Our Fortune to come into the Dharma
I believe that we do not come to the path of Dharma by accident. Out of billions of people there are only a few who, like you, have the opportunity to come across the path. It certainly means that we have accumulated some good karma or some positive merit over past lives. In this life it has come to fruition and has resulted in our coming into contact with the precious Dharma. This is why we should not waste this precious time. The more we use our time well, the more we will understand why it is so precious and fortunate.
In the beginning the teacher always says: “This life is very precious and you are very fortunate. Dharma is very good”. Yet we do not feel much like that and sometimes we might even feel we are being imposed upon when we are told our life is so precious. But life can take many turns and each turn brings us closer to understanding the significance of Dharma. Each experience in life teaches us so deeply that we can truly find the meaning of this fortunate life. Then we are able to say: “It is auspicious for me to be able to come across the Dharma.” It does not matter whether or not we are great practitioners because by simply having the opportunity of being on the path of Dharma, we are connected to a source of ultimate happiness, joy, wisdom and compassion. Without this connection our lives would have taken a totally different course and this is what makes us different.
One interesting thing is that one never stops finding deeper meanings on the path of Dharma. As we go further on the path, we never really come to a stage when we feel that it is enough or this is the end. I studied all the philosophical and academic side at the Buddhist College. As each course finished, I used to think that now I would know all the Dharma. Then after I had finished each course, it only created a greater vacuum of what I did not know. There was always something more to know. Then we graduated to a higher school and we started another mind-boggling type of philosophy. After this I thought: “Now I know all the Sutra and Tantra. I am on top”. But again it did not happen and finally even after finishing many years at college, studying all the different philosophical schools of Sutra and then all the different levels of Inner and Outer Tantra, I still did not know everything. I even had a certificate at the end of all my studies but still it did not satisfy me.
In the end it was only through spending a small amount of time on retreat that finally I realized that real experience does not lie in books. It must come from a personal experience. When you are studying the books and texts, you learn something but it is only when you stop studying that true experience begins to unfold. Then you begin to see all the stages of Dharma very differently from when you were still a scholar. Even after studying all the philosophical schools for five, seven or even ten years, you still feel that you need to spend your entire life putting all this study into practice. These years of learning are just a stepping stone leading to all the higher levels that you still need to reach through practice.
This means that in order to realize the complete meaning of what you have studied for seven years might take many lifetimes of practice and still that may not be enough. The reason is because the teaching is so deep and profound. Why does it take so long? Because it cuts through the accumulation of our defilements based on the duality we have accumulated over many lifetimes. We have to cut through these one by one, so it is natural that it will take so much time. We can be logical here. If someone has accumulated negative karma over many lifetimes, how could he or she hope to discard it all instantly over a couple of retreats? — Dungsey Gyetrul Jigme Rinpoche
Our purpose is to come eventually to enlightenment. Our motivation is good, because it is not just for our own benefit but for all sentient beings. It is a long-term goal and therefore we will do our best which certainly requires enormous discipline and diligence; the two main qualities that can help us to avoid distractions.
How do we develop mindfulness, for example? We have to be ready to remind ourselves at any moment when we feel we are distracted and this requires enormous discipline which I think is the most difficult thing that students go through. Not only Dharma students but everybody has difficulty with discipline, especially when you live in a so-called free society, where freedom of expression, democracy and freedom for all kind of things are cherished so much and are the source of pride. For such a society it is very difficult to talk about discipline.
But what is really meant by discipline? Sometimes when we talk about discipline, some people think of it in terms of communism. Some people relate to discipline as a kind of a law, enforcing us to do this and that. They see it as a blockage to the freedom of expression and the freedom to be whatever we want. This feeling of being whatever you want is an obstacle you have always cherished. You can be what you want but will that be good for you or not? We need some discipline and awareness in order to see that not everything we think of is good for us. If you put everything we think into account, then you see that not all our thoughts are good for ourselves, let alone good for others. We have to examine our thoughts.
For example, we have terrible thoughts sometimes and we cannot just think that this is my thought so I will express it. You cannot express all these terrible thoughts and act on them simply because you have the freedom and the right to do so. There are thoughts that can be very harmful not only for ourselves but for others too. It is not necessary to express them but in order to realize that, it is important to develop mindfulness which can only be done through discipline. There are many times when some kind of thought comes into our mind and we feel that it is not good. We think: “I am not going to think like that again. I feel so ashamed and embarrassed to think like that”. Yet you know that often in the next few seconds you follow the thought up with actions and the result is not always that great. Our experience in life tells us that there are certain experiences which we keep on repeating although we did not want them to happen. This shows a lack of discipline and mindfulness.
Discipline, mindfulness and diligence are important factors on the path of Dharma and also on the path of everyday life for everyone, because they will really help us to avoid doing lots of stupid things. Discipline can also help and encourage us to cultivate and develop good thoughts, actions and good results. It is not always a bad thing to have discipline and diligence because through them we become more focused. Then our goal and our aim will become clearer and because of that, we can really make effort. When the goal and purpose are clear, if we have diligence and discipline, then the outcome will be satisfactory. Maybe we are unable to accomplish totally, but at least, whatever accomplishment we are able to make brings some satisfaction and contentment and a certain joy and it is a good way to start. Then joy and contentment become the movement that inspires and motivates us all along the path.
By reflecting on these truths, take the whole path and the whole Dharma to heart. This is an absolute matter involving us not for our own sakes alone but for the sake of all beings. Take the path seriously, whether you are doing the practice for ten minutes or for two hours. All practice matters when you have these truths clearly in your mind. It can make a big difference in your approach to the path. Make an effort to develop discipline and diligence and you will see how it helps you in the long run. For example, sometimes you may be feeling very down due to certain reasons. You may not feel in a good mood to practice, but because your diligence and discipline have been well trained, they will not leave you. They will remind you constantly that you have to practice. In preventing us from finding many excuses for not doing the practice, it is always helpful. It may be a bit difficult in the beginning, but it always leads us finally to a good result. That is what we can appreciate.
In the monasteries, for example, the way the monks and nuns grow up, the way they are trained is with a lot of discipline and diligence. Because they are used to being disciplined, they are also able to completely use their precious human lives. It enables them not only to see life as more meaningful and to use it to become more joyful and beneficial with healthier circumstances, but they also become living embodiments of the spiritual realizations of the whole spiritual tradition. They symbolize this spiritual tradition of living wisdom in a moving form. This is what is really inspiring for all of us, but it could not have happened without diligence and discipline. Thus these are crucial factors in making our practice successful and satisfactory and accomplishing something in the end. Sometimes you will see that when distractions become fewer, our understanding, experiences and blessings become richer, deeper and more profound.
All the techniques of the Dharma can be used to pacify distractions. When all the distractions are removed, we automatically feel focused, relaxed and grounded which can open up so many beautiful things inside us, particularly if we are looking for inner transformation. This can never take place without working first on distraction which is the main culprit and main obstacle, I would say. Even if we have very good motivation, so many good things in life remain unaccomplished due to the pressure of distraction. — Dungsey Gyetrul Jigme Rinpoche