If there is a center in our area but for other reasons we do not have regular access to it, there are many things we can still do. First, we should try, if we can, to make it to at least one big festival per year; or every other year, or every fifth year, something, anything, whatever our karma will allow. Going to a festival when we haven’t been to one for some time functions to put our spiritual train back on the tracks and realigns ourselves with the general flow of the tradition in this world. We are able to receive oral transmission blessings (vitally important and vastly underappreciated), reconnect with our spiritual friends, have one-on-one meetings with our Dharma teachers, rediscover our love of Dharma, remember why spiritual practice is important, receive profound teachings and of course let go of attachment to a warm shower! We should never make the mistake of thinking if we can’t do it all we shouldn’t do anything. A little is always better than nothing. Likewise, in our local area, we should try make it to the center whenever our karma allows, even if that is only once a year – even if it is just to touch base. If we have strained relationships with everybody at the center, go when nobody is around, do the offering bowls in the gompa, sit and have a private conversation with Geshe-la’s picture, clean the bathroom and then slip out before anybody even knows you were there if you have to. The point is make it a priority to keep the link alive.
For whatever reason, many people are unable to keep all of the different commitments of the study programs; and some teachers and center administrators will unskillfully tell such people if they can’t do it all they can’t do anything. But even if that is the case, we can sometimes still do classes by correspondence. When we do do classes by correspondence, we should try to make it to the center at least once a year, or even just do a Skype meeting with our teacher for the oral transmission blessings of the condensed meaning of the text. We can also perhaps do the Special Teacher Training Program through London. There are also quite a few YouTube videos of excerpts of festival teachings. Fortunately, there are now a wide variety of Facebook groups for Kadampas, such as Students and Followers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Kadampa Prayer Request and Kadampa Rejoicing Group. These groups enable us to maintain daily karmic connection with our Sangha friends around the world, ask Dharma questions, make prayer requests and rejoice in the spiritual practices of fellow Kadampas worldwide. Social media websites are not inherently good or bad, it is how we use them that determines their meaning in our lives.
The function of training in our refuge vows is to maintain the continuum of our spiritual practice without interruption between now and our eventual enlightenment. Keeping our vows karmically functions to place a spiritual safety net underneath us so that we do not fall from our precious human life. What makes our life precious is the opportunity it affords us to practice Dharma. It is perfectly possible for our spiritual life to die before our physical life does, but keeping our refuge vows protects us from that fate. Geshe-la has synthesized our refuge commitments into three: make effort to receive blessings from Buddha, make effort to put the Dharma into practice and make effort to receive help from Sangha. How to receive blessings will be discussed extensively in later posts. Here, I will focus on practically what it means to make effort to practice Dharma and to receive help from our Sangha friends in the context of not having regular access to a Dharma center.
Our ultimate refuge is our own practice of Dharma. Buddha and Sangha are like special helpers. Broadly speaking, to practice Dharma means to use the Dharma to solve our inner problems of delusions and negative karma. Every time we put effort into practicing Dharma we create the causes to encounter it again in the future. This is the most valuable karma we can create for ourselves, because only Dharma can provide us with a lasting solution to our problems. Our most important Dharma practice is our daily, formal meditation practice. We should view this as the core activity of our life. We would scarcely go a day without eating or sleeping, in a similar way we should almost never go a day without engaging in our formal meditation practice. We almost never neglect to charge our mobile phone for the day, how much more so should we not neglect our daily practice. In the final analysis, either we organize our meditation practice around our day or we organize our day around our meditation practice. If we do the former, it is almost impossible to maintain a consistent daily practice; and without a consistent daily practice, progress along the path is nearly impossible. The Grand Canyon was carved by a small amount of water running consistently over a very long period of time.