I met with a woman the other day who was shy about beginning to attend the Dharma Center because she was not sure what would be expected of her. I replied that nothing was expected of her. She seemed a bit puzzled. I asked if her personality style had the need to do things the right way. She answered in the affirmative. I replied, with a humorous glint in my eyes, she might have a hard time with this tradition.
This is not an uncommon exchange with people who are new to Buddhism, especially the Vajrayana flavor. I remember my first time on retreat at Pema Samye Ling. I was very new to long hours of chanting and was about ready to leave by the third day. When I ran into one of the senior staff, I expressed my discomfort. He let me know nothing was required, that I had to find my own way with what was offered.
This is an unusual approach for those of us inured to the western linear approach to learning. How do you begin something when there is nothing required? You just begin. Buddha even said not to accept things he taught unless they made sense to you. So, it is all on us to find the way. We wade into the Dharma and discover what it mirrors to us. We become curious and follow our natural instincts to explore and discover. It is simple as that.
My teachers in the tradition always laughed at my need for answers. Rarely did they offer long winded responses to a question. It was usually, “Oh Michael, in that case maybe you do a little practice.” Or, even more often, “Oh Michael, just restrengthen your bodhicitta.” They knew if I did either, my questions would be answered. Nothing is required except that we give everything to the exploration. Our natural wisdom mind, if given free rein, will illuminate the path.