Sep 10, 2015

Posted by in Lá thư người tâm đạo | 13 Comments

Letter No. 61: Who is the true spiritual friend?

Letter No. 61: Who is the true spiritual friend?

Letter No. 61: Who is the true spiritual friend?

Dear Disciples,

In “The Thirty Seven Practices of All the Bodhisattvas”, Ngulchu Thogme Sangpo taught that: “The practice of all the bodhisattvas is to cherish spiritual friends by regarding them as even more precious than one’s own body. Since they are the ones who will help to rid us of all our faults and make our virtues grow ever greater just like the waxing moon”. So, who is exactly the true spiritual friends who play that important role in our cultivation period?

Firstly, I would like to emphasize on the definition of which I am going to explain here is only concentrated on the monastic grade. “Who is the true spiritual friend?”. In Buddhism, the true spiritual friend means “Kalyanamitra” in Sanskrit language. They are knowledgeable about the way to attain the realization of liberation. They have been practicing Dharma in the right orbit round the correct doctrine of the Buddha; at the same time they help other people to realize the right method as they ever did. Therefore, without the distinction of Bhiksu (means one who destroys the passions and delusions), Bhiksuni (A female observer), Upasaka (Layman) or Upasika (Lay women), anyone who gathers all the mentioned factors can be called a “true spiritual friend” or a “good-knowing advisor”.

In short, true spiritual friend is anyone who owns the Buddhist wisdom. On the contrary, they are just common people even when they wear the cloak of a monk. It is also said that “Clothes does not make a man”. In Buddhism, we always hold our esteem in the real spiritual ability so you are highly recommended to pay your respect toward the right person. This was once taught by the Buddha in the Dhammapada Sutra:

“He is not thereby a Bhiksu
merely because he begs from others;
by following the whole code (of morality)
one certainly becomes a Bhiksu and
not (merely) by such begging”

For this reason, before entering into Nirvana, the Buddha had advised us:”If any Bhiksu is recognized to violate the religious commandments, it’s unnecessary to worship or pay reverence even if they wear the Kasaya (a monk’s robe or cassock)…” (Mahàparinibbàna sutra, Chapter of Tathagata, Book 1). Moreover, if anyone want to dig more deeply on the true meaning of a true spiritual friend, please find “The Door of Liberation” – page 117-120 for more detailed.

Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava

The Buddha did foretell that, in the Degenerate Age of Dharma, many Maras who strives to kill all goodness in human beings would transform themselves into Buddhist monk to intentionally commit wrong doings. Therefore, the Buddhist practitioners or Buddhist scholars must be cautious. Do not easily give your trust to anyone just because of their solemn appearance and do not disregard the people with white clothes (laity or laymen). Guru Rinpoche once said that: “The enlightened one does not have any definite appearance for easy recognition; the defrauder on the contrary owns much hypocrisy that hard to recognize, do not make a mistake between gold and copper” (Guru Rinpoche’s teaching on the Natural Perfect Sutra). All the truth must be acknowledged by the Bodhyanga of discrimination which provides the base of Four reliance principles (Rely on the Dharma, not on the people who expound it, Rely on the meaning, not just on the words, Rely on the wisdom, not on the conscious and perception, Rely on the sutras that lead us to enlightenment, not on those that do not).

At this moment, you all should have apprehended more on the true wisdom Buddhist. The Buddha of wisdom comprises about 6 categories: 1. Great wisdom, 2. the three wisdoms, 3. Dharma wisdom, 4 Mystic wisdom, 5. Resistless wisdom, 6. Recapitulated wisdom. In Recapitulated wisdom, there are two obvious illustrative factors which can be easily recognized: the ability to give lectures on the Buddha teachings, the second is to create literary pieces on Buddhism (commonly personal work on Buddhist writings, which had positive effects from the prestigious learning objectives).

Dear Disciples,

Machig Labdron

Tranh vẽ Đại sĩ Duy Ma Cật


On this occasion I would like to relate briefly in a few words about some Masters, Gurus, Fulfillment achievers, many of them originated from lay devotees. In former times, when the Buddha was still alive, there was a layman named Vimalakirti living in Vaisali kingdom. He lived with his wife and concubines and many subordinates in a noble aristocratic lineage, but the Buddha always speaks praises to him particularly in front of many Bodhisattvas and holy monks. During the III to the VII century, many Indian fulfillment achievers are originated from layman too, like Guru Sahara. He is a retired Yoga scholar who lived with a young wife. He has been well-known by the anecdote of turnip soup. The greatest Guru of all ages is Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), the founder of Tibetan Buddhist. He had two consorts, one of them is Tsogyal Yeshe who had achieved supreme attainment of Buddhahood. In the XIV century, there was a famous female fulfillment achiever named Machig Labdron who practiced the Chod method. This method is widely known and illustrious in Tibetan and Indian Buddhism. Machig Labdron is a laywoman, she has three children.

Marpa the Translater

Nowadays, many Tibetan Buddhism teachings which are currently taught globally originated by the endless endeavor of Marpa, best known as Marpa Lotsāwa, or Marpa the Translator. He lived with his wife and an only-son. His famous disciple is also a Yogis who successfully attained the full enlightenment in one lifetime: Milarepa. You all had better know that the father of His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa is also a Nyingma yogis, as well as a layman Guru. Furthermore, Suzuki – the author of famous “Zen Buddhism” series is a retired Buddhist scholar (1870-1966). While mentioning about this Buddhist scholar, many Vietnamese monks call him “great master”. More recently is the teacher of Master Chin Kung is Professor Ping-nan Lee who was originally a Bodhisattva layman. In our country, there is Professor Nghiem Xuan Hong who is a person of great learning and the author of many famous Buddhism writings like “The delusional source of Zen practice”, “The picture of Lankavatara Sutra”, etc. He has been considered a great master to many Vietnamese Bhiksu. Or there haven’t been any Buddhist scholars who can annotate the Lankavatara Sutra in such a clear way as the way Bodhisattva layman Le Dinh Tham did. The most special of all cases is Bodhisattva layman Hai Tin who is the composer of “Bodhisattva ..” which makes me personally always hold in high esteem.

The amount of practice or duration of cultivation of the Bodhisattva is absolutely indefinite while mentioning their apparitional body, so you should willingly elevate anyone as a master if they can prove all necessary factors to be considered Buddhist wisdom. It does not mean that they feel the difference when being called as master or just in a normal way, but by this way you will gradually collect to yourself the modest and respectful manner, accumulate merits, as well as follow the period of correct Dharma. There must be a reason which makes the Buddha immediately set right: “Just call me Buddha” when Kaundinya and his fellows called him Siddhartha Gautama. The Buddha did not assent any speeches whether it was flowery or unpolished, but the disciples should did it correctly for not deceasing their merit away.

However, how can a layman who shares his life with a wife and even with children and accordingly has a sexual life which is contradictory to the Buddha’s celibacy concept? Then it is possible to conclude that the Buddha’s teachings in Lankavatara Sutra is totally wrong? (The one who cannot live a celibacy life will never attain the realization of liberation?). The Buddha had reached the full enlightenment; he would never speak of something that untrue. This is absolutely true!

Amitabha and the Pure Land

However, going through an eternal journey which requires three countless eons to attain full enlightenment, the Buddha had uncovered a shortcut that originated from the great pitying vow of Amitabha Buddha to bring all the living beings to the Buddhahood, since then keep cultivating until reaching full enlightenment. According to the Earth-Store Bodhisattva’s Original Vows Sutra, the Buddha taught that the Bodhisattvas have grown natural bonds and attachment to the Saha world, so whoever evoking the Bodhisattva’s name or chanting the Bodhisattva’s mantra, making contemplation on the Bodhisattva’s holly appearance shall be guided to the Buddha’s Pure Land of peace. The Bodhisattva himself also affirmed again in his 12th great bow.

What experiment can we learn from these profound teachings? That is the main reason which helped Master Hue Vien found the Sukhavati sect (or the Pure Land sects) in which using the inflexible resolve of Amitabha Buddha to reborn in the Pure Land by Buddha Recitation. That is also the main reason which helped Padmasambhava found the Tibetan Buddhist in which using the Abhijna (spiritual power) to reborn in the Western Land of Amitabha Buddha by Mantra recitation in the focusing process of Bodhisattva visualization. Many famous Zen masters from China, Japan or Vietnam as well did use the Samadhibhala (The power of meditation) and make a vow to reborn in the Western Land of Amitabha Buddha by Meditation practice. The remaining cases of many temples whereby concentrated on chanting Sutras, paying homage, releasing living creatures, practicing Generosity, practicing benevolent—charitable, the monks did use power of accumulating merits to reborn in the Western Land of Amitabha Buddha. This is the confirmation of each and every Buddhist sects founder which had been recorded in the Sukhavativyuha Sutra.

Praying in Song Nguyen Tantra House

Dear Disciples,
On these days, many temples are chanting Great Compassion Mantra in order to return the Parinamana (Demitting the good to all others) to Philippine people who have just died from the recent huge hurricane will be reborn into the good abodes, for those who still alive will repair the damages and back to the normal life as soon as possible. These movements responded to the call from Master Chin Kung who is the leader of the global Pure land Buddhism. I am very pleased with those good deeds and by the way I would like to share that in Song Nguyen Tantra House, we have been doing that from 2008. We even keep using the power of mantra to halt the two huge icebergs from the North Pole and the South Pole would not melt in order to keep the Saha world far from the Flood in the future. This is the way we pray in Song Nguyen Tantra House.
Phuoc Thanh Village, 21 November 2013.

Translated by Mat Tu.

Vietnamese version: Thư gửi các trò 61: AI LÀ THIỆN TRI THỨC?


  1. Mat Dieu Hang says:
    I really admire your translation. “Who is the true spiritual friend?” is the big question for Buddhists who seek the right path to the enlightenment. Our Guru has made the clarification about this matter. It is very useful for those who want to have temporary success and happiness and get the ultimate liberation.
    Dharma means understanding reality. Meditation and prayer are not Dharma; they are merely tools for reaching this inner wisdom. Even if we meditate all day, but totally lacked Dharma understanding, we would achieve precious little.
    The true spiritual friends or Gurus consists of those who are endowed with wisdom. They are like the nurses and friends who help us recuperate from an illness. The true spiritual friends are not only those who wear red or yellow robes, but also those friends who influence us beneficially. These spiritual friends energise and inspire us and are therefore to be clearly distinguished from ordinary friends who hold us back. True spiritual friends support us in their practice and promote our growth in knowledge and awareness. They help us to find the path to the enlightenment. Whatever persons provide this influence, be eastern or western, white or black, male or female – are of the true spiritual friends. If anyone who cannot teach us how to find the path to ultimate liberation, they are not true spiritual friend.
    We are so lucky that our Guru provides us the knowledge in ultimate liberation and the simple Guru devotion, the simple and magical method of dharma practice in daily activities and visualization of Yidam by means which are the quickest ways to attain the enlightenment.
    Thank you very much for your translation.
    May our Guru live long for the benefit of all sentient beings!
    May all sentient beings achieve the happiness of Buddha’s nature!
    Om Mani Padme Hum!
  2. Mật Huệ Pháp says:
    Dear Mat Tu,

    Thank you so much for your efforts in translating our Guru’s discourse. I am now able to distinguish between bad and good spiritual friends. There may have many standards to decide who should be our true spiritual friends or master, but from my point of view, a verse of Dhammapada Sutra is enough to remember:
    “He is not thereby a Bhiksu
    merely because he begs from others;
    by following the whole code (of morality)
    one certainly becomes a Bhiksu and
    not (merely) by such begging”

    Thanks for quoting the Guru Ringpoche’s teaching that: “The enlightened one does not have any definite appearance for easy recognition; the defrauder on the contrary owns much hypocrisy that hard to recognize, do not make a mistake between gold and copper”.

    Wish you all the luck and get training progress.
    May all sentient beings get the happiness of Buddha’s nature
    Om Ah Hum

  3. Mật Từ says:
    Thank you very much for reading my piece of translation. You two are definitely good examples that encourages me to do my best. I myself have been confused about the meaning of true spiritual friend when the habit of giving access to the world by its form still conquered my mind. Thanks to our Guru’s teaching, I gradually learnt that the most important thing is the real spiritual ability that can just be showed by Buddhist wisdom. We cannot appraise something at its true worth just by our subjective thinking or observation, especially with the amount of practice or duration of cultivation of a Buddhist. Even if we skip mentioning about the outside appearance of someone, it is still hard for us to have an insight into their true self, so we had better use the Bodhyanga of discrimination which our Guru had taught to realize who the true spiritual friend is. We are uncommonly lucky that we have been acknowledging and practicing the correct doctrine of the Buddha under many constant teachings of our benevolent Guru – a “true spiritual friend”.
    May our Guru long live for the benefit of all sentient beings.
    May all sentient beings achieve the happiness of the Buddha’s nature.
    Om Mani Padme Hum.
  4. Fabian says:

    [email protected]
    Submitted on 2015/09/12 at 14:44
    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article.
    I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful info.
    Thanks for the post. I will certainly comeback.

  5. Mật Tịnh Tâm says:
    Mô Phật,
    Pháp đệ xin tán tháng thiện hạnh dịch bài của Đạo huynh Mật Từ.
    Đệ cầu nguyện chúng sanh thành tựu hạnh phúc Phật tánh!
    Trò đảnh lễ Thầy mình!
    Om Mani Padme Hum
  6. Mật Thủy says:
    It’s so great that now has more and more precious discourses translated in English. I rejoice with your merit and appreciate your contribution, as well as Mat Dieu Hang, Mat Hue Phap… This good reason also motivates me to learn English with helpful, meaningful materials. Thank you very much!
    “Who is the true spiritual friend” is one of essential discourses of our Guru. Now it has been translated in English. I hope it and many discourses of our Guru will be soon accessible all over the word for the sake of all sentient beings.
    Thank you so much our venerable Guru, who has been giving us the treasure of this precious life!
  7. Nguyễn Hà Liên says:

    Mô Phật!
    Đệ hoan hỷ và tán thán thiện hạnh chuyển ngữ bài Pháp của vị Thầy sang Tiếng Anh của Đạo huynh Mật Từ.
    Đệ cầu nguyện Đạo huynh Mật Từ hanh thông thế sự và thong dong trên đạo lộ Giải thoát.
    Cầu nguyện tất cả chúng sanh đều được uống tinh tuý cam lồ.
    Om Mani Padme Hum.

  8. Kanji says:
    Dear Guru,
    I’ve read through this article.
    I also have to say thank you to the person who did the translation.
    May our Guru and Dakini live long for the sake of all sentient beings.
    May all sentient being achieve the happiness of Buddha’s nature
    Om ah hum
    • Dear Kanji,


      This is an article which you can refer as well



  9. Vivek S says:
    Dear Respected Holy Guru,
    I am thankful for your teachings. I am happy to have a golden chance to read and write comments to get more understanding about Buddha Dharma.I have understood that Anyone who has attained Buddhist wisdom and preaches it to others can be a spiritual friend.He/she need not wear a monks clothes.But their actions reveal their spiritual maturity. Also through our dedicated prayers we can change the fates of people who have died not in a normal way.And we should need the spiritual friend to help to rid us of all our faults and make our virtues grow ever greater just like the waxing moon.
    May the holy Guru live long for the sake of all beings.
    May all beings free from suffering and its causes.
  10. Tantra Citta(Jeffrey Bernard Forest) says:
    Dear Holy Guru,
    Spiritual friendship comes highly praised in Buddhist practice. Friendship and our relationships in general, can at times be one of the most difficult aspects of our lives while at other times the most helpful. In Buddhism, friendship is an extremely important factor. So much so that when the Buddha’s cousin Ananda approached him one day and remarked “This is half the holy life, Lord : admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.” And the Buddha replied, “Don’t say that, Ananda. Those three kinds of friendship are actually the whole of the holy life. With such company, the disciple is expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path.” The Buddha tells his fellow disciples (Mitta Sutta) to seek out friends with seven qualities. The beautiful thing about this command is that the disciple need not give up their old friendships and replace them with “spiritual friend’s.”Finding these qualities in the world brings us naturally to practice, to a sense of presence and awareness. Each of us is deeply interconnected with one another and this is no more apparent then in our friendship’s. If our friendship’s are not in alignment with our practice, that cultivation will be ever more difficult to sustain. So let friendship be a central part of your practice. Having both ordinary friends and spiritual friends allows great wisdom to shine forth, along with a full understanding of the Dharma, and a mastery of meditation. Long live the Guru and his consort and blessed be the fellow students and disciples at Song Nguyen Tantra House.,, Om Mani Padme Hum 😊 Tantra Citta (Jeffrey Bernard Forest)
  11. marta irene guagliana says:
    DEAR GURU : In Buddhism Spiritual friendship is quite important.These friends are endowed with wisdom.Give us energy and inspire us for our trip.Support us in their practice and promote our growth in knowledge and awareness. They help us to to friend the path to enlightenment . Having commmon friends and spiritual friends allows us an understanding complete Dharma .So as well as meditation.That our Holy GURU  can live a long time for the sake of sentient beings. That all beings be free from suffering and its causes.OM MANI PADME HUNG
    • Kính bạch Thầy!

      Con xin phép dịch comment của đạo hữu Marta Irena Guagliana sang tiếng Việt như sau ạ:

      ” Kính bạch Thầy,

      Trong đạo Phật, thiện tri thức đóng vai trò quan trọng đối với người tu. Thiện tri thức sở hữu trí tuệ Phật đà. Thiện tri thức cho chúng con năng lượng và truyền cảm hứng cho chúng con trong hành trình giác ngộ. Thiện tri thức giúp chúng con thực hành pháp bằng chính những kinh nghiệm tâm linh họ đã có được, khai tuệ cho chúng con và giúp chúng con tỉnh thức. Thiện tri thức là người bạn đồng hành với chúng con trên con đường giác ngộ. Khi có được sự đồng hành của thiện tri thức, chúng con hiểu đúng và đầy đủ  về pháp, cũng như thiền định.

      Con cầu nguyện vị Thầy tâm linh tôn kính của chúng con trụ thế lâu dài vì sự lợi lạc của chúng sanh.

      Cầu nguyện đau khổ của tất cả chúng sanh được lắng dịu.

      Om Mani Padme Hum”


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