Gurus for Hire, Enlightenment for Sale

Book review by Jamie Khoo, The Buddhist Channel, May 9, 2009

An insider’s guide into the relationship between students, Gurus and centres.
Author: Tsem Tulku Rinpoche

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia -- It can get a bit tricky, navigating this spiritual path - there’s the politics and people problems, our doubts and egos, outward rituals and inward confusion that all get in the way and cloud what it really means to just practice.

Often, our teachers will tell us things that we don’t necessarily want to hear or tell us to do things that we don’t want to do. We wonder: how do I get to Enlightenment if I can’t even get past understanding why the Guru is making me do all these things?!

Editing Gurus for Hire, Enlightenment for Sale really put me through my paces. I wasn’t just the editor of the book; I was also a disciple of the Guru who wrote it, H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche. The editing wasn’t just another job; it was a part of my spiritual practice.

The teachings within explore what the relationship between student and teacher is really all about. In the midst of all our 21st-century distractions and newly repackaged new-age schemes to find inner peace, the Guru becomes just another cog in our never-ending material attachments, searches and goals.

Does the Guru become just another commodity? Another expression of our outward attachments? Perhaps we sometimes glamorise the idea of what spiritual practice and our Gurus are all about. As H.E. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche expounds in his best-selling book, we become great practitioners of “spiritual materialism”.

The slightly ironic title of Gurus for Hire, Enlightenment for Sale highlights to us that Dharma has now become a quick-fix, something we think we can just buy off a shelf and have the way we want it. But the book sets the record straight, situating the essence of spiritual practice into the context of our contemporary lives, commitments and confusions. Tsem Rinpoche gives us tough love, the sort that shakes up the mix a little bit and sets us back in the right direction

He tells us,

A real Guru is someone who challenges us, pushes us, tells us ugly and nasty things, and tells us things about ourselves that are both true and untrue. When we are challenged, we will see where our mind is.

How we react, what kind of face we show to the Guru and behind the Guru shows us our level of practice. Ultimately, through this training, we will get to a point where nothing disturbs us.

It looks like hard work but Tsem Rinpoche also shows us how liberating real practice can be:

When nothing disturbs us, we have acquired a wish-fulfilling jewel just like what Avalokiteshvara holds in his hands. This wish-fulfilling jewel is a mind that creates no negative karma, a mind that fulfils all our wishes. That mind arises when nothing disturbs it anymore.

But it doesn’t just stop there. A larger part of Gurus for Hire, Enlightenment for Sale also explores our relationship with our Dharma centres and the Dharma community we find ourselves in. Whether we work full-time in a centre or we volunteer on an occasional basis, the centre is a pivotal part of our practice.

Not merely a physical place for practice, it is actually about the relationships we develop within. How we interact and react to people there and the effort we put into our Dharma work is ultimately about a sincere wish to bring benefit to the people around us. It is about seeing the centre as a training ground for us to put what we learn about compassion, wisdom and the immense qualities of the six paramitas into action.

Much of my editorial work with the book – what I consider a practice unto itself – proved the living reality of Tsem Rinpoche’s teachings to me. There were the usual challenges that any publishing house would face: nightmare paper suppliers that fiddled the numbers on their invoices, designers that didn’t meet deadlines, naughty, temperamental laptops... it wasn’t an option to just pack up and abandon the book. In Dharma, it never is an option because we begin to see our actions not as work but as conduits for bringing the infinite benefit of the teachings to others.

In Rinpoche’s very clear explanation about serving the centre and working on committees within, he explains further,

When we are doing committee work, our responsibility is also to sharpen our Bodhisattva intention and our Bodhicitta attainments by working with difficult people, with people we would not ordinarily work with and in situations that we find difficult. We overcome them and we grow. The whole situation allows us to grow, to bring attainments to other people and to collect merit.

Tsem Rinpoche himself hold a huge amount of experience in Dharma centres: studying in Buddhist centres in America; serving some of the world’s greatest Buddhist teachers and studying in Gaden Monastery, South India; and teaching in Southeast Asia as a Lama for over 16 years. He reveals to us all the ups and downs of being in centres: the politics, the centre-hopping, the students who bash up their Gurus, the students who bash up each other, the dangerous new trend of sectarianism and the kind of tricks that laypeople play on the Sangha.

And yet, in the midst of all this, the only thing that remains unchanging is the Guru’s sole and pure motivation to bring us to Enlightenment, and the truth that lies in the Dharma. The message of Dharma practice remains constant throughout the book: it is about the true spiritual conviction to our teachers, the teachings and the people around us to support us in our journey: the Gurus and Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

The book finds its conclusion in a chapter on taking refuge, bringing that complex relationship between student, Guru and centre together. As I approached the end of the book, editing that last chapter on refuge, the final answer to that whole journey of putting the book together became clear: it is – and always has been – about finding that freedom.

The last line of the book – most precious and symbolic to me as I put that final full stop on the manuscript – reads, “Once you take refuge, you are not entailed to do anything except to be the best person you can be”.

And that, at the heart of everything we go through in Dharma, is what it really means to just practice.

Gurus for Hire, Enlightenment for Sale can be purchased directly online at , and

"More information about Tsem Tulku Rinpoche and his teachings can be
found on

For information about Tsem Tulku Rinpoche's Buddhist organisation,
Kechara, please visit

To contact the writer, please email

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