In a recent comment in a blog I've read the following remark:

"(...) Not the physical lama, not anything or anyone outside of yourself, but your own nature of mind, the true nature of reality. That’s the real lama; that’s the essential point in the vajrayana ‘system of practice’, and that has nothing to do with a bully on a throne teaching you. His or her role is only to help you to recognise that true nature, (…)

(...) His or her role is only to help you to recognise that true nature, once you have that recognition, you no longer need the physical lama.(...)”

I asked in that blog for a source of this (in case it is more than a personal idea, of course) but it seems I could not find the attention of the writer so far. So I ask in this forum:

Q: is this a statement which I can find in some scripture? Or, something from which it follows more or less immediately? Or is it merely the expression of an individual's conclusion?

Motivation: I've nearly no knowledge of tibetan buddhism (I like the reading in the pali-canon, in some older zen-literature and feel strongly connected with the way of Thich Nhat Hanh), and am getting in contact with it currently only initiated by my following of some blogs which concern themselves with the recent revelations of misuse and misconduct by teachers (and their inner circles). The above statement surprises me in recollection of all what I've heard and read of guru-orientated buddhism and makes me curious, whether this is really a basic or at least derivable conception.

(Ahh, nearly forgot: just for reference comment-in-blog)

2 Answers 2


In Tibetan Buddhism there are many different lineages, broadly grouped into several categories known as schools or traditions. The exact details of the Dharma passed down from teacher to student in large degree depends on a particular lineage. In a more abstract sense, an overall teaching style is determined by the school. And then finally there are elements common to all of Tibetan Buddhism.

Then, within each school & lineage, there are different levels of presentation, targeted at students of different maturity levels.

There is a commonly held understanding among Tibetan Buddhism teachers and senior students, that the basic levels of Dharma are more focused on the outer forms of practice and simplistic concepts of teaching, to help complete beginners and outsiders get a "Micky-Mouse"-level introduction, before they can start delving into the real thing.

In my understanding the cult of the guru (formally known as the "guru-yoga") and the endless emphasis on compassion both belong at this basic level, along with some rather highly religious elements, and then, as the students mature, they are gradually introduced (or, rather, are allowed to discover for themselves) the progressively more direct teachings, with gradually less emphasis on the outer forms and gradually more focus on the inner personal practices of groundlessness, wakefulness, sobriety and composure.

Specifically, this idea that "your own mind is guru" is very well-known at the higher levels of teaching in Kagyu and Nyingma lineages (Mahamudra and Dzogchen respectively).

For example, here is a verse passed down Shangpa Kagyu lineage since ~12th century:

... Yes, gurus do point out how things are,
But the guru who is natural being is within.
Mind that is my guru, here is how you are:

... I can’t see, hear, taste, smell or touch you:
You are not a thing, yet you are the source of all experience.
Try as I may, there’s nothing I can point to and say, “That’s you!”
But when I sit and don’t look for you, you are present in everything.

... Because you aren’t anywhere, you arise as anything anywhere.
Yet you don’t belong to any one place.
So, while you are not anything I can point to,
You are my guru!

... Oh, mind that is my teacher,
I meet you by recognizing what I am.
I pray to you by letting go of doubt and hesitation.
I revere you by letting go and settling naturally.

... I serve you by resting continuously in how things are.
I provide you with food by resting without strain in empty clarity.
I provide you with drink by knowing attention and distraction make no difference.
I clothe you by knowing appearance and sound as enchantments.

... I have studied with many capable gurus:
Each guru has given me his or her own advice.
All advice comes down to one point – mind!
So, mind that is my guru,
I look at you, listen to you, and seek your instruction again and again.

... By doing so, I know directly that mind is the guru.
Because this knowing arises internally,
When I see writings that contradict or conflict with my experience:
I consider the meaning, not the words.

  • 1
    Thanks Andrei, that's a great answer. I've to give it surely a bit of more time to get it settled well. I think it is also meaningful to set the accept-mark. Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 14:19

In many Buddhist traditions, including Zen, the teacher will state at the beginning of the relation with a student that he/she has nothing to teach. There is no "big secret" that is handed down from teacher to student. In Zen, this is referred to as "transmission outside the scripture" as the teaching is based on personal experience of the Dharma, not literature or knowledge. That is what is meant here as well. The teacher can only point you to something, but you have to experience it yourself. What is meant by "once you have that recognition, you no longer need the physical lama" is analogous to the Buddha's parable of the raft:

A man traveling along a path came to a great expanse of water. As he stood on the shore, he realized there were dangers and discomforts all about. But the other shore appeared safe and inviting.

The man looked for a boat or a bridge and found neither. But with great effort he gathered grass, twigs and branches and tied them all together to make a simple raft. Relying on the raft to keep himself afloat, the man paddled with his hands and feet and reached the safety of the other shore. He could continue his journey on dry land.

Now, what would he do with his makeshift raft? Would he drag it along with him or leave it behind? He would leave it, the Buddha said. Then the Buddha explained that the dharma is like a raft. It is useful for crossing over but not for holding onto, he said.

  • Hmm, I voted this up because of the work you did. But I really wanted to know what the source might be for that remark of a student of tibetan (vajrayana) buddhism. I mean, a reference to official writing. Not some consideration I could really do myself (I know a lot more about Zen and even more about the Palicanon than about tibetan schools, that's the problem here) Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 17:25
  • @GottfriedHelms, I took Zen as an example because I'm most familiar with it as well, but Vajrayana has the same concepts: the transmission of teachings only occurs directly from teacher to student (= transmission outside the scripture). Yes, it's more esoteric than Zen, but just like Zen it uses allegory, symbols and metaphores to "point to the moon". Anyway, I just felt the question transcends both lineages and the answer is very similar in both.
    – Codosaur
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 20:25
  • This book mentions "self/reality as teacher"
    – Codosaur
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 20:33

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