I just recalled this incident that happened 30 years ago and I thought it might be useful for students.
My family was poor and my budget couldn’t afford to let me attend lectures on all subjects, during the final years of my ACCA (professional Accountant) course. I remembered distinctively that subject was Management Accounting (MA). As the saying goes; When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
After doing some calculations and budget planning, I decided to study MA on my own while attending school for the remaining subjects. My fellow classmates were clueless about my dire financial situation and I simply told them that I was going to “challenge” the final years. I was full of confidence because MA seemed the easiest. I bought the textbook and began my arduous study like a monk in a cell.
My strategy was to read MA on my own and then attend a 3 days revision course nearing the examination date. Time passed quickly as I buried myself in my studies. As planned, I attended the revision class when a popular lecturer visited Singapore from UK.
My slight apprehension about studying on my own turned into dread just 30 minutes into the revision class. I discovered that my interpretation of this subject was completely at odds with what the lecturer was revising. It was a complete panic attack as I felt my feet turning cold.
As I was panicking in that revision class, I remembered the intense internal “conflicts” in my mind. I was torn between my “flawed understanding” and what that UK lecturer was revising. The more I tried to reconcile them, the more confused I became and that sense of doom deepened. The examination was just two weeks away.
To add to that woe, my monkey mind was merciless. Thoughts flashed one after another. One moment, I felt regret for wasting a year, then I thought about being a failure, then I imagined that my parent who wasn’t supportive of my studies would get to say, “See, I told you so.” Everything was in a flash, as I sat there panicking.
Fortunately, I had already encountered Tibetan Buddhism at that point in time. In Tibetan Buddhism, we are taught to rely upon our Guru (Personal Buddhist Teacher). I managed to calm myself and suppress my negative emotions by saying a refuge prayer. After that, I found myself asking “So what’s next?” Should I just give up on this subject and focus on the rest? “Should I just walk out of that class and use my time more wisely for other subjects?”
Then I remembered a teaching about placing our faith in the Guru and absorbing the teachings. To do that, we need to “surrender”, and let go of all our preconceived ideas, notions, and principles. “Let’s try applying this Buddhist skill and put it to the test.” “Let’s try giving myself a chance.”
What I am about to narrate was my own creativity and interpretation. But that was how I “applied” my Buddhist lessons in real life. I knew what was troubling my mind then because I had practiced mindfulness. “There was this ego about my 1-year worth of self-study, and that “grasping” was making it impossible for me to absorb anything in that revision class.”
Therefore, I imagined that Caucasian lecturer to be my Guru. Lights of halo around his head (just like those Buddha statues). I need to let go and place my faith in that lecturer. I imagined myself to be absorbing everything that was being taught. The words that he spoke were like light rays shining out of his mouth! There was a transformational point and my mind “opened” up.
I no longer feel unfamiliar with that Caucasian whom I had never met before. My faith in him deepened. He would be helping me to pass my examination!
Thus, I was able to focus on what he taught. All other thoughts were being “let-go”. But please note. That “letting go” did not happen like magic. There was a concentrated effort to let go. There was a concentrated effort to put my belief that the lecturer is my Management Accounting guru. There was a concentrated effort to “received”, accept, and learn.
When all the above happened. Other distractions melted away, I took notes like crazy. focused like crazy. Absorbed all that was taught like crazy. When I got home after class, I could still remember what was being taught. I threw away all my self-study notes and created new ones according to what I learned that day. I re-studied according to what I learned in the 3 days of revision class.
I passed my examination! I graduated.
I believe the kinds of stuff that we learn in “traditional” Buddhist lessons need to be understood in-depth. It can be applied in our daily life if we do not limit its usage to mysticism. Like in this case, I was applying the teaching about being a good disciple and complete surrender to the Guru in a mundane setting. It gave me that mental positioning to learn without bias. To absorb without any mental baggage or fear. Likewise, my practice of “mandala offering” is slightly different from tradition too. (I’ll share that in another post)
Hope the above will inspire you to apply traditional teachings creatively in your daily life too.
May all be well and happy.