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What is a root guru?

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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 Geshe Gelek Chodak, resident geshe at Kadampa Center in Raleigh, North Carolina responds:

Between 1759 and 1815, one of the great Masters of Sera Jhe Monastery called Tri Chen Tenpa Rabgyal gave an answer to the question – What is the definition of Root Guru? Gyal Wang Chod Je Tulku from Sera Mey Monastery was the one who asked the question, and the Master’s answer was: “A direct Lama is the Root Lama, that means that from whomever we received teachings directly, we can consider them as our Root Lamas.”

He also says: “Within the Lamas, there are different levels of qualities. Some of them are very close and more kind towards us. But from our side, we must try to see all of them as real enlightened beings and no different. By doing this, we are the ones who will receive great benefit, not them. If we make differences towards all our Teachers, we will not gain anything, plus we will not be able to practice Guru Yoga successfully. Therefore Guru Yoga is not an easy practice at all.”

I hope this will help, because this answer is coming from this great Master.

Q. In this day and age of easier travel, and therefore greater access to different teachers, many modern practitioners take teachings from up to a dozen or more teachers. Sometimes, these students settle on one particular teacher, but sometimes they do not. How should such students regard all of the many teachers from whom they have taken teachings? Would they all be regarded as root gurus?

A. In the monastery we don’t go and receive a teaching from every teacher, simply because they are there and accessible. Why? Because it is not just about learning something new: It is also about developing Guru Devotion. Therefore, even if it takes many years to analyze someone before you accept him or her as your Spiritual Master, it’s important. In the monastic system, we request a teaching before even receiving it. We have already analyzed and decided to ask this person to be our teacher before sitting down to listen. In the West, you do not have this system. It’s not the same situation and environment.

Because of that there are fewer problems with this issue in the monastery. Here in the West you go to listen to different people talk on a variety of topics, some Dharma and some not. There is a different attitude and protocol and understanding. People in the West are used to going to talks and seminars out of curiosity, or with the desire to learn something. So it depends on the mindset of the person who is going to listen to a variety of teachers. Only they know their mindset, and how they view the particular teacher. If the student has no view or intention for the speaker to become their teacher, it’s hard to say if just receiving a teaching makes that person their guru or teacher.


The principle is discovery. You discover the teacher and the qualification of the teacher. Then you discover the transmission and the qualification of the transmission. You discover there is nothing to change.

Some people say, for example, "You are a very good teacher. I want you to be my root Guru." This point of view is really mistaken, because being a root Guru means that a teacher communicates with you and that you wake up and discover your real nature through this teacher and this transmission. In this case, even if you do not accept this teacher, or you have decided that this teacher is not your root Guru, there is nothing to do. He is your root Guru. Even if he is a dog, he is your root Guru! Even if he doesn't sit on a high throne, or dress nicely, or if he is not a very famous teacher, it does not matter.

If you choose someone as your root Guru, saying, "Oh this is a very famous teacher and everybody is saying that this is an enlightened being - wonderful!" and then you say, "Oh, this is my root Guru," even though you did not experience him that way, that is totally false. Why is he your root Guru? Perhaps you never received a single teaching - how can he then be your root Guru? You see, in society we don't understand what it means to be a Guru. It means teaching and giving transmission. That is why, in the Dzogchen way, we need to discover everything; we don't need to decide anything at all. As to the value of the teaching, you say, "Dzogchen is a wonderful teaching," but this does not mean anything. Dzogchen is interesting or powerful or important only if through it you wake up to discover your real nature. Then you find that Dzogchen has a real function.Accepting a root guru, is like taking refuge in Buddha. This need not be an explicit ceremony, but taken in the student heart.

Root Guru is Buddha Sakyamuni for all schools, and Buddha Amitabha for Pureland. And the ultimate root guru is having the faith of one's real lovely nature is buddha and embarked on the journey to attain the faith of heshetheyit are a Buddha as well. The requires teachers and transmissions, they are all the same, different doors in a same hall, different rivers into a same ocean, differents planets floating in the same space.

Root Guru for Tibetan Buddhism is more towards Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) and both with Pema Lingpa for Bhutan side. Not necessarily Buddha for all Schools.Root guru is the guru which one develop and recognised as a Guru and disciple relation ship.

Like either the Guru officially acknowledge you as a disciple or a disciple actually received certain teaching and initiation from a Vajra master, then that is your root guru.

In a person life, you can have many root guru.