Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Seize the opportunity to work for your Dharma center

(2.22) Just as Manjushri, Samantabhadra, and others
Made offerings to the Conquerors,
So do I make offerings to the Sugatas, the Protectors,
And to the Bodhisattvas.

When Manjushri and Samantabhadra made offerings, they did so realizing directly that their offerings are a manifestation of the emptiness of their own mind of great bliss.  This verse encourages us to make offerings in the same way.

Conventionally speaking, the greatest offering we can make to our Spiritual Guide is our own practice of Dharma.  The highest type of offering is of our practice because this is what pleases the Spiritual Guide the most.  Why?  Because his only wish is for us to be happy, and he knows that our practice creates the causes for happiness.  Amongst our practices, the highest practice is what?  As was discussed in an earlier post, it is offering ourself as a servant to the Spiritual Guide.  Practically speaking, we can do this through any virtuous activity, but the highest of all is directly working to fulfil the wishes of the Spiritual Guide, namely working to fulfill his wish of causing the Dharma to flourish.  He has given us local Dharma centers which are in reality his greatest gift to us because through them we can engage in the actions of a Buddha in this world.

Many practitioners work very hard to try overcome their delusions, but they don’t enjoy much success.  Why?  The main reasons are because we lack merit and we haven’t purified.  It is very easy to get so absorbed in our problems that we forget to assemble the essential conditions for our practice to succeed.  It is very good that we view the Dharma as the method for solving our inner problems, in fact that is what we need to do.  But we do not just solve our problems from within the context of the problem – we can also attack the problem from the outside by doing practices that are not directly related to our problem.  The main point is we need to assemble the conditions necessary for our direct efforts to succeed.  These are primarily accumulation of merit, purifying negativity and receiving blessings.

For many years, my main teacher was Gen Lhamo.  When somebody would come to her with a personal problem, instead of giving them advice or discussing the problem with them, she would often give them a job to do for the center.  People would sometimes misunderstand and think that now they have just one more problem – namely work to do for the center.  But they were missing the point – the point is to overcome their problems with their practice, they primarily need sufficient merit and sufficient purification.  They get this through doing work for the center.  Then, when they apply the Dharma directly to their problem, it works.  It is often amazing how many daily problems simply vanish while scrubbing the toilets in a Dharma center.  If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself and see.

How does work for the center accumulate merit?  All the merit we accumulate is necessarily non-contaminated because the final goal of the center is the enlightenment of others.  The merit grows exponentially as the generations continue.  If each student helps 10 people in their life, then each of those 10 people helps 10 people, after 2 generations the karma is multiplied by 100, after 3 generations the karma is multiplied by 1000, and so forth – so it grows exponentially.  Geshe-la has said that the merit we accumulate by working for our Dharma centers continues to accumulate for as long as the center – or the effects of the center – exists, which theoretically is forever.  My very first center was in Santa Barbara.  While a variety of teachers came through, the center was actually mainly established through the efforts of a woman named Leah.  Conventionally speaking, she did the work that made it happen.  Later, the center in Los Angeles emerged as a branch of the center in Santa Barbara, and now the center in L.A. is enormous helping people through many different branches and centers in the L.A. area.  I don’t know whatever happened to Leah, but I do know this:  the merit she accumulated by helping establish the center in Santa Barbara continues to grow on a daily basis and will continue to do so for as long as the center and those practitioners who have been touched by it – directly or indirectly – exist.  In other words, forever.

We can do the same with our local centers.  Such merit is non-contaminated and it grows expontentially for eternity.  Where else can we accumulate such merit?  We need to really see this as an incredible opportunity.  Normally when there is a call or volunteers at a Dharma center, people try avoid having to do too much and sometimes they even ask to receive discounts on the teachings or be paid for their labor.  But if we had wisdom we would realize that we should even be willing to pay to be able to do such work!  People pay money to do internships and gain certain experiences all of the time, but such experience has limited value.  The work we do for a center, in contrast, is laying the foundation for our enlightenment and that of all we love.

How does work for the center purify negativity?  Any virtuous action performed motivated by regret functions to purify negativity.  If we wholeheartedly accept the difficulties we encounter while doing work for the center as purification, we purify mass amounts of negative karma.  Also, as we do work for the center, various delusions (especially self-cherishing) will come up.  When we recognize this as self-cherishing and we don’t listen to it but instead follow our wisdom, we purify the tendencies similar to the cause of our delusions.  Work we do for the center should be viewed within the context of the accomplishment of our internal goals – not external ones.  To succeed we need merit and we need to purify, and the highest powered way we have of doing that is working for the center.  What other means do we have?

We can transform our work for the center into sublime offerings.  When we engage in the work we should mentally imagine that our Spiritual Guide is with us, helping us overcome our delusions by bestowing blessings and helping us complete the task whenever we have difficulty.  After we finish the task, we should mentally imagine that all of the merit of all of our work takes the form of fantastically pure offerings which we offer to our Spiritual Guide and feel him to be delighted (for us) with our offering.  This will keep us inspired to continue working as we will enjoy doing it.


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