Lineage and Devotion: Where Do They Not Manifest?

This teaching was given by Her Eminence Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche, via Skype, from London to participants in the Lineage & Devotion II retreat at Mindrolling Lotus Garden, May 2012.

The topic of lineage and devotion is very important. From the simplest perspective, knowing the lineage—knowing all the lineages—is important because history deepens our understanding of who these great masters were. Then their lives can not only become inspiring examples, but also instill in us so much confidence.

Confidence vs. Mistimed Humility

The first kind of confidence is simply that which breaks through the stubborn belief that we are somehow inadequate to realize our own Buddha nature. That hesitancy is tremendously difficult to overcome. So much of the cultural language of our philosophies and doctrines, even Buddhism, speaks about defilements, confusion, ignorance, and the karma and habitual patterns that make us unable to realize our Buddha nature. We aspire and attempt to overcome these difficulties and pollutants, but subconsciously we may come up with the idea that we are actually bad.

When the belief in our basic badness becomes stronger than the confidence in our basic goodness, we become bogged down struggling against all our deficiencies and inadequacies. When ego realizes we’re susceptible to this sense of something lacking, that’s when ego catch us and manipulates us. You may spend your whole life being very arrogant and sure of yourself, but just when you need a little pride in your basic good nature, ego decides to be humble.

This is called “mistimed humility.” Submerged in our inadequacies, we think of ourselves as incapable of understanding our Buddha nature. We humbly accept that the coarse, gross defilements are very powerful. And by comparison, we see whatever it is we want to realize as being so very difficult. Swimming the seven oceans or climbing a hundred mountain peaks seems much easier than the realization of something so simple, so inherent, so intrinsically a part of us: natural ease, and resting confidently in that.

That is what devotion is.


Devotion is resting at ease in that most natural state. With nothing to give, nothing gain, nothing to lose, and no one to praise or blame; no need for this, no need for that; beyond hope and beyond fear—simply abide in the nature as is.

Why then is that simple resting, or abiding, one of the most difficult things to do? It is because our focus is much more on our struggles than on resting. What do we trust more? We trust the struggles, which we further affirm by highlighting our faults, defilements, and habitual patterns. Yes, they are there. But they are not all that powerful unless you choose to give them power. If you give them power and fuel them with your grasping, of course, defilements will always be there.

Duality will always be there. But if you choose not to dwell on it, if you can rest in the natural ease of your trust and confidence in your own basic nature—which requires no deliberateness—then those things that seem so full of struggle have no power to evolve on their own, at all.

Defilements have no power without your willingly giving them the sustenance to become powerful. Like thick black clouds that move across the sphere of the sky, difficulties and adversities will arise from self-clinging and the habitual tendencies of self-clinging. The most striking thing about the lives of the great masters is how they allow the sense of faults and struggles to just be there—undeterred by them.


What the life examples of the great masters show us is their absolute perseverance in abiding in the certainty of the view and deepening their confidence in the natural nature. This is what makes a master a holder of a lineage.

We should never assume that the enlightened masters who are born into samsara do not encounter difficulties. Lineage holders encounter more difficulties and adversities—not only their own, but those of all sentient beings. It is the stability of their confidence in the view that allows them to nevertheless manifest as living examples of the teachings.

And now as you all practice and understand the dharma, your own certainty about your true nature, and the gradual deepening and continuity of awareness of your basic nature is evolving into a suitable vessel into which the lineage can be transferred. This is manifest in your own realization as a confidence undeterred by habitual patterns.

That is only evident when your conduct and confidence in the nature are similar to the view that you hold and regard as your belief and inspiration to practice.

Attending programs and being inspired is very good. Receiving teachings and agreeing with them is very good. Appreciating the teachings is also very good. But it all comes down to whether or not you see the lineage within yourself.

Is it evident that the guru’s certainty of view is also manifesting in your own mind? If there is no indication of it—manifest in the ways you interpret things and translate your experiences—there is no reason to keep dissolving the guru inseparably into your heart.

Where certainty is evident, the grace of patience, the beauty of generosity, and the spaciousness of freeing yourself from the self’s agendas become more and more stable within you. Then your understanding of lineage and devotion is very present and evident. Otherwise, it’s like a nice bedtime story: Oh, the great masters; Oh, this great lineage and that great lineage; Oh, the sutras said this and the tantras said that… We don’t want lineage and devotion to become history. [JKR laughs]

One difference between history and devotion is that history can be kept at a distance, analyzed, and discussed. But lineage and devotion aren’t a subject for discussion. They are like a mighty tree that has to grow out of you. Your own avadhuti is the lineage tree. And all the branches, all the leaves and flowers and fruits of the great masters are your nadis and channels. It is all just the avadhuti growing within you, with no distinction, no separation. If you separate them out, then, yes, it all becomes history—like a decorated Christmas tree “out there.” [Laughter]

When there is no separation, then that lineage and that devotion lead to the confidence of the lineage manifesting within you. Then you become the lineage. You become the holder of the doctrine.

That is Samantabhadra, the all-perfect Buddha. It is the core, the womb from which every birth takes place. Then all things become your children. Shapes become your children, colors become your children, aggregates and elements become your children—and freeing them becomes your offering. Giving them living shapes, forms, colors, and every other phenomenal display arise from that womb.

The “basic space of phenomena” is just the basic space within you that allows everything to manifest. And allowing that manifestation to happen freely within you is absolute kindness. It’s really being that sense of allowing everything to occur as the sambhogakaya manifestation.

That is the confidence of seeing this within yourself. Within that perfect awareness there is no separation between self and others, and everything that is joyously seen is the perfect offering. Being steadfast in that awareness is perfect devotion. And from that perfect contentment, perfect bliss arises.

So, yes, study lineage and devotion in all the various ways it can be done. But the way I see it, all of you are practitioners who can understand the same dharma. Ultimately, the faces I am looking at are future Buddhas. Looking at you, I see the holders of the lineage we call “buddhadharma”—and as such, you do not have the luxury or freedom to go back to what you think of as “normal life.”

When that sense of responsibility arises, it requires no one to sit still for prolonged periods of time. It requires no one to be so intelligent as to have memorized all the texts. It requires no one to live up to the expectations of another or to do anything out of the hope that you do so. Outwardly, it requires no change. But inwardly, as His Holiness [Kyabje Mindrolling Rinpoche] always said, it requires a mind as vast as space—yet so flexible that it wouldn’t not be aware of even the smallest sound of the wind.

That precision is directed towards benefitting others, being kind to others, and being patient in all situations. It is being so precisely aware of every word of dharma that you’ve ever heard in your life that you engage these words in every moment of your life. And you accomplish this without it being a struggle.

Within the vastness of mind, space never struggles or becomes entangled with itself; it would be terrible if space became entangled in itself! [Laughter] The vastness of the mind has to be like that. So learn to handle everything that occurs within that vastness of mind with the grace and the elegance of kindness.

So there is not much more to say than that. But I do want to leave you with a lineage story from the mahamudra tradition, about the great master Acharya Avadhutipada.

The Lineage Story of Acharya Avadhutipada

Once the great sage Avadhutipada was asked by his students: Since you are such an accomplished teacher, who were your teachers? To what lineage do you belong? From what lineage does this exceptional, profound transmission of yours spring?

Avadhutipada, a great mahasiddha saint of India, replied, “I come from a lineage of six teachers.” And in a verse, he said:

Kapila, a heron, and a snake,
A hunter of the deer in the forest,
An arrow-maker, and a maiden—
These are my six teachers.
Their lineage is what I form.

When his students asked him to explain, Avadhutipada said:

Once a beautiful maiden named Kapila fell in love with a man who was married to another. Nevertheless, one day he promised to visit the beautiful maiden. So Kapila waited that whole day, very beautifully made up and waiting as women who fall in love wait. Every moment, she looked out the door, her agony increasing. But as the sun set, she decided he wasn’t going to come—and having decided he wasn’t going to show up, she peacefully went to sleep.

“Seeing this, Kapila became my guru,” Avadhuitipada said, “when I realized that letting go allows you to sleep well.”

My second teacher was a heron. As I sat by the river, I watched a heron dive and greedily pick up a huge fish much bigger than itself. Because of the weight, the heron couldn’t carry the fish off. The fish fell and another bird ate it. Not giving up, the heron would again dive, pick up another big fish, and happily try to fly off. But again the big fish would drop from his beak and be eaten by another bird. Again and again, the heron was unsuccessful.

“Watching this,” Avadhutipada said, “the heron became my second teacher.”

Seeing the heron try to fly off with a fish much too big for it taught me that by letting go of greed and attachment, there is peace. Then one can really soar into the highest sky—as this heron did when it finally gave up.

My third teacher was a hunter, who walked dedicatedly into the forest every day to try and hunt deer. Not being a good hunter, he was never successful. Every day he waited for a deer to come by, but the deer never came. Meanwhile, in this place where the hunter was waiting for a deer to shoot, there was a meditator sitting under a tree. The hunter had nothing better to do than to watch this sage. And since the meditator sitting under the tree did not move, the hunter watching him did not move.

“Watching the hunter imitate the sage,” Avadhutipada said, “I understood how stillness can transform a hunter’s mind into an ascetic’s mind.”

Thus from kapila, the beautiful maiden, and from the heron and the hunter who imitated the sage, I learned to be without greed and attachment and to let go of craving.

My other teacher was a snake. A mother snake gave birth to some babies in a little hole. When the hole where she gave birth became so filled with the babies, the mother snake left. She found another hole and there she slept soundly.

“My teacher the snake,” said Avadhutipada, “taught me to leave the hustle and bustle and busyness behind, and to sit alone and work with one’s own self.”

An arrow-maker also became my teacher. So intent was he on straightening his arrows that when the king and his army marched past, he doesn’t even realize it. Such was his concentration. From that arrow-maker I learned that with single-pointed concentration, a thousand armies could go and a thousand other things could arise—but nothing would affect one’s awareness.

My sixth teacher was a beautiful maiden bedecked with bracelets and bangles. While grinding some incense powder, the clinging sound of her bangles and bracelets kept annoying her. Suddenly she thought to take them off. And having taken them off, she went peacefully on with her work. From this maiden I learned that to steady one’s mind and gain certainty of the view, one must make a concerted effort to free oneself from those distractions that so affect one.

With the examples of Kapila, a heron, a snake, a hunter, an arrow-maker, and a maiden, I found six teachers who taught me how to rest my mind. This is the lineage I come from.”

Later this lineage was transmitted to Tilopa, and so on, and became what is known today as the mahamudra lineage.

So if you want to know about the great dzogchen masters and the great masters of the mahamudra lineage, ultimately their origin is Kapila, a heron, a snake, a hunter, an arrow-maker, and a maiden. This is the lineage of the practice path we have today.

If you look at it like this, everything is lineage and everyone is a great master. There is nothing in this world that is not a manifestation of the guru and an expression of the lineage. If we do not wish to see those qualities, then even if Buddha Vajradhara were to sit in front of us, we would have no devotion to him. But if you look at things from a much more equal perspective, seeing their qualities, then where is there anyone who is not manifesting the guru? And when doesn’t the lineage give you one more opportunity to find, within yourself, the confidence of the guru?

Photo Credit: ©2012-13 Dianna Blok; Transcript editor: Lopön Helen Berliner.
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