How to Choose a Guru

A Teaching by Geshe Dakpa Topgyal

Reliance on the guru is the root of spiritual realization. When a qualified teacher and a qualified student come together, spiritual realization is inevitable.

The five minimum qualifications of the spiritual teacher or guru:

1. Well disciplined, leading a sound, ethical life

2. Compassionate (without compassion there is the danger of abuse)

3. A skillful teacher, does not use too many or too few words, is neither disorderly nor disconnected in teaching and knows the mental capacity of the student

4. No expectations of personal reward, the teacher is not pleased by gifts, but only by the student’s spiritual practice

5. Concern for the student’s well-being

The five minimum qualifications of the student

1. Open-minded

2. Mental capacity, the ability to decide if the teaching is right or wrong

3. Interest

4. Diligence

5. Practice, goes beyond intellectual understanding to practice what is learned in day-to-day life

The student must cultivate devotion and a deep sense of respect, reflecting on the kindness of the guru, and must maintain a wholesome attitude toward the guru. The student must live according to the spiritual instruction of the guru, following the teacher’s instructions and taking care of the teacher. The relationship is established through mutual agreement. Breaking the relationship is serious because that becomes an obstacle to liberation. The student and potential teacher should spend time getting to know each other. In Tibet, the student asks to become a student in a formal way, kneeling on the right knee and presenting the teacher with a white silk scarf. The request may not be accepted until the third try. In the West, the process may be less formal.

In the teachings, the teacher must first convince the student of the preciousness of the human form, how meaningful, how rare it is to be born human. Next, the teacher will show the student that spiritual practice eliminates the four clingings.

The Buddhist path is meant to eliminate the four clingings.

1. Clinging to present life. The student learns about the impermanent nature of reality

2. Clinging to samsara. The student learns about the nature of suffering. It is composed of our cyclic existence, is characterized by impermanence, a lack of guarantees and the pain of our dissatisfaction, which is ceaseless, endless. The antidote is realization of emptiness, which destroys our fundamental confusion, our false sense of self and our false sense of a gap between our self and the world.

3. Clinging to our own welfare (at the expense of others) and to appearances. If we feel compassion we understand all living beings are equal to oneself; all living beings are designed for happiness. Then we must ask, if all are equal, why do we cling to our own welfare and neglect the happiness of others?

4. Clinging to ordinary appearances. When we understand emptiness, we understand objects do not exist in the way they appear to our mind. This gap that exists between the way objects appear and the way they are results in unrealistic expectations.

Notes from a teaching by Geshe Dakpa Topgyal in Columbia, South Carolina, January 5, 2001.