We incur this downfall if we criticize any of Buddha’s teachings, declaring that they are not Buddhadharma and therefore should not be practiced. We do not incur this downfall if we set aside some instructions for the time being because we do not see their relevance to our lives or they seem too difficult for our current level. Buddha gave over 84,000 instructions and Geshe-la has written many many commentaries to Buddha’s teachings. So clearly we work gradually with the instructions, incorporating and synthesizing their meaning in our lives over time until eventually we feel as if we practice – directly or indirectly – every single instruction every single day. But it can decades before we feel this to be the case.
We also are not abandoning the Dharma if we used to go to every festival and to every teaching, but for whatever reason we no longer do so. Karma changes and so it is normal that our ability to attend certain events will also evolve and change over time. But we do incur this downfall if we come to some definite conclusions, “Buddha was definitely wrong about this.”
Gen-la Losang said it does not matter how many people come to our centers, it only matters how many go away with a happy mind. He said those who go away with a happy mind are actually more important than those who stay at the center for the simple reason that there are more of them! If people go away having appreciated some point and it makes some positive impression on their mind, even if they never come back, a very powerful karmic seed will have been placed on their mind which can be activated in future lives in the form of them coming to the center and staying (even if only for a little longer than last time). This is one of the reasons why the International Temples Project is such genius. Busloads full of school children and tourists come visit the temples all the time, see the Buddhas and leave thinking, “hey, those Buddhists are kinda cool.” Who is to say that the people who stay in this life were not the tourists of a previous life?
The reality is there are many many people who come to our centers, attend classes for a shorter or longer amount of time, but then they move on. It is very easy for the people who remain at the center or for the people who run the center to become attached to people coming to the center and then to be unhappy when people leave. There have been many examples of people in centers making those who think about leaving feel guilty like they are abandoning the Dharma, they are breaking their vajra commitments, etc., etc., etc. Of course the over-enthusiastic administrator or practitioner thinks they are helping the other person by saying such things, but in reality they are sabotaging that person’s spiritual future and causing the tradition to develop a reputation of being like a cult.
The Dharma is like a diamond, like the sun and like a medicinal tree. Any amount is good. Just because more is better doesn’t mean having only some is bad. If we resort to spiritual manipulations to keep people coming to our center, it may work in the short run but the person will eventually come to resent being manipulated into coming. This resentment will build in their mind and their view of the center and the tradition will sour. Their mind will grow increasingly negative until eventually they leave altogether. But instead of leaving with a happy mind towards the teachings and the center, they will leave with a bitter taste in their mouth, or worse. Let’s be honest with ourselves, there are more than a few stories of where things like this have happened in the past. If we can’t acknowledge our mistakes, we are certainly doomed to repeat them. The good news is I have been with the tradition for almost 20 years now, and I can say without a doubt that every year we get a little bit better about not making a total mess of things! 🙂 Most of these old ways are a thing of the past, but residuals do remain. Of course we can’t control what other people and other centers do, but we do have a certain say over what we do and what our own local center does.
If we are an administrator of a local center, I think we need to be very careful when people approach us with problems they might be having with the center. There has been so much external venom thrown our way, that it is very easy to allow our own sensitivities about some internal unhealed wounds to cause us to overreact, become defensive and act unskillfully when people do approach us with constructive suggestions on how we can do better. It is very easy for major conflicts and power struggles to start and it can quickly poison the environment of a center with a cost to all. It is perfectly possible that the person approaches us in an unskillful way, getting upset and angry and accusatory, but if we are a leader in a local center then presumably we have more experience with the Dharma and it seems to me it is incumbent upon us to respond in a constructive manner that doesn’t make the situation worse. If we welcome their criticism and have an open, honest and sincere conversation with them where we admit our mistakes and clarify any misunderstandings without defensiveness, then our living embodiment of putting the teachings into practice will dispel any misconceptions the other person might be harboring far better than any words we might say. We should say thank you, we apologize, and we should show a willingness to learn.
Even if in the end the other person leaves over the issue, at least they will go away thinking we handled the situation with integrity and forthrightness. They may disagree, but they will nonetheless respect us, and therefore they will harbor no ill will or cling tightly to what could be wrong views.