Why I Didn't Quit Guru Yoga
In the Winter release of 2017, the Tricycle magazine published Stephen Batchelor's article entitled ”Why I Quit Guru Yoga?”. This is my casual response to Mr. Batchelor's presentation.
I consider Batchelor a great contemporary voice of buddhist study. I think his work is a fresh breeze of reason and intelligence among the large and quite colourful field of buddhism. I have been a fan of Batchelor's work for several years. However, learning about his views of Guru Yoga lead me think that it was either presented to him in a mistaken manner or he misunderstood the instructions, or both.
Batchelor doesn't mention Guru Yoga with nonphysical masters, like Guru Rinpoche, as it's method. He only discusses his experiences with his living Tibetan lamas who he apparently was encouraged to be seen as living buddhas. Rightly, this should easily raise doubts. It is strange that he doesn't mention Guru Yoga with nonphysical gurus as their presence is widely invoked in various schools of vajrayana buddhism. I think there are big problems in the way this is practiced but that is another discussion.
I would like to expand on what is correct Guru Yoga.
Tantric Guru Yoga
Contrary to orthodox vajrayana buddhism, I do not think that a student needs to receive an empowerment or initiation in order to practice Guru Yoga with a particular nonphysical guru, such as Guru Rinpoche, Milarepa, Machig Labdron or any other. I am neither saying that an empowerment couldn't help. It's just that it isn't a requirement.
The principle is that minds vibrate. The mind, or energetic body, is a developed and complex organic machine which vibrates energetically. The difference between the mind vibrations of deluded beings and gurus is that the minds of samsaric beings are soiled with numerous habits while the minds of gurus aren't. Despite of the significant difference between these two, the point is that minds vibrate.
This is the reason why anyone at any time or place, can focus one's mind and tune in to the presence of any guru, say Guru Rinpoche. This can be done by calling the name of the guru (Guru Rinpoche... Guru Rinpoche... Guru Rinpoche), thinking his image, by combining name and image or by mere intention. What happens is that the mind of the one who invokes gets in touch with the mind of the guru's. This brings in a flood of blessings and fresh energy which greatly clarifies the mind and hence makes the dharmakaya aspect of the buddhanature, or awareness of the student pronouncedly evident and helps purifying the many defilements stored in the energy body. This principle applies to any mahasiddha guru, or an attained buddha. To do this, there is no requirement of empowerment, particular mantras or other specific practices. The principle is simple and straightforward.
When it comes to long prayers, mudras, rituals and whatnot else in Guru Yoga these are just a matter of technical and cultural elaboration based on the principle. However it should also be added that unfortunately the underlying principle of particular techniques quite often seems poorly understood.
”By Great Transference we mean that the material body is
integrated with the substance of the elements and disappears
into the light. Those who have the capacity can continue to see it,
but for those who are limited to a common vision it is as if it disappears.
In short, those who manifest the Great Transference continue to live in light, give teachings and work for the benefit of all beings who have
the capacity to get in contact with them”
- Namkhai Norbu
It seems that Batchelor was not introduced to this underlying principle. If this is so in his case, it probably is so in the case of many others as well. Would be wonderful to get this clarification from Mr. Batchelor.
The Greatest of Gifts
I do not think there is a gift greater than helping a deluded being recognise his nature of mind (buddhanature). In my understanding, based on thousands of hours of tantric guru yoga, this is exactly how the nonphysical gurus want to help those still caught in the wheel of samsara. They want to help. But it needs to be asked first. Asking and receiving the charge is the practice of Guru Yoga. One outgrows Guru Yoga only when becoming a living buddha oneself.
I wanted to write this short text to clarify this point to that faulty views about Guru Yoga wouldn't spread and cause harm to beings who would benefit of correct Guru Yoga the most.
”I was relieved to have recovered my own authority for living my life. I realized that I had been intimidated by a culture of fear. I no longer needed to ask my teachers’ permission for what I could and couldn’t do with my mind.” - Stephen Batchelor
This is precisely what true gurus help us to accomplish.
- Kim Katami, 7.12.2017