In French, there is a very good phrase for describing those people who are close to us in life, namely our friends, family, work colleagues, close neighbors and so forth. They are referred to as “nos proches.” As Dharma practitioners, included within this is our Sangha friends, including our spiritual teachers. There isn’t really a good English equivalent (which perhaps says something about English-speaking culture. On the flip side, there isn’t a good French equivalent for efficient… Now that I have offended everyone equally, we can proceed!).
One of the biggest obstacles to genuinely advancing along the Mahayana path is, in the beginning at least, it is very difficult to get any feeling for what “all living beings” really means. It is so vast that it becomes abstract and loses any heartfelt feelings. It quickly becomes intellectual or an all too common form of cherishing everyone except those close to us, who we normally view as obstacles and problems in our life. Geshe-la tells us to overcome this problem we need to start by generating our Mahayana virtues with respect to those closest to us, such as our family and closest friends, work colleagues and neighbors – in other words, nos proches. Once we get some feeling for what it means to put others first and generate genuine love, compassion and bodhichitta, then we gradually expand the scope of our Mahayana virtues until it encompasses all living beings in a heartfelt way.
In deciding who to include in the category of nos proches, we should try expand the scope as widely as we can, without losing the feeling for it in our heart. If we expand too far and lose the feeling, we should bring it in closer somewhat. If we have a good feeling, but find ourself caring for very few, we should try push ourself to expand the scope of our Mahayana minds. For purposes of this blog series, I will quite often refer to nos proches. The name of this blog is Kadampa Working Dad, and the purpose of this series is to try explore the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. From a practical point of view, we do this by in particular (though not exclusively) training in the Bodhisattva’s way of life with respect to nos proches. The wish to become a Buddha so that we may better be able to help nos proches is a modern, practical way of training in the Mahayana path and the basis for eventually developing full-fledged bodhichitta. We can call it, “French bodhichitta.” Through gaining experience practicing in this way, we can gradually come to include all living beings. But by primarily practicing in this way, we can keep our practice heartfelt – we can bring the Bodhisattva’s way of life home into our daily lives.
I believe it is important to directly apply the Mahayana practices with respect to nos proches because these people represent our most important karmic connections. At a profound level, we can say every member of nos proches, is actually an aspect of our spiritual guide. By purifying our negative karma with respect to each other we heal the divisions between us, even the most subtle, and are therefore able to unite our individual candles together into a blazing sun. Further, by learning how to solve the problems that arise between ourselves and nos proches, we gain the wisdom to be able to help all those who have similar problems. Gaining such wisdoms creates the karmic causes for those who have similar problems to find us, and then we can help them. In this way, we naturally – almost magically – are able to expand the scope of our bodhichitta.
In particular, if we belong to a Dharma center (or an on-line Dharma group), we should make a special point to be on good terms with all of the members of our Sangha. We need to function and operate like a vajra family. Vajra means indestructible, or unshakable. Healing the divisions and relationships with those within our spiritual community is arguably the most important thing we can do with our life. Our karma with these people is arguably the highest stakes karma we have because it is with respect to the path. Many people wind up abandoning the Dharma due to personality clashes with people in a Dharma center. This is a great shame for all involved in such disputes, and for the wider spiritual community. This does not mean we should push our disagreements under the carpet, rather it means we should have the courage to put all of our differences squarely on the table and then we collectively and constructively use our Dharma wisdom to work it out.