37. Don’t make gods into demons.
It is possible to take the very best and turn it into the very worst. When we first encounter the dharma and the mind training teachings, we are be so open and excited. It is so refreshing to encounter practical guidelines for developing wisdom and compassion and to find teachings we can actually apply in our everyday activities. But the more we practice and the more we become familiar with the teachings, the more tempted we are to close down and check out. Instead of appreciating the power of the practice, we begin to insert the heavy hand of ego.
At first meditation and compassion practices seem so beautiful and gentle. We feel enriched and nurtured. But as we continue, we begin to encounter a more threatening and provocative side to mind training practice. It makes us feel unmasked and exposed, embarrassed by our own mindlessness and the puny nature of our compassion for others.
As the practice begins to bite or to be more challenging, when it is no longer simply an add-on to our regular way of going about things, but a call for personal transformation, we feel threatened.
We reach a crossroads where we can either continue to open or we begin to shut down. At this point, we may simply stop practicing or we may co-opt the practice so that, rather than challenging our ego, it nourishes it. We keep the feel-good part and reject the rest. In doing so we are beginning to turn dharma into anti-dharma.
It is quite simple. In one approach, we are trying to consume the dharma. We are trying to fit the dharma into our small-mindedness, and in the other, we are dissolving our small self into the vastness of the dharma. When we try to feed on the dharma, instead of becoming more open and gentle, we become more closed-minded and arrogant. We have succeeded in turning the dharma, a path that is designed to make us more humble, flexible, compassionate, and awake into a kind of demon, feeding our worst qualities. Making the teachings into a credential for our ego is a perversion of the dharma. We are using our attachment to our superficial version of the dharma to destroy what true dharma is all about. It is turning a god into a demon.
In your encounter with the teachings, how have you changed? In what ways have you become more appreciative and open and it what ways have you become more opinionated and closed? How can you identify with the dharma without making them it into just another credential?