Vows, commitments and modern life:  Choosing your friends wisely

Relying upon malevolent friends.

We incur this downfall by allowing ourself to come under the influence of people who criticize the Three Jewels or our Spiritual Guide, who harm the Buddhadharma, or who interfere with the spiritual practice of many living beings.  Mentally we should develop love and compassion for such people, but we should not become too close to them physically or verbally.  We also incur this downfall if we have the power to help such people through pure wrathful actions but we do not attempt to do so.

On the one hand, it is true there are no external enemies, there are only the internal enemies of the delusions.  It is likewise true that we are advised to love all living beings without exception, view others as being without faults, etc.  But this does not mean we pretend there are not those who conventionally appear to have a clear intent to harm us, criticize our tradition, harm the Buddhadharma or otherwise interfere with the sincere practice of others.  Of course, as Geshe-la said, love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies, but this does not mean we don’t correctly identify a threat as a threat and conventionally respond accordingly.

People who criticize the three jewels or interfere with the faith and practice of others are creating a terrible negative karma for themselves.  Most criticisms of other paths occurs because people fail to realize the simple maxim of “different strokes for different folks.”  The diversity of mental dispositions is almost infinite, so it is only natural that there will be many different ways of presenting the spiritual path.  Just because one spiritual path works for us does not mean it is the best spiritual path for everybody.  Likewise, just because our chosen path says one thing does not mean every other path is wrong if it says something different.

The heart commitment of Dorje Shugden is to “follow one tradition purely without mixing, while respecting all other paths as valid for those who follow them.”  In other words, we have our bread, you have yours, let’s all get along and respect one another.  If somebody practices differently than we do, we should be happy for them if they have found a path that works for them.  But there is no need whatsoever to put down, criticize or judge the spiritual choices of another.

While we may realize this to be the correct attitude, others may continue to criticize us, our teachings, our Spiritual Guides, and they may engage in all sorts of speech whose express purpose is to interfere with the spiritual path of others.  Of course the other person will internally justify their actions on the grounds that they are saving others from what they consider a bad tradition, but this just belies their failure to understand different paths will work for different people, and that is perfectly OK.

Unless we have a valid reason for doing so, it is best to simply avoid contact with such people.  The reasons for this are as follows:  First, when we associate with anybody, unless we are careful with our mind, we naturally become socialized into the views of others.  If we hang out with people who routinely engage in negativity, we will start to do so as well; if we spend time with our Sangha friends, we will become more like them; if we engage with people who are critical of our spiritual practice, we will come to share their views.  Second, if we try refute their wrong views about our spiritual practice, then they will feel the need to respond to our refutations.  Thus every time we speak with them, all we really do is create the causes for them to create further negative karma for themselves by engaging in divisive speech.

But sometimes we can’t avoid such people.  At such times, our first task is to not allow ourselves to be adversely affected by their speech or their actions.  This is not an easy thing to do.  When we encounter their wrong views, we need to confront the doubts that arise within our own mind.  If we do not resolve our doubts, they will just fester and grow like a cancer, eventually devouring our spiritual life.  We should seek out Sangha friends we trust and have faith in, and with them try work through our doubts and see things differently.  Likewise, we should constantly request wisdom blessings so as to be able to cut through all doubts.

The only reason why it is painful to hear harsh things said about our Spiritual Guide or our tradition is because we still have unresolved doubts.  When all of our doubts have been fully and effectively resolved (which is different than repressed), then we will have no difficulty hearing anything and it won’t disturb our mind at all.  The more doubts we resolve within ourselves, the more capable we are of safely interacting with those with hostile intent without falling under their influence.

One very common occurrence is when we ourselves start making the exact same mistakes as our “adversary,” just in different ways.  Nine times out of ten, whoever is accusing somebody of doing something is most likely doing that same thing themselves.  Venerable Tharchin said, “just as rejoicing creates the causes for ourselves to become that what we rejoice in, so too criticizing others out of delusions creates the causes for ourselves to become that which we criticize.”  It takes tremendous wisdom, a very clear compassionate motivation and great inner strength for this not to happen.

If we possess such strength, then we will have the ability to engage in “pure wrathful actions” against those who are criticizing our tradition.  Our motivation for doing so is to protect the other person from creating negative karma for themselves, and to protect others so that their faith is not destroyed.  But we must be careful, because if we are unskillful, we can very easily defeat ourselves where we tell ourselves we are acting “wrathfully” but in reality we are driven by anger.  If this happens, the benefits of our actions are completely destroyed.  We accumulate negative karma, cause the other person to retaliate also out of anger, and cause others to lose faith in us because we are seen as a hypocrite.

None of this is easy.  This is a very advanced form of practice.  If we currently lack the ability to do this perfectly, it’s OK.  What matters is that we try, check our mistakes, learn our lessons and try better next time.  Eventually, we will get there.

3 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Choosing your friends wisely

  1. Thanks for clarifying because is can be SO MISUSED by people who maybe aren’t really with our guru who have the wrong intent. This is the reason, I take it that no one will talk to me, after I mentioned, that people were teaching zen (mixing, against the Dorje Shugden heart commitment) in the local Sangha. I guess, these people who are really adverse to our real lineage guru, Ven. Geshe-la, have decided people like me, who notice that we were being taught other traditions, are accusing people of such heinous acts that we are seen as criticizing their guru (even though Geshe-la said to keep the heart commitment to Dorje Shugden) and even though these people are not doing what Geshe-la said, still, we are considered against Geshe-la if we are against people who break the Shugden heart commitment, thus we are malevolent friends. So if someone lets people teach zen, that is okay, according to them, but I must be shunned, along with my child, for trying to keep the Dorje SHugden heart commitment in our Sangha.

    • I don’t know the specifics of your situation, so I can’t comment on it per se. What people do in their own practice is their choice and it is not up to us to judge or interfere with it. But it is not unreasonable to expect somebody who presents themselves as a Kadampa teacher in a Kadampa center to teach Kadampa instructions. This does not mean, however, that we can’t use anything and everything to shed light on the meaning of the Kadampa. For example, people know the Beatles, so using a Beatles song people know to highlight and clarify the meaning of something in the Kadampa is not mixing, it is using skillful means. Geshe-la uses the example of Christ (something we generally know) to illustrate the meaning of taking and giving. Zen (something people usually know something about) can be used to illustrate some of the meanings of Mahamudra practice. Teaching Zen as Zen in a Kadampa center would not be correct. Teaching Mahamudra using Zen as an analogy in a Kadampa center is totally OK. What people do in their personal practice is entirely their choice.

  2. We were read to from a zen book on one occasion (a kids’ one) and on other occasions were taught zen/tao style meditations in stead of anything from Je Tsongkahpa/Geshe-la. It wasn’t like oh it’s similar to zen— its like the people who avoided Shugden practice for several years (until the most recent rt showed up) all taught stuff that was not the right transmission. I wrote the Ed council/GSD/DSD for two years, and recieved no reply or any form of communication about it, not even to explain what was going on. We are up to our eyeballs in people who aren’t really teaching Geshe-la’s stuff at this point. when I finally got a response, it was rude, from a functionary in the NKT, telling me not to write him again or he will call the police. Geshe-la wrote me subsequently, in response to my request that they not call the police, and informed me that he had asked the guy please not to call the police. I don’t see how that is a police worthy complaint— that they aren’t teaching Geshe-la’s stuff, no one can write back for 2 years, and then I get some ridiculous response from one of the people who probably like the zen stuff. I love Geshe-la’s teachings, I love Dorje Shugden practice, but I do not like being given teachers who blatantly and openly teach other dharmas and then be ignored about it by the Manjushri office. It is wasting people’s precious human rebirths if we replace our pure transmissions with zen and other mixing. If people in charge will not hold the heart commitment to Shugden and Tsongkhapa better than this, then I am believe we are supposed to call them out on it, if we see it and are holding the heart commitment ourselves. It is convenient to call a person a malevolent friend for saying that these are not Geshe-la’s teachings? That has to be a mis-use of Dharma– Geshe-la doesn’t act like that– Geshe-la explains and debates people— he doesn’t ignore and oppress us.

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