19. All dharma agrees at one point.

This slogan raises the question of how we evaluate ourselves and others. How do we tell if someone is the genuine article or a charlatan? How do we know if we ourselves are going off the rails in our spiritual practice?

There are a lot of trappings in the realm of spirituality. Some teachers have many followers and others only a few. There are all sorts of costumes, titles, and robes. Teachers compete for students, and students evaluate teachers and sanghas by all kinds of criteria. Sometimes one style of Buddhism becomes trendy for a while and then fades out of fashion. Cultural and gender biases abound. People speculate on how enlightened this teacher or that may be, and look for signs of official recognition, status, and power. So what should we look for in a teacher or a sangha?

Looking inward, it sometimes seems that we are making progress, and at other times it seems that the whole endeavor has been a waste of time. It all depends on our mood. Sometimes all we notice is that years go by and we seem to be no different than when we began—or even worse. At other times, we notice that we have become a bit more calm, maybe, or a bit more aware, or even a bit more kind. We are discouraged one day and inspired the next. So how do we know how we are doing? What should we be looking for?

According to this slogan, in looking outward, it is important not to be misled by trappings of popularity or spiritual power, and in looking inward it is important not to be caught up with our shifting moods or superficial changes. Instead, we must never forget the essential point of the dharma altogether, which is to give up ego clinging. That is the one and only true measure of a teacher or a practitioner.

Today’s Practice

As you go about your day, try to pay attention to the points when your solid sense of separateness is provoked. Notice the thoughts and sensations that arise with reactions such as defensiveness and territoriality.  Pay attention to the thoughts and sensations arise when something has drawn you out, beyond your self-absorption.