Information era is becoming more and more a disinformation era. This can be harmful. On the other hand, the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism has been cultivating laser-sharp logic and reasoning for centuries and this tradition is still living in Tibetan tradition, especially in Gelugpa school.
These teachings sharpen our mind and help us to differentiate what is valid from what is merely a projection, the help us to recognize the flaws like speculation, generalizations, futile shifting from subject to subject, projections into others etc., and supports us mental discipline, cognitive precision and flexibility that comes from training in debates (antidote for dogmatism and mental dullness), they build certainty in valid perception and gradually eliminate doubt etc.
“It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act. If one is really concerned with benefiting others, one needs to be engaged, involved.”
“That is the truest form of empathy: not just feeling, but doing; not just for ourselves or our kids, but for everyone.”
Genuinely compassionate people always have a lot in common. Regardless if somebody is a Buddhist or Christian or atheist, they tend to speak a similar language.
Genuine compassion is never just a lip service, designed to build one’s image in front of the others. Its test are the actions that we take to benefit others. it is always surpassing the narrow frame of I, me and mine and opening the horizon across time and space.
Study is a great equalizer. In study there is no discrimination by gender, race, nationality, age or ordination, all that matters is if you have studied the topic enough to have understood it or not. Differently to common beliefs, study is also fu9. You can see it when you watch the monks and nuns debating. There is a lot of laughter and bonding on the way to insights.
I wish that people understood the value of study also to avoid the sectarianism. When study is not the focus, when ignorance is stronger, it is more likely to worship external appearances such as fame, wealth, titles and similar, and to develop sectarian attitudes, such placing one’s own teacher, tradition or monastery above others. Respect and appreciation of our sources of dharma are wonderful. Not because of external factors, which can be deceiving, but because of opportunity to better comprehend the Buddha’s doctrine and with each layer of comprehension transform our perception of reality a little bit more. Contrary to common belief, study is not mere intellectualism, it is a means that gives us clarity about what to pursue and what to abandon. It cuts through appearances.
The less that I am clinging to samsaric pleasures, confirmations or engagements of any kind, the more I have renounced samsara, the more I see the beauty that can be found in that very same samsaric appearances.
Does it sound like a paradox? It does. Is it a paradox? No, not at all, rather the contrary.
For years I have been watching how grasping at anything samsaric leads to trouble. It makes us want things to be our way, which brings us stress and frustration because life does not follow our wishes and wants. It makes us generate expectations how other people should act or speak or think, which is another source of conflict and stress, sometimes simply because we are different and have different needs.
The more I have started to notice how my self-centered, self-righteous clinging to my habits and beliefs have started to subside and give space for a more open-minded approach, based on reason, instead of emotions, habits or peer-pressure, the more my mind has started to relax and the faster it regained joyful balance after I got upset about something, that I found unjust, harmful or simply not to my liking. Appreciating others and the circumstances that I have, have gradually become my mode of existence. Still work in progress, but the basis is here.
So, here it is, happier and more peaceful life than I’ve ever had before. It has grown from reason, from understanding what matters and what does not, from a larger perspective to a succession of lifetimes, from study and contemplation of I have learnt. In this life of gratitude my mind is much more opened, relaxed and happy than ever before.
This is the basis, I believe, that makes colors more brilliant, tastes more delicious, bypassing sounds more pleasing to my ears, and every movement around me more subtly elegant. I experience it as a happy-sad beauty, being at the same time acutely aware that all these sensations are impermanent, not satisfying on the long run and similar to a reflection of the world on a soap bubble. Yet, this is anything but a melancholic feeling to me, instead it evokes a strong and steady determination to continue to pursue my path in Dharma study and ordination.
I had to go to the cash machine to get my rent ready, so I saddled my bike and headed to the mall. It was a beautiful morning, fresh and clear, filled with vivacious bird songs and fields were adorned with perfect lines of abundantly growing crops. Then I smelled soup. Traditional Sunday soup, to be precise. “How could there be a smell of soup in the middle of the fields and it's not even Sunday?” I wondered. I smelled to the left, I smelled to the right and there it was: distinctive smell of freshly made Sunday soup. Still inhaling the soup smell, entertaining myself with pondering how far can a soup smell travel, I found the source: a group of farmers picking up celery, parsley and other tasty ingredients of a nourishing Sunday soup.
“Aha!” I've thought, “This is how we project!“ We find a small fragment of reality, like a physical sense or mental concept, associate it with a larger context that we have experienced before, without even noticing that we've added something to our perception, and then we believe that this combined perception is the reality that we have encountered.
All kinds of similar examples opened in front of my mind like a fan, exposing how often we add our interpretations to the reality, not noticing that something was added or changed. Hearing something new and “repeating” what the person has said with something added or changed; recalling a memory through a colored lens of some other experiences or beliefs; interpreting a statement differently depending who said it; etc. It reminds me of a children game where a person whispers something to another person’s ear, who whispers it to another person etc., which ends in a completely different message after a couple of whispers.
Most of the time we are not precise about what we perceive, and we do not notice how often “vegetables are turned into soup”. Perceiving that something has been added, changed or projected requires long-term training and Tibetan Buddhist debates are incredibly helpful. They have very precise structure making sure that we do not divert from the track and they train us in mental discipline, precision, attention to details, sharpness and flexibility of mind.
This is useful for correct comprehension of subtle topics in Buddhist philosophy. Without study and precise understanding of fundamental concepts, it can easily happen that a familiar term becomes a basis of projections of what it means, not even realizing that its actual meaning has not been understood in accordance to the Buddha’s intent, but has been instead twisted into our personal ideas of reality. Then it becomes clear why study is so often rejected – we already know all the fundamental concepts, don’t we, we just have to meditate on them, and we’ll become Buddhas. According to my experiences, only through study we start to realize that we do not understand the most fundamental terms in their entirety and with laser-sharp precision. This requires training. Only then we have suitable building blocks for effective
contemplation of reality.
Buddhahood is a long-term goal and requires long-term thinking. When temporary benefits override long-term sustainability, this hinders our goal. Hindrances to sustainable Dharma are systemic whenever temporary goals, especially those benefiting mostly one group of people, override striving to empower community at large and on the long run. One can strive for Dharma sustainability on a personal level, which is beneficial, or on systemic level, which is even better, but much harder as it involves challenging the existing structures.
Traditionally Buddhist countries already have structures and systems that preserve the Dharma in their environments, for example monastic universities in Tibetan Buddhism, but this is not the case in the west. So, we can ask ourselves how to contribute to the sustainability of the dharma in our own environment, too.
We can analyze how we are spending our time, money, and energy. Or how do dharma organizations use their resources but let us start with ourselves. Let's say that we save our money for dharma tourism and spend it once per year for traveling to some exotic or nearby destination, spend a couple of days on teaching, leave hundreds of dollars also there, and then return, letting the excitement of the holiday fade away and make us yearn again for a new dharma holiday reset. Whom will it benefit financially? Travel agency, hotel, airplane, train and bus companies, owner of the venue, the organizer, and other companies. Hundreds, often thousands of dollars can be spent to finance primarily samsaric companies. If this money was spent on enabling Buddhism in the west, it would quickly accumulate to more opportunities for more people. Let us say that a single person spends $1000/year for dharma tourism and 100 people – a fraction of the visitors of big dharma festivals – decide to invest in dharma in their country instead. This can quickly evolve in monasteries and nunneries, Buddhist educational institutions, more monks and nuns of various nationalities and flourishing dharma in the west. In numbers: 100 × $1000 × 2 = $200,000 every second year, or even more if this was invested. This is a price of a house in USA.
Second question that one can ask oneself is, how many people does it benefit? In the first scenario, one person receives dharma for a couple of days. In the second scenario, many people receive dharma throughout the whole year, for decades. If the institution is based on personality worship, the time span lasts until the person’s death, but if the focus is on study, like in monastic universities, it does not depend on individual personality and lasts for many generations, as long as people value the study of dharma wisdom.
The third question that one can ask oneself is, how do I spend my energy. Many people, Dharma tourists included, wait for the whole year for the excitement of that single week of holiday when they can escape from everyday life and get a feeling of something different or special or important, whatever they yearn for. This makes the majority of the year bleak in comparison to the weak of elevated feelings excitement, and the worst thing is that the elevated feeling fades away quickly after returning to everyday life, which is to be expected whenever elevated feelings are based on external conditions and emotions. External conditions are transient, and emotions are by nature unstable fleeing events, opposite to reason and mental states based on rational evaluations, which tend to be significantly more sustainable. The first scenario does not sound like a well-used energy for me. The second scenario would be to engage ourselves in study of dharma throughout the whole year. This would imply constant influx of new material for our progress in dharma and train us in sustainable rational, well validated views and decisions for guiding our lives.
Simple questions like, how do I spend my money, time and energy, whom does it benefit, how many people does it benefit and how much does it benefit time-wise can make a big difference in sustainability of dharma and its absence. We can avoid contributing to systemic hindrances that arise from shortsighted, individualistic mindsets. It is remarkably similar to ecology and also here the choice depends on each person individually. Nevertheless, my experience is that rational thinking, wider and long-term perspective lead to more fulfilling life and more happiness, not just for us, but also to those whom our choices benefited.
We are trained to ask a teacher when we don't understand something, we are not trained to find a solution on our own. In dharma centers this might be even more common than in everyday circumstances. The problem is that copy-paste wisdom does not lead to realizations. Mimicking tells us what is the right answer, but it does not make us understand it.
I've heard people talk about emptiness – a very popular concept among Buddhists, isn’t it – while not understanding the most basic stepping stones that lead to its understanding, such as continuum (ཉེར་ལེན་) or impermanence (མི་རྟག་པ་). Parroting can look impressive, but what is the point of nice appearance if there is no substance beneath?
Dharma is subtle and difficult to comprehend in its profoundness. For example, gross impermanence is obvious, we can observe it on a daily basis, while subtle impermanence cannot be perceived through senses, it can be comprehended only through reason. Thorough comprehension of dharma requires study, which is not always easy, but if one wants results, one needs to put effort in it, there is no way to avoid it. It pays off on the long run.
Studying is not merely intellectual activity. Bringing clarity to your belief by study is a virtuous mind, as Geshe la says.
It's easy to blame others or to feel good about ourselves because we feel that we are better than others, but moral integrity is not about blame, it is about our own very personal cultivation of our ethical values.
Moral integrity is internal. Other people cannot see our motivation it and we cannot see other's either. I don't see much benefit in advertising one's religious or secular ethics, so you don't see me post things like "I pray for...", or even less "Let's have compassion for..." (this can be a form of using suffering of another to look saintly, without any benefit for them). I believe that it's more honest to keep one's good motivation private. It is good and necessary to discuss ethics, I appreciate it most of the time, but I don't think it is beneficial to use it design one's image, it's better to be honestly human than to use one's spirituality to deceive.
When we deeply consider our ethical values and moral integrity, when we study and discuss ethical issues, it is much less likely to point out at the mote at other person's eye while having a beam in our own. Ethics is not a gossip about wrongdoings of others, it is cultivation of our virtuous mind.
“Truth is something that in time gains momentum and clarity. Those who suppress the truth are the weapons, however, although weapons may be forceful for a short while, their impact does not last very long.”
HH Dalai Lama