Are You Secular Or Spiritual? HE Tsem Tulku Rinpoche

Sometimes I read online people who criticize Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and other great beings and then on another breath they are all spiritual and talking about initiations and practices the Dalai Lama is giving… and the teachings and transmissions, and how holy, fortunate and lucky they are to get these teachings. Great, so if the teachings are so holy, practice and be holy. On the other breath, they are saying how negative, bad and harmful Geshe Kelsang Gyatso or another lama is, and I think we are getting secular and spiritual mixed up here. If we have joined Geshe Kelsang and we have felt that we have been wronged by him or his organization and there is something to be done about it, do something about it. And if we are psychologically damaged from it then go and get professional help, if that is really the case. But to go online constantly bickering and complaining and talk and bad-mouth Geshe Kelsang and his group will not change Geshe Kelsang or the group or change any of the situation and definitely won’t help yourself.  That is secular. Geshe Kelsang being the spiritual teacher of hundreds of centres and thousands of students around the world is bound to attract all types of ‘interesting’ characters with various motives and agendas. So I am not surprised when people criticize an erudite master like him or leave him. With the ratio of thousands of students, of course there will be a higher ratio of people who might find fault and criticize. All famous people experience this. In Gaden I have seen a few monks criticize their teachers to the shock of everyone. Most do not and dare not understand the tantric codes and refuge vows. Because Gaden is such a huge place and thousands of monks, you are bound to have unhappy people, some dropouts or people who will blame the lama or Gaden for their failings. Many people cannot look within and have to blame. Yes sometimes the blame is justified, but look, the bottom line is this, writing about it incessantly and talking to others who are not qualified to counsel you constantly gets you nowhere. Revenge tactics only increase your hatred and invite more and more negative energy to your doorstep. All actions have results in one way or another.

On a spiritual level, if Geshe Kelsang was your teacher and you see faults and negative things and you criticize him and you say negative things about him all the time and suddenly you find His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to be your new guru or somebody else to be your new guru, no matter how much you follow that new guru, the negative thoughts you have on your old guru will prevent realizations from arising in the teachings you receive from the new guru. Why? Because in Ashvagosha’s teachings on guru devotion, Fifty Verses Of Guru Devotion, it says very clearly  if we have negative thoughts, wrong thoughts and show disrespect or lost faith in our teacher, without purifying that karma and purifying that relationship, and we go to another teacher, no matter how much we practice, study and meditate we will gain no attainments. Whether the previous teacher was wrong or right is not the issue. The issue is to let go, the issue is to forgive the situation and make amends. Don’t speak ill.

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 your body, speech and mind)
Ashvagosha, 50 Verses of Guru Devotion

Sometimes we really don’t have karma with a certain lama and we have to leave. But leaving doesn’t mean having to criticize them in order to justify our leaving or to make our leaving right. The West has a very strong culture of exposing the wrong, and talking about the wrong openly and helping other people to prevent the wrong by talking about it. That’s all good and well. But that’s secular again.  So are we following the secular side or are we following the spiritual side? The spiritual side of the coin is if we say negative things about our lama, and constantly talk negative things about the lama and his organization and what our lama is doing; then whatever new lama we go to and the teachings we get, we will gain no attainments according to the great pandit Ashvagosha.

In the tantric teachings, it says the same thing by Vajradhara. So no matter how erudite our new lama is and how great our new lama is, as long as we have negative views of our previous lama and keep speaking negative things about our previous lama that we have left or abandoned, we will gain no realizations from the new lama. That is according to tantra by Vajradhara. This is on the spiritual side.

On the secular side, if we talk about what a certain lama has done to us and certain organization has done to us… very simple, go get help if what you claim is true and so disturbing. Speaking about it and having a few people talk about it back and forth is not going to help us at all.  Who is interested? Why so obsessed? At the same time, if they have really done us some harm, talk with the law, talk with the authorities, get it straightened out and get compensation. But if you are not willing, unable, or cannot do that, then maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with what you are doing and your approach. So therefore I think it’s very important that we have to pick a secular side or we have to pick a spiritual side. We don’t flip back and forth at our convenience. To praise our new lama from here to high water and immediately in the same breath criticize our previous lamas will not serve us or anyone in anyway. It will only serve to make keep breaking our refuge precepts.

If we pick the secular side to explain why we dislike a certain lama and his organization and we ramble about it on and on; then go all the way with the secular side. If we are going with the spiritual side, then go all the way with the spiritual side.  We don’t use the secular side to justify our ramblings against a lama and then use the spiritual side to uplift our new lama, what you are doing with them, your faith, practice and new-found spirituality. Because then we are just using secular and spiritual back and forth, for our own convenience. I find that quite contradictory and quite damaging to one’s spiritual practice. So I thinks that’s very very important to understand and learn.

Are there lamas who abuse their positions… what they have done? Perhaps there are, but if that is really the case, then seek compensation through the law and stop talking about it incessantly over and over because it doesn’t make us a better person, it just makes us look obsessed, petty and… in fact, makes us look not all that well up there. That’s my thinking. I could be wrong. But my point is simple. Are you going to view your relationship with your teacher through a secular eye or spiritual eye. If secular, you are disqualified from practicing tantra. If spiritual you are disqualified from secular methods to disparage any lama.

Tsem Rinpoche


Milarepa’s story is a good example for all students to learn more about the importance of Guru- Disciple relationship

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