Is It Really the Nature of Mind?

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Translator, Author, and Buddhist Teacher, Erik Pema Kunsang has provided important clarifications on the meaning of root guru, the nature of mind, and samaya in his article, Club Nondualité.

First, Kunsang clarifies that a root guru is not automatically the teacher who gives you refuge. He further explains that a root guru is not necessarily a teacher from whom you’ve received an empowerment or even the introduction to the nature of mind, if it has been given in a large crowd.

Kunsang spells out the meaning of root guru in this way:

“The word root guru has a sacred meaning, that my teachers define in a very specific way: the person who not only tries, but succeeds in bringing about a complete change in your mind to such an extent that the grip of duality is loosened and that the nature of mind is totally laid bare in its naked state and can be accessed whenever remembered for the rest of your life.”

Kunsang goes on to warn that you could be training in the thoughtfree state of the all-groud if the introduction has not been properly introduced and authenticated.

“Patrul Rinpoche wrote 150 years ago, that there are many Dharma teachers who point out the thoughtfree state of the all-ground as being the nondual nature of mind, and that is why people who believe it may train ten, twenty, thirty years without becoming stable in nonduality. Why? They have instead trained in the very basis for dualistic mind.”

He emphasizes that non-dual mind must be authenticated by a teacher after the introduction has taken place.

While people may go about claiming to be a “nonduality person,” the real test, he points out, takes place when negative emotions come along.

“The smugness and false security of being a nonduality person is exposed the very next time one of the five toxic emotions hijacks your mind. A genuine knowing of nonduality does not wallow in dualistic emotions, be it aggression or self-pity.”

With regard to samaya, the sacred bond between student and teacher, he says:

“Within the Buddhist Vajrayana context, how can there be a samaya bond to a root guru, if you haven’t yet found the true nature of mind?”

Sogyal Rinpoche has said on many occasions that he gives us a “glimpse” of the nature of mind, when he introduces in a large gathering.  In that context, he’s not necessarily giving the fully monty as described by Kunsang.

Be sure to read Kunsang’s full post Club Nondualité here.  He also shares a great story about seeing your teacher as perfect, and how that was not even possible for the great yogi Milarepa while he was studying with Gampopa.

What did you learn from reading Erik Pema Kunsang’s article?  We would love to hear in the comments.


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15 thoughts on “Is It Really the Nature of Mind?

  1. This boils down to an unresolvable matter of religious opinion. I’ve noticed something similar on Dharma Wheel–people arguing (in the wake of the Sogyal affair) that it is actually difficult to enter into a guru-disciple relationship, and thus become subject to samaya. For example if such a relationship does not really exist until one has effectively become enlightened, then it could apply to few if any of us.

    I’ve long been critical of the Tibetan Buddhist presumption that practices ought to be passed down in lineages of teachers and their students, let alone couched in the framework of guru devotion (complete with threats of hellfire). Instead, I view all these things as the products of certain cultures, which we are free to reject or revise, not as absolute truth. (I don’t much believe in “enlightenment,” either.) Of course most Tibetan Buddhist groups find it institutionally convenient to teach what I call a “fundamentalist” approach, which assumes the truth of a broad range of traditional beliefs.

    Think about other kinds of vows. Does repeating the words of the marriage vow (or some version thereof) make you married? That depends on your legal jurisdiction, and probably, on many other factors. In Taiwan, one can “get married” simply by signing some forms, but what if one of the partners couldn’t read the forms (in Chinese), and was tricked into signing them? Are they still married? In the West, there is a tradition to the effect than an annulment can be granted if one partner concealed something materially important. Of course, marriage has a legal and social reality in a way that samaya does not, and we recognize that judges have some leeway to decide borderline cases.

    Another example might be joining the military. At one point one is a civilian; the next, one is a soldier / sailor / airman. The exact moment at which this is held to occur varies somewhat–perhaps the recruit is asked to step forward, or perhaps it happens when the oath is repeated. There have been lawsuits over this, but that is because military status, again, has a certain social and legal reality that samaya does not, and we give the judicial system a certain amount of leeway.

    It is easy to claim that God, or his functional equivalent, has infused certain kinds of vows with power over and beyond what society recognizes. The Catholic Church, for instance, believes this of (sacramental) marriage. But again, this boils down to a matter of religious opinion, no matter how many people in your religion believe one thing or the other.

    So are vows meaningless? As a married man, I would shy away from this conclusion (although my own ceremony did not in fact contain any vows!), but surely some balance can be struck between that, and the opposite extreme in which one is told to stay married forever, regardless of how miserable they may be–or worse yet, a tantric initiation which obligates one (perhaps unknowingly) to eternal obedience on pain of hellfire. Remember, Scientologists sign a “Billion Year Contract,” but surely no serious person would hold them to it–in fact, they are well advised to get out as fast as possible.

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    1. It is fine to be critical, also fine to be suspicious Tibetans. But if you don’t believe in enlightenment, I wonder why are you entering a discussion on Buddhism? There are now many ‘feel-good’ ‘religious-baggage-free’ interpretations of the Dharma that may be more agreeable. They won’t bring you enlightenment, but they might make you feel a bit better in this life if that is your target? As HH Dalai Lama said in response to such interpretations: “Very good, very good. But not Dharma.” Not wanting to curb your freedom of speech in any way, but just pointing out that seen from that view point absolutely everything is just a matter of religious opinion.

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      1. If you learned tomorrow that there was no such thing as “enlightenment”–that when we die, we die, and that’s that–would you consider Tibetan Buddhism worthless? That said, you are probably right that there are more “feel-good, religious-baggage free” forms of Buddhism out there. Out of curiosity, which groups did you have in mind?

        Not everything is a matter of religious opinion, although a sufficiently religious mind can believe just about anything! (I hear the flat earth is making a comeback.) But some things are–the afterlife, for instance (unless science finds a way to investigate that too). Beyond that, the question of values–of how we should live our lives–can’t be decided through facts alone. For example, what if you learned that reincarnation and karma are real, but that they punish “good” and reward “evil”? Would you then run around killing people? Or better yet, would you then accept that that running around killing people is RIGHT?

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  2. This clarification by Erik Pema Kunsang is really important.

    From my narrow point of view has the chase for “Nature od Mind” become a main drive for many Dharmafollowers. I experienced that any kind of extraorinary moments can cause effects of bliss and so on, which leads eventually to a kind of looking for the kick again. Its not that simple of course, but it could end temporarily in collective state of delusion.

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    1. I like “this certainty can be put to the test next time you get angry, attached, proud, jealous or close-minded. If you are able to step out of that toxic emotion in an instant and stay in nondual mind, then it’s for real. ” But I have to point out that SR also taught a lot on not becoming attached to experiences, and the importance of stability. Just speaking for myself, when Rinpoche introduced I did not feel so-much bliss, but rather an incredible openness, calm energy and absolute workability of mind stayed with me for days. Nothing ecstatic, but very much amazing as it effortlessly would cut through some seriously stagnant mind states and despair as if it was the most natural way to be.

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  3. “He also shares a great story about seeing your teacher as perfect, and how that was not even possible for the great yogi Milarepa while he was studying with Gampopa.” This makes it sound like Mila was Gampopa’s teacher! Other way around, or maybe you meant Marpa, not Gampopa. Haven’t had time to read Erik’s piece yet myself, so i’m not sure.

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    1. It says: “Here is a little story about seeing one’s teacher as perfect. When Gampopa was about to leave after having received all the pith instructions from his guru, the world-renowned yogi Milarepa, he received this last advice: “There will come a time in the future when you see me as a true buddha. That is when you have reached enough stability in the view of Mahamudra to guide others.” It therefore makes sense that the demand to see the guru as a buddha is fine during meditation, but very difficult when living together and seeing the daily behavior. Until that, just as Gampopa, we can just try our best—from a distance.” For me that doesn’t mean it was ‘not even possible for Gampopa’, but rather that there are many depths to pure perception.

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  4. This clarification is enough to establish that not only Sogyal is not the root guru of most RIGPA students, even if they think so. Hence a breach of samaya cannot be part of the equation. Hence maybe its time to talk about the real issues.

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      1. Dear Sandra, I’m sorry to bother you with something completely different. From a friend of mine I understood that you’re a moderator for the What Now Facebookgroup. I applied for access on the contact form three times, but never got a response, nor access. Can you please help?

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  5. Very good article which make a lot of things clear and as former student of SL all problems about samaya not so relevant anymore.
    Reply to Adamo: In R. you are at the highest level and the most advanced if you are in the Dzogchen mandala. Students may feel superior. In fact as Westerners most of us do not really understand so much of buddhism. It is new to us and very complex. We do not have time to study the whole day. In 10 to 15 years presence at the teachings once a week one can become a dzogchen mandala student. Even dzogchen mandala students are only beginners. We live in a materialist world, so no support from outside.
    The kick of an extraordinary experience for a moment may lead to wanting more kicks. The gelugs taught me that one is at the wrong path when one wants to hold that experience, it is grasping. Just forget it and go on practicing. Holding the experience prevents getting forward on the path. Maybe it is a kind of spiritual materialism.

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  6. Dear people, this is to all of you…I’ve been trying to get access to the What Now Facebook Group since last Sunday, and this is my 5th attempt…Is anyone here a moderator who can help? I applied about 3 times, including my Facebook Profile URL and email-address and get no response whatsoever from whomever, nor access…

    Does anyone even read this? Do I even exist? Well, I seem to…but does anyone acknowledge my existence?

    Best wishes…

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    1. Hi Bolletje,
      I am sorry to hear, that you didn’t get an answer for your request to join the Facebook-group and I am sorry, that I cannot help you in this either, because I am not even in the group. Maybe Tenzin Peljor (Tenpel) can help you. He moderates the buddhism-controversy-blog.com and this blog has also a section on Rigpa https://buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2017/08/18/on-dzongsar-khyentse-rinpoches-statement-from-a-reader-of-the-new-york-times/
      All the best for you.

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  7. Dear Lola,

    Thank you for caring and responding! In the meantime a friend has helped get me in touch with one of the Facebook-Group moderators, and to my relief I have access now. But the effort it took makes me wonder if there still are any moderators around here who read the application form on the contact page? Because if there aren’t, please let people know and also which steps they should take to get access?

    Best wishes!

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