One of my favorite books is The Life and Teaching of Naropa by Herbert Guenther. I have read it a number of times, go back to it frequently, and cherish the stretch that it requires every time. This book is a combination of deep metaphysics, the inner mechanics of the spiritual psyche, and the meditative processes and resultant realizations of a tantric adept. It is his journey, then his Path, then his starting to get it, and finally his awakening. Naropa is of the lineage of Mahamudra, the ever present awareness that all existence is simultaneously exactly what we perceive and at the same time is radically not. All existence is profoundly pure, ever pristine and non-dual while at the same time we and everything else lives this non-duality through completely dual awareness. Mahamudra accepts this and leads one to the co-emergent realization that, though non-dual, all in existence expresses duality and requires duality for complete expression.
In addition to the depth of the book, I am drawn back to it because of the obviousness of Naropa’s spiritual journey as similar to anyone on the Path. One of the reasons why our Path is long is because even when something is blatant, we don’t recognize it or we brush it aside. Naropa did the same, time and again. What makes this story even more relevant to those professing to be on the Path is that Naropa was no rank beginner. He was acclaimed to be the foremost Buddhist scholar in India in his time (early 1100’s), was the abbot of prestigious Nalanda University, and had an established meditative practice. Yet he felt himself stagnant and trite. He longed for enlightenment, largely because he was bored with his life. Pride of mind was overtaking his devotion to the good and the ability to clear away the clouding habits and beliefs in his mind. Undoubtedly, many of us can relate! As the story goes, an emanation of the mysteries of Being (a dakini) visited him in disguise, poked at his pride, and then triumphantly told him that he knows nothing, should stop mucking around, and find a proper teacher.
Yep, that’s the Path! Just when you think that you’ve got an understanding, have integrated it, even offered it to others where it seems to have some value, then along comes relativity and puts things in perspective. Or along comes pride and its cohort – control – through which we either argue for our limitations because we know them well and can rest in them or we feign ignorance about knowing how to change or deduce the change necessary to move on from.
Here are a couple of examples that anyone “on the Path” can relate to.
After due meditative preparation, oblations, and chants Naropa sets off to find the guru. He has received a vision to point him in a direction.“In the East there lives Tilopa, embodiment
of the great bliss of non-dual awareness,
Incarnate and lord of all that lives.
Seek him the Guru Buddha.”
He is also reprimanded regarding laziness (spiritually understood) and told to “take no heed of obstacles.” His first few mystical encounters include a narrow path often between a rock and hard place. This is universal symbolism of our life being our path usually giving little or no room for variation. We are where we are and in the circumstances we are in because they are perfect for us. The situation always is the display of the guru. It never is not. As we begin to live our life truly with the mind of awakening, willing to free ourselves and everyone else from blame, projection, false ideas, and rationalizations, we increasingly stop as soon as any emotion or little tickle or sniff of “hmmmm, ‘I’ am reacting” pops up. Now we are one with the guru and his/her awake-full-ness.
Western mentality doesn’t really get it about the “guru.” The Sanskrit term means teacher and implies someone who truly has our well-being in heart and mind. A worthy guru nurtures every part of us, assists in necessary discipline, is unattached to our attachments, and is aware of our tantrums, that we will have them, why we do, and will soldier on respecting the greater goal: awareness. The Western mentality of independence has derided the “guru,” turned him or her into a charlatan and us into the fool for believing, and turned the “guru” into a human being, meaning a person who can be excused when we don’t like their methods. What is interesting is that if we actually followed the Way being pointed out for us by the invisible or masked guru in the moments of our life or by the spiritual guide that we might be fortunate to have, then we would quickly experience the results intended. Instead, we fight for our limitations, chose spiritual laziness which means personality preference, and want to stay comfortable in our mediocrity.
Naropa’s first encounter was along a narrow path, river on one side, rocks on the other. A leper woman with no hands or feet was blocking the path. “Do not block the way,” he said. “Step aside.” “I cannot step aside,” she said (obviously!) “If you are not in a hurry, you can go around but if you are, jump over me.” Naropa felt in a hurry to find the guru, and so pinching his nose because of the smell of the leper woman, jumped over her. (Parenthetically, the story reminds us that he was a practitioner and teacher of compassion so all of this becomes even more absurd.) She rose into the air in a rainbow halo and said,“The Ultimate in which all become the same
Is free of habit forming thought and limitations.
How, if still fettered by them,
Can you hope to find the Guru?”
We’ve all done this: disregard the Path that is blocking our idea of the path. Every time it happens only one cause will be the true source of our action or inaction: personal ego. Before setting out, Naropa had been instructed to be mindful of laziness and to not take heed of obstacles. In other words, do what is required and do so fully, and whatever we deem as a frustration, hindrance, obstruction, problem or nuisance take note, Naropa, it is actually the perfect guru. Every time, without fail. As the Tibetan master DK reminds us in the Rules of the Road, “… we must turn and face ourself.” A slew of ideas, thought forms, and self-importances met Naropa at this first encounter with the guru he was seeking, and he blew it famously. Yep, that’s the Path. Over and over again, we all do that. Over and over again, any situation is perfect for us to BE; present, naked, and awake. To not hide behind the clothing of pretense or self-perceived anything. To awaken to how many times, over and over, and over again we have played out the same scenario. We see it clearly in the lives of our friends. I can only hope I see it more clearly for myself. Thank you, Naropa and Tilopa. I bow and offer all the gems of moments that I have missed and the few precious nuggets that I noticed. Root gurus, accept them please that I may live your instruction.