In the 70′s, when I came across Buddhism, there were books and there were items that were translated and some of them were quite good. But there was not a lot. And, if you want to study what the monastic system study, it was very difficult to find translations. And if you did find translations, they were very technical and dry and if I may say quite boring.
Decades ago, I came across some books by His Eminence Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and I read through them. I found the books systematic, easy to understand, orderly, based on scriptures, translated in the highest caliber into the English language, yet understandable, and very accurate to the translation of the original scriptures that they came from. And I was totally amazed, overwhelmed and over taken by such beautifully packaged books with wonderful illustrations, good accurate information, excellent translation; that I can actually trust and believe, and know that they are accurate from the original source.
In Buddhism, it’s very important that we practice from an original source with a lineage. A lineage meaning it came from a qualified teacher, from another qualified teachers, that traces back to one of the great Indian pandits, Mahasiddhas, masters, Tsongkhapa or even the Buddha himself. So, within the Buddhist tradition, especially within the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa; having visions and writing down the teachings is possible, finding ‘termas’ or hidden treasures in the landscape is possible… but it is not highly encouraged. Why is that? We do have visionaries, and psychic people and powerful people and attained people, who can receive teachings from supernatural beings such as Manjushri directly. We do have people who have visions of teachings, special practices buried under the earth or water, in rocks and trees and have appeared at the right time. We do have people who can find teachings that were stored away for a future time. Definitely there are people like that with exceptional powers, developed from single pointed meditation. Definitely.
But from an ordinary point of view, such as myself, being an ordinary person, I can’t tell if that person is highly attained or if that person is not highly attained. So if they both came to me and say, “ Well, I receive these teachings from the nagas, I received these teachings from Manjushri, I receive teachings from a vision”… I don’t know if what they saw or what they thought they saw was real or not. Therefore, I kind of have doubt whether their teachings are going to be accurate for lack of a better word.
Therefore, there are definitely highly attained masters who do have visions, who can see ethereal beings, and supernatural beings and receive teachings, receive lineages, receive practices; such as the great master from India, Guru Rinpoche or otherwise known as Padmasambhava, who had many visions, and who planted and discovered secret teachings… Who proliferated many, many different practices he has received from ethereal or supernatural beings. Similarly, you have the same in Atisha, you have the same in Lama Tsongkhapa, and you have the same in many great masters of the past and present day such as His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and so on.
But, if everyone was to rely on teachings that specifically came from a source that’s untraceable except to the author, then sometimes charlatans may arise. And when charlatans arise, that is when the degeneration of the teachings set in. When the teachings degenerate, they are not able to produce attained states of mind in our mind-stream. So therefore receiving a teaching, practice, transmission, initiation or permission from a living master, who has received it from source quoted to you (from another living master and so on), then the blessings and the teachings, and the potency of the teachings are alive in your mind-stream. Therefore when you practice, you can gain powerful transformation and attainments.
Therefore, lineage is very important in that sense as it must be genuine, and must be stated. Within the Lama Tsongkhapa tradition – the Gelugpa, when teachers give a teaching, they quote the source, where it comes from and when they got it. Because the teacher can’t simply say to you, “Well, I received this from Manjushri, and guess what? You’re just going to believe me.” Well, there are teachers of that caliber who can say, “I received it from Manjushri” and I think a lot of us will believe it. But there are people out there that if they say they received it from Manjushri, we will say, “Oh, okay. Good for you.” Because I’m an ordinary being, I can’t judge who is attained and who is not attained, and I presume not to judge. Therefore, I rather hear that they have a source, they have a lineage, they have a practice, where they got it from… Then it’s much more reliable.
For example, if you’re going to go to a doctor and he is going to give you a special diet. And he says it comes from this lab, research was done here, this is the amount of nutrition you need, this is the amount of vitamins you need, this is the amount of minerals you need, the studies have proven this and we’ve done it over this amount of years, and here’s the certified authenticated results. Then, you’ll have more confidence about what he is prescribing to you. But if the doctor says, “Well, my daughter kind of met this healing nature god and he gave it to her, and she gave it to me, and here it’s going to work for you.” Well I’m going to be a little doubtful. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. But I’m not sure.
So for me, I’m not into supernatural and I’m not really into magic and mystery and all that although it exists, because I don’t have powers. But, if the teacher says to me, the source is here, it came from here, I received it from here, I practiced this, and these are the results. I’ll go, “Oh, thank you.” It’s kind of like the doctor telling you, they got this nutritional path for us to be healthier from this lab, from these studies. So it’s just safer. Having said that, if my root teacher whom I’ve connected with introduces me to something I will trust.
Now having said that, when I came across Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books, I was just totally amazed at their accuracy, clarity, incredible consistency and especially its progression, meaning from steps A to Z. When you read these books, nothing of Geshe’s personal interpretation is in there, it’s pretty much according to the scriptures if you can read Tibetan. There are some exceptions when he puts in examples here and there to help elucidate what’s there, but the actual body of the text and the meat and the bones, are very accurate. And I was amazed because I had problems learning Tibetan, reading Tibetan and I actually do not prefer to study in Tibetan. I prefer to study in English for whatever karmic reason there is in that. So when I read Geshela’s books and commentaries, they really illuminated my world, they really gave me a lot of knowledge, they really opened me up to so much more in Dharma.
And I remember 20 years back when I was giving teachings to people, I would actually use some of Geshela’s books as the basis of my teachings. People said that it was helpful and beneficial… In fact, it was helpful for me! So therefore I have always admired the knowledge this great master has and the knowledge that he passed to his students, to be able to translate these and make these teachings available to the world. I have always been in great admiration for Geshela’s scholarship, his knowledge, and erudite preciseness in training his students to produce these types of books and teachings that have been so beneficial for so many people around the world.
My admiration grew for Geshela from these books. In the past I have personally purchased hundreds of these book, hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, and passed it to people, offered it to people and giving it to people as guidelines of certain practices. They have been very beneficial. For example, Geshela’s tantric text on Heruka and Vajrayogini are absolutely priceless. One of my favourite books is ‘Understanding Your Mind‘ by Geshela… that’s really one of my favourites. And I think one book that really changed my mind to develop and gear myself more towards the development of compassion was Geshela’s translation of Shantideva’s text ‘The Bodhisattva-charya-avatara‘ or Meaningful to Behold. That really affected me quite a lot when I read it, and it moved me very very much.
I have never had the honor or the privilege to meet Geshela or to have a conversation with him. But, I know from his books that he is a great master. And I don’t really care nor does it bother me whether he has the title of Geshe or not. Some people like to get into this kind of mini debate on whether he is a real Geshe or not a real Geshe. But having come from Gaden Monastery, I’ve met many monks that are older, who don’t have a Geshe title, who ran away before they finished the Geshe title, or not interested in Geshe title… They study, they learn, they absorb, and guess what… They are very knowledgeable and have a lot to transmit. So, whether they have a Geshe title or not, has never ever affected me and my trust in their knowledge. Because when you observe their actions for example, Geshela is a pure monk and holds his Vinaya vows, you know that renunciation has sunk into Geshela’s mind because he holds his monks vows purely. You just know that Geshela has spent his life teaching the Dharma and it has manifested in his centres, in his books, in his students, and in hundreds of centres around the world, as a sign of his great compassion, or the 2nd of the 3 principles of the path, Boddhicitta.
Geshela works tirelessly for others… from what I have read, seen and observed; is to be a benefit to others, to be of help to others, to bring people onto the path, especially Lama Tsongkhapa’s path. He has spent his whole life doing that from a very young age of learning, contemplation study and then later, teaching and being the living embodiment of the teachings, a living example. So therefore, by seeing him living his life in Dharma and not attracted to the ” delights” of Samsara, you can see that Geshela has achieved some sort of Emptiness if I may respectfully say so. So for any practice especially a prelude to tantra or for tantra, we need to have actualized the Three Principal Paths, which is Renunciation, Boddhicitta and Emptiness. And therefore when you have observed Geshela’s life, his works, his focus and his results; you can see he has achieved the Three Principal Paths, which is a prelude or a prerequisite or necessity for tantric practice. So, to me, it doesn’t matter if this person has a Geshe’s name or not. I have met many many teachers in Gaden, Sera and Drepung Monasteries who do not have the Geshe name, title or certificate, yet many people went to them for teachings, many people went to them for advise, many people went to them for divination and many went to them for clarification of the scriptures because they have knowledge. Milarepa was never a Geshe, he was a layperson, with long hair, wearing white robes, committed a lot of negativities, received some dharma from his teacher, went to meditate and become an enlightened Buddha. The line of Karmapas are not Geshes. Then you have many types of masters, who are not Geshes but have great knowledge.
This is not to say Geshela is not a Geshe, this is to say titles do not bother me at all. So therefore, from Geshela’s works, and from Geshela’s results, and lifetime of dedicating himself to learning, study, contemplation, practice and therefore turning the wheel of Dharma and teaching… he has the results. His centres are flourishing, he has brought thousands onto the path of Dharma, he holds his vows clearly according to the Vinaya and his books are a resource for hundreds and thousands people around the world as it has been for me. So for many years I have been a long distance admirer of H.E Geshe Kelsang Gyatso because of all the qualities that I have mentioned. I do not know if in this life I will have the fortune to meet him and to receive his blessings or to speak with him, but I hope I do one day because he is an inspiration to me.
What Geshela’s personal views are on his practice, his Dharma protector, his lineage, and even perhaps some of his secular views, are not my concern. Geshela does many activities that I do not understand or fully fathom but I am not here to judge. So therefore there are people who criticize and say good things and bad things about Geshela, but it doesn’t affect me, because I have my own eyes and my own ears and my own comprehension to understand Geshela. I’m not presuming I do understand him, I’m just saying that from an outward view, he shows signs of a qualified spiritual master of the highest caliber. He has spent his whole life as a pure monk, he has followed his guru with great devotion as you can see his books he always mentions his Guru, H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has done nothing wrong because he is loyal to his teacher and the practices his teachers have entrusted to him. We all have to be loyal to our teachers. Being loyal to one teacher does not mean we need to damage another teacher. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso teaches the Dharma tirelessly, he and his students open many centres with so much efforts, they do retreats, they do practices, he has trained them up to give initiations, oral transmissions and commentaries. He spent his life in practicing, teaching the Dharma, and contemplating the Dharma. His only so called ” fault ” imputed by others is his view on his Dharma protector and his unwillingness to not release the practice of his Dharma protector because of his commitment to his root guru. I don’t see any fault in that, and I think that if Geshela does nine excellent things and one thing we don’t agree with, perhaps we don’t make an enemy of him, label him an enemy or label him something negative just because of that one facet that we don’t agree with. There are many other facets that we can look at. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso does not need to be degraded or shunned just because he chooses to be loyal to his teacher, lineage, practice and so on. If we make him out to be some sort of negative being, that is our problem.
Recently, I was very honoured to receive a letter from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and accompanied by a gift of Green Tara. I was very surprised, privileged, moved and touched. I wanted to blog about it and I didn’t have time till now. What I wanted to say to Geshela was to thank him, for his blessings to a junior monk, from a senior monk. I wanted to thank him for such a precious gift which I will treasure and I have already encased it and placed it on the altar in my centre so that everybody may get a blessing from this Tara image that Geshela has so kindly given to me.
In the Buddhist tradition, older monk with or without titles matter not. They can be called Rinpoche, Dorje Chang, Mahasiddha, Geshela or just Bikkshu (meaning old monk), it doesn’t matter what their title is. The fact that they are holding their Vinaya vows and they have held it for decades upon decades purely, the secret here is “purely”, that they are filled with blessings, they are the pure sangha, they are filled with inspiration, they are filled with the results of practicing a whole life time of Lord Buddha’s teachings. So therefore, such a being who holds the Vinaya well, practices the teachings and embodies what the Buddha has taught us by deed, action, and results… he is someone very blessed and very holy. If they were to touch an object and give it to you, it is a blessed object. If they were to blow on some water and give it to you, it’s a blessed water to drink that heals and if they were to give you a gift such as I received a Tara from Geshela, it’s considered extra blessings, extra special. I’m not attached to Tara as an object, I’m not attached to the object that we have labeled Tara… What I am in awe of, is a senior monk passing the blessings to a younger monk, myself, that I may aspire to be someone who practices the Three Principal Paths, mind training, master the sutras and tantras and be able to turn the wheel of Dharma for the many others. So here I enclosed a picture of the beautiful Tara that Geshela has granted me, and also a letter from himself, which I appreciate very much. I realised perhaps by blogging this about Geshela, and expressing my admiration, I may create some consternation in certain peoples’ minds, I do not wish to create any consternation or any unhappiness but I think I have the right to admire who I want, and I think on my personal blog which is my personal space, which is visited by people who are okay with my views, I have the right to blog and write about who I want.
A precious Green Tara from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso presented to myself. Thank you so much. This statue was produced by Geshe Kelsang’s Dharma Organisation, the New Kadampa Tradition. I am amazed by it’s beauty and perfect workmanship.