Offline there was a brief email discussion about an advice Lama Zopa Rinpoche is giving here:
- Forsaking a Guru (Advice given 4 April 1998)
We had already a discussion at E-Sangha in 2007 about this advice in the thread “New Beginnings – New Teachers, Constructive discussion on starting over“. [When I remember correctly it was at this thread where the first public account of sexual abuse of Kelsang Gyatso’s appointed successor Steven W. (Kelsang Samden) appeared – in the form of an innocent question a la “Can a monk in the Gelug school have sexual relationships?” After it became public that way at E-Sangha over night – in the literal sense – Samden was removed from all NKT websites.]
It might be useful for some to have some thoughts about Lama Zopa’s advice also here at the blog. That’s why I copy and paste my past thoughts on it from that thread (including all grammatical and spelling errors).
My own teacher said I should ignore this advice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. I hope this is of help for some.
March 26, 2007
as you have brought up the links here you may also have found the advice of Ven. Lama Zopa Rinpoche of Forsaking the Guru here:
This advice was referred to by present NKT to ex-NKT as well.
With all the respect to Lama Zopa Rinpoche I do not agree with it. I will give some reasons and sources here.
The problem here is very difficult and tricky. So I will use common sense, background and the scriptures.
1. the letter is a personal advice – not intentioned for the public
2. It seems to me that Lama Zopa Rinpoche is answering based on the teachings on Guru devotion how them were taught by Trijang Rinpoche – these teachings seem to be quite radical and seem not to include the case of following false Gurus or Gurus who have gone wrong.
3. It appears to me that Lama Zopa Rinpoche – although in my eyes a real Bodhisattva, tends towards to take teachings sometimes very literally as Pabongkha Rinpoche did. (Also in our Vinaya class the Geshe said he does not share the literally interpretations of some of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s views. So you can see there are different opinions and approaches. Nevertheless this Geshe cherish Lama Zopa Rinpoche very much as a holy being.) None of my Lamas gave me such advice, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche is giving here. One of my teachers said: we regard it as positive to separate from a false teacher. I should follow HH the Dalai Lama’s advice, his advices are in accordance to Sutra and Tantra. The same was taught by H.E. Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche: He said one must separate from false Gurus, because they will lead one away from the path. The same you find in Jamgon Kongtrul’s text and Alexander Berzins summery of different texts. (Quotes see below).
4. Tsongkhapa’s texts do not support this view: Tsongkhapa said: Distance yourself from Vajra Masters who are not keeping the three vows, who keep on with a root downfall, who are miserly with the Dharma, and who engage in actions that should be forsaken. Those who worship them go to hell and so on as a result. (see Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice by Tsongkhapa, ISBN 0861712900 – page 46) In his commentary on Guru devotion Je Tsongkhapa states one should not follow “if it is an improper and irreligious command”, and cites the Vinaya: “If someone suggests something which is not consistent with the Dharma, avoid it.” (see: The Fulfillment of All Hopes: Guru Devotion in Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-153-X, page 64)
5. My common sense and proofing do not support this view. I do not think it is a good action to send the victim back to the perpetrator and giving thereby the chance to be misused/misguided again, which will be very negative for both sides. What is the use of that?
6. I think Lama Zopa Rinpoche tries to harmonize the different difficulties and views in the Gelug school, whereas HH the Dalai Lama is quite frank about what is correct and what is not, so the advices of HH the Dalai Lama gives a more frank direction. I do not believe that such advice will ever be stated by HH the Dalai Lama nor have any of his advices regarding that topic such connotations as this advice.
– Chapter 15 Fear of “A Breach of Guru-Devotion”
– Buddhist Ethics (Treasury of Knowledge) by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye, Snow Lion Publications
Avoiding Contrary, Harmful Companions
8.1 Obstructions of a harmful friend
“The harmful teacher is one of bad temperament, of little pure vision, great in dogmatism; he holds [his own view) as highest, praises himself, and denigrates others.”
In general, the nonspiritual teacher (mi-dge-ba’i bshes-gnyen) is a lama, teacher (mkhan-slob), dharma brother [or sister] (grogs-mched), and so forth—all those who are attached to the phenomena (snang) of this life, and who get involved in unvirtuous activity. Therefore, one must abandon the nonspiritual friend. In particular, although they have the manner of goodness in appearance, they cause you to be obstructed in your liberation.
The nonspiritual teacher has a bad temperament, little pure vision (dag-snang), is very dogmatic (phyogs-ris), holds as highest his view (lta-ba) as the only dharma, praises himself, slanders others, implicitly denigrates and rejects others’ systems (lugs) of dharma, and slanders the lama—the true wisdom teacher—who bears the burden of benefiting others. If you associate with those who are of this type, then, because one follows and gets accustomed to the nonspiritual teacher and his approach, his faults stain you by extension, and your mindstream (rgyud) gradually becomes negative. Illustrating this point, it has been said in the Vinaya Scripture:
“A fish in front of a person is rotting and is tightly wrapped with kusha grass. If that [package] is not moved for a long time, the kusha itself also becomes like that. Like that [kusha grass], by following the sinful teacher, you will always become like him.”
Therefore, as it has been said in The Sutra of the True Dharma of Clear Recollection (mDo dran-pa nyer-bzhag; Saddharmanusmriti-upasthana):
“As the chief among the obstructors (bar-du gcod-pa) of all virtuous qualities is the sinful teacher, one should abandon being associated with him, speaking with him, or even being touched by his shadow.”
In every aspect one should be diligent in rejecting the sinful teacher.
The Buddha said:
The devotee acquires the same faults
As the person not worthy of devotion,
Like an untainted arrow smeared
With the poison of a tainted sheath.
Steadfast ones who fear the taint of faults,
Do not befriend bad people.
By close reliance and devotion
To one’s companion,
Soon one becomes just like
The object of one’s devotion.
The wise devote themselves to holy,
Not to unholy people,
Wise persons are those who know
Infantile ones for what they are:
‘Infantile ones’ are those
Who take infants to be the wise.
The cencure of the wise
Is far preferable
To the eulogy or praise
Of the infant.
Devotion to infants brings misery.
Since they are like one’s foe,
It is best to never see or hear
Or have devotion for such people.
Like meetinng friends, devotion to
The steadfast causes happiness.
Therefore, like the revolving stars and moon,
Devote yourself to the steadfast, moral ones
Who have heard much, who draw on what is best –
The kind, the pure, the best superior ones.
(from the Tibetan Dhammapada)
Je Tsongkhapa citing the Ornament for the Essence said:
Distance yourself from Vajra Masters who are not keeping the three vows, who keep on with a root downfall, who are miserly with the Dharma, and who engage in actions that should be forsaken. Those who worship them go to hell and so on as a result.
(see Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice by Tsongkhapa, ISBN 0861712900) – page page 46
Dza Patrul Rinpoche in “Words of my perfect teacher”:
The Great Master of Oddiyana warns:
No to examine the teacher
Is like drinking poison;
Not to examine the disciple
Is like leaping from a precipice.
You place your trust in your spiritual teacher for all your future lives. It is he who will teach you what to do and what not to do. If you encounter a false spiritual friend without examining him properly, you will be throwing away the possibility a person with faith has to accumulate merits for a whole lifetime, and the freedoms and advantages of the human existence, you have now obtained will be wasted. It is like being killed by a venomous serpent coiled beneath a tree that you approached, thinking what you saw was just the tree’s cool shadow.
By not examining a teacher with great care
The faithful waste their gathered merit.
Like taking for the shadow of a tree a vicious snake,
Beguiled, they lose the freedom they at last had found.
So why following and going back to Gurus one has recognized as not genuine or misleading? I think the most need is to overcome negative feelings in any direction. Because they disturb the mind.
But a weak mind and a misleading Guru, what will be the result other than harm? Why going back?
This is my opinion and I think every one has to check on his own and has to find his own approach.
Last edited by tenpel on November 2, 2012 at 8:09 pm
Update July 2017
¹ The link has changed: http://www.lamayeshe.com/advice/forsaking-guru
- On Leaving Gurus – Scriptural Sources
- Buddha about Intimate Friends – Mitra-vargha (Tibetan Dhammapada)
- Ethics in the Teacher-Student Relationship: The Responsibilities of Teachers and Students by H.H. the XIV. Dalai Lama
- Questioning the Advice of the Guru by H.H. the XIV. Dalai Lama
- Relating to the Guru by Jetsünma Tenzin Palmo
- Dealing with Abusive Behavior by Spiritual Teachers – Alexander Berzin
- Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America – Katy Butler
- Devotion with Discernment – A question of personal responsibility by Rob Preece