Finding and Following Our Lama

  karmapa08  karmapa08 1      

SeIf pure, strong motivation extends from the very beginning to the very end, so all will be good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end. The purpose and fundamental root is to remember the kindness of our Teacher, Buddha Shakyamuni, and to pray for the peace and happiness of all beings with whom we share this world. We are continuing and preserving a pure Lineage which we must not blemish." --  His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spoken at the Great Kagyü Mönlam, Dec. 2007.
Finding and Following Our Lama

Instructions generously presented by Venerable Khenpo Karma Namgyal

I wish to greet you kindly and want to thank you for having invited me to speak at Karma Thegchen Chöling Buddhist Centre in Bremen. You have announced the questions you wish to ask me in your program, and I am very happy to answer them as best as I can.

First question:  How does a student find the Lama?
Khenpo Karma Namgyal:  Actually, one should know the view of what one practices when one practices the Dharma. We don't know on our own what to do and what not to do. We always think that what we do is good, that what we shun is bad, and think that we're very good. But it's a bit difficult finding one's own way and knowing how to lead a meaningful life without being guided by a teacher. A really good teacher will show the good way and one will feel very comfortable practicing the Dharma then. But how does one find a good teacher? Since we don't have a strong wisdom-eye, we cannot see whether someone is really practicing or not and whether he can reliably guide students. Of course, if one has the wisdom-eye, then one doesn't need a teacher. I think it's very important to examine and check if a teacher is good before one thinks one can learn from him. If one follows a teacher who isn't a good guide, then one will be led to the danger-point. So, one needs to examine a teacher well before one follows him. But how does one examine and find a good and trustworthy teacher?

Vajrayana speaks about four different kinds of teachers one can follow: an ordinary human being, a Bodhisattva who is on one of the ten levels of accomplishment, a Buddha in his Nirmanakaya being, and a Sambhogakaya. The first kind of teacher in Buddhism is someone who belongs to the Buddhist order and knows the literature. In Tibetan, such a spiritual teacher is called dge-ba'i-bshes-gnyen-so-so'i-skye-bo; he is a good spiritual mentor and virtuous friend and can benefit pupils according to his own level of understanding.

The second kind of teacher is dge-ba'i-bshes-gnyen-sa-chen-po'i-byang-chub-sems-dpa. He has the ethics of a Bodhisattva, is well versed in the meaning of Mahayana, and - having great wisdom - he can show the characteristics and nature of outer appearances even by using small, outer signs. Before discussing the third kind of teacher in more detail and pointing to the ultimate teacher, let me just mention that the fourth teacher one can have is the Sambhogakaya, dge-ba'i-bshes-gnyen-longs-sbyöd-rzog-pa'i-sku.

The third kind of teacher is a Nirmanakaya emanation, dge-ba'i-bshes-gnyen-sangs-rgyä-sprul-ba'i-sku. He holds the heritage of the historical lineage up to our present Root Guru; therefore one can meet and check if one really wants to follow him. Specific instructions, referred to as"secret," aren't written down but are taught from ear-to-ear, i.e., directly and personally from a master to a student. This kind of master is indispensable for a Vajrayana practitioner, but it's a little bit difficult finding such a qualified teacher. Therefore, if anyone wishes to become a disciple of a Nirmanakaya-Lama, they should learn about the lineage and see whether the Lama one wishes to learn from and follow is really engaged in the practice, whether he really has compassion, patience, and an untiring mind for his students, just like a loving mother tirelessly takes care so that her only child becomes better. Some disciples do funny things in order to test how a Lama reacts. After having checked and found a teacher who lives up to the descriptions offered in the texts, a sincere and devoted disciple then asks a Lama if he may become his student. Of course, a really good teacher will not accept a student just for the asking. He, too, needs to examine whether a disciple is ready to receive profound instructions or not, which takes a few days – no, not a few days, a few years.

This tradition is new in the West, and people don't have the time or opportunity to check a teacher for 3 or 4 years, and the teacher also doesn't have the time to examine a disciple that long. It's said in the Kagyü Tradition that if a student has unwavering devotion for a teacher, the Guru, the blessing of the perfect Guru will come - this is a special quality of Kagyü Lamas. Even though one has no time, if one has heartfelt devotion for one's Lama and sees him as a Buddha, one will certainly receive the blessings of a perfect Guru.

The First Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye attested that the blessings of the Golden Rosary of the Kagyü Lineage are truly supreme, so one doesn't really have to check Kagyü Lineage-holders like His Eminences Gyaltsap Rinpoche and Tai Situ Rinpoche, but can immediately become their students. If one has some kind of connection from many previous lifetimes, one senses this in one's heart. Sometimes only seeing the picture or hearing the name of a Lama awakens serene devotion in a disciple's heart, and then a devotee should enter a relationship in this life, too. For instance, I have met many good Lamas in my life, but Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche is in my heart. The first time I saw him at the market, an exceptional feeling arose in me, but I couldn't identify this feeling precisely at that time. If devotion arises in one's heart from hearing about or seeing a Lama, then it is important to acknowledge one's intuition, go to that Lama, or make wishing prayers to meet to him.

Everyone in the Kagyü Lineage knows about Jetsün Milarepa and is informed about the earlier part of his life. I need not tell his life story, because it belongs to"the top ten." He changed his life radically after having had to endure many hardships, but then he noticed that he didn't feel more devotion for his spiritual friend and guide while practicing at a Dzogchen monastery. One day the Dzogchen master told him that he would not benefit by staying there any longer and that his Lama was Marpa. At that time, Milarepa knew nothing about Marpa, but when he heard his name for the first time, he almost fainted, his altruistic motivation became even stronger than it already was, and he promised himself,"I will find that Guru. I will practice under him. I will do my best to relinquish all suffering in this life." So he left the Dzogchen monastery and sought Marpa Lotsawa, the Great Translator.

Marpa wasn't sitting on a 2 meter-high throne when Milarepa first saw him. How can anyone recognize someone whose name they had only heard? But the hagiographies tell us that Milarepa felt dazed and dizzy when he first saw Marpa, who was leading his two oxen while working his fields. When a man in Hamburg first saw the picture of Padmasambhava, he was totally stunned for a few hours. If something like that happens to you when you see the picture of a Lama, then it isn't necessary to check whether the teacher is good - just go.

Panchen Naropa's Root Guru is Tilopa. Before he met Tilopa, he was a famous Khenpo at the most famous university in India during those times, Nalanda University, where approximately 10,000 monks studied at the same time. It was the custom that a very qualified teacher stand guard at each of the four gates to the premises, check who would be allowed to enter and study there, and carry out debates with followers from other traditions. Naropa was what is called"a gate-keeper" at Nalanda. His daily meditation practice was Arya Tara. One day she appeared to him and said,"Of course, you are very intelligent, but as long as you don't follow Tilopa, nothing will happen by only being intelligent. You need to receive the teachings of the Oral Transmission." I do think that if one doesn't have a teacher right now, one has to practice, make wishing prayers, and study with a Lama. One day one will meet one's Root Guru, just like Naropa met Tilopa.

The moment Naropa received the prophecy from Arya Tara and heard the name Tilopa, he fainted. When he came to, he left Nalanda University and sought Tilopa. It was and is rather tedious to get information in India. There is a saying,"Never ask an Indian for directions. They will always point in the wrong way." It's true. They won't say,"I don't know." So, I guess it wasn't easy for Naropa either. But while searching far and wide, someone did tell Naropa that he didn't know who Tilopa was, but that there was a ragged man sitting along the banks of the nearby river who might be able to help. Naropa went to the river and saw Tilopa's activity for the first time. How could Naropa recognize that the man who was eating fish he had just caught was the Guru who would show him how to stop all suffering in samsara? He didn't think that he had seen his Guru when he did. But Naropa got dizzy when he saw the fisherman and fainted slightly, just like Milarepa had when he first saw Marpa. But when he came to again, Naropa didn't think that the person he saw was his Guru, so he left, but he returned again. Then Tilopa told him to follow him without any further hesitations. In that moment, Naropa recognized Tilopa and became his arduous student. Even though it is said that Tilopa caught and ate fish, we are also told that he was able to take the minds of the fish to Devachen. I think those fish had very good karma.

There are amazing stories in the Kagyü Tradition of Guru-disciple relationships, just like those described in the book by Patrul Rinpoche,"The Words of My Perfect Teacher." He also gave examples about teacher-disciple relationships in the Kagyü Lineage and tells us that Lha-je Gampopa was a doctor before he became a monk. You probably know that Gampopa experienced much suffering in his life, that his sons died, his wife was always sick, and he became a monk after she passed away. He did not have to study a lot when he became a monk, because he already knew the teachings from having endured much suffering in his life already. One day he was outside the monastery where he lived after having become a monk and met a beggar who was singing,"I'd be really happy if I had lots of money." Another beggar was singing,"I don't need any money, but it would be just great if I could become Milarepa's student." When Gampopa heard the name Milarepa, he experienced a kind of trance. After having regained his senses, Gampopa gave money to the beggars and asked the one who had spoken the name of Milarepa,"Do you know where he is staying?" The man responded,"I heard that he's staying near here. I don't know exactly where, but I'll show you approximately where he could be." Milarepa didn't live in a monastery but moved from one cave to next so that he could practice undisturbed. The beggar led Gampopa part of the way and left him to search on his own when he couldn't help more. Gampopa continued searching and found Jetsün Milarepa.

It would be very good if that happened to us; if not, it would be important to make wishing prayers. If one has a Root Guru, it is important to appreciate him fully and to receive the blessings that come from all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas through him. The result of one's practice depends upon one's devotion to one's Root Guru. Should someone have no Lama, then it's important to check and become a student when one has found one's Lama. The texts offer detailed instructions on the qualities that a very good teacher should have, but I don't think we can check in that way. Yet, we can see whether a teacher is centred on the essentials and is focused on achieving Buddhahood. He needs to be someone who does not break his vows, even at the risk of his life. If anybody tried to stop him from pursuing his core mission, he will not budge but reply,"It doesn't matter. Even if you chop off my head, I will go my way." Furthermore, an excellent teacher has compassion for students, just like a loving mother has for her only child. If you have found that kind of teacher, then there is no reason to doubt. But it's crucial to check if a teacher has these two qualities should one still be searching for a Root Guru. Let me add that it's not possible to find such a notable Lama on an internet website. Many people are said to have all these qualities and are praised on the internet, but I can't judge whether this is true. Everyone needs to check a Lama personally and follow the teacher they believe in with utter trust and unwavering devotion.

Second question: Why is the Lama so important in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism?
Khenpo: If one doesn't have a Lama or doesn't have unwavering devotion for one's Lama, then there is no use practicing Vajrayana. In Mahayana, it's also important but isn't indispensable. A Mahayana practitioner can visualize Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, make offerings to the Enlightened Ones, read the teachings, and practice without relying on a personal Lama. But this is impossible in Vajrayana, because Lord Buddha passed away more than 2,500 years ago. Of course, Lord Buddha is our ultimate teacher and guide, but we cannot meet and directly receive instructions from him. We can listen to stories and look at photos, but our Lama is near - we can ask questions and receive answers that help us mature spiritually. He will teach us what Lord Buddha taught and instruct us how to engage in the practices of a Bodhisattva correctly and according to our capabilities. When a Vajrayana practitioner is prepared and ready to receive the most sacred practice instructions, the Vajrayana master will certainly transmit the Secret Oral Transmission Lineage from ear-to-ear and thereby show a sincere student how to continue practicing. A Vajrayana master has integrated the sacred teachings in his life and manifests all activities of the Buddha. And that is why many visualization practices are carried out in Vajrayana. The pure mind of the deities are manifestations of and therefore not different than one's precious Vajrayana master.

Please know that nobody became a great Buddhist master by practicing without guidance. The great Siddhas,"saints and sages," of the past and present practiced the instructions that they personally received from their Root Guru and therefore were able to accomplish the results. For example, if you adopt a boy and offer him as much love, material comfort, and education as you have for your own child and he becomes a gentleman and even a famous person in society, then he will be very happy and grateful to you. You will be the greatest hero in the world for him, because his life has run so well. But, the prosperity your adopted son experiences will only last one lifetime, whereas Vajrayana practice is not restricted to one life, because fulfilment of Vajrayana practice ends all suffering in all future lives. A Vajrayana teacher shows a student how to end all suffering and attain lasting happiness. That's why the Guru is indispensable. Anything else is useless.

Actually, when we think about our Lama, we generalize and think he ought to look like Lord Buddha by sitting up just as straight, eyes focused in the same way, nose, ears, and physical appearance just as perfect and splendid. That's what we think. But the supreme Buddha is the mind of the Lama, not the physical appearance. Of course, it's not easy seeing one's Lama as a Buddha, since he can have physical handicaps - sometimes he needs to lean on a cane in order to walk, and so forth. This makes it hard to see one's Lama as a Buddha. What one needs to see is the mind. If the Guru's mind is free of the three main kleshas,"mind poisons," then one's Guru's mind is not different than the mind of Lord Buddha. If one practices the instructions one's Guru imparts, then one's mind will become the same mind as that of one's master and one will attain the same peace that he has accomplished. One must look at qualities, not at outer appearances. For example, we have all heard that Jetsün Milarepa became enlightened in one lifetime and have seen that he is depicted dressed poorly and thin and scrawny. Lord Buddha is not portrayed like that. This example illustrates that one should look at the mind, not at the physical appearance. The main thing that should happen when one heeds and follows one's teacher's instructions is that one's mind becomes just like that of one's teacher - and that's enough. It's called"the blessing," because everything is there.

I mentioned that one's Guru's activities are Buddha activities, i.e., that there is no difference between the Buddha's activities and those of one's Guru, and that it is crucial to appreciate and realize this fact. The Guru manifests as a human being by adapting to the new needs and capabilities of students in order to help them as well as to be in concert with times. If Lord Buddha incarnated with a crown protrusion these days, I guess doctors and surgeons might think that he would need to go under the scissors or some T.V. manager might try to hire him so that he could offer an audience a spectacular show. The only way to see one's Guru as the Buddha is with and through the mind. One engages in the practices he imparts in order to become just as compassionate and wise as one's Lama, who is inseparable with the Buddha but is very close to us. So, that's why a Guru is indispensable in Vajrayana, otherwise there's no reason. He knows the methods and sees when it's appropriate to bestow further instructions to disciples personally and from ear-to-ear so that they can mature correctly and realize the true nature of their own mind. If these instructions are written down for a general public, then insincere people might mock and make jokes about them.

The final and best Guru is called dön-dam-chös-nyid-kyi-bla-ma in Tibetan, which means that if one realizes one's own mind, i.e., if one has attained ultimate wisdom, then that is the main Guru. If one has realized one's main Guru, then one can follow one's own mind and needn't ask anyone else. When one has realized the ultimate Guru, one's Lama, one doesn't need to make prostrations to the best Guru, one doesn't need to offer anything anymore, but one can go one's way. The aim of any practice one does while relying on a teacher or Buddha who guides one is to reach the ultimate teacher.

I think it's so true. For instance, I couldn't go into Hamburg when I came here the first time. This is my fourth visit, so I can find my way around somewhat, but somebody always had to escort me to the train station or into the city when I first came. Friends slowly taught me how to get around, so now I have no problems taking the train, but when it is necessary to take the public buses, I do need a friend who guides me and then I needn't try to study street signs that I can't make out anyway. Once I got lost near Altona, which is located at the outskirts of Hamburg. I recognized a tower in the distance and therefore could make my way back to the Dharma centre alone. I think one's teacher in Vajrayana is something like that – he has the qualities of a spiritual friend and is an authentic and reliable guide who can show students the way to Buddhahood.

Third question: How does a student manage to really follow a Lama and practice the instructions correctly?
Khenpo: Our refuge in Buddhism is the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The Buddha showed disciples how to achieve lasting happiness. The Dharma encompasses all teachings that he presented and is like a path to lasting happiness. The Sangha are those who go the same way and to the same destination as we go, too. For example, it's much more comfortable and pleasant travelling with friends. It's all right travelling alone in Deutschland, but one does get into lots of trouble when travelling alone in India. It's impossible to always keep an eye on one's luggage there, even when walking down the streets in Bombay. If one turns one's back for a second, then one's luggage is gone. The Sangha are friends and helpers on the way; they are one of the Three Jewels and therefore one also goes for refuge in them. In Vajrayana, the main Zuflucht,"refuge," is one's Lama, because he embodies the entire Refuge Tree. Since Lord Buddha passed away more than 2,500 years ago, we cannot meet him, but we can meet our teacher who guides us just as the Buddha would. Furthermore, Buddha Shakyamuni presented innumerable instructions that have been compiled into an immense number of volumes that we cannot possibly read and study. They were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan and consist of 103 volumes. Maybe I can read and study 15 or 20% in all, but I could never fathom the entire teachings nor integrate them all in my life.

As to the many volumes of Lord Buddha's teachings, he taught every day - sometimes to young children, sometimes to adults, sometimes he offered a very high level of instructions to those who were ready and able to receive them. His very advanced disciples had a mind like a computer-reporter – they caught every word he spoke easily. After the Paranirvana of the Buddha, these great masters wrote down what they had heard. Due to the variety of teachings, it is hard for us to comprehend and follow all the instructions. But if we have a really good Lama, he sees which level of realization we have and will give us the teachings we need so that we progress. Any advice our Lama gives and every word he speaks to us is the Dharma, the second aspect of the Three Jewels.

The Sangha are all those persons who practice together, like us. Sometimes practitioners wobble and fall away, whereas the Guru never falters or fails a student. If one has serene devotion, one will never be disappointed in him, because his Buddha activities mean that he heeds and cares for the Sangha. Therefore the Guru embodies the Three Refuges.

It's very important to find a Guru as I described. If one has any doubts, one won't follow one's Lama and as a result will not reach one's destination but land somewhere else. However, it doesn't really matter if one doesn't receive direct blessings from a Lama, seeing that the Kagyü Lineage contains within itself a special blessing that embraces and permeates a very devoted student just like a perfect Guru. But, it's not easy having pure devotion. Just thinking one has devotion doesn't mean one does. Students develop their devotion if their practice is experiential, i.e., if students practice the instructions their teacher imparts, then their devotion will increase as a result and they will see their Lama's teachings as those of Lord Buddha. Just listening to the teachings without practicing, one's devotion cannot develop and increase.

During these times, the examples of Marpa and Milarepa as well as Tilopa and Naropa are always presented, but I don't think we can emulate them these days. Marpa didn't impart any teachings to Milarepa for six or seven years, but had him build and destroy one building after another. This was specifically relevant for Milarepa, who trusted his Guru fully and didn't think wrongly of him once. There may be hundreds of people in our times receiving teachings from a Guru, but only a few might be listening. I think we must try to become better and better, day-by-day, in the practice of listening to our teacher. If we are really interested in following and being united with our Guru by seeing him as a Buddha who has transcended suffering, then I think we can also be good students, just like Milarepa or Naropa. But, sometimes one has a good motivation; at other times one has doubts, which is a great obstacle. So, I think we are a little bit lazy.

I mentioned how Panchen Naropa found and followed Tilopa and want to add that Tilopa didn't immediately teach him Mahamudra, or Dzogchen, or the creation and completion phases of practice, rather Naro did whatever Tilopa requested. Naropa served Tilopa every day and never faltered. One day Tilopa told him,"Get me some food." Naropa went searching for food, met a group of farmers having soup, and he begged for a bowl. They gave him some and he brought it to Tilopa, who was very happy. After having finished his soup, he told Naropa,"Finished? Oh, very nice. Get me some more." Usually, Tilopa never smiled when Naropa served him well, but this time he did, so Naropa was very happy, went to the place where he had met the farmers, but they had all returned to the fields to work. He looked inside their pot on the fireplace, scooped up a few leftovers, but a farmer noticed, came running, and scolded him by shouting,"First you begged for food, couldn't get enough, and now you are stealing from us. That's very bad." The other farmers rushed over and beat Naropa up. Tilopa knew this but left him lying alone for a while. A few days later he dropped by and asked Naropa,"What happened? Are you sick?" Naropa answered,"I'm not only sick, I was almost killed." Tilopa blessed him, so Naropa was able to rise up again and follow his teacher. There are many similar stories of students who did not receive instructions but just followed their Guru. It is said that there is a special connection between a Guru and disciple in the Kagyü Lineage. If a student has unwavering faith and trusts that his Guru is a Buddha, then he will receive the blessings of a Buddha. Lacking faith and devotion, a student cannot receive the blessings bestowed by a Buddha - maybe those given by a Bodhisattva or by an ordinary teacher. So, the blessings a student receives depend upon sincere devotion. Let me add that there is no use trying to copy the great masters of the past. Instead, I think it's important to follow a master and to do one's best to reach the goal that he has reached.

There are two ways to practice. Seeing one has to work all day and live up to responsibilities, one way to follow a teacher is to study the books when one has time and see whether what one's teacher taught is right, but this way of practicing is a little difficult. Another way to follow a teacher is to do what he said in short sessions. But, as mentioned, it's most important to have first found a qualified teacher and Lama.

Fourth question: Vajrayana practice depends upon the blessings one receives from one's Lama.
Khenpo: There are so many methods employed in Vajrayana, which is referred to as the Secret Vehicle.  Sutrayana followers engage in practices that deal with simple experiences in everyday life. Vajrayana followers invite deities to come from the pure realm, visualize their Guru and himself or herself as that deity, realize impermanence, and so forth. If one practices, in the future one will become the same as the deity one visualizes, which is the reason one practices. It is secret, but I think it works real fast. For example, usually we dress and act freely when we are home, but when we are invited to a business meeting or have an interview for a job, we dress up and wear fancy shoes so that people think we are special. Then things go quickly and work quite well. If someone goes to an interview dressed in old clothes, I don't think the employer will even let him into the building. I saw a lady, who prefers wearing rags and usually looks like a beggar, pass by the Hamburg Centre this morning wearing high-heels and a snazzy coat. I asked her,"What are you up to? Where are you going today?" She told me that she had an important business appointment. I did see that she was carrying her old shoes in a plastic bag, though. Likewise, if one has problems somewhere and consults the boss instead of a menial employee, then things are solved easier and faster. The methods taught in Vajarayana are like that too – practicing makes life easier to reach one's goal swiftly, and a good teacher doesn't lead students astray, which can happen if one practices what one has read about in books. You know, it happens to me too. I'm not interested in wearing very good clothes in Nepal, but if I attend a special meeting not dressed sharply, they tell me to leave.

Students are given a new name when they enter Vajrayana, and I think it's a very powerful method of practice as well as a strong incentive to get good at one's namesake in this very life. For example, I don't like using my title that is a little bit high when I introduce myself to people. One day I had to make a phone call at a monastery and the person on the other end asked,"Who are you?" I replied,"Namgyal." The person on the phone responded,"I don't know who Namgyal is." Then I said,"Khenpo Karma Namgyal." He was quick to say,"Oh, oh. Sorry. How are you?" I answered,"I'm fine." Then I got through real fast and was treated nicely, even though I'm the same person. There are many methods in Vajrayana that work just as well.

Beginning Vajrayana practitioners get confused about the four or six-armed appearances of deities they see in pictures, but they are there to bless us. We are human beings and think that we need to eat specific food, go to the movies, go to school, go shopping, and things like that. In the process, we forget about our true nature, because we aren't used to thinking that it is possible to transform our usual way of perceiving and apprehending ourselves and appearances and that we can realize our mind's true nature.

If one doesn't have a teacher and cannot rely upon his instructions, one wouldn't know how to attain Buddhahood. Some teachers are very good, some aren't that good. But if one has devotion, then I think one can receive the blessings. If one doesn't have devotion, nothing will happen. If one is near the Gyalwa Karmapa 24 hours a day but has no devotion, then it's useless. On the other hand, it doesn't matter where one's Guru is if one has devotion – the blessing is there. Gampopa was an eminent disciple of Milarepa and I think he only stayed 3 or 4 months in all with him, but he received every instruction on how to meditate from his Guru. So, if you have received instructions from your teacher and practice, it doesn't matter if he is near or far. The main thing is däd-pa,"devotion." If one has devotion, then one will receive the blessings; if not, one won't. Great Siddhas never practiced without a teacher. Disciples who do not have a spiritual master first need to find one and then check if he is the right one for them. It's too late for practitioners who already have a spiritual master to check whether he is right or not. In the Kagyü Lineage it is said:"Kagyü-mös-pa'i-bka'-babs." Kagyü is special through great devotion, i.e., in our Lineage, the master blesses students who have great devotion.

Let me repeat that a Sutrayana practitioner can check a teacher throughout the entire path. Of course, a student wouldn't speak badly about a teacher should he discover faults and could seek another teacher if that is the case. A Vajrayana practitioner, on the other hand, needs to see the master who bestowed empowerments to him as the Guru and remain dedicated to him, no matter what. I studied with many teachers and cannot possibly follow all of them. Every weekend another Lama visits your centre - you can learn from them, but you cannot follow them all. You need to check if what the teachers say accords with the teachings of Lord Buddha, but if you have a Root Guru, you must do what he says. If you can't, then you can say,"Sorry, today I'm sick and cannot do" - just kidding.

Fifth question: How does one test the best Lama?
Khenpo: I would have to begin from the beginning in order to answer this question. Test? Before one tests, one needs to learn how a teacher needs to be. One main point is that he needs to have compassion for his students and for all sentient beings. Furthermore, he should be focused on what counts, i.e., on reaching Buddhahood and not have broken his vows, even at the risk of his life. Sometimes it is good to be mischievous in the presence of a teacher in order to see how he reacts. If he becomes angry, I don't think he's a Lama, because he's not trained in the Bodhisattva practice of being a protector, councillor, and guide. Yes, everyone looks like a practitioner when things are jovial, but if they act like ordinary beings when things seem wrong, then they are not a Lama. One needs to recognize this. In Vajrayana, it's very helpful and conducive to look at the Lineage. For example, I think you all know Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche. A friend of mine is Khenpo at his monastery and one day became involved in a very bad accident while driving Rinpoche's car. He was really scared to call Rinpoche and tell him that his car was demolished. When he got up the courage to call him, Rinpoche only asked,"Are you okay? The car doesn't matter as long as you aren't hurt." Afterwards, my friend kept on saying,"Oh, he is really a Bodhisattva."

jamgon and lama

Sixth question: What if one sees the picture of a Lama, feels a deep heart-connection, but learns that he is dead?
Khenpo: This happened in my life. I was in a Nyingma Monastery when I was young. One day I was shopping at the vegetable market in Sikkim and saw His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul. I felt a deep connection and experienced his deep, deep blessing. A few months later he passed away in an accident. I became a Kagyupa due to his blessings, came to Karma Lekshey Ling, and learned that Jamgon Lama had founded the Institute. Although he has passed away, the connection continues if you have devotion, study the teachings, practice them, and make wishing-prayers. Gampopa tells us that he received two kinds of teachings, the monk's ordination and"The Precious Mala," which is the"Lam-mchog-rin-po-che'i-phreng-wa," and"The Jewel Ornament of Liberation," the"Dvags-po-thar-rgyän." He told his students,"I cannot teach you more than what is stated in these two texts. If you read and follow these teachings, it is like meeting me directly and face-to-face in real life."

Thank you very much for your patience. Let us recite the dedication prayer together now.


Through this goodness, may omniscience be attained
and thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
that is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha, and then
lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,
and may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities,
may I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.


Photos of His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa presiding over the Great Kagyü Mönlam in 2008 and of His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul the Fourth together with Chöje Lama Phuntsok in 2007 courtesy of Khenpo Karma Namgyal. Photo of Lord Buddha on the Great Thankha at Lekshey Ling Institute courtesy of the Institute. Khenpo generously presented these instructions at Karma Thegchen Chöling in Bremen in 2007 in English; transcribed and edited slightly by Gaby Hollmann, responsible for any mistakes. Copyright Khenpo Karma Namgyal and Karma Thegchen Chöling in Bremen, 2008.