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Verse 17-4: Gathering disciples

Verse 17-4: Gathering disciples

Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).

  • Attracting others to the Dharma
  • Third way to gather followers: encouraging people along the path

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 17-4 (download)

Yesterday I was talking about the four ways to gather followers as part of the one about:

“May I close the door to the lower forms of life for all beings.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when closing a door.

To help them close the door to the lower realms we have to teach them the Dharma. To teach them the Dharma we have to attract them to wanting to learn the Dharma. It’s not attracting them to ourselves as a person, this is not about an ego trip of, “I’m going to be the big savior and teach all these poor slobs the Dharma.” That’s not the reason, that’s not the motivation at all, but with compassion then wanting to be able to lead others, then we have to attract them, because otherwise everybody’s minds are all over the place.

To attract them to the Dharma, it’s not through worldly ways of attracting them—that you look gorgeous, and you look beautiful, and you flatter them, and things like that. As I was saying yesterday, first of all being generous. People are attracted by generosity, they see you as a kind and generous person. The second way is by speaking pleasantly, in other words having a pleasant personality, not being demanding or irascible. And then speaking pleasantly also includes teaching the Dharma.

Third is by encouraging people along the path. It’s not just sufficient to give instructions, one has to encourage people and show them how to practice it, otherwise it just becomes information. The whole process of encouraging people requires a lot of skill, because you can teach and people have the information but then they don’t know what to do with it. And then even they’re trying to meditate on it, all this stuff comes up in their mind: old stories, resentment, low self-esteem issues, and all this stuff, and unless people know how to apply the Dharma to that, that stuff can really block their practice big time and they can get really stuck.

This whole process of encouraging people means really helping to show them how to get past the blocks that come in the mind to practicing the Dharma. Sometimes we get the idea that Dharma practice is over here but I’m having all these obstacles over here and so I need some other method to deal with my obstacles, like getting what I want. [laughter] That’s the best way to deal with my obstacles, is get what I want and retaliate against anybody who displeases me. But that’s not the way to deal with obstacles.

That’s where a spiritual guide has to come along and shows you skillful ways of dealing with your obstacles according to the Dharma and that itself is Dharma practice. It’s not that Dharma practice is over here, learning this and your obstacles are something else. But dealing with your obstacles is the Dharma practice.

We need to be skillful in helping people get through that and in the same way we need to look at our own practice in that way.

The fourth one I’ll talk about tomorrow.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.