Vows, commitments and modern life: Refuge vows, part 2

Not to harm others. 

This vow means instead to treating others badly we should try, with the best motivation, to benefit them whenever we can.  First we need to practice with respect to those close to us.  We then extend our practice to include all living beings.  It is a very odd thing of modern life that most of us are the nicest to the people we rarely see and barely know, but can be downright nasty with those whom we live with.  I point this out not to imply we should do the opposite, but rather to say a basic minimum should be we treat those we live with with the same basic courtesies we show perfect strangers.  This change alone would bring quite a revolution in our home and work life.

It is rare these days for us to physically harm others, unless it is by accident.  In modern time, our main instrument of harm is our words.  We get angry, frustrated and say all sorts of hurtful things to others.  We quite often put some people down in an effort to get others to like us.  We talk behind people’s backs or laugh when others do the same.  As a general rule, we should “never say anything bad about anyone ever.”  This is an enormously vast practice, especially in the workplace.  At home, we should principally guard against saying mean or spiteful things, or at a minimum not communicate to others that their very presence is frustrating for us. 

At work, we may be in a position of some power or authority where the decisions we make affect others.  More often than not, there is no decision we can make where somebody won’t be harmed.  All samsaric decisions necessarily involve trade-offs, and that means some people will be harmed and others will be helped.  This does not mean as Kadampas we should avoid positions of authority.  Rather, it means when we have to make decisions we should follow some basic principles.  First, we should make sure our decision does more good than it does harm taking all things into consideration.  Second, our decision should be as impartial as possible, not favoring one group over another.  Third, if some people are harmed from our decision but it is nonetheless one where the winners win more than the losers lose, there should be a way to structure some sort of compensation mechanism where the losers are compensated for their loses while still leaving enough for the winners that they are better off.  If we struggle to make difficult decisions, we should request wisdom blessings to make the best possible decision we can.

To regard all Dharma scriptures as the actual Dharma Jewel. 

This vow means since we cannot see actual Dharma Jewels with our eyes (because they are internal realizations) we need to regard Dharma texts as actual Dharma Jewels.  Actual Dharma Jewels arise in dependence upon the meaning of Dharma texts.  We need to respect every letter of the scriptures and explanations.  We need to treat them with great care and avoid walking over them or putting them in places where they might be damaged or misused.

This begins with some very basic things like keeping our Dharma books and sadhanas in a special place separate from all of our other books.  It means not putting them on the floor, etc., and instead to treat them with respect like we are holding something precious.  Over time, this practice can become quite vast.  We can view each word of a Dharma book as the actual speech of a Buddha much in the same way we see beyond the metal of a statue to imagine the living Buddha there.  When we read Dharma books, we should not think of them as inanimate words on a page, but rather as a direct telephone line to the Buddhas.  They literally speak to us through Dharma books.  The way this works is quite magical.  If you have some problem in life or conundrum to resolve, close your Dharma book, close your eyes, and then sincerely make the request, “please reveal to me the answer to this problem.”  Then, randomly open the book to some page, and it is guaranteed that the answer to your problem is on that page.  Geshe-la explained once that he blessed his books in this way where you could do this and get answers.  In particular, Joyful Path of Good Fortune is blessed in this way.  It may not be immediately obvious how what you read is the answer to your question, but that will primarily be because you are still grasping at your outer problem being your problem.  Your problem is your mind.  The answer to your problem is on the page.  Request wisdom blessings to realize how, and as you read the words imagine their meaning is penetrating deep into your mind bestowing upon you the wisdom answer to your problem.

If we are a tantric practitioner, we can train in viewing all sounds we hear as being mounted on mantras.  Even if somebody is yelling at us, internally we can view their screams as being mounted on mantras, and as the words enter our mind the mantra does as well blessing our subtle inner energy winds, healing them with the function of whatever mantra we imagine.  With training, all sounds from honking horns to the rustling of the trees in the wind will be, for us, eloquent explanations of the Dharma – personalized teachings every moment of every day.

Not to allow ourself to be influenced by people who reject Buddha’s teaching. 

This vow does not mean that we should abandon these people, merely that we should not let their views influence our mind.  Without abandoning love and consideration, we need to be vigilant and make sure that we are not being led astray by their bad habits and unsound advice.

Once again, maintaining awareness of the distinction between our outer and inner problem are our ultimate protection.  It is very rare for non-Dharma practitioners to fail to make this distinction, so their advice to us will not be the answer we need.  They may have very sound advice when it comes to how to solve the outer problem, but we should keep the counsel of the three jewels for solving our inner problem. 

It is said that about 80% of communication is non-verbal, 15% is the tone we use and only 5% the meaning of our actual words.  This is really important to keep in mind in the context of this vow.  It means 80% of how others are influencing us comes from simply how they are, what they strive for and how they behave.  We very easily become socialized into the norms and habits of those around us, for good or for ill.  If we find ourselves surrounded by people who routinely are making wrong choices, we need to be extremely vigilant to not simply not follow their advice, but to not become socialized into being just like them.  Social osmosis is probably one of the most powerful forces in the world, and is something that is largely invisible to us.  This does not mean we should avoid these people, rather we should just remain mindful of all the different ways they have the potential to influence us, both verbally and non-verbally.  When somebody verbally gives us bad advice, very often their bad advice itself can be a powerful teaching because hearing it reminds us of why it is wrong and therefore it teaches us what is right.  In the same way, if we remain mindful of our Dharma wisdom, seeing people’s wrong behavior can function for us as a powerful Dharma teaching.  With such mindfulness, we can circulate among anybody, even the most degenerate, and instead of being dragged down we will feel lifted up.


3 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Refuge vows, part 2

  1. Not to harm others – This is the most important vow in all Buddhism. Non-harm is compassion. Compassion is a beings real nature. Buddha said that if we cannot help others we should at least not harm them, they have enough suffering to deal with. All the religions try to practice it, even everyday good people, even people who have lost the path and lost their way can practice not harming others out of this understanding that we all suffer. It’s simple. There are many levels to it, but essentially, everything and everyone is the fabric of one’s mind. Having thoughts of harm towards others in our consciousness and will boomerang back and manifest as the appearance of harm to us coming from ‘outside of our mind’ as if from someone or something else.

    To regard all Dharma scriptures as the actual Dharma Jewel – This poses the question: what is Dharma? Mind protection, holding us back from suffering of the lower realms. Dharma books are part of our mind. If we view them as pure, everything that arises from them will be pure, leading to positive effects. And the methods and tools used within then become fountains of wisdom and further protection. But like Milarepa said, everything can be seen as Dharma. But this is like the base, a reminder of that protection Dharma can offer.

    Not to allow ourself to be influenced by people who reject Buddha’s teaching – This comes down to choice of mind. Are you being controlled by mind or do you exercise control over mind? Are you controlled by what other people think? Are your concerns still very worldly? Moral discipline is key to a better rebirth. If there is a strong base of moral discipline then you know where you are headed. You know how your actions will sprout fruit in the future. Also being able to assert one’s own needs and wants virtuously in situations that could potentially lead us to be influenced by others who have different conflicting intentions will give us great self confidence in moving alone in the emptiness of our mind.

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