Vows, commitments and modern life:  Don’t be a pretentious ass like me

Pretending to be a Yogi while remaining imperfect.

We incur this downfall if we claim to be a great Tantric Yogi or Yogini just because we know how to perform Tantric rituals.

I am sure there is some technical definition at which point somebody officially becomes a yogi or yogini, perhaps when they have attained some tantric yogic direct perceivers.  We jokingly refer to people who are really extraordinary practitioners as being “a real yogi” or “a real yogini,” but we know when we say such things it is just a Dharma way of giving a compliment.

However, unfortunately, pretending we are a better practitioner than we actually are is quite common.  There are many reasons why we do this, all of them wrong.

I remember when I first started practicing Dharma, I took to it very quickly.  People would say, “oh, you have a lot of imprints.”  Hearing this, I generated all sorts of pride thinking I was really special.  So unconsciously, I played the part of pretending to be better than I was because it won me praise and compliments.

Before my first festival, it was a time when Geshe-la would still meet with people from centers as a group.  So I gathered everyone in the center together and organized that we collect mandala offerings so that he would meet with us.  I can’t remember how many we collected, but it was a lot and our request was granted, and I thought it’s all because of me, aren’t I so great.  But then, at the festival itself, the meeting was cancelled and I felt spurned – didn’t Geshe-la know what a great practitioner I was, surely he should meet with me.

Later, we went to open up a new branch in Los Angeles.  The center in Los Angeles was actually originally a branch of Santa Barbara, and I remember when we first started.  I taught a couple of classes and led a few meditations, and carried myself off like I was some great practitioner with the students to try inspire them, but in reality my motivation for teaching was polluted by pride and attachment to what other people think of me.

When I went to Paris, my teacher was Gen Lhamo.  She is an incredibly powerful teacher and I really wanted her to like me and think I was a great practitioner.  I thought if she thought I had no problems and was all stable and wise then she would like me more and spend more time with me.  But actually, she saw right through me and instead ignored me in an incredibly skillful way which basically said, “if you have no problems, then I guess you don’t need me.”

When I was in Geneva, I was resident teacher, I was the moderator of NKT-chat, and I was organizing NKTforKids, the early days of Dharma for kids in the tradition.  I thought I was making cosmic contributions to the tradition!  I organized for there to be child care in what used to be the Creperie during the teachings so parents can attend the teachings.  At that time, Geshe-la used to walk through the Creperie on his way to the temple, and there I was waiting for him to pass by.  I was sure when he saw me, he would be filled with delight happy with all I was doing, but instead when he saw me, he rolled his eyes almost in disgust and he blew his nose right as he walked by me not giving me a second look.  I was instantly reminded of Atisha’s advice of blowing away attachment to praise and reputation as we would our nose.  Wrathful, yes; but powerful teaching.

When I first became resident teacher I thought I had to put on a show of being without fault, thinking that I was helping people generate faith in me, and this faith would then help them get more out of the Dharma.  But then Kadam Morten told me once, “there are two types of master, those that show the final result and those that show the path of getting there; and of the two, the latter is more beneficial.”

When I had been moderating NKT-chat for a few years, answering lots of people’s questions, I came to think I was so skilled at explaining Dharma and I knew so much.  I was talking with Kadam Lucy once, asking her questions and she was providing wonderful answers.  I then thanked her for answering all my questions, and I said how nice it was to have somebody who could do so.  She then said, “well what about on NKT-chat, why don’t you ask your questions there.”  I said, “I answer people’s questions there, I can’t get answers there.”  She then said without missing a beat, “funny, I find I have something to learn from everybody who posts there.”

When the Gen-la Samden scandal broke, afterwards Gen-la Khyenrab became the General Spiritual Director.  He spent much of that summer teaching about the dangers of pretention, and how when we pretend to be better than we are, all we do is wind up repressing our delusions until eventually they blow in some dramatic fashion.  This, to me, was one of the most powerful lessons we have as a tradition on the dangers of pretention.

Again and again, my Dharma career has been one episode after another where I thought I was better than I actually was, I overstepped, and then fell flat on my face.  I am sure there will be many more such episodes.  All of this is wrong of course.  Geshe-la is very clear in the lamrim teachings that when we listen to Dharma we should do so with an acute awareness of just how sick we are with delusions.  It is humility that makes us great and pride that makes us fall.

13 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Don’t be a pretentious ass like me

  1. I like the way you use yourself as the example :). I don’t know you, so I assume you are being modest, but it is still nice of you. It’s really cool that you got to see Geshe-la; I feel really connected to Dorje Shugden, like he is here with me, which is really very helpful in case I would enter the bardo at any second, I guess. I don’t know if it is inauspicious I never got to meet Geshe-la in person. I think it is kind of strange, since I met so many other teachers in person, from so many traditions. At any rate, I hope that Dorje Shugden won’t leave me because I won’t know what to do…. I am not able to teach Dharma or anything, but I wish I could teach with the voice of Geshe-la/Dorje Shugden and I wish I could meet Geshe-la.

    • Dorje Shugden will never leave you because all of the attainments we desire arise from merely remembering him. As soon as you remember him, he is there – solid as a rock. On meeting Geshe-la, this has been a 20 year obsession of mine as well, and what this 20 years has taught me is that he is with me every day. Not having that face-to-face meeting enables me to learn how to be with him always.

      • Question: I was not in NKT till 2009— this Samden or someone– was he a GSD before Khyenrab?

  2. I’m sure we can all relate to this at some level. Thank you for your humble teaching. You are a blessing to all of us!

    • The Samden guy was GSD? So he left because he did some scandal…. so then we have a past GSD that broke w tradition by breaking vows? I only ask for info— sadly this sort of thing can happen in Buddhism— I figure it was Geshe-la emanating to show us what not to do, so we don’t get in a bad karma situation.

      • Correction, he wasn’t GSD, he was DSD at the time. But yes, he was the one before Khyenrab. Yes, things like this happen. Delusions are incredibly powerful things, and they can overwhelm even the most deeply experienced practitioners. The main point is we need to make a distinction between what the teachings teach us to do and what we as individual practitioners are capable of doing. The teachings always point the way, sometimes we as practitioners go the wrong way. Our going the wrong way doesn’t invalidate the teachings, rather it shows why we need to still practice. Yes, I completely agree with you, it was Geshe-la emanating to show us what not to do. Samden was a truly amazing teacher, and in many ways his end was his greatest teaching of all – even if he didn’t intend it that way. His mistakes don’t take away his many qualities or his fabulous teachings. His mistakes, like all of our own, are simply part of the Guru’s teachings in this world.

  3. Thank you for answering :). Yes, I think Geshe-la was showing us we don’t put up with this stuff from our teachers; that you know someone in a position of power can be wrong. So that one broke like monks vows– celibacy ones; we also shouldn’t put up with anyone putting a bunch of teachers in who don’t teach Geshe-la’s stuff but might be from the Dalai Lama, for instance. Like if they break the Dorje Shugden heart commitment we need to toss them. No matter how high up they may be 😉

  4. One more question– Ryan– if you don’t mind– how exactly did you guys get rid of Samden when you knew he was doing something he shouldn’t do?

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