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The Message of Dhardo Rimpoche

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by Sangharakshita

... in three ways. In the first place we cherish it by studying it, by studying the sutras and shastras. The sutras contain the word of the Buddha, or what tradition regards as such. The shastras contain the explanations of the word of the Buddha given by Enlightened masters who lived at a later date. The sutras and the shastras constitute a very vast literature, and we don't of course have to study the whole of this literature. In any case, it hasn't all been translated into English. But we should have a thorough knowledge of a reasonable number of key texts. These texts may of course be of Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese or Tibetan origin, because in the FWBO we seek to draw freely from the riches of the entire Buddhist tradition. We do not seek, we do not wish to confine ourselves exclusively to any one tradition, however ancient.

If we don't have a knowledge of at least a few key texts - sutras or shastras - we shall really be unable to understand the Buddha's teaching. Not only that. In the absence of such knowledge our thinking about Buddhism, our reflection on Buddhism, will be muddled and confused, and we may even in extreme cases fall victim to wrong views.

And falling victim to wrong views is something that in the Buddhist tradition, in the Buddha's teaching, is taken very seriously indeed. When we speak of studying the sutras and shastras, it doesn't mean just reading them. It means also reflecting on them, turning them over and over in our minds. It means also discussing them with our teachers and with our fellow students.

In the second place, we cherish the doctrine by practising it. Of course, we can practise it if we have at least some knowledge of it. We practise the doctrine by going for refuge, and by trying continually to deepen our going for refuge, our going for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. We practise the doctrine by observing the precepts - five, or ten, or more. We practise it by engaging in right livelihood, something about which we hear so much from time to time. We practise it by cultivating spiritual friendship, of the supreme importance of which we are sufficiently apprised. We practise it by meditating and performing puja. We practise it by living in a spiritual community.

We practise it by helping to run a Buddhist centre. We practise it by going on solitary retreat. In all these, and a hundred other ways, we practise, we can practise, we should practise the Dharma. And to the extent that we practise the Dharma, we cherish it, we help to keep it alive.

Of course, we know very well it is not easy to practise the Dharma. In order to practise the Dharma we have to go against the stream. We have to go ultimately against the whole weight, the whole superincumbent weight, of our mundane conditioning. But if we don't practise the Dharma, it will not be cherished. And if it isn't cherished, it won't really live, and we shall have in its place only ideas, only concepts, only words.

In the third place we cherish the doctrine by propagating it. Obviously we can propagate the doctrine only if we understand it and practise it, or only to the extent that we understand it and practise it, only if we experience it ourselves and realize it. And of course there are many ways in which we can propagate the Dharma. We can propagate it by ourselves actually teaching the Dharma, by giving lectures or taking meditation classes, by writing books. But not everybody is in a position to do this. Most people, even most people in the FWBO in fact, will have to help propagate the Dharma indirectly, by for instance transcribing and editing the tapes of lectures, by publishing books, by providing facilities for the giving of lectures and the taking of classes, and by donating money.

I need hardly tell you that people in the world nowadays need the Dharma. Many of them know that they need it, but they don't always know that what they need is what we call the Dharma - hence, very often, their surprise and delight when they happen to come at last in contact with it, perhaps after many years of searching enquiry. And sometimes when they come in contact with it in this way, they really feel quite overwhelmed. And I must say here that nowadays I get quite a number of letters, from people not only all over the UK, but from many different parts of the world, people who have recently made contact with the FWBO. And invariably their letters express relief, joy, thankfulness, gratitude, and kindred emotions.

We should therefore do all we can to propagate the Dharma in every possible way - because if we propagate the Dharma people will come to know it, will come to understand it. And if they understand it, they'll be able to practise it. If they practise it, it will be cherished by them too. And if it is cherished, it will survive. Nowadays there are many obstacles to the survival of the Dharma. The Dharma is, in fact, we may say, threatened on every side. It's threatened by materialism. It's threatened by pseudo- religious fundamentalism. The Dharma therefore needs to be propagated more vigorously than ever.

But - and this is very important - it is the Dharma and only the Dharma that must be propagated. We mustn't mix the Dharma with isms and ologies which are in reality quite foreign to the spirit of the Dharma, even quite inimical to it. And this means that in our work of propagating the Dharma we need to watch our language. So far as possible we should use traditional Buddhist language. The message of the Buddha, we may say, cannot be delivered in the language - or in one of the languages, because he has many languages - of Mara, not even by Bodhisattvas. Though we may also say, we have to admit, that Mara himself can on occasion use, or appear to use, the language of Buddhism. But that is another story.

So we should cherish the doctrine: cherish it by studying it, cherish it by practising it, and cherish it by propagating it.

And we should live united. Obviously people do live united in a sense. Without unity social life itself would not be possible at all. But what constitutes that unity which people usually do experience? What are its underlying factors? There are a number of these.

Language, a common language, is a unifying factor. Nationality, common nationality, or citizenship, is a unifying factor. Race is a unifying factor, and then of course there's culture, also religion. But these are unifying factors for certain groups of people. They bind those people together. They contribute, as we say, to the unity of the group.

But when Rimpoche exhorts us to live united, it's not this kind of unity he has in mind.

After all, we're already living united more or less, in that sort of mundane way. We're already bound together with other people by language, nationality and so on. So we don't need any exhortation in this respect. So what kind of unity does Rimpoche have in mind? We mustn't forget here that Rimpoche's exhortation is addressed to potential real Buddhists. It's addressed to us. So what constitutes our unity? What are the unifying factors in our collective existence? What is it that binds us together as Buddhists? What is it that contributes to, that in fact constitutes, the unity of the spiritual community, the Sangha? Obviously, the principal unifying factors are the three jewels themselves. We're united primarily by virtue of the fact that we all go for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. We're all united by the fact that we observe the same precepts, practise the same meditations, perform the same pujas, study the same sutras and shastras and so on.

These are the things that in principle unite us. But do we in fact live united? Do we put that unity into practice? Is it actually effective in our actual relations with one another? That is only too often another matter. So what is Rimpoche actually saying when he says `Live united.' He is saying, `You are united as Buddhists in principle, but you must also be united in practice.' So we may ask, we may wonder, what prevents us from being united in practice? What prevents us from living united, what prevents us from being a spiritual community in the fullest sense? Well, I am afraid there are quite a number of things. Things like personal conflict - that is to say, conflict with other members of one and the same spiritual community. And then, competitiveness, jealousy, factionalism, the cherishing of ill-will, the harbouring of grudges, unwillingness to forgive, reluctance to clear up misunderstandings: all these things prevent us as a spiritual community from living united, prevent us from putting into practice our unity in principle.

In a word, we may say, that what prevents us from living united is egotism, or if you dislike the old-fashioned word egotism, what prevents us from living united is our individualism. Only too often we think that we are acting as individuals when we are really only being individualistic. So when Rimpoche says, `Live united', he is also saying, on a deeper level, in a deeper sense, `Live egolessly. Live in a non-individualistic manner.' He is saying, `Realize that there is in the ultimate sense no separate self, no separate unchanging self, to defend or to assert.' He is saying, `Realize nairatma, realize sunyata.' That is what he is really saying.

Which brings us to the third and last part of Rimpoche's message: radiate love. By love Rimpoche means metta, or if you like metta and karuna. The English word love unfortunately is ambiguous, it's grotesquely ambiguous. It can mean lust, in the sense of sexual craving, as when we speak of making love. It can mean a sort of greedy liking, as when a teenage girl says, `Oh, I love chocolate.' It can also mean natural affection, as when we speak of a mother's love for her child, or when we speak of brotherly love. Then there's love in the sense of ...

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