Dharma teachers continually emphasise the need to practice. Dharma must be practised. We must engage in the methods it offers in order to arrive even at the initial stages of awakening. ‘Awakening’ is what is offered by Dharma. We are offered the opportunity to awaken from our delusion, from our limited view. To engage with practice requires a degree of belief and acceptance of the view and methods offered.
We cannot experience awakening without having recognised, to whatever degree, that we are asleep. We cannot awaken without engaging in the methodology involved with awakening. This is not to say that Dharma is the only religion that offers effective and tested methods of awakening. It is simply that this is a book written by a Dharma practitioner, about Dharma, and so will inevitably speak from that perspective. I make no apology for my bias. I love the path of Vajrayana Buddhism, and I wish to offer a glimpse of the opportunities it continually offers me. The experiences to which I refer, and upon which I rely, are a natural expression of my own life and practice rather than an argument in favour of Vajrayana above all other religions.
To accomplish any path requires confidence in the teacher and willingness to immerse oneself in the methods of the teacher. If we wished to become proficient at playing a musical instrument, we would have to engage in years of determined and steadfast practice. Elements of that practice might seem to bear little resemblance to the goal of the practice. Endless repetition of scales or exercises to increase the span and suppleness of fingers might seem to have little to do with the inspirational overtures of the great composers. However, we engage in the practice of scales and exercises because we have confidence in our music teachers.
We see that they play their instruments well, and that they have a love of music which is infectious. We understand that they have engaged in the practice of scales and exercises on the path to proficiency in playing their chosen musical instrument – and, what is more, they continue to practice. A student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche who was serving Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche as an attendant during his stay, noticed that Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche was reading a text. He asked why he was reading it, when he surely knew everything there was to know concerning Dharma. Kyabjé Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoche replied simply that he loved to read Dharma – it was not a question of learning or not learning.
It may be that we approach different teachers who offer divergent methods before we settle to work closely, and with commitment, with one particular teacher and method. However, once we have gained confidence in the teacher and method, we can progress quickly – if we apply ourselves with enthusiasm and dedication.
Dharma is a path. Dharma consists of methods which enable us to awaken from our delusions and reach the goal of the realisation of chö – ‘as it is’. To achieve this goal we engage in practice. Our teachers suggest that these practices will help us reach the goal and after a period of testing the methods and getting to know our teachers, we develop confidence in them. We notice that our teachers are happy, startlingly present, vibrant people.
The method may not always be enjoyable or easy, and it may not always ‘make sense’ in our limited conventional terms of reference – but if our confidence in the teacher and the teachings is well grounded, it can be maintained and we can continue to discover surprising results.
It would be unrealistic to ignore the fact that it can be challenging to enter the pervasive dimension of religion. In the early stages we may be carried along simply by enthusiasm or fascination. The novelty and exotic outer form of the religion may keep us involved, but something deeper and more grounded needs to be established if we are to continue to remain engaged with practice through times of resistance and self-protectiveness. At such times we tend to generate doubt as a buffer.
I may find myself inexpressibly opened by my initial contact with Dharma – when it is new and interesting, exotic, colourful, and charged with sound and imagery. I have been inspired by the teacher, the teachings, and the cheerful energy of the practitioners around me.
On my first retreat, I may feel that it is impossible to lose the new-found energy and inspiration I have discovered, and I go home fired up to practise at least two hours a day. However, when I get home and start to practise daily on my own, I may find that it is not so easy to maintain the thread of inspiration and enthusiasm. I may even find that I am bored with meditation practice. I may find that I have forgotten the vajra melodies to the liturgical practices that I have been taught, and in the cold back bedroom of my home it all might begin to seem senseless and futile. I may begin to experience confusion and uncertainty. I may find that friends and family are threatened by the inspiration I have discovered – and they may prove less than supportive. It could begin to feel as though in my practice I am swimming against the current of social consensus.
My hope in this book, is to offer a simple perspective on the nature of Dharma as a religion. I hope to portray what it may mean to become involved with entering the view of the Buddhist religion, and engaging with the practice, in order to begin to taste something of its result.