Some people may think of spirituality as the practice of having faith in something. Some others may see the dharma as being like a spiritual massage. The way I see the dharma, however, is that intelligence and investigation are even more important than faith. To practice the dharma is to look into the content of one’s life in a very deep way. To do this, one must be able to discern between one’s strengths and one’s shortcomings. This is not possible through faith alone.

Some people approach spirituality as a method by which, if their minds are feeling disturbed, it will calm them down. It is seen as a temporary benefit. There is no long-term view of bringing peace to the mind, or freeing the mind from disturbing emotions altogether. So in this way many people look for immediate results, some type of swift path without too many hardships. Since materialism is so prevalent these days, that approach comes into spirituality as well, with people wanting fast results. In this way we become spiritually materialistic. So what I mean by the dharma is living our lives deeply and knowing ourselves.

One of the first contemplations that is encouraged when we enter into the dharma is that of the precious human birth—seeing our life as something very valuable. Seeing the value of our lives and of moral conduct, we can give our lives a strong direction. In this way, we become good spiritual practitioners by becoming good human beings. Without being a good human being, it is impossible to become a good spiritual practitioner. This is one of the reasons why we say, “The preliminaries are even more profound than the main practice.”

First, one must get to know oneself. Then, having become familiar with oneself, one can live one’s life more deeply. Living one’s life more deeply is the meaning of dharma.

Excerpted from an interview with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa conducted by Tricycle in July 2011.

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