Vows, commitments and modern life: Root downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vows, the next three vows

Speaking falsely about profound emptiness. 

This vow say if we lack a correct understanding of emptiness and yet teach emptiness to others, claiming with a selfish motivation that we have a direct realization of emptiness, we incur a root downfall.

I don’t know anybody who claims to have a direct realization of emptiness, so I think there is little danger of any of us incurring this root downfall, but there is a danger of us committing a similitude of this downfall.  Those who have some notions of emptiness know how much fun it is to debate and discuss it.  Few, if any, of us have a correct understanding.  Yet when we speak, we have a natural tendency to speak as if we were to a certain extent an authority on the subject.  I, for one, do this all of the time.  Even though I am not engaging in a root downfall, I am certainly quite frequently engaging in a similitude of this downfall.  I need to stop this.

This does not mean we can’t discuss emptiness.  Rather it means we need to make it abundantly clear to any potential reader or listener that what we are explaining is just our personal understanding of what the teachings mean, and from the side of the reader, everyone who reads or listens to our explanations should take them with a grain of salt and investigate these matters for themselves.  

There is nothing more important in this world than realizing emptiness.  The only way to escape from a prison with no doors is to wake up from the dream in which we are trapped in such a prison.  Realizing emptiness is how we do this.  Given its importance, this is something we must discuss all of the time; but given its importance, it is something we must discuss in a correct and skillful way.

Accepting property that has been stolen from the Three Jewels. 

We incur this downfall if we accept goods that we know have been stolen from the Three Jewels.  We do not incur this downfall if we accept something that we do not know has been stolen.

If have even a suspicion that something we are using has been stolen from the three jewels, then it is our responsibility to ask the question to make sure we are not stealing.  If we don’t, we are incurring a similitude of this downfall.  If we know, or have reason to believe, that somebody else has stolen something from the three jewels and through our actions we somehow lend legitimacy to their claim over the object, then I think this is also an example of accepting property that has been stolen from the three jewels.  

If we have it within our power to return property that has been stolen and we fail to do so, then I also think this is a similitude of a downfall.  

Making bad rules. 

Those in charge of spiritual communities incur this downfall if they make rules that unnecessarily interfere with pure Dharma practice, such as having business activities take precedence over the practice of meditation.

We have to be careful with understanding this.  The development model of the NKT is one of indigenous growth.  In other words, things are built in dependence upon the extent to which a local sangha is willing to do the work to build it.  A mother center may provide some initial support to get a branch class of the ground, but the expectation is after that initial start up support, the center is basically on their own until they reach a sufficiently big size that they are in a position to buy some building or start taking on full-time staff.  Then there is another period of brief support which quickly ends, and the now larger center is basically on its own until it reaches the point where it could become a KMC.  The NKT takes no outside money from anybody.  The Dharma cannot flourish in this world without the underlying supporting physical infrastructure.  This requires both money and labor on the part of the local sangha.  Some people react very negatively to this fact, especially if it is their money or their labor that is being called upon!  So when the local administrators or teachers have some project they want to pursue and it requires money or people’s time, this issue usually flares up.  

There is a natural tendency for the administrators of a center to unintentionally fall on the extreme of putting business matters before spiritual matters; and there is a natural tendency for the rest of the sangha to unintentionally fall on the extreme of underappreciating the value of the requisite material developments.  This tension exists probably, at least to an extent, in every center in the world.  So we shouldn’t be surprised when we find it in our own local center!  Administrators will in exasperated tones ask other administrators questions like, “how do you get your Sangha to do more” and the rest of the sangha will complain to each other and to sangha from other centers about how bad their administrators are because they are constantly hassling the sangha and spiritually manipulating them to do more.  This dynamic is also quite common, not just in Dharma centers but in any non-profit or religious organization around the world.  Humans are humans, after all.

So the question is what should we do about it?  The answer is simple.  If we find that we are more likely to be on the extreme of using the Dharma to manipulate others into accomplishing our projects, then we should make an effort to make sure that we always pursue projects which quite clearly put spiritual practice first, and the material requirements will be a self-evident need.  If we find that we are more likely to be on the extreme of underappreciating the value and need of material development, we should consider its value and become the most prominent advocate for the need of the sangha to step up.  The most effective way to become an advocate is to become an example, but sometimes it also means speaking up in meetings.  If it is always the administrators who are calling for more material development and always everybody else resisting that, then it introduces an unhealthy dynamic in a Dharma center.  If instead it is the administrators who are putting spiritual priorities first and the sangha advocating for material development then these tensions subside and the center develops quite nicely.  

I find that in most circumstances, people are very reluctant to take the lead on things but that doesn’t stop them having an opinion on everything.  I know I am like that.  I think a good rule of thumb we can adopt for ourselves is we should always be willing to back up our opinions with our own constructive action.  The point is if you are a member of the community, do your administrators a favor and become the local advocate for the need for material development.  When a member of the community takes on this role, it is far more powerful for the development of a center than if the administrators do this.  If you are an administrator, do your sangha a favor by not trying to manipulate others into doing work for the center.  Explain the merits of the project, set a good example of working on it yourself, but respect people’s freedom to contribute as they see fit.  Better yet, find out what projects the members of the community want to work on and see how you can help marshal the resources of the center towards that end.  Our job is to serve our community, not the other way around.


One thought on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Root downfalls of the Bodhisattva Vows, the next three vows

  1. Emptiness is easy to understand, if you have good karmic imprints. It is however very difficult to keep the water boiling and develop the realisation over time and make it increasingly more subtle. This is why purification practice helps because one its main functions is helkping the practitioner realise the emptiness of all actions and opening up to a more expansive awareness.

    This is why it is equally important for Tantric practitioners to develop a mind of great bliss which makes realising emptiness a far simpler matter because it’s the most powerful subject mind there is to meditate on the object, emptiness.

    This vow is not about what others think or our worldy concern for reputation on being the King of understanding dependant related phenomena. It is not about proving oneself to others. It is about putting it into practice. Gaining experience. Testing, like a scientist.
    Who are you and what do you seek?

    There is no problem if we have studied authorative texts such as Heart of Wisdom or Ocean of Nectar and we can speak confidently about emptiness. We need that confidence. We need a believing faith and confidence in our practice of emptiness. We need to encourage ourself and others rather than be on the back foot. We can inspire others whilst talking about emptiness and use many examples to illustrate its beauty.

    Of course remaining with the sense of humilty and learning is key. Je Tsongkhapa himself stated that Dependant Relationship is the greatest of all teachers and that we should prostrate to it.

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