Vows, commitments and modern life: Remain natural while changing your aspiration.

Through the practice of training the mind our aspirations will change, but we should not make any outward changes is our body and speech, we should remain natural.  We should keep our attainments and realizations hidden from others so as to attract fewer obstacles.

This is very important advice, especially in modern times.  When our family and friends learn we have become a Buddhist, their big fear is that we have run off and joined some crazed sect, or they fear we will become strange.  This is especially a problem for modern Kadampas because when our families Google “New Kadampa Tradition,” all of their worst fears of us joining some sect are quickly reaffirmed.  So how do we counter this?  We answer all such concerns by showing through our actions, not our words, that the more we practice the more normal we become.  Indeed, what will happen is we will become more “normal” than they are, and they will be the ones who seem unbalanced – even to themselves.  When this happens, all of their fears will subside.    

By remaining natural we force ourselves to focus our practice on the interior.  Because we are such external beings, we tend to exaggerate external changes.  But Dharma practice is an inner practice.  By keeping this commitment, we force all change to be internal – which is what we want.  The only thing we have to change is our mind.

By remaining natural, we make the Dharma more accessible to others.  They see that the only thing they have to change is their mind.  A good example of this is being vegetarian.  We never say that people need to become vegetarian to become a Buddhist.  Why?  Because most people simply don’t want to be vegetarian.  If they think they have to become vegetarian before they begin, they will conclude that it is too hard to be Buddhist so they will not even start.  But if instead we say there is no such commitment and everyone is free to do as they wish, then people will start practicing.  They will then gain personal experience of how the Dharma naturally makes them a happier person.  At some point later they may decide for personal reasons to become vegetarian, but it is coming from their own side.  The same is true for essentially every other instruction.  Buddha’s teachings are not commandments given to us from on high, rather they are time-tested and proven methods for finding inner peace.  We are free to try them or leave them.  When we try them, they work.  It is that simple. 

By forcing ourselves to remain natural we learn how to integrate the real meaning of Dharma into a modern cultural context.  This is Geshe-la’s main project, really.  It is up to us to carry on the lineage in the context that we find ourselves.  Keeping this instruction enables us to do so.  Geshe-la said once that he has given us the Dharma.  Now it is up to us to integrate it into our modern lives.  Since the publication of Modern Buddhism, the central mission of the tradition has become to “attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.”  In this sense, we actually have an obligation to remain exactly as before externally.  Every life situation is equally empty, and so therefore every life situation is equally pregnant with spiritual possibilities.  Our job is to uncover how this is so.  When we do so, we then share our experience so that others who have lives similar to our own can come to understand how they too can seamlessly integrate the Dharma into their lives.  Paradoxically, the way we spread the Dharma far and wide is by externally not changing a thing.

This advice also serves as an insurance policy against us letting others know what our spiritual attainments are.  First, nobody likes a “holier than thou” person, so if we go around acting “all spiritual and deep” it is very off-putting.  If instead, we are completely normal, relaxed and easy going, then people will naturally want to be around us and want to know how we do it.  Very often in many different spiritual traditions we will see these people where the more “spiritual” they become the more uptight they become.  They become heavy and way too serious.  When they pray they get this strained look on their face.  Kadam Bjorn said there is not a single Dharma mind that is not spacious, open and light.  If we are practicing correctly, the higher our spiritual attainments the more normal and down to earth we will be.  If this is not happening, it is a sign we are not practicing correctly.  Kadam Morten said there are two types of masters, those who show the final result and those who show the example of somebody going there, and in the end the latter is more beneficial.  It is much more useful to show the example of a humble practicioner. By remaining humble, people generate faith, whereas by being boastful, people develop suspicions




One thought on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Remain natural while changing your aspiration.

  1. One reason we don’t notice Buddha’s is because they are ‘blending in’ with the population. This is powerful. We don’t see them coming or see their help but look upon teachers as if they were saints.

    How we cherish others too has an effect on how others experience us:

    For example, ‘interview mode’ this usually makes people feel really awkward and heightens their own self-cherishing. We may bombard others with questions out of interest in them but it comes across as too intense.

    ‘Being the centre of attention’ sometimes, this is a great way to cherish others, although conventionally it is not seen to be and can be misunderstood. It just means to be open and at ease in being a degenerate, sharing the dream-like story of our life. It can make people feel at ease and allow us to share ourself with others, causing them to see our ordinariness and flaws. This invites them to the spacious accepting place within themselves. Being interesting to non-Buddhists is sometimes better than being spiritual as it allows a door to open.

    People can be intimidated by ‘happy people’ and so having an awareness of this is good as when exchanging self one can match the level, one can be on the same page, one can be on the same wavelength. We create a shared reality where it appears we are together, when in reality we are experiencing two very different apparent samsara’s. This is not something that happens when we are up high and they are down low. The exception to this is when our energy is actually very high and we can exchange in a way whereby the other person doesn’t know how happy we are inside. This can be frustrating for a practitioner because they are really happy and start to resent others around them for being so miserable, angry and so forth, which is why we go back to exchange.

    It’s worth noting that every being is part of mind. Even if we can generate profound joy, parts of mind ie (the rest of humanity) are still well in the gutter.

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