Do not turn a god into a demon. God in this context refers to training the mind, and demon refers to delusions such as pride and attachment. If we practice incorrectly we may increase our delusions, such as pride, with our Dharma practice. Therefore, we should try to study and practice with firm understanding and correctly.
Because for many of us our delusions are at present more powerful than our virtues, they have an uncanny ability to hijack our Dharma understanding and use it to make us even more deluded. Pride is the most common example of this. Ordained people can feel like only they are the real practitioners and everybody else just can’t let go of samsara. Prasangikas can read there is no enlightenment outside of the wisdom realizing emptiness and then conclude they have the monopoly on the truth. Mahayanists can look down on Theravadan practitioners as being “lesser.” Dorje Shugden practitioners can look down on the Dalai Lama’s followers as having sold out the pure Dharma for Tibetan politics. Buddhists can look down on devout Christians with their grasping at an external creator and denials of basic science. Resident Teachers can look down on those who are not “committed enough” to follow the study programs perfectly. Center administrators can look down on those who contribute little to the functioning of the center. So called “scholars” can look down on those with a simplistic understanding of the Dharma. So-called “practitioners” can look down on scholars as just intellectual masturbators. Those from more established, successful Dharma centers can look down on those whose centers are struggling to survive. Those who have not yet been fired by Geshe-la can look down on those who have been. Those who have been fired several times can look down on those who haven’t yet. Those who have been around for many years can look down on those who are naively enthusiastic in the honeymoon stage. Those on ITTP can look down on those just on TTP; those on TTP can look down on those just in FP; those on FP can look down on those just in GP. Those who go to pujas at the center can look down on those who don’t. Highest Yoga Tantra practitioners can look down on those who are not. The list goes on and on and on. It’s all the same though: people can look at some good aspect of their Dharma practice as being somehow superior to that of others, and they use this as a basis for generating pride.
It is not just limited to pride. Our attachment to worldly pleasures can kidnap our understanding of the Tantric teachings to use them as a justification to indulge in our attachments. Dharma Teachers’ attachment to people coming to their classes can kidnap their compassion and bodhichitta to use them as a justification to manipulate or guilt trip others into coming to class. Center administrators’ attachment to growing the center can kidnap their wish to flourish the Dharma to take advantage of people’s time, labor and circumstance. Our wrong understanding of renunciation can cause us to feel we are somehow not allowed to be happy. Our discouragement can kidnap the teachings on humility to become an excuse for not really trying. Our doubt can kidnap our wish for wisdom and cause us to reject generating faith. Our intellectual laziness can kidnap our faith and prevent us from pushing beyond faith to generating personal wisdom. Our attachment to remaining with our partner can kidnap the teachings on cherishing others to remain in an abusive or dysfunctional relationship. Our laziness can kidnap the instruction “don’t worry, be happy, just try” as a pretext for never getting serious about training in our vows and commitments. Our aversion to our family, jobs and life circumstance can kidnap the teachings on our precious human life to convince us such things are obstacles to our practice instead of objects of our practice. Our externally exaggerated understanding of what it means to be a Dharma practitioner can create tension in our mind when, due to our circumstance, we are unable to practice in such a way. Our self-hatred can transform every Dharma teaching about the faults of our delusions into a whip we beat ourselves with. Our judgmental attitude towards others can kidnap all of the teachings and use them as grounds to condemn others for their shortcomings.
If we think carefully, there is not a single Dharma instruction that can’t be taken wrong! The teachings on reliance on the spiritual guide can be misunderstood to make us cult-like. The teachings on death can be misunderstood to make us morbid. The teachings on the hell realms can be misunderstood to make us fatalistic. The teachings on equanimity can be misunderstood to make us aloof to others’ plight. The teachings on compassion can be misunderstood to make us depressed. The teachings on concentration can be misunderstood to make our mind rigid. The teachings on emptiness can be misunderstood to make us nihilistic or solipsistic. The teachings on divine pride can be misunderstood to give us a “Jesus complex.”
Every correct Dharma understanding is necessarily a middle way between two extremes. One extreme is our normal samsaric views, the other extreme is some wrong understanding of the meaning of the instruction. How do we know if we have gone to the other extreme with a Dharma instruction? Kadam Bjorn said, “there is not a single Dharma mind that is tight and narrow, they are all spacious and open.” The function of all correct Dharma understandings is to make our mind more peaceful and calm. So the test is simple: if our mind is becoming more tight, narrow, agitated or judgmental we have gone too far; if our mind is becoming more open, spacious, peaceful and accepting we are on the right track.