It is not that we have
to be free of obstacles
to practise the Dharma, but that
we practise the Dharma
to be free of obstacles.
There is a popular notion that obstacles are frequent when attending Dharma assemblies for retreats, chanting ceremonies etc. (Here, obstacles refer to major disruptions.) Well, if there are always obstacles during Dharma practice, probably no one will do it at all. It is not such that there will always be obstacles for everyone, as it depends on the karma of the individual for obstacles to be experienced. In fact, this applies to all other things done too. For instance, even going on a holiday (which is not a spiritual practice) can have obstacles due to negative karma’s ripening. As a drastic example, the plane might crash. Even going to work might meet with an accident.
Sakyamuni Buddha famously faced Mara’s demonic obstructions during the course of his spiritual progress, with the climactic confrontation on the brink of Buddhahood under the Bodhi tree, when Mara’s ten armies representing various defilements ‘attacked’. However, being perfectly capable of overcoming their distractions, they were all subdued. In this sense, these obstacles posed as no obstacles. It was not that him, being the Buddha-to-be had much negative karma to face then, as he had cleared it sufficiently already. This is why he did not suffer a bit due to Mara’s ploys. However, Mara was ‘naturally’ anxious to do his ‘best’ to obstruct his attainment of Buddhahood.
However, for us far from Buddhahood, we already ‘sufficiently’ distract ourselves with our own ‘inner Mara’, our ‘demons’ of greed, hatred and delusion – which includes delusional attachment to the misconception that Dharma practice is ‘always’ with obstacles. Such a delusion is already enough to hamper or limit Dharma practice. Even before Dharma practice begins, we already face obstacles of doubt and laziness, that prevent Dharma practice! With such self-sabotage, Mara does not need to move a single muscle to disturb us at all! Yet, if we do overcome our inner Mara, as in the case of the Buddha-to-be, the outer Mara and his minions can do us no harm at all.
It is the lack of Dharma practice that leads to more obstacles. Just as most flights are safe and most work days are accident-free, all will be well if we put in due diligence to prevent obstacles with Dharma practice itself. As many can attest, most personal and group Buddhist practice sessions are free from obstacles, being ever more peaceful and blissful with deepened practice. Even if there are obstacles that might ripen, just as we still take planes and go to work, doing what we should, we should continue to practise the Dharma. Even with discomfort due to sickness and such, we should persevere sincerely and bravely. (Sickness that cause suffering is negative karma’s ripening too.)
Not practising the Dharma to create positive karma to lessen negative karmic effects, not only will existing negative karma still ‘await’ to ripen, it might increase – due to continually going against the grain of the Dharma, and lack of positive karma from Dharma practice for mitigation effects. The worst moment much cumulative negative karma can ripen is on the deathbed, resulting in much suffering and difficulty to practise the Dharma well then. It is thus severely short-sighted to neglect Dharma practice in everyday life due to fear of obstacles that might never occur. This fear itself is already a huge obstacle, that obstructs eradication of actual ripening obstacles.
It is also through experience of some obstacles, if they do arise, that we become humbled, and aware of the need to practise more sincerely, diligently and regularly. Even if with less or no obstacles, we should all the more cherish the opportunity to practise more efficiently. To summarise, the idea that there will always be obstacles when practising the Dharma is obviously an exaggeration, due to selective focus only on when obstacles do arise. And even if there are obstacles, they ought to be overcome with Dharma practice itself, as nothing else will work. If we quit Dharma practice each time there is an obstacle, we will never be well-practised enough to be liberated like the Buddha!
Although the three poisons
of greed, hatred and delusion,
obstruct Dharma practice,
Dharma practice is the only cure
for transforming these poisons.
How To Be Free From Demonic Obstacles?
Are All Present Obstacles Due To Past Karma?
Can Buddhist Practice Cause Sickness?
Crouching Elephants, Hidden Monkeys