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Freud and Milarepa: a functional approach to Gurudom.

So, we have been through a lot regarding Gurus. We have established that they are both traditional and needed, on a general level, within Vajrayana. And there’s no Tantra without Guru.

But a friend was asking me: functionally, is that cast in stone?

Can there not be Vajrayana without a Guru?

Or, there must be a Guru present for empowerment. Someone who is a link to a lineage, but once you have the empowerment, you don’t need to have devotion to the Guru. You can do as you see fit.

Let me explain why this wouldn’t work on two levels: a more mundane one and a technical one. As always, without breaking samaya.

Mundane: You need to avoid the Big Lumps

So, let’s go again to our boxer analogy. How many punches are in boxing?

Let’s see. There is:

· Jab

· Cross

· Hook

· Uppercut

We differentiate the last two between left and right, so you have six (6) attacks.

That is the whole syllabus. Yes, there are variations (a corkscrew punch, for example, is midway between a jab and an uppercut) but this is all there is. It’s not like some arcane Kung Fu style, or Kengan. There’s no Secret-secret technique only passed if you kill your master in a duel at a midnight forest. You can learn the punches in a video online.

In fact, you can learn the whole syllabus of boxing in a short video. In less than an hour:

This is the boxing equivalent of going to your first empowerment. My friend was asking me: if people put on the work, why is there a need for the Guru? People who put in the work improve.


You need to put in the work. Yes. Without a doubt.

Let’s say that we have person A and person B. Both A&B watch the same video (get the empowerment) and decide to train. A will do so on their own. B will do so under a coach (Guru). Let’s say that A&B spends two hours a day (which is a good schedule, amateur-wise) training. Both are driven and constant, with no slacking.

Person A watches YouTube and tries to create a workout program for himself. He runs and tries to set up his home gym. When friends are available, he invites them to spar in his backyard. He also watches fights online and reads some books about boxing.

Person B goes to a gym. He has a coach that gets to know him personally. Spars with other students and with professional sparring coaches. He goes with them to amateur matches. A professional customizes and lays the training program out with realistic goals. The coach measures his level and challenges him accordingly.

In two years’, time, they meet in an amateur fight.

Where will the smart money be?

On Person B.

Person A will not benefit from the accumulated experience of coaches, of sparring partners, from the strategies and methods of the established coach gyms. He will have never sparred with amateur or professional boxers. Since there’s no one gauging him, all his tells and blind spots will be there. The only experience to guide him will be that of his friends.

Person B, having trained for a long time under the watchful eyes of the coaches and more mature boxers, will not only have the benefit of a more formalized training: he will have the experience of fighting other boxers.

So far, this is an example of the benefits of having a coach as a teacher. But one thing you could ask is: do we really need to be devoted to the coach(Guru)?

And my answer is: yes if you want to go all the way.

Why’s that?

Let’s say that Person B keeps rocking on. He fights some amateur fights. He feels he wants to break pro. The coach warns him: it is a whole other level. Amateur-wise, you can have another thing going in your life. You could box as an amateur and be, say, a student.

But if you’re trying to break pro, that is what you are.

So, person B thinks it over. So, he fights some more and at four years into his boxing; at last, he goes pro. Harder training, harder than ever. He gets ready for his first fight… and loses.

Long nights, long talks. The next fight looks hard. That’s when his coach calls him over and tells him he needs to change something in his fighting style. Perhaps swarm a little more. Person B stays in the pocket too much. Whatever it is, the coach tells him, it’s the key to winning his next fight.

Person B looks at the coach. What? That thing he does, it’s the best thing about his fighting style. It’s what feels best for him. Is his coach drunk?

Still, he halfheartedly tries, and he gets punched for it. No, the coach says. You need to mean it.

Now comes the hard part.

Does Person B listen to the coach? Does he discard the habits he feels are the better part of him and take the chance?

Keep in mind that Person B will get knocked out if he makes the wrong choice. But that is also one advantage: he has a way to find out if his coach was right. If he trusts him and wins, he might improve beyond his current limits. If he does and the opponent wins easily, he might trust the coach less.

But now Person B is not a boxer anymore. Let’s say that Person B is meditating, and suddenly has a breakthrough, or at least he feels he has one. His Guru tells him, no, that’s just an experience. You need to move past that. Person B feels resistance. He quotes literature that supports his position. But his Guru is firm; no, that’s a distraction. Without someone to test it directly, in a match… how easy is it for Person B to decide his Guru doesn’t know what is happening and remain there stuck?

A lot easier.

This is not something unheard of. People who practice for years and become stuck. The only thing that can help them is to trust their Guru. If they did their due diligence, and their Guru is good, the only way forward is to trust them. You need someone who tells you’re stuck in a loop. If not, you won’t break out of it. Why should you if it brings you pleasure and experiences that you value? And so, another path towards enlightenment stalls and falls.

But why’s that? To essay a brief answer to it, let me get technical.

Technical: the Disruptive content

I’m going to be as simple as brief as possible, but spoilers: a lot of psychoanalytical concepts are going to be thrown your way. You can find the full treatment of this in my MSc. thesis called “The psychoanalytical Disruptive: a Vajrayana praxis”. I’m going to be borrowing heavily from Lacan, Castoriadis, Benyakar and other authors.

My principal argument is that Vajrayana is a Disruptive practice; in all the tantric literature, they hold the path of Vajrayana to be the fastest path to enlightenment. However, because it is so Disruptive to the general societal representations that govern our life, it is full of dangers. As the tantric texts explain it is enlightenment or hell. And it can only be safe with a Guru.

But why? Let’s first define what is psychically a Disruptive situation or event. A Disruptive event or situation is one which, by its happening, disrupts the normal function of the psyche. I’m discussing traumatic events. Let’s say a bomb goes off next to you. Now, this would seem a traumatic event, but the concept of Disruptive events places the possibility of trauma within the subject psyche and context. It is not the external event, but the ability of the subject to process the event which makes it traumatic or not.

Say that you are alone in your house and suddenly, a bomb goes off. This would probably be traumatic, by itself. You don’t have any idea who could have been. Why there was a bomb? Was it aimed at you? What do you do? Are you being attacked? What is happening? Pretty traumatic, right? You’re not bodily hurt, but the psychological wound happens.

But let’s say that you were a trained soldier, in a firefight, and a bomb goes off. Now, if you are expecting it, it doesn’t become traumatic. A terrible experience, yes. But afterwards, there’s therapy, there’s counselling. Armies all over the world have understood that soldiers need help to integrate and metabolize the psychical toll that the event has. If they fail at this, the event will remain as a trauma. If they succeed, they can integrate it and go on fighting.

Vajrayana is a bomb that goes off in your ear all the time. The training puts you in Disruptive situations all the time. If it doesn’t, it’s not fulfilling its promise to be the fastest. It takes you apart and puts you together again as a Buddha. To metabolize it, you will need help. You need someone who you can rely on, who can contextualize what is happening and who you trust completely.

That is the Guru.

With the Guru, the training will be Disruptive. Without him or her, it will Traumatic.

If there’s no relationship, a close one, with a Guru, you will blunder from event to event until the traumas harden and you get stuck. And you will become mired in an incorrect view, trying to get guidance from your visions and fantasies. Now, if this is what you’d like, that’s ok. But that’s not tantra.

In every tantra, in every tantric tradition, from Sanatana Dharma to Vajrayana, they held the Guru as the link for you to practice it. And the reason is that it is vital for the psychical integration of the content in a way that’s healthy and conductive for your growth. Just as there’s not a real self therapy that you can use with a trauma, there’s no tantric path without a Guru, for the same reasons.

The good thing is, you’re not alone.

I hope this explains why the Guru is a necessity for a functional tantra. If not, please let me know and I’ll keep working on trying to explain it.

May it be helpful!

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