Venerable Yan Pei was a very famous Buddhist monk of the Mahayana School. He wrote many books on Buddhism. I just read one of the articles that he wrote entitled “How to befriend a spiritual guide”. The topic seems insignificant but there are some very good points mentioned.
Anyone who aspires to practice Buddhism must befriend a spiritual guide, for the teachings of the Buddha are too broad that you will not be able to just learn them completely on your own. There are some people who think that they do not need a teacher - “I can just read the sutras on my own and I can still attain enlightenment.” However, it is in fact nearly impossible for one to do so. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are extremely rare in this world. Almost 100% of the practitioners must learn from a spiritual guide.
A spiritual guide may not be a Buddha, a Bodhisattva or your teacher. He can be anyone who could guide you along the path to enlightenment, who is already ahead of you on the path. They would have read many sutras and applied the teachings in their practice. As they are already ahead of you on the path, they already learnt what should and should not be done. They could teach you and guide you on the path to enlightenment. They can therefore be called the “spiritual guides”.
A spiritual guide is very crucial in the practice of Buddhism. One should befriend the spiritual guides and learn from them in order to accomplish his practice. In the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, a spiritual guide is even more important - a practitioner must find his root teacher and learn from him for the rest of his life; he can then be assured of his success in cultivation.
Venerable Yan Pei asked, “Why are there so many practitioners around us and yet so few have attained enlightenment?” Because most of the practitioners, when they befriend their spiritual guides, fail to truly learn from the latter; a practitioner could make mistakes out of his own lust, hatred and ignorance that prevented him from learning.
There are a few key points on befriending a spiritual guide: faith, reverence and humility. First, a practitioner must have faith in his spiritual guide. Second, a practitioner must revere his spiritual guide. If you do not befriend your spiritual guide and do not revere him, you will get nothing out of it. Third, you must learn with humility from your spiritual guide.
Buddhism teaches us to reflect inward to realize our own shortcomings and negative propensities, and do not point our fingers at others. A good spiritual guide will point out your problems; if he does not do so, he is not a good spiritual guide. If you want to accomplish your practice, you must reflect inward and practice “The Eight Stanzas of Mind Training”. If you keep criticizing others of their shortcomings, you will fall into the evil path. I certainly have my shortcomings too, so I am still learning to improve myself all the time.
The key point of practice is the training of our own mind – reflect inward and watch our mind, do not look outward for the mistakes of others.