How to resolve conflict with your loved ones

Geshe-la said at a meeting with teachers at Manjushri once that we need people sharing on-line their positive experiences of using the Dharma to solve their daily problems.  He said this will help counter some of the false narratives against us.  I also think implicit in this is by sharing our experiences we can all learn from one another.  It is in this light that I share the following.  I hope my failures and struggles might in some way prove helpful to others who one day find themselves in similar situations.  At the very least, writing this will help me clarify my own thoughts and hopefully bring a little inner peace.

I am in the middle of the biggest fight I have ever had with my father.  It started over something trivial, namely making our plans for the summer, but it somehow tapped into deep-seated resentments that had been building up for years on both sides.  My job now, it seems, is to work through my own delusions and to use the Dharma to lay the foundation for what can in the future be some sort of honest reconciliation and stable resolution.  It seems to me all of us will one day encounter conflict with those closest to us.

In all conflict situations, there are two problems, an internal one of the delusions flaring up within our own mind and an external one of the actual conflict with the other person.  Since there are two different problems, we need two different solutions – an internal one and an external one.  While ideally, we should pursue our internal and external solutions in parallel, the reality is usually our external efforts will fail if internally we have not yet re-found peace within our mind.  As Geshe-la says, without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.

Internally, we need to work through all the delusions within our own mind and replace them with wisdom about the situation and compassion towards all affected by it.  Dharma practice is, for all practical purposes, a process of abandoning our habitual deluded reactions and replacing them with new and positive habits.  It seems to me, there are five deluded habits we often fall into during conflict with others.

The first is we lose our refuge and instead rely upon our own instincts.  It’s relatively easy to practice Dharma when the problems we face are not too bad, but when our problems become extreme we tend to forget our refuge and instead try solve our problems on our own.  Gen Lhamo once said we are spiritual people, so our first reaction should be to pray.  We need to pray for wisdom to know what to do and how to think about it.  We need to pray for love and compassion to fill our hearts towards the other person.  We need to pray that Dorje Shugden take control of the situation and arrange whatever is best for all concerned.  Finally, we pray that our conflicts become a powerful cause of enlightenment for all involved.

Our second habitual reaction is usually we wish these problems weren’t happening.  But actually, I think, we need to be grateful that there are these problems, because without big problems we quickly become lazy and fail to actually change our mind with the Dharma we have received.  It is very easy for our Dharma studies to become abstract, academic or philosophical.  For me at least, it is only when I am really smacked down by major problems in my life that I am actually forced to change the way I think.  It is when we are confronted with the truth of the sufferings of samsara that the Dharma finds its greatest utility.

Our third habitual reaction is to blame the other person for our troubles.  But actually we need to recognize all of this is the ripening of our own negative karma of having acted in harmful ways towards others in the past.  We need to accept all of the difficulties as purification for our own past wrong actions, actively purify whatever negative karma remains and resolve to not repeat ourselves again in the future whatever mistakes we perceive.  If we have a “problem” with something, it is our problem because we are relating to the situation in a deluded way.  We need to do the internal work to replace whatever delusions we may have with wisdom, love, patience and compassion.  If we don’t do this, even if the external situation changes, we will remain with our internal problem and it is just a question of time before it comes back to haunt us.

Our fourth habitual reaction is to retaliate in some way to the harm we have received.  No matter how much the other person hurts us, we should try find a way to forgive them.  We shouldn’t stop this internal work until we get to the point where we have no animosity or anger towards them at all.  This will take time, depending on the hurt, sometimes even decades.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes and it doesn’t matter whether the other person ever admits their own harmful acts.  If we want inner peace ourselves, we can’t escape this work.

Our fifth habitual reaction is to jump from the extreme of anger to the other extreme of cooperating once again with the other person’s unhealthy behavior.  This one requires some additional explanation.  Many Dharma practitioners hear the teachings on the ripening of negative karma, how we are responsible for all of our problems and the need to fulfill others’ wishes and then misunderstand these instruction to mean we need to become a doormat and cooperate with the delusions of others.  Again, Gen Lhamo shows the way by pointing out that we are not helping others by cooperating with their delusions.  She says we need to recognize that it is our own attachment to outer peace and our own self-cherishing not wanting to lose what the other person might take away from us that causes us to allow others to abuse or mistreat us.  It doesn’t help them to allow them to mistreat us and it is soul-sapping to ourselves to remain in an avoidable unhealthy dynamic.  We should avoid the misguided view that we must suffer through unhealthy dynamics as atonement for our past sins.  Geshe-la says in the teachings on patient acceptance if we have a headache, we should take an aspirin, but then accept the pain until the aspirin takes effect.  In other words, we only accept the suffering we cannot avoid; we simply avoid the suffering we can avoid.  In the context of conflict with our loved ones, if we can get out and/or change the dynamic, we should do so.  We shouldn’t remain in an unhealthy dynamic if we can avoid or change it.

As with all situations which provoke delusions, as a dear Sangha friend recently reminded me, we need to remember none of it is real. There is no one there thinking anything about or doing anything against us.  The person we are fighting with that we normally see does not exist at all, they are just a construction of our own deluded mind. There are, in the final analysis, just various karmic appearances and how we respond to them, like a karmic video game.  None of it really matters because nothing is actually happening.  Our job is to respond to whatever arises with wisdom and compassion.  The more experience we have with remembering emptiness when conflict arises, the more powerful such wisdom will be at taking all of the sting out of such problems.

But we need to be careful.  Part of what causes us to cooperate with other’s delusions is misunderstanding the teachings on ultimate truth to mean conventionally everything that happens is all our fault so only we need to change for things to conventionally get better.  We need the wisdom to know the difference between what is conventionally “our” problem and what is conventionally “their” problem.  Our problem is our delusions, their problem is their delusions.  We need to do the internal work necessary to always stand ready to make peace (in other words work through whatever delusions we might have towards the other person), but we also need to accept that we can’t do others internal work for them.  If they are not willing to do their internal work, we can continue to pray for them but sometimes we may need to disengage from them, or at a minimum circumscribe our relationship to those situations in which conflict is unlikely to flare.

Having established a degree of inner peace towards the situation, we can then begin to think about how to solve our external problem of the conflict with the other person.  It seems there are four questions we need to answer:  When should we act?  How should we approach the other person?  What should we say?  And what are we aiming for?

When seeking to resolve a conflict with somebody else, the first thing we need to do is get our timing right. First, we need to get our own mind back to a space of wisdom, compassion and calm.  If we are still agitated and under the influence of delusion, we will no doubt make things worse if we approach the other person.  It is much better to wait until calm and clarity have returned to our mind.  Second, we should be patient and not rush others to a resolution before they are internally ready to embrace it.  We are fortunate to have the Dharma and so mentally we might be able to bounce back to a non-deluded space more quickly than the other person (or not!).  But just because we are mentally ready to make peace does not mean others are.  In the same way, those affected by our conflicts with our loved ones (such as our other family members or close friends) might also have a wide variety of different delusions troubling their minds.  If we impose our internal solution on others before they are ready to embrace it, one of two things will happen:  they will either reject it, thus we burn the opportunity for this solution to work; or they will feel like they have to repress their delusions before they have actually resolved them.  Repression doesn’t work, it just sows the seeds for future problems while leaving others miserable in the interim.  Instead, we need to give all those around us affected by the conflict the time they need to get to a mental space where they are ready to positively receive our overtures.

The second question we need to answer is how do we approach the other person to make peace?  Sometimes people can get into a juvenile dynamic of “who will make the first move towards peace,” as if making such a move somehow concedes that the other person is right and they win.  Everybody loses from conflict, everybody wins from peace.  The longer we take to make peace, the more entrenched the other’s hateful views become, making it harder later.  So, unless there is some overriding reason, we shouldn’t wait for the other person to make the first move, even if they are the one primarily at fault for the conflict.  Rather it is best for us to make the first move.  We should approach them with respect and appreciation for all that they do, and make clear to them that our intention is to come to an honest resolution of our differences.  We then begin by apologizing for whatever mistakes we may have made and harm we may have caused.  We then, without attacking the other person, explain to them how their actions have made us feel, but we have moved past those feelings by realizing XYZ.  Then, we can ask the person whether they are ready to work towards a solution?  It is entirely possible that the other person may reject our efforts, but it doesn’t matter if they do.  We will have done the right thing by trying.  We can tell them, “I see you are not yet ready to move beyond this.  When you are ready, let me know.  I am not going anywhere.”  Then, the ball will be firmly in the other person’s court, and you practice patience until they are ready.

Once they are ready to work towards a solution, when it comes to the substance of the discussions, I recommend proceeding in two stages.  First, agree on common principles for resolving the dispute that apply equally to both sides, then, once those principles are agreed to, get into the substance of applying those principles to the situation at hand.  You shouldn’t discuss the application of the principles to the situation until the other person has agreed to a common framework for resolving the dispute (namely the principles).  Make sure that whatever principles you propose apply more or less equally to both sides, otherwise the person will think you are trying to set them up.  When you do get to the stage of discussing the application of the principles to the present conflict, you should apply them fairly explaining how both sides are guilty of violating the principle and how everything would be better if both sides adhered to the principle.

What follows are some principles which are generally useful in any conflict situation and only the most unreasonable of people would disagree with:

  • We should each make an effort to understand the other’s perspective. We each feel justified in our view of the situation, so there must be some truth to each of our perspectives.  It is only our pride, anger and attachment to our own view that blind us to our own faults and mistakes, but make us keenly aware of others’ faults and mistakes.
  • Our differences are not so great as to make it worth it to throw away all the good in our relationship. It’s worth it to work towards a solution.
  • Small things we should treat like “water off a duck’s back” (falls right off without leaving a trace). Big things have to be addressed.  It’s not healthy to shove big things under the carpet and pretend they didn’t happen.  If there is to be a reconciliation, it has to be an honest one that takes both our perspectives into account.
  • Exaggeration makes everything worse. Both sides need to not exaggerate the supposed actions or negative thoughts of the other, relate to those exaggerations as if they were actually true, and then feel justified in being upset at the other person for something they did not in fact say or do.
  • We should recall that hurtful things said out of anger are not what we really think, whereas constructive things said out of love are what we really think. So we should dismiss the hurtful things as just the other person’s anger talking and embrace the constructive things as their love talking.
  • We each need to assume ownership and responsibility for our own problem. If we have a problem with something, it is our problem; if the other person has a problem with something, it is their problem.  We both need to get over our own problem by changing our view and letting go.
  • We need to avoid inappropriate attention. If we focus 99% of our attention on the 1% bad of the relationship, it will seem like 99% of the relationship is bad.  Instead we should focus on the good and forgive the bad.
  • We both need to accept the other as they are, not be upset at them for not living up to our expectations.  In fact, it is best to have no expectations of the other person at all.  We need to be grateful for what others do do, not resentful for what they don’t.

The final question is what are we aiming for as the final resolution of the conflict?  Once again, the resolution has to be fair and balanced, applying more or less equally to both sides.  It should take the legitimate views and interests of both sides fully into account.  The foundation of any lasting solution is both sides need to genuinely appreciate what the other person does do, not get upset about what they don’t do.  Each side should respect and be appreciative of the constraints the other is operating under, and not judge them for it.  To avoid future problems, both sides should agree if they make a mistake, they should honestly admit it and change.  If they harm the other person, they should apologize and make sincere amends. When apologies are offered, they should graciously be accepted and reciprocated in kind. If the other person does not apologize, they should be forgiven anyways.  Likewise, both sides should agree if the other person is not asking for our advice or perspective, we shouldn’t give it; but if unsolicited advice is given it should be received graciously.  In this light, both sides should agree to not be hyper-sensitive, where providing constructive feedback on how the other person can do better is blown completely out of proportion and is responded to with unhelpful defensiveness.  Finally, when we are with the other person, we should be vigilant to not create problems ourselves and to be forgiving if the other person is falling short of our expectations (with the mutual understanding that it is best to have zero expectations so we never become upset).  And when we are not with the other person, we should be mindful to not dwell on the supposed faults of the other person, instead we should try recollect their many qualities and develop appreciation for them.  In short, both sides should avoid inappropriate attention on the bad and instead focus on the good.  A solution grounded in these impossible to argue with principles is manifestly fair and can produce a lasting solution.

Conflict, even extreme conflict, between loved ones is inevitable, but it does not need to be a problem.  With Dharma wisdom, we can transform such conflicts into opportunities to identify and overcome our delusions and to learn how to apply wisdom to our daily circumstances.  Doing so will enable us to gain the realizations that the people of this world need.  Kadam Bjorn said the only things we can effectively pass on to others are those things we have personal experience of.  Life will give us challenges, our job is to apply the Dharma.  When we do, we gain direct experience of their truth.  Finally, we can share our experience with others in the hope that they might find something useful.  In this way, the inner lineage of realization gets passed down from generation to generation until eventually we all are permanently free.

Ultimate stages of the path: Completion Stage

According to Modern Buddhism, “Generation stage is like drawing the basic outline of a picture and completion stage is like completing the picture.”  Completion stage itself is “defined as an inner realization of learning developed in dependence upon the inner winds entering, abiding and dissolving within the central channel through the force of meditation.  The objects of these meditations are the central channel, the indestructible drop, and the indestructible wind and mind.”

So how does this work?  By using exactly the same logic of generation stage, but with respect to the deities subtle and very subtle bodies.  What makes completion stage particularly powerful is we use our own subtle body (channels, drops and winds) as the basis of our completion stage meditations.  We do so as follows:  first we realize the emptiness of the subtle body that we normally see.  This is a true cessation, and our completely purified subtle body.  We then imagine that this cessation, or the emptiness of the mind realizing the true cessation, appears in the aspect of the deity’s completely purified subtle body.  So first we generate the subtle body of the deity and then we identify with it as our own understanding it is arising from the cessation of the subtle body that we normally see.

In completion stage as defined here, the main objects of these meditations are the central channel, the indestructible drop and the indestructible wind and mind.   Through the above meditations, we feel as if we are inside our central channel, inside our indestructible drop, and inside our indestructible wind and mind.  One of the amazing things about the power of the mind is the mind is located at the object.  So if the object is in the pure land, the mind actually goes there.  If the object of mind is the inside of our central channel, indestructible drop and indestructible wind and mind, then our mind actually goes there.  And wherever our mind goes, our winds inextricably go as well.

Since the entire universe is nothing more than a projection of our root mind, by centering our mind entirely within our root mind we cause all of our inner winds to gather, dissolve and abide inside our root mind (represented by these three objects).  When this happens, all of the appearances that all of our gross minds support likwise begin to dissolve into increasingly subtle levels of appearance.  This is where the eight dissolutions come in – each appearance is what the universe looks like when the previous wind had been gathered inside our central channel.  When no winds are dissolved, we see samsara.  When the earth element dissolves, we get the mirage like appearance.  When the water element wind we get the smoke-like appearance.  When the fire element wind dissolves we get the sparkling fireflies like appearance.  When the wind element wind dissolves we get the candle flame like appearance.  When that dissolves, we get the mind of white appearance.  When that dissolves, we get the mind of red increase.  When that dissolves, we get the mind of black near attainment.  And when that dissolves, we get the mind of clear light.  This is our very subtle mind of great bliss.  All appearances have naturally been dissolved and it is very easy for us to realize the emptiness of all phenomena, including the emptiness of the mind of great bliss realizing the emptiness of all phenomena.  There is no deeper mind than this.  This is the definitive deity, the Dharmakaya.  Milarepa said everything is the nature of mind and the mind is the nature of emptiness.  So we recognize everyhing is the nature of our very subtle mind of great bliss, and we realize the emptiness of this very subtle mind.  When we say my mind of bliss and emptiness in the aspect of something, what we really mean is the emptiness of my mind of great bliss in the aspect of something.

This realization of clear light functions to purify our consciousness of all contaminated karma and their imprints.  When all of these have been purified, we become a Buddha.

Taken all together, the tantric path proceeds as follows.  First we generate the intention to train in our tantric vows and commitments.  Then we establish ourselves inside the gross deity body through generation stage.  We then train in the body mandala meditations, which is in effect a self-generation of our subtle body.  We then train in the completion stage meditations of the central channel, indestructible drop and indestructible wind and mind.  This then causes our inner winds to gather.  We continue to realize the emptiness of the entire universe in the aspect of the eight appearances of the eight dissolutions until finally we realize the clear light, first through a generic image and then directly.  This final direct realization of clear light vaporizes countless aeons worth of contaminated karma in an instant.  We continue meditating on this meaning clear light again and again until we have finally, once and for all, purified our mind completely of all delusions and their imprints.  We will have become a Buddha!

Through this series of posts, I have tried to clarify (and share) my own understanding of how to practice each of the stages of the path from the point of view of emptiness.  We looked at how emptiness is the definitive reason establishing the validity of each of the stages of the path and how by combining these stages with an understanding of emptiness we can engage in the practice at an extremely profound level.  We did this for the lamrim, the training in the six perfections, and the practices of vows and commitments, generation stage and completion stage.  The final result being our full enlightenment.

All of the above posts should be understood as nothing more than my own ramblings about the Dharma.  None of it should be considered definitive Dharma.  For that, only Venerable Geshe-la’s books can suffice.  I have written these posts to help clarify my own understandings of these subjects.  Different people have different learning styles, and for me putting things in writing forces me to make very clear my own understanding (especially when I know I have such an enlightened audience as all of you!).  For me, this project has proven to be extremely beneficial for me.  I feel like I understand things much better.  If others reading through these posts also gain some insights or benefit, then all the better!

I dedicate all of the merit I have gained from doing this project so that Dorje Shugden will bless the minds of all those who read these posts (including myself) and reveal to all a correct understanding of the Dharma (be it through my words being a similitude of correct or through realizing that my words are totally wrong).  In this way, no matter whether what I have written is correct or not, anybody who reads this will gain correct understandings.  Such is the power of prayer!  Don’t get me started on the emptiness of prayer!!!  hee hee

 

 

Understanding the three wisdoms and the three lineages

I am adding this post to the “about this blog” page because I think it helps clarify its nature and purpose.

Some people confuse reliance upon the spiritual guide with fundamentalism.  Venerable Geshe-la explains in Clear Light of Bliss that we should not rely on just the words of Dharma, but rather their meaning.  If we rely on just the words of Dharma, there is a danger that we can become fundamentalist in our understanding of the Dharma.  Fundamentalism arises when we become attached to the literal words of the Dharma at the expense of its meaning.  The literal meaning of the scriptures are correct when interpreted through the lens of how those words are understood by the people who live at the time they were written.  But as cultures change with the flow of time, those same words in a different cultural context produce different meanings.  Our job as practitioners who wish to carry the lineage forward is to gain an understanding of the meaning of the Dharma and carry that forward.  The words that express that meaning will vary from culture to culture and time to time, but the meaning itself is universal and timeless.  Understanding this distinction protects us against the extreme of fundamentalism.

Those who authorize themselves to contemplate and meditate on the Dharma, meaning they test the Dharma they have heard (or read) against their own experience and who develop their own examples, analogies and wordings of the meaning of Dharma, can sometimes be accused by those who remain tightly attached to the literal words of scripture of causing the Dharma to degenerate.  I respectfully disagree.  In fact, I would argue that such a literalist approach in effect causes the degeneration of Dharma because it stunts the growth of the Dharma in the minds of living beings.

To understand this, we must make a distinction between the definitive Dharma and interpretative Dharma.  The definitive Dharma is the inner meaning of the Dharma as understood validly by the minds of superior beings.  It is universal and timeless.  The interpretative Dharma is how the definitive Dharma is expressed in a given cultural-temporal context.  The meaning of the Dharma in ancient Tibet and modern New York City is exactly the same.  But its interpretative presentation can be quite different.  If we fail to make this distinction, there is a risk that we can reject and criticise a perfectly valid interpretative presentation because it doesn’t correspond with our own culturally literalist understanding of the Dharma.  In my view, Venerable Geshe-la’s greatest contribution is he has perfectly transmitted the definitive meaning of the Kadam Dharma into a completely new cultural-temporal context (the modern world).  The book Modern Buddhism is, in my view, the culmination of his efforts.  It is the crown jewel of all of his works.  This doesn’t mean all of the other books are not the transmission of the timeless wisdom of the Kadampa into the modern world, rather it means we can fruitfully interpret all of the other books through the lens of and following the presentation of Modern Buddhism.

This logic also applies at the level of an individual practitioner.  Just as there are those who criticise a modern presentation of the Dharma, there are others who accept the modern presentation of the Dharma but then make the same mistake as the literalists within the context of their own tradition.  These people misinterpret reliance upon the spiritual guide alone as meaning they are not authorized to contemplate and meditate on the Dharma.  When confronted with an insight that is not explicitly in Venerable Geshe-la’s teachings they say, “I don’t remember Venerable Geshe-la ever saying that” and they reject the insight on those grounds alone.  Likewise when they come up with their own insights through their own practice they fail to do anything with them because they are not certain they are reliable because they never heard Geshe-la explicitly say the given idea.  Such an approach to our Dharma practice is safe and good, but it is not good enough.  Taken to an extreme, such an approach can make our Dharma understanding quite rigid, and we develop within ourselves a “parrot like Dharma” not a “heart-felt Dharma.”  A parrot like Dharma is good, but it is not good enough.

To understand this, it is useful to understand the three wisdom and the three lineages.  The three wisdoms are the wisdom arising from listening, the wisdom arising from contemplation and the wisdom arising from meditation.  These three can be understood as follows.  First we listen to (or read) the Dharma and gain an understanding of the wisdom of others.  For example, when we listen to Venerable Geshe-la teach or read his books, we can become very familiar with all that he says and that understanding will give rise to a certain level of wisdom within our mind.  This is very good, but it is not good enough.  We shouldn’t stop there.

Just as there are different cultures and temporal contexts, so too each individual practitioner has a different personal mental context and experience set.  Somebody who has spent their whole life in modern America has a different mental context and experience set than somebody who has spent their whole life in modern Brazil or modern China.  Even two people who both spent their whole life in modern America will have two very different mental contexts and experience sets.  Every individual in fact has a unique mental context and experience set.  Just as the great lineage holders like Atisha, Je Tsongkhapa and (I would argue) Venerable Geshe-la took the definitive meaning of the Dharma and expressed it interpretatively in different cultural-temporal contexts, so too each individual practitioner must take (their understanding of) the definitive meaning of the Dharma and make it their own as understood through their own individual mental context and experience set.  We do this through our own contemplation of and meditation on the Dharma.

When we contemplate the Dharma we take the wisdom we have gained through listening and we test its validity in the context of our own life experience and understanding.  For example, I am an early middle-aged American economist diplomat father of five.  This is the context of my life experience, so I test the validity of the Dharma in the context of my world and experience.  When I do this, the Dharma becomes true for me.  I will develop my own examples, analogies and interpretative expressions (wordings) which generate within my own mind the actual meaning of the Dharma in my own mind.  I will have transferred what was the wisdom of somebody else (my teachers) into my own wisdom.  The Dharma will be true for me.  This is the wisdom arisen from contemplation.  Venerable Tharchin says that our own examples, analogies and reasonings developed through our contemplation of the Dharma are actually more powerful for us because they make the Dharma true for us.  This does not mean they are more powerful for others, though.  Each practitioner must develop their own understandings through contemplating the Dharma they have heard (or read).

The insights we gain from our own contemplation of the Dharma, these insights that make the meaning of the Dharma come alive in our own mind, are our actual objects of placement meditation.  Just as contemplation functions to transform the wisdom arisen from listening into the wisdom arisen from contemplation, so too placement meditation on the wisdom arisen from contemplation transforms the wisdom arisen from contemplation into the wisdom arisen from meditation.  Put in more practical terms when we listen (or read) we gain an understanding of the wisdom of others.  When we contemplate we transform this wisdom into our own personal wisdom.  When we meditate we make this personal wisdom, as Venerable Tharchin describes it, “an acquisition of our personality.”  For example, first we generate an undertanding of what is compassion.  Then we generate compassion in our own mind.  Then we become a compassionate person.

Understanding the three wisdoms helps us understand the three lineages of Kadam Dharma.  The true lineage is not the words written on paper or uttered by the guru, rather the true lineage is the continuum of direct realization of the definitive meaning of Dharma from teacher to disciple.  There is probably a technical name for it, but I call the three lineages the outer lineage, the inner lineage and the secret lineage.  The outer lineage is the wisdom arisen from listening (or reading).  I call it the outer lineage because its basis is a manifest object, namely the words on paper or the words of or examples set by our lineage gurus.  The inner lineage is the wisdom arisen from contemplation.  I call it the inner lineage because its basis is a hidden object, namely the personal examples, analogies and experiences within the mind of an individual practitioner.  The secret lineage is the wisdom arisen from meditation.  I call it the secret lineage because it is only open to those who gain personal experience of the Dharma and make the realization of it an acquisition of their personality.  The definitive secret lineage is the Dharma as directly realized with our own very subtle mind of great bliss.  This lineage only arises in the minds of qualified highest yoga tantra practitioners.

How do we know whether our understandings or insights gained through contemplation or meditation are reliable?  There is of course the danger when we contemplate or meditate on the Dharma that we can generate wrong understandings and mistake them for being definitive meanings.  So how do we protect ourselves against that?  Like a good scientist testing their hypotheses, there are several tests we can perform.  First, we can ask ourselves, “does this insight or understanding contradict any known instruction?”  If yes, try again.  If no, we can apply the second test, “is this insight or understanding the natural consequence of all known instructions?”  If no, try again.  If yes, we can apply the third test, “Dorje Shugden, if this understanding is reliable may it flourish within my mind, if it is not please reveal to me how it is wrong and what is in fact correct.”  Dorje Shugden is a Dharma protector.  He does not only protect the outer pure lineage of Je Tsongkhapa, but also the inner and secret lineages.  We request him to confirm correct understandings and to sabotage incorrect understandings.  If we replace our own attachment to our own views with a faith in Dorje Shugden, he will ensure we always stay on the correct inner and secret paths.

How does all of this relate to this blog?  This blog can be understood as me putting into my own words my understanding of the Dharma.  It is my interpretative expression of the inner universal meanings I have understood.  It should NEVER be misinterpreted as me attempting to poffer definitive meanings of the Dharma.  The only truly reliable Dharma texts are those provided to us by our lineage gurus.  The meanings gained from contemplating and meditating on those are reliable.  In the spirit of Shantideva, this blog is my putting into my own words what I have understood.  For me, putting the meaning of Dharma into my own words is a method for clarifying, deepening and consolidating my own understandings.  If other people receive some benefit from it, then all the better.  But no reader should ever confuse the words written in this blog as being intended to be offered as definitive, qualified Dharma.  Rather, it is a sharing of my own experience and understanding.

My hope is simple:  If what I write in this blog is wrong, I hope others will help point out the errors of my thinking so that I can improve my understanding.  If other Kadampa practitioners are coming to similar conclusions through their own listening to, contemplating of and meditating on the Dharma, then the blog can provide a platform for the sharing of such experience.

My view of how to do a Kadampa blog correctly

Another post-festival blog posting!  Sorry for the barrage, it was just a really great festival so I have a lot to write about.  I will probably have one more tomorrow on “making faith in the wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa our main practice.”

An additional fundamental lesson I learned at the Festival is how to more correctly do a Kadampa blog.  First, why is it a good idea to do a blog at all?  Back when the Dalai Lama/Dorje Shugden issue was flaring up a few years ago, Venerable Geshe-la said at the Education Council meeting that what was needed is positive examples and experiences of Kadampas on the internet.  At that time, the internet was a black hole of negativity against the NKT, and since the world was becoming increasingly connected through the internet, anybody who looked for us on the internet would find only negativity.  By having positive examples and experiences on the internet, such as through Kadampa blogs, we can introduce an alternative narrative that one finds on the internet about the NKT – from the point of view of the practitioners.  Then, people could judge for themselves seeing how we see ourselves compared to how some others view us.

Additionally, Venerable Geshe-la said in Joyful Path that we should use the meditation break to discuss Dharma with our Dharma friends, sharing our experiences and understandings.  Thanks to the internet, we can now do that with the entire global Kadampa family.  Gen-la Dekyong said at this year’s Summer Festival that the focus of the tradition is on the union of modern life and Kadampa Buddhism.  This is what Kadampa blogs are all about – how individual Kadampas from around the world are each, in their own way, bringing about this union in their lives.  In this way we can all learn from one another and benefit from each other’s efforts.  She said in particular we need good examples.  We have perfect teachings in the books, what we need to also have is many good examples showing that the Kadampa path works.  Blogs can help in this regard, and authors of blogs can try to become a good example.  A good example never tries to “show a good example”, rather they should simply become one.  If others see them that way, then all the better.  But certainly being a good example increases the odds that others see you as one.  But if we are trying to “show” a good example then it is artificial and therefore significantly less good than just “being a good example.”

Finally, the virtual world provides the global Kadampa family an unprecedented method for staying together as an International Kadampa Buddhist Union.  As time moves on, more and more practitioners will be following primarily a local variant of the tradition.  The General Spiritual Director and his/her deputy travel the world for the major events which establish the general framework for the global spiritual family, Resident Teachers attend the International Teacher Training Program which helps create a common understanding and common bond, but most of one’s individual karmic connections with Sangha will be local.  Through the internet in general, and blogs and social media in particular, the Kadampa family can experience a similitude of that initial Summer Festival experience when it truly was the only coming together of the global Kadampa family – a feeling of total oneness.  Kadampas from around the world can share their experiences with one another and through these exchanges not only learn from one another but also build powerful karmic relationships which function to knit together the global Kadampa family.  The reality is we are moving into an increasingly virtual world.  Just as Venerable Geshe-la is encouraging us to take the Dharma into the city centers because that is where the people are at, so too we need to bring the Dharma into the virtual world because this is where the people are spending their time.  For all of these reasons, for me I think doing something like a Kadampa blog is a good idea.

But even if that is the case, how then do we do a Kadampa blog well/correctly.

  1. I think we have to have a clear understanding that this is part of Venerable Geshe-la’s wishes.  This can be established through the above discussion.
  2. We need to be crystal clear that a blog should never be a substitute for receiving traditional teachings.  A blog cannot and should not be a teaching platform.  Readers should not relate to it as such.  It is a sharing of experience in the meditation break, it is not a teaching.  And the writers of blogs should also not (even sub-consciously) view their blog as a teaching platform.  If blogs cause readers to no longer go to their local center as much, then it is a sign that something is astray.  Either the author is not approaching their blog correctly or the reader is not relating to it correctly.  Either way, in our writing of a blog we need to be crystal clear in making clear that a blog should not be related to as a means of receiving teachings or as a substitute for receiving traditional teachings.  The sign that we are doing our blog correctly is when our readers are even more enthused about going to their local center.  In this vein, while I welcome people posting comments on my blog I tend to not respond to them because it feels too much to me like a back and forth exchange transforms a sharing of experience into a quasi-teaching.
  3. We should also be very careful with our language choices that we are not explaining our understandings as if they were “definitive Dharma.”  We should add things like, “in my view” or “it seems to me” or “what I understand about this is” to make this clear.  At present, the only person who is qualified to write definitive Dharma is Venerable Geshe-la.   The way I look at it is no single one of us holds all of the wisdom of the tradition, but each one of us holds a piece of it.  By coming together and sharing what we understand, while keeping clearly in mind that we only have a small piece of the overall puzzle, we can all learn from one another and develop a more comprehensive view of the myriad ways in which VGL has revealed the Kadam Dharma in this world.  There is a HUGE difference between a Kadampa blog and a Kadampa book.  The former is a simple sharing of experience of an individual practitioner, the latter is imputationally considered more a presentation of definitive Dharma.  Even if the author of the book makes it very clear that the book should not be considered definitive Dharma, conventionally speaking this is how people relate to books.  Blogs, in contrast, are conventionally understood by all as more of a daily/weekly journal of an individual practitioner’s spiritual path.   Kadampa bloggers should make this distinction very clear in all of their writings so as to avoid any confusion by the potential readers.
  4. I think we need to adopt the same mind as Shantideva when he wrote the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, namely that he was primarily writing the Guide to help him clarify and improve his own understanding, and if others received benefit from it then that is a nice secondary effect.  But the main purpose is writing as a means of deepening and consolidating one’s own practice.  You almost need to forget that others will be reading it, but still nonetheless keep it in mind so that you keep your bodhichitta alive.
  5. We make a clear distinction between sharing experience and teaching.  When we are sharing our experience or understanding, we are just explaining what we have understood.  But our intention is not to teach.  We hope people receive benefit, but we are not doing it so that they do.  Our strong emphasis is to work on the secondary wish of bodhichitta, namely the wish for ourselves to become a Buddha, and not the primary wish, namely to lead all beings to enlightenment.  When we teach, our strong emphasis is on the primary wish of bodhichitta.  This is a fundamental difference.
  6. Venerable Geshe-la has said that Modern Buddhism is our Guide to the Union of Modern Life and Kadampa Buddhism.  Just as there is the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and there is the Guide to Dakini Land, so too there is a Guide to the Union of Modern Life and Kadampa Buddhism.  This latter Guide is the book Modern Buddhism.  I feel that Kadampa bloggers should take this precious book as our root text, and to the maximum extent possible align our blog with the presentation of the Dharma in Modern Buddhism.  Of course we will draw on all of the other books as well, but we do so in the context of how they filter into the presentation in Modern Buddhism.

I think if we understand why a Kadampa blog is a good idea and we understand what are some of the things we can do to do it correctly, then a Kadampa blog is a perfectly appropriate aspect of a Modern Kadampa’s life.

Retreat Summer 2012

My karma has arranged itself where I have the next six weeks to do “solitary retreat,” or at least my version of it given my karma today.  My family left for America for the next six weeks.  I will have to work during this time, and do all of my normal activities, but mentally for me it is clear that this is my Summer retreat.  Everything that happens to me is all part of my retreat. 

I worry that by writing this that my wife may misunderstand thinking that I am happy that they are gone because now I can do what I want.  It is not that at all.  Rather, I view her taking the kids back to America as her greatest act of kindness each year.  Not because she leaves me behind, but rather because she takes my kids and enables them to have all of the amazing experiences they have each Summer.  I am happy for them to have those experiences and grateful towards my wife for making it possible for them.  This time I have may be my retreat time, but it is thanks to my wife that I have this opportunity, therefore it is clear that I owe this time to her.  I must use my time in such a way that I become a better father, a better husband and a better person.  This is all she has ever wanted for me.  That is how I know she loves me.  Thank you, I love you.

 

Reflections on the importance of a spiritual narrative

One of the most important things to establish, within oneself or for others, is a good personal narrative.  What is the story we tell about ourselves to make sense of our lives.  It is our narrative that holds everything together and gives our life meaning.  A bunch of practices without an overarching narrative will have little power.  A powerful narrative will have great transformative power, even if only minor practices.  
 
My narrative for this period of my life is I am on a modern retreat organized by Dorje Shugden to give me a chance to gain the realizations the people of this modern world need to transform their modern lives into the path.  My overarching narrative for this life is I am striving to get to the pure land.  The narrative for all of my lives is I am building my pure land so that I may invite all beings there and liberate them.  The narrative for the NKT is we are the great wave of JTK’s deeds, forming spiritual guides who form spiritual guides to eventually liberate all beings.  These narratives have power to the extent that we buy into them, believe them, making them real, not abstract.  They work to the extent that we integrate everything we do in our life into them.  
 
 
The key, however, is one’s narrative.  If you can keep your spiritual narrative always present in your mind, and you integrate all of your daily activities into that narrative, then it keeps your intention virtuous and your activities spiritual as you go about your external life.  Our narrative is the story we tell ourselves that makes sense of our lives and gives it meaning.
 
In effect, we are living on two different levels.  Our external life and our internal life.  Our external life can be anything.  Since all things are equally empty, it really doesn’t matter what we are doing externally (as long as we are not harming anybody, that is).  What transforms any life into a spiritual life is what are we doing in our internal life.  Internally our job is to train our mind, purify our mind, overcome our delusions, cultivate virtues, progress along the stages of the path and transform our mind into the enlightened state so that we are able to spend the rest of eternity liberating all beings.  Our task is to become spiritually qualified to lead others to enlightenment, much like a doctor seeks to be medically qualified to help others.  We have to build up our spiritual qualifications, skills and abilities so as to be able to better help more and more beings until eventually we are a Buddha.
 
Our narrative, then, is what connects our external and internal lives and makes them harmonious and mutually reinforcing.  It takes the story of our external life and the story of our internal life and combines them together into one integrated narrative for our whole life.  We integrate our whole life into our narrative.  Our narrative will evolve over time as the depth of our spiritual understanding improves.  We need to work withour narrative over long periods of time, gradually freeing it from any trace of delusion and making it increasingly virtuous.  But it is useless to imagine the perfect narrative if we are not connecting it in a very real and heartfelt way to our actual lives.  We have to feel it is the actual story of our lives, not some ideal we make up but do not feel is the story that binds our life.
 
 
This narrative then provides the meaning of all of our activities.  This narrative shapes our intention for all of our actions, and thus determines the type of karma that we are creating for ourselves.  If we integate our every activity into our narrative, then everything we do moves us forward towards its accomplishment.
 
The narrative has to be simple and all-encompassing so that we can easily see and understand how all the different parts of our life fit within it.  The extent to which we have integrated everything into our narrative determines the extent to which we waste our time or our activites are fragmented and wasted.  The narrative can also have many different levels to it, so as to account for different phases or aspects of our life.
 
For example, I can say that my overarching narrative is ‘I am building my pure land so that I may invite all beings to it.’  This is like McKenzie viewing everything in his life within the context of building Heartyland.  Within this life, my narrative is ‘I need to get into the pure land myself at/by the end of this life.  This is my last life in samsara.’  The feeling of this is it is like trying to get into a good school or trying to get a good job where you have to work hard and build up your qualifications to be able to get into the school or get the job.  For this current period of my life, ‘I am on a modern day retreat to gain the realizations the people of this modern world need.’
 
Another way to understand the narrative is it is Dorje Shugden’s plan for us.  He has a plan for each one of us, and it is our job to discover his plan and to do our part within it.  We can make the request, ‘please reveal your plan for me.’  We need to align our intention with his plan for us.  We are trying to do what he has planned for us.  Tension arises when we resist his plan, therefore we need to surrender ourselves completely to him with faith.  We need to try not to impose our own plan and call it his, but be genuinely willing to completely surrender to his plan for us with faith.
 
For the getting to the pure land in this life, the feeling is we establish a doable goal, and then we do whatever it takes to make it happen.  It is a fine balance.  One extreme is becoming attached to the result.  The other extreme is becoming lazy and not really going for it under the guise of ‘trying to do my best.’  
 
Eventually, over time, we need to harmonize the narrative of our life with the narratives of others in their lives.  We can draw them into our narrative, just as the NKT functions to draw people into its narrative.  It seems to me the narrative of the NKT is to be the great wave of JTK’s deeds.  They form spiritual guides who form spiritual guides who, in this way, gradually liberate all beings.  I need to harmonize my personal narrative with their wider narrative.  We are building VGL’s manadala in this world, and each one of us is a part of that.  His mandala is very vast, and has as many parts as there are practitioners with their own unique karmic circumstance.  It is important to anchor your personal narrative in the meta-narrative of the NKT, otherwise you risk going off on your own and you lose the power of the collective blessings and energy.  You become an isolated bristle, and not part of the larger broom.  In being part of this larger broom, it is important to not grasp at there being only one way to be part of his mandala and his project.  Even if externally you are not teaching and part of the mainstream, if internally you see how what you are doing fits in with the larger project and you dedicate your actions to the accomplishment of that project, then you will feel very much a part of it and keep yourself in alignment with his blessings.  It does not matter if the people in the mainstream misunderstand what you are doing.  If you are clear on the inside, there are no problems.  
 
I need to harmonize the narratives of the NKT, all of my lives, this life, and this period of my life so that they are fully integrated and coherent into a master narrative.  They fully interrelate and mutually support one another.  
 
 
1.  NKT – great wave of JTK’s deeds.  Building VGLs mandala.  My role in the building of his mandala is to gather and share the wisdom necessary to transform a life like mine into the quick path.  
 
2.  My lives – my project is to build my pure land.
 
3.  This life – This is my last life in samsara.  I need to live my life as if this is the case and at the same time do what is necessary so that this is the case.
 
4.  This period of my life.  I am on a modern retreat.  Dorje Shugden is my retreat master.  I have been given this time to collect realizations.  
 
Everyday I need to remind myself and build into my practice the narrative, so that it becomes the binding force of all of my practice.  The elements of my narrative are:
 
1.  I am on retreat right now.  “Please protect and guide my retreat (so that I gain the realizations the people of this modern world need).”
 
2.  This is my last life in samsara.  “Please help me prepare to leave.”
 
3.  My main project is to build my pure land.  “May everything I do be aimed at building my pure land.”
 
4.  Collectively, we are building VGL’s mandala.  “May I take my place within VGL’s mandala.”
 
Internally, I should wish for GSBH to take over my life.  Externally, I should wish for Dorje Shugden to take over my life.  Temporally, I should wish to transform myself into Heruka.  That is the final goal, and the internal and external support from JTK and DS help bring me to that state.  I want to become Heruka and build my pure land so that I may invite others to be my guests there, so that I can help them train in all of the stages of the path.  This is to be combined with the idea of the great wave of JTK’s deeds.  We transform ourselves into Kadampa Spiritual Guides who then train other Kadampa Spiritual Guides, and so forth.  This is the macro narrative of all my lives.  The micro narrative is in this life I am to focus on gaining the realizations for how to transform a ‘normal’ life into the quick path, specifically with respect to family, relationships and work.  This is part of the outreach of the Kadampa tradition to be able to make its teachings and practices more accessible and integrated into modern daily life.  At the same time, my understanding of how all of the Kadampa teachings fit together and the resolution of seemingly deep contradictions is well developed.  So both vast in terms of outreach and profound in terms of understanding.  At the same time, I have an ability to write and express my thoughts in a clear and easy to understand manner.  So I need to get these things written down.  I am to write what I am learning so that I can share it with others.