Applying the Teachings
by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche
The most important thing is to have faith and trust in the Buddha’s words. The Buddha’s teachings were not taught to deceive us but to explain the way things actually are. Many people try to analyse the Buddha’s teachings, but how is it possible to scrutinise a Buddha’s qualities? We don’t even know what will happen tomorrow, or when we will die, or anything about our future lives, so how could we possibly examine the teachings of the Omniscient One? Since we are totally obscured by our strong disturbing emotions, in order to progress on the path toward enlightenment, we have no choice but to have faith in the Buddha’s teachings and apply them in our own lives.
The ability to practice Dharma depends on certain conditions. For example, this is a rare time during which the teachings of the Great Perfection are said to flourish. We’re very fortunate that through Padmasambhava’s blessings, such teachings have appeared and we’re able to receive them. We must have accumulated incredible merit and made fervent prayers very sincerely over numerous lifetimes to be able to encounter such amazing teachings now. Still, most people are just too involved in worldly activities to have time to practice the Dharma, and very few people in this world totally dedicate themselves to the teachings. Most people work for the sake of success in this life, to gain wealth, fame, power, and so on, but none of these worldly aims can liberate us from the suffering of samsara; in fact, they only create further conditions for ensuring that we remain in samsara for countless lifetimes to come.
Dharma is not just something to study — it must be put into practice. These days, most people study Dharma for a little while and then start to teach it to others, thinking they have a certain depth of realisation; however, without the realisation that arises through practice, one doesn’t actually know much at all.
This can’t be stressed enough: Dharma must be applied! By properly practicing over the years — your whole life, in fact — you can attain some accomplishment. If you are hungry, just talking about food and describing how delicious it tastes will not fill your stomach, but if you actually prepare a meal and eat it, your hunger will be satisfied. Similarly, just talking about the Dharma will not lead you to enlightenment. Just as eating food is necessary to satisfy your hunger, the teachings you receive must be applied to have any effect.
There’s a saying in Tibetan: “Someone who has a great deal of knowledge may become very proud, and someone who does a great deal of meditation practice may have strong afflicting emotions.” That is what happens when someone goes against the Dharma and doesn’t integrate their mind with the teachings. The spiritual path should be mingled with your mind stream to awaken your true nature; it should not be a source for boasting about your knowledge or experience. You can see by people’s conduct — the way they talk and walk, whether they are proud or humble, and whether they have tamed their emotions or not — if they really practice or not. If someone is very calm and doesn’t have many negative thoughts and emotions, that is a sign of a good practitioner. The more understanding of the Dharma one has, the more humble one should be; the more meditation one has done, the fewer disturbing emotions one should have.
Please remember that whether your studies and practice are effective or not depends on how much you actually integrate them into your life. At all times, try to watch your own mind to see how much your thoughts and conduct are in accord with the teachings. It’s very easy to notice someone else’s faults and criticise their practice, but instead you should turn your attention to your own thoughts and behaviour. It is very important to watch your own mind and check how much you really apply the practice — just look at how many emotions come up in the span of a few seconds! We constantly get carried away with worldly activities and distractions, spending time with our family and friends and working at our jobs; all this exhausts us and takes up our time, so we end up neglecting our Dharma practice. We tend to make the less important concerns the most important in our life, but the most important thing in this world is to practice Dharma until we attain ultimate enlightenment, isn’t it? Having food and clothing is a short-term necessity for this life, but we get so involved in our attachment to these things that we squander what little time we do have. We consider trivial matters more important than our Dharma practice, but when death comes, only practice will be of any benefit.
Now that we have obtained this precious human body, we should be sure not to squander this opportunity. There is no question that the sublime Dharma is far more important than mundane, worldly life. Mundane activity is bound to lead us to the lower realms. But if we sincerely engage in Dharma practice, we will be naturally guided to liberation and never to the lower realms. In particular, Dharma practice can get rid of our strong ego-clinging and afflictive emotions.
But getting rid of those is not like just peeling off your clothes and throwing them away. You’ve been cultivating your afflictive emotion for beginningless lifetimes, so unless you persevere in your practice for a very long time, it won’t be easy to reduce your afflictions and attachments. However, if you continuously practice in a steady manner, generating bodhichitta, faith, and devotion without any doubts, you can gradually progress.
You need to stabilise your Dharma practice by focusing on one practice with one-pointed mind. Dharma has to be practiced from the depths of your heart with great perseverance and in a very steady way, or it won’t be effective. Your practice has to be stabilised with stoutness of heart. In Tibetan, the term is nying ru, which literally means “heart bone.” It is said that when a courageous warrior dies, because he has been constantly at battle throughout his life, a small bone is found in his heart. Likewise, many practitioners with strong perseverance and diligence in the practice also have such stoutness of heart. Without that kind of perseverance, it will be hard to achieve any accomplishment.
Fortunately, the compassionate Buddha gave different levels of teachings to suit each person’s capacities and said, “My teaching has no owner and anyone can practice it; whether they are a king or a beggar, of high or low birth, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, young or old, anyone who feels inspired and wishes to genuinely practice can attain ultimate happiness by correctly practicing my teachings.”
The Dharma is extremely vast, and the practices are as numerous as the stars in the sky, but thinking that one practice is better than another will only increase your concepts. It is like a child who picks a pretty flower only to throw it away as soon as she sees another one. If you continually discard one practice for another, you won’t be able to progress. It might be good to know many Dharma practices, but we don’t have time to practice them all, so it’s better to settle on one practice and stick with it to the end.
In the sutras, it is said that your Dharma knowledge may be as vast as all the volumes an elephant can carry on its back, but if you don’t apply it, you won’t be liberated. In Tibet, we have an animal called dremong, a type of brown bear. They usually dig in the earth and catch groundhogs in the forest and then kill them for their winter food. When they catch a groundhog, they sit on it so that it won’t escape. But when they get up to catch another one, the first one escapes. So though this bear might catch eight or nine groundhogs, most of them escape and it has just one left to eat. It’s the same with Dharma practice: you might know a little, but if you go off and chase one teaching after another, you will forget what you have already received and won’t apply it. Then there’s no benefit and the teaching becomes meaningless. Instead of chasing after teachings, you should apply what you have received and constantly train in it.
What is more, even though they have no realisation, many people think that they can teach others what they have learned. Although you may have received many empowerments and teachings, unless you have stabilised your practice, there can be no benefit in your teaching others. Only once you’ve stabilised your practice can there be any benefit in teaching. Just supplicating a stone will not give you jewels, but supplicating a wish-fulfilling gem can fulfill all wishes, and if you practice the Dharma correctly, you can become a wish-fulfilling gem that can fulfill others’ wishes. It’s all up to you and the amount of effort that you are willing to put into your own study and practice.
If you can apply the teachings and practice — not just when you attend retreats or visit a temple but throughout your daily life — then your efforts will not be in vain and you will please the lineage masters and yidam deities. Wealth is something impermanent and will again dissolve into emptiness, so offering money may be of some limited benefit in maintaining a center or supporting your teacher’s activities, but the best offering is if you can correctly practice the teachings you have received and attain freedom from samsara. As it is said, “Even if you offer a mansion full of gold or the wealth of the four continents, it will not please your teacher, for it is no better than a heap of donkey’s dung. However, if you apply the teachings in practice, that will really please your master.” If you properly practice the teachings you have received, you will be freed from samsara, and that is the best way to fulfill the wishes of the buddhas and bodhisattvas.