It’s not Done Until it’s Done
When I see the students I’ve guided leave retreat and then make no effort to pursue the dharma, it becomes clear that I haven’t helped them at all. It pains my heart when I see that.
The fact that some of them stop practising and receiving dharma teachings shows that after teaching them daily for four, five years or longer, I haven’t even helped them to learn to value and treasure the dharma. For this type of Buddhist, the dharma is just a custom and its practice is just a course or programme with a fixed end date. If it remains like this for those who come to the retreat centre, then I haven’t done anything for them.
The practitioners of old saw receiving instructions on the nature of mind to be the most important thing in their life. They would always seek out good lamas who are capable of giving such instructions. But nowadays, the dharma has become like a secular education programme: people take a few years off from their ‘real life’ to study or practice for a certain duration and then graduate with certificate in hand. They could happily leave the retreat centre without having received the instructions on the nature of mind, let alone without having recognised it. For them, the scheduled time is done and so is their work in the dharma.
Though in a way, I don’t blame the students really; I see the issue lies more in the lack of good teachers and lamas. Most of the students have never witnessed true practitioners; were never taught by one or had the opportunity to stay close to one. So it’s natural that they don’t have the dharma way of thinking. Sometimes when I see how you retreatants do not make progress in the dharma, I say to myself, ‘Well, of course not. Look at who’s teaching them. They are not turning into decent practitioners because I myself am not one.’
Anyway, the practice of the dharma shouldn’t be regarded as a programme with a fixed completion date. It should be like food, an essential element of our life. We would never think, ‘I’ve been eating food for years. That should be enough now.’ No, we know that we must continue eating for as long as we are alive.
And dharma is just as essential. In fact it is even more essential, since it is the only thing that can free us from the suffering of cyclic existence.