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Michael John Smith

Setting The Record Straight Publicly

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama likes to warn people to be wary of exchanging their traditional religion for Buddhism. He tells us we could find things get very difficult and we could end up creating a lot of problems for ourselves. Indeed. My own root guru, Sogyal Rinpoche, would warn his students against what he termed Dharma socialising, what I interpret as meaning not being serious in examining how our circumstances are being caused.


So did my karma lead to me losing my faith in God or did I ever really believe in Him? I can remember a time when I was 10 years old, just before the Jesuits got hold of me, when I took an oath to save the world. I remember shortly afterwards wanting to become a priest and being told by my wise parish priest to wait a little longer before thinking about whether or not I had a calling. I remember my days attending a Jesuit school very well. How I was quickly attracted by ideas such as charity being the most important virtue and how we were all made in God’s image though we sinned because of original sin and because God had given us freewill to choose good or evil. I became quickly disillusioned in the Church, however, because of the methods it adopted and later in theism itself because of the contradictions I readily found in its teachings. Of course any teacher of Christianity could have pointed out I only thought these were contradictions because I lacked faith.


But why did I lack faith after such careful cultivation by my family and the Jesuits? Did I ever really believe in God in the first place or did I simply want to use my religion to save the world rather than seek my own salvation? In any case I became more and more disillusioned and gave up on any religious solution. It was many years later, years of hopeless wandering, that I was to be seduced again by the power of religion. This time it was when I arrived in Dharamsala. I simply felt an all consuming power and an overpowering sense of having found the solution even before I read one line of the Buddha’s teachings.


I decided to check it out, to examine this way to see if it was more logical and contained less of the contradictions I had found in Christianity. But really, looking back, I think I was looking to see if it really was the solution to my quest to save the world, whether this power I felt could be trusted to be the real thing or whether I had to go on searching.


Of course by this time, after years of degenerate behaviour due to feelings of hopelessness and disappointment, I was in no real condition to analyse the potential or otherwise of Buddhism. Indeed I was processed by demons instead. My positive karma however led me to hearing the Dalai Lama speak a year or so later, preparing me for meeting my guru Sogyal Rinpoche immediately afterwards.


I experienced great peace and joy in the teachings of this great lama and nothing but comfort from fellow students. I quickly found myself becoming more open, trustful and even intuitive. I should have taken refuge properly and officially become a Buddhist instead of taking the attitude of still just being interested in Buddhism and, believe it or not, still behaving degenerately. Of course the demons repossessed me and I disgraced the Sangha.


Loosing face, I exiled myself. I left my guru and took up company with non-Buddhists. I did not lose my interest in Buddhism however and fought back against the demons. Once these were under some sort of control, my karma led me on further away from my guru to a land still devoid of the Dharma but the residence of my one true love - a near perfect limited-being who became not only my wife but my principle guru in that she unknowingly and involuntarily encouraged me to not only conqueror my demons but to continue practicing Buddhism under extraordinary circumstances.


So successful was I that not only did I manage to enjoy the fruits of a successful marriage and be able to provide for my family but also to bring up our son to be a Buddhist and aspiring Bodhisattva. We both fondly call my wife our Zen master, so much do we love and respect her, and both are confounded by her continuing anti-religious stance.


I remain an unofficial Buddhist, never having taken refuge or any vow publicly or in front of a lama - my son the same. But we are both Buddhists nether-the-less, and we are both committed to the way of the Bodhisattva. We are helping each other along and are anchored by the love of my wife. I am slowly seeking guidance from the Sangha in Ljubljana and believe I am taking final refuge in the three jewels to the best of my ability. I am quite conventionally benefiting from both uncomplimentary and complementary circumstances and am gradually finding my way back to my guru’s graces. As an example of my joy, I am presently keeping five precepts, taking Rinpoche’s advice in practising the six perfections, and becoming familiar with the seven points of mind training and particularly the practice of tonglen. In order to further progress I have restarted my practice of the four foundation yogas of tantra and I am meditating in between by resting in natural great peace, as my guru would say.


And the future - I would like to become a Dzogchen practitioner.

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