Vows, commitments and modern life:  Making Dharma an acquisition of your personality

The second main meaning of the precept to be released by two, investigation and analysis, is it advises that for every Dharma realization we first attain a general understanding through investigation and study, and then gain a more subtle understanding through contemplation and meditation.  Dharma realizations within our mind can be understood to develop along two axes, horizontally and vertically.  Horizontally means we come to gain an understanding of all of the different objects of Dharma.  It is not enough to know one or two (though that is good too), but we need to understand the entire path and how everything fits together.  The main objects of the path are the 21 lamrim meditations, the 6 perfections, and generation stage and completion stage of secret mantra.  Within each of these, especially emptiness and the Tantric teachings, there are many different crucial parts, all of which we must understand correctly.

The way we do this is primarily though reading Dharma books and receiving Dharma teachings.  We are fortunate that Geshe-la has condensed and consolidated thousands of years of spiritual tradition and countless root texts and commentaries down to a little more than 20 books.  This simplifies our task considerably.  If we had to read all the books, root texts and commentaries that have ever been written in the history of our tradition, we would never finish.  Fortunately, Geshe-la has done this work for us, so we can rely upon his commentaries as a complete set of teachings lacking nothing.  This does not mean we are not allowed to go read other Dharma teachings, we are of course free to do as we wish.  But for those who don’t have the time to read these other things or for those who would rather focus on gaining experience of the Dharma they have already learned, we can have great confidence that the canon of Geshe-la’s teachings lack nothing we do need, and they contain nothing we don’t need.

To enable us to better understand the written teachings we have received, Geshe-la has established thousands of Dharma centers and meditation groups around the world.  At these Dharma centers, we can receive teachings about the meaning of the books and we can discuss our experiences with those who are likewise trying to put these precious instructions into practice.  We can also attend national and international Dharma festivals where we can receive direct teachings from some of the most experienced Kadampa practitioners in the world.  These teachings all help us develop a clearer and more complete picture of the entire Kadampa path.  Reading Dharma books and listening to teachings are the ways in which we expand our horizontal understanding of the Dharma.  These two are how we “investigate” the Dharma.

Each Dharma instruction also has a vertical dimension to it.  The vertical dimension refers to gaining deeper and deeper personal experience of the given instruction, and how that instruction informs and reinforces all of the others.  There are two main methods by which we do this:  contemplation and meditation.  Collectively, within the context of this precept, these two are known as “analysis.”

Contemplation means we test and examine the meaning of what we have learned.  We check and see whether or not it makes sense and conforms with our own experience.  We explore the various paradoxes or contradictions that might appear, attempting to resolve them so that everything makes sense.  We move beyond understanding each instruction in a vacuum, and instead start to see how all of the instructions interrelate with one another, mutually reinforcing and informing each other.  The Lamrim, for example, ceases to be 21 separate meditations, and instead becomes one practice with 21 parts.  The differences between Sutra and Tantra fall away, the gap between the vast and the profound paths disappear.  Our direct practice of any one meditation begins to indirectly strengthen our experience and understanding of all of the others.  What previously seemed like countless parts, and sub-parts, and divisions and sub-divisions becomes increasingly simplified to the point where we see how by practicing a few key things directly, we are indirectly practicing everything.  Contemplation functions to resolve all of our doubts about our practice, enabling us to wholeheartedly commit to our training.  One of the most important benefits of contemplation is the apparent duality between our daily life and our Dharma practice begins to fade away until there is no separation whatsoever between the two.

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