a commentary by Gelek Rimpoche
In the United States the guru devotional practice, Lama Chöpa, has been, is at present, and will continue to be a very controversial practice. I would like to talk to you briefly about this. Is it possible for us to attain enlightenment without guru-devotional practice? To the extent of my knowledge, the answer is no, and I have very strong reasons and traditional support for saying this. When Atisha was in Tibet a number of his disciples, including Drom Rimpoche, asked him, “Since all of you in India have a lot of spiritual development, and none of us here in Tibet has any, what is the problem?” Atisha replied:
In India, we value our spiritual master tremendously, but you Tibetans think the spiritual master is worse then an ordinary human being, so how do you hope to gain any spiritual development? There is no hope for you whatsoever.
There are countless reasons why you can”t develop without a spiritual master. In the tantras, this example is traditionally given:
When you are in a boat and there is no oarsman, how do you expect to go across?
Without an oarsman or a paddle, you can only hope that a suitable wind will blow to take you across, or you can use your hands to try. So you are limited. I believe spiritual masters serve that purpose of getting you across, not the spiritual masters alone, but with the lineage which is always behind them. That is why, without them, it is difficult.
Enlightenment doesn”t work like science. In a scientific experiment you can mix different chemicals together, experiment, and create a correct result every time. It works. That is true for external things, but I don”t think you can experiment in the same way on internal development, mind development. If you could, why not do it? Actually we have done so for quite awhile already. Everybody wants happiness and a lot of spiritual paths tell us that happiness can be found within their particular approach, so why not experiment with those?
You can stuff up people”s mind or consciousness with different chemicals and see what happens, but it doesn”t work very well. It can bring you to some level, but not completely all the way. You need to work internally. Enlightenment depends on the work of the individual, practicing the path, which is the main thing, and accumulating merit, both absolute and relative. And, in addition to that, you need the enlightened beings” support, the lineage-blessings, the unbroken continuation of the lineage from Buddha to your own level, which is the backbone support. The combination of those two, your own work and the blessings, can provide enlightenment. No matter how hard you work, even if you get all the different books and information and integrate them, put a lot of efforts in and work hard, you are not going to achieve anything by yourself. There is no New Age Buddha yet, and there is not going to be one, because it doesn”t work that way. Working very hard will cut your delusions, your negativities, but it will not be able to deliver enlightenment, not at all. The traditional teachers use the example:
“No matter how much you squeeze sand, you”re not going to get butter out of it.”
So guru-devotional practice is absolutely important. That is why, in Lam Rim, it is called the Root of all Development, and in Vajrayana, the Source of all Siddhis.
© Jewel Heart 2001