Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Embrace your responsibilities

Receiving constant Dharma teachings through your life

The teachings on refuge explain that the Dharma is our ultimate refuge.  Why?  Because our real problem is our deluded mind and the actions we engage in under the influence of delusions, and Dharma realizations function to bring our mind under control and our actions in line with the causes of happiness.  Buddha and Sangha help us to gain Dharma realizations by providing us teachings and inspiration.  The principal function of a Dharma center is to provide Dharma teachings.  The main reason why we go to Dharma centers is to receive teachings on how to change our mind and become a better, happier person.  But if we do not have regular access to a Dharma center, what can we do?  Even if we do have regular access to a Dharma center, we still are only able to receive Dharma teachings perhaps a few hours a week.  What about the rest of the time?  What follows is an extensive explanation for how we can receive Dharma teachings all of the time, anywhere and in any circumstance.  If we can learn how to do this, there is no doubt we will make swift progress along the path.  How can we do so?

Embrace all of our responsibilities as our Dharma teachings. 

Je Tsongkhapa says in the Three Principal Aspects of the Path that if we understand emptiness correctly, it will confirm the truth of karma; and if we understand karma correctly, it will confirm the truth of emptiness.  What is the bridge between these two?  The answer is personal responsibility for everything. 

The teachings on karma explain that our every experience is an effect of which our previous actions are the cause.  It explains that the laws of karma are definite, specific causes produce specific effects and without the cause being created an effect will never arise.  Everything that happens to us is the result of our karma.  Some people misunderstand karma to mean everything is pre-determined and there is nothing we can do.  But Kadam Bjorn once said, “if you don’t like your karma, change it.”  If we change our actions, we will change our karma, and therefore change our experience.  Instead of blaming others for our plight, we accept full responsibility for our own experience.  We can quite literally karmically engineer any future of our choosing.  The conclusion of an understanding of karma is we need to assume full responsibility for everything.

The teachings on emptiness explain that everything is a projection of mind, like a dream, a hologram or a hallucination.  Nothing is actually there.  The things we normally see do not exist at all.  We normally see a world that exists out there, functioning and existing in a way completely independent of our mind and the way we perceive it.  We think if our mind wasn’t there, the world would continue to exist and function just as it is and nothing would actually change.  We think changing our mind about things changes nothing since things are as they are.  Such a world does not exist at all.  In reality, the way we project the world is the world itself.  There is no world other than the one we project.  The teachings on emptiness reveal that the only difference between last night’s dream and our waking existence is which mind is doing the dreaming.  Our subtle mind dreams last night’s dream; and our waking mind dreams our waking “reality.”  Both are equally, and 100%, mere projections of mind – both are mere dreams to different levels of mind.  Other than that, there is no difference at all.  Geshe-la says there is no creator other than mind.  Normally we think his point is to refute the theistic conceptions of God.  But his meaning is much deeper.  If there is no creator other than mind, it means our own mind is the creator of all.  What does this mean?  It means we are responsible for everything.  If last night we dreamt of somebody in a wheelchair, who put them there?  Surely we did because we are the one who dreamt them that way.  In the same way, if we saw somebody in our waking reality in a wheelchair, who put them there?  Surely we did because we are the one who is dreaming them that way.  At present, we have mentally constructed a samsara.  But samsara and nirvana are equally empty – both are merely different ways of projecting the world, one projected by delusion which is the nature of suffering, the other projected by wisdom and compassion which is the nature of great bliss.  If we can construct a samsara, we can reconstruct a pure land simply by projecting the world differently.  We are personally responsible for all the suffering of all the beings in our dream.  We are responsible for everything.

What distinguishes great compassion from bodhichitta is assuming personal responsibility for freeing others from their suffering.  In reality, the real nature of bodhichitta is not compassion, it is the superior intention willing to assume responsibility for everything.  Thus we see assuming personal responsibility for everything is the point of intersection between the vast and the profound path, and between Sutra and Tantra.  Things that conventionally appear to be our responsibility are, in a very real sense, the same nature as all of the Dharma.  Assuming responsibility for what appears to be our responsibility is, in a very real sense, the very meaning of Dharma practice.  When our father talks to us about assuming responsibility for things, this is quite superficial compared to what our Spiritual father is talking about.  Assuming personal responsibility for everything runs completely counter to every delusion within our mind.

While we are ultimately responsible for everything, it suffices to begin by assuming personal responsibility for those things that appear to be our responsibility, whether that is taking care of our kids, paying the mortgage, servicing our clients or doing the dishes.  We have responsibilities to our homes, our work, our Dharma centers, our local community, the environment, our society and even our country.  Our delusions will resist assuming these responsibilities with a myriad of excuses.  Learning how to see through these deluded excuses and mustering the inner strength to assume our responsibilities is, as we have seen, the very meaning of putting the Dharma into practice.  Each responsibility, therefore, is our personal Dharma teaching.  Like with our love, we begin by assuming small responsibilities for things around us, but we gradually expand the scope of our feeling of personal responsibility until it encompasses everything.  Since there is never a time when we are not responsible for something, there is never a time when we do not have access to Dharma teachings.  Like with our local centers, the only real question is whether we show up to the teaching or not.  Like with any Dharma teaching, the only real question is whether we take on board its lessons or not.

The doubt may arise, “but how do I distinguish between those responsibilities which are my Dharma teachings and samsara’s endless tasks?”  This is an important question.  There are two answers.  First, a task is a samsaric one only if our objective in engaging in it is deluded.  In and of themselves, every task is equally empty.  If we think the external outcome of the completion of the task is, in and of itself, a cause of our happiness and we seek to complete the task for that reason, then we are engaging in one of samsara’s endless tasks.  We are chasing the end of Samsara’s rainbow.  In contrast, if we view the process of completing the task as an opportunity to work on overcoming the delusions in our mind that arise as we do the work, then that same task becomes receiving a Dharma teaching.  Second, Dorje Shugden’s job is to arrange for us all of the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  If we request him to, he will arrange things in such a way that whatever appears to be our responsibility are the very tasks we need to do.  Externally, what we are doing is often of little consequence, but internally our doing it is providing us constant teachings about our mind and about the meaning of putting the Dharma into practice.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Keep your daily practice alive

Sometimes our family or partner may create obstacles to our doing our meditation practice, feeling we should be spending time with them instead.  There are several solutions to this problem.  First, wake up earlier and do your practice when everyone else is asleep.  The reason why we are exhausted at the end of each day is because our delusions tire us out.  We will be far more rested sleeping seven hours and meditating one hour than sleeping eight hours for the simple reason that we won’t be carrying around as heavy of a burden of delusions throughout the day.

Second, we should ask ourselves, “what does my partner/family want from me?”  Then, show with your actions, not your words, that the more you practice the more you become what they want from you.  They want you to be a good spouse, parent or whatever.  Show them that when you do your practice, you are able to be a better spouse, parent, etc.  When they make the connection between your practice and what they want from you, then you doing your practice will become a priority for them.  Then, your wife will go from being an obstacle to your practice to becoming the Dharma police making sure you did your practice that day!  Third, you should save up all of your relationship capital for one purpose alone – the ability to do your practice.  Ask for nothing else other than time to do your practice.  Let the rest of your family choose where you go out to dinner, what movies you watch, what you do on the weekends.  If the only thing you ask for is the time to do your practice, your family will come to understand that it is important to you and they will come to respect it.

Outside of our formal meditation session, we should try make effort to practice Dharma all day long.  Make a list of all of the routine things you do every day, such as getting ready in the morning, transporting your body from one place to another, eating, going to the bathroom, going to bed, sleeping, etc.  Then, make it a habit to always do the same mental practice every time you engage in this daily activity.  For me, when I am getting ready in the morning, I mentally engage in purification practice.  When I am transporting my body around, I recite either the “single pointed request” or the “Eight lines of praise to the Father.”  When I am eating, I imagine I am making offerings to my Spiritual Guide at my heart.  When I am going to the bathroom I imagine I am dispelling delusions and impurities from my body.  When I go to bed, I usually read my Dharma books, and as I go to sleep I contemplate what I just read and then engage in the yoga of sleeping.  The point is make it routine.  When it is routine, we remember to practice; when it is not, we don’t.  Every time we practice Dharma we create the cause to encounter it again in the future.  Where do we encounter it?  Usually in a Dharma center.

Christians, Jews and Muslims all have a tradition of keeping the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is a special day set aside for receiving spiritual teachings, remembering their meaning and making a special point to put them into practice.  Some people criticize saying people are spiritual on Sunday, but then act like a jerk the rest of the week.  But isn’t it better to set one day aside for spiritual practice than none at all?  Again, some is always better than none.  While as Kadampas we do not have a tradition of the Sabbath, I see no reason why we cannot also make this a tradition of our own.  Even if we do not go to the center on this day, we can mentally dedicate at least one day a week to primarily focusing on our spiritual trainings, or at least focus more so than we usually do on other days.  We should likewise come to view our gompa area in our home as our personal Dharma center.  It does not matter if we do not have a special room for our meditation practice, even a small corner of our bedroom can be mentally transformed into a holy place.  Just this one mental recognition alone enables us to have a daily relationship with our Dharma center.

Many years ago when the New York Temple was being finished, Geshe-la gave Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments at a hotel nearby.  During that festival, I met a guy named Jerry.  Jerry had spent the last several years in a nearby Federal prison, and he had many years left to go on his sentence.  For most people, prison is hell on earth.  For him, his prison cell was Milarepa’s cave.  Somebody, at some point, made an offering of Ocean of Nectar to the prison.  For those not familiar with this book, Ocean of Nectar is by far the hardest and least accessible of all of Geshe-la’s books.  But Jerry was seized by the book.  He studied it thoroughly, memorized the root text and the condensed meaning, and spent many hours each day mixing his mind with and meditating on its meaning.  He told me, “there is no prison.”  Somehow, he found out that Geshe-la was giving Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments, and he worked really hard to be a model inmate to earn a furlough to be able to attend the empowerments.  At the end of the festival, with a copy of Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Meaningful to Behold and Essence of Vajrayana in hand, he eagerly looked forward to going to back to spending 20+ hours a day in his prison cell so he could put his newly acquired Dharma into practice.  Prior to coming to that Festival, Jerry had never stepped foot in a Dharma center, but I think we would all agree he had spent more time in a “Dharma center” than most of us.  If Jerry could view his cell as his center, surely we can do the same with our meditation corner at home.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Doing the best we can to approximate a center

If there is a center in our area but for other reasons we do not have regular access to it, there are many things we can still do.  First, we should try, if we can, to make it to at least one big festival per year; or every other year, or every fifth year, something, anything, whatever our karma will allow.  Going to a festival when we haven’t been to one for some time functions to put our spiritual train back on the tracks and realigns ourselves with the general flow of the tradition in this world.  We are able to receive oral transmission blessings (vitally important and vastly underappreciated), reconnect with our spiritual friends, have one-on-one meetings with our Dharma teachers, rediscover our love of Dharma, remember why spiritual practice is important, receive profound teachings and of course let go of attachment to a warm shower!  We should never make the mistake of thinking if we can’t do it all we shouldn’t do anything.  A little is always better than nothing.  Likewise, in our local area, we should try make it to the center whenever our karma allows, even if that is only once a year – even if it is just to touch base.  If we have strained relationships with everybody at the center, go when nobody is around, do the offering bowls in the gompa, sit and have a private conversation with Geshe-la’s picture, clean the bathroom and then slip out before anybody even knows you were there if you have to.  The point is make it a priority to keep the link alive.

For whatever reason, many people are unable to keep all of the different commitments of the study programs; and some teachers and center administrators will unskillfully tell such people if they can’t do it all they can’t do anything.  But even if that is the case, we can sometimes still do classes by correspondence.  When we do do classes by correspondence, we should try to make it to the center at least once a year, or even just do a Skype meeting with our teacher for the oral transmission blessings of the condensed meaning of the text.  We can also perhaps do the Special Teacher Training Program through London.  There are also quite a few YouTube videos of excerpts of festival teachings.  Fortunately, there are now a wide variety of Facebook groups for Kadampas, such as Students and Followers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Kadampa Prayer Request and Kadampa Rejoicing Group.  These groups enable us to maintain daily karmic connection with our Sangha friends around the world, ask Dharma questions, make prayer requests and rejoice in the spiritual practices of fellow Kadampas worldwide.  Social media websites are not inherently good or bad, it is how we use them that determines their meaning in our lives.

The function of training in our refuge vows is to maintain the continuum of our spiritual practice without interruption between now and our eventual enlightenment.  Keeping our vows karmically functions to place a spiritual safety net underneath us so that we do not fall from our precious human life.  What makes our life precious is the opportunity it affords us to practice Dharma.  It is perfectly possible for our spiritual life to die before our physical life does, but keeping our refuge vows protects us from that fate.  Geshe-la has synthesized our refuge commitments into three:  make effort to receive blessings from Buddha, make effort to put the Dharma into practice and make effort to receive help from Sangha.  How to receive blessings will be discussed extensively in later posts.  Here, I will focus on practically what it means to make effort to practice Dharma and to receive help from our Sangha friends in the context of not having regular access to a Dharma center.

Our ultimate refuge is our own practice of Dharma.  Buddha and Sangha are like special helpers.  Broadly speaking, to practice Dharma means to use the Dharma to solve our inner problems of delusions and negative karma.  Every time we put effort into practicing Dharma we create the causes to encounter it again in the future.  This is the most valuable karma we can create for ourselves, because only Dharma can provide us with a lasting solution to our problems.  Our most important Dharma practice is our daily, formal meditation practice.  We should view this as the core activity of our life.  We would scarcely go a day without eating or sleeping, in a similar way we should almost never go a day without engaging in our formal meditation practice.  We almost never neglect to charge our mobile phone for the day, how much more so should we not neglect our daily practice.  In the final analysis, either we organize our meditation practice around our day or we organize our day around our meditation practice.  If we do the former, it is almost impossible to maintain a consistent daily practice; and without a consistent daily practice, progress along the path is nearly impossible.  The Grand Canyon was carved by a small amount of water running consistently over a very long period of time.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Why Dharma centers are important

Practical steps for making manifest a center in our life

Dharma centers are important, very important.  But they arise only in dependence upon many different causes and conditions and they take on a variety of different forms.  If for whatever reason we do not have regular access to one we should take it as a sign that our job is to create the causes and conditions for one to appear in a way that we are able to easily and happily partake of it.

The primary cause for the appearance of a Dharma center in our life is the strong wish for it to do so.  If we don’t have this wish, even if we physically live in one, a “Dharma center” will not appear in our life.  To help us develop this wish, we can consider what Geshe-la has said about Dharma centers.

To begin, I would like to tell you that everybody should recognize how important Dharma centers are.  Teachers, managers and students should recognize that Dharma centers are extremely important for ourselves, our families and the general public.  Without Dharma centers, it is very difficult to maintain a pure spiritual life.  It is close to impossible to maintain a Bodhisattva’s way of life.  Without maintaining a Buddhist way of life, it is difficult to make progress on the spiritual path which gives us the real meaning of our human life.  …  With a connection to a Dharma center, we have the possibility to improve ourselves thanks to the Dharma.  Without Dharma centers, a meaningful life is difficult to find for ourselves, our family and others.  First, we must enjoy being in a Dharma center.  Then, everyone else, such as our parents, the other members of our family and our friends, will understand that we are happy, then they will rejoice for us and create a link with us.

Sometimes those who do not have regular access to a Dharma center can fall into the extreme of thinking Dharma centers are not important.  This is wrong.  As Geshe-la says, we must all recognize the importance of Dharma centers while we accept that our presently not having regular access to one is exactly perfect for our spiritual development.  Why?  Because of the opportunities not having one gives us to create the causes to have one appear in our life.

If we don’t have a Dharma center in our area, do what it takes to set one up.  Find other people in the area who are also interested in setting up a center and work with them to make it happen.  Contact the NKT office and ask them if they know of anybody else in our area who has expressed similar interest.  Write Geshe-la requesting a teacher be sent.  Invite the nearest National Spiritual Director to come give a public talk.  Start doing pujas together, even if it is just two of you (or even if you are alone).  Imagine that all of the people of your city are doing the pujas with you, making the strong request for a Dharma center to appear in your city.  Geshe-la has said his vision is for there to eventually be a Kadampa temple in every major city of the world.  This happening in our city may very well depend upon our personal wish.

There was a woman in Santa Barbara whose name was Lea.  She was all alone in her wish to establish a center, but she nurtured it and did everything it took to make it happen.  Through her unwavering wish and unending hard work, a center was eventually established in Santa Barbara.  Then Geshe-la came and did a California tour, and he wrote part of Essence of Vajrayana at this center.  Because that center was established, the Dharma came to Southern California.  From that center, eventually Los Angeles opened up as a “branch” of Santa Barbara.  Now there is a thriving spiritual community in the greater L.A. area, and this is just the beginning.  If the center in Santa Barbara did not exist, I would not be in the Dharma today.  If Lea had not had her initial wish, none of what currently exists and none of what is to come in Southern California would be.  It is said that the merit we accumulate from helping our Dharma center continues to grow for as long as the center exists.  The story of Lea and the Dharma in Southern California shows us how.

 

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Dispelling wrong views

Dispelling wrong views about spiritual life when access to a center is difficult

It goes without saying that regular access to a Dharma center is good thing.  Geshe-la would not have worked so hard to establish Dharma centers around the world, nor implore us to help contribute to their development, if they were not supremely sacred objects in this world.  When explaining how one can nonetheless make spiritual progress without regular access to a center, there is a danger that some will misunderstand what is being said to mean Dharma centers are not important and we don’t need to make effort to make them part of our life.  Some people who do have regular access to a center think it is good if people think it is “bad” to not have regular access because then they will be motivated to overcome their “obstacles.”  Sometimes this is motivated by a genuine belief that regular access to a center is a necessary condition for spiritual progress, sometimes it is motivated by a perhaps unacknowledged attachment to people coming to the center.  Regardless of the reasons, some people are reluctant to explain how one can still make progress without regular access to a center.  I would say if one truly is compassionately motivated to help people gain regular access to a center they need to help people transform life without such access.  Why?  Because transforming our life in this way creates the karmic causes to one day have regular access.  And in the meantime, it enables people to get on with their spiritual life without grasping at “phantom obstacles” to their practice.

The first and most important thing to realize is all lives are equally empty, so they are all equally transformable into the quick path to enlightenment.  It is perfectly possible for somebody to have regular access to a Dharma center and teachings, yet make no spiritual progress at all; and likewise it is possible for somebody to never set foot in a Dharma center and make rapid progress to enlightenment.  To go one step further, all Dharma centers are equally empty.  Externally, all the trappings of a Dharma center may be present, but the members of the community lack, in Venerable Tharchin’s words, “realizations bound together by mutual love for one another;” and it is likewise possible that none of the external trappings of a center be present, but one nonetheless feels like they live every day in a Dharma center.  Some people, for example, are unable to make it to a Dharma festival.  But if during the time of the festival, the practitioner adopts “a festival mind” then everything that happens to them during festival time will be, for them, their “festival.”  Whether we have regular access to a Dharma center is, in the final analysis, a state of mind.  As soon as we adopt this state of mind, regardless of where we externally might find ourselves, we can validly experience ourselves as “being in a Dharma center.”

The difference between a qualified Dharma practitioner and a qualified Dharma teacher is similar to the difference between somebody who drives to work every day and a taxi driver.  Somebody who drives themselves around might know very well how to get from their home to their work in the city center, and they may even know a few short cuts which enable them to avoid most of the traffic.  But if you ask them how to get to their work starting from someplace else, they wouldn’t know.  An experienced taxi driver, however, knows all of the different routes one can take to get to the city center, regardless of where somebody started out.  They know all the routes, and indeed shortcuts, starting from anywhere to anywhere.  In the same way, a qualified Dharma practitioner will know how to transform the life they have led into the quick path to the City of Enlightenment, and they may even know a few shortcuts along the way; but they do not necessarily know how to transform a life other than their own into the quick path.  A qualified Dharma teacher, in contrast, is like a taxi driver that understands we all have our own unique karmic starting point on the spiritual path and so the route we each take to enlightenment will necessarily be different.  Understanding this, over the span of many years working with a wide variety of different practitioners, they become like a skilled taxi driver who knows how to get from anywhere to the enlightened city center.

Problems arise, though, when a practitioner first makes the transition to becoming a teacher and they mistakenly grasp at there being only one way – the way they just took.  As a result, the advice they give might be perfectly appropriate for somebody who is travelling the path as they have; but perfectly wrong for somebody who is beginning their trip from a different karmic starting point.  It is possible, for example, that abandoning our kids, jobs and families is the right thing to do for one person; this does not mean, however, it is the right thing to do for everybody else.  I have found that most of the Dharma advice people give is, if we check, the rationalizations we ourselves have used to make the spiritual decisions we have made.  Such thinking may be right for us, but we should be careful in assuming it is equally right for everybody else.  In a similar way, when we receive Dharma advice from our teachers or spiritual friends, we should always keep in mind that just because a certain way of doing things worked for others doesn’t necessarily mean that same way will work for us.  It is easy to become attached to what our teachers and spiritual friends think of us, and when we feel they are judging us for making what they consider to be wrong spiritual choices it hurts.  When this happens, people usually fall into one of two extremes, either they assume the teacher is right and start making choices that might not make sense given their individual context; or they assume the teacher is wrong, wind up losing faith and abandoning everything.  The middle way is to understand what the teacher is saying was right for them, but we need to check and see if what they are saying is right for us as well.

In the end, our job is very simple.  We need to do our best to make it to Dharma centers or Dharma teachings when we can, but accept our karma when we can’t.  We need to surrender our life and our karma to Dorje Shugden, our Dharma Protector, requesting that he transform our life into our Dharma teachings and wherever we are into our Dharma center.  Dorje Shugden’s job is to arrange the perfect outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  Some people mistakenly believe he can only do so with our virtuous karma, but in reality he is especially skilled at transforming the ripening of our “negative karma” into our most transformative Dharma teachings.  If he can transform our worst negative karma into the path, then certainly he has the power to transform whatever happens in our life into a “Dharma teaching” and wherever we might find ourselves into our “Dharma center.”

Many of us grasp onto a fixed notion of what it means to lead a spiritual life, namely somebody who leaves behind the worlds of work and family to dedicate themselves to a life of meditation, retreat and working for the center.  It is true, this is one way to lead one’s spiritual life, one that we should deeply rejoice in; but by no means is it the only way.  After the publication of Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la said our mission now is to “attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.”  Modern lives are incredibly diverse in nature, and all of them have equal potential to be quick paths.  Due to karma accumulated over countless previous lives, we find ourselves with some form of modern life – whatever form that might be.  Our job is to bring the Kadam Dharma into our life and realize the union of the two.  Time and time again, Geshe-la has said, “everyone needs Kadam Dharma.”  This does not mean everyone needs to become Buddhist, it means everyone can beneficially bring Kadampa wisdom into their lives.  The only way they will be able to do so is if we, the Kadampa practitioners of this world, learn how to do the same.  If we grasp at the Kadam Dharma only being practicable in a single type of life, its reach in this world will be extremely limited.  If instead we learn how to bring the Kadam Dharma into any life, we will help fulfill Geshe-la’s vision of bringing into everyone’s life.  In short, as Venerable Tharchin says, we each need to “assume our place in the mandala.”  We each have a role to play, and that role is to show how whatever life we may have (including one that does not have regular access to a Dharma center) can be a quick path to enlightenment.

Making progress when access to a center is difficult:  Motivation for series

This series of posts is written for the benefit of all those who, for whatever reason, are unable to have regular access to a Dharma center and Dharma teachings.  I have attempted to gather in one place my own experience and understanding for how it is not only possible to continue to make progress when access to a center is difficult, but it is also possible to spiritually thrive.  This series is additionally written in the hope that those who do have regular access to a Dharma center might be able to better understand, accept and help those who don’t.  It will hopefully also be useful for all practitioners who wish to receive a constant stream of Dharma teachings every day.  This is not to say Dharma centers are not important, rather it is to say our understanding of them is too narrow.  Our Spiritual Guide is providing all of us without exception access to Dharma centers and Dharma teachings every single day, regardless of how the world might conventionally appear to us.

The kindness of our Spiritual Guide in establishing Dharma centers, temples and study programs around the world is unequaled.  Without this basic spiritual infrastructure we would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make the journey to enlightenment.  Through his provision of these things, he has created for us magical transporters that connect our home towns to the city of enlightenment.  Gen-la Losang said Dharma centers are like Embassies of the Pure Land in this world.  Dharma centers accomplish two main functions.  First, they provide us with regular access to qualified teachings; and second, they provide a focal point for connecting with and building up pure spiritual communities in this world.  Venerable Tharchin says a Dharma center is not the bricks and mortar, though they of course matter, rather a Dharma center is the “collection of spiritual realizations of its practitioners bound together by their mutual love for one another.”   When we understand the nature of samsara, there is quite literally nothing more precious in this world than this basic spiritual infrastructure.

For a wide variety of reasons, though, not everyone has easy access to a Dharma center and Dharma teachings.  Some people simply live far away from the closest center, some live in countries where Dharma centers are not allowed, some lack the financial means to get to and participate in the center’s activities, some have family or work obligations which make it difficult to come to the center as often as they would like.  Some people have physical constraints which prevent them from coming, such as disabilities, illness or old age.  Some people have mental constraints, such as strong delusions, wrong views, or simply a failure to understand the importance of receiving teachings or being involved with a spiritual community.  Some people may simply lack the karma to be able to make it to the center, others may love the teachings but may have strained relationships with certain members of the Sangha or the institution of the “NKT.”  Some people, sadly, are simply not made to feel welcome at their local Dharma center, even though our Spiritual Guide has made it clear that the sign hanging over the center door reads, “Everybody Welcome.”  Whatever the reasons, it happens that practitioners will sometimes find it difficult to have regular access to Dharma teachings and a Dharma center.

When this happens, it can be a real problem for people.  They can come to view everything in their life that prevents them from making it to the center as an obstacle to their spiritual progress, giving rise to all sorts of anxiety, worry, inner turmoil and family conflict.  They then wrongly conclude that they cannot practice Dharma, and either postpone or even abandon their spiritual life.  It does not help that some of those who do have regular access to a Dharma center, including some teachers, lack the spiritual imagination to see how one can transform such a circumstance into the path.  As a result, those who do lack regular access can feel judged as lacking spiritual commitment or looked down upon as being spiritually lazy.  Since their teachers or spiritual friends are assenting to the view that there is only one way of fully committing oneself to the practice of Dharma, people who cannot live their life in that image continue to grasp at these constraints as inherently being obstacles to their spiritual practice.  Like old people and some other marginalized groups I have written about before, people whose access to a center is difficult “experience many special sorrows.”  In my view, all of this is completely unnecessary.

To understand why, in this series of posts I will first attempt to dispel some wrong views about spiritual life when access to a center is difficult, then I will explain some practical steps we can take to make manifest a Dharma center in our life.  I will then explain how we can receive individualized Dharma teachings through our every experience, and I will conclude by sharing some special advice Geshe-la has given us for how to receive perfectly reliable inner guidance from him every day.