Now when we discuss dharma and the way we practice dharma – it would serve well to discuss it within the context of where we live. We are not in ancient India or Tibet. We are not in Bodha or Yang-lé-shöd in Nepal. We are not in Tso Pema, Manali or McLeod Ganj in India. We are in Wales – unless we go to London when the great Lamas visit. So we have to take our living situation into account.
During the last decade or so I’ve travelled around Britain, staying in many of the Tibetan centres for periods of time. I have mixed memories of those times. Mostly those memories are joyful and inspiring – but some are sad. I’ve seen people who are supposed to be practitioners acting in ways that show that all they’ve achieved is to generate arrogance, spite, greed, agitation, and closed-mindedness.
It is important for us to think about these matters. The Tibetan lineages have not functioned in the West for that long, and when these lineages find themselves in a new environment, their Lamas have to observe how the teachings are being assimilated. This should not be a cause for surprise. It would apply to any religion that travelled from one part of the world to another.
Christianity must have faced certain issues as it moved from the Middle East to Rome, and from Rome to Europe. The dharma that has come from Tibet has its own cultural context and cannot simply be transplanted.
The dharma that comes from Tibet naturally takes the Tibetan personality and cultural context into account in the style of its explanations. We have a different kind of personality and a different cultural context. This means that the way in which dharma is expressed may not always communicate perfectly with how we comprehend. This needs to be examined with care, as we may need to make some adjustments—in terms of language—in accordance with what seems to be malfunctioning.
Let us take an analogy. If I were to dig up a plant that is acclimatised to the Himalayas and plant it in Cardiff, maybe there would be no problems. Maybe it would flower as beautifully here as it did in the mountains. But maybe the soil acidity—or any one of a number of horticultural factors—might be an issue. Maybe parasites would cause it to grow in a stunted fashion – blemished with growths and blotchy leaves. I’ve grown avocado tree stones—for example—but although they grow well enough, they do not produce fruit.
So … I sit patiently with my mayonnaise and black pepper in vain. The avocado trees I grow will never produce more than leaves unless I provide hot-house conditions. As I cannot afford a hot-house, I will never taste the fruit of these trees. So what do I do? Simple. I go to the supermarket and buy my avocados there.