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Feb 07
Dharma Teachings, Sakyong and Family
How to Work with Obstacles

Cornered. Photo courtesy of Brian Fay.

Cornered. Photo courtesy of Brian Fay.

By Sakyong Mipham

Whatever our level of practice, there will always be obstacles. The Tibetan word for obstacle, parche, means “what cuts our progress.” In fact, sometimes the more we are engaged in practice, the greater the obstacles become. If we understand that obstacles are part of the spiritual path, we can learn from them. Obstacles can be messages. We need to wake up and look at what is going on. On a deeper, more profound level, we can include obstacles in our journey. This is a more challenging approach.

There are outer, inner, and secret obstacles. An outer obstacle is anything in the external world that distracts us from our development as a practitioner. For example, being busy becomes an obstacle to practice. Being overly involved with our own family can keep us from practicing. Entertainment can be an obstacle: a hobby takes over our life and suddenly we are not practicing. On a more subtle level, if our mind is continuously looking for a quality of entertainment, that is definitely an obstacle.

Obstacles on the inner level have to do with our practice. The most common inner obstacle is concept. Conceptuality might manifest as fixation on one particular idea, which begins to sway us from the path. Another way it manifests is a heavy level of discursiveness that keeps us from focusing on the object of our meditation; when our mind is constantly wandering off, our energy is scattered. Another inner obstacle is heavy emotion. If we become possessed by anger, vindictiveness, jealousy, ambition, or desire, our progress will be hindered.

Obstacles on the secret level have to do with view. We have doubt about the path, lacking trust in the dharma. Obviously if our mind is seized by doubt it is difficult to practice; even when we meditate we are not going to make any progress. If we regard practice is secondary in our daily activity, our spiritual development becomes less and less relevant. Then the dharmic path is gone, and our way becomes more worldly. We lose our windhorse, sense of humor, and delight. Being certain in the view and clearing obstacles to the proper view is the secret aspect of working with ourselves.

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