September 5, 2017

{Cutting Through}: Proselytizing Buddhism. How do we Help others Find the Path? {Weekly Q & A}

{Cutting Through} is a new column on elephantjournal.com. Have a question about meditation, mindfulness, or Buddhism? Please send it to Travis at [email protected] or in a comment on this article. Travis is an authorized meditation instructor in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and the Center Director of Shambhala St. Petersburg. He is a joyful student of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

Question for your column: How can we help others as they discover their path? It’s their journey but sometimes they have questions. I know the Buddha encourages us to be that wise and beneficial friend. How do I do this?


Thank you for your question.

You raise an important point about realizing that it’s an individual’s own journey. This is why Buddhists don’t proselytize.

We do want to be available to be of benefit to others, but we shouldn’t be trying to convince anyone of anything.

The first quality of a dharma teacher is having a sense of passionlessness. We don’t need to embellish our experience or the teachings, and we don’t have to be a cheerleader for #TeamBuddha.

Passionlessness has a sense of just presenting the information we have to present and letting the teachings speak for themselves. It also has a sense on nonaggression.

We should also, of course, be honest about what we know and what we don’t know.

On the Shambhala path, the first step to becoming a teacher is taking the Shambhala Guide Training. As a Shambhala Guide, a person has completed a certain amount of practice and study. They study a resource manual and answer review questions. After completing this course, they are authorized as Shambhala Guides and are then an initial point of contact for people looking to learn about Shambhala Buddhism.

This is to say, if we are going to present ourselves as a resource to others, we should ensure that we have an adequate background to do so.

Also, it’s always preferable to go straight to the source. If we’re not that familiar with a certain topic, we could refer others to the work of teachers that are trusted and respected like Chögyam Trungpa, Sakyong Mipham, Pema Chödrön, or Thich Nhât Hańh. I would recommend studying closely what Chögyam Trungpa said about any given topic, rather than listen to anything I have to say! 

For someone looking to start a meditation practice, for example, I would recommend Turning the Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham. For a profound and penetrating overview of the Tibetan Buddhist path, I would recommend Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trunpga. 

Ultimately, we should just be honest and speak from our own experience. If everyone does that, then the seeker will be able to see which path resonates with them the most, and then take that first step themselves.

Finally, the best thing we can do is model and be a positive example of our spiritual path. Suzuki Roshi said that realization is communicated by our actions, not our words. We communicate our state of mind to others in each moment, with each gesture. If we are practicing and moving along our path and beginning to act more mindfully, more cheerfully, and making healthy decisions about how we’re living our life, people will notice and be attracted to that. When that happens, dharma is speaking for itself.


Question for your column:

How do we work with moments when our thoughts hook us so much that we deliberately choose not to go back to the present moment?

Thank you for your question.

Hehe, you have the right to choose whether or not to go back to breath or indulge the thought, but if you choose to indulge the thought, you have stopped practicing shamatha meditation

The most important part of our shamatha practice is when we notice that we’ve become distracted from the feeling of our body breathing, and then go back to it. This is how we begin to break our habit of being controlled by our discursive mind and, more and more, learn to rest in the present moment.

On the other hand, there may be some issue that is distracting us so much that we’re not actually able to work with the technique at all. That also isn’t helping our mindfulness practice. If we’re that worked up over something, we probably should get up from our meditation cushion and just relate with it.

But, for the most part, there really isn’t anything that can’t just wait 20 minutes until our practice time is over. The best approach we can have for our meditation practice is to honor the time we’ve set aside for doing it, and work with the technique as much as we can.

Each breath we’re able to stay with is increasing that mindfulness muscle; each time, sooner and sooner, that we’re able to notice we’ve become distracted and then come back is sharpening our awareness.

No one really knows what’s going on in our minds when we’re sitting there on the cushion or chair, but if we want to reap the many rewards of a strong mindfulness practice, the more we actually practicethe more benefits we will receive.


Relephant Reads:

{Cutting Through}: The Four Noble Truths. Isn’t suffering important for growth? {Weekly Q & A}

{Cutting Through}: Motivation. Is my Intention to Meditate Pure? {Weekly Q & A}




Author: Travis May
Image: Pixabay/Akcarawat
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton

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