Guru Yoga in the Foundational Practices

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Guru Yoga in the Foundational Practices
Lama Tharchin Rinpoche

Rinpoche asks that we listen to today’s teachings with two motivations in mind. First, for the benefit of all beings, our mothers, whose numbers fill the infinity of space, we will attain full and complete enlightenment so that we can bring all these beings to the same level. Secondly, having received these teachings, we will cultivate their experience by practicing the two phases of meditation, and in this way, achieve our own enlightenment.

Today’s teachings are based on the mind treasure of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, one of the great masters of the Nyingma, the Ancient Ones. They are called The Dakini Heart Essence (Khandro Thuk Thik) and within this cycle, the particular text he is teaching is the foundational practices or ngondro. The text is entitled Restoring Benefit and Happiness: Liturgy of the Foundational Practices of the Profound Path of The Dakini Heart Essence. In Boise, Idaho, last year, Rinpoche taught this text up to the point of receiving the four empowerments in the guru yoga section. Now he will start from there and pick up the thread.

What is Empowerment?

How should we understand the concept of empowerment? Even though we are ordinary beings, our basis is the buddha nature which pervades our being like butter pervades milk or like oil pervades sesame seeds. However, swayed by the power of karma and afflictive states, and lost in dualistic experience and delusion, we have not yet recognized our buddha nature, even though it is the very essence of our mind. Buddhas are not lost in this way. They have fully recognized their buddha nature and, as a result, they have control over what happens to them and what they [42] experience. Compared to this, ordinary beings, have no power. So it should be obvious that we need to get some kind of power if we’re going to reach enlightenment. To speak briefly about the powers that buddhas possess, one of the ten forms of mastery is control over the place of rebirth. Ordinary beings take birth according to the force of karmic accumulation. If they could control their place of birth, they would surely choose happy circumstances; for example, among gods or humans enjoying positive circumstances. Clearly, this is not the case, since they are often born in miserable existences that are much less favorable than even the worst circumstances in the human realm. On the other hand, buddhas have complete control over how and where they manifest in this or any other world. The importance of this form or power is that it enables buddhas to manifest however necessary in order to guide beings to enlightenment. While this is true, we must also keep in mind that on an absolute level, buddhas do not experience birth and death as we do.

Rinpoche said maybe tomorrow he will name the other nine forms of mastery, but maybe not! (laughter) At any rate, what he intends is for us to understand what is meant by power and why we need it. [The ten powers are: power over life, deeds, necessities, devotion, prayer or aspiration, miraculous abilities, birth, doctrine, mind, and pristine cognition.]


Causes and conditions such as karma and afflictive states do not affect buddhas. Their experience is non-composite. In contrast, the experience of ordinary beings is completely determined by causes and conditions that are in constant flux. For example, they experience birth and death, transition and change, aging, sickness, separation from those they love, meeting those who are hostile, and so on. Although there are many different forms of suffering, they are all produced by ever-changing causes and circumstances beyond their control. In short, sentient beings are driven or mastered by whatever arises in the stream of their karma.

So for us, it’s obvious that we wish to attain enlightenment in order to be free from suffering. Here, suffering does not refer to specific suffering as such, but simply to the experience of being controlled by something external, rather than enjoying the self-mastery which is part of our true nature. So Rinpoche is making the point that not recognizing our true nature is the basic source of our suffering.

And to be more specific, the source of our suffering is mind (sem). Here, mind is a technical Buddhist term which implies the experience of self and the experience of the not-self, that is to say, other. The self-other experience is a duality, an illusion, [43] and a delusion. As soon as it arises, it becomes impossible to recognize our true nature which is nondual wisdom. On the other hand, buddhas have realized that there is no self. This is their sublime insight and, in fact, this, in a nutshell, characterizes enlightenment.

Lama Tharchin Rinpoche (LTR): We are sentient beings. This means that our mind is fundamentally confused. Still at the essence level, we are buddhas because our essence is the buddha nature which is always free of causes and conditions. Our buddha nature can never be dissected into many parts and it cannot be said to be singular. It is beyond singularity and plurality. It is uncompounded like the sky and never changes. Therefore, there is no way for suffering to arise within the experience of the buddha nature.

Generally, we all agree that no one wants or desires suffering. That’s for sure. But if we ask Where does suffering come from? It’s created by the experience of change and something is always changing, so suffering is always right there in some way or other. Maybe it’s our body, our circumstances, or whatever. The point is that suffering has a cause, that cause is the experience of change, and the experience of change is based on the self-other delusion. So even though our basic nature is uncompounded and free of change, as soon as mind conceives of self-other, the ground for suffering is immediately present.

The solution to this is offered by the Buddhist teachings. There are no other solutions for this problem. Without the Buddhist teachings, wherever we are, all we can say is that it’s a good situation or a bad situation, whether we like it or not. We have no power in this respect because karma organizes everything for us. We can’t really carry out our own plans and intentions. So we do need a solution to this problem and the solution is very simple. The solution is to realize our buddha nature, the essence of our mind, the undeluded state that never leaves us even for a single moment. But, even though we can understand that this is the solution, we still have a problem because our confused mind cannot recognize our buddha nature.

And why is that? It’s simply because confused mind doesn’t believe in buddha nature. It believes in itself, in its own power, and in the power of circumstances. If it tries to see the buddha nature, it says Do it this way, don’t do it that way; this is right, this is wrong. Using this approach, no matter how hard confused mind tries to see the buddha nature, it never will because it is fundamentally confused and deluded. Of course, confused mind can create temporary happiness and success but that will, sooner or later, become suffering. So, to solve the problem, what must be identified, one way or the other, is the unchangeable, uncompounded buddha [44] nature, the essence of deluded mind.

Fortunately, the Buddhist teachings tell us how we can do this. It’s simple. It begins with having faith and trust in the buddha nature as the essence of our own mind. If we have this, we have a good chance of recognizing it. Once we recognize it, the next step is to fully experience it. Then as we progress, confidence in our buddha essence keeps growing until we are fully enlightened. This is a simple method. We don’t need something complicated. The essence of mind is buddha. Just believe in that! If we doubt that, there’s no chance of ever recognizing it, experiencing it, realizing it, or gaining liberation, in which case, deluded mind will continue controlling us forever.

I mentioned the ten powers the buddhas have at their command. Whatever they actually are doesn’t matter. The point is that due to realization, the buddhas have freedom as well as the powers or abilities their freedom provides. They are not under the power of karma. It’s sad but true: we don’t know who we are. This is a pretty bad situation. And not only that, we are under the power of karma, continually experiencing alternating happiness and suffering. We have no permanent happiness. That’s not possible in samsara. In fact, this is exactly what samsara means: no permanent happiness; just endless change created by the power of cause and circumstances.

Buddha taught 84,000 ways of attaining power. And most profoundly, we have received the teachings of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s gift, The Dakini Heart Essence, which is like a wish-fulfilling jewel born from dharmakaya. This unbelievable teaching has passed directly from His Holiness into our own hands. Indeed, having this one jewel, we have everything we need.

Relying on Vajra Masters

Translator: So Rinpoche has explained why we need to receive empowerment. As a Dharma subject or topic, empowerment is vital in the path of Secret Mantra Vajrayana that has many skillful means or techniques for attaining enlightenment. They are all profound, vast, clear, and without limitation. But not only does Secret Mantra have such techniques or upaya, it also has sublime insight or prajna. And it is the integration of skillful means and sublime insight that makes Secret Mantra the most excellent and most swift path to enlightenment.

The basic outline of the Vajrayana path can be presented in terms of the basis of the path, the path itself, and the path’s results. The basis is the buddha nature, the path [45] is the practice of meditation’s phases of development and completion, and the result is twofold: dharmakaya, enlightenment’s formless body of enlightenment, and rupakaya, enlightenment’s form bodies.

The success of the path is entirely dependent on the practice of skillful means and sublime insight, particularly sublime insight because it ripens us within the essence of our own being. The sublime insight (shes rab) that ripens us or brings us to spiritual maturity is called self-arisen wisdom (ye shes). From where does self-arisen wisdom arise? It comes from within, not from outside. When we discover it, that is when we gain power.

So the next question becomes how can we access self-arisen wisdom and the power that is inherent in our true nature? Our dualistic experience is so strong that we cannot have such sublime insight if we only rely on our own resources. So therefore, we must rely on something outside ourselves that will connect us with what is innately within.

On whom can we rely? We can only rely only on realized spiritual teachers (lamas). Rinpoche says there are different kinds of lamas, but for our purposes, we should rely only on spiritual teachers who are also vajra masters. What does this mean? It means that their own sublime insight is manifest to them. And not only is it manifest, but they have experiential knowledge of it. And not only do they have such experience, but they have deepened their experience and completely realized it. And furthermore, based on their attainment of mastery or power, they are able to introduce us to the same sublime insight. So this is why, at the time of the path, we rely on vajra masters.

Three Types of Empowerments

When it comes to empowerments, there are three levels: the basis empowerment, the path empowerments, and the fruition or result empowerment.

The basis empowerment refers to meeting a vajra master, having faith in a vajra master, and receiving empowerment from a vajra master through symbolic ritual.

Lama Ngawang Zangpo, Translator, Austin, Texas, 2009 (Source Accessed Feb 7, 2020)