The Dharma Changes Us
|Ani Sangye Chodron
Dharma is something that has to change us when we study it—which makes it not such an easy subject, since its job is to touch our most tender and protected places and uproot all the habits we cling to so dearly. It’s rather scary to sit down with a strong emotion or sensation and just look without reacting, thus its easy to come up with all sorts of ways to avoid doing so. The obvious trap of procrastination is our daily activities, but it seems that we have to know how to study, and if we don’t then the study itself becomes a more subtle way of procrastinating—that it is easy to get lost in the endless sea of topics to be known. The amount of study we can do for classes is endless, so learning how to apply study, reflection and mediation in an appropriate proportion is an invaluable skill. RYI has been very helpful in that regard this year. The first method of procrastinating, is remedied quite well by reflecting on the four thoughts that turn the mind, which is what we have covered this year by studying The Words of My Perfect Teacher. The second, procrastinating by not reflecting and meditating effectively, Tokpa Tulku has covered extensively in our philosophy class.
Habits take time to change, so this process of being changed by the dharma is also quite useful for cultivating patience and kindness, from which compassion also naturally arises. It is extremely humbling to realize how difficult it is to change even simple habits of my own. This fact is like a door to understand that we all must go through this process. If I look at why I am not able to do so, it always comes down to confusion, which is what sentient beings all have in common. We think happiness will be found by changing external circumstances. From that ignorance arises all possible negative emotions and the ensuing harmful acts of body, speech and mind. On the one hand it is very sad, this state of sentient beings. But on the other hand, the very fact that we are all looking for this happiness is a sign that it doesn’t have to be like this. Actually we don’t have to suffer, and at a fundamental level somehow we each know that. That fact is the truth of cessation, the source of genuine renunciation, and also our inspiration for study, reflection and practice, the truth of the path.
When we study dharma something seems to change inside us. We start to understand how futile it is to chase the carrots of life’s innumerable situations, and to genuinely see how much we all suffer from doing so. Then we can look to all the masters who have become free from this endless cycle and observe the qualities of kindness, contentment and wisdom that emerge in those who follow the path authentically. From that arises diligence that is a genuine type of love, a taking delight in applying the dharma to our lives. Then it actually does start to wear away the layers of ego clinging, but in a gentle way…so that even ego is not so sad about letting go. There is a very simple sort of peace in those moments…a small taste of what the truth of cessation might be like someday.
Sangye Chodron from the USA