Receiving constant Dharma teachings through your life
The teachings on refuge explain that the Dharma is our ultimate refuge. Why? Because our real problem is our deluded mind and the actions we engage in under the influence of delusions, and Dharma realizations function to bring our mind under control and our actions in line with the causes of happiness. Buddha and Sangha help us to gain Dharma realizations by providing us teachings and inspiration. The principal function of a Dharma center is to provide Dharma teachings. The main reason why we go to Dharma centers is to receive teachings on how to change our mind and become a better, happier person. But if we do not have regular access to a Dharma center, what can we do? Even if we do have regular access to a Dharma center, we still are only able to receive Dharma teachings perhaps a few hours a week. What about the rest of the time? What follows is an extensive explanation for how we can receive Dharma teachings all of the time, anywhere and in any circumstance. If we can learn how to do this, there is no doubt we will make swift progress along the path. How can we do so?
Embrace all of our responsibilities as our Dharma teachings.
Je Tsongkhapa says in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path that if we understand emptiness correctly, it will confirm the truth of karma; and if we understand karma correctly, it will confirm the truth of emptiness. What is the bridge between these two? The answer is personal responsibility for everything.
The teachings on karma explain that our every experience is an effect of which our previous actions are the cause. It explains that the laws of karma are definite, specific causes produce specific effects and without the cause being created an effect will never arise. Everything that happens to us is the result of our karma. Some people misunderstand karma to mean everything is pre-determined and there is nothing we can do. But Kadam Bjorn once said, “if you don’t like your karma, change it.” If we change our actions, we will change our karma, and therefore change our experience. Instead of blaming others for our plight, we accept full responsibility for our own experience. We can quite literally karmically engineer any future of our choosing. The conclusion of an understanding of karma is we need to assume full responsibility for everything.
The teachings on emptiness explain that everything is a projection of mind, like a dream, a hologram or a hallucination. Nothing is actually there. The things we normally see do not exist at all. We normally see a world that exists out there, functioning and existing in a way completely independent of our mind and the way we perceive it. We think if our mind wasn’t there, the world would continue to exist and function just as it is and nothing would actually change. We think changing our mind about things changes nothing since things are as they are. Such a world does not exist at all. In reality, the way we project the world is the world itself. There is no world other than the one we project. The teachings on emptiness reveal that the only difference between last night’s dream and our waking existence is which mind is doing the dreaming. Our subtle mind dreams last night’s dream; and our waking mind dreams our waking “reality.” Both are equally, and 100%, mere projections of mind – both are mere dreams to different levels of mind. Other than that, there is no difference at all. Geshe-la says there is no creator other than mind. Normally we think his point is to refute the theistic conceptions of God. But his meaning is much deeper. If there is no creator other than mind, it means our own mind is the creator of all. What does this mean? It means we are responsible for everything. If last night we dreamt of somebody in a wheelchair, who put them there? Surely we did because we are the one who dreamt them that way. In the same way, if we saw somebody in our waking reality in a wheelchair, who put them there? Surely we did because we are the one who is dreaming them that way. At present, we have mentally constructed a samsara. But samsara and nirvana are equally empty – both are merely different ways of projecting the world, one projected by delusion which is the nature of suffering, the other projected by wisdom and compassion which is the nature of great bliss. If we can construct a samsara, we can reconstruct a pure land simply by projecting the world differently. We are personally responsible for all the suffering of all the beings in our dream. We are responsible for everything.
What distinguishes great compassion from bodhichitta is assuming personal responsibility for freeing others from their suffering. In reality, the real nature of bodhichitta is not compassion, it is the superior intention willing to assume responsibility for everything. Thus we see assuming personal responsibility for everything is the point of intersection between the vast and the profound path, and between Sutra and Tantra. Things that conventionally appear to be our responsibility are, in a very real sense, the same nature as all of the Dharma. Assuming responsibility for what appears to be our responsibility is, in a very real sense, the very meaning of Dharma practice. When our father talks to us about assuming responsibility for things, this is quite superficial compared to what our Spiritual father is talking about. Assuming personal responsibility for everything runs completely counter to every delusion within our mind.
While we are ultimately responsible for everything, it suffices to begin by assuming personal responsibility for those things that appear to be our responsibility, whether that is taking care of our kids, paying the mortgage, servicing our clients or doing the dishes. We have responsibilities to our homes, our work, our Dharma centers, our local community, the environment, our society and even our country. Our delusions will resist assuming these responsibilities with a myriad of excuses. Learning how to see through these deluded excuses and mustering the inner strength to assume our responsibilities is, as we have seen, the very meaning of putting the Dharma into practice. Each responsibility, therefore, is our personal Dharma teaching. Like with our love, we begin by assuming small responsibilities for things around us, but we gradually expand the scope of our feeling of personal responsibility until it encompasses everything. Since there is never a time when we are not responsible for something, there is never a time when we do not have access to Dharma teachings. Like with our local centers, the only real question is whether we show up to the teaching or not. Like with any Dharma teaching, the only real question is whether we take on board its lessons or not.
The doubt may arise, “but how do I distinguish between those responsibilities which are my Dharma teachings and samsara’s endless tasks?” This is an important question. There are two answers. First, a task is a samsaric one only if our objective in engaging in it is deluded. In and of themselves, every task is equally empty. If we think the external outcome of the completion of the task is, in and of itself, a cause of our happiness and we seek to complete the task for that reason, then we are engaging in one of samsara’s endless tasks. We are chasing the end of Samsara’s rainbow. In contrast, if we view the process of completing the task as an opportunity to work on overcoming the delusions in our mind that arise as we do the work, then that same task becomes receiving a Dharma teaching. Second, Dorje Shugden’s job is to arrange for us all of the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment. If we request him to, he will arrange things in such a way that whatever appears to be our responsibility are the very tasks we need to do. Externally, what we are doing is often of little consequence, but internally our doing it is providing us constant teachings about our mind and about the meaning of putting the Dharma into practice.