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4 Dec 2009

What is Dharma?

This week, Sharon reveals what Dharma is and more importantly, how it can guide a person to lead a happier and more meaningful life.

Over the six months of contributing to Fridae.com, there has been several occasions where I have been asked what Dharma is, so I think it is time I should address this. 

Dharma is a Sanskrit term which means correct conduct or virtuous path. In Buddhism, it refers to Buddha’s teachings. However, Buddha’s teachings are so vast that it’s difficult for most novices or spiritual seekers to comprehend the scope of what Dharma is.

I find that the renowned Tibetan Master, H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, conveys the broad meaning of Dharma best in laymen’s terms, he says: Dharma is not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s not about whose [spiritual] centre is big, it’s not about which religion is right, it’s not about whether there’s a future life or a next life or not, it’s not about whether Buddha exists or God exists, it’s not about whether Catholicism is the real religion or Buddhism is the real religion: it’s not about any of that. It’s about us bringing harmony into our families, into our lives, into the people we care about NOW. That’s what it’s about. And that’s what we learn Dharma for.

Dharma is about love, harmony and the greater understanding that a couple (gay, straight or in-between) feels towards each other. Fewer arguments among individuals can only bring people to be closer among each other.

How does it bring people closer together? Not by magic, but by giving them Dharma - it opens up their minds to make them understand and look at things on a broader spectrum. And that’s what Dharma’s about.

What is the purpose of learning the Dharma? It is for all of us to have beautiful, harmonious relationships with people around us, to forgive the wrongs that they have done, that we have done; and to forgive ourselves also. Then we can move on to being happy, light, carefree individuals who can bring light to others.

That’s what Dharma is; if you have one less argument with your partner, that’s Dharma. If you have one less attachment, that’s Dharma. If you control your anger once a day, that’s Dharma. If you forgive your partner, that’s Dharma. All of these are what Dharma is: Dharma is about bringing people together.

Rinpoche says, don’t ever think, “I have a limit. I will give this much time, I will give this effort, I will give this much knowledge, I will give this much money, I will give this much donation.” No. Never put a limit. We all don’t have a limit to how much we want in life. We don’t have a limit on how successful we can be in life. So if you don’t have a limit to how much you want in life, how can you put a limit to how much you want to give to make yourself successful in life?

For instance, if we’re having an argument with our partner, we should stop thinking, “Why is my partner like that?” Maybe we should think, “Why do I react to my partner like that?” and change ourselves. Because you know what? Our partners are not going be Buddhas overnight. So we should stop asking, “Why is my partner still like that?” Instead, we should ask, “Why do I still react to my partner like that?” and let go.

Of course Dharma teachings make absolute practical sense – after all, Buddhism is based on logical thoughts and common sense. It has to be noted that often common sense can be presented as the least logical choice of thing to do. Dharma actually goes beyond common sense as it is a structured ‘path’ to Enlightenment, and on the way there, Dharma has been proven throughout the centuries to bring us out of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Personally, I do find Dharma to be as useful as a compass while I stumble through this harrowing labyrinth of life. Relationships with friends, lovers and family go up and down – as Tina Turner famously sang, “What is love but a second hand emotion, who needs a heart when a heart can be broken”. On a personal level, I can confidently say that without Dharma, I would have broken up with my girlfriend many times over (and she’d probably have killed me by now!).

However, sharing the same spiritual journey and following Dharma’s advice on how to be better human beings reminds us to let go of and transform our perceptions and illogical presumptions. This helps us overcome over mountains of self-made obstacles and move on to deeper and more fulfilling levels. That’s what Dharma is to me – it is a guide to be a happier person who strives to make others happier. Even though we won’t be Buddhas overnight either, at least we’re going in the right direction.

The above article contains edited extracts from ‘Peace’ and ‘If Not Now When’ by Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, 2009.

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-12-05 23:34  
Thanks, I shall keep in mind "Why do I react in such a way?".
2. 2009-12-06 00:57  
Greetings Sharon,

Which is why it comforts me to know that, in today's confused world, when the Buddha taught 'Dharma', He sure knows how to hit the bull straight in the eye...

"What do you think, monks:
Which are more numerous, the few simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the simsapa forest?"

"The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord. Those overhead in the simsapa forest are more numerous."

"In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them?
Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.
That is why I have not taught them.

"And what have I taught?
'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress': This is what I have taught.
And why have I taught these things?
Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.
This is why I have taught them.

"Therefore your duty is the contemplation,
'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.'
Your duty is the contemplation,
'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'"
3. 2009-12-07 10:18  
Harrowing labyrinth of life?

Don't you know, on the whole, life is pretty darned beautiful. Time for you to create a paradigm shift for yourself maybe, otherwise you may just be wasting your precious and rare existence as a human being.
4. 2009-12-08 19:14  
Life is stress - life is suffering - life means suffering - this is the first noble truth as taught by Lord Buddha. The remaining other three noble truths tell us the causes of suffering (or stress), that suffering can be stopped and that there is the path to stopping our suffering.

Steve - I like your attitude towards life, but I would also like to share that I do not think that by acknowledging that the state of my life, I am wasting it. In fact, because i very much value this very rare and precious human life, I have fully committed my life to Dharma in serving my Guru, His Eminence Tsem Tulku Rinpoche. I do not have any attainments but my life is very much a work in progress. It is indeed a fabulous journey with ups and downs and in betweens and I would not trade it for the world!
5. 2009-12-08 23:47  
I'm glad that Dharma came into my life at the right time and right moment
6. 2009-12-09 16:00  
basic . pure, and rewarding
a simple line for a happy life
7. 2009-12-09 19:49  
Hi Sharon,

My learning from Buddhist philosophy was that all events are neutral, and whether we see them as positive or negative (causing suffering) is down to our subjective perception, a perception we can shift, thus getting rid of a lot of suffering. I think this is pretty much what you are saying in the article. The only point I was making is that we can if we choose see life as an exciting adventure, rather than a harrowing labyrinth. I didn't mean to suggest you were wasting your time, but rather that spending time suffering is a waste of our time here.
Comment edited on 2009-12-09 20:09:10
8. 2009-12-09 19:55  
Ps. By the way, did you ever see a miserable Tibetan rinpoche? They always seem to be full of laughter from what I have seen. That's a great advertisement for their philosophy.
Comment edited on 2009-12-09 20:10:53
9. 2009-12-10 00:36  
Steve - that is one of the aspects i love most about my Guru, H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche - he is always full of joy... and a wicked sense of humour! He and other high Lamas are indeed fabulous role models!! :D do look for his videos on youtube (under Tsem Tulku). They are sometimes hysterical, sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted but always profound and thought provoking.
10. 2009-12-15 12:56  
Hi Sharon
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the treasured Buddhist GEM, the Dharma. It's due to it our beautiful relationship flourished and strengthened in the ups and downs of life all these many years. May more human beings find their life path, peace of mind and compassion through the Dharma.

Chong and Stefan
11. 2009-12-18 02:29  
Hi Chong and Stefan,

I am glad to hear that the Dharma has enriched your lives. That is what the Dharma is for.. :) May you find much joy on your personal and spiritual journey together.

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