By Khentin Tai Situ Rinpoche
What exactly Is a "Tsawe-Lama"or "Root-Guru"?
are several forms of Tsawe-Lama but we need only discuss the two most
important ones here. The first form of Tsawe-Lama is the head of the
particular school of Tibetan Buddhism that you are considering joining.
The heads of that school can be traced right back for many centuries
and this is called "The Lineage". The head of the Karma Kagyu School of
Tibetan Buddhism is His Holiness, Urgyen Trinley, the XVII Gyalwa
Karmapa. You could say that the heads of the schools hold a similar
position to that of the heads of the Christian orders of the
Benedictine or Franciscan monks. The second form is the Lama (who may
or may not have the title of Rinpoche) under whose guidance you feel
you can learn most and travel furthest. It Is someone for whom you have
total respect; the person you turn to in need; someone you can follow
without doubt or hesitation - whose words "enter your bones". It is the
person who helps you most to realise the true nature of your mind. This
Tsawe-Lama wll be your strongest connection with the Dharma.
What does the phrase "true nature of your mind' mean?
means your "Buddha-nature". It Is the essence of the Buddha, the innate
goodness, which lies within every sentient being. It is the revelation
of the supreme qualities of compassion and wisdom.
What is the difference between a Tsawe-Lama and any other Lama or teacher?
can learn, or should be able to learn, something from any Lama; indeed
from any person and every situation. However, you will learn more from
your Tsawe-Lama than from any other. The contact will be deep and will
last for the rest of this life. It may have lasted for many lifetimes
already and the connection will probably continue for many lifetimes to
come. "Tsawe-Lama" is sometimes translated as "spiritual friend" or
"spiritual guide" because he or she will be your main guide along the
path of Dharma.
Is your Tsawe-Lama the Lama you take Refuge with?
necessarily. We call this Lama your "Refuge-Lama". The Refuge-Lama is
the one who opens the door of the Dharma and introduces you. That Lama
may become your Tsawe-Lama but only time will tell.
How does someone go about finding their Tsawe-Lama? How do you recognise him or her?
patience. Follow the advice of your Refuge-Lama. Practise diligently.
Go to teachings when possible and the situation will become clear.
Is it possible to have a woman Tsawe-Lama?
Of course, why not?
Once someone has found their Tsawe-Lama does this mean they should not attend teachings or initiations given by other Lamas?
of course not, but a little care should be taken. Each tradition of
Buddhism, such as Zen orTheravadin, and each school ofTibetan Buddhism
has a different way of presenting things. If you listen to a great
variety it is easy to confuse issues without realising you are doing
so. It is like a paint box! The red is a nice colour, and those two
greens are both clear and bright, and the yellow and that rich purple -
all are fine colours but if you mix them all together you get a muddy
brown! It is better to stay with teachers of the same lineage as far as
you can so that your mind does not become muddy brown! However, a
little of one colour added to another can be good. Ask your Refuge Lama
or your Tsawe-Lama for advice.
It is said that there is a
strong connection between the student and their Tsawe-Lama and that the
student should offer uncritical obedience. Is this correct?
there is a strong connection or bond between the Tsawe-Lama and the
student but the student will offer what he or she can. Some students
learn more by simple acceptance; others learn more by asking questions.
Both are good. This is not the army! The role of the Tsawe Lama is to
bring you to know the true nature of your mind-to see the truth as it
is - not to brain-wash you.
If someone learned that their
Tsawe-Lama had behaved in a manner contrary to their own moral
standards, is it possible for that student to break the bond and find
The student should remember that the bond is
voluntary and it is possible that that Lama is no longer appropriate.
Perhaps it was not their true Tsawe-Lama so in that case there was no
bond to start with. If the Tsawe-Lama should break his own personal
Samaya (deep vows) then that dissolves the "contract" with the student
and there is no longer a bond to break. If the student is unsure or
uneasy then they should try to discuss the issue with their Tsawe-
Lama, or with another Lama whom they respect - perhaps their
Refuge-Lama. There may be a misunderstanding and an easy explanation.
Time and common sense will show the way. If this is not possible, or if
the student is still distressed, they should turn to their own
Buddha-nature for guidance.