Abuse in the name of guru devotion is a very common thing these days, especially among Vajrayana practitioners. In Sanskrit, “Guru” has a very heavy meaning of being the one who dispels the darkness of ignorance, therefore a guru is heavy with the qualities of realisation, compassion and wisdom. Unfortunately, in the degenerate time we are in today, as Vajrayana practitioners, we are always confronted by the confusion on guru devotion. When we declare ourselves as Vajrayana practitioners, we are told that we would be going to Vajra hell if we doubt our lineage or our guru’s activities.
In Vajrayana, we are taught “The activities of the Guru are the activities of the Buddha.” There is a big BUT, that is depending on whether the guru is enlightened or not. This is the 21st century, you as a student must be given the opportunity to investigate. Buddha Shakyamuni himself says all the time that you as a student must investigate your guru thoroughly. Only after you have investigated your guru thoroughly that you then confirm to start the practice of Vajrayana path.
And also, after giving many profound teachings, Buddha Shakyamuni said to his disciples, “I have given the teachings, and you have to now check and investigate before you follow. But you don’t really have to follow just because these are my doctrine.” So for us, we have to check and investigate the teachings taught by our masters and then decide whether we want to follow or not.
Some people believe that whether the guru is enlightened or not is not important, as long as he or she teaches Dharma, the students will be able to gain enlightenment within a lifetime. I doubt so. For example, you are a student of a cooking class, the class teacher may be a celebrity cook because he or she knows how to promote himself or herself commercially, but have you tasted the food he or she cooks? Recipes of delicious food are given to you from this celebrity teacher, but has he or she cooked based on this recipe or it is just intellectual knowledge? Does he or she have any experiential knowledge or experience in cooking?
Experiential knowledge is very important in spiritual guru-disciple relationship. This is why in Vajrayana, the pure relationship of a qualified guru and a qualified student is extremely vital to gain enlightenment within a lifetime. But again, I want to remind that you must first investigate the guru, take time to find out about his or her qualities and activities, about the lineage.
You should not be denied of this basic right as a student. Ultimately, you are practising to be enlightened for the benefit of all beings. You should not jump onto the band wagon, like a blind fan after a celebrity, this is not a fan club. Obviously, you don’t want to be stuck in a cult as well, losing your basic intelligence and basic common sense. You need to be as normal as possible, and more open-minded and more spacious after following a genuine guru and a genuine lineage. There is no lineage if the guru is not genuine and there is no guru if the lineage is not pure.
Even if your guru asked you to jump from 20th floor down, and you have great doubts about this, you can bow down in front of him or her, saying without anger that “There is no point for me to jump from here, so I wouldn’t like to jump.” In Asvagosha’s Gurupancashika (“The 50 Verses of Guru Devotion”), it says very clearly in verse number 24 that “If you lack the knowledge or ability to do what the Guru says, explain in polite words why you cannot comply.”
Something that your guru asks you to do, though it looks okay, you cannot do it and you cannot accept it, you can ask and clarify to clear your doubts. For example, I as your guru, tell you, “Do not take off shoes in my room.” You can feel free to ask me, “Why do you like us to wear shoes in your room?” because this is something you don’t like, and you like the idea of taking off the shoes, but I don’t like the idea of taking off the shoes. You can ask me for my reason, because you don’t know, and I should have a good reason why you should not take off shoes in my room. Good reason means that the reason should be logical to make you feel comfortable about wearing shoes in my room, the reason should not without common sense.
It is unfair and illogical for me as your guru to expect you as my student to accept everything I say, without you having the chance to investigate and think. I as your guru must have a good reason that is logical and with common sense to tell you, then from today onwards, you will put on your shoes in my room, because you know and you understand. Up until then, you have the right to ask, but not with anger, you have to understand the logic behind the guru’s instruction.
In one of Buddha’s previous lives as a Brahmin disciple, he had a guru who told his disciples to go out and steal for him. His logic was that since the universe was created by Brahma, it was okay as Brahmins or sons of Brahma, to take things belonging to his father without asking, so it should not be considered as act of stealing. But Buddha did not follow his guru’s instructions, saying “Theft is at no time religious” and explaining in many ways why stealing was not good and was harmful to others. Buddha became one of his guru’s best disciples.