Conversations With My Guru

Chapter 9 :Meanings….

Chapter 9: Meanings

In modern day communication training, we are told to be clear and concise. We use various means to check whether the person we have communicated with has understood our message etc. Over the years, I have realized that this expectation of communication that we, as a listener, often have does not apply to conversation with our Gurus. Does that mean they are not clear and concise? No, they are - but our interpretation of what we think we have heard them, makes a difference. 

The Catuḥpratiśaraṇa Sūtra states (of the Four Reliances): -

Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality 

Rely on the meaning, not just on the words 

Rely on the real meaning, not on the provisional one 

Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary, judgemental mind 

Rinpoche communicates in many ways, sometimes with silence as Buddha did, sometimes saying something to one person but in fact the message may be intended for someone else who is present. When people come to Rinpoche for advice, the interpretation of what he said and really meant often differs based on what others perceive. This can sometimes lead to misunderstanding as illustrated below.

A relative had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This is a degenerative nerve disease and can either last for some time or can lead to death quite quickly. I was requested to bring him and his wife to see Rinpoche. We arrived at the Bukit Timah centre on a Saturday morning when Rinpoche was teaching a meditation class. We consulted Rinpoche and he listened and consoled him. I cannot remember the exact details of whether any pujas were recommended (I think so) but as they kept asking questions about what types of treatments to pursue etc, Rinpoche finally said, “Don’t worry so much, things will be okay in the end.” Rinpoche then asked them to join the meditation class. He instructed me to distribute the King of Prayers for all of us, including my relatives, to recite. I was puzzled. Why recite an aspiration prayer for rebirth in Sukhavati at a meditation class? It then dawned on me that this was Rinpoche’s way of ensuring my relative recited this extremely beneficial prayer at least once, before his passing. 

A few days later, someone mentioned to me that our relative had felt better after seeing Rinpoche. She said they were all glad to hear that he would recover based on what Rinpoche said. I was surprised at that, and said, “No, Rinpoche did not say he will recover, just not to worry and that it will be okay in the end. He made the class recite the King of Prayers, and that is most recited as an aspiration for someone who is dying or dead.” 

The different interpretations can be seen here: my relatives had taken what Rinpoche said to mean that there was a chance of a miraculous recovery. Yet, I did not hear Rinpoche say “you will recover”. 

Faced with knowing quite certainly what was to happen, I felt it was almost impossible for Rinpoche to tell them that death was imminent. My relative passed away less than six months later. 

This often happens when people ask Rinpoche for advice. Rinpoche, via either divination or other means, is often well aware of what is likely to happen. He then skilfully has to determine how best to communicate advice to us, we who are hungry to hear what we want to hear.  At times, his advice is misunderstood and people have been upset, with some even going to the extent of accusing Rinpoche of lying. To avoid such a situation where we become unhappy with our Guru's advice, a certain level of trust in the Guru - a conviction of his bodhicitta motivation - has to grow within us first before we utilise the Four Reliances to contemplate his words.


19 Dec 2021