One of the most significant things about my Buddhist practice is ‘giving guidance’ through home visits. A senior practitioner visits a new one, showing him or her how to chant, and some theories and principles about Buddhism to apply to daily life. It’s a direct transmission of the Buddha’s teachings, from one’s heart to another, in the security of one’s home.
Of course, as with all spiritual and religious practices, there is a high risk of personal inputs fogging or even completely wiping out the essence of the teaching. The idea is not to tell the other person what to do, but remind them to apply the teaching to their circumstances, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time. It’s a constant struggle for the senior practitioner to remember that they are the instrument, not the guide. They are the transmitter of the teachings, not the teacher.
Young women often come to me through this route, since my hectic schedule rarely allows me to visit them at their own homes. I find it a hugely fulfilling part of my life – inspiring these budding Buddhas into shining with their true light. Yet I am a bit of a renegade when it comes to giving guidance – I rarely stick to the script and instead bring in aspects and techniques of all the different practices I’ve learnt. From psychology to hypnotherapy to social codes to body language to professional tips to inspirational movies and books – I end up sharing nuggets from just about everything, which works often, but is not always the wisest thing to do.
Yesterday, when a young woman visited me, I learnt one more reason to respect the rules. They exhort us not to exchange gifts or serve too much food, and not to spend more than an hour. We did all the above and she left two and a half hours later, when it was pretty much past my bedtime. Even during our discussion, I felt physically drained – I’d had a hectic weekend and badly needed to get to bed on time. But her enthusiasm and need of me pushed me to keep talking, looking into her eyes, pouring my energy into her (metaphorically, of course). Today morning I woke up with an itchy throat and a runny nose – the typical sign of me having overwhelmed myself. In retrospect, I can see all the places I went wrong:
1. We didn’t pray. We just talked, and so it became a social visit instead of a spiritual one. Bad idea.
2. I accepted her gifts, simply because it meant a lot to her, but those tokens don’t have the same religious significance for me, which means I am left with a certain guilt if I don’t honour them enough.
3. I overstepped boundaries and began giving her advice on intimate matters better suited to a psychologist or counsellor. Very bad idea.
4. I can sense her addiction to me, and it’s happened before. But usually, I am able to cut the figurative cords (by chanting at the end) and keep a certain emotional distance. In her case, since we didn’t pray, I did not cut the cords. I dwelled over her story while falling asleep, and it stayed in my dreams and left me disturbed.
5. I should have kept the meeting to an hour, and prioritized my own routine and health.
I’m more grateful than ever for the rules of this practice and vow to stick more carefully to them in future. Giving guidance is supposed to be a gift that uplifts both parties involved. If I’m draining myself, I’ve obviously not got the point.