This series of posts is written for the benefit of all those who, for whatever reason, are unable to have regular access to a Dharma center and Dharma teachings. I have attempted to gather in one place my own experience and understanding for how it is not only possible to continue to make progress when access to a center is difficult, but it is also possible to spiritually thrive. This series is additionally written in the hope that those who do have regular access to a Dharma center might be able to better understand, accept and help those who don’t. It will hopefully also be useful for all practitioners who wish to receive a constant stream of Dharma teachings every day. This is not to say Dharma centers are not important, rather it is to say our understanding of them is too narrow. Our Spiritual Guide is providing all of us without exception access to Dharma centers and Dharma teachings every single day, regardless of how the world might conventionally appear to us.
The kindness of our Spiritual Guide in establishing Dharma centers, temples and study programs around the world is unequaled. Without this basic spiritual infrastructure we would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make the journey to enlightenment. Through his provision of these things, he has created for us magical transporters that connect our home towns to the city of enlightenment. Gen-la Losang said Dharma centers are like Embassies of the Pure Land in this world. Dharma centers accomplish two main functions. First, they provide us with regular access to qualified teachings; and second, they provide a focal point for connecting with and building up pure spiritual communities in this world. Venerable Tharchin says a Dharma center is not the bricks and mortar, though they of course matter, rather a Dharma center is the “collection of spiritual realizations of its practitioners bound together by their mutual love for one another.” When we understand the nature of samsara, there is quite literally nothing more precious in this world than this basic spiritual infrastructure.
For a wide variety of reasons, though, not everyone has easy access to a Dharma center and Dharma teachings. Some people simply live far away from the closest center, some live in countries where Dharma centers are not allowed, some lack the financial means to get to and participate in the center’s activities, some have family or work obligations which make it difficult to come to the center as often as they would like. Some people have physical constraints which prevent them from coming, such as disabilities, illness or old age. Some people have mental constraints, such as strong delusions, wrong views, or simply a failure to understand the importance of receiving teachings or being involved with a spiritual community. Some people may simply lack the karma to be able to make it to the center, others may love the teachings but may have strained relationships with certain members of the Sangha or the institution of the “NKT.” Some people, sadly, are simply not made to feel welcome at their local Dharma center, even though our Spiritual Guide has made it clear that the sign hanging over the center door reads, “Everybody Welcome.” Whatever the reasons, it happens that practitioners will sometimes find it difficult to have regular access to Dharma teachings and a Dharma center.
When this happens, it can be a real problem for people. They can come to view everything in their life that prevents them from making it to the center as an obstacle to their spiritual progress, giving rise to all sorts of anxiety, worry, inner turmoil and family conflict. They then wrongly conclude that they cannot practice Dharma, and either postpone or even abandon their spiritual life. It does not help that some of those who do have regular access to a Dharma center, including some teachers, lack the spiritual imagination to see how one can transform such a circumstance into the path. As a result, those who do lack regular access can feel judged as lacking spiritual commitment or looked down upon as being spiritually lazy. Since their teachers or spiritual friends are assenting to the view that there is only one way of fully committing oneself to the practice of Dharma, people who cannot live their life in that image continue to grasp at these constraints as inherently being obstacles to their spiritual practice. Like old people and some other marginalized groups I have written about before, people whose access to a center is difficult “experience many special sorrows.” In my view, all of this is completely unnecessary.
To understand why, in this series of posts I will first attempt to dispel some wrong views about spiritual life when access to a center is difficult, then I will explain some practical steps we can take to make manifest a Dharma center in our life. I will then explain how we can receive individualized Dharma teachings through our every experience, and I will conclude by sharing some special advice Geshe-la has given us for how to receive perfectly reliable inner guidance from him every day.