It is important to observe ourselves and understand our condition. It is also important not to observe others with a judgemental eye because we probably have no conception of their condition or motivation. It is always better to assume that other people have kind motivation – especially when they are acting in ways we would not act. We all see the world in different ways – and so it is not possible to judge someone else’s actions or words on the basis of our own way of seeing.
There’s a Tibetan saying: ‘The many valleys each have their unique dialects, and the many Lamas each have their unique teachings.’ It is therefore not even practical common sense to say, ‘There’s a right and wrong way to practise.’
So—in respect of dharma—please never tell anyone that they are doing it wrong. Please never tell anyone that they should not do what they are doing. Please never tell anyone that they cannot do this before they have done that; or that they should not make offerings in such a way; or that they are not ready for whatever. This is not a helpful or kind way to behave. You will see this behaviour in many Buddhist centres – just don’t emulate it. Observe the harm and friction it causes and maybe if the circumstances are right – help to pick up the pieces … if you can. People can be fragile. Fledgling practitioners can easily become discouraged by fascist behaviour. I’ve seen new people who never return to a centre after this kind of treatment – and to be responsible for turning someone away from practice is grave to say the least.
There’s a book called ‘Imji-Gétsul’ by Lobsang Jivaka. The word Imji—or Inji—is a Tibetan mangling of the word ‘English’ and generally means ‘foreigner’.
Gé-tsül9 means a monk who has taken more vows than a gé-nyèn but who is not yet a fully ordained gé-long.10 The book is an account of a young English doctor who becomes a monk in a Ladakhi gompa.11 In his book Gé-tsül Lobsang relates a story which illustrates—extremely well—why we should not ascribe motives to other practitioners.
Gé-tsül Lobsang witnessed a gé-long furtively secrete an extra piece of bread into his waistcoat at the communal mealtime. He thought that the gé-long was a greedy man and breaking his vows. Later he learnt a significant lesson when he witnessed the gé-long giving the bread to a poor family whose father had been ill and could not work. When we see someone doing something we would not do therefore, we shouldn’t jump to the worst conclusion, nor deliver unrequested moral sermons. There are two kinds of unskilful activity: one that harms others, and one that only harms ourselves. Naturally we should step in to protect others when they are subjected to cruelty—either physical or verbal—but we should leave others to be responsible for their own personalities.
If someone is doing something differently from the way we do it – it may not be wrong, it may just be different.
If someone asks you for your view concerning differences – you can easily say,
Well I was taught in
this way – but there are many different methods and approaches and I don’t know them all.
So when we study bodhicitta—its methods of development and the fruits of its actualisation—we should
feel these teachings rather than trap them in the birdcage of intellect.
Kindness is not developed by academic athletics or by gaining the skill of arguing people into submission.
Drukpa Künlegs12 had an amusing way of describing experientially arid Buddhist philosophers. In fact he had a long list of people he found repugnant and listed them in some of his famous songs. There is one song where—every couple of lines—he ends with the word é-Hong! which means something like ‘phew!’.
His lines on philosophers went:
‘These philosophers … é-Hong! When they’re not reading about it, They’re talking about it! And when they’re not talking about it, They’re speculating about it!’
So rather than reading, talking and speculating – let’s try to live it as fully as we can. If we do that we’ll find that our entire world will change. The practice of shi-nè will also develop because there will be fewer barriers in its way.
If anyone actually took that statement in the chö’jugchen to heart, that ‘…a moment of anger destroys a lifetime of good actions’ … the effect would be gigantic. A person could either be terrified into a catatonic state … or it could open them so wide that they would never narrow again.
Nothing that alarming—either way—is likely to happen to most of us. We will therefore have to sit and practise shi-nè in order to create sufficient awareness of space for innate kindness to manifest.
For those of you who have been practising for some time—and who have developed the experience of shi-nè—this is something that you can pursue seriously.
For those who are new to the practice of shi-nè – please do not be unduly worried by this talk. You must allow your commitment to practice to develop naturally. Do not be tempted to take on too much.