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Buddhadharma : Winter 2018
58 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY Buddhism, the teacher was regarded as a kalyanamitra, or spiritual friend—some- one who works with you to understand the teachings and helps you process and integrate them, much like a doctor uses medicine to treat a sick patient. In the Mahayana tradition, however, Tsongkapa describes the teacher as someone who is indispensable, which echoes the concept of the guru in the Vajrayana tradition. In the Vajrayana tradition, the guru is to be seen literally as a buddha, someone whose authority is unquestionable. The question is this: in the twenty- first century, can we see someone as the embodiment of the Buddha, or is it bet- ter to regard him as a spiritual friend? Having to see one’s teacher as a buddha, particularly when the idea is so foreign, imposes an enormous burden on Western students. How does the student emo- tionally reconcile the need to regard the teacher as a perfect authority with the fact that the teacher is a human being, with evident human fallibilities? This has led to difficulty, both psychologically and culturally, in making a distinction. It’s not helped by individual teachers who may then consciously or unconsciously manip- ulate vulnerable students into believing the teacher is up there and really amazing and totally different from me. I took up the practice of seeing my teacher as a buddha, but at the same time, he was also shouting at people and scolding people—especially me—telling us, “You’re cutting the vegetables wrong!” So on the one hand, you’re seeing one aspect in which everything is really pure, and you’re taking in all of that, but on the other hand you realize these are also human beings and there are smells and garbage. That’s challenging for people, but for me, it was very helpful to realize that I could feel my teacher was a buddha and also take in his appearing completely ordinary, chopping vegetables—appear- ance and emptiness together. LOBSANG RAPGAY: The whole concept of the guru comes from the Vedic tra- dition, which was later incorporated into Mahayana Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism. Historically, the Bud- dha didn’t create a lineage of teachers by delegating responsibility to any one disciple; rather, he passed the responsi- bility to the sangha, the community of monks. He told them that after he has passed, they should turn to the teachings to guide them. Thus we find that in early In our culture, there are many fantasies about Buddhism, and people carry these into a relationship with the teacher. This often involves self-deception and projection. —L AMA RIGZIN DROLMA