If You Find Such a Place

Today a Chinese nun came to see for advice about where to go for the dharma. She said since it seems like she doesn’t have the opportunity to stay here in the retreat centre, where could she go to get good opportunities for the dharma.
I was stumped, I didn’t know what to say.

The first thing we need is a good lama. But it takes exceptional merit to encounter a good lama. Even if we do meet one, without merit we will not recognise them to be a good lama. There will be something about them that does not appeal to us. For some reason or another we will disregard them.

The second thing we need once we have found a good lama is the opportunity to stay with them for a long time and to receive regular teachings from them. Normal beings like ourselves will not make significant progress on the path having heard just one or two teachings. It is not as though we could receive a practice instruction and think, ‘Ok, I will do that then,’ and use that to transform ourselves from an ordinary being to a noble being.

We are like a person who has been ill for a long time, a quick fix is very unlikely. Somebody who is seriously ill needs to stay in hospital. They will be checked on by the doctor two or three times a day and will be constantly supervised by a nurse. That is the sort of situation we need in the dharma if we are to be cured from the heavy afflictions and karma that have ailed us for many lifetimes.

So basically, if we are serious about making progress on the path, we need to find an excellent lama, who teaches daily, that we can live with for a long time. This is what I understood the Chinese nun to be asking me to show her; a place like this where she could go. I’m sure there must be such places but I couldn’t think of anywhere like this that she could feasibly go.

What came to mind is the story of the scholar who let his cover slip. Do you know this story? A family who lived close to one of the main Buddhist universities in Tibet was fed up with the scholars who always came by.

One day a monk knocked on the door and asked to be put up for the night. The mother said, “You’re not a scholar are you? You can’t say anything in front of these pesky scholars without them picking fault with it.”
“No, I’m not a scholar,” he assured her.

After dinner the mother found a louse in the collar of her dress. She picked it out and placed it in the hand of her daughter and said, “Put this somewhere it won’t die.” On hearing this the scholar-monk just couldn’t help himself and blurted out, “If you find such a place put me there too would you!”
He was thus promptly shown the door.

The point being, if I knew of such a place to send the Chinese nun I would like to go myself.

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