I have been quite struck by this month’s Tricycle Retreat, “Letting Go.” The retreat leaders, Pamela Gayle White and Khedrub Zangmo, while being very gentle and soft-spoken, are definitely “no nonsense” teachers that cut straight to the heart of the human condition in their presentation of the Buddhadharma.
In their Week 2 teachings, “The View” Pamela begins the talk with a discussion of why we practice in the first place. She explains that through the study and practice of Buddhism, we can become less of a nuisance and more of a benefit, both to ourselves and others. She explains that if this is our motivation, then we can confidently work towards awakening and let go of the defects and faults that impede us.
As someone who works to help facilitate these teachings, I was initially saddened when I saw that the first comment in the Week 2 discussion was,
Whoa! Were the opening statements judgmental, or was it just me? Less of a nuisance, defects, faults? And they then talk about building confidence? I think I will pass on this month’s retreat. Very disappointing.
Nevertheless, I quickly became very grateful to this commenter because of the rich ground in which this sentiment lead the discussion. The teachers responded,
We would both like to answer this one. We are sorry that we have disappointed you. Our teacher, Gendun Rinpoché, always instructed us to acknowledge our harmful habits. He drilled into us that spirituality is not a ‘love and light’ concept but a matter of acknowledging our faults and training in changing them. He often quoted the Tibetan proverb: it’s no use pointing out the louse in someone else’s hair while ignoring the shaggy yak on your own nose.
Many of us feel that we would like to be more beneficial, but we are stymied by deep-rooted personal patterns that make this difficult. For us, beginning with the wish to be less of a nuisance and to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is the starting point of the practice. Knowing that we all have the potential to awaken gives us the confidence to follow the path that takes us beyond self-cherishing – step by step – and gives us the courage and strength to make more constructive choices.
Yours in the Dharma, Pamela and Khedrub.
Another participant responds,
I agree with the response of Pamela and Khedrub. Somehow in the “dharmic” sense, we gain the courage to look honestly at our “problematic” personal habits..and in that sense whatever one names them as..defects, issues, faults..well, in this case, within the relationship of practitioner, then the only one who can honestly assess those is ourselves, but being honest, then one must be clear that we do sometimes cause harm through body speech and mind, and that is not a problem, but on the other hand, we and others will benefit the more honest we can be with ourselves that we can always change in ways that would possibly be more skillful or compassionate. I am so happy to keep changing, and the teachings and teachers are what have helped me so often. Sometimes its painful, but I know what I am choosing here.
If you have defects, you must be willing to look at them honestly to make progress. If you have no defects, you have no reason to be on the spiritual path. We are deeply tarnished creatures here on Earth, dear. If we look at ourselves as coolly as we can, we will see we cause as much trouble to others as they do to us, but we can’t change them, can we? The path is not a pleasure cruise or a Sunday stroll either. Sometimes it means digging into piles of manure where we might even find a jewel! As O’Hara Roshi said in her teachings. Don’t be offended! Have peace and rest from worry.
I very much appreciate this discussion. Personally, while my own practice has at times brought me much joy, serenity, and ease, it has also been one of the most difficult and painful aspects of my entire life. Trying to deal with the samsaric condition can be quite excruciating! With this in mind, I am very grateful to teachers like Pamela and Khedrub for not glossing over this aspect of the human experience and for “telling it like it is.”
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.