This is respectfully addressed to all spiritual aspirants,
Whether our teacher is famous or high profile or not should not matter in our trust, belief and loyalty towards our teacher. Whatever our teacher disseminates to us should have a lineage and since it has brought benefit to others in the past for hundreds of years, why doubt? Teachings must have a lineage and if our teacher has explained the lineage to us and we have accepted it, then go all the way with it without further doubts. In this case, more people or less people following a teacher does not make the teacher more or less genuine. Many great masters are obscure and choose that on purpose. What makes the teachings alive and potent is our trust, devotion and loyalty in our teacher coupled with transforming our minds. When we lose faith or criticize our teacher, we criticize his lineage, his teacher, his students and his sincerity because everyone is intertwined. When we criticize and leave our teacher, no matter how many new teachers we meet and take teachings from, there will be no results according to Vajradhara. This advice is very important. We must face that truth and overcome our anger, egos and wrong views. If we genuinely have a problem with our teacher that cannot be overcome, speak to the teacher, share and explain and if it doesn’t work, ask permission to go to another teacher. Even when we have gone to another teacher, we should never criticize or attempt to damage the teacher we had left. Why? Because that teacher did impart Dharma to us. We should speak respectfully of our past teachers and remember their kindness. He did spend time, show love and shower us with gifts and perhaps our karmas are different. We cannot scorn everyone who doesn’t match our projections. Don’t forget this ever. Being grateful is a necessary component of higher attainments, hence we recall our teachers and lineage lamas in all higher practices (sadhanas) of any tantric deities daily. We recite the liturgies of invoking on our teacher’s and lineage teachers’ blessings daily in our meditations and sadhanas. The reason is to develop a sense of being grateful and taking nothing for granted. Therefore we should not criticize even our lineage lamas or listen to the criticism of them by others. To have doubts in our lineage lamas or criticize them or agree with criticism in any way also impairs the ability to gain attainments in any of the higher tantric practices. The practices such as Yamantaka, Kalachakra, Gyalwa Gyatso, Cittimani Tara, Vajrayogini, Heruka, Guhyasamaja and Hevajra all have daily invocational liturgies to our root and lineage lamas. These are recited daily and their blessings are invoked upon daily.
For example, within the Gelugpa lineage lamas, we have Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, etc. Every single day, within our major meditational practices, we recite their names daily and invoke upon them to bless us to have success in our practices. It seems it has become something of a political correctness for some ignorant people to criticize these great lamas and say they have mistaken views, wrong practices and have led their students wrongly. We see this more and more. So for a Gelugpa practitioner where we have to do Yamantaka, Guhyasamaja and Heruka practices daily, in each of these we have to invoke upon these three lineage gurus. So how is it that in our meditations everyday we view them as enlightened beings and invoke upon their blessings, and then we turn around and hear certain people criticizing and belittling them? How do we come to terms with this? By ignoring what other people say because they speak from ignorance, lack of understanding and lack of respect for whom we have chosen as our teachers? No one should disrespect our choice and our teachers because it is religious freedom. It is also religious freedom to criticize but what benefit does it bring us and them to criticize our lineage lamas? I have personally heard with my own ears people criticizing His Holiness the previous Panchen Rinpoche and destroying his pictures, and calling him a traitor 20 years ago. I have heard people criticize the 16th Karmapa as headstrong, not a scholar and basically just gave a lot of initiations, an opinion which I did not agree with. I have also come across people who heavily criticize Dudjom Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche and some of the Sakya patriarchs of the past. They have many disciples and students who see them as attained beings and/or living Buddhas. For their students, these lamas are attained beings and living Buddhas, and they derive beneficial blessings to gain benefits from their practice. They invoke upon their blessings daily as part of their tantric meditations. So, shall I believe the detractors against these lamas or the ones who see them as highly realized beings? Of course it would benefit me and them to see them as highly realized beings. In samsara, the pleasure of one can be the scorn of another. What is precious to another can be poison to others. We can compliment or criticize and it is our freedom of speech and religion to do so, but let’s not carry this freedom too far by hurting the sentiments of the followers of these great masters. To me, Pabongka Rinpoche, Trijang Rinpoche, Zong Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, 16th Karmapa, etc. are all highly realized beings and are lineage holders and have brought the holy Dharma to millions of people. I have even heard many people criticize even the Dalai Lama. That is their prerogative but I choose not to because I do not wish to hurt the sentiments of many millions of his followers. I choose to see the Dalai Lama as doing the best he can, with lots of pressure, problems and heavy responsibilities. So my world view of things is to just let these lamas be and let their disciples be, and let everyone practice what their lama teaches with full freedom and no criticisms. That has always been my view. I am both liked and loathed for my views, but those are my views.
In Tibetan Buddhism, we are not allowed to criticize the teachers from whom we have received teachings, and their personal practices. By doing so we create a infraction of our spiritual bond with our teachers which creates obstacles to gaining higher insight. We may have a few teachers who have opposing views to an issue, and that puts us in a difficult situation. There is a Tibetan saying that goes, “If I stand up, I hit my head. If I sit down, I hit my backside. I can neither stand nor sit.” That is likened to having a few teachers and all of them having differing views about a certain practice, lineage or deity. So what is a student to do? Everybody has their own methods. If I agree with one of my teachers and disagree with another, I commit a spiritual infraction. If I disagree with another teacher who has an opposing view to one of my other teachers, again I have committed a spiritual infraction. This puts me in a difficult situation because either way, I have committed an infraction. For example, if one of my teachers tells me to practice Tsongkhapa and says that this is the best and most supreme practice, yet another one of my teachers tells me that actually it is Guru Rinpoche whom I should focus on…Teacher A says Tsongkhapa’s blessings are quicker and more efficacious for beings of this time while the other teacher says the exact same thing about Guru Rinpoche. I go to one teacher and all he talks about is Tsongkhapa, and my other equally important teacher says the same about Guru Rinpoche? So if I practice one over the other, I have committed an infraction with one of my teachers. What is a student to do?
So there you have millions of people out there who say Guru Rinpoche is the best, and it’s all over social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and then you have a few million more students who says the same thing about Tsongkhapa and proliferates that all over social media. Which one is better? Either way, I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Which teacher is correct? Which one is ‘wrong’? Either way I create an infraction. There are millions of supporters for both practices. Shall I listen to the teacher who is more famous, sits on a higher throne, has more disciples, is wealthier and has more students? Does that make him more qualified than the teacher who has none of that, or very little? Does having more followers equate with more reliability? What is the criteria of which teacher I should listen to? Many followers and disciples are thrown into this unfair, uncommon and very political quandry. It’s very easy if you have a spiritual bond with just one teacher and not the other but still does not give you the right to criticize the practices, devotions and spiritual bonds of another teacher and disciple. It is not good to say all of these things because it will never end, and it will go back and forth. I do not care how Rimey or how non-sectarian a person thinks they are because until we remove the subtle grasping of the ‘I’ between 10th level bodhisattva and full enlightenment, we will have some type of bias. In other words, until we become a fully enlightened Buddha, we will always be biased in one way or another, whether we realize it or not. From our choice of breakfast, clothes we wear, hairstyles we choose, spouses and partners, monasteries we enter, the cars we drive or the bed we sleep in, everyone can debate endlessly what is the best bed, breakfast or clothes and it will never end. And everybody’s argument will sound better and better as time goes on but in the end, I choose my guru, lineage gurus, practice, deity and destiny. So none of you should criticize or ‘advise’ me otherwise. I made my choice, I will sleep with it. Therefore your kind advice, probably motivated by compassion and love, is not solicited, accepted or wanted.
Some hypothetical solutions which I came to some conclusions about from speaking to many teachers, to solve this dilemma:
- the teachers themselves should practice, exude and operate from great compassion, wisdom and skilful means by never criticizing anyone’s teachers, practice, deity, lineage and tradition. That the teachers themselves should cease and desist from creating more confusion in the minds of others because whatever people are practicing has been done for hundreds of years and there has been a lineage. So the teachers themselves should not make comparisons in relations to better or worse, and comparing practices. The teachers themselves should not squabble, argue or denigrate any practices of any teachers. Sure, we need a Buddhist leader, Pope, authority but having said that, authority should never hurt the sentiments of millions of people for good or bad motivation, as it can be quite damaging and create tremendous unnecessary division. I think the students are innocent and beguiled by the great teachers they have come across and therefore have been led to think one way or another. We can either think every teacher out there has faults and therefore makes mistakes, or every teacher out there is perfect and without fault. Either way, the students are in trouble. Either way, the students will get confused. Either way, the students will get the short end of the stick. All teachers should show great compassion, respect and a little bit of pre-planning for their students so they are not sucked into this kind of political quandry and forced to make choices and labels, and point fingers of good and bad at other teachers and lineages. The students come to the teachers wishing to relieve themselves of all the sufferings they self-created, not take on more problems and difficulties and confusions where their samsaras increase instead of decrease. All teachers should respect the students very much by not confusing them in which they criticize other teachers, practices, lineages and protectors. This is so necessary now. I think instead of saying that the students need to have compassion, develop compassion and engage in compassion, it is time the teachers manifest compassion. And I do say this to all teachers with the deepest and humblest respects as I am only an ordinary person swimming through a thick, dark, swampy ocean of samsara.
- my second solution that comes from my ordinary mind is when you have two teachers who teach you ‘opposing’ views and practices, take on the advice of the first teacher and follow that through without thinking negative things about the second teacher, if this applies to you. Some explanation is required. For example, if your first teacher told you to practice Tsongkhapa and he has passed away, and the second teacher recommends you to do Guru Rinpoche as your main practice, since your first teacher has passed away and you cannot be excused from the practice, then naturally you have to tell the second teacher that you did not get permission to be excused and so you must remain status quo. The second teacher should never override the blessed instructions of the first teacher for this disciple, as it will create confusion. In my case, I have had hundreds of people come see me over the years and they will tell me that their teacher or a teacher told them to practice Nechung, Vajrakilaya, Tara, Ekajati, Manjushri, Guru Rinpoche, Tsongkhapa, etc. Can I tell them if this was the best practice for them or not? Except under extreme circumstances, I always tell them that whatever practices they are doing is more than fine, and I have nothing to change or add because ultimately that is the truth. I do not want to confuse them, nor disrespect their faith in their teacher, and I do not wish to disrespect their teachers either. So, if a person can stop their practice given to them by their teacher, they must receive the permission of the teacher who gave them the practice because no follow-up teacher has the authority to override the first teacher, if you really want to follow the rules strictly. Choosing a Dharma teacher is like ordering a la carte from a menu, not a buffet. Whatever a la carte dish you have chosen, you eat it and be happy with it, and stop staring at the buffet with a lot of choices. For example, for myself, my root teacher is His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and Zong Rinpoche has given me a set of practices for me, my life and my enlightenment. I have been following it diligently for the last 25 years. Suddenly, there are people and lamas and students who tell me Zong Rinpoche was wrong. Well, Zong Rinpoche has passed away so I cannot go and get his permission and ask, “Can I stop such and such practice you gave me?” The new lama cannot override Zong Rinpoche. If I were to stop any of my practices given to me by Zong Rinpoche, I would need Zong Rinpoche’s permission and no new or other lamas can override his word. That applies to everyone in any practice, with any lama in any situation. Not even the current incarnation of Zong Rinpoche may override the instructions of the previous one for the previous one’s students. If we were to start in the direction of one teacher can override another teacher, then the teacher who has overridden a previous teacher may himself be overridden in the future by another, and it never ends. It will only lead to chronic confusion, doubt and eventually disillusionment. So basically, whatever practices your teacher has given you from the depths of his heart, practice it all the way and rejoice in the teachings of the teachers for their disciples. Am I going to go on a rampage for the rest of my life, telling all voodoo practitioners that their path is bad and that they should give up, and that they will go to hell? No, I’m not going to do that.
None of your teachers are your enemies, but your teacher taught you the Dharma and your karma couldn’t handle it. Your karma, ego and anger are your real enemies, never your teacher. We shouldn’t just disappear at the first sign of trouble or doubt. In life, we have to work through problems with our parents, spouses, partners, siblings, co-workers and children, so why not our teachers? Our teachers cannot be the ‘only’ person that we have problems with. Why do we abandon our teacher and work through problems with everyone else? Perhaps because we don’t value the important contributions our teacher bestowed upon us? Or we wish to blame our teacher for pointing out something truthful in ourselves that we prefer not to face, but blame the teacher for exposing? Be fair with everyone in your life and work through differences and don’t be selective. How you ‘throw’ people out will reflect how you really think of others and this will return to ‘haunt’ you in other aspects of your life later. Bad attitude will surface again and again if not addressed, healed and remedied. Whoever shelters us from ourselves now, will not always be around and we will have to face ourselves one day alone. There is no avoidance. After all, we can run away from people, but we can’t run away from the cause of problems we may have contributed to, which is within ourselves. This is in an extreme case, but generally we should work through our doubts and issues with our teacher and be loyal. This is good for our mind, good for our training and good for our eventual results. Consistency is an urgently vital ingredient in spiritual success.
If the new teacher we go to has criticism for our previous teacher, practice or lineage, then there is something wrong or there are political motivations. No teacher need criticize another teacher no matter who they are. In this day and age, no teacher no matter how famous or just, he may be should ever criticize another person’s practice, teacher, lineage or faith. Democratic governments throughout the civilized world even allow the practices of once despised forms of spirituality such as witchcraft, voodoo, et al. Therefore no teacher or spiritual leader has the right to denigrate another’s path ever because once you start, where do you draw the line? No forms of ostracism, prejudice, bias or segregation should arise from differing religious practices either. Because this will be the seed to dissent, disharmony and hatred.
That our teacher teaches us something useful and we are devoted and diligent, and then suddenly another teacher of fame and name preaches otherwise and we have doubts in our teacher, is not good. It shows who we really are, and not our teacher, because we are swayed easily. No matter how famous another teacher may be, your teacher still imparted the holy Dharma to you and you should be grateful always. Higher thrones does not mean better than a humble teacher on a low cushion. Spirituality and the level of knowledge of a teacher is not reflected by rank, thrones, fame or how many students he has. I know of a few very qualified teachers who did not have many students at all and some students even left them and scorned them, to my shock! If we had issues with our teacher, we should be humble, swallow the ego and apologize. Remaining or moving on is up to us, but don’t damage or attempt to damage a teacher as the karmic consequences are heavy, not to mention you hurt the other students as well and that does not make you a better person at all.
Numbers do not determine the effectiveness or so-called purity of a certain path or faith, as many of the world’s religions today started with humble numbers which in time increased numerically. Therefore a minority or majority should not be the deciding factor that a particular path or faith should be allowed. In the past, just to name lightly some examples how one faith had attempted to decimate the other:
- The settlers of Australia did their utmost best for hundreds of years to eliminate and convert the masses of Aborigines, and destroy their rich cultural heritage and indigenous religion. Their religion was deemed barbaric, backwards and evil. As a result, many of the Aborigines now have to slowly and painfully reconnect with what was destroyed in the process of being forced into a true ‘God’.
- In 15th, 16th and 17th century Europe, the witch hunts condoned and authorized by the papacy or so-called ‘true Church’ condemned, hunted, segregated and punished those would-be adherents to the pre-Christian religions of Europe. The Church systematically outlawed, penalized, punished and confiscated all properties of those who would not adhere to their so-called ‘true Church’. Those who still resisted, denied or refused were severely tortured to death, drowned, crushed or simply burnt alive. This was done in the name of God, purity and what was deemed as the authentic method to heaven. Who would allow this type of atrocity today? But 500 years ago, it was considered holy and God’s work.
- When settlers from Europe came to North America, what happened in Aboriginal Australia occurred here again. The Native Americans were belittled, humiliated and forced to convert from their native religions. Their native religions were considered primitive, barbaric and the work of the Devil so the missionaries had a field day waving Bibles as the ultimate authority, whilst conveniently robbing the Natives of North America of their culture, way of life and desecrating their religion. In a show of total disrespect to people who believed otherwise to the religion of the settlers, the US still prints on their currency ‘In God We Trust’.
- When the invaders from Spain landed in Central and South America, they had no intention to respect the religions, culture and peoples of these great lands. The ‘true Church’ forcibly destroyed edifices, priests, writings and rituals of their religions, took their wealth and insulted their culture (calling them ‘inferior barbarians’). To add final insult to the injury, they decimated the native population with unheard-of European diseases. The religions of the beautiful and advanced Central and South American peoples were systematically berated, outlawed and destroyed. Sacred temples were flattened and Christian churches built in its place. Fortunately, many of the Central and South American countries now have allowed religious freedom within their Constitutions which protect and allow the pre-Christian religions to be practiced. Hence these days there is a resurgence, with pride and dignity, of the once ancient religions. No one is going to say again that their religions are barbaric or devil’s practice unless they themselves are uneducated barbarians.
- The Puritans and Quakers had a most difficult time fitting within the parameters of the English Church. They were considered extreme, false and those who strayed from the true doctrine. Their religion in England had to go underground and when it became impossible for them to practice, they were forced to immigrate to the then-New World (America). In America, for some time after they arrived, they were free to practice their religions. However as 13 new colonies started to gain wealth, lands and a unified regional government, then although they had left Europe for freedom of religion, they in turn initiated witch hunts themselves. Those who were not in agreement with their doctrine or did not attend Church, or practiced the old arts such as divination, herbology and healing were considered witches. Massive fear, prejudice, confiscation of property and segregation, leading to punishment by death (through methods such as burning, crushing and drowning) reemerged. Because the Church was practiced by the majority and those who were not active in the Church were a minority, naturally the majority instituted witch hunts against the minority in order to restore the ‘purity’ of the Church. Those who strayed from the Church were said to have been meeting, cooperating and signing deals with the Devil. Therefore the majority did not allow freedom of any religions that strayed from what they believed in as the ‘true Church’. Ironically, they persecuted within their own communities what they were persecuted of when they left Europe. These are dangerous trends we must learn from in history so that it does not repeat itself in modern times.
- For thousands of years, the rich culture heritage and profound religion of the Jews have been repeatedly persecuted and serious attempts at annihilation were allowed. The Jewish people in their long history in many countries were minorities. Their religion was seen as deviant, false and not a path that led to God. As a consequence, their synagogues, and places and symbols of worship have been blatantly destroyed and those who refused to convert or assimilate were gassed, beaten, tortured and even killed. The perseverance and resilience of the Jewish people have allowed for their religion to survive and benefit their communities throughout the world. However, there was a time even as recently as half a century ago when their religion was persecuted and considered false. This should never happen again.
- The British invaders who controlled India from 1858 to 1947 humiliated the populous and tried to force their European ways upon India. They made it blasphemous and sacrilegious for the inhabitants of the subcontinent to have any dignity in their race, religion and vastly rich culture. The British used India and exploited her and her people. In the process, they unsuccessfully did their best to convert the Hindu population, calling them heathens, barbarians and idol worshippers. What right did the English have to call another people or nation barbaric, and demote their form of worship to simply idol worshipping? They did not respect (although there were exceptions) the religions and practices of something that lasted over 5000 years. Without studying, practicing and understanding the profound path of peace, tolerance and compassion that are hallmarks of Hinduism, the British openly and unabashedly discouraged the practice of Hinduism. Luckily, the resilience and the profound faith that the people of India had in their religion helped them to overcome the active prejudices of their colonizers. Today, no one in their right mind will call Hinduism ‘barbaric’ or a path that leads to hell. Hinduism is one of the major religions practiced by 1.1 billion adherents who consider it a valid path to divinity.
- The vast, diverse and rich continent of Africa holds tens of thousands of various tribes of people. Individually and collectively, they have their own way of life, language, culture and religion. When these innocent people were tricked and forcibly ferried across the Atlantic to become slaves in America, any trace that linked them to their ancient heritage of Africa was systematically obliterated. As a result, African Americans today do not have their ancestral religion, their cultural identity, their names, their language and for many, they don’t even know where in Africa their ancestors originated from. They were forcibly removed of their rich identities and forcibly made to adapt to European cultures and religion. There were however pockets of resistance and underground continuation of their faiths which in modern day is labelled as voodoo. When we say voodoo, there are many methods, branches and forms of worship. It is rich and diverse and to the ignorant beholder, it may seem evil or even perhaps harmful. As in every and any religion, there are ones who practice with good motivations and with ulterior motivations. Who are we to judge? Yet voodooism is constitutionally protected in North America, the Caribbeans, Central and South America, and Africa. No one, no body of government or no religious hate groups may deconstitutionalize the rights of the adherents of this religion. They have the full freedom to practice and live their lives according to their religion.
These are but just a few examples of how, in history, a group of people, through ignorance, fear, hatred and/or greed coupled with prejudice can bring tremendous harm to another group of people in the name of religion. In today’s free world, whether your religious practice is 1% or 90% of the population, you should have full freedom to practice as and when and where and how you like. No religious leaders or adherents should ever criticize another religion lest it snowballs into something big and damaging as we have seen in history. Whether a person chooses a religion or remains atheist is their inalienable birthright. They should not be coerced, forced or denigrated into a religion or another religion. Any religious leader, secular leader or teacher should never criticize another’s religion, faith or practice as inferior. No one should belittle another person’s faith or religion and call it ‘spirit worship’. When we call another person’s religion ‘spirit worship’, inferior or wrong, we possibly hurt the sentiments of a long history and the pride and place of a people. This will not create the causes for peace, democracy, freedom nor harmony. RELIGIONS AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS SHOULD ALWAYS CREATE HARMONY WITHIN THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES AND OF EVERYONE THEY MEET. Once we start on the road of ‘this religion is good’ and ‘that religion is bad’, then it will fester and grow into something bigger that ultimately becomes harmful to the peace and the ever-growing, over-populated little planet we all must share. Religious leaders have tremendous power and influence as they are considered the moral and ethical conscience of a culture. So therefore their powers should not be abused or used wrongly. Whether a person chooses their path to awakenness using voodoo, Native American religions, witchcraft or Buddhism, is their choice. We may respectfully debate and share but not degrade and convert. We all need peace, happiness and cohesiveness in order to survive with each other on our small planet. Our survival depends on peace, and religion can play a large part in this, and that lies in the hands of religious teachers.
Do you not enjoy freedom of religion? Would you like to be banned from schools, segregated from your people, disallowed to enter businesses and separated from family because what you practice is considered bad by another group? We can argue until Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu destroy, recreate and preserve the universe one hundred times over and we will never win the argument of who is right and wrong. The fact of the matter is this – we all should be treated equally and there should never be rules and regulations against us as people or citizens based on our religious beliefs. Whether our religious beliefs are accepted or considered accurate interpretations, we are still people underneath. We all need food, love, compassion and deserve inalienable birthrights such as freedom of choice. No leader, whether secular or religious, should ever be allowed to take that away from us.
In conclusion, I most humbly and respectfully request all spiritual teachers of all traditions, leaders and their subordinates to never demonize another person’s faith, belief system or deity. Each individual has a God and that God can be a Creator or the God Within. But leave it to the individual to decide. I will see who I want and associate with any group I wish, any time I like and no one has the right to tell me otherwise. And if they have the right to tell me otherwise, I have the right to tell them back, they are wrong. For ecumenical debates, there will never be a beginning, an end or a middle. It is a convoluted alpha and omega, and I don’t want to get into these debates or be condemned based on them. Let’s make it simple – I have a guru, a lineage, a practice and a goal and I am going to stick with it until the end of my time. No one in the east, the west, the north or the south, on a big throne or standing next to the throne, with or without power, will influence me otherwise. And if you continue to speak and write on and on about how I am going to hell, I am on the wrong path, I am not listening to the correct authorities, you will end up creating your own little hells in your own little minds because I am happy with what I have, I am a pretty good person with my faults, and ultimately I am fortunate enough to be reincarnated into a country and civilization that agrees with my thoughts. So no one’s criticisms, doubts and anyone living in the free world can say otherwise unless your body is in the free world and your mind is not, or your mind is stuck in 16th century Europe.
This song by Cher really moves me and encapsulate my feelings:
This is related and very important to read: