His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche gave the following advice regarding what to do when one’s teacher passes away, to students of the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the summer of 1989.
When the teacher passes away it’s a bit like the sun setting. From where we stand it looks as if the sun has disappeared, but really the world has just revolved. Similarly, when the karma changes between a teacher and a student, we can no longer see the teacher even though he hasn’t really gone anywhere.
When our teachers are here with us, they give us practices and mean for us to use them. That’s the teacher’s blessing, the teacher’s gift. When we approach that gift with faith, that faith and the teacher’s blessings unite and we accomplish realization. Our faith always has the capacity to unite inseparably with the lama’s blessings, which don’t disappear when the lama passes. It’s like a hook and ring: the hook of the lama’s compassion is always there if one can make oneself a ring through receptivity, effort, and faith.
The teacher has two aspects: the symbolic teacher who lives with us, helps and teaches us, and the absolute teacher that is our own true nature. Now it appears to us that there’s a separation between the teacher and ourselves, but in fact the symbolic teacher’s wisdom nature and our own absolute nature are inseparable. Through faith and practice this fictitious boundary dissolves and the truth of our nature, which is none other than the lama, dawns in our experience.
If we are receptive there can be a great lesson in the teacher’s passing. When the Buddha Shakyamuni passed into nirvana, he did so in order to demonstrate the nature of impermanence to his disciples. If we realize that we, too, are subject to impermanence, this can motivate us to quickly accomplish our practice.
The students’ karma and samaya are interdependent with the teacher’s long life and swift return. It is important that the students not fight and argue with each other. What binds them together are the common goals of fulfilling the teacher’s wishes and seeking enlightenment. The teacher holds them, his mind’s children, as if they were his own, and aspires that they help others to overcome suffering and reach the same high goals.
In any group of people there are always difficulties. Even if you put holy statues in a bag and try to take them somewhere, they will clank together. Nevertheless, it’s essential to recognize that conflict between students is an obstacle that makes it impossible to accomplish the teacher’s wishes. Discord disrupts practice and causes a domino effect, creating obstacles to enlightenment.
To follow a teacher the sangha must be of one mind. This is imperative to accomplish the teacher’s wish for the preservation and increase of the dharma. If the students can accomplish this, the teacher’s blessing will remain unobstructed; both the students’ practice and the teacher’s wishes will be fulfilled, benefitting all beings.
A pot of clear water will naturally reflect the sun and moon, but if that pot is filled with sludge that reflection is lost even though the sun and moon remain where they have always been. It is crucial that the students practice strongly, respect each other, and remain close. Despite the small differences that might arise between sangha members, they should join together working to fulfill their teacher’s highest aspirations. In this way, any difficulties will naturally be resolved.
So the students need to do what the teacher has asked. It won’t work to simply pray repeatedly for his return. If each student’s commitment truly reflected the teacher’s wishes, he couldn’t help but come back. This collective commitment, like a clear pond of water, will naturally create the conditions to reflect the sun of his existence.