29 January 2018


Many of us suffer deeply with emotional or psychological pain. While many do not have diagnosable mental illness, even so, these days mental trauma is rife. 

So who to turn to?

The following quote may offer some real clarity, coming as it does from one of the younger, well-loved Tibetan teachers, Mingyur Rinpoche. Here Rinpoche provides a frank (and rare) insight from an actual guru on this matter. But first

             Thought for the day

The absolute truth cannot be realized 
Within the domain of the ordinary mind. 
And the path beyond the ordinary mind, 
All the great wisdom traditions have told us, 
Is through the heart. 
This path of the heart is devotion.

                          Sogyal Rinpoche

Tormented by our own pain, many seek a therapist. Others turn to spiritual teachers or "gurus" for answers. While revered in the East, “guru” is a complicated word in the West. It is a sanskrit word that translates literally as teacher, but commonly means more, often alluding to someone who acts as one's spiritual guide or friend, and who helps one to realise the same qualities, awareness and insights as the guru. Wiki provides a good background.

And while there are ample stories of gurus catalysing a personal renaissance for many individuals, fears of being taken advantage of in one way or another linger. There is often confusion about how the relationship with the guru works best and what devotion really is.

At the same time, some might question whether psychotherapy goes deep enough? Does it offer the insight and transformation that commitment to a genuine spiritual practice might?

Ample food for reflection and contemplation; and here is Mingyur Rinpoche’s contribution, quoted from his book Turning Confusion Into Clarity. 

Because the guru-disciple relationship is so new for Westerners, it will take time before it is understood with any consistency. 

It is understandable that some Westerners expect the guru to function in ways similar to other authority figures in their society, such as parents, bosses, generals, police officers, or psychiatrists. All of these projections can be worked with – if the student is willing to bring the issues into the realm of dharma.

Sometimes people tell me about their childhood, what their mother did to them, what their father said, and about this one sibling, until the story includes the entire family history. Meanwhile I am wondering : “Where is the dharma question? Where is the opening? Where is the opportunity for practice?”

A teacher does not have to be a therapist to see the fixations, the grasping, the anger, or the jealousy. But sometimes when I introduce practices that can help alleviate these problems, I meet resistance. 

Then I might wonder, “Gee, maybe this person wants a therapist, not a dharma friend.“

When students ask about psychological issues, martial problems, family dramas, and so forth, my own general response is to try to turn the conversation to dharma so that I can suggest activities, practices, or prayers that I hope can help. 

Generally, with non-dharma questions, I try to turn people`s minds toward their own wisdom, their own inclinations and knowledge. With a little encouragement, people can usually arrive at the answer to their own wordly questions.

If the person is willing to use dharma teachings to help themselves, then I have a role to play.

Many people come to dharma because they are in some emotional crisis or experience chronic mental suffering. 

That makes sense. 

But they may want their guru to solve all their psychological issues. Somehow they have the mistaken idea that solving their problems is the guru's job, rather than taking their problems to the path of meditation and study.

Nowadays many students spend more time following the gurus than they do practicing. 

The greatest masters of Tibet went to their gurus to receive teachings or to clarify their instructions, and then they left to practice. 

The point is not how or where we practice, but rather not to confuse practice with being around a teacher. 

We need to nurture our inner guru.

Mingyur Rinpoche
 - from Turning Confusion Into Wisdom.

Do meditators need psychotherapy?

This  book focuses upon the Tibetan foundation practices - or ngondro, as they are known in Tibet.

Ngondro is a set of meditations that form the first step on the path of awakening. Though they are preliminary practices, in the sense that they are meant to till the hardened soil of the heart and mind and prepare them for the spiritual journey, many of Tibet's greatest meditation masters have taken them as a daily practice throughout their lives. Indeed, it is often said that the foundation practices are even more profound than the supposedly more "advanced" meditations that one encounters later in the path.

Mingyur Rinpoche's first two books, The Joy of Living and Joyful Wisdom, were accessible presentations of meditation practice. Despite their conversational style, both books contain a wealth of profound hints about meditation practice. In many ways these writings capture the core of Rinpoche's approach to the path of awakening.

Having written two books that he hoped would reach both Buddhist and non-Buddhist readers, Mingyur Rinpoche chose to write this book to support those who are already engaged in Buddhist practice, or who are interested in doing so. 

This is not to say that he wrote this book only for Buddhists. It may very well be that this will also inspire those who are not practicing Buddhists. But this book is primarily intended for those who are looking to deepen their knowledge - and especially their experience - of the Buddha's teachings.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this blog, it resonates, and to me makes sense of how I feel in regard to the guru/teacher role. I haven't read any of Mingyur Rinpoche books, but shall be doing so now, thank-you :)