What is devotion?

Sep 22, 2022

In ordinary life we use the word “devotion.” We’re devoted to our mother, we’re devoted to our children, we’re devoted to our partner. It’s a lovely idea. It says in the dictionary that devotion is “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person. . .” It’s a really nice way to put it. So don’t just think of it as religion.

Obviously, this devotion builds over the years of the relationship; it doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from trust. That’s a pretty powerful experience to have with one human being, isn’t it?

So how does your devotion in your spiritual mentor differ? When I first met Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Thubten Yeshe quite a few years ago, I certainly was not overtly looking for a spiritual mentor – “an experienced and trusted advisor”; in Sanskrit, a guru; in Tibetan, a lama – but I did my due diligence, decided they were valid, and took them as my lamas; I chose them, I decided it.  

You do the same with your music mentor, your cooking mentor. Pabongka Rinpoche says we need to choose our lamas very carefully because we’re going to end up like them! Just like in cooking or music!

I’m devoted to my darling mother because over the years she worked so hard to take care of me, guide me, and the rest. How kind! My gurus, same, but their job is to lead me to buddhahood; I’ve chosen them for that. That’s a big ask! Uncharted territory, for sure, so I can’t choose lightly.
So I need to develop confidence in their ability to do that. Having done my due diligence – checked on their behavior, their reputation, and the rest – and then deciding to choose them, and then to be accepted by them, this development of trust and therefore devotion is a fundamental part of my practice, one day at a time. 

And I have to have confidence that they’re not only qualified but they have affection and compassion for me and only want the best for me. That’s a pretty powerful thing to have confidence in. Devotion surely grows from that.

But what’s the practical benefit of devotion? When you’re devoted to someone, your heart is open – which is all the more reason to be wise in our choice of mentors, to not just follow attachment and neediness. If we choose a boyfriend, a music teacher or a spiritual mentor based on attachment and let it run the show – or my pride and anger, for that matter, when the boyfriend or guru doesn’t do what I want – I’m in big trouble. I’ll get lost, for sure.

If I’m seeing my lama or my music teacher through the lenses of my attachment or anger or pride, it’s literally not possible to gain any benefit, because all I’m seeing is fault. My heart is closed.

Over the years, as we see the proof of our lamas’ knowledge, wisdom, and affection for us, our devotion just naturally grows, which opens our heart and allows our virtues to flourish and our delusions to diminish. And this is the entire point of practice!

Devotion and all the virtues connect us to others; delusions separate us. When there’s devotion, the mind is happy, and the blessings flow freely into our hearts.

It’s practical, not religious.

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