How we abuse the Dharma and destroy our relationships at the same time

An extreme I often fall into is the extreme of trying to change others with the Dhama motivated by attachment. 

Bodhichitta is the wish to become a Buddha so that we can lead all other beings to the same state.  We talk all the time in the Dharma about how everything we need to do needs to be for others and how it is only by abandoning our delusions that any being can find happiness.  I have a highly inflated sense of how much wisdom I actually possess and how I know exactly what everybody else’s delusions and problems are and what they need to do to overcome them.  Call this pretentious wisdom!  As with all prides, this pretentious wisdom is often accompanied by an attachment to everyone else sharing my exalted view of my own wisdom, and so I feel the need to go around and “save everybody” by getting them to realize how I am right about everything – “if only they saw things as I did, they would not suffer…”

At the same time, I am still very much controlled and dominated by my delusions, in particular I still have a strong aversion to people being deluded around me and a strong attachment to people “succeeding” around me, in particular with my family.  If I am honest, I still have a “need” for others to change around me.  I still think my happiness depends upon whether those around me are happy.  Out of an attachment to a life of ease, I wish those who I interact with often had no problems so that I didn’t need to deal with their problems.  In short, I also have a strong attachment to those around me changing.  Additionally, an attachment to others changing actually functions to block any wisdom knowing how to help others from arising in our mind.  Instead of thinking about how to help others motivated by compassion, we “meditate” on their faults motivated by an anger wishing them to change.  Any “solutions” to their problems that such “meditations” produce, no matter how much they sound like Dharma wisdom, will not be the right ones.

These two together, namely pretentious wisdom and an attachment to those around me changing, are a very dangerous cocktail.  I tell myself I am being the good bodhisattva trying to bring wisdom to others, but in reality I am trying to change others with the Dhama motivated by an attachment to them changing.  People are not stupid.  They know when we are trying to change them, and they know when we are doing so motivated by an attachment.  Unless the other person already possesses great wisdom (and if they do, who are we to try chang them?), if we try change others motivated by attachment the only thing it does is cause them to reject the very advice we are trying to give and to resist the “help” we are trying to offer. 

Using the Dharma in this way is quite simply abusing the Dharma.  It is using it for our own purposes to fulfill the wishes of our attachment.  It also destroys our relationships with others because we start fighting with them and having all sorts of problems.  It is also the exact opposite of the bodhisattva path because it causes people to reject the Dharma.

So what should we do instead?  Just focus on changing ourselves and working on our own delusions.  This can still be bodhichitta in that the main activity of the bodhichitta wish is improving ourselves.  It is only after we have actually acquired some wisdom and skilful means and are completely free from the need for others to change that we can then start helping others.  Who we are is a far more effective “teacher” than anything we have to say, so it is only by ourselves living the example of somebody working on improving themselves without trying to or needing to manipulate or change others that we can help bring about change in others.  In short, if we are saying all the right things but still trying to change others motivated by attachment, we will create only problems and help nobody.  If we say nothing, but just be the example (not try “show” the example) of somebody working on themselves, we will help everybody around us.

We therefore very easily fall into the extreme of trying to change others with the Dharma

One thought on “How we abuse the Dharma and destroy our relationships at the same time

  1. Pure Nectar!

    To me, Dharma is mental protection that holds me back from suffering (especially from lower rebirths) – if I try change someone because I want them to be more peaceful or protected from suffering I need to consider how that process actually happens. How do i abuse Dharma? Is it a fake kind of protection for others i am trying to employ? How can i add value to a persons life without wanting to change it?

    The ‘need’ to help others can actually be very poisonous. Some may do it whilst trying to avoid their own negativity. It can cloud a person’s vision from seeing the bigger picture, especially where attachment is involved. I’ve made this mistake many, many times. A mind will only change for the better if certain causes and conditions arise. When a mind holds a certain deep virtuous realization the person ceases to act in the previously deluded way, but it’s a gradual change that takes a lot of time. So effectively, we know that change in anyone takes a lot of time sometimes over many lives. If we trace it all back, we keep going to an infinite degree of cause and effect. We can help people create causes without them even knowing – asking questions effectively is a good one.

    We cannot bring deep lasting wisdom to anyone, unless they have the karma to ripen. Buddha’s apparently have the ability to ripen certain seeds and so on giving rise to peace in our minds but for everyone else it’s all about karma.

    We can however protect others in conventional ways (so that they don’t suffer). Non-harm is one way, trying not to hurt anyone. Being patient when others harm you, this protects them from our wrath. It is said that teaching Dharma is the best way to bring peace to the minds of living beings but in everyday life as a Kadampa I have personally gave up this concept in search of personal truth first, an experience of taming my mind first. People know when you talk from a genuine experience and care for their well being. I do however ‘test/challenge/poke’ those whom I deem will move forward. Usually though these are people from my close karmic circle but sometimes I like to gently test people to see where they are, what have they really learnt so I know how to act going forward, how flippant can I be? Usually, they don’t know how to play.

    There are many different ways of viewing this post. Appreciating cause and effect though I feel is key. There are a whole other bunch of questions we could also ask but I am running way past a reply limit, sorry J

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