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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 36 B UDDHIST PRACTICES are techniques we use to tackle our habitual self-cherishing. Each one is designed to attack individual habits until the com- pulsion to cling to “self ” is entirely eradicated. So although a practice may look Buddhist, if it rein- forces self-clinging, it is actually far more dangerous than any overtly non-Buddhist practice. The aim of far too many teachings these days is to make people “feel good,” and even some Buddhist masters are beginning to sound like New Age apostles. Their talks are entirely devoted to validating the manifestation of ego and endorsing the “rightness” of our feelings, neither of which have anything to do with the teachings we find in the pith instructions. So if you are only con- cerned about feeling good, you are far better off having a full-body massage or listening to some uplifting or life-affirming music than receiving dharma teachings, which were definitely not designed to cheer you up. On the contrary, the dharma was devised specifically to expose your failings and make you feel awful. Try reading The Words of My Perfect Teacher. If you find it depressing, if Patrul Rinpoche’s disconcerting truths rattle your worldly self-confidence, be happy. It is a sign that at long last you are beginning to understand something about the dharma. And by the way, to feel depressed is not always a bad thing. It is completely understandable for someone to feel depressed and deflated when their most humiliating failing is exposed. Who wouldn’t feel a bit raw in such a situation? But isn’t it better to be painfully aware of a failing rather than utterly oblivious to it? If a flaw in your character remains hidden, how can you do anything about it? So although pith instructions might temporarily depress you, they will also help uproot your shortcomings by dragging them into the open. This is what is meant by the phrase “dharma penetrating your mind,” or, as the great Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye put it, “the practice of dharma bearing fruit,” rather than the so-called good experiences too many of us hope for, such as good dreams, blissful sensations, ecstasy, clairvoyance, or the enhancement of intuition. Patrul Rinpoche said there is no such thing as a person who has perfected both dharma practice and worldly life, and if we ever meet someone who appears to be good at both, the likeli- hood is that his or her skills are grounded in worldly values. It is such a mistake to assume that practicing dharma will help us calm down and lead an untroubled life; nothing could be further from the truth. Dharma is not a therapy. Quite the opposite, in fact; dharma is tailored specifically to turn your life upside down—it’s what you sign up for. So when your life goes pear-shaped, why do you complain? If you practice and your life fails to capsize, it is a sign that what you are doing is not working. This is what distinguishes the dharma from New Age methods involving auras, relationships, communication, well-being, the Inner Child, being one with the universe, and tree hugging. From the point of view of dharma, such interests are the toys of sam- saric beings—toys that quickly bore us senseless. The Heart of Sadness Kongtrul Rinpoche suggested we pray to the guru, buddhas, and bodhisattvas and ask them to grant their blessings, “So I may give birth to the heart of sadness.” But what is a “heart of sadness”? Imagine one night you have a dream. Although it is a good dream, deep down you know that eventually you will have to wake up and it will be over. In life, too, sooner or later, whatever the state of our relationships, our health, our jobs, and every aspect of our lives, everything, absolutely everything, will change. And the little bell ringing in the back of your head to remind you of this inevi- tability is what is called the “heart of sadness.” Life, you realize, is a race against time, and you should never put off dharma practice until next year, next month, or tomorrow—because the future may never happen. This race-against-time kind of attitude is so important, espe- cially when it comes to practice. My own experience has shown me that promising myself I will start to practice next week more or less guarantees that I will never get around to it. And I don’t think I am alone. So once you understand that real dharma practice is not just about formal sitting meditation but a never- ending confrontation with and opposition to pride and ego, as well as a lesson in how to accept change, you will be able to start practicing right away. For example, imagine you are sitting on a beach admiring the sunset. Nothing terrible has happened and you are content, even happy. Then suddenly that little bell starts to ring in your head, reminding you that this could be the last sunset you ever see. You realize that, were you to die, you might not be reborn with the ability to appreciate a sunset, let alone the capacity to understand what a sunset is, and this thought alone helps you focus your mind on practice. Go Beyond Concept A sincere wish to practice the dharma is not born of a desire for personal happiness or to be perceived as a “good” person, but neither do we practice because we want to be unhappy or become “bad” people. A genuine aspiration to practice dharma arises from the longing to attain enlightenment. By and large, human beings tend to prefer to fit into society by following accepted rules of etiquette and being gentle, polite, and respectful. The irony is that this is also how most people imagine a spiritual person should behave. When a so-called dharma practi- tioner is seen to behave badly, we shake our heads over her audac- ity at presenting herself as a follower of the Buddha. Yet such judg- ments are better avoided, because to “fit in” is not what a genuine dharma practitioner strives for. Think of the great mahasiddha Tilopa, for example. He looked so outlandish that if he turned up on your doorstep today, odds are you would refuse to let him in. And you would have a point. He would most probably be almost completely naked; if you were lucky, he might be sporting some kind of G-string; his hair would never have been introduced to