The Way of the White Clouds

by Anāgarika Lāma Govinda | 123,888 words

The Way of the White Clouds as an eye-witness account and the description of a pilgrimage in Tibet during the last decenniums of its independence and unbroken cultural tradition, is the attempt to do justice to the above-mentioned task, as far as this is possible within the frame of personal experiences and impressions. This work is licensed under...

Chapter 8 - Meeting with the Guru

How great, therefore, was my joy to find before my very eyes the living embodiment of those faroff ideals: a man who impressed all those who came in touch with him not merely by his learning but by his mere presence, and thus gave proof that what the sacred texts teach can be realised here and now, as in the days of the Buddha.

What greater opportunity could fate offer me than meeting such a man and coming into living contact with the spirit that had moved the Buddhas and saints of the past and would inspire those of the future!

Soon my first meeting with the Guru came about. It took place in one of the little shrine-rooms on the upper floor of the Lhabrang (the main residential building of the monastery) which served as his private apartments whenever he stayed at YiGah Chö-Ling, and which even during his absence were regarded as the monastery's innermost sanctuary. Like in the temple, the Great Abbot's seat is a place of special sanctity, as it is here that he performs his daily devotions and spends many hours in meditation, even during the night, which he spends in a cross-legged position in the confined space of his seat, which allows him neither to lie down nor to stretch out. The high back of this box-like, slightly raised meditation seat bore the emblem of the Lama's high office, the Wheel of the law and was surmounted by the traditional canopy with a seven-coloured volant, representing the aura of the Buddha.

The whole room breathed an atmosphere of peace and beauty, the natural outflow of a mind to whom harmony is not merely an aesthetic pleasure but the adequate expression of a life devoted to the realm of the spirit. Exquisite religious paintings, minutely executed and mounted on old Chinese brocades, harmonised with the mellow colours of hand-woven Tibetan rugs which covered the low seats behind lacquertopped, delicately carved and painted Chogtses. On the opposite side golden images of the finest workmanship rested in glazed shrines, flanked by dragons and crowned by multi-coloured, carved cornices, and on the narrow ledge before the images stood silver bowls filled with clear water and butter-lamps of chased silver. There was not a single object in the room that was not connected with the symbols and functions of religious life and practice, and nothing that could have been regarded as the Gurus personal possession.[1] In fact, long after he had left the body of his present incarnation, when, according to the Guru's special instructions, I had the unique privilege to dwell in this hallowed room, I found everything in it as it had been in the Gurus presence --- even the silver-mounted jade teacup and the ritual vessels, beside vajrasceptre and bell, on the Chogtse before his seat.

But all these details fused into one general impression of supreme Peace and harmony on that first day, when I bowed down before the Guru as his hands lay on my head: hands whose lightest touch sent a stream of bliss through one's whole body, nay, one's whole being, so that all that one had intended to say or to ask, vanished from one's mind like smoke into blue air. Merely to be in this man's presence seemed to he enough to dissolve all problems, to make them non-existent, like darkness in the presence of light.

As he sat on his meditation-seat under the canopy, clad in the simple maroon-coloured robes of a Tibetan monk, I found it difficult to determine his age, though he must have been already about sixty-five years old at that time. His short-cropped hair was still dark and his body looked sturdy and erect. His clean-shaven face showed the features of a strong character, but his friendly eyes and his mouth that was slightly turned up at the corners, as if ready to smile, gave me an immediate feeling of reassurance.

It is a strange fact that nobody ever succeeded in taking a photograph of Tomo Géshé Rimpoché, though many people tried to do so surreptitiously, because they knew that he never allowed anybody to take a picture of him. Those who tried found out that their films had turned into blanks or were blurred beyond recognition or that something else happened to the films. Whatever happened, the Guru's face was never visible. He detested any kind of hero-worship and did not want his person made into an object of veneration.

On the day on which he formally accepted me as his Chela, he said:

`If you wish me to be your Guru, do not look upon my person as the Guru, because every human personality has its shortcomings, and so long as we are engaged in observing the imperfections of others, we deprive ourselves of the opportunities of learning from them. Remember that every being carries within itself the spark of Buddhahood (bodhicitta), but as long as we concentrate on other people's faults we deprive ourselves of the light that in various degrees shines out from our fellow-beings.'

`When searching for a teacher, we surely should search for one who is worthy of our trust, but once we have found him, we should accept whatever he has to teach us as a gift of the Buddhas, and we should look upon the Guru not as one who speaks with his own voice but as the mouthpiece of the Buddha, to whom alone all honour is due. Therefore, you bow down before the Guru, it is not the mortal personality of teacher that you worship, but the Buddha, who is the eternal Guru who reveals his teaching through the mouth of your human teacher who forms a living link in the chain of initiated teachers and pupils who have transmitted the Dharma in an unbroken line from the times of Śākyamuni. Those who transmit to us the teachings of the Buddha are the vessels of the dharma, and as far as they master the Dharma and have realised the dharma within themselves, they are the embodiment of the Dharma.

`It is not the robes, nor the body, nor the words that make the Guru, but that which lives in him of truth and knowledge and light (bodhi). More he possesses this, and more his outer conduct and appearance is in harmony with it, the easier it is for the Chela to see the Buddha in his Guru. Therefore he should be as careful in his choice as the Guru in his acceptance of a Chela.

`However, one should never forget that in every living being, bodhicitta is present as a potentiality (I, therefore, rather prefer to call it a "spark" of enlightenmentconsciousness than a "thought" of enlightenment, which only arises when this latent spark becomes fully conscious) and that only our own blindness prevents us from recognising this. The greater our imperfections, the more we are inclined to see the faults of others, while those who have gained deeper insight can see through these faults into their essential nature. Therefore the greatest among men were those who recognised the divine qualities in their fellow-beings and were always ready to respect even the lowliest among them.'

`As long as we regard ourselves superior to others or look down upon the world, we cannot make any real progress. As soon, however, as we understand that we live in exactly that world which we deserve, we shall recognise the faults of others as our own --- though they may appear in different form. It is our own karma that we live in this "imperfect" world, which in the ultimate sense is our own creation. This is the only attitude which can help us to overcome our difficulties, because it replaces fruitnegation by an impulse towards self-perfection, which not only makes us worthy of a better world but partners in its creation.

The Guru then went on to explain some of the preconditions and preliminary exercises of meditation for bringing about this positive and creative attitude: Unselfish love and compassion towards all living beings was, according to him, the first prerequisite of meditation, as it removed all self created emotional and intellectual limitations; and in order to gain that attitude one should look upon all beings like a mother looks upon her own children, since there was not a single being in the universe that in the infinity of time had not been closely related to us in one way or the another. In order to be conscious of the preciousness of time one should realise that any moment might be the last of this life and that the opportunity which it offer might not come again easily. Finally he pointed out that what we learned from books about meditation was not comparable with the direct transmission of experience and the spiritual impetus that facing a Guru could give us, if we open ourselves to him in all sincerity.

To this purpose one should imagine the Buddha in the form of our Guru, and having done so to a degree that one feels his very presence, we should visualise him seated in the posture of meditation above one's head and finally merging into one's own person, to take his seat on the the throne of our heart. For, as long as the Buddha is still imagined outside ourselves, we cannot realise him in our own life. The moment, however we become conscious of him as the light in our innermost being, the mantra OṀ MAṆI PADME HŪṀ begins to reveal its meaning, bacause now the lotus(padma) is our own heart, in which the jewel(mani), named the Buddha, is present. The OṀ and the HŪṀ, however, represent the universe in its highest and deepest aspects, in all its forms of appearance and experience, which we should embrace with unlimited love and and passion like the Buddha. Do not think of your own salvation, but be yourself an instrument for the liberation of all living beings. Once the Buddha has become awakened within you, you are no more able to do other than in accordance with his Law. Therefore it is said in the Bodhicaryāvatāra: `As soon as the thought of Enlightenment takes root in him, the miserable one who is fettered by passions to the prison of existence, becomes immediately a son of the Buddhas, he becomes worthy veneration for men and gods. As soon as this thought has taken possession of this unclean body, it becomes transformed into the precious jewel of Buddha's body. Therefore take hold of this elixir which causes such a wonderful transformation and which is called the thought of Enlightenment.

Footnotes and references:


When moving from one monastery to the other, he would rake with him only the bare necessities for the journey. To him a cave was as good as a palace, and a palace as good as a cave. As little as he cares for riches and comforts, as little was he afraid of making use of them. He was neither attached to comfort nor to asceticism. He knew that the vanity of asceticism can be as great a hindrance as the vanity of possession. Whatever gifts he received from devotees were either distributed among those who were in need or utilized for the maintenance of temples, monasteries, libraries, or similar purposes.

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