Guidelines for Students of the Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche – 1999

Ganden Tsongkhapa Cave





Today more and more people are searching deeply for inner peace and for answers on the spiritual path. Each year there are an increasing number of people studying the Buddhist path and meditation. People see Buddha’s teaching as a way of life rather than as faith or as just religion. People practice Buddha’s sublime path and meditation because it makes their lives more meaningful. They see that their lives can be useful for the benefit of all living beings.

I have been teaching Buddha-dharma in the West for the last 23 years now. I have introduced the dharma to hundreds perhaps thousands of people in Australia and North America. I was one of the first Tibetan Lamas to become a resident teacher in Australia in 1976. Today Buddhism is growing rapidly in Australia. I have also been teaching in North America since 1980. I see dharma has taken root in the West. I am hopeful that dharma will grow continuously in the West.

I have learned so much about Western people, their culture and traditions and sometimes their lack of traditions. People in the West generally are kind, caring, honest, generous and helpful. At the same time people are lonely, isolated, dissatisfied confused and suffering from different emotional problems. Many people who practice dharma have their own problems. One problem is not being able to integrate dharma practice into their everyday life.

Generally people in the West are intellectual. Many people have university degrees so they know a lot. But most people in the West think too much and spend too much time talking about dharma instead of practicing. Most people think too much about past and
future and do not realize we have to be in the present moment.

Some people misunderstand meditation and Buddhist teaching. People sometimes think that meditation is escaping from daily activities of life. However, dharma practice is not escaping from
life. If we are practicing correctly, dharma teaches us how to be in the world and cultivate compassion, Bodhichitta, Shunyata, and true renunciation.

Buddha taught the sublime path for everyone. In Buddhism there is a path for everyone regardless of your life style; whether you are a farmer, truck driver, lawyer, bagman, monk or mother of 7 children. The Buddhist path is not a narrow path or one-way street
only for people who are so-called renounced.

The following are guidelines for those who want to be my student …

Following my lineage

I would like to ask those of you who wish me to be your teacher or spiritual guide to make a commitment to the lineage that I belong to. My lineage is the lineage of Lama Je
Tsong Khapa, the Gaden Tradition (known as Gelugpa) of Tibetan Buddhism.

Teacher-student relationship

I would like you to establish a good and healthy teacher-student relationship. By healthy teacher-student relationship I mean that the purpose of the relationship is to assist you in your dharma practice. You should respect the teacher and appreciate the teachings and the kind advice of the teacher. You must not take the teacher for granted. You should also accept criticism given by the teacher and take it as advice for your benefit not as something personal. You should take teachings and instructions whenever you can. You should learn to practice the teachings while you are around the teacher and when you are not with the teacher, and especially when you don’t see your teacher for many months or a few years. You should learn how to relate to the teacher and study dharma protocol and etiquette. You should not make yourself totally dependent on the teacher. Don’t become mindless students. Buddha said ultimately you are your own teacher and you are your own witness.

Organizing dharma practice

You should organize your dharma practice in your everyday dharma life. Ask questions of yourself every now and then: what is my dharma practice? Where is my dharma practice? Ultimately you have to take responsibility for how much you practice and when you practice. The teacher is not going to practice for you. The Lama cannot make you become a Buddha if you don’t practice. Yes we all have Buddha nature and we are destined to become Buddha but there is no Buddhahood without meditation. If we don’t organize our dharma practice and do not practice in everyday life; if we wait for a time in the future for dharma practice to happen to us; or if we say to our self One day I will do a long retreat or meditation; unfortunately the opportunity may never happen. Remember our life is transient like a flash of lightening or a dream. 40 years will pass like a cloud.
We are born into this dream world. One day we will die and our entire life will be the same as a passing dream. We have to be serious dharma practitioners and we should not waste each others life and time. I don’t need more students but if you are a sincere practitioner I am happy to help you organize your dharma life and practice.

What I recommend that you study                                                                        

You could study so many subjects and teachings. These are the first one should study. I advise you to study and practice the following:
• Study sutra and tantra
• Mahamudra
• Lo Jong Thought Transformation
• Mind and mental factors
• Lam Rim Chen Mo and Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand and other Lam Rim teachings
• Foundation Practices: refuge and guru yoga, prostrations, Vajrasattva practice and Mandala Offering

Initiations I feel are important for you to receive

Those of you who are ready to take initiations and who may wish to practice deity yoga, should do the following practices step by step when you are ready. This does not mean that all my students should take all these initiations. This is the order, how it is written. It
is better to practice Kriya tantra deity practice, sadhanas and visualization first because it is simpler and less commitments. Make yourself familiar with the practice develop deity appearance and vajra pride. Then gradually one could step into higher tantra, once a
foundation is established.

If you have no connection or not much feeling for tantric practice don’t feel you must take initiations. Sutrayana is sufficient to become a Buddha, to become enlightened. If you don’t wish to practice tantra you should not feel that you have to in order to become a better dharma person. One should practice Sutrayana and Lam Rim and Three Principle Path, Renunciation, Bodhichitta, Shunyata. That is good. Also practice sila, samadhi and prajna (Sanskrit for ethics, concentration and wisdom).

One can take Bodhisattva vow separate from initiations in order to develop realization of bodhichitta. Tantric vows are not necessary unless you take higher tantric initiation. Kriya initiation is not required to take tantric vows. When you take Kriya tantra you only
take bodhisattva vows.

These are the main deity practices of my lineage:

Kriya Tantra
• Lama Tsong Khapa including Manjushri, Chenresig, Vajrapani
• Vajrasattva
• Green Tara
• Medicine Buddha
• Sarasvati
• Chenresig
Annutara Yoga Tantra
• Chöd
• Chittamani Tara
• Yamantaka
These are the last ones:
• Heruka 5 Deity according to Mahasiddhi Ghantapa
• Heruka Body Mandala according to Mahasiddhi Ghantapa
• Vajrayogini according to Mahasiddhi Naropada

You can receive the above initiations only after advice from the teacher. Generally you should not take too many initiations. You should practice the deity practice of the initiations you have already received. If you don’t practice the ones you have there is no
point in taking more initiations. Some Tibetans and Western dharma people say, Take more initiations. It is a good blessing. Maybe it is a good blessing but taking too many initiations may become an obstacle without considering the purpose of practice.

Some people don’t know which practice they should do and who is their Yidam or personal deity. Some people don’t know where to focus their practice and also they don’t have time to do all their practices. They even have a hard time just to do the mantras.

Sometimes people feel bad because they haven’t done the practice and haven’t kept their commitments. Sometimes people feel they are lying to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas each time they take an initiation because they know they won’t be able to keep the vows
and commitments.

Some people may feel that the practices they do have become routine recitations and have become obligations so there is no joy left in the practice. This does happen especially when people are very tired and try to do all their commitments before going to bed. When you don’t experience joy or don’t feel good when you do your practices it becomes similar to religious worship, rather than providing spiritual inspiration, cultivation of loving kindness and cultivating clear light and bliss. A lot of people practice religion but
they are not necessary spiritual. Many people practice religion out of fear to ensure they get through the door of heaven after death. If you wish to take initiations from me with daily commitments and vows you must check with me first. I don’t like giving commitments to people who are not ready.

Also if you wish to take initiations from other Lamas you should always check with me first because some teachers give initiations to everyone without consideration of who is qualified and who is not qualified. Some Lamas don’t give explanations and sometimes the Lamas don’t speak English. They don’t explain whether there is a commitment or not. Some people later find out there was a commitment but they are not sure what they are. Some people don’t even know the mantras.

People experience being stuck and often don’t know what to do with the initiation once they have received it. It is like you have inherited an expensive and beautiful car but you don’t know how to drive it. We can always sell the car but we can’t sell the initiation or give it back to the Lama or give it to someone else. So there can be lots of confusions
around initiations, deity practice and commitments. So please check with me before taking an initiation from me or any other Lamas.

When you have questions about your practice and I am not available

When I have gone into retreat and other places like Tibet where people can’t reach me, and you have questions about how to do a fire puja or self initiation and retreat and how to set up the altar etc, I would like you to ask these questions of some of my older students whom I have appointed as dharma teachers in Australia, America or Canada. You don’t have to wait until I come back.

Writing to me

If your question is important especially with regard to your dharma practice you are welcome to write to me. When you write think about what is appropriate to write. Write a short letter and really get into the point of your questions, make your questions specific
perhaps in point form so that I can give very specific replies. Please don’t write to me about mundane things because I have very little time. That would be very helpful for me.
Define the question and put some thought into what you really want to find out or what you are really asking. If it is an important question I will write to you or you will get a reply, through my secretary. If your question is not very important then I will not reply.
No answer is answer.

What you can do if you break your commitments

When or if you break your vow or commitment don’t wait until you see me. You should do purification such as Vajrasattva mantras, prostrations and recite the sutra of three heaps, recite the names of the thirty five Buddhas. Also you could do heart sutra. Those who have done retreats on Vajrayogini or Yamantaka you could do self-initiation. This way your broken vows will be purified. Don’t wait until I come back to see you. When you do break the vow or  commitment don’t stop after that. Keep doing your practice.
Breaking your commitments does not mean your practice is no longer valid.
One of my teachers, Tara Rinpoche, always said: “If you forget to eat breakfast then you don’t stop there. You go ahead and eat lunch.”

Annual retreats

I would like you to ask you as my student to do an annual retreat minimum one-week or 10 days. You could do a retreat on Mahamudra or Vipassana , Lo Jong, Lam Rim or Shamatha or on one of the deity yogas. It is very important to do annual retreats.

Being socially active

I would like to ask you to be socially active or socially engaged Buddhists. By this I mean it is important to do some  charitable works or whatever you can to help poor people. You can do this either by making financial contributions or helping in some other way. This is very important. I would like to ask you to help people in  the world who are suffering from injustice, oppression, like Tibetans and many other people in different parts of the world. Also I would like you to help with the environment by supporting the environment movement in projects to save forests and protecting wildlife and so forth.

Children and the dharma

I would like to ask you, especially those who have children, to think about how to educate our children and give them a dharma  education and not to neglect children. Sometimes I see some dharma parents when they go into retreats or meditate they just
leave the kids alone in front of the TV. I think this is neglect and this is not dharma practice. You should think very carefully not to neglect them and how to educate them and give them dharma education. Our children are our future.
When I say give them dharma education I mean to educate them very skillfully. We have to think about not pushing dharma onto them because if you push the dharma the children may turn against dharma, so we have to be careful how we involve them in dharma.

Right livelihood

It is important that we as dharma practitioners practice right livelihood. It is important how we live in our everyday life. We must try to do what we can do and do our best not to do things that would cause problems for the environment. In our way of earning our
living or in our jobs or in life in general, we must try to do our best not to hurt other people and animals and to make the best use of resources possible and so forth.

Dharma finance

I would like my students to organize their dharma finance. Put some money aside for long term retreats or short term retreats. In the West nothing is free. We don’t live in Tibet or Thailand where  dharma teachings are free. The reason they are free in those places is because the temples were built a long time ago, maybe 100 years ago. The temples have traditional benefactors. The teachers, monks and nuns don’t have to pay rent or mortgage.

In the West we have to pay rent or mortgage for our centres. There are costs involved in running centres: for newsletters, posters, telephone calls, food; travel expenses for invited teachers. So you should think about this and put some money aside if you want to do
retreats and take teachings. Don’t make excuses about money.
You should organize your dharma finances. Buddha was so kind; he said in a sutra for lay people or people in general that they should think about their finances and budget as dharma people. He said you put some money aside for emergencies, some money for old age, because in those days there was no pension from the government. Then you keep some money for everyday spending and some money for other purposes, like charity, retreats or practice. Buddha gave very detailed advice in a sutra to help people organize their dharma life and dharma finance.

Service to Sangha and Centre

It is very beneficial to give your support to your centre and your spiritual community. Practice the four givings and the four  immeasurables in your spiritual community. Give regular service at your Centre/Gompa. Take on a job and do it! Responsible  participation is essential to the well being of the community. Be a spiritual friend to each member of your spiritual community. Treat all beings as your guest.

Be non-sectarian

I would like my students to be non-sectarian. I would like you to respect all the religions of the world, the different traditions of Buddhism and the different schools within Tibetan Buddhism. Do not criticize the practices of others. This is what I call being  non-sectarian. Being non-sectarian does not mean you keep doing spiritual shopping. It does not mean mixing up everything so that your practice becomes a mishmash of a whole lot of practices from different lineages and so that you don’t really know what your main
practice is and where to focus. I would like you to not mix up all the different traditions.

Don’t mix up dharma with politics

I would like you to not mix dharma and politics together. We need to know the difference between policy and politics. We have policy like in a family where there are ways of doing things and rules etc. Similarly in the dharma centres there are guidelines and policy but that’s not politics. Politics is using the dharma in order to gain something like power or make yourself better than others, or to indicate that you are more competent than others or as way of putting others down, or as an excuse to treat other people badly, or as a way of discriminating against other people, or as a way of causing others to feel isolated.

Politics is about ways of gaining power; prestige or positions of influence that serve your own agenda; to gain worldly things. Forgetting about the real meaning of dharma and even forgetting that you might be harming others or not even wanting to see it and keep pushing your own agenda, that’s what I call dharma politics. Basically politics is used to discriminate against others to make yourself look good.

I would like my students not to use politics to position themselves in a dharma group by obtaining influence and forgetting about the real purpose of dharma practice. I would like you to remember what dharma really means. Being part of a dharma group is an ideal
place to really practice compassion and love and wanting to help, and putting others first.

Please remember wherever you are, either in a dharma group or in your work place, dharma practice is being helpful to all sentient beings and not attempting to use them for your gain or for your purposes .

I have written these guidelines as information for new students who may wish me to be their teacher so that they will know what I expect from them as a student. I have also written this for old students to remind them about what I would like all my students to consider in their study and practice.
Zasep Tulku Rinpoche Australia, May 1999

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