, the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas are the genuine spiritual teachers.”
The first method is “all-along gentle words”. That is, the teachers teach to transform us with very gentle words of loving kindness all the time. The second is “all-along scolding”, that is, they always use harsh and critical words to teach and help us. The third is using “gentle words and scolding combined”. That is to say, they sometimes speak to us lovingly and kindly, while sometimes scold us harshly.
Since the Buddha already said so in the sutra, it seems that the teachers should scold us when necessary. As we can see from the history, every teacher taught and helped the living beings in various ways indeed.
Some teachers seem to be of the first kind. As we can see from the stories of the Shakyamuni Buddha, it seems that Buddha never got angry. I have read the biography of the Third Patrul Rinpoche, and it seems that he also never got angry.
Some teachers seem to be always angry. For example, Marpa Lotsawa always seemed to teach his disciples by scolding or beating them. As can be seen in the biography of the mahasiddha Milarepa, this is exactly what he had experienced when he followed Marpa and studied with him. It looks like Milarepa had been badly tortured by Marpa, but in reality Marpa was acting like this out of his great compassion.
However, this wrathful way of regulating sentient beings has not been invented by Marpa. Tilopa, who was the Guru of Marpa’s own Guru, also taught his disciples in such way. Naropa, the Guru of Marpa, underwent twelve major hardships and twelve minor hardships when he was following Tilopa and studying with him. How did Naropa finally attain enlightenment? When Tilopa knocked him out with the sole of his shoe, he fainted. When he woke up, the realization of Mahamudra had arisen in him.
In the past, there is another story about someone attaining enlightenment after being beaten. Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, the Lama of the Third Patrul Rinpoche, was also often liberating beings in such a wrathful way. It is said that he used to carry a shotgun with him every day, running around and killing many animals. But he was so capable that he could bring the dead animals back to life.
Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje had great reputation. One day, he was invited to attend a Buddhist ceremony and give teaching at a monastery. He went there with his only ritual instrument, a shotgun. When everyone was ready to receive his teaching, he took out his shotgun and fired a shot into the sky, and at this very moment many people attained enlightenment in the Dzogchen. So, it is one of the best empowerments for those who have matured capacities.
One day when the Third Patrul Rinpoche visited his master Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorj, the master was completely drunk and shouted at him, “Hey, come over if you dare.” Patrul Rinpoche went over, and his master grabbed his hair and threw him to the ground. Under the smell of the alcohol from the master’s breath, Patrul Rinpoche thought to himself, “Even a mahasiddha like him is drunk like this and behaves improperly.” Then the Buddha’s teachings on the negative impacts of alcohol instantly came to his mind. At that moment, Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje let go of him and said, “Can’t believe you had such a bad dualistic thought in your mind. You old dog!” Then he spat on his face, put out his pinky finger in disgust and walked away. Patrul Rinpoche immediately realized that his master had in fact given him the most powerful blessing to lead him to a direct experience of the nature of mind. He then straightened his posture and the realization of the Great Perfection arose in him like the sun.
For this reason, Patrul Rinpoche signed many of his books and articles with the name “Old Dog”. He said that it was the most secret Dharma name bestowed by his master Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje.
Masters use all kinds of different ways to benefit beings. But the most important thing is that we should have sincere faith in our own master. If we possess true and authentic faith, we will get immeasurable blessings from our masters.
(c) The three key points in following teachers according to Dharma.
It is well explained in The Words Of My Perfect Teacher on how to follow the teachers properly. However, because it contains so many teachings, it is impossible to talk about all of them this time. Besides, many of our Dharma friends may have heard about these teachings already. So I just want to talk about three key points.
How to follow the teachers properly? According to The Words Of My Perfect Teacher, there are three key points: (1) examine the master; (2) follow him; and (3) practice and learn his wisdom.
(1) Examine the master
First, we need to examine the master to see if he is truly a quantified virtuous teacher with all the merits and virtues. In The Words Of My Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche sets forth many criteria for a master. However, the master with all the merits and virtues is quite rare. The masters like H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and Patrul Rinpoche are very precious.
Nevertheless, as mentioned in The Words Of My Perfect Teacher, a master should at least have the genuine Bodhichitta. If he possesses it, he will surely lead his disciples to the path of liberation. If we are certain that the master has complete Bodhichitta and even greater merits, we should study with him wholeheartedly.
(2) Following the master
As for the teaching on how to follow the masters, I would like to mainly pick the key points in The Treasury Of Precious Qualities, one of the famous works of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, for us to study here.
In The Treasury Of Precious Qualities, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa explained how to follow masters by using five metaphors as follows:
“Like sick men who rely on their doctors and like travelers on their guides,
Like the fearful on the braves and merchants on their leaders,
Like seamen on their helmsmen,
All those who dread birth, death and ignorance,
Should rely on teachers.”
In the first metaphor, we are compared to sick men. We need to rely on our master as sick men do on a good doctor.
In the second metaphor, we are compared to travelers on a scary journey. We need to rely on our master as travelers do on a brave escort.
The third metaphor indicates that we should rely on our master as we would rely on brave companions to save us when we face dangers and harms from foes, bandits and wild animals.
According to the fourth metaphor, we need to rely on our master in order to attain Buddhahood, as those traveling merchants who seek treasures need to rely on their leader.
The fifth metaphor shows that we need to rely on extraordinary teachers in order to free ourselves from the Samsara of birth, death and afflictions just like we need to rely on the helmsmen on a ship in order to cross the ocean.
Ten key requirements
In The Treasury Of Precious Qualities, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa said that there are ten key requirements for a good disciple to rely on his teacher properly: “Have faith, intelligence and great compassion. Respect precepts, be serene and disciplined in thoughts, words and deeds. Be broad-minded and generous, have pure vision and reflect upon your own shortcomings.”
(1) Have faith. Disciples should see their teacher as the real Buddha.
(2) Have intelligence. Disciples must realize the secret intention of the skillful means used by the teachers, and understand that actually their compassion is intended to subdue our attachments, whether they appear kind or angry to us. We must firmly believe that all activities of the teachers are geared to help us quickly actualize enlightenment.
(3) Have knowledge. It means that disciples should have extensive learning and information, be able to accept and maintain faith in all Dharma teachings taught by the teachers, and understand that all their teachings are intended to regulate our negative emotions.
(4) Have great compassion. Disciples should be compassionate for all beings who experience suffering, with nobody to rely on.
(5) Respect precepts. Disciples should respect all the precepts taught by the teachers and maintain these pure precepts. We must inerrably fulfill those precepts that we have vowed to follow.
(6) Be serene and disciplined in with our three doors. It means that we should be very serene and disciplined in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Commonly speaking, we should accept the teachers' teachings very readily and follow them very willingly.
It is rather difficult to do this. In The Sutra Of The Fundamental Vows Of The Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, it says, “The living beings of Jambudvipa have stubborn and obstinate natures, difficult to regulate, difficult to subdue.” Out mind is like a wild horse very difficult to regulate. When you want it to go east, it goes west instead. If we really rely on the teachers to learn and practice Vajrayana, we need to diligently regulate our thoughts, words and deeds. I remember that the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche once told us that a disciple should be soft like cotton.
(7) Be broad-minded. As disciples, we should tolerate all behaviors of our teachers and Dharma friends from inside, and maintain this broad-minded character.
(8) Be generous. Disciples should act with generosity, treat belongings unstingily, and be willing to offer all their possessions to their teachers.
There were many great monks and masters who had done this. I remember that it is stated in the biography of Longchen Rabjam, that he had done such thorough offerings to his teachers for five times throughout his life. It’s said that H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche had also done such offerings. That’s why they both achieved enlightenment.
(9) Have pure view. This is to say that disciples should have pure view. I remember that the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche taught us about samaya vows after giving us an empowerment in Bhutan. He mentioned one very important vow, which was the pure view. You need to visualize and firmly believe that the teachers and all Dharma practitioners are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
In addition, another key quality of being a disciple is withholding fewer impure, negative dualistic thoughts within oneself. This could be very difficult to avoid, but you must be aware of such thoughts immediately when they arise. When we have some negative thoughts, we need be able to transform them instantly.
(10) To have a sense of shame. At the end, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa said that a disciple must have a sense of shame. The sense of shame means reflecting upon your own shortcomings and being ashamed of them. You should know that all of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and teachers know about your shortcomings, so you must introspect yourself and correct them.
These are the ten precious qualities that, according to Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, a Vajrayana disciple should have. Vajrayana disciples should rely on their teachers according to these teachings.
It says in The Treasury Of Precious Qualities:
“Please the teachers with intelligence. Restrain the anger like intelligent horses. Act like boats sailing back and forth without weariness. Withstand any circumstance like a bridge. Be unmoved by heat and cold like an anvil. Be obedient and meticulous like servants. Sweep away ignorance like a sweeper. Avoid arrogance like a yak with broken horns. These are the correct acts for disciples to rely on their teachers.”
In this text, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa explained the attitudes that we should have while following the teachers. They are actually the same as the “Nine Attitudes” mentioned in The Avatamsaka Sutra:
Like well-behaved children
Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa said that disciples should do their best to stand up for their teachers, please the teachers with all activities at all time, and avoid behaving against the teachers’ will. During the time I was following the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche and studying with him, there was a period of time when I was beside him all the time. Rinpoche once taught me a very important secret instruction. He said, “you should ask your teacher's permission on everything you want to do except for going to toilet.”
This teaching made me realize that disciples should let their teachers guide all their acts instead of deciding for themselves. Of course, not all have such a good karma to stay beside the teachers all the time or ask the teachers for guidance on everything, so I think the most important key is that you should always remember their teachings. When we deal with things, we should act according to the related teachings that the teachers have taught us.
Like intelligent horses
No matter how harshly the teachers scold, beat or punish us, we should not be resentful, not even a trace of hatred. Instead we should behave like tamed intelligent horses.
Earlier we talked about the harsh methods that some masters use to tame beings. But we could also see that some disciples could get sudden enlightenment through these powerful means. So you should be secretly glad when you encounter this situation.
For a disciple, when the teacher asks you to do something, you should not be tired of running back and forth to accomplish it. Instead, you should be like boats sailing back and forth without weariness.
From the biography of the Master Atisha, we learned that he had some disciples, and among them, the chief disciple was named Dromtönpa, who served as the attendant of Atisha by taking care of him, doing cleaning and translation for him. Another disciple was A-me Jangchub Rinchen, who was in charge of cooking for Atisha. There was also a disciple called Gönpawa, who stayed in his room every day practicing the teachings from Atisha.
But at the end, the level of achievement of these three disciples was as this: the attendant Dromtönpa had the highest, the second place was the cook A-me Jangchub Rinchen, and the last was Gönpawa who meditated and practiced in his room. We can see from here that the merits gained by offering service to the teachers are far greater than doing other practices. This is a very important key of practice.
Like a bridge, an anvil, a servant, a sweeper, and a yak with broken horns
Disciples should be able to withstand and take on all tasks from the teachers, like a bridge holding onto its position under all circumstances. They should stand with all difficulties and hardships, be unmoved by the heat in summer and the cold in winter, like a blacksmith’s anvil. They should absorb and follow all teachings from the teachers, like loyal servants to their masters. They should uproot their conceit and be humble, like a sweeper on the floor. They should abandon all arrogance and show respect to all, like a yak with broken horns.
To my understanding, these amazing teachings of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa on how disciples should correctly rely on their teachers are all aimed at helping disciples to get rid of their ego. Why is there Samsara? Why do we have sufferings? The root cause is our ego. So the teachers’ purpose is to destroy the disciples’ ego. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche once said: “A true teacher is crushing all your pride and conceit, and making you deeply realize that worldly values are totally worthless. He is a bright mirror that clearly shows your reflection. He is also a killer that dismembers your ego thoroughly.”
It is not easy to understand this, and even more difficult in current modern society. If one teacher treats his disciple the way Marpa Lotsawa treated Milarepa, he may be taken to court for violating human rights. So being a teacher is not easy, and somewhat risky.
(To be continued)
- Different Paths, Same Destination—Interviews and Dialogues Transcending Sectarianism
- A DROP OF GHEE—Twelve Verses from the Lotus Sutra for a Fulfilling and Happy Life
- The Fourfold Path to Buddhahood—A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha
- Part VII – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
- Part VI – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
- Part V – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
- Meditation on Loving Kindness（English）
- Meditation on Loving Kindness（German）
- Dharma Talk of Acharya Zhiguang on the Vesak Day of 2020
- Notice of the Ekayana Dharma Assembly on Qingming Festival to Repay the Kindness of and Perform Transference
- There is certainly a way to help you! —2020 Buddhist Manual of Eliminating Epidemics
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