Vows, commitments and modern life:  Misusing Dharma is easier than you think

Do not misuse Dharma. 

Buddha’s main aim in giving Dharma teachings was to lead all living beings to liberation and full enlightenment.  If we use Dharma exclusively for worldly gain this is misusing Dharma.  Even if we can not practice purely now, we should think “I am studying Dharma now so that in the future I can attain liberation and enlightenment.”

It is sadly not at all uncommon for us to misuse the Dharma.  To realize how, we can consider a very simple test:  are we using the Dharma to change ourself or do we try use the Dharma to change others.  If we do the former, we are using Dharma correctly, if we do the latter we are misusing the Dharma.

There are many different ways we do this.  Teachers or administrators in Dharma centers might use the Dharma to try to manipulate or guilt trip the people in their center to do more work for the center.  The teachers or administrators might rationalize this by saying, “but I want the Dharma to flourish for the sake of all living beings, so there is no fault.”  Such an attitude reveals a lack of understanding of what it means for the Dharma to flourish.  The Dharma is an internal thing.  If people are working very hard for the external developments of temples, publicity, etc., but internally they are doing so to avoid being made to feel bad by their teachers, then there is no Dharma flourishing.  Venerable Tharchin is very clear:  he says the size of a Dharma center is determined exclusively by the collective realizations of those who attend it.  If Dharma realizations of love, patience, wisdom, etc., are flourishing in the minds of the Sangha, that center is flourishing even if externally things are a mess.  If externally everything is growing, but internally there is disharmony, frustration, manipulation and guilt, then that center is dying.  Dharma teachers and center administrators have a strong wish for the center to flourish, but sometimes it is easy for them to wind up using the Dharma to manipulate others into fulfilling their wishes and vision for the center.  This is the exact opposite of a correct attitude.  The correct attitude of a teacher or a center administrator should be “how can I help fulfill the wishes and vision of the Sangha?”  In other words, we are there to serve them, they are not there to serve us.

Another common example of misusing the Dharma is we can’t stand all these deluded people in our lives (such as the members of our family or those at work), and we try change others by forcing the Dharma onto them.  For example, perhaps our partner suffers terribly from anger and we see clearly how if they practiced patience their problem would go away.  Since we are so sick of their anger, we try get them to practice patience so that our problem of having to deal with these deluded people will go away.  We may even get in fights with people and use the Dharma as a weapon to show how everything is actually the other person’s fault and to expose the other person’s faults and weaknesses.

A pure Kadampa doesn’t feel the slightest need to change others in any way.  The fact that others are a deluded mess suits the Kadampa just fine because such deluded attitudes give the practitioner a chance to train in patience, cherishing others and skillful means.  Dharma is a mirror with which we can see the faults within our own mind, not a magnifying glass for scrutinizing the faults of others.  The practical reality is this:  the more we try to change others with the Dharma, the more they will reject the Dharma.  Nobody is stupid and nobody likes being manipulated.  When we feel others are trying to change us, we naturally resist them.  So it is precisely because we want others to change (for their sake) that we need to completely let go of any need whatsoever that they change.  When others know we don’t need them to change, then they will trust us that we don’t have some hidden agenda, and they will take on board what we have to say precisely because we leave them free to disregard it if they wish.

On the surface, there may seem a contradiction between our bodhichitta wish to become a Buddha so that we can lead all living beings to the same state and saying a Kadampa has no need whatsoever for others to change, the fact that they are deluded suits the Kadampa just fine.  How can we reconcile this apparent contradiction?  First, the Kadampa has no personal need for other people to change in any way, but others may have a need to change for their own sake.  Second, and more profoundly, since others are nothing more than creations of our own mind, by changing our own mind we will change the beings of our karmically appearing dream.  If we dreamt last night of a highly deluded person, where did they come from?  Who created them?  In the same way, if at work or at home we encounter a highly deluded person, where did they come from, who created them?  By purifying our own mind directly, indirectly we purify all beings.  Instead of trapping all beings in the prison of our samsaric dream, they come to abide within the bliss of our pure land.

Practically speaking, we should only give people advice if they ask for it.  If they are not asking for it, don’t give them any unsolicited advice.  We all easily can see the error in ways of the person who gets up on their soap box outside a train station and yells at all passers-by that they are sinners and will go to hell if they don’t repent.  Yet we do the same thing all the time, just in perhaps more subtle ways.  When somebody does ask us for advice, we generally should just tell stories of experiences we have had and what we learned from them.  Then, we leave the other person free to draw whatever conclusions they wish from the story as to how it might apply to their own life and situation.  It is also generally a good idea to err on the side of not giving enough good advice than giving too much of it.  Sometimes we are so eager to help that as soon as somebody asks us for advice, we then drown them in a tsunami of “our help.”  Kadam Lucy says we should be like a mother bird, who only gives little bits of Dharma to our baby birds so that they don’t choke on it.  Trijang Rinpoche said it is generally better to end a conversation before it is actually finished because this creates the cause to meet again in the future.  Finally, we should be careful to know the capacity of those we are giving advice to.  Even if we are an accomplished Dharma scholar who can give the most sophisticated and profound explanations, it is often times much more beneficial to simply say, “let go.”  As a general rule, the more complex is our advice, the less useful it is.  As with all things, keep it as simple and short as possible.

4 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Misusing Dharma is easier than you think

  1. Hello Ryan,
    I am a good practitioner of drawning others in the “tsunami of my help”. And I can confirm that it doesn’t work… at all. I don’t exactly want to change others, but I am sometime very enthusiastic about dharma or some other subjects…
    I love the conclusion “As with all things, keep it as simple and short as possible” and I will try to make it mine in the future.
    I also love the idea of focusing mostly on my own experience and leave the other person totaly free to make their own conclusion.

  2. Again, this opens the concept of ‘rescuing’ others. Which is I will do it for you and is the opposite of what a Buddha functions to do, which is bless the minds of others so that they do it themselves. This is empowerment and grants responsibility.

    It’s natural that compassionate practitioners want to help others as much as possible. This stems from conventional Bodhichitta. This may mean they see the problem and they want the person to see it too.

    Ultimate Bodhichitta from a tantric perspective is, all sentient beings are my self. Or parts of myself. Inside myself. I must enlighten all parts of myself. This is responsibility. Their apparent suffering is my suffering. Their problem is my problem. Their is no difference. My key way of changing them is to change my own mind.

    Trying to change others is different from teaching, advising and being responsible for them. Changing others is assumptive. If they are like this then they will be happy. It’s an imagined mode of existence. An extreme.

    When we try to change others we also want to take that empowerment from the challenge of suffering that it brings. This is why reliance upon ones teacher is so important. Old kadampa teachers would give their students lots of problems and difficulties or challenges.

    These days pride is so strong and minds are more degenerate so this way of being is largely avoided.

    This is why there are clear boundaries to who is responsible for what in student teacher relationship. There must be profound respect and trust amongst other things.

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