Another fundamental thing I was reminded of at this Summer Festival is the importance of receiving teachings. Unfortunately, due to the absolutely crazy karma that I have had over the last several years, about January 2010 I stopped doing my correspondence FP classes. I have consistently been on FP or TTP since 1995, so this marked a major milestone on my spiritual path. If I check honestly, I stopped for two reasons – one valid, one not valid. The valid reason for stopping was given all that I had going on, I simply couldn’t keep up with it, even at a very slow pace. Sometimes this may happen in life, but if we are lucky it will only be for very small patches of time. The not so valid reason is since I felt like I could successfully transform my every day into a teaching through my “faithful mind of a student” (to the extent that I had one), I didn’t feel like I needed it any more.
The problem with this second reason is it is very short-sighted. The only reason why I didn’t feel like I needed it was because I was riding high on the mountain of merit and blessings I had accumulated and received from the previous 15 years of intensive study. But how did I get that merit and those blessings in the first place? By receiving teachings and putting into practice what I was learning. Eventually this merit will exhaust itself and the blessings will dissipate and then I will fall back.
Additionally, when you are not receiving new teachings, you are not being exposed to new ideas and points of view on the Dharma. What happens then is new experiences bounce around the structure of Dharma you have already built within your mind, revealing new things about the interactions of what you know, but it doesn’t take you beyond your narrow understanding of the ocean of Dharma that has been revealed to us by our Spiritual Guide. When we are exposed to new ideas and points of view on the Dharma, the structure of Dharma within our mind not only deepens it broadens. So without new teachings, it is very easy to stagnate on the path.
Further, in general new understandings of the Dharma only arise in our mind in dependence upon oral transmission blessings. The importance of these is often under estimated. We think, yeah, they are important, but they are not that big of a deal. This view is not correct. We can understand why by considering the emptiness of receiving Dharma teachings. The Dharma is transmitted mind to mind, like a Vulcan mind meld, almost. Literally, at a profound level, what is happening when we receive teachings is the teacher is transferring/transmitting their own personal experience of the Dharma into the minds of the students. Conventionally this happens through “listening”. The mental realizations of the teacher take on a grosser form of speech. When the student “listens” to the teachings (as opposed to merely hearing them), the realization then gets transferred into the student’s mind. The more faith the student has, the more fully and deeply they “listen”. When we don’t listen to Dharma teachings, we don’t receive these oral transmission blessings, and as such we are largely on our own without a teacher. We might think that if we have a faithful mind of a student we can receive teachings directly from our guru through our daily lives. This is true, we can do this. But surely the teachings of our Spiritual Guide pass through “the sound of Dharma” more fully than they do through other sounds (due to their nature being pure). So receiving teachings through our daily life is good, but it is no substitute for receiving traditional teachings.
And this points to an important relationship. One one hand, we have the extreme of thinking that we can only receive teachings through attending traditional teachings. This view arises from a limited understanding of how the guru can reveal the Dharma to us. On the other hand, you have the extreme of thinking you don’t need any traditional teachings at all. This view falsely derives from the observation that it is possible to receive teachings through everything, therefore thinking that because that is the case I no longer need teachings. But just as the sound of Dharma carries more Dharma than non-Dharma sounds, so too the entire experience of attending teachings teaches more Dharma than our non-teaching experiences. The middle way between these two extremes is to attend as many traditional teachings as your karma allows while maintaining the faithful mind of a student in all of our daily activities so as to receive teachings through everything.
In my personal case, this means attending as many of the major festivals as my karma allows and starting up again my FP studies. I was fortunately able to make it to this Summer Festival. I can’t do the Summer Festival next year because I will be back in Washington on a mandatory training. But, since I will be in DC next Fall, I should be able to take maybe 2-3 days to attend the Fall Festival in Portugal where Venerable Geshe-la will be granting the Prajnaparamita empowerment and giving an “oral transmission” of the his new book, “The New Heart of Wisdom.” So I should really do everything I can to try attend, especially since this very well might be the last teaching Venerable Geshe-la gives before he passes on. This is a must. As far as my FP studies are concerned, what I can do is substitute one day of my normal daily practice with listening to a teaching by correspondence. This I should normally be able to do. I can also use this time I have this Summer when the family is in the U.S. to listen to as many teachings as I can. I feel very fortunate in that I am able to receive teachings from Venerable Tharchin, arguably the most experienced meditater in the tradition. For those who don’t know him, he teaches the entire tradition how to do retreat.
The point is this: each one of us has our own karmic circumstance. All of us, however, can follow the same principle – namely we receive as much traditional teachings our karma allows while viewing the rest of our experiences as teachings being revealed to us through our daily lives. This, to me, seems to be the middle way.