Why Study the Works of Je Tsongkhapa

Why Study the Works of Je Tsongkhapa

by Jeffrey Brooks

If we carve out a half hour of peace in the midst of a busy day it can be very healthy and good. But if we are only spending the half hour trying to feel better then the effect of the time will dissipate quickly, will leave us longing for more peace and dissatisfied with the rest of what we do.

If we have a greater purpose, a purpose to which we apply our experience of peace in that half hour a day, a purpose which encompasses not only that practice period but our whole day and our whole life, then the effects of practice, instead of dissipating, will accumulate. Then we can have the life we want and put an end to suffering.

Staying sequestered in a monastic retreat setting, high in the mountains, surrounded by nothing but sky, light, rocks and trees, if you are prepared and can practice well, you can sustain a feeling of exaltation and profound peace.

You may sense that this is a feeling. You may see that although this is a good feeling, this is a feeling that can pass, because it is produced by conditions and which, when those conditions change, will dissipate. You may remember that down the mountain there are people who have never even imagined such a feeling. Who are trying to make themselves happy in a way which is inadequate, which is producing dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and suffering. You may want to offer these beings something to help them if you can.

You better know what you are doing. Because most of the beings you have all that compassion for have no particular interest in your assistance and are pretty sure they are on the right track already. And anyway, what makes it your business to butt in?

If we take Buddhism seriously and we study it we will learn what to do and what to avoid. We will be advised to avoid killing, stealing, lying, intoxicants and sexual misconduct and we will be advised to take care of other people, and see deeply into the way things exist.

If we study well, both the scriptures and our own heart and mind, we can learn that following this advice leads to happiness and ignoring this advice leads to misery. If you do see deeply, through persistent meditation and study, you can’t help but want to help other beings who do not know about these ideas and methods.

Example: One human may startle awake, open his eyes which are hurt by the light, with a pulsing headache behind them, and see inches away from his face a crumpled, open, half empty Fritos bag that says Good Fun! on it in happy, red letters.

He does not notice it and instead goes in search of the pipe he used last night or this morning or whenever it was, in the hope that there will be a little rock left in it, or at least some residue, just enough to get him going. His mind is feverish and he is in a rage. He finds the pipe. Lights it up. Nothing.

He gets in the car. It is filled with junk. He checks the mirror and backs out. He catches a glimpse of his face. To others he looks sallow and sunken with bad teeth and sores but to himself he just looks tired. He backs out. He rolls down to a subdivision he knows well. He used to know a kid that lived there. He rolls slow, looking in windows, looking at driveways, looking at doors. He knows what to look for. He pulls down a driveway and his car disappears behind a line of trees. He knocks on the door. If someone comes to it he asks for Jason. If no one comes he kicks it in or pries it open or walks around to the back and uses the slider. Whatever.

He walks in. He goes right to where he knows that people keep their stuff. Fuck them if they are so stupid to not take care of it, he thinks to himself as he goes through the closets and the drawers. And fuck them if someone is in here and shoots me because it would not feel any worse than I feel right now – a thought he has but not quite consciously.

He walks out with a bag in each hand and gets in his car and drives away with a billion bugs crawling under his skin.

It wasn’t always like this.

It used to be he would scope a neighborhood carefully. Watch the houses and watch which ones were empty when and for how long. He really knew his business.

And he would get high and he would be bulletproof and fearless and it was fuckin perfect and he would go out again.  He was untouchable. He would hit ten or twenty houses in a day or two and then party. Then he started getting sick. Then he got into a personality conflict with someone which was only about the money, not about anything else. Then his friends turned against him.

Then he got caught. It was totally unfair, because the time he got caught was a chance thing. Some people came home when he was inside and then the po pos was just everywhere.

“I didn’t even know they had that many cars. They could have talked to me. I never hurt anybody.”

It’s easy to feel sorry for a self centered predator if you would like to do that. Look how he grew up. Look at the songs he listened to and the games he played. Look at the people he surrounded himself with and look at a world that ignored what they thought, and tolerated the way they behaved, until it was way too late.

It’s easy to feel sorry for the people he preyed upon. Who restrained themselves when tempted, who were kind and generous when they could be, who took care of their children, regretted their shortcomings, and worked hard every day. Or who didn’t, but were scared to death anyway when they came home to their door kicked in and their precious things gone: people who are targets not only of addicts and thieves but of sophisticates who make points by mocking them and artists who make a living by shocking them; people whose decency is out of style at a era of social decline.

So what do you do? First train yourself thoroughly in what to do and what to avoid. And then, when you are ready, leave the training hall and see what you can do. Teach the ignorant, heal the sick, protect the innocent. Have a purpose that encompasses your training period and extends through every hour of the day and permeates every word every gesture every act every thought.

Then the exaltation of the mountaintop and the agony of the pit are united within your purpose and all of it will be available for the benefit of beings. But, according to Buddhism, you better know what you are doing.

Leave a Comment