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Studying Buddhist teachings is the start, but the point of Buddhism is changing the mind. Namnang Mingjo Rinpoche said that gradually we learn Buddhist principles, and then we put our minds toward the principles we understand. We make efforts to align our thinking and actions with what we learned. That effort is “cultivation."

Success in cultivation isn’t about how much we have learned or how long we have been studying. Success comes from applying the learning to change ourselves.

“Most important is to understand ourselves,” Rinpoche said, “then look for Dharma teachings that relate to our self-situation.” Don’t “beautify” ourselves, pretending we are better than we are. Only if we see our true current situation will we find benefit from Dharma.

The first Buddhist teaching I heard, I was 14 years old at a political event with my aunt. The mention of the principle was brief, but it stuck with me because I had recently gotten very upset at my youngest sister. The teaching: What we are upset about isn’t real. When anger or hatred arise, the object is usually not the situation itself, but what we imagine about the situation. Imaginings provoke emotional reactions that lead to actions that often make the situation even worse.

This was my situation. A new friend had come to my house, and I wanted her to like me. My little sister kept poking my friend with stuffed animals, trying to get my friend to play with her. I imagined that my new friend might be annoyed at my sister and not want to come to my house again, or, worse yet, she might like my little sister better than me. Imagining these possible outcomes, I got angry. I yelled at my little sister, pushed her out of the room we were in, and locked her out. The situation did get worse. Now my sister was even louder and my new friend said I was a bully.

Over the years, I heard more Buddhist ideas. Not only anger, but also greed, pride, jealousy, and doubt, and all kinds of clinging, arise out of imaginings. My imaginings grow when I put effort into growing them, and they shrink when I explore and analyze them. Some thoughts and actions cause suffering and some cause happiness. I can gain control over my thoughts and actions. Gaining control, I can influence my own happiness and suffering, and reduce the suffering of others around me. After many times of contemplating these ideas, now when I get upset I more often notice my imaginings, and this helps me think before I act, so my actions are more effective.

These are not difficult ideas to understand, but putting them into practice is the point, and that is harder. To change one’s life, one has to start and not give up if results aren’t seen right away. “Cultivation is slowly accumulated,” Rinpoche said. “No need to worry; it relies on change accumulated over time.”

If we don’t cultivate, emotional reactivity gets worse as we accumulate more imaginings and bad mental habits over time. If we do cultivate, noticing our problems, exploring new ideas, and improving ourselves, our lives gradually improve, too.

Rinpoche encourages us: “You try and Dharma nectar will fill your heart.”

This is my prayer for happiness and the causes of happiness for all beings.

This is my prayer for detachment from pain and the causes of pain for all beings.

This is my prayer for the state of joy without pain for all beings.

This is my prayer for the true state of being, detached from good or bad, liking or disliking.

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Erica Crimp studies with Namnang Mingjo Dorje Rinpoche, a Mahayana Buddhist Guru. She hosts a study group for Rinpoche’s teachings in Corvallis, and helps people connect with Rinpoche, online or in person. Check out the Facebook page of Rinpoche’s group, which is based in San Jose: https://www.facebook.com/manjushrilineage

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