We continue with our discussion of our relationship with our Spiritual Guide and life after we have entered the second phase of our practice, namely after we know how to more or less be happy all of the time in this life. In the first post, we talked about the two phases of our spiritual; in the second post we looked at how teachers can be effective with students in the second phase. And in this final post, we will look at what we need to do as students to avoid some of the common pitfalls a “happy life.”
From our side as students, what do we need to do? Three things:
First, we need to take the lamrim as our main practice. We need to have a daily, formal lamrim practice where month after month we cycle through the lamrim. This helps us come to a definite decision as to what it is we want out of our practice. Are we interested in simply having a happy life in this life alone or do we want something more? If we are interested in just this life, we will fall into the trap of the crisis Dharma practitioner – where we practice earnestly when there is some crisis in our life, but then slide back into non-spiritual life when the crisis passes. If we break the ‘this life’ barrier, we will naturally become much more motivated AND we will have an even happier life.
We should recall the dream I mentioned in an earlier post. I was on a floating disk surrounded on all sides by the hell realms. The disk represents our precious human life. The disk was crumbling, but there is a life line of our Dharma practice which can take us to the pure land. We don’t realize that we are on this disk, and agents from the hell realms come up to distract us and keep us preoccupied with this life. They will give you everything you ask for in this life to keep you distracted and prevent you from completing your path. Until the very end when it is too late and they say ‘gotcha’ and then you fall. The conclusion is it is either hell realm or pure land at the end of this life, with essentially no in between. We need to feel this as our reality and live our life accordingly.
Second, we need to accept ourselves without judgment. We project expectations onto ourself that we should already be at a certain level, and then when we confront that we are not, we think that it is a problem. We don’t look at our faults because we feel bad about ourselves. The key here is to make a distinction between ourself and our contaminated aggregates. Our contaminated aggregates are faulty and we are trapped within them, so we use this to increase our renunciation. We take manifestation of a fault as a sign from Dorje Shugden that he wants us to practice a specific thing so we can create the causes we need to create.
Third, we need to overcome defensiveness when our teacher points out our faults. I want to talk about a specific instance of when we feel our Spiritual Guide thinks badly about us. We need to identify the attachment/aversion in our minds, where we think our happiness and suffering depends upon what others think. This is a mistaken mind, our happiness depends only upon whether we respond to the situation with virtue. When our teacher criticizes us there are three possibilities: If we are doing something wrong, we admit it without guilt and change. If we are doing something correct, we continue to do it.
The third possibility is we think we are doing something right, but the teacher thinks we are doing something wrong. We need to make sure we are not going to the other extreme of exaggerating the bad of what our teacher supposedly thinks. We often exaggerate thinking the teacher thinks only bad about us, and doesn’t see our good qualities. We then become defensive and try to justify why we are right and the teacher is wrong. This shuts down the learning process. We need to stop projecting that the spiritual guide is viewing us the way we are viewing ourselves. We think they are judging us and thinking bad about us and not liking us because of our faults because that is how we are relating to ourselves.
Instead, we need to seek clarification until we have clarity about what is correct. We need to be more concerned with doing what is right than in being right. Motivated by this, we seek clarification through external and internal methods until all doubts are resolved. If after clarification we conclude that we are right and teacher is wrong, then we keep an open mind that our view could change later and we might discover that we were wrong all along.