By DOUG KALLMAN
Many of us have been participating in Fred’s teachings of “The Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas,” a collection of verses of pith teachings of the aspirational path of letting go of self interest and dedicating our lives for the benefit of all beings. In addition to our daily practice and twice weekly Dharma talks, Fred offered a Saturday forum where we could learn from the questions of our Sangha classmates. I was requested to share a portion of this Q&A with Fred as it might be helpful for other practitioners.
In short, I asked Fred what do you do when you spin out, when as I phrased it, “the Dharma isn’t working.” Fred gently walked me through a reexamination of that idea. Was it in fact that the Dharma wasn’t working, or that I wasn’t applying the teachings properly?
He pointed out that the "self" was caught in wanting things to be a certain way and was irritated that it wasn’t going the way the self wanted. Like a petulant child, the self was having a good pout with a bit of foot stomping. I had lost mindfulness of seeing this clearly.
During this exchange I learned several things.
First, it was good to be vulnerable and share the problems I was having. In my life I have struggled with an inflated sense of my skills, a lack of humility, that has kept me from publicly acknowledging my challenges. This has been a source of suffering.
Second, on reflection, it is clear that if I had practiced patience and allowed the irritation to blow over, I would have suffered less.
Last, I remembered again to trust the Dharma, our wise and loving teacher and the support of the FCM sangha.
Here is a transcript of our conversation from the Q&A:
Doug (who is a physician): I had an experience this week where the Dharma wasn’t working for me. It usually works for me. I usually find some tool, pull something out of the bag of tricks. This week I was working a lot. It was hectic. Then there were lots of add-ons, including a good friend of ours getting very sick and my wife wanting me to put her to the top of the list, ahead of all my other patients. And so I got done with a long day and then took on her case.
You know those little bits of straw that can fuel a large fire? There was lots of kindling in there this week. I managed not to get angry, but there was a lot of irritation. The Dharma wasn’t working for me this week. And then I was getting upset that the Dharma wasn’t working (Fred laughing). I was on about the 12tharrow. Enough of the second arrow. I was starting to fire at will.
Luckily the Dharma was working somewhat. I don’t think I did any harm to the world around me. So that was probably a very positive step as I reflect on it. No anger got out, but there were heaps of irritation inside. I tried breathing. I tried stopping for five minutes. But I was getting less and less effective. I spun out of control.
So my question is, what do you do then?
Fred: So you were getting irritated at the Dharma because it wasn’t working for you. Let’s go back. Since I’m a strong upholder of the Dharma, I would frame it differently. It wasn’t that the Dharma wasn’t working for you. I would say that Doug wasn’t working the Dharma.That’s always my "go to."
Your mindfulness lets you know that you’re feeling stressed, tired, weary. And all of a sudden, the things that earlier in the morning weren’t a problem, as the day goes on, become problematic. You notice you are irritated. Why are you irritated?
We have to see that we have done something very different. We have disempowered ourselves. We have become the victim. We forget that we could have said no to your wife. Why did you say yes?
Doug: Because a Bodhisattva would say yes.
Fred: Yes. Because you weren’t dead yet. You had some capacity and you realized that you could help this person. Your wife was suffering because she was very concerned.
It’s almost as if there is this drama going on. On the one hand, you’re a doctor, here to help people, respond to their suffering. And then all of a sudden there is this other voice. The voice of "self." He’s going …grahh, grahh, grahh, grahh, grahh, grahh (Doug laughing). Can you see him? You need to be able to see that that’s where the irritation is coming from.
Those moments are good. Those moments are a choice point. Am I living my life according to the Dharma? Am I living my life according to my Bodhisattvic vows? Or am I living my life according to this very constricted, narrow self, whose voice is, “What about me...What’s in it for me…Why do people always want more from me?" It’s narrow. It’s petty.
If one is able to see that it is an empty voice, the self is empty, then it is no big deal. Then you can just blow away the irritation the way you blow away something that is not real. Again, it’s good to have those moments. To get bent out of shape.
We don’t hold on to the past but often we can learn from our mistakes. We certainly want to be able to reflect on past events, so we can learn fearlessness. Please remember, the Dharma always works. But we often don’t work the Dharma.
Doug Kallman, a physician from Atlanta, GA, joined FCM in 2018. He began a daily meditation practice in 2015 in the Insight tradition. With the bare minimum of prerequisite experience, he jumped into the deep end of the Dharma pool with Fred and FCM on a weeklong Wisdom Path retreat at Southern Dharma in June 2018. After a few days, he was all in, taking transmission of the 5 Mindfulness Trainings at the end of the retreat. Since then, he has been drinking at FCM's fire hose of Dharma, gratefully participating in Intensives and retreats with the community.