Are There Two of You?
The purpose of dharma practice is very simple: to help us break out of the cycle of our habits. If we can interrupt that cycle even a little bit, that’s good. We don’t have to make a complete break right away. We can just start by interrupting that cycle a little bit here and there.
If we cannot break the cycle of our habits at all, then our practice is not very successful. You don’t need to ask someone else how your practice is going, you can easily see for yourself. Are you able to interrupt your habitual patterns a little bit, or not? We usually continue these habits, cycle after cycle after cycle. But the question is, can you interject a little gap here and there?
Imagine you are pouring some water on a floor. The water is flowing in a steady stream, but if you break that flow for just a moment, it slows down a little bit before it continues. Or you can redirect the water. First it is flowing one way, but you can redirect that water to go another way. It works the same way when you interrupt a habit pattern –– when you interject a little gap into this cycle, it slows down. And as it slows down, its strength is diminished. Even a momentary break weakens its power. Not only that, but you also have a choice as to where you will lead this water. We don’t just sit there and do nothing, letting the water spill all over the place. We can choose to lead the water in a different direction.
That is the heart of dharma practice. It’s not that we are accumulating something new. We are simply working with the continuity of our pattern. We keep looking to see how to interrupt it, how to cut that pattern and transform it. Like water pouring out of a pitcher, that flow has a certain momentum. But we can change its direction. Changing that flow is the heart of our practice.
Dharmic vs. non-dharmic
Usually we just continue along with the flow of our usual habits. On the other hand, we are involved with something called “dharma.” But somehow there’s no connection between them. It’s like a bad marriage with two people refusing to speak to each other.
Isn’t that what we do? It’s almost as if we become two different people. One person is me doing my usual thing, my old habits. And the other me is sitting quietly, meditating. But these two me’s are not talking to each other, so it’s really not helping. It’s as if you have created two different versions of yourself, or a split personality. One me is a very nice me, sitting in lotus posture holding a string of expensive prayer beads, like an agarwood mala, and reciting mantras. That version of me is a very nice Buddhist, a compassionate guy. And the other me is the mean one.
We could call them Dharmic Me and Non-dharmic Me. But the dharmic me is not compassionate enough to talk to my non-dharmic me. So actually, that’s not very dharmic. But for a moment let’s assume it’s okay that we have two me’s. One day, Dharmic Me gets enlightened and Non-dharmic Me gets left behind. That’s a very sad story.
What shall we do? Our dharmic me is almost like a computer-generated avatar. On the iPhone now you can have different avatars that make your face appear as a dragon or a panda or whatever, smiling. One of them looks a little like a Buddha, with the hair in a topknot. So I chose that one just for auspiciousness. The dharmic me is just like one of those avatars. Dharmic Me is only used when sitting before the puja table, to send messages to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, smiling.
Are you living two lives?
I have a friend in Los Angeles who told me about this computer game called Second Life. You can create a whole life in there and many people play that game. They have their own personalities, or avatars, and they can go to different places, like to a bar. Or they can go to the library. My friend told me he went to one library there and found one of Thrangu Rinpoche’s books. Isn’t that nice?
Some people spend a lot of time on the Second Life. And then what happens? At the end they fail in real life because they spent too much time on Second Life.
We do the same thing. Even if you succeed as Dharmic Me, if you’re failing as Non-dharmic Me, it’s very hard to see the end of samsara.
When I was living in Boulder, Colorado one day I picked up the sangha list and started calling everybody. I called and pretended I was selling subscriptions to the Denver Post newspaper –– with the Indian accent. I was born in India and I have that accent anyway, so that was easy. Many of my students who were very good Buddhist Me’s at the dharma center, were very mean to me on the phone! Their Non-dharmic Me’s hung up on me many times. Some even said some nice words that I will not repeat. And then I called them all back and said, “I’m Rinpoche, trying to sell you the Denver Post.” Then they totally changed and became their Buddhist me’s.
The transforming trick of dharma practice
When our mind is disturbed with emotions, that’s the very time when we need to apply the Buddha’s teachings on emotions being self-liberated. We bring our awareness to the experience of those emotions, we feel them, and then we let them go. As we keep practicing, gradually our Buddhist Me and our Non-Buddhist Me become one. There are no longer two me’s. When that happens, then we are successful on the path. Then our practice will bring a genuine result; it will definitely bear fruit. Liberation from our painful cycle of habits will come, without a doubt. Freedom will come, without a doubt.
When we have strong emotions, it’s important to remember our reason for applying the Buddha’s teachings. We need to recall that if we get overpowered by our emotions and totally lose touch with our best intentions, we will be reinforcing our painful cycle of habits one more time. So instead, right there, we apply awareness. That is the heart of dharma practice.
The heart of the path is knowing this trick and seizing the opportunity when it comes. Every successful person, whether they are successful dharma practitioners or successful business people, became successful because they seized the opportunity at the right time.
You don’t need to lead two different lives, a life of dharma practice and a second life. That’s not going to help with getting unstuck from the usual cycle of habits. Don’t split yourself into two me’s, the dharmic me and the non-dharmic me. These two have to be merged into one. That’s the whole point of our practice. So when the opportunity arises, seize it! Interrupt the pattern and bring the dharmic wisdom to whatever “me” you are. That wisdom is transformative.
If we don’t transform, if we don’t change ourselves to become more positive and dharmic, then it is not possible for us to change others to become positive and dharmic. That’s the trick many practitioners like ourselves are missing. It’s a very important point to remember.
Merging the Two Me’s: An Exercise
1. Think of a time when your “dharmic me” suddenly disappeared and you regressed into unkind or unintended thoughts or behaviors. Maybe it happened during a conversation with a family member, with your child or your partner.
2. When did that change take place? When did the “nice me,” the kind and patient one, switch over to the “emotionally reactive me”? Look to see where the transition occurred in your mind and your emotions.
3. The next time you find yourself in a similar situation, see if you catch that transitional moment. Try to see that gap where you have the choice, the chance to merge your “non-dharmic me” with your “dharmic me.” The more often you can catch yourself in that transitional moment, the easier it will become to fulfill your best intentions.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche originally presented these teachings to the Nalandabodhi Sangha of Hong Kong in January 2020.