Train in the three difficulties.
The three difficulties are things that we find difficult to do. It is difficult to recognize our delusions, but it is even more difficult to overcome them. And it is the most difficult to eradicate them altogether.
First difficulty: recognize our delusions. Gen Lekma was my first teacher, so in many ways she is my spiritual mother. In my mind she is a saint, and my proof of this is she put up with me! I was about as obnoxious as a new student could be. I was incredibly arrogant and I doubted everything. So I would alternate between being a “know it all” and somebody who wouldn’t stop asking probing questions about every little detail. Come to think of it, I was like my 4 year old who never stops asking “why?” about everything! So if you know her and then see her, please give her a hug from me, and tell her I say thank you for putting up with me!
Gen Lekma patiently and persistently answered all of my questions. Probably every day I would send her a list of about 20 new questions I had, and she would answer them, each time giving me valid and definitive answers to my questions. The reason why I kept asking was because I felt like I had found a spiritual gold mine – I was getting real answers and I couldn’t get enough.
At one point, though, she had other things to do and started falling behind with my questions. They kept piling up, and I started growing anxious. Several days went by, hundreds of questions were going unanswered, and then I received from her a very short email. It said, “with respect to all of the questions you have asked, there are good answers. Please go find them. Love, Lekma.” At first, I felt a bit abandoned, but then I started to think deeply about what she said – there are good answers. Up until that point, doubts and questions for me were an object of stress and uncertainty. If there are not good answers to my questions, then the Dharma was perhaps unreliable, and then I would go back to having nothing. But here she was saying, “there are good answers.” So I didn’t need to worry, questions didn’t have to be a problem. In Understanding the Mind Geshe-la explains that there are two types of doubts, doubts tending towards delusion and doubts tending towards the truth. Before, my default would be if I wasn’t sure, I couldn’t believe it. But with this answer, my mind shifted where my default was if I wasn’t sure, I could trust that it was true I just don’t understand how or why yet. So instead of being a source of anxiety and worry, my doubts became an inexhaustible fuel for joyfully plunging ever deeper into the Dharma. Her answer also said, “please find them.” In other words, I didn’t need to ask somebody externally, I could look for myself, cultivate my own discriminating wisdom, and find my own answers within the Dharma. This helped me break my transforming my teachers into objects of attachment.
The reason why I bring up Gen Lekma is in my last meeting with her as my teacher before I moved to Europe, I asked her for some final advice. She said, “train in the three difficulties, in particular identifying your own delusions.” The most dangerous thing about pride is it makes you blind to your own faults and delusions. If you can’t see them, you can’t overcome them. Once we become aware of a sickness in our body, we are naturally motivated to find a remedy and to apply it. It is the same with the inner sickness of our delusions. Most doctors all agree medicine is 80% correct diagnosis, 20% cure. Once the illness is correctly diagnosed, the cure is usually self-evident. Again, the same is true with our inner sickness of delusions.
At that time, most of my delusions revolved around my relationship with my then girlfriend (now wife). In my view, it is was very clear that the only worthwhile thing to do with one’s life was to practice Dharma. But I had this job, I had this girlfriend, I had this life, and they all seemed to me to be obstacles to “practicing Dharma.” Gen Lekma told me, “she is not an obstacle to your practice, she is your practice.” These words, to me, hold the keys to our mission of attaining the union of the Kadam Dharma and modern life. Our normal view is those thing which provoke our delusions are obstacles to our practice. Quite the opposite, they are our practice. Just as angry people are an essential condition for our training in patience, those in need are an essential condition for out training in giving, those who provoke delusions within us are an essential condition for our practice of training the mind.
So training in the first of the three difficulties is actually very easy – just interact with living beings! Family, kids, co-workers and people on the road are all especially skilled at provoking delusions within us. We should be incredibly grateful to them for this service they provide, because without them we would have incredible difficulty identifying our delusions. If we don’t see our sickness, then our training in Dharma lacks any power. We are told in the Lamrim teachings that the way we should listen to Dharma is the same way as a patient told they have some terrible sickness would listen to the doctor explaining their cure. If we don’t have our own inner sickness in mind when we listen to or practice Dharma, it will remain abstract at best. Most likely we will listen to the Dharma with a clear understanding of the inner sickness of delusions of all of our family members, and we will think, “oh, my wife really needs to hear this!” No, all of the Dharma is personal advice for us.
The world is filled with deluded people. This is why they are so precious. This is why we don’t need them to change. This is why we can accept them just as they are. Their highly deluded behavior suits us just fine because that is how we are able to identify our own inner sickness. These people are the field of our practice, they are in fact emanated by our Dharma protector to give us an opportunity to progress along the path. The bottom line is this: modern people are lazy. If we weren’t forced to overcome our delusions, we wouldn’t and we would remain trapped forever.