Integrating Dharma into Daily Life

Integrating Dharma into our daily activities means that Dharma serves a deep purpose. When we integrate Dharma successfully, it becomes truly functional. Here, Phakchok Rinpoche reminds Buddhist practitioners how to apply Dharma throughout our day.

Rinpoche explains that when he was younger, he thought Dharma teaching was something very magical. And, as a young man, he respected the words as very precious and very nice. Naturally, he realized that he could not understand completely, but he appreciated the magic. However, now that he is older, he realizes that often the Buddha’s teachings really function in life. And this leads him to give some special advice.

Integrating Dharma: Remembering a Key Instruction

Please don’t separate the Dharma from life,” Rinpoche instructs

This is one of the major mistakes we tend to make. We tend to treat the Dharma part of our life as a separate category. Just as we separate our work life from our home life, we make separate categories, don’t we? For example, when we think about our work life, we tend to be goal-oriented, 9-5 focused, and often very stressed out. And we might always be calculating how to achieve, how to do better, and how to advance. In contrast, our “normal” life is more relaxing. We “hang out,” we spend time doing what we like to do like watching movies and eating good food. Or we relax and chit-chat with our friends and family. So, that’s how most of us divide our lives: work life and “normal ” life.

Avoid Treating Dharma as a Separate Category

And unfortunately, Rinpoche sees the same thing happening when we add the category of our “Dharma life.” We tend to treat Dharma like a type of work-life. Then, we keep this nice “normal” life where we relax, and we separate that as the fun part when we don’t do any Dharma, right? And then, we go back and do an hour or a half-hour of Dharma practice or meditation. And as we do this, we start to stress out and calculate too. Thinking about the great masters, we start calculating the results of our own practice. And we worry about not achieving the same results.

Moreover, when we see after one or two years we do not achieve much, then we start worrying if we are wasting our time. Why does this happen? Because we are separating Dharma from our lives. Why do we make so many mistakes with our Dharma practice? Because we’re not willing to see.

Integrating Dharma: Opening up to Dharma as the Real Answer in Life

Instead, we can try to integrate Dharma with ordinary life and life with Dharma. But we approach this skillfully: we aim for a nice integration, not like black and white. Please don’t have this concept, habit, idea, or ignorance. We completely put aside this ignorance. Then, if we can integrate, Dharma becomes real meaningful or useful in life. It becomes the real answer in life.  

Broaden Your Heart and Become a Bodhisattva 

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say that you and a friend both have anger. The anger is similar. But if you have a little bit of expectation or your heart is a little broader and your patience is stronger, then you can accept and understand people easily. But your friend is not like that, so he makes more mistakes, and creates more suffering. Now, you both can still have anger, but the result is not quite the same.

When our hearts are a little broader, we can accept situations more intelligently. And that broader heart is what we call a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva has a freer, more open heart. And then, the bodhisattva’s aspiration becomes real. It can really touch our hearts! Integrating Dharma then makes it a reality, not just magical words. Then, we will be practicing correctly. And then we will see improvement!

Reflection Exercise

This week, set your intention to carry your meditation and Dharma practice off the cushion. As you move through your day look for opportunities to put your training to the test. When you read a news article that stirs you up — can you sit for a few breaths with that feeling and see what happens? Do you need to react? And if so: can you do that more skillfully?

If you have an issue with a family member or colleague, think about using your training in patience, kindness, and compassion. Can you hear the other person’s point of view without reacting? It may help to repeat to yourself a simple phrase like, “Be kind,” or “Open the heart.”  Saying this out loud may seem a little odd, but it helps us to rewire our brains and create new habits when we give voice to our intentions.

Observe your own thoughts and behavior with gentleness. Do you find yourself opening a bit? Where do you need to put more attention? It may help to keep a journal to help your reflections.