Trust v. personal responsibility

Trusting holy beings…

I recently renamed the feral cat Korska “Nelson”; I figure it might help him to be named after one of my great heroes, Nelson Mandela, who triumphed over adversity just as I want this little guy to do, in his own way.

Nelson is coming along, albeit very slowly and in fits and starts. Sometimes he is interested, sometimes he is standoffish and hissy, and sometimes he doesn’t show up at all. Currently he has an open sore on his forehead and a swollen right eye which concerns me, he is way too skinny still, and at some point I’ll have to freak him out by capturing him to neuter him and give him his shots. But I’m set on my course to make him as tame as possible, and will overcome the obstacles en route one way or another, taking any opportunity he gives me. I can see I’m going to need a lot of patience and a lot of persistence/effort, but he’s worth it.*

As it was pouring with rain at his breakfast time this morning, I managed to lure him into the kitchen for a few precious moments while he ate, and was even able to dab a blob of Neosporin on his forehead with a wooden spoon. He actually purred as he rubbed up against the door, and he sniffed my leg and reluctantly let me stroke his back while he was eating. But although he is lonely and clearly likes my company in a funny kind of way, after he’d eaten he still didn’t stick around in my nice dry kitchen, let alone avail himself of the comfortable sofa, soft carpet, squashy cushions and other cat-friendly offerings in this potential cat-palace that awaits him. Instead he curled himself up on some damp leaves under a few inches of shelter, which did nothing to stop the raindrops dripping on his tail. I was cajoling him, “Hey, Nelson, sweetheart, why don’t you stick around with me for a while in here, it is so much nicer than out there in the wilderness!! I will never hurt you – in fact I will make sure you reach your full cat potential and that you are as healthy and happy as possible, and I will not curb your freedom, you can still go outside whenever the urge takes you if you do decide to be tamed.”

And then it struck me. I sounded like the Buddhas, and especially our Spiritual Guides, trying to get through to us… The Tibetan word for disciple, “dul wa”, literally means “one to be tamed”. It is so obvious to the kind and wise holy beings what we need to do to be happy and safe, but, even if we intellectually know what they are after, it seems we don’t trust them enough to follow their suggestions, or at least we are in no hurry about it. Instead of gladly escaping into the heart of the Buddhas, including the Tantric mandala palace, we stubbornly, fearfully, and proudly insist on staying outside in the wilderness of samsara, subject to being attacked by wild animals, mange, bitey insects, loneliness, mental pain, physical discomfort and all manner of other sufferings.

No trust, no progress. (If you’re in another tradition and rely on God, Jesus, Mother Mary, etc, I imagine the same principle applies.)

At least Ralph was cooperative. Because he understood somehow that he needed help, he really bonded with me, which turned out to be the best move of his short life. I really would like Nelson to cooperate with me consistently, but all I can do is blast him with love until I get through, and try and be as patient and persistent with him as the Buddhas undoubtedly have to be with me.

… while also taking responsibility for our own spiritual journey

There is an element of surrender in trust, so how does this square with taking personal responsibility? I put “v.” in the title, but it is not really trust versus personal responsibility, they get along just fine, and have a dynamic ever-deepening relationship. Genuine trust entails believing also in our own potential to progress and genuine personal responsibility entails understanding that we need to make progress, which involves trusting others who can lead us, just not trusting them blindly.

This seems to be borne out by the Lamrim teachings on refuge. Simple refuge is just the call for help. As our refuge progresses, we assume more and more responsibility for our own spiritual journey, and with Mahayana refuge we actually rely on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to fulfill our greatest spiritual potential for the sake of everyone, which involves a rather huge amount of personal responsibility!

…And avoiding institutionalization

Meanwhile, upstairs with the Russian tenants lives Roberto the baby possum. They found him half-dead while I was away and have been feeding him up prior to his release. They love him!

He has doubled his size on Russian home-cooking!

They’ll be sad to see him go. And right now he shows the manner of being tamed (albeit slightly reluctantly) – unlike Nelson he does not object to being held, cuddled, stroked, and kept indoors. Yet in a way you can tell from his eyes that he is not tamed; he is just doing what he is told because he has little choice in the matter. It is certainly better than nothing; in fact it has saved his life. But in a week or so we must drive him to a large patch of woods and release him into the wild, at which point he will revert to his instinctive/habit-formed wild behavior to survive.

This has been reminding me that we can tame ourselves or even others physically by forcing ourselves to behave, but that won’t be enough. For example, we can follow the rules in a workplace, monastery or spiritual center not out of our own volition but just because we are told to, expected to, or scared not to — like children or baby possums. However, genuine moral discipline is based on our own discrimination of what to do and not to do, and our own resultant adult decision/intention. Just falling in with the crowd doesn’t guarantee that we are tamed on the inside or for very long, and when thrust back in the “outside world” we may just revert to our old wild samsaric habits.

It can be enormously supportive to have the external discipline provided by spiritual centers — and I would not have traded my 14 years living at Madhyamaka Centre for anything, nor the other decades I have spent closely associated with other centres. Also, check out this article about this nun leaving her monastery for the first time in 84 years to meet the Pope — look at her alert face at 103 years old! In the book, titled “What is a girl like you doing in a place like that”, she is quoted as saying:

‘Who can spend 84 years in a convent without being happy? Of course I’m happy.’

Look at that face! Aged 103

I believe her and think that she probably has a very rich inner life. If we are in a spiritual center but are not becoming genuinely happier and more open as the years go by, we can check to see if we are voluntarily taking responsibility for training our mind or whether we have fallen into institutional modes of thinking and behaving. We need integrity to avoid being like a leaf in the wind, carried away by whatever happen to be the current gusts of the institutional zeitgeist.

How do we know if we’ve become a bit institutionalized I wonder? Is it if the small world of our school, office, workplace or spiritual center seems to be the main place where it’s at? When we become preoccupied with concerns that would seem petty to anyone “outside”? When we are cowed by authority because we are too attached to, and fearful for, our position in the pecking order, or our job, or our status within the organization? How do we overcome it? Your suggestions are welcome.

In any event, whether we are currently inside or outside of an organization, Roberto is a reminder that we need to take responsibility for ourselves and change our minds, not just our behavior.

Faith v. fanaticism

(Here, the “v.” is justified.) Arguably blind faith is not faith at all but fanaticism as it possesses no degree of personal responsibility – what do you think? Blind faith can manifest as a childish wish to please a holy being in order to be rewarded, or fear of displeasing them in case we are punished; and that is abnegating responsibility. Also the outcome of our actions depends on our karma, not on any external law-maker or law-enforcer. Nor does blind faith really trust, because to really trust a holy being I think we have to know their actual nature — unconditional love.

Fanatics of all stripes notoriously end up acting in irresponsible, dangerous ways with respect to themselves and others, whereas actual faith is necessarily flexible, including the flexibility to doubt and question. I would argue that extreme fanatics such as suicide bombers have no actual faith at all but are simply holding false views as supreme, which is a type of ignorance.

Buddha taught that all virtuous minds are pervaded by faith. Faith can never be in contradiction, therefore, to love, compassion, wisdom or any other virtuous mind.

If you have any relevant experiences you’d like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments.

*Update Sept 2011: Nelson tested positive for both feline leukemia and feline AIDS, a double whammy. I recently got another rescue cat, Rousseau, and have to keep them separate to avoid infection; so I look after Nelson outside and on a friend’s porch next door. Ironically, since he was fixed and I obliged him to recuperate on that porch for a week — with us doing meditations and prayers together every morning — he has become a very friendly little guy who now follows me around and actually wants to come in the house!! Another of samsara’s sick little jokes.

*Update 2: Nov 2011, Nelson is currently doing really well, fattening up and becoming friendlier by the minute! I even let him inside when the other cat is outside… He loves to be cuddled. He has learned to trust 🙂

*Update 3: Feb 2012, Nelson is now the cuddliest, sweetest cat in the world and joins me for many of my meditation sessions. Who would have thunk it?! There is hope for us all.

Update 4: April 2012, Nelson has just been diagnosed with a large cancerous tumor in his stomach, along with anemia and some dehydration. He stopped eating a few days ago. Now I am focused on making sure he is as comfortable and blessed as possible for his remaining time in this cat body, and my main wish for him is that he has a wonderful rebirth, hopefully in the Pure Land. He totally deserves it. p.s. I adore this person.

Update 5: April 14 2012, Nelson died in my arms.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

50 thoughts on “Trust v. personal responsibility”

  1. I feel fanaticism is present wherever there is an incredible experience. The more important the teaching is the more fanaticism will surround it.

    The way for Dharma to flourish is to have many volunteers. The volunteers come mainly from residents.

    If the residents are subjected to extreme treatment & are not enjoying centre life, the communities reduce in size. Then everything becomes very difficult. I think this is why Heruka is our deity, because in modern times it is enjoyment that makes everyone gather. We are not able to make Milarepas way work. If things are harsh & austere everything becomes weaker.

    Good tsog parties bring the community together and good quality relationships between residents. This is the base from which the centres success largely will come.

    At Atisha Centre at one point things got so bad there were no residents and the teacher resigned. What made Atisha Centre invincible is that the core group of Kadampas were a strong community who had a lasting bond with each other. So when the building was empty with no teacher 30 local people all came & united in love & prayers.

    When we are fanatical we take guidelines and turn them into massive demands. We feel a massive feeling that we are changing the entire future as we give a dictatorial command that completely stomps on another person. Then we feel like we did something really good. But then if we look and that person has left Dharma or reduced attendance…why was that moment important? Why did we do it?

    I have a friend with bipolar & people with bipolar get spiritual highs. When they get those highs they become domineering, disrespectful and controlling. If we are going to develop bliss and incredible world changing experiences we need to be aware of this & combine it with Bodhichitta- a deep respect and humility for those around us, without whom we would have no job or centre or students or classes. If we stomp on the people who keep the centre open what are we doing? HUGS TO ALL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  2. What has helped me when I see faults in decisions at center or faults in my RTs is falling back on my faith in Dharma. I know it is the truth. I need to avoid inappropriate attention to things that are disturbing my mind. I need effort that isn’t forced. Engaging with Dharma because the wish arises within me.

    1. In general, Atisha’s advice seems to work every time — not focusing on others’ faults, but purging our own instead like bad blood 🙂 It never seems to help to dwell on perceived faults.

  3. This is a very interesting article, which touches on a number of important issues. As you say, this subject is relevant to all religions, not just Buddhism. The quality of our faith is so vital. In Islam faith is called Iman. Pure faith is a gift from God. Iman is similar to renunciation or bodhichitta because it enlivens our religious life. Geshe Potowa called Dromtonpa his ordaining abbot even though Dromtonpa was a layman, because Drom taught Potowa renunciation. Vinaya ordination is a set of physical behaviours which must be spiritualised by renunciation. So Islam is a set of physical behaviours (prayer, pilgrimage, fasting etc) which must be spiritualised by Iman.

    1. Hi Matthew, thank you for this, it gave me some insight into Islam that I didn’t have before.

      If faith is a gift from God, does that mean we can’t develop it “from scratch” or improve it ourselves? For example, Geshe Potowa only called Dromtonpa his ordaining abbot years later when he had improved his own renunciation in dependence upon Dromtonpa’s teachings.

      1. In answer to your question about faith in Islam, because it is a gift from God it is not something we can develop from scratch, some people just don’t have it: Quran 2:7 “God; has sealed their hearts and their hearing, and over their eyes is a veil”

        However those who have been granted faith can increase or diminish it. As a precious possession it is our responsibility to protect it: Q4:136 “O you who have attained to Faith! Hold fast unto your belief in God and His Apostle, and in the divine writ which He has bestowed from on high upon His Apostle, step by step, as well as in the revelation which He sent down aforetime”

        1. Hi Matthew,

          Why does God do that? How does he choose whom to bestow this essential gift upon? What percentage of people are chosen? Why does God want to seal any suffering being’s hearts and eyes? Especially if he is all-loving, or is that not the case? Are those who receive this gift superior to those who do not? If they are, is there a danger that some people will pretend to have faith? How is a them and us situation avoided in society if some people are favored by God and some are not? What about animals, do they ever receive this gift?

          Buddhists don’t believe in an external creator God who decides everything, including who should or should not go to heaven, etc; everyone has the same potential, or so-called Buddha nature.

          I hope you don’t mind all these questions! Having said all that, this may not even be the best place for a long discussion about all this?

          1. God is both external and internal (immanent) or neither external nor internal (transcendent). I will reply to your other comments via personal FB message.

          2. Cambridge Muslim scholar Abdal Hakim Murad (Tim Winter) says “Sometimes we see in the world manifestations of the divine beauty and grace – and that’s preponderant – sometimes we see in the world manifestations of the divine rigour and wrath. And this is one of the big differences between our [Muslim] understanding and, say, the Christian understanding. The Christians say “God is love” and immediately they can’t explain the meningitis virus or whatever, and this is a major source of loss of faith amongst them. Now we say that Allah is indeed Rahman [intensely merciful] and Rahim [most compassionate] and He is Al-Wadood [the loving], and He has those beautiful attributes and they do predominate and, at the end, when good and evil are finally differentiate, we will see that the rahma [mercy] predominates over the divine wrath. Nonetheless we also believe that Allah is Al-Jabbar (The Overwhelming), Al-Muntaqim (The Avenger), The Judge (Al-Hakkam), and that’s one reason why Islamic theology hangs together so well when confronted by the paradoxes of evil and suffering in the world. We believe that the world is the endlessly subtle interaction of Ninety-Nine Names that includes Names of rigour as well as Names of beauty. “

  4. I really enjoyed reading this article Luna, your wisdom shines through. I remember my early years of Dharma and how much emphasis i put on thinking i had great faith in my Guru; however growing up in the NKT i realised i had blind faith to some degree. I never really questioned too much and believed that my faith alone would be enough to guide me out of suffering. When i look back on them times now i see that my faith was mixed with worldly concern both living in and out of a centre. I know now that if my faith had being strong it would have been emerged with Lamrim the root of the spiritual path. Sad to say after numerous years in Dharma and many sufferings along the way i felt my faith weaken. It was extremely painful to lose hope and your way that was once so certain to me. Nevertheless after 5 years wandering in the dark it hit me. I could make the choice to believe and that faith came from understanding. Realising that the Lamrim teachings are the rock that holds our faith strong i will start by putting effort into realising that these teachings are the truth and in this way one day at a time my faith will strengthen. I believe faith is the root of the spiritual path but we also need wisdom to live and walk this path. I consider myself to be lucky that i did not wander too far away from my Guru but i also see this was a huge lesson in itself. It was not enough just praying for results and to never be separated from the Guru, we really need to mix our mind constantly with Lamrim day in day out; in order to move forward and for our faith to become deeper so that the light of our Guru shines through our heart always. I pray all sentient beings find freedom from samsara. Thanks Luna xx

    1. Victoria, I think your experience is not uncommon so it is great that you shared it here, and so beautifully expressed as well. That long dark night of the soul, as they call it, can be exactly what we need. Thank you.

  5. The way I know that I have become a bit institutionalized is when I talk to sangha. Thier examples of living the Kadampa life immediately inspire me, and shake me from my fog of delusion. I live far from my center, so there are times when life becomes very busy and not enough hours in the day to visit, but when I do it shakes that fog off everytime.

  6. Faith is not blind (and never should be) but is based upon valid reasoning. Trust is required in any teacher, in that he (she) has valid insight and realisations in that which he (she) teaches.

    When, in our ‘ordinary’ lives, we require (or are required) to achieve something such as a good education & training in a skill, we gain expertise in that knowledge by putting what we have learnt in our education, into practice, which become actual practical realisations of the skill we have attained. The more we put our knowledge into practice the more skilful we become. During this process we have always to rely upon our teacher to guide us through our mistakes and frustrations until we can effortlessly practice our skill without thought, we just do it.

    Often in this process the theoretician & the practical teachers are not the same person (e.g. an academic may know all the theory but cannot put it into practice, whereas an engineer may produce viable practical results bur not be able to pass this knowledge on to others. In this case we gain practical experience from training from actual practitioners.

    In Dharma we don’t have this dual teacher process because our spiritual guide has both the academic knowledge & the practical experience.

    We learn from our spiritual guide by listening to or reading his (her) instructions & contemplating them in analytical meditation, then gain insight via placement meditation. Through our insight, when we are not in meditation (meditation break) we put our realisations into practice & we make further process along the path & our faith in our teacher increases.

    We will never make progress (in ordinary life or in our Dharma practice) if we don’t have faith in he or she who is guiding us.

    Faith & understanding that they have already accomplished for themselves, that which they are guiding & training us to attain for ourselves, by observing & experiencing their example.

    The Dharma process & method is no different than the scientific process & method, & strong faith in the qualification & practical realisations of the teachers is a fundamental requirement

    I have heard Geshe-la say that the Dharma is the supreme scientific method.

    (In my experience in engineering my teachers could be very wrathful if it was required & generally the result was more effort by the student)

  7. This article examines what is for me a real dilemma. We are challenged to keep our focus on developing our own mind while existing within a group that supports this aim. Said like this it doesn’t sound problematic, but in practice things don’t always play out as intended.

    In all groups there’s a tendency for some to place emphasis on orthodoxy and rules, and to seek out validation within the group. A lot of this comes down to personal style and, in and of itself, seems benign. However, in order for the rules to work and the validation to validate, they have to be applied to others, and that’s where the trouble starts. This can result in behavior that works in direct opposition to the dharma. In these instances practice isn’t informing our own behavior in beneficial ways, rather it serves as a kind of pedestal from which we set rules and expectations for others’ behavior.

    Sangha is precious and valuable, but it has a life of its own, beyond its individual members and beyond the dharma. It seems important to for us to examine its nature and to check that it’s serving its stated purpose. A good sign of health would be real diversity of style and opinion among the members. I’m often struck by the diversity among people who exist on the periphery of the community (all interested and regular visitors) compared with what’s seen among the more committed members. The difference should be that the committed members are more serious about their spiritual progress than the visitors I’m describing here. But I suspect that’s not always the case. Sincere commitment to spiritual growth is not always the thing that distinguishes us.

    I struggle with these issues and mostly find existing on the fringes more conducive to finding the peace of mind I need to create the mind I’m going after. But I wish that wasn’t the case. I also recognize that the responsibility for changing that rests with me.

    1. This is a perceptive analysis as to how we can end up controlling and/or being controlled if we are not careful. Rules (not vows!) change all the time — to follow them genuinely, and without any slow build-up of resentment or tension, I think it is best to understand from our own side why they are helpful (sometimes we have to be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt too!) If they seem completely unhelpful, I think we need to summon the courage to ask about them without fearing a diversity of opinion, or reprisal.

      My tuppence worth: I don’t believe that people living or working in NKT centers are necessarily more committed to spiritual progress or even the development of the NKT than those who live or work outside — there is no pervasion. As usual, it entirely depends on our intentions. We are also all bound to go through many phases on our spiritual journeys, different scenarios work better for us at different times depending on our karma and so on; which is why I think we have to take personal responsibility for our spiritual path and give others’ space and encouragement to do the same. I know this also from observation and my own experience over the last 30 years. And this is wonderful, really, as it means that the Kadampa tradition can flourish everywhere in society, and we have much to celebrate and admire in each other.

      1. Thanks, Luna. That was a really thoughtful response, which I appreciate. It’s helpful to be reminded that the best approach for one person isn’t necessarily the best approach for another. I spent a little bit of time feeling badly about my failure to exist more effectively within my own dharma center. I’m fully aware that any shortcomings I perceive are my responsibility to help remedy, or to simply get over, but I’m not impervious to the kind of angst doing so can create. And I’m not evolved enough to take that on without losing my way a little. Ultimately I understood that to get more involved I’d have to sublimate the very things I believe support my quest for enlightenment most directly, and I’m simply not going to let that happen. So for the time being I’m more than happy to hang out on the fringes, and I trust karma says that’s where I belong, for now at least.
        Thanks again.

  8. Love this article!! I used to think faith was blind, and to have faith meant that you give up all of who you are and you are never good enough. It was imbedded so deeply in me for 36 years of this life. I came to Buddhism because I felt so bad about just being human!! I was raised with the belief that just ”being born” was a sin. I felt like I was being punished for some unknown sins that I had committed. When I first heard Buddha’s take on faith, I was shocked really. Faith is a choose?? What??? Trust me there are days I have to fight myself to meditate and not get wrapped up in samsara. It is hard to be “in this world and not of this world”. The delusions are so strong!! When I am at the Dharma Center I feel so empowered, light, and that I can kick my attachments. Then I walk outside:) I still have a habit of coming down very hard on myself. If I make one mistake (or perceived mistake) I can beat myself up pretty good. The good thing is now I understand that I am not inherently a “bad” or “good” person. Also, that a can purify negative actions. I can moreover have compassion for myself and not feel guilty!!

    1. Shirley, this is so helpful. I wasn’t raised with much guilt myself but latterly i have felt it a bit with respect to not being a good enough mommy to the cats… 🙂 It is a burden that many people have to get offload in order to move ahead. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Thanks for sharing… it is definitely something a lot of people has to deal with. I better might say almost all beings has to deal with this delusion, but it is very subtle sometimes and we don’t even think we got it.
      Send you my love and greetings dear Dakini.

  9. “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.” Reinhold Niebuhr, Christian theologian

    In other words it is when we fear our own doubt that we become fanatical.

    These sentiments are echoed by Geshe-la in his section on virtuous faith, where he explains how a faithful student will develop many doubts that will encourage that student to penetrate the material more deeply.

    From that point of view it’s clear that an authentically faithful Buddhist can never become a fanatic. Because as Buddhists we are not afraid to question. Skillful questioning will not pull down the edifice of Dharma, but, quite the opposite, will further reveal the truth of the Dharma.

    As Geshe-la says in Modern Buddhism, the Dharma instructions are scientific methods for improving our human nature. They are empirically verifiable. In fact, they need to be empirically verified if they are to be experienced.

  10. In Understanding the Mind, Geshe-la defines faith as a “mental factor that functions primarily to eliminate non-faith.” The definition surprised me at first, by teaching us that faith requires continual action. Taking responsibility for our spiritual journey begins with recognizing when non-faith manifests in our minds and applying methodical effort to overcome it.

    Geshe-la says, “We have doubts and hesitations about Dharma because we lack faith; but when faith manifests, doubts cannot remain.” Buddha said, “Faith is the supreme wealth, treasure and legs; and is like hands with which to gather virtues.” Non-faith is a mind that does not desire virtuous attainments or simply forgets — in the moment — the ultimate goal of our precious human life.

    Thanks for another great article!

    1. That is a very good way of understanding that definition, “faith requires continual action”; thank you for that Neil. We know that we have to work on our love, patience and so on, but sometimes forget that faith is also a virtuous mental factor (or state of mind) that grows or subsides depending on how much effort we are applying to improve it.

  11. A lot to think about there Luna. Just a quick thought on faith/blind faith/fanatacism/institutionalisation: I think it all depends what’s in your heart/deep in your mind. The more you observe and go by your own true experiences within your mind, the more you will have real faith rather than ‘faux faith’, and you can always bring that with you, whether you are surrounded by all the visual and external reminders (in an institution), or not. If someone cannot function outside an institution then something must surely be wrong somewhere.

  12. The analogy between the “animal and caregiver” and “student and spiritual guide” is wonderful and striking. I suppose with regard to the question of being institutionalized it is important to investigate the examples and qualities of your teacher/spiritual guide. I also think that watching our mind and repeatedly checking to see that/if we have a happy mind. If the answer is no, then we need to be responsible to uncover why. Perhaps teachers and sangha can help shed some light, and of course cultivating good karma and purification help as well.

    I’m sometimes amused by the resistance people have to the concept of faith (not blind faith, but trust). It seems to me with every decision we make we are putting our faith in something. So for me it’s less a question of having faith and more about where I’m placing it.

    Your animal rescue stories I love and they remind me of the story of Asanga meeting Maitreya as a maggot-infested dog. I’ve been working to care for some wild cats myself and it can be sad, but I often think, “who is really rescuing whom?” and I’m just grateful for the opportunity but mostly the wisdom to stop and be of service.

    1. Good comment. It has been interesting and inspiring to me to see how many people there are everywhere, really, caring for animals — passionate about helping them. I notice it more now that I am visiting that world myself!

  13. Thank you very much for this article! It’s struck a chord with me in many ways. Like you I spent a long time living in a Buddhist Centre. I don’t regret any of that experience and I do miss a daily spiritual community and opportunities to accumulate lots of merit/virtue. I also can recognise times in my own mind when I have been overly concerned about my role in the organisation and been a little insitutionalised.

    One of my kind Buddhist Teachers once said to me that at the end of the day it’s you and your guru that counts and your inner experience of dharma, not the organisation; and the best offering to your Spiritual Guide is your own practice. I love it when Geshe-la I think says in Modern Buddhisn that practicing compassion in the best offering to your spiritual guide.

    I miss the daily life of a Centre but have eventually gained some disciplne to meditate daily and to realise that samsaric activities aren’t going to make me as happy as meditation and dharma. I feel a lot stronger for living outside a centre but am perhaps less peaceful and miss the daily sangha. I get to a teaching once a week but how important do you think daily sangha jewel is and what can represent a daily sangha jewel?

    1. Michael, good question. For me, it’s important that I visit our Center on a regular basis. Participating in TTP ensures that I’m there at least twice a week, and our regular schedule of GP classes, pujas, day courses and retreats is a great kindness that makes the commitment easier to keep.

      Of course, not everyone lives close to an active Center. Since you meditate daily, I assume you’re using a sadhana. Our prayers begin by going for refuge: “I and all sentient beings, until we attain enlightenment, go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.” I’ve found myself contemplating these words. By reciting this verse — in a heartfelt way — we are remember that we are part of a community of countless beings (“I AND ALL”) and mentally transform ALL of them into our Sangha. In this way, we are inextricably linked with the community in refuge, even if they are not physically present.

      With respect to concerns about institutionalization, here’s a definition of “institutionalize” that works for me: “To place (a person) in the care of an institution.” The care I receive at a Center is incomparably kind.

      1. Thanks for your reply. Yes I do a Kadampa puja everyday, I am doing the Yoga of Buddha Heruka trying to combine Sutra and Tantra, and Kadampa commitments in one puja.

        I would love to start a TTP sometime soon. There are extensive refurbishments taking place at the Centre I visit at the mo with no teachings on, but soon FP is starting and I participate in a GP. I have been around Kadam Dharma for sometime (maybe 18 years) with FP at our Centre and no TTP as yet. I have gone through ups and downs in my practice and recognise the need to do stronger purification to keep my practice and enthusiasm strong.

        I lived in the centre for sometime and you do get challenges such as different states of morale/mood within the residential community and changes in teachers and different methods of running centres. I can relate to what M is saying above about fear, doubt and frantic orthodoxy. I have learnt that it is my mind and karma that has created any insitutionalisation and not the organisation/centre itself and if I go for refuge in the teachings and 3 Jewels I can develop

        The refuge prayer idea is a good one which I sometimes remember to do. I am slowly rebuilding my faith, practice and connection to Kadampa Centres. I am only 40 minutes away from one which is probably nothing compared to some practitioners.

        Thanks again for the advice!

  14. I would just like to mention Juliette de Bairacli Levy, author of a herbal book for cats and dogs which includes some of the greatest advice for animal care, which she learned from those who have no access to vets and from loving observation of nature. I hope it is of use to you too, with love.

  15. I appreciate your covering of these subjects, although in this case you may be falling into my own fault of attempting to cover too much in one article (or comment in my case). It only encourages me! Again I go on and on. Ah well.

    Lets get onto the nexus of faith, individualism and institutionalism, although this time I can only give some of my experience, and provide less advice. Being formatively part of the Thatcher years, I was soaked in individualism during the early 1990′s, even experiencing the nihilistic void to a rather nasty degree (this is before I found ‘Heart of Wisdom’ of course). ‘Anti-Thatcher’ I was, but ironically, still inspired by her I reflectively admit. In these years, I was not predisposed to consider ‘faith’ a worthy pursuit. Why? Because it would have taken away my existential right at self-definition and action, encouraging me to give over my power to another. This in turn would have resulted in unwanted decisions, barriers, confinements .. a life imprisoned compared to a life of freedom, even if full of strife and questioning.

    So how did I first do faith given this Satrean initiation? At first, good, but later, not so good. And now, maybe a little better again. Initially, after the doors of Dharma were opened courtesy of the holy Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (through his inspired ones), my faith increased in proportion to my discovery of Dharma, and the depth of newly opened pastures that entailed. Literally, ‘how wonderful’. But after the honeymoon, and the tepid Dorje Shugden affair as it was in the mid-1990′s, my critical edge started to feel that I was simply ‘in too deep’ and I had to get my individualist lens on again. Any notions of ‘Guru devotion’ and ‘giving oneself over’ had to be questioned if I was to have any certainty in what I was doing again. How could I do this as a disciple, a servant? After some flirtation with ‘The Guru is giving me a harsh lesson’, I bust out of there, especially since I wanted some work experience with my new found powers .. after I quit my job at Madhyamaka Centre Education Office, out seemed to be best course of action.

    Was it? Well, it did give me space to create a more realistic sense of identity – although I was torn inside between individualism and the Guru. It allowed me to accumulate an enormous amount of knowledge of the social sciences, IT, work experience, and other areas of interest – although much of this is relatively useless when compared to the pristine Dharma. It did give me a more financial footing, but again, this seems relatively unimportant given the junk yard that part of my mind has become. I conclude that there are advantages and disadvantages – my horizon has expanded, but I can’t focus on the really important spiritual aspects as much.

    What is the value of this ‘horizon’? At first it seemed like a world of choice, of possessing tools, of being potentially free in the world – true individualism. Nowadays, after reading Foucault particularly, I understand that my mind is simply involved with discourses – spiritual, material, scientific, philosophical, linguistic – and my choice revolves around which discourses to be involved with at a given time. Some are taken up, some are dropped .. in my mind, they are as impermanent as the beach at Sandy Balls. They appear, educate, fascinate, involve, confuse, empower, hurt .. and when I get sick of them, I move on, at least temporarily. Maybe at one time I wanted to have a perspective on Absolutely Everything, a sure grounding. How could I achieve that in a Dharma centre only concerned with one, that of the Guru’s? What about science, philosophy and HTML? Can’t I still be totally geek about this? And what about my precious individual rights at expression amongst all these uncritical practitioners?

    I am finally getting bored of these questions because individualism does not factor in the conditioning nature of discourse. The problem with institutional effects, unrealized in the 1960′s, is that they question and take away personal agency at least to a certain degree, whether one works in a company ethos (with discernable values and barriers), as a political activist (with their strong collectivist ethics), as a scientist (with falsifiability and proof by one’s side) or a spiritual tradition like Kadampa (with the Dharmic strictures of the Guru as primary). Indoctrination is in fact unavoidable to some degree. The community and institution one is involved with necessarily conditions the ‘self’, whether through others, rules, cognitive patterning .. is this a way of realizing it’s emptiness? Well, maybe on an intellectual level, maybe less on innate criteria. Whatever, we have to realize that the choice of institution and belief is absolutely foundational – you will be configured, and you will lose a degree of individualism, whether business, spiritual, or academic-related. Indoctrination is far more subtle than simply being programmed with a set of ideas. Learning and forgetting them is serious business, and dancing to the individualist flute no longer seems like a viable position to be in.

    Getting back into Dharma at the moment seems like a establishing a point of demarcation between my own spiritual needs and the giving up of other interests and focii that fascinate me, in essence giving up some of my own freedom and intellectualism for the sake of a pure heart. Clearly the job has to be done. The precise relationship with the Guru I wish to engage in has to be carefully thought out, and unfortunately I find few texts that help me with this and it is becoming a matter of trusting my own insight and wisdom. Teachings on guru devotion, and threats of negative karmic consequences if the Guru is abandoned do not seem to address the critical issues surrounding selecting and committing oneself to a spiritual direction in the manner of ‘faith’. How much personal agency can I give over? What is my potential for critique? How will the community react to my wordly intellectualism? Will I always be ‘fringe’? And will it really be any different to the way I am now, and the way I am received? These might seem like worldly questions, but I believe they are central to the uptake of faith. Maybe there can be a new fashioning of dharma in the modern world that can integrate these perspectives? Given the prominence of the (doomed) project of individualism, the transition to Guru Yoga can be made easier through wisdom addressing this …

    One more thing on Guru devotion, concerning the prominence of the Guru above the role of a spiritual teacher, like a physics teacher. I genuinely believe I went too far too quickly in this direction, and my wordly and deluded mind just ended up blaming him for things that he is just not responsible for. I did not possess (and still don’t) the requisite foundational faith required for ‘internalizing’ the Guru to the point where I believe he is guiding me at every moment, in every decision. I certainly feel hesitant about taking Tantric vows that are Guru-related for fear I will lose my own power to act, even though (according to the teaching) such behaviour is supposed to empower me. A habitual pang of hurt and fear sometimes pervades every ‘want’ with respect to the ‘internal him’ – I blame this on reckless development early in my Dharma career. The solution I am adopting is to simplify the practice to beginners level once more and simply think ‘My Guru has something to teach me in this puja’, or ‘I will read my Guru’s words and take them seriously’. This seems to be more comfortable than projecting my whole experience on the Guru. If anyone else has Guru obstructions, please go back to the beginning .. there’s more space there. Later on, one can experiment again in the mansion of wisdom.

    Apologies for the worn leather boots.

    Much love

      1. Good, you managed to move it down the page, I didn’t like it being at the top.

        1. I really like your comment, it is just that it is longer than the article itself and people may not know there are other comments on here too 🙂 Keep them coming…

  16. I sometimes think that Duldzin has a sick sense of humour — Buddhas can be merciless in their compassion. If he knows you can take it, he’ll kick you along th spiritual path with his tiger boots because that’s th best way to get you moving. Homage, Luna ❤

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