Studying non-Dharma subjects without a good reason.
If we study non-Dharma subjects without the motivation to increase our capacity to help other beings we incur a secondary downfall.
In the early days of the tradition, there was a current of thought that pursuing our traditional schooling or jobs was somehow a mistake or waste of time. Jobs, families and worldly knowledge were viewed as obstacles to our spiritual training, and those who pursued such things were viewed as somehow not being dedicated practitioners. Such wrong views lead to a great deal of inner turmoil and tension for practitioners as they struggled between these two apparent needs. About the time that Geshe-la first published Transform your Life he addressed this point. He said, “up until now we as a tradition have fallen a bit into the extreme of Dharma. That has been OK because of the unique times we are in, but now is the time to seek the middle way between Dharma and modern life.” At first, people misunderstood this to mean we need to do 50% dharma life, 50% modern life. But this wasn’t Geshe-la’s meaning at all. Rather, the middle way between the two is we view the Kadam Dharma as the means by which we live our modern life and we view our modern life as the context of our practice of the Kadam Dharma. In this way, there is no contradiction whatsoever between 100% living a Dharma life and 100% living a modern life. The two are one in the same.
In recent years, since the publication of Modern Buddhism Geshe-la has become even more clear saying that the main purpose of the tradition right now is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and Modern Life. This is the meaning of “Modern Buddhism.” It is by NOT abandoning our modern lives, but instead navigating through them with the Kadam Dharma, that we will gain the realizations the people of this world need. Ultimately, all situations are equally empty, thus all situations are equally perfect for our spiritual training. While there are still those who grasp at “normal life” as somehow being an obstacle to Kadampa practice, their doing so doesn’t make such a view true. In fact, such a view is an aspect of an ignorance that grasps at the Dharma somehow not being practicable in the context of certain karmic appearances. Such a view is completely wrong. This does not mean people should no longer get ordained, move into centers, etc. Each person must follow the karmic path that works best for them individually. What it does mean is there is no hierarchy of spiritual lives where one is better than another in some universal sense. All life contexts have equal potential to be quick paths to enlightenment or a completely wasted opportunity.
So there is no contradiction between people pursuing their normal studies, engaging in lifelong learning and career professionalization, and their bodhichitta goals. Indeed, we actively seek to maximize our potential in this world because doing so will push us to the limits of our capacity. Dorje Shugden will arrange things so that the challenges we face along the way are the ones we need to overcome. Our purpose in studying non-Dharma things is to pursue the opportunities available to us knowing that it is by operating within the context of those opportunities that we will gain the realizations we need to gain. Besides, all things reveal the truth of the Dharma. When we approach our study of any subject as an opportunity to see how the truth of Dharma is revealed through that subject, then there is no danger of us committing this downfall.
What we don’t do, though, is view our non-Dharma studies as ends in themselves. They are rather means to our Dharma ends. Our final purpose is always to improve ourself to better serve others. Learning non-Dharma wisdom helps us move in that direction.
Becoming engrossed in non-Dharma subjects for their own sake.
If we study non-Dharma subjects simply for pleasure (losing our original good intention) we incur a secondary downfall.
This downfall should be pretty self-explanatory if we understood the previous downfall. But we need to be careful to not go to extremes here. It is unrealistic to assume we will maintain a perfect spiritual motivation for every non-Dharma thing we do. We of course try to transform everything we do, but if we fall short of this we should not feel like we are doing something wrong. Just because we can do better doesn’t mean what we are doing is wrong. There is good and even better. We simply do our best and maintain a balanced and comfortable approach to our practice. There is a danger that we push too hard and adopt an unsustainable approach to our practice. This never lasts and creates lots of problems. We strive to be a slow, but steadily flowing river.
At the least, we can say that our engaging in non-Dharma activities, such as watching a favorite TV show, is a form of rest that enables us to come back to our practice refreshed. Avoid extremes.