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The Teacher as Vajra Master

In the Vajrayana, or tantric vehicle, your relationship with the teacher becomes very complicated, very tricky. Your teacher becomes what is known as the vajra master, and your relationship with him or her has a different slant entirely. In some sense, the teacher becomes a combination of the elder and the spiritual friend. The process is the same, the line of thinking is the same, but it has its own particular twist. The vajra master is not an elder, a parental figure, a spiritual friend, or a rich uncle. He or she is a born warrior who accepts only a few students. The vajra master will not accept students who are sloppy and unreceptive.

Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning “indestructible.” The idea of vajra mind is that it is completely well put-together. It does not have any cracks; it cannot be criticized. You cannot bring any confusion into it because it is so well guarded, not out of paranoia, but out of its own existence. It is self-guarded.

The closest analogy for the vajra master is the samurai. Such a teacher is ferocious, but at the same time he has the qualities of a father, an elder, and a friend. He could be very passionate, warm, and sympathetic, but he doesn’t buy any bullshit, if we could speak American at this point. Studying with such a person is dangerous, and it is a very advanced thing to do. You might actually progress much faster on the path. But if you start with the expectation of going faster, you might actually go slower.

Having gone through the Hinayana and Mahayana, you are well trained and disciplined. At this point, the vajra master’s approach is to create successive teaching situations in your life. He or she demands complete, unconditional trust and openness from you, without any logic. Maybe some little logic applies, but the invitation and the demand are simple and straightforward: “Would you like to come along with me and take part in this historic battle? Come along, here’s your sword.”

Of course, there is always room to chicken out. But once you accept the invitation, if you chicken out, you could go through a lot of problems. The more you are a coward, that much more the vajra master might try to terrify you, if that is what you need. I don’t want to paint a black picture of the vajra master, but that is the simple truth. The more you try to escape, the more you will be chased and cornered. However, the more you work with the vajra master, the more you will be invited to join that fantastic celebration and mutual dance.

The notion of celebration here is that of sharing a feast. It is not the usual idea of indulging, having parties and eating a lot. Feasting here means sharing rich experiences of all kinds. Sharing together in that sense is the only way that the Vajrayana teachings come alive and become completely appropriate. However, if you are not ready for that, then the vajra master may send you back to your spiritual friend, or if necessary to your elder.

Your commitment to the vajra master is not purely to the external person alone. As well, it has possibilities of commitment to the internal guru, the teacher as expressed in you. However, that takes place only after you meet the vajra master. At that point, you begin to experience a greater level of heroism, fearlessness, and power. You develop a sense of your own resources. That journey takes much longer than you would expect. The vajra master doesn’t want to give you any chance to play out your trip. Otherwise, you might decide to reject your irritating and overwhelming vajra master; you could deceptively internalize by saying, “I don’t have to deal with that person anymore. I can just do it on my own.”

The point here is that, at the Vajrayana level, there is a great deal of magic, power, and immense devotion. That devotion is different from devotion in the theistic traditions. In this case faith and devotion are based not on the sense of giving up or surrendering completely; devotion here is taking on more things, taking all sorts of examples and insight and power into yourself. At this point, you can actually be initiated—that is precisely the word. You can be initiated or empowered. The formal ceremony of empowerment in the Vajrayana is called an abhisheka. You can be abhisheka-ed, to coin a verb.

Faith and devotion in the theistic traditions may have a remote quality. Somebody is out there who will care for you, make you feel secure. Everything is somewhat on an ethereal level, on the level of otherness. The reason why lizards exist, the reason why snakes coil themselves, why rivers run to the ocean, and why trees grow tall—the reason for all this mysteriousness must be because of “him” or “it.”

That belief actually keeps you from understanding real magic. It keeps you from understanding how things come about or from finding out how you can do something in your own way. When you think that the world must be someone else’s work or creation, you begin to feel as though the whole world is run by a gigantic corporation, including the weather. But we run our own corporation, according to the nontheistic tradition of Buddhism. In order to have complete access to our world, so that we can run our own corporation, we need to have the vajra master give us manuals, techniques, and instructions. And if we are playing dumb, if we are not exuberant, he might actually put us into a very difficult situation to wake us up.

All together faith in the teacher is not worship; the teacher is not particularly regarded as a link to God. The teacher is regarded as a spiritual elder, spiritual friend, or vajra master. He or she has ways and means to create situations in accordance with our own receptivity, our own particular style, in order to waken our native intelligence. In relating with the teacher, your critical input and surrendering work together. They’re not working against each other. The more you get input from the teacher and the phenomenal world and the more you develop, the more, at the same time, you question. So there is a kind of dance taking place between the teacher and yourself. You are not particularly trying to switch off your questioning intelligence and switch on some sort of mindless devotion. Rather, the two—cynicism and devotion—are synchronized together.

From the May 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

Excerpted from Teachings on the Sadhana of Mahamudra, to be published in 2012 by Shambhala Media. ©2012 Diana J. Mukpo. Used by permission. Edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian, senior editor of the works of Chögyam Trungpa.

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