Buddhist scriptures were believed to have first arrived in Tibet in the 5th century BCE during the reign of King Thothori Nyantsen. Later, King Songtsan Gampo (618-649) took two Buddhist wives, Princess Wencheng of China and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. However Buddhism only truly took root in Tibet in the 8th century BCE when the Indian tantric master Padmasambhava came to Tibet at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen and subdued opposition from the native Bon practitioners. Buddhism became the official religion of Tibet and this gave rise to the distinctive brand of Buddhism distinguished by esoteric tantric practices and a pantheon of buddhas, bodhisattvas, meditational deities and dharma protectors that defines Tibetan Buddhism today.

the Importance of Learning
from a Guru

An essential feature of Tibetan Buddhism is the Guru – Student relationship that has shaped its inner architecture and projection to the world but much is misunderstood in today’s context. In Tibetan, a Guru or a teacher is known as a lama.

Photo Credit:
Padmasambhava – Guru Rinpoche and his 8 Forms via Tumblr

Should Buddha be alive in this current time, perhaps the first turning of the Dharma Wheel or Buddha’s introductory teaching of the universal truths might probably be a podcast. But the point is that the value of a human teacher cannot be replaced especially when we are on a spiritual path. Many in the modern age shun the concept of taking refuge in religious masters because we are seen to be giving our power away to another individual. This may seem convincing at first. However, should we have the merits to ponder deeper, we realize that the Guru outside of us leads to the Guru within us. Why is it that when we wish to play the piano or develop our culinary skills, we readily get ourselves trained by professionals but we don’t feel the same way for something as crucial as our spirituality? Think about it.

If we are to practice the Dharma we need the example and teaching of others who have done so before us; especially by those who have gained insight into the nature of reality themselves. For us to grow and be better people we require the guidance of personal teachers who are further along the path than we are, and the support and friendship of other practitioners. This is very important because Buddhism is not an abstract philosophy or a doctrine to be memorized and forgotten; it is a deep and multifaceted practice that transcends the constraints and limitations of our mind. Unless it is embodied in a person, it tends to become meaningless.

Central to Tibetan Buddhism is the tradition of oral transmission that originated from the later part of Indian Buddhism whereby it is instrumental for a Guru to transmit teachings to a disciple directly and for the disciple then to do the same without omission. And this continues for as long as the lineage can be kept alive. Hence in this context, a Guru’s role is to guide, teach, nurture and to groom a student to his or her full potential through the dissemination of Dharma so that these teachings are transmitted for the benefit of all sentient beings. However, never in a single instance should a Guru deprive a student from testing his or her lama not out of disrespect but to engage in the spirit of Buddhism itself, which is to take refuge ultimately in the Dharma. Therefore, when we ask a lama constructive questions, we are implicitly opening more doorways to learning and practicing the Dharma, requesting the teacher to continuously turn the wheel of dharmic truths.

As we are all caught in the need to survive, compete with each other, suffer diseases, separations and break-ups and finally go through the pangs of death, having a spiritual understanding and practice will surely help us cope with the influx of changes and uncertainties that we are bound to experience. These are the universal truths propounded by Buddha Shakyamuni. But all is not lost. There are ways and methods to overcome these pains and trying times. And by orienting our heart and mind to the Dharma and being in direct contact with an authentic and qualified Guru, we are giving ourselves an opportunity to live the life that we deserve and in return to offer our best to help others create a better living regardless of race, religion and gender.

Background Photo Credit: Untitled via Pixabay