In the forest there is an open grove where only one Bodhi tree grows. As a sapling there is plenty of sunshine and the rains in the morning are warm and refreshing. The world is invigorating and the light from above courses through the large green leaves. With each day it seems to grow a foot taller and an inch thicker.
The next year, the seasons are cloudy and there is so much rain that it nearly drowns the roots.
Then there were three years of no rain at all. The sun burned the leaves brown till they curled in pain as they still reached up seeking nourishment. Without good soil and rain, very little seems to happen.
Finally there was another good summer of good rain, warm sun, mild weather and all the conditions to grow by leaps and bounds again. By this time the sapling was a tree and while there was much growth; the roots were already deep, the branches thick and strong and the trunk solid in its foundation. Its growth is hardly noticed.
In our Buddhist practice we can be seen as a tree like this. The initial excitement of our practice propels us to drink deeply of the dharma and we see lots of progress. Nevertheless, life is unpredictable and eventually our energy and attention is taken elsewhere.
There will be times in our lives where there is adversity, sorrow and stress. These times we may find it difficult to practice because we are drown in the tempests of life that seemingly gives us more than we can handle.
Other times, we will find that the conditions for our practice are not productive. The dharma will be right before us and our own minds are not the fertile soil for us to receive the messages and development.
Eventually, there will be time when our minds and hearts are open to the dharma AND the conditions are right, but we will not notice the development of our practice because it becomes more and more subtle as we become more and more experienced.
However, throughout it all—whether it be a little development or a lot—we are always growing. If we were to look at the growth rings of that tree in our story, there would be times when the rings were thick with growth and times when the tree has hardly grown. But it is always growing.
There will be times in our development when we will strive to be good Buddhists and follow the dharma as we understand it, only to discover later that we misunderstood the teachings or were deluded by our own ego. This too is a revelation and an education. We should embrace the wisdom from our mistakes to be as valuable as our successes. To turn our backs on them is to welcome self-deception and wrong view.
One of the hardest parts of the ego to accept is that of failure and judgment. We all like to portray ourselves as smart, reasoned, good people. We all like to see ourselves as compassionate beings with unending love and joy. This may be a true definition of the Buddha, but not of our selves.
In order to accept who we are and grow from that knowledge, we must acknowledge that we are beings of great compassion and empathy. We are both saintly and liars. We are all imperfect with good and bad, beautiful and ugly, blissful and disruptive. This is all of what we are.
There will be times in which our Buddhist practice will ebb and flow like the tides, but we always are adding to our practice (even if just a little). This takes the patience to accept the world as it is and not as we feel it ought to be.
Sometimes we will take our ego and get so wrapped up in the dharma that we loose sight of the practice entirely. We become “experts, “occasionally self-righteous and judgmental. We become zealots for Buddha: warriors for the cause.
It is all part of the temptations of samsara and mara. The word samsara means “continuously falling into delusion” in the Buddhist translation of the word. And as we grow, we are always finding times in which our practice develops easily and others when it does not. However, we are always falling into samsara’s temptations. Those lean times we are at most risk to the temptations of believing we “know” the dharma and what is “right” and what is “wrong.”
It happens. We are not enlightened beings. We will be imperfect in our understanding and application of our practice. But like the sapling tree, we will always grow in good times and bad. Those who follow the Middle Path will always learn a bit more of the dharma everyday—even if just a little.
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