So what is it that prevents a person, a practitioner on the spiritual path, from proceeding? It is selfishness, the self-cherishing attitude. We have to be careful about this point. Many people do their practice. They’ve been practicing for years. They’ve done many retreats, and it’s quite likely that they have achieved a state of peace and well being. That’s quite possible. First goal, peace: mission possible. But if they really start to examine themselves to see if their compassion has grown or their selfishness has decreased, then I think maybe only ten per cent out of them have managed to achieve this third step. The rest are mostly remaining in that state of peace. Therefore, it is very important to examine ourselves and find out about our selfishness, so that we can overcome it and continue with the practice.
Please understand that the pursuit of ‘feeling better’ is a samsaric goal. It is a totally mundane pursuit that borrows from the Dharma and uses all its special methods in order to fine-tune ego into a fit and workable entity. The definition of a worldly aim is to try to achieve something for oneself with a goal-oriented frame of mind so that ‘I feel good.’ We may use spiritual practice to achieve this, one good reason being that it works much better than other methods. If we’re on this path, we do a little spiritual practice and pretend to be doing it sincerely. This kind of deception, hiding the ego-oriented, materialistic aim under the tablecloth, might include something like ‘I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, so I must be pure.’
Even if you only practice a little bit, try to do it in a genuine way, with a true view, meditation and conduct. Even if it is only for a short while, let it be real. Otherwise, it is better to give it up all together, because you may wind up using the Dharma only to further ensnare yourself in confusion. To truly progress in Dharma practice, you also have to develop the proper motivation. ‘I want to engage in meditation to purify any obscurations, particularly my main enemy, ego-clinging, and benefit all sentient beings.’ If you have that kind of motivation, you will progress towards enlightenment, not towards building a strong healthy ego. If we do not know how to initially motivate ourselves in the true way, Dharma practice may be nothing more than another way of popping our daily vitamin pill, one to make ‘me’ strong and healthy. When spiritual practice is a dietary supplement, you apply it when you feel a little low on energy or a little upset. You sit down and practice to feel better. You try to balance yourself through practice and later return to your normal activities.
We should be really concerned with these questions: Am I really practicing in a genuine way? Am I really progressing? We need to check ourselves, again and again. As we practice more and more, the basic guideline is: are our disturbing emotions diminishing? Is wisdom developing and increasing? Yes or no? We should examine ourselves honestly in this way.
It is not sufficient to only receive the teachings; you must apply them, live them. Right now, we are still enveloped in deluded experience. We have created a cage for ourselves out of our own emotions and duality, and here we sit, day in and day out. We can remain in this cage or we can use the Dzogchen instructions to break it open and become free.
Really, to do dharma practice, you need to be honest with yourself and be able to appreciate what it is you are doing. True honesty and appreciation give you confidence in life.
These days we have personal freedom; we can make good money and take care of ourselves. Instead we have other problems that hinder Dharma practice, and one of them is the tendency to seek instant gratification. There are so many gadgets and so many situations we can put ourselves into that give us instant satisfaction. That itself is not the problem; the problem is actually that our minds get accustomed to immediate feedback, and we become bound by expecting it. This is one of the major obstacles to practicing on the spot.
Fearless Simplicity, p. 28