More on the Spiritual Teacher


One of the things that strikes me the most about teachers such as Geshe Sopa Rinpoche, is his amazing ability to meet the needs of those around him. I had the good fortune to spend some time with him in October when he visited D.C. for His Holiness’s Congressional Gold Medal Award ceremony. A group of old friends and students took him out to lunch and Geshe la chatted with them about their families at length. I asked him a few questions about his latest book, and he joked around saying that there would be yet another volume which would be coming out soon and it would be expensive and thick, but that I must buy it and study it. As we were leaving the restaurant, a couple of businessmen approached us and asked if Geshe la was the Dalai Lama, and we all laughed and said “No”. But they asked if they could say Hi to Geshe la anyway. And just for an instant, Geshe la transformed into a back-slapping guy and gave them each a hearty hand-shake perfectly mirroring the businessmen’s energy. Then it was over, and he resumed speaking in his gentle manner with his Tibetan friends. Later in the afternoon, he listened patiently and with interest as Yangsi Rinpoche described the Maitripa Institute discussing all of the famous professors who had taught there recently.

I was reminded of this brief encounter with Geshe Sopa by a passage from the Flower Ornament Scripture (Avatamsaka Sutra, translated by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications) which describes how bodhisattvas strive to help all sentient beings — not in a generic way, but by understanding their individual needs. The sutra says,

“…[enlightening beings] …set their minds on unexcelled complete perfect enlightenment to know all the differences in afflictions of all beings in all worlds. In other words, they want to thoroughly know light afflictions and heavy afflictions, afflictions of sleep and afflictions of waking, the various differences in the innumerable afflictions of each and every sentient being, and their various musings and ruminations, to clear away all their confusions and defilements; they want to thoroughly know all afflictions based on ignorance and afflictions connected with affection, to cut off all bonds of afflictions in all realms of being; they want to thoroughly know all afflictions of greed, all afflictions of hatred, all afflictions of folly, and all afflictions of greed, hatred and folly in equal measure, to sever the root of all afflictions; they want to thoroughly know all afflictions of ego, afflictions of possessions, and afflictions of conceit, to be totally aware of all afflictions; they want to thoroughly know all basic and concomitant afflictions arising from misconceptions, and the sixty-two views arising from the idea of a real body existing, to vanquish all afflictions; they want to know thoroughly the afflictions of mental shrouds and hindrances; to develop a heart of great compassion to rescue and protect, to sunder the web of all afflictions and cause the nature of omniscience to be utterly pure — this is why they set their minds on unexcelled complete perfect enlightenment.”

A friend of mine mentioned how she told her teacher that she was so disappointed that she couldn’t attend a retreat that she had requested several year ago. She shared her feelings with ther teacher and his response was exactly what she needed to hear — that just by generating the pure intention to participate in the retreat, she would accumulate the same merit as if she actually attended. Which reminds me of another passage from the Flower Ornament Scripture explaining how bodhisattvas teach each person according to his/her needs:

“How do enlightening beings explain the truth to sentient beings according to their needs and capacities? They know what beings do; they know their causes and conditions; they know their mental behavior; they know their inclinations. To those with much greed and desire they expound impurity; to those with much anger and hatred they expound magnanimity and kindness; to those with much ignorance and delusion they teach diligent contemplation; to those in whom these poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance are equal, they expound the teaching of the development of the knowledge to overcome them. Those who like birth and death they teach about the three kinds of suffering. To those who are attached to where they are, they teach the empty nullity of places. To those who are lazy they talk of great vigor. To those who harbor conceit, they explain the equality of things. To flatterers and deceivers they tell of the simple honesty of the hearts of enlightening beings. To those who like silence and tranquility they expound the Teaching extensively, so that they will accomplish it. Thus do the enlightening beings teach according to what is necessary and appropriate.”

We are truly fortunate to be able to receive teachings from His Holiness, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Gyumed Khensur Rinpoche and many other fully qualified teachers.

— Posted by Dina Li

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