Aryasura: Fifty stanzas of guru devotion

(“Gurupancasika”, “Bla-ma Inga-bcu-pa”) By Aryasura written in the first century B.C.- With an oral commentary by Geshe Ngawang Dhargey

Homage to the Bhagavan Vajrasattva.

Bhagavan is one of the many epithets used for an Enlightened Being, a Buddha. The Tibetan term for it, “Chom-dan-da (bCom-ldan ‘das)”, is etymologies as follows. “Chom” means to overcome. Buddhas have overcome both the obstacles preventing Liberation and those preventing Omniscience. The former include the delusions or moral and mental defilements (klesa), and the ignorance of grasping for true independent existence, as well as the seeds of all of these. The latter refers to the instincts of both these defilements and this ignorance. “Dan” means to possess. Buddhas possess all good qualities, having completed their accumulations of both merit and insight resulting in their Form and Wisdom Bodies respectively. “Da” means to pass beyond. Buddhas have passed beyond samsara, the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth with suffering due to karma and delusions.

The hidden meaning of Vajrasattva, Dor-je sem-pa (rDo-rje sems-dpa’) in Tibetan, can also be discovered from its etymology. “Dor-je” means indestructible diamond-lightening. Here it refers to the diamond-hard wisdom of the non-duality of (1) the mind that has bare perception of Voidness, experienced with a feeling of Great Bliss and (2) the Voidness that is the object of this mind. “Sem-pa” means the one with a heroic mind. It signifies someone who has himself abandoned all delusions, ignorance and their instincts and has the heroic mind that is ready to help others in all possible ways.

Thus Bhagavan Vajrasattva refers to the state of Vajradhara, the form Buddha takes in the tantras. As the way to attain his Enlightened state is through Guru-devotion, Asvaghosa begins his work with this homage.


Bowing in the proper way to the lotus feet of my Guru who is the cause for me to attain the state of a glorious Vajrasattva, I shall condense and explain in brief what has been said in many stainless tantric texts about Guru devotion. (Therefore) listen with respect.


All the Buddhas of the past, present and future, residing in every land in the ten directions, have paid homage to the Tantric Masters from whom they have received the highest empowerments. (Is there need to mention that you should too?)

In general there are three types of empowerments or initiations, casual, pathway and resultant. The first is to ripen your mind stream, the second is an actual path of practice through which to gain Enlightenment and the third is into the actual liberated state of Buddhahood. Everyone who ever has or will attain Enlightenment does so through receiving these highest empowerments from their Tantric Masters.


Three times each day with supreme faith you must show the respect you have for your guru who teaches you (the Tantric path), by pressing your palms together, offering a mandala as well as flowers and prostrating (touching) your head to his feet.

As a disciple you must regard your Guru as an Enlightened Being. Even if from his own point of view he is not Enlightened and you, his disciple, have gained Buddhahood before him, you must still show him respect and pay homage. For instance, Maitreya, the fifth and next Buddha of the thousand of this world age, who now presides over Tusita Buddha-field, became Enlightened before his Guru, Sakyamuni Buddha. To demonstrate respect for his Guru, Maitreya has a stupa or reliquary monument on his forehead. Likewise Avalokitesvara, the incarnation of the compassion of all the Buddhas, is crowned in his eleven-headed aspect with the head of his Guru, Amitabha Buddha, the one who presides over Sukhavati Buddha-field.

This learning from a Guru should not be like killing a deer to extract its musk and then discarding its corpse. Even after attaining Enlightenment you must still continue to honor your Guru who made all your achievements possible.


Those who hold ordination vows, if (your Guru) is a layman or your junior, prostrate (in public) while facing such things as his scriptural texts in order to avoid worldly scorn. But in your mind (prostrate to your Guru).


As for serving (your Guru) and showing him respect, such as obeying what he says, standing up (when he comes) and showing him to his seat – these should be done even by those with ordination vows (whose Gurus are laymen or their junior). But (in public) avoid prostrating and unorthodox actions (such as washing his feet).

One of the ordination rules is that monks and nuns should not prostrate to laymen. This is taken to mean that in public you should not show this type of respect for your lay Guru as it might cause misunderstanding and scorn among those who casually observe. It is better to prostrate facing scriptural texts or Buddha images near him, while directing your reverence in your mind to your Guru.

For example, the great masters Candragomi and Candrakirti often debated with one another. The former was layman, the latter a monk. One day Candrakirti invited Candragomi to his monastery. He wanted all the monks to form a procession, but the lay Master objected that the local townspeople would find it strange. Candrakirti told him not to worry. He placed a statue of Manjusri on a high throne and in the procession had a monk carry it directly before Candragomi. All the people thought that this ceremony was in honor of Manjusri, the manifestation of the Buddhas’ wisdom, and thus the monk avoided any bad feelings.

Although restraint and indirect means of showing respect are often called for out of consideration for others, in private disciple must follow all the proper procedures of Guru-devotion no matter what the status of his Guru may be. However general respect, such as rising when he comes, must be shown at all times.

On his own part, however, a Guru should always be humble never arrogant or pompous thinking himself great and worthy of honor. P’a-ra Rinpoche, one of the most realized disciples of the Senior and Junior Tutors of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, always kept a scriptural text by his seat. Explaining why, he said that when people would come to visit him and prostrated, at least they would gain some merit from showing respect to the scriptures since he himself had no qualifications.


In order for the words of honor of neither the Guru nor the disciple to degenerate, there must be a mutual examination beforehand (to determine if each can) brave a Guru-disciple relationship.

At tantric empowerments many sets of vows are taken never to abandon the practices and procedures essential for spiritual progress. The disciple pledges his word of honor never to transgress these vows, such as always to visualize his Guru as inseparable from the meditational deity into whose practice he has just been initiated. Such deities, as well as the Gurus, share the same Enlightened nature as all the Buddhas, differing only in the physical aspect they manifest.

The Guru, too, has previously pledged his word of honor never to disclose the tantric secrets to those who are unable to understand and keep them. Just as the milk of a lion should not be kept in a clay pot, so the profound and powerful methods of the tantra should not be entrusted to those who are not ready. If, having taken such vows, either the Guru or disciple should allow his word of honor to degenerate, it will be impossible for either to attain any of his goals and very serious unfortunate consequences will follow for both. Therefore it is extremely important for there to be a mutual examination between the Guru and disciple before they enter a formal relationship.

In ancient times in order to receive an empowerment a potential disciple would have to ask over a period of three years. An initiation was not at all something casual. By making the disciple wait so long, a Guru impressed on him the seriousness of entering the tantric path, tested his commitment and ensured that he was properly prepared. Often a Guru would make a disciple wait even longer before agreeing to teach him anything. He would repeatedly test his character and only when he had understood him well would he accept him as his disciple.

The disciple also must test his potential Guru and determine if he is fully qualified. He must be confident that he will be able to devote himself fully to this Master. Before entering a formal Guru-disciple relationship, you have complete freedom of choice. But once such a bond has been established, these teachings on Guru-devotion must be followed with total commitment.


A disciple with sense should not accept as his Guru someone who lacks compassion or who is angersome, vicious or arrogant, possessive, undisciplined or boasts of his knowledge.


(A Guru should be) stable (in his actions), cultivated (in his speech), wise, patient and honest. He should neither conceal his shortcomings not pretend to possess qualities he lacks. He should be an expert in the meanings (of the tantra) and in its ritual procedures (of medicine and turning back obstacles). Also he should have loving compassion and a complete knowledge of the scriptures.


He should have full expertise in both ten fields, skill in the drawing of mandalas, full knowledge of how to explain the tantra, supreme pure faith and his senses fully under control.

In general a Mahayana Guru should have the following ten qualities:

(1) discipline as a result of his mastery of the training in the higher discipline of moral self-control;

(2) mental quiescence from his training in higher concentration;

(3) pacification of all delusions and obstacles from his training in higher wisdom;

(4) more knowledge than his disciple in the subject to be taught;

(5) enthusiastic perseverance and joy in teaching;

(6) a treasure of scriptural knowledge;

(7) insight into and an understanding of Voidness;

(8) skill in presenting the teachings;

(9) great compassion; and

(10) no reluctance to teach and work for his disciples regardless of their level of intelligence.

A Tantric Master must have even more good qualities, as listed in the text. Most important is that he be an extremely stable person, with his body, speech and mind totally under control.

There are two sets of ten fields in which the Guru must be a complete master. The ten inner ones are essential for teaching the yoga and anuttarayoga classes of tantra, which stress the importance of purifying mainly internal mental activities. These are expertise in:

(1) visualizing wheels of protection and eliminating obstacles;

(2) preparing and consecrating protection knots and amulets to be worn around the neck;

(3) conferring the vase and secret empowerments, planting the seeds for attaining a Buddha’s Form Bodies;

(4) conferring the wisdom and word empowerments, planting the seeds for attaining a Buddha’s Wisdom Bodies;

(5) separating the enemies for Dharma from their own protectors;

(6) making offerings, such as sculptured tormas;

(7) reciting mantras, both verbally and mentally, that is visualizing them revolving around his heart;

(8) performing wrathful ritual procedures for forcefully catching the attention of the meditational deities and protectors;

(9) consecrating images and statues; and

(10) making mandala offerings, performing the meditational practices (sadhanas) and taking self-initiations.

The ten external qualities are required for teaching the kriya and carya classes of tantra, which stress the importance of purifying mainly external activities in connection with internal mental processes. These are expertise in:

(1) drawing, constructing and visualizing the mandala abodes of the meditational deities;

(2) maintaining the different states of single-minded concentration (samadhi);

(3) executing the hand gestures (mudras);

(4) performing the ritual dances;

(5) sitting in the full meditational position;

(6) reciting what is appropriate to these two classes of tantra;

(7) making fire offerings;

(8) making the various other offerings;

(9) performing the rituals of (a) pacification of disputes, famine and disease, (b) increase of life span, knowledge and wealth, (c) power to influence others and (d) wrathful elimination of demonic forces and interferences; and

(10) invoking meditational deities and dissolving them back into their appropriate places.

It is not sufficient for a Tantric Master merely to know how to perform the superficial actions of these above rituals. He must actually be able to do them. For instance, when consecrating an image of a meditational deity, he must be able to invoke the actual deity and place it in the image, not merely recite the words of the accompanying text.

If you take as your Guru a Master with all these qualifications and powers, and he accepts you as his disciple, you must devote yourself fully to him. Although it is possible that out of delusion you might disagree with your Guru, never show him disrespect or despise him from the depth of your heart.