50 Stanzas on Guru Devotion
by Aryasura (Asvaghosa)
with commentary given orally
by Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey
translated by Jason Yam,
edited by Steve Quan
The "Gurupancasika" was written in about the first century
B.C. by Asvaghosa. This Indian poet was known by many names, such as Aryasura, Matrceta,
Patrceta, Maticitra, and Bhavideva, and was a contemporary of King Knaiska of the Kusan
Dynasty. Having previously been a strong non-Buddhist believer, he became an extremely
devout follower of the Buddha's path writing many works on its various aspects.
Sakyamuni Buddha lived about four centuries before Asvaghosa. He taught
sutras dealing with meditative practices for attaining Liberation and Enlightenment and,
in the form of Buddha Vajradhara, Mahamudra and the tantras covering speedier, yet more
dangerous methods for achieving this latter goal. Success in following either the
Sutrayana or Tantrayana path depends solely on your Guru-devotion, for Buddha indicated in
the Saddharmapundarika Sutra and in the Kye dor Sha-gyu dor jei g'ur, an explanatory work
to the Hevajra Tantra, that in future times of degeneration he would take the form of
Gurus. At such times, Gurus should be respected the same as the Buddhas, for they will be
their living representatives.
Guru-devotion involves both your thoughts and your actions. The most
important thing is to develop the total conviction that your Guru is a Buddha. Such a
conviction is a prerequisite for receiving any insight. If you are aiming to benefit
yourself and overcome all suffering with the attainment of Liberation ,or reach the
perfected state of a Fully Enlightened Buddha so that you can help liberate others, your
Guru can only show you the way if he himself has already achieved these accomplishments.
If you doubt your Guru's competence and ability to guide you, your practices will by
extremely unstable and you will be unable to make any concrete progress. You must have
full confidence that it is possible to become Enlightened, that your Guru is living proof
of this, and that by following Buddha's teachings as he instructs, you can achieve the
same. Only then will it be possible to gain any benefits from the practices.
Seeing only good qualities in your Guru, therefore, is the way to
develop these qualities yourself. Normally most people are blind to their own
shortcomings, while the faults of others shine out clearly. But if you did not possess
these same faults yourself, you would be unable to recognize them in others. If there are
two pieces of fruit, one ripe and one rotten, and the person next to you takes the ripe
one, it is only due to your own greed that you accuse him of being greedy and selfish. If
you were unattached to the fruit, it would not matter to you which one he took- you would
simply see him as having taken a piece of fruit.
Likewise, if you can train yourself to see only good qualities and
never any faults in your Guru, this positive outlook will come to pervade, amplify and
reflect your own state of mind. As everyone has the same basic Mahamudra or Buddha-nature
within him- the clear, uncontaminated state of pure mind established without any true
independent existence- then if you can see your Guru in terms of a Buddha, you have the
possibility of activating and realizing your own Buddha-nature, that is achieving the
resultant Mahamudra. If you see only faults, you merely reinforce your own shortcomings
and negative attitude, whereas if you see only perfection, you will be able to attain the
perfection of Buddhahood yourself. Therefore, one of the main practices of Guru-yoga,
particularly in Mahamudra and the tantra, is to realize the inseparability of your own
mind with your Guru, the Buddhas and your meditational deity, who is a pure form
manifestation of the Enlightened mind. Thus Guru-devotion is the root of all attainments.
If your Guru acts in a seemingly unenlightened manner and you feel it
would be hypocritical to think him a Buddha, you should remember that your own opinions
are unreliable and the apparent faults you see many only be a reflection of your own
deluded state of mind. Also, you should think that if your Guru acted in a completely
perfect manner, he would be inaccessible and you would be unable to relate to him. It is
therefore out of your Guru's great compassion that he may show apparent flaws. This is
part of his use of skilful means in order for him to be able to teach you. He is mirroring
your own faults; therefore check within and learn from him how to remove your
shortcomings. If you are only intent on criticizing your Guru, you will never be able to
benefit from him.
It was Buddha Vajradhara himself who said that your Guru is to be seen as a Buddha.
Therefore if you have faith and take refuge in the Buddhist teachings, you will try to
understand what Buddha meant by this statement. Buddhas exert a great positive influence
on the world in the same way as does the sun.
But just as a magnifying glass is needed to focus the rays of the sun in order for
tinder to catch fire, so too a Guru is required to focus the Buddhas' virtuous conduct
into a disciple's mind-stream and inspire him to follow a spiritual path. Thus as living
examples representing the Buddhas, Gurus carry on the work of all the Enlightened Beings,
acting as an accessible focal point for your practices to gain Buddhahood yourself.
Through devotion to your Guru, showing him respect and making
offerings, you build up the merit that will allow you to become liberated from all your
suffering. Such service is done not to benefit your Guru, but for your own sake. When you
plant seeds in a field, it is not to benefit the earth. It is you yourself who will
harvest the crops. Therefore, with the proper devotional attitude towards your Guru-
seeing him as a Buddha- the more positive energy you exert in his direction, the closer
you come towards Buddhahood yourself. Likewise, if you hate your Guru and generate
negative energy towards him, you are deliberately casting yourself away from his state of
Enlightenment and its freedom from pain. As a result you bring intense suffering upon
yourself. Therefore if you see faults in your Guru and tend to belittle him, remember your
opinions are unreliable and only unhappiness can result from despising the states of
happiness he represents.
Remembering your Guru's kindness to teach you during this degenerate
age after Sakyamuni Buddha has passed away, you must develop loving respect for him. Your
Guru teaches you despite your delusions, and does not force you to undergo such hardships
as Je-tzun Mi-la ra-pa and others have had to endure in the past. He gives you
initiations, oral teachings and transmits the unbroken lineages coming from Buddha. He
inspires you to attain his state and helps you materially when you need it. If you lack
loving respect for your Guru, it is impossible to become Enlightened. If you do not have
respect for the state of Buddhahood he represents, how can you attain it?
These various aspects of devoting yourself to your Guru by means of
your thoughts are taught extensively in such text as the Gandavyuha Sutra. These points
and their scriptural references are found in detail in the Lam-rim ch'en-mo by Je
Tzong-k'a-pa. The Gurupancasika by Asvaghosa is the most comprehensive summary of how to
devote yourself to your Guru by means of your actions. Its scriptural sources are a wide
range of tantric texts, including the Guhyasamaja, Kalacakra, Cakrasamvara, Vajradakini,
and Vajrahrdayalamkara in the La-ma nga-chu-pa nam-sha, a commentary on this text also by
For the study and practice of tantra, Guru-devotion is even more
essential and receives more emphasis than in the sutra path. This is because the tantric
practices are extremely difficult and complicated. If done correctly they can bring you
Buddhahood within your lifetime, but if done improperly, they may be very dangerous and
bring you extremely dire consequences. Therefore the direct personal guidance of a Guru is
indispensable. As the Gurupancasika outlines specifically how a disciple should act with
his Guru, it is the custom to teach this text before giving any tantric empowerment or
initiation. Once a Guru-disciple relationship is established, the disciple is taught
Guru-devotion and the common path of renunciation of the suffering of samsara, the
Enlightened Motive of Bodhicitta and the correct view of Voidness (Sunyata). Then after
receiving the proper empowerments, he can be led gradually through the stages of tantra on
the firm foundation of his Guru-devotion and the above Three Principal Paths.
Homage to the Bhagavan Vajrasattva
Bhagavan is one of the many epithets used for an Enlightened Being, a
Buddha. The Tibetan term for it, "Chom-dan-da," is etymologized as follows.
"Chom" means to overcome. Buddhas have overcome both the obstacles preventing
Liberation and those preventing Omniscience. The former include the delusions or moral and
mental defilements (klesa), as well as their instincts, and the ignorance of grasping for
true independent existence. The latter refers to the instincts of this ignorance.
"Dan" means to possess. Buddhas possess all god qualities; having completed
their accumulations of both merit and insight resulting in their Form and Wisdom Bodies
respectively. "Da" means to pass beyond. Buddhas have passed beyond samsara, the
cycle of uncontrolled rebirth with suffering due to karma and delusions.
The hidden meaning of Vajrasattva, Dor-je sem-pa in Tibetan, can also
be discovered from its etymology. "Dor-je" means indestructible
diamond-lightning. Here it refers to the diamond-hard wisdom of the non-duality of
Voidness and Bliss, that is the non-duality of 1) the mind that has bare perception of
Voidness, experienced with a feeling of great Bliss and 2) the Voidness that is the object
of this mind. "Sempa" means the one with a heroic mind.
It signifies someone who has himself abandoned all delusions, ignorance
and their instincts, and has the heroic mind that is ready to help others in all possible
Thus Bhagavan Vajrasattva refers to the state of Vajradhara, the form
Buddha takes in the tantras. As the way to attain this Enlightened state is through
Guru-devotion, Asvaghosa begins his work with this homage:
1) Bowing in the proper way to the lotus feet of my Guru who is the
cause for me to attain the state of glorious Vajrasattva, I shall condense and explain in
brief what has been said in many stainless tantric texts about Guru-devotion. (Therefore)
listen with respect.
2) All the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, residing in every
land in the ten directions, have paid homage to the Tantric Masters from whom they have
received the highest empowerments. (Is there need to mention that you should too?)
Explanation: In general, there are three types of empowerments of
initiations; causal, pathway, and resultant. The first is to ripen your mindstream, the
second is an actual path of practice through which to gain Enlightenment and the third is
into the actual liberated state of Buddhahood. Everyone who ever has or will attain
Enlightenment does so through receiving these highest empowerments from their Masters.
3) Three times each day with supreme faith you must show the respect
you have for your Guru who teaches you (the tantric path), by pressing your palms
together, offering a mandala as well as flowers and prostrating (touching) your head to
Explanation: As a disciple, you must regard your Guru as an Enlightened
Being. Even if from his own point of view he is not Enlightened and you, his disciple,
have gained Buddhahood before him, you must still show him respect and pay homage. For
instance, Maitreya, the fifth and next Buddha of the thousand of this world age, who now
presides over Tusita Buddha-field, became Enlightened before his Guru, Sakyamuni Buddha.
To demonstrate respect for his Guru, Maitreya has a stupa or reliquary monument on his
forehead. Likewise, Avalokitesvara, the incarnation of the compassion of all Buddhas, is
crowned in his eleven-headed aspect with the head of his Guru, Amitabha Buddha, the one
who presides over Sukhavati Buddha-field.
Thus learning from a Guru should not be like killing a deer to extract
its musk and then discarding its corpse. Even after attaining Enlightenment you must still
continue to honor your Guru who made all your achievements possible.
4) Those who hold ordination vows, if (your Guru) is a layman or your
junior, prostrate (in public) while facing such things as his scriptural texts in order to
avoid worldly scorn. But in your mind (prostrate to your Guru.)
5) As far as serving (your Guru) and showing him respect, such as
obeying what he says, standing up (when he comes) and showing him to his seat- these
should be done even by those with ordination vows (whose Gurus are laymen or their
juniors). But (in public) avoid prostrating and unorthodox actions (such as washing his
Explanation: One of the ordination rules is that monks and nuns should
not prostrate to laymen. This is taken to mean that in public you should not show this
type of respect for your lay Guru as it might cause misunderstanding and scorn among those
who casually observe. It is better to prostrate facing scriptural texts or Buddha images
near him, while directing your reverence in your mind to your Guru.
For example, the great Masters Candragomi and Candrakirti often debated
with one another. The former was a layman, the latter a monk. One day Candrakirty invited
Candragomi to his monastery. He wanted all the monks to form a procession, but the lay
Master objected that the local townspeople would find it strange. Candrakirti told him not
to worry. He placed a statue of Manjusri on a high throne and in the procession had a monk
carry it directly before Candragomi. All the people thought that this ceremony was in
honor of Manjusri, the manifestation of the Buddhas' wisdom, and thus the monk avoided any
Although restraint and indirect means of showing respect are often
called for out of consideration for others, in private a disciple must follow all the
proper procedures of Guru-devotion, no matter what the status of his Guru may be. However
general respect, such as rising when he comes, must be shown at all times.
On his own part, however, a Guru should always be humble never arrogant
or pompous, thinking himself great and worthy of honor. P'a-ra Rinpoche, one of the most
realized disciples of the Senior and Junior Tutos of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai
Lama, always kept a scriptural text by his seat. Explaining why, he said that when people
would come to visit him and prostrated, at least they would gain some merit from showing
respect to the scriptures since he himself had no qualifications.
6) In order for the words of honor of neither the Guru nor the disciple
to degenerate, there must be a mutual examination beforehand (to determine if each can)
brave a Guru-disciple relationship.
Explanation: At tantric empowerments many sets of vows are taken never
to abandon the practices and procedures essential for spiritual progress. The disciple
pledges his word of honor never to transgress these vows, such as always to visualize his
Guru as inseparable from the meditational deity into whose practice he has just been
initiated. Such deities, as well as the Gurus, share he same Enlightened natures as all
the Buddhas, differing only in the physical aspect they manifest.
The Guru, too, has previously pledged his word of honor never to
disclose the tantric secrets to those who are unable to understand and keep them. Just as
the milk of a lion should not be kept in a clay pot, so the profound and powerful methods
of the tantra should not be entrusted to those who are not ready. If, having taken such
vows, either the Guru or disciple should allow his word of honor to degenerate, it will be
impossible for either to attain any of his goals and very serious unfortunate consequences
will follow for both. Therefore it is extremely important for there to be a mutual
examination between the Guru and disciple before they enter a formal relationship.
In ancient times in order to receive an empowerment a potential
disciple would have to ask over a period of three years. An initiation was not at all
something casual. By making the disciple wait so long, a Guru impressed on him the
seriousness of entering the tantric path, tested his commitment and ensured that he was
properly prepared. Often a Guru would make a disciple wait even longer before agreeing to
teach him anything. He would repeatedly test his character and only when he had understood
him well would he accept his as his disciple.
The disciple also must test his potential Guru and determine if he is
fully qualified. He must be confident that he will be able to devote himself fully to this
Master. Before entering a formal Guru-disciple relationship, you have complete freedom
choice. But once such a bond has been established, these teachings on Guru-devotion must
be followed with total commitment.
7) A disciple with sense should not accept as his Guru someone who
lacks compassion or who is angersome, vicious or arrogant, possessive, undisciplined or
boasts of his knowledge.
8) (A Guru should be) stable (in his actions), cultivated (in his
speech), wise, patient and honest. He should neither conceal his shortcomings nor pretend
to possess qualities he lacks. He should be an expert in the meanings (of the tantra) and
in its ritual procedures (of medicine and turning back obstacles). Also he should have
loving compassion and a complete knowledge of the scriptures.
9) He should have full expertise in both ten fields, skill in the
drawing of mandalas, full knowledge of how to explain the tantra, supreme pure faith, and
his senses fully under control.
Explanation: In general, a Mahayana Guru should have the following ten
qualities: 1) discipline as a result of his mastery of the training in the higher
discipline of moral self-control: 2) mental quiescence from his training in higher
concentration; 3) pacification of all delusions and obstacles from his training in higher
wisdom; 4) more knowledge than his disciple in the subject to be taught; 5) enthusiastic
perseverance and joy in teaching; 6) a treasure of scriptural knowledge; 7) insight into
and understanding of Voidness; 8) skill in presenting the teachings 9) great compassion
and 10) no reluctance to teach and work for his disciples regardless of their level of
A Tantric Master must have even more good qualities, as listed in the
text. Most important is that he be an extremely stable person, with his body, speech and
mind totally under control. He should be someone on whose presence everyone feels calm,
peaceful and relaxed. Even the mere sight of him brings great pleasure to the mind. And
his compassion must be unsurpassable.
There are two sets of ten fields in which the Guru must be a complete master. The ten
inner ones are essential for teaching the yogas and anuttarayoga classes of tantra, which
stress the importance of purifying mainly internal mental activities.
These are expertise in 1) visualizing wheels of protection and eliminating obstacles 2)
preparing and consecrating protection knots and amulets to be worn around the neck 3)
conferring the vase and secret empowerments, planting the seeds for attaining a Buddha's
Wisdom Bodies; 5) separating the enemies of Dharma from their own protectors 6) making the
offerings, such as of sculptured tormas 7) reciting mantras, both verbally and mentally,
that is visualizing them revolving around his heart 8) performing wrathful ritual
procedures for forcefully catching the attention of the meditational deities and
protectors 9) consecrating images and statues and 10) making mandala offerings, performing
the meditational practices (sadhana) and taking self-initiations.
The ten external qualities are required for teaching the kriya and
carya classes of tantra, which stress the importance of purifying mainly external
activities in connection with internal mental processes. These are expertise in: 1)
drawing, constructing and visualizing the mandala abodes of the meditational deities 2)
maintaining the different states of single-minded concentration (samadhi) 3) executing the
hand gestures (mudra) 4) performing the ritual dances 5) sitting in the full meditational
position 6) reciting what is appropriate to these two classes of tantra 7) making fire
offerings 8) making the various other offerings 9) performing the rituals of a)
pacification of disputes, famine and disease, b) increase of life span, knowledge and
wealth, c) power to influence others and d) wrathful elimination of demonic forces and
interferences and 10) invoking meditational deities and dissolving them back into their
It is not sufficient for a Tantric Master merely to know how to perform
the superficial actions of these above rituals. He must actually be able to do them. For
instance, when consecrating an image of a meditational deity, he must be able to invoke
the actual deity and place it in the image, not merely recite the words of the
accompanying text. If you take as your Guru as Master with all these qualifications and
powers, and he accepts you as his disciple, you must devote yourself fully to him.
Although it is possible that out of delusion you might disagree with your Guru, never show
him disrespect or despise him from the depth of your heart.
10) Having become the disciple of such a protecting (guru), should you
then despise him from your heart, you will reap continual suffering as if you had
disparaged all the Buddhas.
11) If you are so foolish as to despise your Guru, you will contact
contagious diseases and those causes by harmful spirits. You will die (a horrible death)
caused by demons, plagues or poison.
12) You will be killed by (wicked) kings or fire, by poisonous snakes,
water, witches or bandits, by harmful spirits or savages, and then be reborn in a hell.
13) Never disturb your Guru's mind. Should you be foolish and happen to
do this, you will surely boil in a hell.
14) Whatever fearful hells have been taught, such as Avici, the Hell of
Uninterrupted Pain, it is clearly explained that those who disparage their Gurus will have
to remain there (a very long time).
15) Therefore exert yourself whole-heartedly never to belittle your
Tantric Master who makes no display of his great wisdom and virtues.
Explanation: As your Guru is a Buddha, despising him is the same as
hating all who are Enlightened. The states of Buddhahood is one of complete Liberation
from all suffering, ignorance, delusions and obstacles. It is the attainment of all good
qualities, complete perfection and total Omniscience. Despising or belittling such a state
by disparaging your Guru, you cast yourself in the opposite direction from happiness and
freedom. Having contempt for wisdom and Liberation, you gain instead bondage and pain.
Such tormented states are what have been described in all the scriptures as the various
Thus there are great dangers in entering a Guru-disciple relationship.
Your Tantric Master may be the one who has given you empowerments, a tantric discourse or
even instructions on mandala drawing. As he has no pretension and is never boastful, he
will always hide his good qualities and never hesitate to admit shortcomings. If you do
not recognize such traits, as indications of his perfection, humility and skilful means,
you may make the serious mistake of belittling or seeing faults in him.
Having established a formal bond with this Guru and through him entered
a pathway to Buddhahood, you have then cast yourself into terrible suffering if from the
depth of your heart you break this link. Therefore you must have great awareness, for
although Guru-devotion will elevate you to Full Enlightenment, a breach of it will be your
16) If from a lack of awareness you have shown disrespect to your Guru,
reverently present an offering to him and seek his forgiveness. Then in the futures such
harm and plagues will not befall you.
Explanation: As a Buddha, a Guru will never hold a grudge. Showing him
disrespect cannot possibly offend or hurt him. The only one you harm is yourself.
Therefore if you respect and beg his forgiveness, he will accept what you offer with great
compassion. Then by the force of your faith, respect and devotion, you need not experience
The beneficial effects of Guru-devotion and the dire consequences of a
breach of it are not rewards and punishments from a godly Guru. They follow directly from
cause and effect. Your Guru is the focal point for your practices leading to
Enlightenment. The more devoted you are towards the state of perfection he represents, the
closer you come towards this goal. Despising him can only take you further away into
darkness and ignorance.
17) It has been taught that for the Guru to whom you have pledge your
word of honor (to visualize as one with your meditational deity), you should willingly
sacrifice your wife, children and even your life, although these are not (easy) to give
away. Is there need to mention your fleeting wealth?
18) (Such practice of offering) can confer even Buddhahood on a zealous
(disciple) in his very lifetime, which otherwise might be difficult to attain even in
countless millions of eons.
19) Always keep your word of honor. Always make offerings to the
Enlightened Ones. Always make offerings also to your Guru, for he is the same as all the
20) Those who wish (to attain) the inexhaustible (state of a Buddha's
Wisdom Body) should give to their Guru whatever they themselves find pleasing, from the
most trifling objects to those of best quality
21) Giving (to your Guru) is the same as making continual offerings to
all the Buddhas. From such giving much merit is gathered. From such collection comes the
supreme powerful attainment (of Buddhahood).
Explanation: Making offerings to your Guru as the representative of all
the Buddhas is extremely important. Such generosity is symbolic of your total dedication
to achieving Buddhahood. If because of miserliness or selfishness you hold back from
giving what you find the most pleasing and offer only what you do not want for yourself,
how can your promise to give yourself totally for the work of benefiting all sentient
beings by anything but a farce? Without any attachment you must be willing to sacrifice
everything for your attainment of Enlightenment through your Guru. The offering mandala
symbolizes this dedication of your body, speech and mind, and even the entire universe for
If you are poor like Je-tzun Mi-la ra-pa, it does not matter that you
do not have riches to offer. What is important is your state of mind and willingness to
sacrifice anything for the sake of your Guru, Enlightenment and all sentient beings. The
best offering, then, is of your practice. But if you have wealth, you must never hesitate
to use it for gaining merit.
Therefore making offerings is not so that your guru can become rich. On
his part the Guru should regard such offerings as a tiger would look at grass. The point
is to benefit yourself and ultimately everyone else by your total dedication. Great merit
is gathered from such practice, resulting in your attainment of the Form Body of a Buddha.
If you can see the void nature, that is the lack of true independent existence of
yourself, your Guru and what you offer, then you accumulate at the same time, the insight
that will result in your achievement of a Buddha's Wisdom Body. Thus the supreme powerful
attainment of Buddahood comes from making offerings to your Guru.
22) Therefore, a disciple with the good qualities of compassion,
generosity, moral self-control and patience should never regard as different his Guru and
the Buddha Vajradhara.
Explanation: Your Guru, the meditational deities and Vajradhara, the
form Buddha assumes in the tantras, are all the same in nature. They are like a single
person in a drama changing masks and costumes and playing different roles. The same is
true if you have many Gurus. You must regard them all as Buddha, differing only in the
face he wears.
The ability to see your Guru as not different from Buddha Vajradhara
depends on your motivation. If you have developed an Enlightened Motive of Bodhicitta, you
are striving to become a Buddha yourself in order to be fully able to benefit others. The
stronger this motive, the more the thought of Enlightenment comes to pervade your mind
completely. Thinking only of Enlightenment and ways to achieve it, you will automatically
be able to see your Guru in terms of this state because nothing else will be in your mind.
The more you wish to attain Enlightenment, the clearer you see the
necessity for your Guru to be a Buddha. Thus, with the strong compassion of wishing others
never to suffer, you can dedicate yourself easily and with joy. Through the practice of
the perfections of generosity, the discipline of moral self-control, patience and so
forth, all centered around your Guru, you will then be ale to attain his state.
23) If you should never tread on even (your Guru's) shadow, because the
fearsome consequences are the same as destroying a stupa, is there need to mention never
stepping on or over his shoes or seat, (sitting in his place or riding) his mount?
Explanation: A stupa is a monument in which relics of a Buddha are
kept. Like your Guru, it serves as a focal point for your veneration and devotion to
attaining Buddhahood. Destroying one and stepping on your Guru's shadow, then, are both
acts of extreme disregard and disrespect for the state of Enlightenment. Therefore the
fearsome consequences of both are the same.
If you treat your Guru's shoes, seat, and the horse or vehicle he rides
as ordinary objects, and presume to use them yourself or step on them, your arrogant
attitude can only become a major hindrance to your attainment of Buddhahood.
24) (A disciple) having great sense should obey the words of his Guru
joyfully and with enthusiasm. If you lack the knowledge or ability (to do what he says),
explain in (polite) words why you cannot (comply).
25) It is from your Guru that powerful attainments, higher rebirth, and
happiness come. Therefore make a whole-hearted effort never to transgress your Guru's
Explanation: Obeying your Guru's orders and following his advice
are more important than making countless offerings. Entrusting yourself fully to him, he
will guide you along the path to Enlightenment. If with haughty pride and stubborn
closed-mindedness you think you know what is best for your own spiritual progress, how
will you be able to learn anything from him?
This does not mean that you should become a mindless slave or that your
Guru can take undue advantage of you. As you are aiming for the complete freedom in the
means of attaining it. You should never follow your Guru's wishes simply because you feel
obligated or forced to obey. Rather try to understand his intentions and aim. Your Guru
will only tell you to do what is beneficial for yourself and others. What he asks may be
difficult and its immediate purpose may not be obvious, but you should receive his advice
joyfully and with deep gratitude for his concern with you welfare.
Examine yourself honestly to see if you can follow wishes. If there is
no way in which you can comply, do not be rude or arrogant. Explain politely and with
extreme humility what the difficulty is. Your Guru will not be unreasonable; as a Buddha
he is filled with great compassion.
If, however, you can avoid transgressing his advice, this is best.
Following the spiritual path as he directs, you can attain not only the ordinary powerful
attainments (siddhi) of extra-physical and mental powers common to non-Buddhists, but
depending on your motivation, a higher rebirth, the happiness of Liberation or the supreme
powerful attainment of Buddhahood.
26) (Guard) your Guru's belongings as you would your own life. Treat
even your Guru's beloved (family) with the same (respect you show) for him. (Have
affectionate regard for) those closely around him as if they were your own dearest kin.
Single-mindedly think (in this way at all times).
Explanation: Before Drom-ton-pa studies with Atisa, he served another
Guru in K'am. During the day he carried his master's children on his back, spun wool, with
his hands, and softened leather with his feet. At night he tended his animals. He did all
this with great joy, and although he was only a layman, Atisa appointed him to receive all
the teachings he brought to Tibet.
When Je-tzun Mi-la ra-pa was serving Mar-pa, he would throw himself in
the mud and beg his Guru's wife to sit on him while she milked the cows. You must have
such respect and devotion for everyone close to your Guru. Remember that he is a Buddha
with equal regard and love for all. If you are jealous of his family, attendants or other
disciples, if you are possessive of his time and attention, this clearly shows that you do
not sincerely believe him to be a Buddha.
27) Never sit on the (same) bed or seat (as your Guru), nor walk ahead
of him. (At teachings do not) wear your hair in a top-knot, (a hat, shoes or any weapons).
Never touch a seat before he sits down or if he happens to sit on the ground. Do not place
your hands (proudly) on your hips or wring them (before him).
28) Never sit or recline while your Guru is standing (nor lie while he
is sitting). Always be ready to stand up and serve him skillfully in an excellent manner.
29) In the presence of your Guru never do such things as spit, cough,
or sneeze without covering your head. Never stretch out your legs when at your seat, nor
walk back and forth (without reason) before him. And never argue.
30) Never massage or rub your limbs. Do not sing, dance or play musical
instruments (for other than religious purposes). And never chatter idly or speak in excess
(or too loudly) within the range of (your Guru's) hearing.
Explanation: All these examples of improper behavior are prohibited not
because your Guru will be offended: Buddhas cannot be affected by rudeness. It is because
you wish to attain his state of perfection, and have great respect for this achievement,
that you should not act in a coarse, arrogant or inconsiderate manner.
The customs outlined here are not meant to be unnatural and cruel
restrictions. If you are sitting cross-legged at a discourse and this becomes too
uncomfortable, you are certainly permitted to left your knees or shift your position. But
to sit casually with your feet stretched out towards your Guru reflects a flippant,
disrespectful attitude. Receiving a discourse is not like attending a sporting event. It
is not for your amusement, but for your attainment of Enlightenment that you are with your
Guru. Therefore you must show him great respect and always be alert to his needs and
31) (When your Guru enters the room) get up from your seat and bow your
head slightly. Sit (in his presence) respectfully. At night or at rivers or on a dangerous
paths, with (your Guru's) permission you may walk before him.
32) In the direct sight of his Guru, (a disciple) with sense should not
(sit) with his body twisted around, nor leaning (casually) against pillars and such. Never
crack your knuckles, (play with your fingers or clean your nails).
Explanation: You must always be considerate of your Guru. As he is the
one who will show you the way to complete freedom from all your suffering and how to be
able to liberate others, he is more precious than anything else. If he is in danger, you
must protect him. Do not sit back idly and proudly as if you owned the entire world.
33) When washing (your Guru's) feet or his body, drying, massaging or
(shaving) him, precede such actions with (three) prostrations and at their conclusion do
the same. Then attend (to yourself) as much as you like.
Explanation: If you have the opportunity to wash your Guru, shave his
head, or in any way attend to his comfort, you will be able to gain a great deal of merit.
Thus all such actions must be done with the greatest respect. Never selfishly think of
your own needs first. Your primary concern is with your Guru and your attainment of his
Enlightened state. Only afterwards should you care for yourself.
34) Should you need to address (your Guru) by his name, add the title
"Your Presence" after it. To generate respect for him in others, further
honorifics may also be used.
Explanation: Once when Je Tzong-k'a-pa was giving a discourse to a few
disciples in a retreat house above where Sera Monastery later was built, K'adr'up Je came
to meet him for the first time. He asked a nun living near by where the Venerable
Tzong-k'a-pa could be found and she ran off without saying a word. She rinsed her mouth,
lit a stick of incense and then replied, "My gracious, venerable Abbot, His Presence
Je Tzong-k'a-pa resides over there.
If your Guru's name is Rin-ch'en dor-je, you may refer to him when
speaking to others as "my spiritual master, His Presence, the holy, venerable
Rin-ch'en dor-je." At least some respectful titles must be used. It is extremely
crude, arrogant and grating to address, refer to or write about your Guru merely using his
personal name. Your Guru is not your childhood playmate, but a Buddha leading you to
35) When asking for your Guru's advice, (first announce why you have
come). With palms pressed together at your heart, listen to what he tells you without
(letting your mind) wander about. Then (when he has spoken) you should reply, "I
shall do exactly as you have said."
36) After doing (what your Guru has told you), report (what has
happened) in polite, gentle words. Should you yawn or cough, (clear your throat or laugh
in his presence), cover your mouth with your hand.
Explanation: never waste your Guru's time by coming to him merely for
idle chatter. After making prostration three times, announce the purpose of your visit
directly. Ask your questions in a straightforward manner, with extreme politeness and
humility. If your Guru gives you advice or asks you to do something, examine yourself to
see if you can comply. If you cannot, then excuse yourself and explain why. Do not promise
to do something and then go back on your word. The consequences of such disobedience and
negligence are very serious. But if you can comply, tell him you will do what he says.
Keep him informed of your progress and always report in the end what you have done.
37) If you wish to receive a certain teaching, request three times with
your palms pressed together while kneeling before him on your (right) knee. (Then at his
discourse) sit humbly with respect, wearing appropriate clothing that is neat (and clean,
without ornaments, jewelry, or cosmetics).
38) Whatever you do to serve (your Guru) or show him respect should
never be done with an arrogant mind. Instead you should be like a newly-wed bride, timid,
bashful, and very subdued.
39) Whatever you do to serve (your Guru) who teaches you (the path),
stop acting in a conceited coquetish manner. As for boasting to others what you have done
(for your Guru), examine (your conscience) and discard all such acts.
Explanation: It is improper for a Guru to offer to teach without being
specifically requested. He teaches to benefit his disciples, not to display his knowledge.
Therefore it is important to make such requests in the proper, formal manner. However, do
not try to pressure your Guru into teaching you something too advanced for your level. He
will judge when you are ready. Do not haughtily order him to do what you think is best.
When attending his discourse, remember it is not a social event. The
only reason you are there is to learn how to attain Enlightenment for the benefit of
others. You have not come to show off your wealth or beauty to others, so do not adorn
yourself like a peacock. Also, be aware and considerate of the social customs of those
around you. Never dress in a manner offensive to others that would cause their minds to
become disturbed. Be neat, clean and unostentatious, sitting with great respect for your
When serving your Guru, do not be childish. Whatever service you do or
offerings you make are for you to attain Enlightenment through its merit. Do not do such
things so that you can boast to others how pious and devoted you are. No merit is to be
gained from arrogance. Do not serve your Guru with haughty pride as though you were doing
him a great favor. He does not need your help; he is a Buddha. But you need his help very
much, for by allowing you to perform small tasks he is giving you a great opportunity to
gather merit. Therefore remember his kindness in allowing you to serve him.
Also, do not act in a coquetish manner, flirting with your Guru as
though you could win his favor in this way. Your Guru is a Buddha with equal loving
compassion for all. He will not be impressed by your frivolous behavior.
40) If you are (requested) to perform a consecration, (an initiation
into) a mandala or a fire offering ceremony or to gather disciples and deliver a
discourse, you may not do so if your Guru resides in that area, unless you receive his
41) Whatever offerings you receive from performing such rites as (the
consecration known as) Opening the Eyes, you should present all these to your Guru. Once
he has taken a token portion, you may use the reset for whatever you like.
42) In the presence of his Guru a disciple should not act (as a Guru)
to his own disciples and they should not act towards him as their Guru. Therefore, (before
your own Guru) stop (your disciples) from showing you respect such as rising (when you
come) and making prostration.
Explanation: Even when you have become a Guru yourself, you must still
practice great devotion to your Guru. If you are requested by your own disciples to give
an empowerment, a discourse and so forth, and your own Guru resides in the same area, you
should ask him first if he can give this in your place. If your Guru cannot, then only
with his approval may you perform such ceremonies yourself.
If your Guru lives far away, you should write to him for permission to
accept a disciple or give any teachings. You should not act independently with pride as if
you were a great and holy master, but always in deference to his advice. Especially in the
presence of your Guru you must not allow your own disciples to show you respect. You must
at all times be humble. Therefore any offerings you receive should be taken to your Guru
as a sign of your respect. He will take a token and then give them back. He has no greed
for your offerings, but you must always have him foremost in your mind.
Once Ra-Ch'ung-pa was living in the same town as his Guru, Je-tzun Mila
ra-pa. As he was noted for being very handsome, many devotees came to see him and
presented him with a great deal of offerings. He thought, "If I have been given so
many offerings, then surely my Guru has received at least three times as much."
He went to his Master and said, "Didn't we receive a lot of
offerings today. Let us share them with all the other disciples." But his Guru showed
him that all he had been given that day was piece of meat, a cheese cake, and some butter.
Ra-Ch'ung-pa felt very embarrassed that he had received more offerings than his Guru and
told him he would leave town immediately.
He asked permission to go to Lhasa to see the famous Buddha image.
Je-tzun Mi-la ra-pa replied, "If you see your Guru as a Buddha, what use is it to
look at a statue?"
He then asked if he could visit the ancient monastery at Sam-ya. Again
his Guru answered, "When looking at the spectacle of your mind, what use is it to see
A third time he requested to make a pilgrimage to Lhodr'ag where his
Guru's Master, the great translator Mar-pa had lived. His Guru only said, "If you
meditate on my Master's teachings, what good is it to see his house?"
Je-Tzun Mi-la ra-pa told him not to try to do many things, but to go
into meditational retreat in order to gain more confidence in his practice. And this is
what Ra-ch'ung-pa did, for he realized that it is not proper for a disciple to receive
more respect and offerings than his Guru.
43) Whenever you make an offering to your Guru or whenever your Guru
presents you with something, a disciple with sense will (present and) receive this using
both hands and with his head slightly bent.
44) Be diligent in all your actions, (alert and) mindful never to
forget (your word of honor). If fellow-disciples transgress (what is proper) in their
behavior, correct each other in a friendly manner.
Explanation: All disciples who receive tantric empowerments from the
same Guru become "vajra" brothers and sisters. You should have great affection
and regard among you, helping each other stay on the path. Never be jealous proud or
compete with your fellow-disciples. By correcting each other you please your Guru and
everyone benefits. If there is unity and harmony among Dharma friends, this will spread
into the lives of others around you.
45) If because of sickness you are physically (unable) to bow to your
Guru and must do what normally would be prohibited, even without (his explicit)
permission, there will be no unfortunate consequences if you have a virtuous mind.
Explanation: Guru-devotion is not a fanatic practice. If you are ill
and your Guru enters the room, you need not stand up and prostrate. If you have something
to present, but are too weak to extend your hand, it is permissible even for your Guru to
bend down to your bed and receive it. This is not showing disrespect for your Guru,
because in your heart you wish to do what is proper but your physical condition prevents
However, there are certain things for which there are no exceptions.
You must never disturb your Guru's mind, boast, be arrogant, or disrespectful no matter
what the circumstances.
46) What need is there to say much more. Do whatever pleases your Guru
and avoid doing anything he would not like. Be diligent in both of these.
47) "Powerful attainments follow from (doing what) your Guru
(likes)." This has been said by (the Buddha) Vajradhara himself. Knowing this, try to
please your Guru fully with all the actions (of body, speech, and mind).
Explanation: Everyone wants only happiness and never to experience any
suffering. The source of these achievements is your Guru, for he shows you the path to
Buddahood and, by his living example as an Enlightened Being, inspires you to travel this
path yourself. If you realize this, you will understand the importance of single-minded
Guru-devotion and you will do only what please him. As the source of these teachings is
the Buddha Vajradhara, you should put aside all doubts. Follow them with full conviction,
and you can attain Enlightenment.
What pleases your Guru, then, is your practice leading to Buddahood.
Thus your motivation for pleasing him should be Bodhicitta and your wish to help others.
You should not be prompted by worldly desires such as seeking your Guru's praise or
fatherly approval. Moreover, if your Guru scolds you, examine your feelings. If you have
not intentionally belittled him or sought to annoy him, and if you have not responded to
his scolding with anger or accusations that he is unenlightened, then you have not
committed a breach of Guru-devotion. In such situations it is totally inappropriate to
become depressed, despondent, or to fee self-pity and guilt that your Guru does not love
you anymore. To do so is an indication of your strong ego-grasping which causes you to
take his criticism too personally.
Mar-pa scolded and even beat Je tzun Mi-la ra-pa many times. This was
not because he personally disliked him, but because out of compassion he saw the need for
skilful means that were forceful. Thus if your Guru is wrathful with you, try to see this
as a method he is using to tame your mind and lead you to Enlightenment. As a Buddha, how
could he possibly hate you?
48) After a disciple has taken refuge in the Triple Gem and developed a
pure (Enlightened motive), he should be given this (text) to take to his heart (how to
abandon his own arrogant self-will and) follow his Guru's footsteps (along the Graded Path
49) (By studying the prerequisite training of Guru-devotion and the
Graded Path, common to both the sutra and tantra), you will become a (suitable) vessel (to
hold) the pure Dharma. You may then be given such teachings as tantra. After receiving the
proper empowerments), recite out loud the fourteen root vows and take them sincerely to
Explanation: If as a disciple you have pure thoughts to benefit others,
are humble, not arrogant or selfish and have no rough manners, your Guru will first teach
you what it means to take refuge. He will demonstrate the stability, direction, and
meaning your life can be given by going for protection from all your suffering and
confusion to the Triple Gem of the Buddhas, their teachings of Dharma and the Sangha
community of those who realize them. He will then guide you gradually through the Three
Principal Paths of renunciation, an Enlightened Motive of Bodhicitta and a correct
understanding of Voidness. On the firm foundation of your refuge and Bodhicitta vows, you
can then be given these detailed teachings on Guru-devotion.
This text was written to be recited daily so that disciples will not
forget the important points of how to conduct themselves with their Guru. When your Master
has prepared you in this way for the tantric teachings, and you have become a suitable
vessel, then it is proper for him to initiate you. He will then explain the tantric vows
and you must be sure never to transgress them. Buddha Vajradhara has promised that even if
you do no meditation but keep purely for sixteen lifetimes the root tantric vows, you will
thereby accumulate enough merit and eliminate sufficient obstacles to attain
After receiving initiations, you will be empowered to follow the
complete tantric path as your Guru directs you through the development and completing
stages. Your success will depend on your Guru-devotion and the purity of keeping all the
vows. Thus proper devotion to your Guru in accordance with these teachings is essential
throughout the path to the Enlightened state of non-duality with your
50) As I have not made the mistake when writing this work (of adding my
personal interpretation), may this be of infinite benefit to all disciples who would
follow their Guru. By limitless merit I have gathered in this way, may all sentient beings
quickly attain the state of Buddha.