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What do we ask for?
There is a tradition of reciting prayers of request to the spiritual teachers of the lineage at the beginning of each study session, starting with the Buddha Shakyamuni and ending with our own personal teachers. What do we request? As we chant each verse, we take to mind the inspiring qualities of the great masters mentioned in it and ask them to bless us to develop compassion, wisdom and power similar to their own. Blessings are experienced in the form of a transformation which affects our body, speech and mind. Our mind becomes more serviceable and flexible, our way of speaking and acting more constructive. We become more open to the message of how to bring about inner transformation that has been handed down through this long line of spiritual teachers.
Our teachers pass on the instructions they have received from their own teachers, the knowledge they have culled from their reading and everything they have understood and experienced as a result of their personal practice, without holding anything back. They are motivated by compassion and their deep wish to help us. To communicate it to us they choose whatever means are most effective--sometimes stern, sometimes gentle. This process must take place in an atmosphere of mutual trust, something very rare in relationships today. In the past the relationship between students and teachers was even closer and more trusting than that between siblings--and in Tibet brothers and sisters generally enjoyed a close and loving bond. Today this is a dying tradition, yet a good relationship between student and teacher is vital even for the communication of secular knowledge, let alone where spiritual wisdom is concerned.
-- from Atisha's Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment: An Oral Teaching by Geshe Sonam Rinchen translated and edited by Ruth Sonam