An excerpt from the teaching When the Teacher Calls by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
What is it that the teacher experiences as the teacher begins to call the student? In the Vajrayana tradition we are taught to consider a tulku as an emanation of Lord Buddha or Guru Rinpoche’s enlightened compassion. Guru Rinpoche himself said, “I will appear in the world as your root teacher.” The root teacher is defined as the one with whom you have such a relationship that upon meeting this teacher, upon hearing this teacher, you have understood something of your own mind. You have come, in some small way, to see your own face. When you meet your root teacher it is truly the display of Guru Rinpoche’s touch. It is how Guru Rinpoche has appeared in your life. You cannot doubt that. It is the beginning, it is the movement, it is the method of enlightened awareness.
Generally, if the teacher is a bodhisattva or an incarnation who has achieved some realization and therefore has returned solely to benefit beings, there is some design in his or her method. The tulku will have a sense of purpose from a very young age, and all of the circumstances that arise in the tulku’s life will arise from the intention to be of benefit. As the tulku moves toward his or her time, there is a sense of calling the students. It isn’t really like the teacher will know the name of a certain student and necessarily be about finding that student. What begins to happen is that there is a quality of intention, of loving kindness, of compassion that begins to ripen in the teacher’s mind, and it sets up a vibrational field, almost like a sound or song that will reach out and touch particular students, and their minds will respond to it. Students literally will appear from nowhere. The sound that goes out is like a hook. Just as a piece of Velcro doesn’t attach itself to a smooth surface, if the student doesn’t have the responding “piece” in them it won’t connect. But if the student has that other piece they’ll be tight. You can’t separate them. To separate them literally sounds like Velcro: it sounds like your heart is being torn out. There’s something there that is so fantastic that it cannot be explained in ordinary terms.
From the lama’s point of view there is simply the display of that compassionate intention. That’s all that happens. The student might be a course and crude construction worker, a ballerina, the student could be a disco dancer or drummer, but suddenly something begins to happen and they will say, “What am I doing here? How did I get into this? What is this?” Truly there is no “monkey business” on the part of the teacher. There is simply this call, this sound that is going out, and the student, if the hook is there, suddenly becomes velcroed.
Sometimes one is angry at first because you didn’t want to be velcroed. You didn’t ask for this. You wanted to be free and independent. But suddenly you can’t get away. You’re hooked. The hook doesn’t happen because the teacher is manipulative; the hook happens because you have seen your face and the karma in your mind is such that you have responded in a way that you could never have predicted.
The student might be very conventional, never religious before in their life. The student might be very unconventional and never thought they would deal with a conventional religion like Buddhism. They might be really ticked off about it. They just didn’t want any of these things to happen, and suddenly they’re hooked! They can’t move. What are they going to do? And they grieve. They start to grieve like someone died. Yes, something died: the part of their life when they were not hooked just died.
The teacher continues in what seems to the student a relentless way to send out this call. You can’t resist something that is like your mind. The teacher is karmically set up, due to his or her compassionate intention, really without any choice, to sound like them vibrationally, sometimes like them situationally. Sometimes a student may simply hear the words, and it’s so much like the way they are. So funny. So strange. All you’re really experiencing is compassion. That’s all that is to be understood.
You should never think that you’re understanding the teacher by determining how much the teacher is like you. All you’re understanding is yourself. The teacher is only acting from the point of view of compassion. If the teacher is considered to be a bodhisattva or a tulku, then what you’re seeing, really, is the display of compassion, and what you’re seeing is your own face.
You must understand that all that is really happening is that there is a sound being sounded that on some level you are capable of hearing due to the karma of your mind. What is happening is happening because of you, not because of anyone else. This is your mind, this is your karma, this is your face that you are seeing. Your response is your own response.
When the student first responds, generally there are obstacles that come up. Sometimes – and this is odd – when the student first finds the path they’ll get physically sick. They’ll suddenly come down with everything you can possibly imagine. But hopefully, if they can really work on devotion and purify their connection to the teacher, whatever obstacle arises will ripen benignly. When the student starts off in a different way, sometimes with anger, they must understand that suddenly this piece of anger didn’t come from somewhere else. Who’s running this show anyway? If the student feels anger it must have been in the student’s mind. What happens is that obstacle ripens, and it comes to the surface like a bubble rising to the surface of a pond. You have the opportunity to live and breathe and hold onto the stink of anger, or you have the opportunity through your practice, through practicing the antidote which is compassion, to let the bubble do what bubbles do: come to the surface of the lake and simply pop. What is the bubble once it has popped? Gone. The first breath of kindness and devotion can surely blow it away.
The student always has this opportunity, but instead the student generally responds by saying, “I’m right here. I have reasons to be angry.” Try to realize that what is coming to the surface is an obstacle to your practice and that it has no more power than you give it. Realize that you are capable of simply letting go, of surrendering, of practicing devotion, of using method in order to overcome the obstacle.
Remember, all the teacher is really doing is sounding that note that is so like the student’s mind that it begins to bring forth this response that is in the student’s mind. What the student sees is their own face: layer upon layer of their own face. Ultimately, if they practice devotion, they will see their true face, which is their nature. Now they’re only seeing the dust that is covering it.
The sound is some kind of thing that you can’t even hear with your own ears, but it is so powerful it can change the life of a student instantly. It is so powerful that it can change a community, it can change the world, but it’s so subtle that you probably couldn’t even hear it with your own ears. What is it? It is the greatest and the most gossamer force that there is, and that is the force of compassion, the Bodhicitta.
© Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo