I had a dream recently in which I was visiting my old center. I was having a conversation with the teacher there. I was explaining to him how the absolute most important thing is to create a feeling of family among the Sangha. If our center turns itself into a war zone, where the teachers, administration and students are struggling against one another, we have no center, even if all the physical infrastructure is there. When I awoke from the dream, I realized that the responsibility of each member of any center (whether they are teachers, administrators or students) is to actively make our centers home and make our homes our centers.
What do I understand this to mean? We need to take what it means to be a good home and cultivate that within a center. And we need to take what it means to be a good center and cultivate that within our home. Our ability to do this depends upon making the work and members of our home (spiritual or traditional) objects of refuge instead of objects of delusion.
So what makes a good home? A good home is a place where we can take refuge from the world. It is the place where we can rest, recharge our batteries, clean ourselves up, and then prepare ourselves to rengage with the world. It should be clean, it should be welcoming, it should be well-provisioned. It should be easy to get to, yet still somewhat away from it all. Most sigificantly, home is where our family lives. What distinguishes family from friends is no matter what happens our family always remains our family. Friends can change, but our family never ceases to be our family. We may fight with our family, but we know we must work through our differences not cease to be family over them. Within a good home, everyone is more or less free to do as they wish as long as they first meet their responsibilities. A good home is a place where those who live within it are able to grow up, both in terms of maturity and in terms of becoming increasingly capable to successfully engage the world. Home does not necessarily need to be in one physical place – it can move all of the time as long as it takes its culture and characteristics with it. One of the most vital ingredients of a good home is it is a place where those who live within it can have a good-hearted laugh at the absurdity of ourselves, others and the world. Having a good laugh is the key to cutting the drama, heaviness and seriousness with which most of us labor through life. It should be a place people long to return to, and that depends entirely upon whether there is a culture of love within it. A culture of love means we are delighted to see those who live with us, we value their happiness as something important to us and we stand ready to do anything to unconditionally help and support each other in their respective projects. Everybody is responsible for cultivating and maintaining this culture of love, but the primary responsibility falls on the parents to create it through their own example and encouraging its development.
So what makes a good center? A good spiritual center is a place where people can learn how to become a better person and they have the opportunity to practice doing so. A good center is a place where people can learn how to apply ancient, timeless wisdom to our modern lives. A good center is singular in its tradition, but universal in its application of that tradition. A good center never criticises other traditions or ways of doing things, but respects them all as different paths for different people. A good center NEVER abuses its power to try manipulate and control others to get them to do something. The focus of a good center is on rejoicing in what people are doing right, not judging them for what they are doing less than perfectly. In a good center people feel free to make mistakes without judgement or censure, because it is only when we are free to make mistakes that we dare try to do things differently. A good center has a clear purpose that everyone understands and has voluntarily aligned themselves with, yet at the same time it creates the space for people to align themselves with this purpose in their own time. A good center exists to serve the community it finds itself within. This service primarily takes the form of gaining the wisdom that community needs to transform the life within that community into the quick, joyful path to enlightenment. There is endless work to do within a center, but nobody feels obliged to do any of it – they do so because they view such work as the very means by which they can improve themselves and joyfully serve others. Just as the most important ingredient of a home is a culture of love, the most important ingredient of a center is a culture of joy. The essential purpose of a Dharma center is to gain Dharma realizations. This depends upon effort, and effort depends upon (and is in fact defined as) taking delight in virtuous actions. Just as if there is no love there is no home, so too if there is no joy there is no center. While it is the responsibility of everyone within the center to cultivate this culture of joy, the responsibility for this falls primarily upon the teachers and administrators. This depends upon ourselves enjoying our work in the center, even though sometimes it is exhausting. This depends upon us always leaving the members of the center free to say no when we ask them to do something. It depends upon us explaining how work for the center gives the students an opportunity to develop within themselves the skills, realizations and abilities that they seek. We should never guilt-trip or emotionally (or worse spiritually) blackmail people into working for the center, because even if they do the work there will be no joy (in fact, there will be resentment), and thus no actual Dharma progress.
The key to bringing the home into the center and the center into the home is transforming the work and the people within the center and home into objects of refuge instead of objects of delusion. An object of refuge is one that protects us, either in a simple way, through direct protection, or in a special way, through giving us an opportunity to cultivate within ourselves greater spiritual qualities. Others may push us and provoke our delusions, but whether they become an object of refuge or an object of delusion when they do so depends entirely upon us.
We can honestly examine our centers and ask ourselves, “does the center feel like home for people?” If not, identify why and work on improving those aspects. Likewise, we can honestly examine our homes and ask ourselves, “does my home feel like a good center?” If not, we can identify why and work on improving those aspects. If we work in this way on improving both our home and our center, the two will gradually merge in our mind until they become one, where each embodies the best of both. By extension, Manjushri center is Venerable Geshe-la’s home, and he makes it all of our home – the home of the global Kadampa Sangha. By learning how to be a good member of one home we learn how to be a better head of another home. By learning how to be a good head of one home we learn how to be a better member of another home. In this way, we can likewise merge Manjushri with our local KMCs, our local centers and our local homes. How wonderful!
OM VAJRA WIKI WITRANA SOHA!