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Lions Roar : July 2019
Judy Lief is a Buddhist teacher and the editor of many books of teachings by the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She’s the author of Making Friends with Death. us to a very different way of approaching our world and provides insights into our inner hang-ups and obstacles, as well as our inner potentialities. But without meditation practice, it’s hard to reap the benefits. Traditionally, study and practice each have a role. The mark of study is less arrogance and the mark of practice is a lessening of one’s nega- tive emotions, or kleshas. Obviously, this is based on a hopeful view of study and practice. In my experience, academic studies often lead to greater arrogance, not less. Likewise, meditative practices don’t always reduce kleshas; at times they seem to enhance them. For study and practice to be transformative, they have to be disruptive. If we don’t disrupt the momentum that perpetuates harmful ego fixa- tions, we’ll simply go on as usual. There’s no way to keep doing what we’re doing, and at the same time be open to transformation. For individual dharma students, and for the integrity of the tra- dition going forward, the kind of study and prac- tice that’s essential is the kind that’s disruptive to ego fixations. Dharma study is as much about unlearning as learning. In terms of learning, it’s important to develop basic knowledge about the tradition you’re following. That places your practice in a larger context and gives you a sense of where the tradition comes from and where it’s heading. Reading even a short passage of dharma can inspire you to keep going when you lose heart. Connecting with the broader tradition keeps you from drifting along, unmoored. It gives confidence. As we study, we infuse our everyday stream of thinking with dharma. This is a slow pro- cess. For the dharma, our everyday stream of thinking is hostile territory that’s already overcrowded with deep layers of thoughts and assumptions shaped by the dominant culture and our personal history. It may be best not to be slaves to our thinking at all—to free ourselves entirely from the hold of fixed views—but in the meantime, since we’re think- ing anyway, why not think dharmic thoughts? Such thoughts have a way of poking the edifice, exposing the underlying fear at the root. As we study, the dharma begins to confront our inner world. This is a clash of two totally incompatible ways of thinking. The dharma is exhilarating but threatening. It’s one thing to follow the dharma “out there,” but quite another to accept its implications for what’s going on “in here.” This level of study is like fermentation. We let the dharma seep in and try to dig down into what it’s really getting at. We question its truth, our understanding, and its relevance. Layer by layer we dig. Occasionally, as we grapple with the relation- ship between personal experience and dharmic teachings, we have moments of clarity. We find that neither the literal words out there, nor our struggle to interpret and digest them, fully hold up. The dharma doesn’t even need the label dharma. It just is. Simple and immediate. At first, you may be able to study the dharma somewhat impersonally, as something of interest “out there.” However, over time the dharma tends to become not so easy to keep at arm’s length. It leads us to question our most basic assumptions about who we are and how we’re living. We start to realize the dharma isn’t an adornment to our existing infrastructure, but its unraveling. This unraveling or unlearning is gentle. It frees us from the fro- zen quality of holding ourselves together through our solid views. The more space this opens up, the more dharma enters in. Studying the dharma leads to the kind of inquisitive mind that takes an interest in all aspects of our outer world and inner expe- rience. So, study goes beyond book learning and beyond a narrow definition of dharma. Taking an interest is a form of love. It opens a tender con- nection with whatever arises. You find that when you’re a true student, everywhere you turn there are teachings. For a balanced dharmic life, study needs to be paired with meditation. Words are powerful, but they can be deceptive. Just because we know something intellectually doesn’t mean we truly understand it. Meditation practice is key to under- standing the dharma. Meditation is so simple that it can seem that noth- ing is happening, but it changes things completely. PHOTOBYCHUCKLIEF CELEBRATING YEARS LION’S ROAR | JULY 2019 73