By Arnaud Berger
This is the time of the year when I look back at my practice and make absolutely unrealistic resolutions: attain enlightenment this year, or at the minimum, only have altruistic thoughts, not let my mind wander on worldly concerns and study emptiness until I realize it. The reality check is usually very quick to come and like a roller coaster, it goes up, up, up and down, down, down.
This year, I skipped the good resolutions part and chose to reflect on how fortunate I am to have such easy access to exactly the advice I need to be happy and make others happy. I am so used to having everything I need at hand that it is very easy to take for granted. And yet, I don’t need much reflection to realize that it really requires a lot, really a lot, for these most precious and most perfect teachings to be available to me.
First, my encounter with the Dharma 12 years ago seems almost miraculous. To end up at a retreat at Kopan Monastery, I had to embark in a sabbatical year in Asia with my family, change my travel plans last minute to include Nepal in the trip even though the Maoist rebellion made it unsafe, stop for lunch in that small non-touristic monastery on a walk to a Hindu temple close by, visit a couple of days before a retreat started, have an interested Vietnamese wife who thought she had been raised Buddhist (and realized during the retreat that she had not) and convince the retreat organizers to let me and my wife take turns in participating and taking care of our young children.
Even more miraculous is the fact that I took interest. So many, many beings stay around Kopan and don’t, from the millions of bugs and thousands of dogs to the many beggars or the many tourists visiting the Boudhanath stupa close by.
Not only that but I had the opportunity to keep on practicing when I came back to Paris and later moved to London and then New York. Each time I was welcomed by a very kind and caring community who really inspired me and supported me in my practice. Each time, I met remarkable teachers, living proofs of the transformative power of Dharma practice.
These teachers did more than inspire me. They shared with me the authentic teachings of the Buddha in their pure and complete form. It took me some time to realize the value of what they were so generously and tirelessly handing out after having integrated them. From the very first days at Kopan, I had noticed that listening to Dharma teachings, reflecting on them and even being around Dharma practitioners made me calmer and more content. It was a different experience than what I usually referred to as being happy, but definitely a deeper and much more stable one. Yet, there is so much more to it than the pleasant experience of a calm mind. Through the Dharma, each moment can be made beneficial for myself and others. Through Dharma each and every of my actions, words or thoughts can bring me a little closer to complete liberation of all the afflictive emotions that currently ruin my peace of mind and push me to create causes of suffering for myself and others. I can also develop the amazing potential of compassion and wisdom that lies within my mind and become completely beneficial to others.
Access to these invaluable teachers and teachings is not a given though. These teachers joyfully dedicate all their lives to traveling, teaching and training future teachers. Volunteers and staff members put in a huge amount of energy for teachings to happen and centers to function. Benefactors and students generously make it possible for the costs to be covered. Once again, so many conditions need to be gathered, so many beings contribute. My heart fills with gratitude as I contemplate all that is necessary for the jewel of Dharma to light up the path for me. Overwhelmed with joy, I make a strong determination to make the most of this precious opportunity and to do my bit towards enabling others to have the same opportunity. I especially think of how central Shantideva Meditation Center is in my life, how it contributes to make this human rebirth so precious and how wonderful it would be if I could help others to benefit from it as well. This time, it does not feel like pie in the sky and it feels good!
Arnaud is Shantideva Meditation Center’s Spiritual Program Coordinator. He has spent many years practicing and studying the Dharma, having been involved with Kalachakra Center in Paris, Jamyang Buddhist Center in London and recently SMC. Moving to New York, he fulfilled a long-time dream to work with children by becoming a Montessori teacher for 3-6 year olds. Arnaud loves how the Montessori approach resonates with some aspects of Buddhism. It lends itself naturally to help children develop mindfulness and kindness.