What is the Dharma?

2 Jul

I am in the mood to write about something deep and I thought about this topic for awhile. It is so fundamental yet it is clearly misunderstood by most people, from casual observers to practitioners who are in it for years. As Rinpoche put it very succinctly, ‘You may be in the Dharma but is the Dharma in you.” Before we go any deeper, I would like to express that I am in no way an authority on this subject manner. What I am sharing is strictly a sharing  of what I know combined with personal experience and observation of those around me. You are welcomed to throw in any question or debate with me on this matter if you don’t agree.

So, let us explore the textbook meaning of Dharma. Dharma is often defined as ‘right conduct’. I find that a little stunted but I have also read excellent definitions like ‘protection from suffering’. Perhaps, if we marry both definitions, it become the ‘right conduct to protect one from suffering’. Now, I think it pretty much nails the intent that the Buddha had when he started teaching. I know Rinpoche had talked about Hindu Dharma, Christian Dharma and Buddhist Dharma so what are all these? I think he meant them to be various religious traditions and disciplines that leads one to alleviate suffering. I am Buddhist and what I am sharing is mainly within the scope of the Buddhist tradition.


Now, you see various people embrace the Dharma for a variety of reasons and not all of them are Dharmic in the beginning. I have heard of people joining Kechara for pujas because it helps them alleviate their immediate problem, ie companionship (boyfriend/ girlfriend), career and financial issues, marital issues, supernatural hauntings and problems and so on and so on. I know this does tie in with what I said earlier about protection from suffering but when some people get the problems solved, that’s it. By doing that, they miss the point and they don’t explore the Dharma enough to see its great potential to benefit us long-term. This is not right or wrong but they miss out on the Dharma’s potential to benefit us long term.

Some intellectuals understand and appreciate the Dharma but prefer to practice on their own and not be ‘entrapped’ by dogma or false idealism of religion. That’s just too bad because honestly, are we really deluding ourselves by thinking that we can get ahead spiritually by practicing on our own? I know the Buddha had done that but do we have what it takes to become like the Buddha. Even the Buddha had teachers that led him to a certain extent. Do we have a measure or yardstick to determine any sort of spiritual progress? Hence, sticking with a set method that was established by great masters who had engaged in the practices that has brought about a certain result from the practice. We are talking about a tried and tested lineage and practice. The Dharma had 2500 or so years of great practitioners and enlightened masters arising from it. Hence, in our tradition, the lineage of any teachings is very important to understand because the knowledge of it provides confidence and reassurance of the authenticity of the teachings and results if they were put into practice.

Then, there are those that have embraced the Dharma and after encountering certain issues along the way, gave up on the Dharma.The reasons can be many but it is usually boils down to only a few. One of them is because of the idealistic view of how some people in the Dharma should behave or not behave in the center. Instead of using the teachings to contemplate on ourselves, some use it to evaluate others. The usual targets are those that have been in the Dharma for many years and had not yet transformed. Instead of getting disheartened by them, we should be encouraged by such practitioners because our personal practice is between you and the Lama/guru or Buddha. It has never really been about these people and why do we use them to give up our practice.

Then, there are those that have developed an opinion of the lama/guru based on rumors of mere physical appearance. Some people have fixed notions of how a Guru should behave or not behave and the Lama will act in ways to benefit us and sometimes we may not understand  from our perspective. I am not saying that the Lama can act in whatever way he wants and get away by saying it is for the benefit of the practitioner. Sometimes, we have to understand the intention of the lama by viewing the whole issue from a bigger perspective. We can do this by listening to his teachings and talking to senior students about why the lama behave in such a such a way. How the lama operate is based on what benefits us whether we understand it or not. Hence, when we have doubts, it would be good to investigate why the lama behave in this manner by talking to senior students instead of holding on to our view of things.

That should suffice for now. Those are what I have observed and I thought I share it that perhaps it might benefit somebody out there whose is struggling with the meaning of Dharma and Dharma practice. All feedback is welcomed.

One Response to “What is the Dharma?”

  1. Jim Yeh July 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    This is a great post David. I have come across people who choose to practice “spirituality” on their own, mostly because…well…they can just make up stuff along the way! And when you try to help them, they accuse you of being a freak, fanatic or spiritually arrogant.

    It just makes me want to beat the living be-bop-a-lula out of them with Setrap’s cudgel*.

    On a different note, I do believe that most people choose to go down the spiritual path because they’ve tried pretty much everything else and yielded no results.

    Some leave as soon as their “problems” are solved, some transform and stay. But for how long, depends on the individual’s commitment and dedication.

    Great post David! Gave me a lot to think about.

    * Totally kidding about that part. I wouldn’t beat someone with Setrap’s cudgel. I head-butt them.

Leave a Reply