Zim Pickens looks at the origins of guru or lama worship in Tibet, introducing us to the Indian antecedents and the Tibetan emphasis on the role and status of the lama.
In the twelfth century, Indian and Tibetan Buddhist authors drew from doctrinal and scriptural sources to promote new rites for worshipping the guru in the manner of a buddha. First, we will examine how Anupamavajra and Sa skya Paṇḍita cite earlier models for relating to a guru—performing acts of service and following commands—to respectively argue that the gurumaṇḍala and guru yoga (bla ma’i rnal ‘byor) rites are in keeping with Buddhist tradition.
We will then turn to bKa’ brgyud material, including guru yoga, in which the Tibetan lama supplants Indic buddhas and deities as the primary object of worship. The popularization of preliminary practices (sngon ‘gro) almost entirely focused on the lama demonstrates the lasting effect of such developments on Tibetan Buddhist traditions.