Before entering into vajra relationship—a binding commitment with a Lama—I need to be sure that I am ready. I need to have moved beyond viewing spiritual practice as a repair kit for my pain. I need to be ready for something more than merely wanting life circumstances to improve. Having entered the commitment of refuge, I then need to settle with a particular Lama, lineage, and group of fellow practitioners for an extended period of time before beginning to experiment with allowing a Lama to challenge me or suggest individual direction in my life. Such a period of time also offers the opportunity to observe that the Lama is also a practitioner. They speak with devotion of their own Lamas and are fully connected to lineage and the methods of their lineage.
We notice that their demeanour and activity is rooted in lineage and practice. We notice that their behaviour is congruous with Dharma. The teachings over which they preside are never amended to suit their own convenience. Whatever the Lama’s presence display, personality display, and life circumstances display—whether these be ordinary and simple or extraordinary and exotic—they are experienced as congruent with their lineage of teachings and practice.
We spend this extended period of time before entering vajra commitment in discovering how commitment feels – how it works out. We enter into challenge. I open myself to the Lama threatening my patterning. I appreciate the friendly kindness of the Lama and cry at the excruciating beauty of the Lama’s benevolence.
Devotion begins to grow in my heart. Devotion is the ground from which vajra relationship functions. Only when all aspects of the vajra relationship have been entertained, only when we have developed confidence and devotion, should the commitment of vajra relationship be considered.
Devotion cannot be bluffed. It is difficult to express its qualities in words. It is like being in love, in the conventional sense – yet more expansive and without the aspect of lust. It is similar to the enriching unconditional love we offer a child – yet the Lama is more like a parent. It is both empowering and free. It is letting go of the importance we place on the stresses of life, and embracing total responsibility. It is release from the bondage of neurosis into identification with honour. Devotion has the deliciously ambiguous, inexpressible quality of Vajrayana itself. It is emptiness and form. It is allowing oneself to dissolve into emptiness in relation to the Lama and arising in the form of the Lama’s pure view. It is freedom from the bondage of referentiality.
Those without requisite experience may feel that it is crazy to place such confidence in another being that I let go of my rationale. Yet we trust others in many ways every day of our lives. I trust the other drivers to stop at the red light as I move off on the green. I rely on the restaurant to produce nutritious and enjoyable food that will not poison me. I expect the buildings in which I live and work to function and be structurally safe through the skilled work of engineers, architects, and builders.
As Ngak’chang Rinpoche says in the
light of his constant travels,
I trust airline pilots to take
me—and hundreds of tons of aircraft—tens of thousands of
feet into the air, and then to bring me down again in London, New
York, San Francisco, or Kathmandu. It’s insane – but I allow it
to happen all the time.
It is reasonable to have confidence in a Lama who inspires me with their wisdom and kindness, and whom I have known for many years. It is reasonable to feel that they are able to guide me through the subtle challenges of Vajrayana. Once established as a lived reality, vajra relationship has the potential to move me with great speed and intensity into alignment with realisation. The jolts, flashes, and flickers of realisation can increase in frequency and potency and begin to integrate with my natural being, as I ride the sweeps and bends, highs and lows of the roller coaster of irrational reason.