Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to listen to Dharma

(5.88) I should listen to Dharma
With respect and a good heart,
Recognizing it as the supreme medicine
For curing the pains of anger and attachment.

The best way of helping others is by teaching them Dharma. The best teacher is the best listener.  Knowing how to listen to the Dharma not only helps us gain the most from the teachings we attend, but it also creates the causes for our students to listen correctly to us, thereby making our teachings more beneficial.

Listening to Dharma is different than listening to music on our iPod.  Reading Dharma is different than reading the newspaper.  From our side, we need to create certain causes and conditions within our mind to be able to receive the teachings in a way that moves our mind the most.  Listening with a mind of faith is clearly different than listening with a skeptical mind.  If we listen correctly, even if our teacher is teaching to a vast audience of thousands, it will feel as if the teaching was personalized just for us.

First we should have a mind of respect for the teacher.  To have respect means “we look up to” somebody with admiration and we naturally seek to “fulfill their wishes.”  At a minimum, this means we should abandon any inappropriate attention on any perceived faults.  Sometimes we have had a bad experience with our teacher in the past, and subsequently we receive no benefit from their teachings because all we can see is their past mistake.  Our teachers don’t have to be perfect to give us useful teachings.  We can realize our teacher has many good qualities and their giving Dharma teachings is coming from a good place in their heart.  When we respect somebody, we naturally seek to fulfill their wishes.  What does our teacher wish for us?  That we learn how to be happy all of the time, and then help others do the same.  A good teacher has no wish other than this.  To help cultivate our respect, we should imagine that the living Lama Tsongkhapa enters into the heart of our teacher, and through the conduit of our teacher gives the teachings.  We may not have full respect for our teacher, but there is no reason why we can’t have full respect for Lama Tsongkhapa.

To listen with a good heart means our motivation for receiving the teaching is spiritual.  People attend Dharma teachings for all sorts of strange reasons, but if we want to get the most out of them we should strive to cultivate a spiritual motivation.  At a minimum, we can recall that we have two types of problems, outer and inner.  Dharma teachings can’t explain to us how to solve our outer problems, our normal studies in school and life teach us that; rather Dharma teachings explain to us how to resolve our inner problem of delusions and negative karma.  If we are confused about the distinction between these two types of problems, thinking our inner problem is our outer problem, then Dharma teachings will seem to have little value.  But if are clear on this distinction, we will grasp their purpose.  Ideally, we should have a “pure” motivation.  A pure motivation is one that transcends the concerns of this life alone.  This life is short and its duration is uncertain, but our future lives are long and their duration is endless.  The real purpose of Dharma is to provide us protection in all our future lives – protection from falling into the lower realms, protection from another rebirth in samsara and protection from becoming stuck in solitary peace and not pushing through to full enlightenment.  A sincere and sustained practice of Lamrim will help us improve our motivation, making it increasingly spiritual and increasingly pure.

Finally, we should regard the Dharma teaching as personal advice for curing our inner sickness of delusions.  If we are not aware we have cancer, explanations of cancer treatments are of little interest.  But when we realize our life depends on the explanations because we do have cancer, we listen with a clear intention to put into practice whatever is explained.  When we come to a Dharma teaching, we should “bring our problem with us.”  On any given day, something is bothering us one way or another.  We should bring that problem, no matter how big nor how small, to the teaching, and view the teaching as exactly the personal instructions we need for overcoming this particular problem.

How can it be that our teacher can be giving instructions to many yet it still be personal advice?  The answer is blessings.  When we have respect, a good motivation and view the instructions as personal advice for the sickness within our mind, we will receive special blessings that enable us to understand the teachings we are receiving as they relate to our inner problem.  If others are doing the same with respect to their inner problems, they too will receive their special blessings and the teachings will likewise be personal advice for them – just in a different way.  Ultimately, we have no problems other than the ones our delusions mentally create for us.  All Dharma functions to oppose delusions, and every instruction of Dharma understood correctly has the power to oppose any delusion.

One thought on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to listen to Dharma

  1. Beautiful teaching.Yes when attending a Teaching there is always a Dharma answer to a personal situation appearing.Thank you for the reminder on how to listen correctly and the ensuing benefits of doing so.

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