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Jul 23
Dharma Teachings
Dharma Beyond Words

Photo courtesy of Mary Philips

Photo courtesy of Mary Philips

From the weekly column Dharma Snacks by Cynthia Kneen

A Tibetan Rinpoche once said to me, “When we first came to the United States, I thought, Are Americans crazy?! Everything doesn’t have to happen in one lifetime!”

I wonder about this, too. Our culture advocates taking a little bit of our understanding or experience and then show it, show it, show it — and maybe shop it, too. In Vajrayana Buddhism they say this is like you holding a small lit candle in a dark tunnel. When someone else comes along, you pass the light to them. But unless the light is strong and stable, your light goes out! I used to think the reason not to share the highest, most personal teachings was not to harm the other person. Now I think that it is not to harm you.

I watch myself as my mind tries to ground itself in outer things, fails, comes back inside, goes out again, fails, comes back inside, goes out — and I think about these things. Once when I was working in Silicon Valley, I heard a visiting Irish Catholic poet being interviewed on the radio. He said, “Why would a Silicon Valley radio want to interview me?! The Irish understand that the soul doesn’t like bright lights. The soul is shy, and hides from outer things.” Traditionally in Buddhism it’s said that first we hear teachings, then we contemplate, then we gain meditation experience. Hear, contemplate, gain experience – this sequence impresses me. The Sakyong’s advice to contemplate, contemplate, contemplate impresses me. As we gain meditation experience, we become like the Irish poet, and it’s hard to put our experience into words. I think that shyness comes from knowing dharma beyond words. Dharma is unique to the person, and meditation experience is the birth, however shaky, of compassion beyond words. Maybe that’s why the only obstacle to true compassion is self-consciousness.


Cynthia Kneen is the author of Awake Mind, Open Heart: The Power of Courage & Dignity in Everyday Life (Avalon, 2002), and the CD course, Shambhala Warrior Training (Sounds True, 1996). Cynthia has taught Shambhala Buddhist programs throughout the mandala for over thirty years and is currently writing a book on business and dharma. Visit her website at www.cynthiakneen.com

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