The psychological pitfalls of integrating an Eastern spirituality into a modern Western context. (Spiritual by-passing)

By Coline R. Moore

(This was originally written as an essay submitted for a counselling qualification and thus is a bit academic – however some people might find it useful.)

The disciple is unworthy; modestly he sits at the Master’s feet and guards against having ideas of his own. Mental laziness becomes a virtue; one can at least bask in the sun of a semi-divine being. He can enjoy the archaism and infantilism of his unconscious fantasies without loss to himself, for all responsibility is laid at the Master’s door. – C.G. Jung

A striking expression, with the aid of a small amount of truth, can surprise us into accepting a falsehood. – Vauvenargues

Cult thinking doesn’t just exist in cults. It exists in schools, companies and idealistic organisations – wherever emotional need (which is universal) meets two cc’s of charisma. Some families are mini-cults, where an all powerful father binds his children emotionally by dealing out love with the one hand, and abuse with the other – from ex-premie website.

It seems to me that people aspiring to practise Buddhism sometimes fail to progress and create further difficulty for themselves and others because of trying to be “good Buddhists”. This is exacerbated if there is a premature identification with “non-self” (‘anatta’ – a central tenet of Buddhism) and spiritual realisation, effectively (and at least temporarily) foreclosing movement towards a fully embodied realisation of potential. As an undergraduate psychology student in the late seventies I was familiar with Jung’s caution against adopting wholesale Eastern spirituality:

… it is sad indeed when the European departs from his own nature and imitates the East or “affects” it in any way. The possibilities open to him would be so much greater if he would remain true to himself and evolve out of his own nature (my emphasis) all that the East has brought forth. (Jung, C.G. 1962 p 85-86)

Perhaps Jung was not arguing for an outright rejection of Eastern spirituality so much as for a genuine emergence of spirituality out of authentic existential dilemmas. But what were the dangers that Jung was alluding to?

“Western consciousness … has been uprooted from the unconscious and the latter is suppressed. In the East, the unconscious is manifest in experience, and in that context it is appropriate to seek to control the influence of the passions by detaching from them. In the West, a similar path can lead to a further and undesirable suppression: “ … since one cannot detach oneself from something of which one is unconscious, the European must first learn to know his subject (the unconscious).” (Jung 1978, p83) The initial task is thus to assimilate unconscious contents into consciousness and, only then, to seek an emancipation from them … It is premature to seek liberation from something we have no contact with; one cannot set down something one does not know one is carrying. To attempt to do so is to foster an even greater separation rather than a movement toward wholeness …” (Ray 1996 p.26)


(c) NASA

To know one’s subject from a person centred viewpoint involves knowing when values are “introjected or taken over from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.” (Merry 2002, p 35) and knowing when experiences are “… ignored because there is no perceived relationship to the self-structure (and) denied symbolization or given a distorted symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.” (ibid)

Even when behaviour is brought about by organic experiences and needs it may be that “the behaviour is not ‘owned’ by the individual.”

(ibid p36) Thus … “Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies to awareness significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organized into the gestalt of the self-structure. When this situation exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension.” (ibid)

Of course since Jung was speaking his assertions have been extensively challenged and developed and Eastern spirituality has entered the collective consciousness. Nevertheless the post modern spiritual landscape is a complicated one due both to the plethora of therapies and counselling styles let alone conceptions of self (Brazier 1993 p82-83).

Carl Rogers “viewed the self … as a fluid structure, subject to change and revision, rather than something fixed at a particular point. This is consistent with Rogers’ entire attitude towards the person as being in process throughout life. In other words, the self is not an entity; rather, it is a constellation of perceptions and experiences, together with the values attached to those perceptions and experiences.” (Merry 2002 p33)

This idea of anatta or “no self” in Buddhism has given rise to a great deal of confusion and difficulty amongst Western practitioners and teachers of Buddhism and therapists or counsellors who wish to incorporate Buddhist ideas.

In the Buddhist world there is a distinction between “… the mere self, the transactional self which functions conventionally in the world, and an absolute or essential self, a fictitious self, which is to be denied.” (Watson 2000, p31) According to this view the self “is an illusion; it is the imposition of a container self with attributes of independence and permanence upon the foundations of the conventional or transactional self of ever-changing mind states.” (ibid p33)

According to her a modern psychological understanding of the development of self in the individual mirrors the process in the species as a whole so that “… bodily awareness comes first. This is followed by representation of one’s own physical state; a move from self monitoring to self-awareness, which leads to the imputation of a self within a system. Once this imputation is symbolised within language it is reinforced and reified by social structures and value systems of the cultural sphere. Self-image as process retaining a connectedness with the environment, gives way to a self-concept which becomes increasingly solid and autonomous” (ibid.)

(c) NASA Pluto's Blue Sky

(c) NASA Pluto’s Blue Sky

But what happens if there were a shift away from the self concept towards the organismic self? What qualities might a fully functioning person exhibit? Merry, summarising Rogers, claims such a person would

… Be open to experience. Exhibit no defensiveness. Be able to interpret experience accurately. Have a flexible rather than static self-concept open to change through experience. Trust in … her own experiencing process and develop values in accordance with that experience. Have no conditions of worth and experience unconditional self-regard. Be able to respond to new experiences openly. Be guided by … her own valuing process through being fully aware of all experience, without the need for denial or distortion of any of it. Be open to feedback from … her environment and make realistic changes resulting from that feedback. Live in harmony with others and experience the rewards of mutual positive regard.” (Merry 2002, p40)

Similar qualities seem to emerge, according to psychologist Guy Claxton, when the ‘self-system’ is switched off, as it is, he suggests, in mystical experiences. Basing his ideas on the writings of a number of mystics and psychologists including William James and Jung, he claims that in such states the brain-mind’s “intrinsic ability to harmonise and prioritise would be freed from the demands and vetoes of the SS (self system), dissipating the sense of stuckness, and re-establishing a sense of flow … the sheer weight of needs, threats and preoccupations would drop dramatically … the disqualified senses of connectedness and belonging would be immediately rehabilitated, and the inhibited priorities of compassion and care would be released to take their place … the sense of loss of self … and of impenetrable (but trustworthy) mystery at the core of experience, arises … when the SS is disabled, so too are all its defensive inhibitions and evasions.” Claxton 2000, p 108-9

However traditional Eastern societies “provided a religious context that honoured and supported spiritual retreat, and placed little or no emphasis on the development of the individual.” (Welwood 2000 p140)

Unfortunately in their zeal many Westerners have imitated the traditional model and “pursuing impersonal realisation while neglecting their personal life … have found in the end that this was like wearing a suit of clothes that didn’t quite fit.” (ibid)

Welwood suggests that “though industrial society has alleviated many of the grosser forms of physical pain, it has also created difficult kinds of personal and social fragmentation that were unknown in premodern society – generating a new kind of psychological suffering that has led to the development of modern psychotherapy.” (ibid p144)

Without wishing to idealise Eastern cultures, he explains that “in giving priority to the welfare of the collective, Asian societies also did not foster the division between self and other, individual and society, that is endemic to the Western mind. There was neither a generation gap nor the pervasive social alienation that has become a hallmark of modern life.” He explains how early childrearing practices combined a positive regard with sustained early mother-child bonding and worked with the collective responsibility to produce a strong self esteem together with a strong psychological foundation to the self, qualities which by contrast are often lacking in the West. The more pervasive extended family exposed children to a wide variety of role models and sources of nurturance which create an ego structure whose boundaries were more flexible, permeable and less strongly defined than in the West. This automatically prevented the kind of narcissistic injuring and intense reactivity that often occurs in nuclear families. (ibid)

In sum Welwood suggests that “the traditional Asian family seems to foster more of an inner core of well-being than the modern Western family does, by providing more of what Winnicott describes as the two essential elements of parenting in early childhood: sustained emotional bonding and allowing the child to be, to rest in unstructured being.” (ibid p147)

Because the context in which Eastern spiritual practices arose is usually so different to what prevails in the West today it behoves Western practitioners and teachers of Buddhism to be as psychologically astute as they can be. Welwood suggests that the founders of these traditions never contemplated the host of issues that beset the practitioner today especially outside of the monastic tradition. (ibid 2000 p138) He makes a distinction between realisation and actualisation, the former being a direct experiential realisation of “one’s own true nature beyond the conventional ego” (the initial goal of Buddhist practices) whereas “actualisation refers to how we live that realisation in all the situations of our life.” (ibid p139) He suggests that “psychological work might serve as an ally to spiritual practice – by helping to bring an awareness into all the hidden nooks and crannies of our conditioned personality, so that it becomes more porous, more permeable to the larger being that is its ground.” (ibid p140)

Indeed he suggests that “expressing absolute true nature in a thoroughly personal, human form may be one of the most important evolutionary potentials of the cross-fertilisation of East and West, of contemplative and psychological understanding. The great potential in bringing these approaches together is to learn how to transform our personality … thus redeeming the whole personal realm, instead of just seeking liberation from it.” (ibid p166)

To fail to bring this psychological awareness to the task in hand is to invite various distortions and difficulties no matter how great a spiritual realisation one may have had because at some point practitioners again “… encounter circumstances that trigger their emotional reactivity, their unresolved psychological issues, their habitual tensions and defences, or subconscious identifications …” (ibid p139)

Welwood has coined the term ‘spiritual bypassing’ to describe “the tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional’ unfinished business’, to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings and developmental tasks in the name of enlightenment.” (ibid p150) and he warns that even those “who develop a high degree of spiritual insight power, even brilliance, may still remain consistently blind to islands of darkness and self-deception in themselves. They may even unconsciously use their spiritual powers to reinforce old defences and manipulative ways of relating to others.” (ibid p139)

The teacher in these contexts needs not only to be aware of his own capacity for such distortions but also that of the student or client. Issues around transference and counter transference further complicate the matter. Buddhist teachers have no supervision for their work despite it frequently containing counselling or psychotherapeutic elements. Some may rely on their own teachers for supervision but others simply rely on an informal network or ‘sangha’ for balances and checks. In recent years, after many disastrous episodes in Buddhist centres ethical guidelines already present within Buddhism have been refined to make them appropriate to the role of teacher. Although breaches of trust have occurred in other areas it is within the sexual field that difficulties have most often occurred. In these new guidelines teachers …

a) “agree to avoid creating harm through sexuality and to avoid sexual exploitation or adultery … not to use their teaching role to exploit their authority and position in order to assume a sexual relationship with a student.

b) If a genuine and committed relationship interest develops … between an unmarried teacher and former student, the student must … be under the guidance of another teacher. A minimum … of three months … from the last formal teaching between them, and a clear understanding … that the student-teacher relationship has ended must be coupled with a … commitment to enter into a relationship that brings no harm …” (Kornfield 1993)

The new BACP ethical framework requires a counsellor to be in regular supervision – a notable difference to the ethical guidelines adopted by most Buddhist communities. Otherwise the guidelines are similar: “Practitioners must not abuse their client’s trust to gain sexual … or any other kind of personal advantage. Sexual relations with clients are prohibited.” ( 2004)

One would hope that both teachers of Buddhism and counsellors in a Buddhist context would be sufficiently psychologically astute to recognise their own shortcomings and areas of difficulty so that unnecessary suffering is avoided. Supervision of Buddhist teachers would seem to be desirable given the various ways in which Buddhist teachings and practices have been misunderstood and misused by some Westerners and given the difficulties of adopting spiritual teachings within a Western context without a complementary psychological awareness. The ethical guidelines mentioned above offer some safety for clients and students alike but awareness of the issues would appear to offer the best security.

Colin Moore April 2004
Check my website for more details


Jung.C.G (1962), Commentary on ‘The Secret of the Golden Flower’. R.Wilhelm (trans) Routledge, London

Ray C, (1996), Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings : Convergences and Divergences in Beyond Therapy, Guy Claxton Ed., Prism Press, Dorset

Merry, T (2002), Learning and Being in Person Centred Counselling, PCCS Books, Ross on Wye

Brazier, D (1993), The Necessary Condition is Love: going beyond self in the person-centred approach in Beyond Carl Rogers, Brazier, D. (Ed) Constable, London

Carl Rogers (1980), A Way of Being –found in )

Jinpa, G.T (2000), The Foundations of a Buddhist Psychology of Awakening, in The Psychology of Awakening, Watson, Batchelor and Claxton (Eds) Weiser inc. York Beach USA

Rogers, C.R. (1961), On Becoming a Person, Constable, London

Watson, G (2000), I, Mine and Views of the Self, in The Psychology of Awakening, Watson, Batchelor and Claxton (Eds), Weiser inc. York Beach USA

Claxton, G (2000), Neurotheology: Buddhism, Cognitive science and Mystical Experience, in The Psychology of Awakening, Watson, Batchelor and Claxton (Eds), Weiser inc. York Beach USA

Brazier, D (2000), Buddhist Psychotherapy or Buddhism as Psychotherapy, in The Psychology of Awakening, Watson, Batchelor and Claxton (Eds), Weiser inc. York Beach USA

Welwood,J (2000), Realisation and Embodiment: Psychological Work in the Service of Spiritual Development, in The Psychology of Awakening, Watson, Batchelor and Claxton (Eds), Weiser inc. York Beach USA

Kornfield, J, (1993) A Path with Heart: A Guide through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, Bantam, New York

ethical framework for good practice in counselling and psychotherapy (2004)

line-gothicSee also

The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and the Dalai Lama

GUEST POST by Robert – a former NKT monk

The Protests

If you have tried to attend one of the Dalai Lama’s teachings in the west over the last six years, you will have noticed a peculiar mob of people gathered outside in a loud, formal protest. This mob is composed almost entirely of western Buddhists, both ordained as well as lay, who have determined to follow the Dalai Lama wherever he teaches, to demand he give religious freedom and stop lying. These are the chants you will hear, “Dalai Lama, stop lying!” and, “Dalai Lama give religious freedom!” It is quite a peculiar thing to behold, as rather than a visibly angry protest, the protesters all have big smiles on their faces, as if they are in some kind of blissful trance, and the chants have a definite rhythm to them, and are even accompanied by musical instruments, such as drums and tambourines. You will even see ordained monks and nuns dancing. It’s almost as if you’ve stumbled into a Hare Krishna street festival.

This apparent blissful harmony may at first seem contradictory to their very message which is summarised in their deafening chants. It may seem contradictory to the hateful and racist speech found in their leaflets they hand out that call the Dalai Lama such names as “The Saffron-Robed Muslim”. The reality is that the majority of these protesters know very little about which they are protesting, aside from what they are spoon-fed from their teachers.

Central to the NKT’s daily practice is “reliance on the spiritual guide”, which in their eyes requires the development of an unshakeable faith in their teacher, or Guru. To ‘doubt’ their teacher is considered a delusion, and it is also believed that those who doubt their Guru will create the bad karma to be without religion in the future, and furthermore, to abandon their teacher means they will create the bad karma which will cause them to be reborn in hell for a near-infinite period of time. So this is an example of how fear works in a belief-system. Because this belief-system is so strongly ingrained in practitioners, they don’t dare let their mind wander to doubt and these protests are a prime example of this. They happily protest, because they will do virtually anything their Guru asks, even without understanding all of the facts for themselves.

I know this first-hand, as during the year 2008 I found myself partaking in one of these ‘blissful protests’. Back then, I was an ordained monk in the New Kadampa Tradition. I remember the day our Buddhist Centre, where we lived, received a letter from the Guru, requesting us to take part in a protest against the Dalai Lama. For many of us, it was the first time we had heard of this conflict between our Guru and the Dalai Lama, so we were quite shocked. I personally did a little research online at the time, but I really didn’t understand the situation, and did not know who was right or wrong. So I fell back on my ‘faith’ and assured myself that my Guru was enlightened and he knew what was best and I shouldn’t doubt him.

So I found myself engaging in the 2008 protests in London and Cambridge. I had a peaceful mind and no aggression in the slightest towards the Dalai Lama. If anything, I was looking forward to seeing him, and I felt a little elated as he waved to us all from his car window, as he approached his teaching venue. With my peaceful mind, I protested loudly, holding a banner that read “Dalai Lama stop lying”, shouting the same chants that they still chant today, “Dalai Lama give religious freedom!”, “Dalai Lama stop lying!” I was able to remain at peace, as this wasn’t really my protest. I didn’t really understand it, but I was told I was creating good karma, as I was following my Guru, and it was for a good cause.

However, my faith began to waver a little, when I read the booklets we were handing out. The language used was very crude and full of insults, like an angry child had written it. This was the booklet that contained the phrase “The Saffron-Robed Muslim”, which was a phrase that stuck in my mind and disturbed me. I thought to myself, “was this written by my Guru, who I believe is an enlightened Buddha? Even if it was not written by him, surely he must have approved this booklet!” It did not add up for me at all. I had joined Buddhism to become a better person; someone more peaceful and kind. This was not what I had imagined Buddhism to be.

I even had a dream, the night after my second protest. Some may say dreams are meaningless, and sometimes I agree, though other times I think our deeper self has an important message for us. In the dream I was among the followers of the Dalai Lama, almost like a spy, and we were standing behind some barricades. The Dalai Lama came walking by, like he was on the way to a teaching. Everyone was cheering him except for me. I tried to shout out my words of protest, but the others around me kindly and warmly tried to stop me by putting their hands over my mouth, but I did it anyway. “Stop lying!” I shouted out and the moment the words left my lips, there was complete silence. The Dalai Lama had stopped and was now facing me. He approached me and warmly spoke, “you must not make up your mind, until you understand all the facts.” This advice was like a lightning bolt and I will never forget that dream.

The Tibetan Situation

My dream showed me the reality, that I did not understand the situation in Dharamsala, the situation of the Tibetan people in exile, and the controversy surrounding the practice of Dorje Shugden. The only information I had was what had been fed to me by the NKT. Often this information was watered-down, very narrow-minded and superficial, even twisting the facts. In this world you can find circumstantial evidence to support virtually any claim, and if you piece it together just right, it can become very convincing, especially to those so deep in the bias that results from the brain-washing of a belief-system such as this, that it’s an absolutely necessity for them to believe in it. The NKT’s campaign against the Dalai Lama is not at all about the unbiased revealing of information. It is about slandering the Dalai Lama by whatever means possible. They have gone out of their way to attack the Dalai Lama’s reputation and the reputation of Tibetan Buddhism as a whole.

They believe so strongly in their cause, and need to believe so strongly, that they will do anything to achieve their goals. It’s not about making information available, it’s about destroying someone’s reputation. This is why they will call the Dalai Lama such names as ‘the saffron-robed Muslim’ and the ‘false Dalai Lama’, and producing derogatory imagery of him. Here is a direct quote from an NKT monk, who is actually one of the leaders and organisers of the protests:

Demonstrations my friend, and lots of them. Using every peaceful and wrathful method at our disposal to make the Dalai Lama realize what a horrible mistake he has made.

So you can understand from this statement above, it is clearly not about making information freely available to people, as they claim, rather it is a personal attack on the Dalai Lama. It is about winning. Those who they upset or offend along the way, and those who have their experience of the Dalai Lama’s teachings ruined by their protests, these are just acceptable losses to them.

The whole drama has come about from the Dalai Lama advising against worshipping a particular diety called Dorje Shugden. This is not, as the NKT would have us believe, a violation of religious freedom. The NKT would have you believe there is even violence against Shugden practitioners, and they went so far as to take the Dalai Lama and his administration to court. It is important to note, however, that the charges were thrown out, as there was no evidence of ANY specific instances of these attacks.

After studying scriptures of religious texts in-depths, the Dalai Lama concluded that Shugden was an evil spirit and worship of him did not belong in the Tibetan monasteries, so he advised everyone against the practice. It was voted upon in individual monasteries, whether to continue the practice or not, and the result was not to continue, and those who wished to remain in the monasteries were asked to take an oath that they would not practice. The local people also wanted to take this oath, but were denied, so they decided to gather together and take oaths of their own. Unfortunately this has caused a division between those who are against Shugden practice and the minority of those that still choose to practice it. It is not, however, how the NKT would portray these circumstances. Shugden practitioners are not ostracised from society and there is no evidence of violence against them. On the contrary, there are investigations into Shugden practitioners themselves, surrounding the deaths of monks close to the Dalai Lama. Also, one Tibetan monk recounted an event he personally witnessed at only 15 years old, where he witnessed pro-Shugden monks violently beating anti-Shugden monks.

The NKT would have you believe that Shugden worshippers are banned from even grocery shops, so they cannot even buy food, and are treated as real outcasts. The reality is they are restricted by certain monasteries and religious shops, as their practice is not compatible with the mainstream practices of those monasteries. In other words, it is against their belief system. We wouldn’t expect Catholic monasteries to allow Wiccans and Pagans to live with them, because that would be in contradiction to the beliefs of the monastery as a whole.

To those who are non-religious or don’t believe in spirits, evil or otherwise, this whole situation may seem absurd. It may seem absurd for the Dalai Lama to ask people to stop worshipping an evil spirit if they don’t exist! We have to remember though, that for Tibetan Buddhism and for the NKT, these spirits are considered as real. These are religious communities after all, where the existence of good-natured enlightened spirits and also evil spirits are regarded as real. So we have to think in this proper context, without bringing in our own beliefs about spirits. In this context, if there really is an evil spirit who can harm people, then of course the Dalai Lama is going to want to restrict this practice.

We also have to remember that the Tibetan country in exile is not like countries here in the west. It is a religious country, where the political leader and the religious leader is the same person, so the effects of alterations in the religion are further-reaching than similar alterations would be here in the western world. So we cannot think of this situation in terms of how we live in the west. There are always problems and disputes when things change, but this is not a matter of religious freedom. Just as Wiccans are allowed to do their own practices freely, as long as they are not living in a Catholic monastery, Shugden practitioners are allowed to do their own practices freely, as long as they don’t do it in a Tibetan monastery that has taken oaths not to do the practice. We must also bear in mind that these Shugden monastics are not homeless in the slightest, as there are monasteries they can live in that endorse the practice of Shugden, such as Shar Gaden. One only has to visit and click on ‘Places’ in the top menu, to see the many monasteries that support Shugden practitioners.

The problem is that Shugden practitioners are angry that their practice is no longer part of the mainstream of Tibetan Buddhism, and they blame the Dalai Lama for this and want to discredit him and try to force him to reverse his decision, through harassment. It is certainly a shame that some of the Shugden monastics had to leave the mainstream monasteries and find new homes, but this inconvenience for them is the far lesser of two evils, from the point of view of the Dalai Lama, who we must remember is the spiritual leader of a society that deeply believes in good and evil spirits. We should never forget this context of the Tibetan culture and religion, and we should not impose our own beliefs on this matter. We must respect the right of the Dalai Lama to make decisions on behalf of his people, in respect to this culture and religion, which is different to ours, here in the west.

Thank you for reading,

Robert set up a Facebook group, Exposing the NKT. The description of the group is:

This community is for those who wish to share and discuss their experiences within the New Kadampa Tradition, so we can support each other, and also we hope that this information may prove valuable to those interested in the tradition, who want to learn more about what they are getting themselves into.

This is also a community for the research into the Dorje Shugden controversy, and the elaborate campaign the NKT has undertaken against His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

We are not a hate community, and we believe in unbiased research. Our goal is simply to make information available to people, with which they can make up their own minds.

We believe that current NKT practitioners, as well as ex-practitioners, deserve our kindness and respect, so this community will not tolerate any hurtful speech, and we wish only to benefit all parties.

See also

The greater the light, the greater the shadow – One has to learn from it all, even from misdirected gurus

A friend sent me a link to a very useful article about the traps of unhealthy relationships between Westerners and their gurus or Buddhist teachers.

Here an excerpt:

Many Westerners who turn to the new religions — Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age cults, etc. — are of course very vulnerable. The mainstream Western re­ligious traditions, long es­tranged from the wellsprings of true inspiration, have signally failed to provide them with satisfactory spiritual support and guidance. It has moreover been persuasively argued by the American commentator Ken Wilber (in his book Up from Eden) that contemporary so­ciety does not provide the conditions necessary for proper psychological and spiritual de­velopment.

So vulnerable people quite naturally turn to where what is deficient seems to be on offer-In the short-term the guru and the cult may offer support, guidance and conducive con­ditions for healing and auth­entic spiritual development. In the long-term, however, there is sometimes a very high price to pay. There is in short usually an initial giving, but later a subtle withholding is brought into play. This of course is the basic mechanism of addiction.

An authentic teacher, like the Buddha himself (see The Kalama Sutta), will always seek to put his spiritual charges in touch with their own internal spiritual centre — with the Buddha within. While some of our modern gurus purport to be doing this, they often fail to confer the sacred talisman that bestows self-reliance. Perhaps this is not really so surprising. To allow their followers to become free would after all be to risk depleting the willing labour force that creates and runs their centres and publicity machines, and which also prov­ides that intoxicating adulation to which some gurus become so addicted.

It’s worth to read all of it:

See also

Interview with the Dalai Lama about ethics in the teacher-student relationship & Two papers about mindfulness

Since 2002 I collect information about the teacher student relationship in the context of Tibetan Buddhism and try to get information about approaches if one has taken on a misleading guru, or a guru who abuses his or her students.

Recently we had a brief discussion about this topic in the Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Italy in the context of our tantra studies. After this discussion a Bhikshuni sent two files to the students, one contained an interview with HH the Dalai Lama about this topic in 1993 and the other file contained an interview with Geshe Sönam Rinchen about “Guru devotion”. Both texts have not been available online by now.

I asked the Bhikshuni if I could post the interview with HH the Dalai Lama on my website, and she clarified the copyrights/editor permission and just some minutes ago I posted it. I think in this interview with HH the Dalai Lama, he gives clear, very good and straight forward advice what to do if Gurus misbehave or abuse their students:

… if someone is supposed to propagate the Dharma and their behavior is harmful, it is our responsibility to criticize this with a good motivation. This is constructive criticism, and you do not need to feel uncomfortable doing it. In “The Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattvas’ Vows,” it says that there is no fault in whatever action you engage in with pure motivation. Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. This may embarrass them and cause them to regret and stop their abusive behavior. Exposing the negative allows space for the positive side to increase. When publicizing such misconduct, it should be made clear that such teachers have disregarded the Buddha’s advice. However, when making public the ethical misconduct of a Buddhist teacher, it is only fair to mention their good qualities as well.

For more read:

We had also some discussion on the blog and in Italy during our study review of the Abhidharmakosha about mindfulness and its modern use e.g. within the context of MBSR (Jon Kabat-Zinn), Psychology etc. There are two excellent papers by Georges Dreyfus and Jay Garfield that discuss this topic in detail, showing that modern interpretations of mindfulness do not really touch its deeper meaning as meant in Buddhist practice – which doesn’t mean that modern interpretations of mindfulness and practice don’t have an impact on the practitioners or don’t have a value. However, there is a danger to water down the more profound and deeper meanings of mindfulness as it is meant within Buddhism and as it is crucial to really transform the mind and not just to find some relaxation in stressful times. If you are interested, enjoy to read these two papers:

The Guru-Disciple Relationship – Advice by HH the Dalai Lama

There is a tremendous potential for abuse in this idea of trying to see all the behaviours of the guru as pure, of seeing everything the guru does as enlightened. I have stated that this is like a poison. – H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama in “Healing Anger…”

In “Healing Anger – The power of patience from a Buddhist perspective” pub. Snow Lion, USA 1997, pp 83-85, H.H. the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, states:

Q: What do you think about Dharma teachers who speak and write about Dharma beautifully, but do not live it?

A: Because Buddha knew of this potential consequence, he was very strict in prescribing the qualities that are necessary for a person to be qualified as a teacher. Nowadays, it seems, this is a serious issue. First on the teacher’s side: the person who gives some teaching, or gives talks on Dharma must have really trained, learned, and studied. Then, since the subject is not history or literature, but rather a spiritual one, the teacher must gain some experience. Then when that person talks about a religious subject with some experience, it carries some weight. Otherwise, it is not so effective. Therefore, the person who begins to talk to others about the Dharma must realize the responsibility, must be prepared. That is very important. Because of this importance, Lama Tsongkhapa, when he describes the qualifications that are necessary for an individual to become a teacher, quotes from Maitreya’s Ornament of Scriptures, in which Maitreya lists most of the key qualifications that are necessary on the part of the teacher, such as that the teacher must be disciplined, at peace with himself, compassionate, and so on. At the conclusion, Lama Tsongkhapa sums up by stating that those who wish to seek a spiritual teacher must first of all be aware of what the qualifications are that one should look for in a teacher. Then, with that knowledge, seek a teacher. Similarly, those who wish to seek students and become teachers must not only be aware of these conditions, but also judge themselves to see whether they possess these qualities, and if not, work towards possessing them. Therefore, from the teachers’ side, they also must realize the great responsibility involved. If some individual, deep down, is really seeking money, then I think it is much better to seek money through other means. So if the deep intention is a different purpose, I think this is very unfortunate. Such an act is actually giving proof to the Communist accusation that religion is an instrument for exploitation. This is very sad.

Buddha himself was aware of this potential for abuse. He therefore categorically stated that one should not live a way of life which is acquired through five wrong means of livelihood. One of them is being deceptive and flattering toward one’s benefactor in order to get maximal benefit.

Now, on the students’ side, they also have responsibility. First, you should not accept the teacher blindly. This is very important. You see, you can learn Dharma from someone you accept not necessarily as a guru, but rather as a spiritual friend. Consider that person until you know him or her very well, until you gain full confidence and can say, “Now, he or she can be my guru.” Until that confidence develops, treat that person as a spiritual friend. Then study and learn from him or her. You also can learn through books, and as time goes by, there are more books available. So I think this is better.

Here I would like to mention a point which I raised as early as thirty years ago about a particular aspect of the guru-disciple relationship. As we have seen with Shantideva’s text Guide to the Bodhisatva’s Way of Life, we find that in a particular context certain lines of thought are very much emphasized, and unless you see the argument in its proper context there is a great potential for misunderstanding. Similarly, in the guru-disciple relationship, because your guru plays such an important role in serving as the source of inspiration, blessing, transmission, and so on, tremendous emphasis is placed on maintaining proper reliance upon and a proper relationship with one’s guru. In the texts describing these practices we find a particular expression, which is, “May I be able to develop respect for the guru, devotion to the guru, which would allow me to see his or her every action as pure.”

I stated as early as thirty years ago that this is a dangerous concept. There is a tremendous potential for abuse in this idea of trying to see all the behaviours of the guru as pure, of seeing everything the guru does as enlightened. I have stated that this is like a poison. To some Tibetans, that sentence may seem a little bit extreme. However, it seems now, as time goes by, that my warning has become something quite relevant. Anyway, that is my own conviction and attitude, but I base the observation that this is a potentially poisonous idea on Buddha’s own words. For instance, in the Vinaya teachings, which are the scriptures that outline Buddha’s ethics and monastic discipline, where a relationship toward one’s guru is very important, Buddha states that although you will have to accord respect to your guru, if the guru happens to give you instructions which contradict the Dharma, then you must reject them.

There are also very explicit statements in the sutras, in which Buddha states that any instructions given by the guru that accord with the general Dharma path should be followed, and any instructions given by the guru that do not accord with the general approach of the Dharma should be discarded.

It is in the practice of Highest Yoga Tantra of Vajrayana Buddhism where the guru-disciple relationship assumes great importance. For instance, in Highest Yoga Tantra we have practices like guru yoga, a whole yoga dedicated toward one’s relation to the guru. However, even in Highest Yoga Tantra we find statements which tell us that any instructions given by the guru which do not accord with Dharma cannot be followed. You should explain to the guru the reasons why you can’t comply with them, but you should not follow the instructions just because the guru said so. What we find here is that we are not instructed to say, “Okay, whatever you say, I will do it,” but rather we are instructed to use our intelligence and judgment and reject instructions which are not in accord with Dharma.

However we do find, if we read the history of Buddhism, that there were examples of single-pointed guru devotion by masters such as Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, and Milarepa which may seem a little extreme. But we find that while these masters, on the surface, may look like outcasts or beggars, or they may have strange behaviours which sometimes lead other people to lose faith, nevertheless when the necessity came for them to reinforce other people’s faith in the Dharma and in themselves as spiritual teachers, these masters had a counterbalancing factor – a very high level of spiritual realization. This was so much so that they could display supernatural powers to outweigh whatever excesses people may have found in them, conventionally speaking. However, in the case of some of the modern-day teachers, they have all the excesses in their unethical behaviours but are lacking in this counterbalancing factor, which is the capacity to display supernatural powers. Because of this, it can lead to a lot of problems.

Therefore, as students, you should first watch and investigate thoroughly. Do not consider someone as a teacher or guru until you have certain confidence in the person’s integrity. This is very important. Then, second, even after that, if some unhealthy things happen, you have the liberty to reject them. Students should make sure that they don’t spoil the guru. This is very important.

In The Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra, pp. 209–211, His Holiness the Dalai Lama states:

Premature Commitment To An Unsuitable Guru

In some cases it happens that disciples do not examine a spiritual teacher very carefully before accepting him or her as their guru and committing themselves to a guru/disciple relationship. They may even have received tantric empowerments from this teacher. But then they find they were wrong. They see many flaws in this teacher and discover many serious mistakes he or she has made. They find that this teacher does not really suit them. Their minds are uneasy regarding this person and they are filled with doubts and possibly regret. What to do in such a circumstance?

The mistake, of course, is that originally the disciples did not examine this teacher very carefully before committing themselves to him or her. But this is something of the past that has already happened. No one can change that. In the future, of course, they must examine any potential guru much more thoroughly. But, as for what to do now in this particular situation with this particular guru, it is not productive or helpful to continue investigating and scrutinizing him or her in terms of suspicions or doubts. Rather, as The Kalachakra Tantra recommends, it is best to keep a respectful distance. They should just forget about him or her and not have anything further to do with this person.

It is not healthy, of course, for disciples to deny serious ethical flaws in their guru, if they are in fact true, or his or her involvement in Buddhist power-politics, if this is the case. To do so would be a total loss of discriminating awareness. But for disciples to dwell on these points with disrespect, self-recrimination, regret or other negative attitudes is not only unnecessary, unhelpful and unproductive, it is also improper. They distance themselves even further from achieving a peaceful state of mind and may seriously jeopardize their future spiritual progress. I think it best in this circumstance just to forget about this teacher.

Premature Commitment To Tantra And Daily Recitation Practices

It may also occur that disciples have taken tantric empowerments prematurely, thinking that since tantra is famous as being so high, it must be beneficial to take this initiation. They feel they are ready for this step and take the empowerment, thereby committing themselves to the master conferring it as now being their tantric guru. Moreover, they commit themselves as well to various sets of vows and a daily recitation meditation practice. Then later these disciples realize that this style of practice does not suit them at all, and again they are filled with doubts, regrets, and possibly fear. Again, what to do?

We can understand this with an analogy. Suppose, for instance, we go to a store, see some useful but exotic item that strikes our fancy and just buy it on impulse, even though it is costly. When we bring it home, we find, after examining the item more soberly now that we are out of the exciting, seductive atmosphere of the marketplace, that we have no particular use for it at the moment. In such situation, it is best not to throw the thing out in the garbage, but rather to put it aside. Later we might find it, in fact, very useful.

The same conclusion applies to the commitments disciples have taken prematurely at a tantric empowerment without sufficient examination to determine if they were ready for them. In such situations, rather than deciding that they are never going to use it at all and throwing the whole thing away, such disciples would do better to establish a neutral attitude toward it, putting tantra and their commitments aside and leaving it like that. This is because they may come back to them later and find them very precious and useful.

Suppose, however, disciples have taken an empowerment and have accepted the commitment to practice the meditations of a particular Buddha-form by reciting a sadhana, a method of actualization, to guide them through a complex sequence of visualization and mantra repetition. Although they still have faith in tantra, they find that their recitation commitment is too long and it has become a great burden and strain to maintain it as a daily practice. What to do then? Such disciples should abbreviate their practice. This is very different from the previous case in which certain disciples find that tantric practice in general does not suit them at the present stage of their spiritual life. Everyone has time each day to eat and to sleep. Likewise, no matter how busy they are, no matter how many family and business responsibilities they may have, such disciples can at least find a few minutes to maintain the daily continuity of generating themselves in their imagination in the aspect of a Buddha-form and reciting the appropriate mantra. They must make some effort. Disciples can never progress anywhere on the spiritual path if they do not make at least a minimal amount of effort.

In The Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra, pp. 185–186, His Holiness the Dalai Lama states about

The Root Guru

Sometimes we differentiate a root guru from our other gurus and focus particularly on him or her for our practice of guru-yoga. Our root guru is usually described in the context of tantra as the one who is kind to us in three ways. There are several manners of explaining these three types of kindness. One, for example, is the kindness to confer upon us empowerments, explanatory discourses on the tantric practices and special guideline instructions for them. If we have received empowerments and discourses from many gurus, we consider as our root guru the one who has had the most beneficial effect upon us. For deciding this, we do not examine in terms of the actual qualifications of the guru from his or her own side, but rather in terms of our own side and the benefit we have gained in our personal development and the state of mind this guru elicits in us. We consider the rest of our gurus as emanations or manifestations of that root guru …

More about the Teacher-Student-Relationship

Spiritual Teacher and Sexual Abuse / Sexual Exploitation

See also

  • Open Letter – Conference of Western Buddhist Teachers

Posts on this Blog


  Last edited by tenpel on February 26, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Is forsaking the Guru, Kelsang Gyatso, worse than the karma generated by Hitler and Mao Tse Tung?

Offline there was a brief email discussion about an advice Lama Zopa Rinpoche is giving here:

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

Dear seeker,
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:…e/shugden.shtml

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”…teacher_15.html

– 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

Kumaré: A True Film About a False Prophet

A prisoner recommended yesterday this film by Vikram Gandhi to me. The movie highlights the naive devotion of Westerners to Asian gurus as well as the issue of that even blind faith in wrong gurus can lead to good experiences due to the pure nature of sentient beings mind and the power of faith. I think the movie has a lot to teach.

Summery by TIME Magazine /

Official Trailer

Web-Site: Kumaré
Montclair Film Festival
A good review can be read =>here.

Another good film about fake gurus is this one about Osho / Bhagwan:

Official Trailer of “Guru – Bhagwan, His Secretary & His Bodyguard”

Characteristics Of Those Unsuitable To Be Gurus

Many people trained within NKT might be full of fear and guilt to either leave NKT or after they have left NKT already. These feelings of guilt and fear might undermine the clarity to make a firm and strong decision and to rejoice into a virtuous deed.

Since the NKT offer only a selection of the vast basket of Buddhist teachings within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it might be helpful for NKT affiliated persons to learn those teachings not given in NKT—especially about the teacher-student-relationship.

Recently a nun pointed out teachings from the Kalachakra Tantra which say that a wise disciple would abandon wrong gurus as they would abandon hell.

I will give the quote—and a link to a file with other quotes from Buddhist scriptures—below.

For the sake of keeping you updated here is a news from the special realm of NKT:

The NKT leadership recommended in a letter from 5th Aug 2010 to all NKT-IKBU Centres to not associate with other Tibetan Buddhist practitioners:

Dear Administrative Directors,
Because of the potential for great spiritual confusion both now and in the future, we advise and request that NKT Centres, teachers, managers and residents do not get involved with the activities of any Tibetan Buddhist groups, teachers or their students.

If you receive any invitations or requests from a Tibetan Buddhist group, teacher or student, please politely decline them, and forward them to the Education Council Representatives for our information.

These approaches can be for support in some form (for example with donations, fund-raising events, visa applications, hosting, transport, publicity, social events); or offers to give teachings, empowerments or informal talks, or to perform pujas, ceremonies, ritual demonstrations and so on.

The main reason for this request is to help NKT practitioners to avoid mixing spiritual traditions, while of course maintaining respect for other traditions. It will also avoid being drawn into the many difficult political problems associated with Tibetan Buddhism, caused by mixing Dharma and politics.

Please inform the teachers, managers and residents at your Centre of this advice and request.

Thank you for your co-operation.
Warm regards,
Steve Cowing, NKT-IKBU Secretary
on behalf of the GSD and Education Council Reps


Ornament of Stainless Light – An Exposition of the Kalachakra Tantra by Khedrup Norsang Gyatso, pp. 214–216, translated by Gavin Kilty

Characteristics of those unsuitable to be gurus

The third verse of the Initiations chapter says:

Proud, ruled by anger, and lacking vows,
greedy, without knowledge, working to deceive disciples,
a mind that has fallen from great bliss,
without initiation, totally attached to wealth,
unaware, of harsh and coarse words, filled with carnal desire,
the wise disciples should abandon taking such people
as causes of complete enlightenment
as they would abandon hell.

People with such faults are not fit to be relied upon as gurus in the Vajra Vehicle. Even if one takes such a person as a guru and requests initiations and so forth, there can be no meaningful receiving of the initiation. Moreover one will become infected by a measure of his faults and fall from all elevated status in this and future lives. Most of the above verse is easy to Understand. “Without knowledge” means to be without the essential teachings on the six-branched yoga, for example. “Working to deceive his disciple” means to delude disciples by telling lies. “A mind that has fallen from the great bliss, without initiation” means that without having received the initiation he is bestowing, he nevertheless teaches it to others. “Filled with carnal desire” means working only for the pleasure gained from the sexual union of the two organs.

Therefore the way to rely upon a guru is firstly to know the characteristics worthy and unworthy of devotion and then to examine thoroughly who is and who is not fit to be a guru. The Great Commentary says on the second verse of the Initiations chapter:

Disciples who wish to gain worldly and nonworldly powers by way of mantra should first devote themselves to a guru. Furthermore one should examine the vajra master thoroughly. One should thoroughly examine his words. Otherwise, relying upon a guru unexamined, the disciples’ dharma will be perverse, and perverse dharma will send them to hell.

Also the Paramarthaseva says:

He, omniscient in the complete Vajra Vehicle,
has said that very wished-for siddhi follows the master.
If perfect disciples examine the master, therefore, as they would gold,
they will not accrue even the tiniest of faults.

However what should one do if one already regards as a guru someone endowed with those unworthy characteristics? The Great Commentary says:

In mantra, even though one has taken as a guru a person with the faults of pride and so forth, wise disciples, meaning those of intelligence, will abandon him as a cause of complete enlightenment as they would abandon hell.


Because of these words, even though he has been taken as a guru, if he does these wrong deeds, disciples who strive for freedom should leave him.

A passage quoted in the Great Commentary says:

Without compassion, angry and malicious,
arrogant, grasping, uncontrolled, and boastful,
the intelligent disciple will not take such a one as guru.

Therefore, if one has taken someone with these faults as a guru, then this disciple who is seeking freedom should part company with him and not associate with him again. These quotes from the Great Commentary teach just this point and this point only. They do not teach that one should loose one’s faith due to seeing faults because, as it is so rightly said:

Once that is used as a reason and one casts off the undertaking of holding him as a guru and as a field of reverence, one opens up the opportunity for a root downfall to occur. One must learn, therefore, to distinguish what is to be developed from what is to be discarded.

Some explain the two instances of the phrase “taken as a guru” in the two Great Commentary passages above as applying to gurus taken by others.


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