Sweet and Salty Buddhist Practice
It is not necessary to study everything in Buddhism to become enlightened. It is actually only necessary to study what you need to know to make your very next breakthrough. There are things that you know very well. However, you don’t know what you don’t know, You might be the kind of person who reads everything you can find on reincarnation because it is interesting to you and develop quite a good understanding about reincarnation. Another person might choose to pursue studies and practices to understand the nature of compassionate activity in the world.
So, there are things that you know very well and things that you have never even heard about yet. In a way, most western practitioners are like Swiss cheese. There are many gaps in understanding and many things they know well.
In another way, it is necessary to study everything. However, there seem like there is not enough time learn everything. When I first came to America in the early 1970’s I brought a few few books from India written in English, not very well translated. However, that was all that was available at that time. Now you can buy shelves and shelves of books on Tibetan Buddhism alone, and other kinds of Buddhism as well. Many of these are anthologies of interesting stories and not the classic Buddhist texts that require extensive commentary and study.
Should you have time to read a book a day, still a lot of books will remain on the shelf. Even this is not going to get you very much into actual interior practice. The actual practice comes from transmission, initiation energy, and loving care and relationship developed with a qualified mentor that awakens and aligns the interior real student.
It is also not likely that someone will approach you on the street and say, “Hey, you look like the kind of person who should really learn about the twelve links of interdependent origination.” In my just before when I was in the monastery, my guru told me, “Now it is time for you to study the twelve links of interdependent origination,” and so I did it. There is a big difference between the opportunity of having a continuous education from the time I was small until I became Geshe and non-monastery self study.
So, what you are attracted to study is what you probably already know. You might not know it well enough but enough to focus on. In a way, the unmonitored education you have created for yourself is like going to one of those buffet restaurants. You go because you are hungry but head straight for the dessert table. I suppose that is because, as they say, life is short and so eat dessert first. You choose something sweet that you are already familiar with and enjoy it. Some will be happy with potato chips, salt crackers and tea with no regard for cupcakes or pudding at all!
This is like a spiritual practice of someone who only interested in compassion or peace or emptiness subjects. You eat it up but you’re still a little bit hungry, so you go back to the dessert table. In this way, your spiritual practice is so sweet, but the sweetness of it has not given you an opportunity to hear something else that you need.
We need a well -rounded basic buddhist education such as finding in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand by Je Pabonka Rinpoche. The concepts of reincarnation, karma, compassion and much more will be introduced in the order that we need to develop realizations. In that way, as I wrote earlier, you will easy to discover what you resonate with and what is very unfamiliar. What is unfamiliar, logically, is what you do not know yet. Then we need to have a good relationship with a qualified mentor to help direct the studies toward the very next thing need to know for the next breakthrough in development toward enlightenment.