Vows, commitments and modern life:  The greatest gift of all 

To give Dharma.

Here the commitment is to remember six times every day that it is our duty to help others through giving Dharma.  Even if we cannot give formal Dharma teachings we can take every opportunity to help others by giving them spiritual advice in skillful ways.  We should likewise dedicate our spiritual practice to others, imagining we are practicing on their behalf.  Finally, we can practice the yoga of purifying migrators.  These will now be explained in turn.

Skillfully giving Dharma advice.

Giving material things is good, but ultimately the benefit we can provide by doing so if quite limited.  At most, we can help people in this life alone.  Just because it is limited in scope does not mean we shouldn’t still do it, but we should not stop there thinking it is sufficient.  Giving Dharma advice helps people not only in this life, but it helps them in all of their future lives.  It not only helps them reduce their problems, but it gives them a chance to become permanently free from them.  In reality, there is no more beneficial form of giving possible.

If our giving of Dharma is to truly be beneficial, we must do so in a skillful way.  If we give Dharma unskillfully, even if we give perfectly pure Dharma and give the other person exactly the advice that they need, others will reject what we have to say.  Far from helping them, we will actually harm them because they will now create the karmic habits of rejecting the Dharma.  Therefore, it is vital that we strive to be increasingly skillful in how we give Dharma advice.

In my view, the number one rule of skillfully giving Dharma advice is, “if others aren’t asking for your advice, don’t give it.”  Others do not have to formally ask, but we need to use our judgment to assess whether the other person is at least implicitly seeking our counsel or perspective.  The second rule is we should have no attachment whatsoever to the other person following our advice.  If we believe our happiness depends on the other person following our advice, then they will feel our giving advice is actually us trying to manipulate or change them.  All of us naturally resist when others try to manipulate or change us.  Instead, we should feel that the other person not changing actually suits us just fine because of all of the opportunities it gives us to work on our own mind.  The third rule in skillfully giving Dharma is we should only explain the general Dharma principle, but leave it up to others to determine for themselves how to apply that principle in their own lives.  We can tell stories about past experiences of ourselves or others we know, we can affirm certain Dharma truths, but we leave it up to others to form their own conclusions about what it all means for them and their situation.  The reason for this is simple:  when it is their conclusion that they reached themselves, they own it and they will follow it.  Dharma only works when we put it into practice from our own side knowing it is good for us.

Dedicating our practice for others.

Dedication is essentially the means by which give away the merit we have accumulated through our practice.  Philanthropists make money so that they can give it away.  We accumulate merit so that we can give it away.  Giving away our merit is like creating within our mind an inexhaustible fountain of good karma.  The more we give, the more we accumulate, and then the more we can give.

If we check, making dedications and making prayers are essentially the same thing.  Perhaps that is why they are called “dedication prayers.”  It is of course good to dedicate that people are freed from their troubles, cured of all illnesses, unencumbered by obstacles, etc.  But it is even better to dedicate that peoples troubles, illnesses and obstacles become causes of their swiftest possible enlightenment.  Troubles, illness and obstacles are only problems when we lack the means to transform them.  If we possess the wisdom and strength of mind to transform them, such adversities are actually the strongest fuel we have pushing us along the path.  The highest thing we can pray for is that the Dharma flourish in the minds of living beings.  Only Dharma realizations can provide us with lasting protection from all suffering, only Dharma realizations can survive death.

Engaging in the yoga of purifying migrators.

If last night we dreamt of somebody in a wheelchair, we should ask ourselves, “who put them there?”  Surely, since it is our dream, we did.  In the same way, if the entire waking world is nothing but a karmic dream, who created all of this suffering?  Surely, since it is our dream, we did.  Realizing this incorrectly can lead to a crushing form of guilt, realizing this correctly can lead to a vajra-like confidence that all of our bodhichitta wishes can be realized.  If we can make a world of suffering, then we can also unmake it.  In fact, we can karmically reconstruct this world of suffering into a pure land.  The method for doing so is the yoga of purifying migrators.

When we mentally transform somebody else into a Buddha several things happen.  First, the Buddhas enter their mind, blessing them to move in the direction of enlightenment.  Second, we counter our own ordinary appearances and conceptions of the person, thus producing within our mind only virtue when we relate to them.  Third, since they are nothing more than a mere karmic appearance to mind, by viewing them in this way we plant the karma on our mind that will ripen in the future in the form of them directly appearing – even to themselves – as a Buddha.  In this way, little by little, we karmically reconstruct the world into a pure land.

Understanding all of this, it is clear there is no higher form of giving than skillfully giving Dharma.

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