Readage – The Guru Drinks Bourbon? – Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse  doesn’t mess around.

There was Not for Happiness  – a book that gives readers the skinny on the preliminary practices (aka Ngöndro). Before that one was the seminal What Makes You Not a Buddhist  which has still left a mark on me. This isn’t a teacher who sugarcoats the Dharma. Rinpoche really lets you have it. This is why I have the ultimate love and respect for him.

His latest book The Guru Drinks Bourbon? is no different than its predecessors. It will push your buttons and make you think. It will enlighten, entertain and educate. This book features captivating and creative photography that may evoke acid flashbacks!

With its somewhat provocative title, this book is focused on the relationship between a student and their guru in the Vajrayana path. It offers up personal stories of his experience, those of his students and many examples from history to help illustrate the various perks and pitfalls of this unique path.

Guru devotion – the path of Vajrayana (aka tantra) means wholeheartedly handing yourself over to this being. It’s all about embarking on a journey to having yourself cracked open completely. You don’t want to hand over the keys to the first cool looking, sweet talker that comes your way. You’re looking for a lean, mean spiritual coach who is going to make you work! The ultimate goal is to tame our mind – leading to enlightenment. This isn’t an easy or traditional relationship and we’re working with someone who will be able to customize this path according to our specific quirks and personality.

Rinpoche asks us to consider our motivation for wanting a guru in the first place and then, upon full examination, notes we need to place our trust in this person to help you move towards enlightenment. He mentions that the search for a guru is one of the most important part of the path.

This book sets out a framework for what one should look for in selecting a guru. It highlights the importance of scrutiny and wisdom when choosing a teacher to work towards ultimate realization of the nature of our minds. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse covers a lot of ground within these pages– everything from why we need a guru in the first place, Western Buddhism, mindfulness, devotion, corruption, the Tulku system, the guru-student relationship, abuse, and our expectations of how a guru should behave. There is mention of a lack of female gurus in our society as well as an abundance of ‘charlatans’ who are busy staging elaborate stage shows and Instagram photos of them wearing Rolexes. Yes. Celebrity culture is very much a part of the Vajrayana and you could be star struck, but left spiritually empty if you aren’t careful.

There are instructions on how to evaluate a guru and what one should look for. Rinpoche also has recommendations for what responsibilities gurus have towards both their existing, and potential students. Yes. Sizing up the guru is mentioned, but conversely, gurus are also sizing up their potential students. How’s that for non-duality? Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse mentions that the standard for this sizing up is about 12 years although one size does not fill all for this kind of evaluation. Its recommended to develop a shortlist for contenders and then he suggests that one tests the potential guru in some way or another.’ He also showcases the four ‘guru-types’ to avoid and the characteristics of each – a kind of ‘bad guru checklist.’

There’s some deep and murky territory covered within The Guru Drinks Bourbon? It’s not a read that will have you putting down the book and feeling like you’re any more certain than when you initially picked it up. It may piss you off. It may shake you up. It may answer a few questions – or it may cause even more questions to emerge.

This book is truly a must read if you are interested in the Vajrayana path. It’s a no-bullshit; no holds barred look at what you’re getting into when you decide to follow this approach. I’ve come to really appreciate Khyentse’s writing style and his direct honesty so to be truthful; any book that he releases is going on my bookshelf.