132 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING FINDING THE WAY At other times and in other civilizations, this path of spiritual transformation was confined to a relatively select number of people; now, however, a large proportion of the human race must seek the path of wisdom if the world is to be preserved from the internal and external dangers that threaten it. In this time of violence and disintegration, spiritual vision is not an elitist luxury but vital to our survival. To follow the path of wisdom has never been more urgent or more difficult. Our society is dedicated almost entirely to the celebration of ego, with all its sad fantasies about success and power, and it celebrates those very forces of greed and ignorance that are destroying the planet. It has never been more difficult to hear the unflattering voice of the truth, and never more difficult, once having heard it, to follow it: because there is nothing in the world around us that supports our choice, and the entire society in which we live seems to negate every idea of sacredness or eternal meaning. So at the time of our most acute danger, when our very future is in doubt, we as human beings find ourselves at our most bewildered, and trapped in a nightmare of our own creation. Yet there is one significant source of hope in this tragic situation, and that is that the spiritual teachings of all the great mystical traditions are still available. Unfortunately, however, there are very few masters to embody them, and an almost total lack of discrimination in those searching for the truth. The West has become a heaven for spiritual charlatans. In the case of scientists, you can verify who is genuine and who is not, because other scientists can check their background and test their findings. Yet in the West, without the guidelines and criteria of a thriving and full-fledged wisdom culture, the authenticity of socalled "masters" is almost impossible to establish. Anyone, it seems, can parade as a master and attract a following. This was not the case in Tibet, where choosing a particular path or teacher to follow was far safer. People coming to Tibetan Buddhism for the first time often wonder why such great importance is placed on lineage, on the unbroken chain of transmission from master to master. Lineage serves as a crucial safeguard: It maintains the authenticity and purity of the teaching. People know who a master is from who his master is. It is not a question of preserving some fossilized, ritualistic knowledge, but of transmitting from heart to heart, from mind to mind, an essential and living wisdom and its skillful and powerful methods.
THE SPIRITUAL PATH 133 Recognizing who is and who is not a true master is a very subtle and demanding business; and in an age like ours, addicted to entertainment, easy answers, and quick fixes, the more sober and untheatrical attributes of spiritual mastery might very well go unnoticed. Our ideas about what holiness is, that it is pious, bland, and meek, may make us blind to the dynamic and sometimes exuberantly playful manifestation of the enlightened mind. As Patrul Rinpoche wrote: "The extraordinary qualities of great beings who hide their nature escapes ordinary people like us, despite our best efforts in examining them. On the other hand, even ordinary charlatans are expert at deceiving others by behaving like saints." If Patrul Rinpoche could write that in the nineteenth century in Tibet, how much more true must it be in the chaos of our contemporary spiritual supermarket? So how are we today, in an extremely distrustful age, to find the trust that is so necessary in following the spiritual path? What criteria can we use to assess whether or not a master is genuine? I remember vividly being with a master whom I know when he asked his students what had drawn them to him, and why they had trusted him. One woman said: "I've come to see how you really want, more than anything, for us to understandand apply the teachings, and how skillfully you direct them to help us do so." A man in his fifties said: "It's not what you know that moves me, but that you really do have an altruistic and a good heart." A woman in her late thirties confessed: "I've tried to make you into my mother, my father, my therapist, my husband, my lover; you have calmly sat through the drama of all these projections and never ever turned away from me." An engineer in his twenties said: "What I have found in you is that you are genuinely humble, that you really wish the very best for all of us, that as well as being a teacher you have never stopped being a student of your great masters." A young lawyer said: "For you it's the teachings that are the most important thing. Sometimes I even think that your ideal would be almost for you to become completely obsolete, simply to pass on the teachings as selflessly as possible." Another student said shyly: "At first I was terrified at opening myself up to you. I've been hurt so often. But as I began to do so, I started to notice real changes in myself, and slowly I became more and more grateful to you, because I realized how much you were helping me. And then I discovered in