In a time when self-promotion, selfies and social media grab much of your attention it may be refreshing to hear a teaching that allows you to simply be yourself. In fact, given that narcissism seems to be of epidemic proportions in our culture, perhaps such a teaching that helps you appreciate your life in such a simple, non-referential way is, in fact, revolutionary. Dharma is a word used in Buddhism that has different meanings. The most basic meaning of dharma is that of a system or way. We could speak of the dharma of tea or the dharma of flower arranging. It's simply a system or norm of how some activity is organized. In early Indian thought, dharma simply meant "thatness" or "isness" of things. The dharma of water or the dharma of fire. So the meaning is very simple and straightforward. It's just how things work or function. So this is the simple, mundane meaning, and then there is a deeper meaning sometimes referred to as saddharma. In the West, we don't seem to have a good word for this. We might call it doctrine, or dogma or truth, but these terms seem to have some religious connotation that don't exist in the word saddharma. Saddharma has to do with how you use your mind. You might say it is the spiritual path you create for making sense of your life. And path seems necessary as some reference point, or else you needlessly complicate your life.
So this dharma is the real thing. It's been practiced, taught and appreciated for 2500 years. The Buddha added the term, "satya" to dharma, which becomes saddharma. This dharma is beginning to speak of truth in a deeper way, rather than stirring up more turmoil in your life.
Saddharma is a path of practice which tames the mind. It pacifies and cools off the passions and aggressions of your neurotic mind. The dharma offers the possibility of liberating you from your endless drama and confusion.
Instead of occupying yourself with constant discursive thoughts, opinions and judgements, the dharma helps you let go of the business and reactiveness that often have their way with you. At first it may seem threatening because it doesn't seem to have anything to do with your schemes and agendas. It doesn't offer you the usual comfort or reassure you by solidifying the ground of your ego.
The dharma is pure because it is not stained by your ego's agenda. At first you have your own interpretation of what the dharma is, and at the same time some deeper intuition is cutting through that. And practice is a sorting out process whereby you begin to trust and listen to the deeper intuition which doesn't provide you with any comfort necessarily, but at the same time is uplifting and inspiring because it is so sane and reasonable.
Traditionally all training in the dharma takes place through discipline (sila), meditation (samadhi) and wisdom (prajna).
You begin to appreciate that in order to tame your mind, you need discipline. Otherwise your mind is given over to impulses and judgements which stir up trouble and chaos. Discipline requires that you be willing to be alone. It's really up to you and no one is going to save you, not even your teacher or the sangha community.
With discipline you can begin to practice mindfulness meditation. You are able to sit with yourself in a very simple way; to let your mind settle. This practice of one-pointed attention (shamatha) brings a sense of precision to whatever you do. You find that you can land on one-spot. You let go of the constant obsession with distracting and entertaining yourself.
Discipline and meditation help you develop prajna wisdom which is not wisdom about something else nor is it theoretical in any way. It's very direct and cuts through any sense of your own territory as well as your constant attempt to solidify and objectify the world around you. It's a sort of bull-shit free zone you find yourself in. At first this could seem completely threatening but you are surprised that it actually brings you a sense of relief and upliftedness in your life. You are becoming a genuine human being. You are soaked in the dharma and there is no gap. The dharma is your life and your life is the dharma.
So the dharma, the deeper intuition that has very little if anything to do with your opinion or interpretation of it, becomes the path you walk on. And it's completely inspiring. Nothing could be more satisfying than this fundamental truth. When you walk, you walk. When you sleep you sleep. When you eat, you eat. You become genuine and open-hearted.
So dare to be ordinary. In our culture today, that's an extra-ordinary thing to do.
Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse ©2015