The 29th of every month is Protector Day. This is part 8 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.
Commitment, fulfilling, reliance, and appropriate substances,
Outer, inner, secret, attractive, and cleansing offerings, filling the whole of space,
I offer these to the entire assembly;
May I fulfil the heart commitment and restore my broken commitments.
This refers to an offering of our practice of the Heart Commitment of Dorje Shugden. What does this mean? It means to not be sectarian with our spiritual practice. If we are sectarian in our practice, it will bring the Dharma into disrepute and it will create many problems for people being able to practice the path that leads to enlightenment, so it is very important for us to not be sectarian. Gross sectarianism is when one tradition claims to have a monopoly on the truth and all the other traditions are wrong. Many wars and much suffering have taken place due to this. Subtle sectarianism is when we mix and match different traditions together. Here, instead of saying one tradition is better than another in a general sense (as in gross sectarianism) we are saying that individual instructions from one instruction are better than individual instructions from another.
To avoid sectarianism, Geshe-la encourages us to ‘following one tradition purely without mixing, while respecting all other paths as valid for others.’ Buddhas emanate many Buddhist and non-Buddhist paths depending on the karmic disposition of beings. Different people will respond to different instructions, and so we are happy for anybody to follow any authentic spiritual path.
This can be understood with an analogy of being trapped in a burning room. If we were trapped in a giant burning room and there were many doors out, what would we do? We would find the door closest to us and head straight out. We would not start towards one door, then change to another, then change to another still because that keeps us trapped in a room. We would not head towards the average of two doors because that would bang us straight into a wall. We also would not judge other doors as being wrong for somebody else who is standing right next to it, instead we would encourage them to go out the door closest to them. In the same way, if we are all trapped in the giant burning room of samsara and there are many different spiritual doors out, what do we do? We find the one that is karmically closest to us and we head straight out. We do not follow one path, then another, then another because then we complete none of them and remain in samsara. We do not mix together two different traditions because this amalgam of our own creation does not lead to an actual door out. We do not tell people who are closest to the door of another spiritual tradition, such as a Christian, that they should abandon their Christian path and follow our Kadampa path, instead we encourage them to go out through the emergency exit closest to them. If somebody criticizes our practices and says that their practices are superior, we should not become defensive. We can just say, ‘I am happy for you that you feel you have superior practices. I hope you enjoy them.’ We then continue to do what seems best for us. This avoids all problems.
So what is the Kadampa door? It can be summarized in one sentence: “relying upon guru, yidam and protector, I practice the path of Lamrim, lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.” If we are doing this, if we have chosen this as our path and we are following it purely without mixing while respecting all other paths as valid for others, then we are keeping our heart commitment to Dorje Shugden. Taking such a commitment is our personal choice. Nobody can force this on us, we do so voluntarily. This is not a commitment of the empowerment, it has to be something from our own side we decide to do.
One of the core principles of the NKT is while respecting all other traditions, to follow one tradition purely without mixing. This is an extremely vast subject. Venerable Geshe-la (VGL) explains in Ocean of Nectar that we need to be careful when introducing the subject of emptiness to those who are not ready because doing so can lead to great confusion. I would say even more so, we need to be careful when introducting the subject of following one tradition purely without mixing, as this is a special spiritual instruction that can easily give rise to much confusion and doubt, including thinking that such an approach is closed-minded, anti-intellectual and sectarian. The attached document attempts to explain the rationale behind this instruction so that people can be happy with putting it into practice.
To provide you with a snapshot, the attached document is organized as follows:
- References within VGL’s teachings on this advice
- The mind with which we examine this question
- How to understand this instruction
- Rationale for the spiritual advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing
- Refutation of objections to not mixing
a. Objection 1. We can gain a better understanding of a subject when explored from multiple perspectives
b. Objection 2: We can gain a higher and deeper understanding of universal truth through synthesizing multiple systems of thought.
c. Objection 3 : All religions say the same thing, just with different metaphors and means. So what is the problem with me studying and reading other traditions. Does that not also take me in the direction of enlightenment ?
d. Objection 4: OK, I agree we should not mix traditions. I am 100% committed to VGL, I know what we are all about and I don’t want to mix. So what is the problem with me reading other sources ?
e. Objection 5: But I do not have freedom because I cannot be an NKT teacher or officer of an NKT center if I still want to go to other things. So I am not free to choose.
f. Objection 6: But it can be argued that just because one is in a relationship with somebody else does not mean that they cease to be friends with other people and other women. In the same way, it is not mixing or violating my commitment to my spiritual path by reading other books, etc., as long as I am clear as to who is my Spiritual Guide.
g. Objection 7: But we are Buddhist, so everything depends upon the mind. Reading other sources is not from its own side mixing, it depends upon the mind with which we do it.
h. Objection 8: Come on ! Certainly you are exaggerating to say it is a fault to even read or be exposed to teachings from other traditions. Don’t be so paranoid !
i. Objection 9: It still seems very closed-minded to be so categorical in shunning anything that is non-NKT.
j. Objection 10: OK, even if I agree with all of the above, certainly it is more skilful to say nothing, since people will misunderstand and leave the Dharma as a result of this misunderstanding.
k. Objection 11: OK, I agree, something needs to be said. But why do you have to do it in such a foreceful way.
l. Objection 12: OK, point taken. But what makes an action skilful is whether the action does not undermine the faith of the other person when you engage in it.
m. Objection 13: OK, fine ! Just tell me what I can and cannot do.
n. Objection 14: If that is the case, then why do different teachers have different policies and standards on this one ?
o. Objection 15: But how does your standard compare to that of the NKT as a whole ? Are you more strict ?
p. Objection 16: Wait a minute ! I can understand why there would be an issue with Tibetan Buddhism in general, but certainly it is not a problem with Mt. Pellerin. After all, their teacher was also a student of Trijang Rinpoche, he is friends with VGL, and they are Dorje Shugden practitioners. Are they not basically a Tibetan version of us, and we are a Western version of them ? So their teachings can help improve our understanding of VGL’s teachings. We are all talking about the same thing, so there is no mixing going on. So it should be OK. It seems we should at least make an exception with them.
q. Question 17: OK, I understand all of this and it makes sense. How practically then are we to implement all of this at the center given the sensitivities involved ?
In the next post, I will continue to explain verse by verse my understanding of the meaning of the Dorje Shugden part of the sadhana.