On May fifteenth this year, during the course of a spontaneous teaching at Half Moon Bay, California, Gyatrul Rinpoche made the following observation:
"We are trying to help sentient beings. At the same time we need to protect ourselves, protect the center. What does that mean? It means that we need to guard our merit. That is how we protect ourselves. And we need to protect the center from waste and carelessness. You shouldn't think, 'This belongs to the center, let's use it now, use it up.' Instead, you should think, 'I need to protect the center. I need to guard my merit. We need to keep, protect, save, use everything carefully.' Everybody needs to take care of the center. Young or old, smart or dumb, scholar or non-scholar, rich or poor, pretty or handsome or ugly like me, it doesn't matter... ."
It is an interesting statement, and when I read it, I was immediately put in mind of a recent teaching by Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, echoing a theme that was frequently explored by Trungpa Rinpoche's observations on the perversion of sangha:
"Despite the clarity of the teachings, we often lose sight of this essential aim of eradicating mental poisons and self-clinging. In fact, instead of eliminating those poisons, we often end up increasing them. For example, people that practice the Dharma have a tendency to gather together and organize themselves. They create institutions, Dharma centers, and monasteries that can quickly become banners proclaiming their self-importance. 'We are this. We are that. We are Nyingma! Kagyu! Sakya! Geluk!' People in these institutions nominate someone to be president, secretary and treasurer. These officials can easily become proud of these titles. Gradually, their activities come to be at odds with their original purpose."
So what does this mean? Gyatrul Rinpoche says, "it means that we need to guard our merit." So what is this merit? Is it the same as luck? Consider Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's definition:
"In this age, people don't like to talk about merit--they talk about luck. From the Buddhist perspective, merit and ...luck are very different. Luck is accidental-- you can't really make luck happen. There are no books on how to create luck. Luck just happens. Merit is very different from luck. What do we mean by merit in Buddhadharma? The Buddhist interpretation of merit is always in reference to what is closer to the truth or farther away from the truth. Anything that brings us closer to the truth is merit. Anything that takes us farther from the truth is lack of merit. It's because of our collective merit that we still have the teachings of the Buddha today."
When we speak of protecting the Nyingmapa, it is clear that we are not referring to sectarian rivalry, cops and robbers, or indeed, any external threat whatsoever. Instead, it very clearly refers to bringing ourselves closer to the truth one finds when one eradicates one's own mental poisons. This has nothing to do with exposing one's own mental poisons in the context of personal battles, couples fighting in the kitchen, vengeful notions, or ideological upsmanship. This does not refer to policing others; rather, this quite definitely refers to policing one's own self.
You know, Nyingma has been protecting itself quite nicely for many centuries, without needing any help from self-appointed stooges!