"The Dharma was the friend who did not desert me in times of need."
Buddhist texts contain wise advice about how to approach learning the Buddha’s teachings and explaining them to others. Since in this volume we will establish the foundation for Buddhist practice, it is especially helpful to touch on this now.
Reflecting on the value of learning the Dharma in my own life, I recall some verses in the Jātaka Tales (LC 1.56):
Hearing (learning) is a lamp that dispels the darkness of afflictions,
the supreme wealth that cannot be carried off by thieves,
a weapon that vanquishes the foe of confusion.
It is the best of friends, revealing personal instructions,
the techniques of method.
It is the friend who does not desert you in times of need,
a soothing medicine for the illness of sorrow,
the supreme battalion to vanquish the troops of great misdeeds.
It is the best fame, glory, and treasure.
Due to the problems concerning Tibet’s sovereignty that occurred during my youth, I had to accept the request of the Tibetan people and assume leadership of the Tibetan government. I was a mere teenager at the time, with little to no experience of my new duties and responsibilities that concerned the well-being of millions of people. Although anxiety was always beckoning, the Buddha’s teachings gave me inner strength. They were the lamp that dispels the darkness of afflictions.
When I had to suddenly flee to India in March 1959, and leave almost all possessions behind and go forward to an unknown future, the Dharma was the friend who did not desert me in times of need. All the sūtras and scriptures I had memorized throughout the years came with me to India, providing guidance whenever I needed it. As I lived in exile and watched my homeland and its traditions, culture, and temples be destroyed, the Dharma was a soothing medicine for the illness of sorrow, giving me optimism and courage. In exile, the Buddha’s teachings have been the best fame, glory, and treasure because they are always valuable in life and in death.
Seeing the benefits of learning the Buddha’s teachings, we want to listen to and study them in an effective manner, without the defects of three faulty vessels. If we don’t pay attention while at teachings or when reading Dharma books, we don’t learn anything. Like an upside-down pot, nothing can go in. If we don’t review what we have heard or read to make our understanding firm, we will forget the teachings, becoming like a leaky pot that can’t retain the precious nectar poured into it. If we are closed-minded, opinionated, or have the wrong motivation for learning the Dharma, we become like a lthy pot; pure nectar may be poured inside and stay there, but because it is mixed with the filth in the pot it cannot serve its purpose to nourish us.
Excerpted from The Foundation of Buddhist Practice by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron