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.
6 thoughts on “Making progress when access to a center is difficult: Motivation for series”
Thanks for starting this series. I am looking forward to it; frankly, I have very odd circumstances; I was very involved in the erm “NKT” Center in my area— we have had changes that made it clear to me that some people who came there to make these changes are against Dorje Shugden and Ven. Geshe-la. They teach FPMT, zen, etc.. teachings. Any mention of such a thing gets one banned from the NKT community at large as no one is allowed to talk, since Geshe-la retired about anything negative regarding our spiritual life. I am honestly writing, that I do not think everyone in the upper management of the NKT— like our current GSD— and I hope you will let this remain posted— is really a sincere follower of Ven. Geshe-la or Dorje Shugden— otherwise why would there be such censure of people asking to keep the heart commitment? Your school, and I am a very unwelcome Shugden person in it, makes people feel they are disharmonious for not agreeing with people who are essentially following the Dalai Lama— which is not how Geshe-la ever argues. I do not understand, with Geshe-la being the 1st on the Dalai Lama’s hit list, how we would be so “mystified” that some people might stay with us for a very long time— since the inception of the school just to infiltrate and keep an eye on us. I mean spying is no big deal compared to murder, and the DL has our lama on the head of the hit list. I do feel very unwelcome– mostly because the DL people in this school want that and no one is strong enough to stand up to their lies. I hope you will let this remain posted; frankly that we cannot voice what is happening is more and more of the DL taking over all four schools stuff— we need to stand up for ourselves within our school, not just when we tell (rightly) the FDL to stop lying.
I first read “Meaningful to Behold” around 1988, when I was in my early 30’s. I waded through much of the esoterica, but it left a deep impression on me. Fast forward to now, I’m turning 60 in October, and after 2 decades of commitment to Eastern Christianity, my attraction to Kelsan Gyatso’s writings has returned. Then, I find this Dorje Shugden controversy to be front and center. Is there any way to get past this? Do I have to hate the DL?
No, of course not, you don’t have to hate the Dalai Lama, you should love him instead. My view is very simple: he is known to be a beacon of peace, tolerance and religious freedom. I view it as an act of love for him to ask him to live up to the ideals he is known for. Our job is to become a better person, practice love, compassion, patience, kindness, etc. Focus your efforts on that. Some people take to protesting, some people don’t, some people make quiet prayers for harmony. We each respond in our own way according to our understanding of the teachings, and we respect that everyone else is doing the same in their own way.
Thank you. Your reply is very helpful.
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