Letter to a young practitioner.

Dear friend,

It is a great joy and pleasure to see you so eagerly engage in the practice and the curiosity with which you inquire about the path. I implore you to never temper this curiosity and to always ask questions of your teachers and other Dharma practitioners whom you hold in high regard.

I have little advice to offer save this- search inside yourself. Everyone around you is looking outwards, building up their image and their status. Our culture revolves around gain and loss. Our culture orients us towards what is easy, and it is clear to me that the path ahead of you is difficult, but that is all the more reason for you to travel it. You must learn to set aside everyday concerns and look within. Dig deep into your own thoughts, feelings and perceptions. Yearn to understand the human condition. Everything in you is played out in the world around you. What you struggle with is what we all struggle with.

There is something that burns in you. Something you must know. Something you must resolve and figure out. Use that, don’t deny its necessity. Your urgency will carry you far on the path, use it to fuel your study and practice. Don’t waste it on meaningless activity or distracted impulses. Accept the fact that you are called to the practice, with all of the responsibility and heaviness that it requires.

If you think that you do not have what you need, that your situation is too rough or that it is not the right time; question yourself, not your life. The practitioner uses all situations as the practice, all obstacles as the path. From where you stand, there is no map. You can only take one step forward and look for guides along the way. The Buddha himself said that all he can do is open the door, you must walk through.

You must know how much your example inspires us. Your effort and dedication will always give your fellow practitioners and teachers much joy. But also know that you will often feel alone on the path. Padampa Sangye told his student Machig Lapdron, that in the deepest and darkest of places you must find the Buddha within. You must follow that example.

There are a few teachings with which you must make your constant companion. When all seems lost and you feel that you are reaching about in the darkness, they will be like beacons of light on the horizon calling you forth. They are the Dharmachakrapravatana on the four noble truths, Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva, and Garab Dorje’s Hitting the Essence in Three Words. Rely on them always and let them inspire you and be a source of rest and abundance. Let these teachings infuse your mind and shape your practice. Learn from them what seems relevant now, but return again and again as they will never stop revealing themselves in your practice. They will naturally give rise to devotion for the lineage and deepen your contemplation.

Be attentive to that which rises up in you. Learn to be comfortable with yourself. Find peace and joy in solitude. When you can sit for hours and not do anything, you have made friends with yourself in a way that few among us can appreciate. The practice never gets easier, you simply learn to be more comfortable with the truth of suffering. As you learn to more fully understand the human condition, you learn to be less reactive and you will find that you don’t have to respond to every little impulse. You will learn to rest in openness, to be more receptive and to embrace the vulnerability of what it means to be human. In that space, where we can see clearly without getting caught by the hook of attachment or aversion, reification or denial, there is an opportunity that we will see the truth of cessation and recognize our true nature. Cessation isn’t extinction, it isn’t a nothingness. What ceases is our false self, our confused notion of who we are. What is revealed is our true nature, what the Buddha called the tathagatagarbha, the buddha heart. This is a legacy available to you, something you have the opportunity to carry forward into your life.

Be patient with yourself. Fight the urge to expect a quick result. The result is the path, and the journey ahead is long. What you want you cannot give birth to now, you must live it. It must live through you. Each experience, each impression gives it shape and form. The practice creates the form of your life. As you sit with the inexpressible, that which is just beyond the reach of your mind, you will give birth to clarity. Recognize the freedom in that arising. Everything is arising. That is the way the practitioner moves through the world.

When you are lost for meaning and purpose, wondering what is the point, know that there is purpose in carrying something. Carry the practice into every nook and cranny of your life. The practice will give your life meaning and from it you will engender a much broader scope of the world and your place in it. Let it inform your intentions, your actions and your livelihood. Carry this as a special gift to yourself, and should you dare, and of course you must, share your time, energy and heart with others.

Faithfully yours, and with much confidence in you as you set out on this journey.

Gregory Scott Patenaude