Consider the challenges in your life as “on the job training.”
The second thing we can do to receive Dharma teachings all of the time is to view the challenges we face in life as our “on the job training.” There is a profound difference between learning by listening and learning by doing. The progression of learning is always first realizing we don’t know something we need to know, then it is listening to those who do know how to do it and then finally it is doing it ourselves. It is only when we can do it ourselves that we actually know what we are talking about it. Educationalists encourage us all to become lifelong learners. Learning should not stop when school does, rather schools should teach us how to learn from life. It is exactly the same for Dharma centers. We go to Dharma centers because we realize we don’t know something we need to know, namely how to control our mind and create reliable causes of happiness. At the center we listen to those who have more experience with training their mind explain how it is done. Then when we leave the center our job is to go put it into practice in our daily lives. It is only when we do so that we come to discover the real meaning of what was taught.
In the beginning of our schooling, we spend most of our time in the classroom, but the higher we go in our studies the more we are expected to learn on our own. In Primary school, we spend all of our time in the classroom and have virtually no homework. By the time we get to college, this is reversed where we have several hours of homework for each hour spent in class. Then, we are kicked out into the real world and expected to start actually doing things. If we later go to graduate school, we then are guided how to do research ourselves and generate new knowledge or experience which can then be shared with others. It is exactly the same with our Dharma studies. When we first go to General Program classes, we spend almost all of our time listening and nothing is expected of us when we go home. We come, we go, we do our thing. When we are on Foundation Program we are expected to do homework, studying before class, reviewing for the exams, memorizing the root texts and leading discussions in the class. We are then kicked out into the real world of our lives and are forced to actually put the Dharma we have learned into practice. More and more of our Dharma training becomes learning by doing. If we later want to become a Dharma teacher, we then might go to the graduate school of Teacher Training Program where we are guided how to do spiritual research ourselves to generate new knowledge or experience which can then be shared with others in our teachings. This does not mean we invent our own Dharma – not at all – rather it means we go through the week putting the Dharma into practice and gaining new insight within our own mind as to its meaning, and when we share that insight and experience with others during our teachings.
Our job as Kadampas is to become the bodhisattvas of this world. We all know the technical definition of a bodhisattva is somebody who strives to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all. But that can sometimes be a bit abstract and we lose the feeling for what it means. I read a newspaper article once about Buddhism, and the journalist explained that a bodhisattva is basically a “Buddhist Saint.” That pretty much sums it up in ways that we can understand. Modern Kadampas, therefore, are those striving to be modern Buddhist Saints. For whatever karmic reason, I have a lot of Mormon friends. Mormons often refer to themselves as “LDS,” which stands for “latter-day Saints.” I asked a particularly pure Mormon friend of mine what this means. He said, “a Saint is somebody who tries to do everything right, abandon everything wrong, and they have dedicated their life to the service of others. A latter-day Saint is somebody who does that today.” Pretty much sums the modern Kadampa path up nicely. Modern Kadampas are to Buddhism what Mormons are to Christianity. The parallels between the two are striking for those willing to learn from the experience of Mormonism in this world.
As we go through our life, we will be confronted with an endless variety of challenges, some short and easy, others long and very hard. Our job as we go through these challenges is to attempt to be a “latter-day Saint.” We are “learning by doing.” We are thrown out into the world as baby bodhisattvas and we can view the rest of our life as our “on the job training.” A former student of mine was a personal physical trainer. His job was to work with people one-on-one to help them design and engage in the physical exercise regime they needed to get in shape and be in good health. In the beginning, his clients wouldn’t exercise if he wasn’t there. Going to his sessions was what motivated them to actually exercise. But during his sessions, his focus was training them so that they could perform their regime on their own without him being there. This required transmitting to them not just what they need to do but why they needed to do it. He measured his success by no longer being needed – in other words, his clients were able to carry on regularly without them. In Germany today and throughout history, most learning occurred through a system of apprenticeships. Young apprentices would study under some master craftsman. The craftsman job was to train the apprentice, teaching them everything they knew, until eventually the apprentice is able to set out on their own as a craftsman. They would then work for many years until they too became a master craftsman, and then they would start taking on new apprentices themselves.
We are exactly the same. Each challenge is, for us, a Dharma teaching on how to apply the Dharma we have previously learned. If we have put our faith in the spiritual master craftsman of Dorje Shugden, he will take us on as his young spiritual apprentice. He will give us spiritual tasks, exercises or jobs to do with the express purpose of giving us the experience we need to be able to do things ourselves. Eventually he forges us into spiritual craftsmen ourselves, and sometimes even master spiritual craftsmen who can then help train others ourselves. Dorje Shugden will make sure we get to the center or festival when we need to. In between those times, our job is to apply the Dharma we have learned. Sometimes we will receive formal teachings daily, sometimes it may be years between our formal teachings, but regardless we can be confident we are being given the challenges we need and by learning to apply the Dharma to whatever arises we will be gaining the realizations we need. Our mind and our habits will change. Because of this, when we do go back to the center, we will understand the Dharma at a whole new level. If our karma then shifts where we once again have regular access to teachings, it will be because it is time, once again, to go back to school or back to the workshop for more instruction.