Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Focus on meaning of Dharma

Western teachers can talk about many different subjects. Comedy stories, Geshe Kelsang, up and coming festivals, ebooks, cds, temples, future courses, voluntary work, fundraising. They can spend a large amount of time advertising. This would be an example of future degeneration. Laziness is defined as a dodging of meaningful activity. As trainees in virtue it would be very easy for this to filter into every area of our organisation. We stop studying, teaching in detail and make it more basic for example. It is far easier to spend an hour talking about how much you like Geshela and applying the teaching on love than it is to explain the details of what Buddha conveyed to this world.

Geshe Kelsang always conveyed the details of Buddhas message, without watering it down and omitting parts. He gave a full and complete path with many scriptural examples to show it was Buddhas instruction and not his own ideas.Even when he retired he spend 100 minutes explaining Dharma then 2 minutes giving his goodbye speech. After 30 years of teaching us he chose giving us Dharma as more important than saying goodbye to us. If then is not a time when other topics are of importance on the throne we have to ask ourselves, when IS it more important to say an administrative or social topic on the throne IF EVER?

Did Geshe Kelsang ever advertise books or courses during his discourses? How much of his discourses did he devote to praising people or revering his root guru? How much time did he discuss his own social life or daily routine?

Equality love

When some teachers teach they look at their favourite listeners and ignore the rest. Sometimes the teaching becomes what their preferred students need. At festivals for example the teaching is sometimes more catering for people who have been attending for many years.
At other teachings the teaching can be given as a beginners teaching because there are one or two new people. And since there are always one or two new people topics become habitually omitted until they are removed from the course altogether and become only spoken of in teachings that are not drop in/open to the public (such as foundation programme).
Geshe Kelsang never compromised the teaching in this way. He nver omitted topics. He gave teachings in such a way that all levels of listener could learn about and enjoy BUDDHISM. He was not afraid to teach BUDDHAS WORDS. He believed that people would like Buddhism and that they would appreciate it and use it and if they want a filtered version they could filter it themselves.
He believed in and valued everyone without having people he preferred, or favourites. When he went to greet a group he would greet everyone equally, not moving towards familiar faces and blanking strangers. In this way he put thought into his teachings and how to fulfil everyones wishes who attended.

Humble love

When Western teachers give discourses they often appear very different to how Geshe Kelsang did. They have an aloofness, sometimes with a mocking sarcasm. They say I know this and I know that. They can appear very holy or in a deep trance, rolling their eyes in ecstacy.
Geshe Kelsang never did any of this. If anything he appeared very bashful, like a servant and occassionally a cheeky but shy boy. He was simply passing on a message that he saw as incredibly important without omitting or adding anything, and especially not wanting any credit for it. When he gave his final teaching and retired he spent the whole discourse discussing pure holy Dharma and it was only in the last two minutes he said goodbye, He was more interested in conveying the Dharma topic. When he waved and said goodbye he was very shy. He didnt want any special ceremony or ritual of appreciation.
We have to ask ourselves as westerners if we convey the same, or do we have large parties and recieve lots of gifts

Unrestricting love

Western teachers often make a mistake of being graspy or clingy when teaching when giving pointing out instructions or advice. They will say we MUST do this or that. Many years ago a famous teacher would say when you first wake up you should think this as your 1st thought. After a while he had said so many things we must think when we wake up! Some Dharma teachers get so excited they start to sound fanatical or domineering.

Geshe Kelsang never did this because he was demonstrating respecting others and allowing them freedom to be themselves. This is part of love. Many times he would say its up to you if you want to do. You have freedom. You have choice. And he would not make the practice restrictive. He would make it flexible. He was also one to rebel against rules - removing restrictions. When it was raining and we were all camping he would say "someone could stay in my room", during the discourse. He was flexible not rigid. He was not trying to chain people or control them so its important we represent his energy to future generations by demonstrating this form of love.

Faith in Others

Geshe Kelsang always did something completely different that perplexed me for many years until I realised his nature.

When Western teachers taught they would always say we are rubbish, we are deluded, we are failures, we are bad Buddhists. After such discourses I would come out discouraged and deflated or fired up to change.

But I was highly aware that Geshe Kelsang never did this in his discourses. When I came out of Geshe Kelsangs teachings I always felt confident and encouraged in my practice. I felt positive about myself and my activities and keen to develop them.

It is because part of his love is to believe in people with no thought of underestimating, undermining abilities but believing in ability and being very positive about it and about the future. This powerful positive energy and the fact he believed in the people he was talking to was a blessing and part of the teaching. He was demonstrating that Dharma makes you feel good and people would have incredible positive minds coming instead of self chastising and self effacing.

I also found it damaging to my faith if a senior teacher was looking at all the monks and nuns and telling them they were not practicing Buddhism when I was trying to see them as Sangha Jewels. Geshe Kelsang taught correctly and we should follow his example.

Unassuming Love

Many Western teachers are assuming things or not realising things when they are teaching. Geshe Kelsang took everyone from the start of the path to the final stages of the path. He always began at the start, our basic wish for happiness and took us to Enlightenment. In this way everyone was included and able to make progress. The beginner was taken from the beginning and the senior students strengthened their beginning and middle and tried to get to the end!

As Western teachers we are not doing this. We make the following mistakes

General Program including festivals and courses:

1) We use words people dont understand ASSUMING they understand them - Dharma Sangha Geshela 3 jewels delusions etc
2) We ask people to do prayers ASSUMING they know the words and not giving prayer sheets to read from
3) We say terms such as GP FP TTP KMC KMB and most people are simply baffled
4) We do not explain the entire path because we assume people will not like Buddhism


1)It is assumed that long tireades of praise of the spiritual director or founder will help many people - But to the people who do not know the person being praised it makes no sense. We need to ask ourself. Did Geshe Kelsang mainly focus on praising people or did he focus on the holy Dharma. How big a portion of the teaching did he dedicate to his root Guru or the lineage Gurus? If we fill a quarter of the discourse with this is it beneficial?
2) Lack of definitions- I have just returned from a festival review where half the discourse was praising Dharma using many analogies followed by a plug for the book Modern Buddhism. The teaching was simply the benefits of Modern Buddhism and encouragement to read it. As well as an encouragement to devote oneself to Geshe Kelsang. There was no explanation of Geshe Kelsangs qualities either simply that he is incredible and magical. Geshe Kelsang NEVER taught like this. This could be the discourse of the future if teachings degenerate. No explanation of what Dharma is. No giving of Dharma but simply a motivational speech with no explanation of WHY we need Dharma just a proclaimation that we do and that it is amazing. If we do not reveal what the Dharma is at a festival because we assume everyone knows it already it is a big mistake. Because even senior people need to be told what the Dharma is, who is Buddha, what is Sangha, what are delusions etc. If we do not give a detailed explanation when the clearest teaching of the year is traditionally given, when will clear teachings ever be given??

Unconditional Love

When Geshe Kelsang taught, all those in the room felt loved. This was because he was looking around the room in a genuine way wanting to see the people not blotting them out. When he saw the people his eyes sparkled he was so delighted. And you could hear the enthusiasm in his voice.

If we are not looking at the people and engaging with them they will not engage with us as well. How can we see a spiritual teacher as a supreme spiritual friend if they act like a stranger and there is no warmth?

There was also no sense that you have to convert to Buddhism or that you are being blotted out because you dont need love or you have not been doing pleasing things. All were loved without exception.

Preventing Degeneration of Holy Dharma

The degeneration of Buddhas teachings is inevitable. Buddha Maitreya will come because the Dharma has dissappeared. Our job is to make sure it does not degenerate on our watch!

We need to understand what is pure and what is degeneration. What are the signs of degeneration and do we keep silent when it is happening? The truth is that there will always be manifestations of wrathful behaviour whenever there is any trace of degeneration. The real question is, when we encounter people who are wrathful, shocking, challenging us, do we see them as emanations or a force of evil?

In the 1980s in this tradition, it was seen as normal to challenge each other in this way, and the teacher would often mock (and by doing so) warn clearly of the signs and dangers of degenerating the tradition. Using elaborate and comical theoretical scenarios and often posing themselves as the 'clown' who behaves in this degenerate manner. One example was mocking how we might use our status as a 'buddhist' to impress people, make friends, gain status and maybe even make money.

Now there is silence and no criticism is allowed. It is as if the 10 youthful wrathful attendants and many of Shugdens retinue have been gagged. When we do Kangso (extensive Shudgen prayers) we transform local guardians, ghosts, spirits - all those we fear and see as enemies or challengers - into Dharma Protectors who are emanations of Shugden. There is a reason for this! These beings CAN FUNCTION to protect and enhance the tradition. It all depends how we see them. If someone comes along like a crazy Drukpa Kunleg with a donkey saying can he join your monastery as he has a good voice and all you care about is music, we should be like those monks he spoke to. Thanking the crazy person for teaching then telling the story saying he is emanation of Shugden. Not he is an evil man. Of course you send them away, we cant have Buddhist centres filled with wildness and wierdness. But to say they are evil beings is totally wrong. To have a sadness that we are surrounded by enemies. Who decided they were enemies? We did! And so the protection for the tradition is reducing because we reject the teachings and warnings instead of being blessed and inspired by them.

To protect the teaching in the Gompa itself from degenerating is what will protect the rest. Any problem can be solved via a teacher. Therefore below I am going to post a summary on pure teachings based on the differences between Geshe Kelsangs style and western teachers style. Of course all comment is welcome and if my article is wrong and comments are made I will edit it. Its important to be accurate and correct

Geshe Kelsang teachings are always demonstrating the following Dharmas:

Unconditional love
Unassuming love
Faith in others
Unrestricting love
uncontrolling love
Unlecturing love
Unarrogant love
Humble love
Thoughful love
Intuitive love
Considerate love
Careful love
Unforcing love
Gentle love
Respectful love
Equality love
No favourites love
Focus on meaning of Dharma
Focus on future lives

We need to be aware that students copy their teacher and so we are creating a tradition of how western people teach. As Geshe Kelsangs teaching style becomes a memory and unseen by the next generation, these lineages could be lost as well as these demonstrations of love. Also the instructions given can change meaning if not taught with love. For example without seeing all in front as equal and precious we might give a teaching only for new people or only for experienced people. It is quite easy to reform a teaching so all people benefit from it and its powerful for all as indeed Geshe Kelsang did achieve every time he taught without exception.


I sincerely believe the ITTP (Teacher Training Programme) would benefit greatly from having videos of Geshe Kelsangs teaching style studied and discussed as part of the curriculum. Perhaps after 2 students give a talk on a topic, play a video where Geshela teaches that very topic, and then discuss the differences.