Vows, commitments and modern life: studying and relying

Making no effort to study Dharma. 

If, without a good reason, we make no effort to listen to Dharma teachings or read Dharma books, we incur a secondary downfall.

Venerable Tharchin explains that if we take full advantage of the spiritual opportunities we have been given it creates the causes for us to have even better opportunities in the future.  But if we waste the opportunities we have, we burn up the karma which created them and will find it increasingly difficult to find such opportunities again in the future.  When we understand we have stumbled upon the one door through which we can escape from suffering forever we will realize there is nothing more important we can do with our life or our time than train our mind in the Dharma.  This is doubly so when we realize we can die at any point in time and lose this opportunity forever.  

But at the same time, again, we need to approach our practice with a balanced attitude. It is better to do a little every day for the rest of our life than a ton of spiritual activity for a short period of time and then nothing after that.  We are running a spiritual marathon and we need to pace ourselves for the long haul.  We should not project onto ourself an arbitrary standard that 24/7 we need to directly be doing Dharma, and if we are not we are somehow committing some downfall.  Instead, we should practice comfortably and skillfully, improving a little bit each day, each month, each year.  Slowly but surely, drop by drop, the bucket of our enlightenment will be filled.

Preferring to rely on books rather than on our Spiritual Guide. 

If we neglect the practice of sincere reliance on our Spiritual Guide and prefer to acquire our understanding from books we incur a secondary downfall.

There are many people, especially in the West, who really struggle with the idea of reliance upon a “guru.”  The very sound of it just sounds cult like, and alarm bells go off every time we hear people speaking in this way.  It may be that we usually only talk with other Dharma practitioners who speak in a similar way, and so we inadvertently sound like we have joined some crazed cult when we speak with others and talk about our “guru.”

Geshe-la says externally we should treat our Spiritual Guides “exactly as normal.”  Outwardly, there should be no visible indications of us treating our teachers, including our root guru, differently than we would any other respected person in this world.  Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that the Spiritual Guide’s true miracle powers are his ability to outwardly appear completely as normal, even though internally they have perfected every good quality.  At a Summer Festival once he explained that it is by relating to our spiritual teachers exactly as normal that we gain the realizations we are supposed to get.  If we act all weird with our teachers, we do not gain the needed realizations, others think we are crazy and so we bring the Dharma into disrepute, we set ourselves up for a fall when our teacher appears to make mistakes, and we are actually putting our teachers into a real personal bind.  In the early days of the tradition, everyone spoke of their teachers as if they were Buddhas without fault.  This then lead to the teachers pretending to be better than they are thinking it was helpful to the student’s faith.  The teachers would then repress their delusions, develop all sorts of strange forms of pride and then either implode from repression or explode by doing something stupid thinking it was divine to do so.  This is why Gen-la Khyenrab is such a good example.  There is not an ounce of pretention in him and he constantly encourages us to keep it real.  Such behavior is perfect.


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