3. The Spiritual Master

Even though we may have precious human lives, we are not free from samsara and we are overpowered by confusion, so we need guidance to show us the path toward enlightenment. This is a crucial factor.

Even to get a general, samsaric education, we need to rely on a good teacher who has studied for a long time, and who has experience and a good personality. Without these necessary qualifications, we will not receive proper instruction.

Now this is a matter of how to free ourselves from samsara, a much more difficult subject. If a teacher does not know the nature of samsara and enlightenment or, particularly, does not have experience with the required practices, then it is like the blind leading the blind. Instead of dispelling confusion, more confusion will arise.

So therefore, certain qualifications are set forth for spiritual masters. These distinct qualifications for spiritual masters were explained by Buddha in many sutra and tantra texts.

You should first carefully examine individual spiritual masters and then attend them in order to receive teachings. Do not just rely on a good first impression.

Among the many qualifications, one of the most important is bodhicitta. If the spiritual master has received bodhicitta vows, has practiced it for some time, and cherishes it as he does his own life, then he may be trustworthy even if he is not a scholar or very articulate.

If a spiritual master is overpowered by the afflicting emotions, however, the relationship will bring confusion and might even destroy your small accumulation of virtues.

Therefore, carefully examine the spiritual master’s qualifications according to the witnesses of the Buddha’s words and your own experience.

When you find a spiritual master appropriate to your level, then attend him properly without allowing your own arrogance and ego to interfere.

Support his activities through sincere service and provision of necessities, but particularly through application of the teachings into practice—experiencing as well as understanding the teachings.

If you are overpowered by arrogance and selfish purposes, then you will not receive the blessings no matter how great the spiritual master is or how powerful and profound the teachings may be.

Misuse of the instructions that we receive may actually cause suffering rather than providing freedom from suffering.

Therefore, Dharma Lord Gampopa said, “If you don’t practice Dharma according to Dharma, it may lead you to the lower realms.”

Therefore, receive teachings with pure motivation, viewing them as the method to purify all confusion and afflicting emotions, as a medicine to cure the chronic disease of samsara and to attain complete enlightenment.

Using Dharma to enrich samsaric enjoyment is called “watering down the Dharma” and “misusing the Dharma.” To take full advantage of the precious Dharma teachings, you need to cultivate pure motivation and sincerely apply the teachings in practice without regard for samsaric achievement.

Source: Gampopa, Dharma Lord. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The Wish-fulfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings. Translated by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche. Edited by Ani K. Trinlay Chodron. Boulder, Colorado: Snow Lion, 1998.