With mind far off, not thinking of death's coming,

Performing these meaningless activities,

Returning empty-handed now would be complete confusion;

The need is recognition, the spiritual teachings,

So why not practice the path of wisdom at this very moment?

From the mouths of the saints come these words:

If you do not keep your master's teaching in your heart

Will you not become your own deceiver?


The Buddha says in one of the Tantras: 1 "Of all the buddhas

who have ever attained enlightenment, not a single one

accomplished this without relying upon a master, and of all

the thousand buddhas that will appear in this eon, none of

them will attain enlightenment without relying on a master."

In 1987, after my beloved master Dudjom Rinpoche passed

away in France, I was sitting in a train, returning to Paris from

the south of France, where he had lived. Images of his thousands

of acts of generosity, tenderness, and compassion passed

through my mind; I found myself in tears, saying to myself

over and over again: "Had it not been for you, how could I

possibly have understood?"

I realized, with an intimacy and poignancy that I had never

experienced before, just why such a sacred emphasis is placed

in our tradition on the relationship between master and disciple,

and just how essential this relationship is to the living

transmission of the truth, from mind to mind, from heart to

heart. Without my masters, I would have had no possibility at

all of realizing the truth of the teachings: I cannot imagine

even having been able to reach the humble level of understanding

that I have.

Many people in the West are suspicious of masters—often,

unfortunately, for good reasons. I do not have to catalogue

here the many dreadful and disappointing cases of folly, greed,

and charlatanry that have occurred in the modern world since

the opening to Eastern wisdom in the 1950s and 1960s. However,

all the great wisdom traditions, whether Christian, Sufi,

Buddhist, or Hindu, rely for their force on the master-disciple

relationship. And so what the world needs urgently now is as

clear as possible an understanding of what a real master is,

what a real student or disciple is, and what the true nature of

the transformation is that takes place through devotion to the

master, what you might call "the alchemy of discipleship."

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