Vows, commitments and modern life:  Not becoming neurotic about the Dharma

Abandon poisonous food. 

Here poisonous food refers to virtuous actions contaminated with self-grasping and self-cherishing.  This commitment advises us to not perform actions contaminated by these, which we have been doing since beginningless time.

It is very easy for us to misunderstand this vow.  On the surface, it seems to imply that we should not perform virtuous actions if they are mixed with self-cherishing and self-grasping, so we think it is somehow “bad” to do so.  This indicates a very important point in the Dharma:  when it comes to Dharma practice, there is no “bad”, there is only “good” and “even better.”  Engaging in virtuous actions mixed with self-grasping and self-cherishing is “good,” doing so without these contaminations is “even better.”  Just because there is an “even better” does not mean the “good” is somehow bad.  In short, we need to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Unfortunately, this is a mistake we make all of the time with our Dharma practice, and many people develop all sorts of “dharma neuroses” because of it.  Let’s say we do the offerings on the shrine at our center, but we do it all wrong.  Is this good or bad?  It is good.  Of course, it is better to do it correctly, but just because there is this “better” doesn’t mean what we did is “bad.”  The same logic applies to all of our Dharma practices.  Basically, we currently do everything all wrong.  We do nothing correctly.  But that does not mean our practice is “bad” or that we are doing anything wrong.  There are always “even better” ways of doing our practices, but we should never feel bad or guilty because we are not doing things perfectly.  Many people beat themselves up and become very guilty about the imperfections in their Dharma practice.  Some unskillful teachers focus only on what their students are doing wrong as opposed to what they are doing correctly.  This kills all joy in Dharma practice and just makes people anxious and worried about doing things incorrectly.  It is very important that we counter such attitudes and tendencies in our Dharma centers.  Our Dharma centers should be places where we learn to laugh, not become neurotic!

A good example is when it comes to cherishing others.  If we are honest, most of our cherishing of others right now is done with a mixed motivation.  Part of us cherishes others because we genuinely want them to be happy, but there is also part of our mind that cherishes others because we see how this will benefit us!  In other words, our cherishing of others is mixed with self-cherishing.  This is entirely normal and not a problem.  It is “good.”  We don’t not cherish others because we can’t do so with a perfectly selfless motivation.  If we adopted such an attitude, we would never cherish others at all.  Instead, we happily accept where we are at, but we do not remain satisfied with where we are at.  This is a subtle distinction.  We strive to do better and better, to cherish others with increasingly pure motivations, but we nonetheless remain perfectly happy with the fact that we are doing things only partially correctly.  Once again, there is no “bad”, there is only “good” and “even better.”  If we can maintain this attitude, then we will keep joy in our practice.  Without joy, there is no actual effort.

5 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Not becoming neurotic about the Dharma

  1. It’s a common misconception. Abandoning the self, is unnecessary.
    We actually need a very strong sense of self to attain no more learning, especially during profound practices such as exchanging self with others. This seems contradictory.

    Shantideva talks of being sold to others. This guy was exchanging self on a tantric level. If we try it without proper foundation, immense anger at self will arise. Our compassion and anger will fight. Our morals will fight with delusion. This is why Lamrim changes wants, desires and wishes over a long period of time and is a natural prerequisite for the tantric exchange when we begin to see life inside the central channel and all beings as expressions of our enlightened mind.

    On a practical basis: abandon ‘imaginings and expectations’ from others. No one said it better than Buddha.
    “Be a refuge to yourself” both simple and deeply profound.

  2. Thank you for your post and reminder about practicing patience and holding a generous attitude toward ourselves. Here’s to remembering that practice is joyful.

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