The Religion May be Abandoned, but the Dharma Remains

When I look at my life, how I live it and the reasons why I live it that way, I realise that I follow the dharma with every moment (mostly). And by dharma, I don’t mean Buddhadharma, and I certainly don’t mean Tibetan Buddhism.

What does ‘dharma’ mean?

There are many meanings of the word ‘dharma’, but essentially, as I understand it, in it’s deepest meaning, it means the truth of the way things are. If your actions are in alignment with the dharma – with the truth of the way things are – then your life will go more smoothly, and you’ll be happier than if you don’t follow the dharma. And I’m not talking here about a bunch of rules.

Dharma is beyond religion

Dharma isn’t something that belongs only to Buddhism. Buddhadharma is only one kind of dharma – the dharma as the Buddha taught it. Rumi, for instance, is an Islamic scholar and poet, but we can all recognise his pithy sayings as wisdom, and that wisdom is dharma.

Dharma does not belong to any religion. In fact, religion – even ones that claim to teach it – may obscure the dharma with its hierarchies and politics and deeply flawed gurus and ministers.

Dharma is beyond religion. It is simply the true nature of how things work beyond how they may appear.

How and why the dharma remains

Though I have discarded the religion of Buddhism, the dharma remains as part of who I am. And that’s not because I’m holding onto it, rather it’s what remains when I let it all go.

I learned the dharma through my study and practice of Buddhism, but I was only interested to learn about it because it rang true. True dharma teachings tell us what our inner wisdom recognises as truth. That’s why Rumi’s short pithy sayings are shared so widely on the internet – they ring true for people.

Also, I never accepted anything without reflection and analysis. I contemplated my life through the framework of what I learned, applied it to my life and noted the consequences. Once I saw the truth of it. It became part of me, informing how I lived my life without conscious thought. That is what remains after the religion has gone. It’s not following a code of rules, but an inner knowing that guides my choices.

So what kind of things am I talking about specifically?

And example of a dharma

Here’s one: There’s many different ways of saying it, and understanding this point is important for emotional intelligence. In Buddhism it’s called the first noble truth. Put simply you could say that the secret to happiness is acceptance, not resistance, and that’s the topic of this video I filmed for my Tik Tok channel. Yes. Tik Tok!

Why Tik Tok? Because there’s a lot of people out there – particularly young people – who have never heard had the opportunity to study dharma and who could benefit from hearing some of these basic truths. (And if you don’t think it’s true, then I suspect you haven’t really examined it or tried applying it to your life.)

Most of you reading this will be well aware of this point, but you may like to hear how I express it, or maybe you know someone who isn’t aware of it and who could benefit from considering this, in which case, do share it either from the YouTube channel or the Beyond the Temple Facebook page.

If you’ve left a religion, has any wisdom that you recognise as beyond the religion stayed with you?

4 Replies to “The Religion May be Abandoned, but the Dharma Remains”

  1. Yes, it’s good to take ownership of Dharma which means really phenomenon but has had so many other variants of usage put on it more than likely by religious use and rewriting. For me, that word is synonomous with Buddha-dharma – the expositions by a singular person who was nicknamed Buddha by some kids. Meaning awake. So I take my own definition that Buddha was trying to teach on all variety of phenomenon including suffering and the lack of satisfaction with life. I also was told this was no religion and you could take it or leave it and you should refine it yourself via experience and testing. Well I did that. Other forms of “Buddhism” which emphasised another person who “of course was also a Buddha but even more powerful” which is in and of itself a dumb statement that should have immediately red flagged it.
    So then there was a slow denigration of open Buddha and his advices, ideas and things one could work with into all kinds of “upselling” into religion. Various forms of evangelicals saying “it’s not a religion but we practice it religiously” ie – its actually a religion and this is just a way of onboarding you to listen to this set of rules and dogma that give easier answers.
    Buddha wasn’t really that into giving answers it seems that is why he was apparently silent to very direct questions about the natural world or universe and it’s limits. I’m not trying to hijack – i respond because I attempt to have a better and ever evolving way of showing where I’m at after yes, hard long thoughts and experiences with dharma more like you describe it. My inner knowing tends to also be reinforced later when I have the wherewithal to do the metallurgical test for gold where one dissolves away all else with acid. People don’t like the acid test – it’s full of negativity as you dissolve away dirt.
    Then I don’t need to resist because – things that were baseless are just not there to be grasped at. They don’t present themselves with resonating truths that are possibly attached to a bit of hijacking false conclusions. For example – because of interdependence you need to follow the lama. The only part of that which is try is “interdependence” is a thing. It is too big for the mind at times because it’s the nature of everything … it doesn’t mean much other than things appear and disappear according to causes and conditions (including the person who sees things from whatever place, time, angle). Then the conclusion seems to be saying “you don’t know interdependence and the lama does” without saying it. It’s like a really shit statement but the person who said it left it there for you to “decode” and follow it to their suggested conclusion – follow the lama who knows.
    Other people knowing is not the same as you knowing, they may know that they don’t actually believe this stuff but you do – so they want to exchange your desires for their theatre and some cash.

    1. Yeah. The word ‘dharma’ itself is problematic because of it’s associtation with religions. Maybe better to call it something like ‘universal truth’, but that rings a bit of new age all sorts, so I’m not keen on that either – and anything that claims ‘truth’ can, as you know, be debated, whereas I’m not talking about debateable stuff, but things that are actually how things are. I’m open to suggestions. But language will always be problematic when we talk about this kind of thing. I do still find that some of the Buddhist language is useful for referring to certain things, and I do use it when talking to people with a background in Buddhism because you know then that they’ll understand.

  2. It’s a while since I visited your website and even longer since I commented. First I want to thank you again for the awesome job you’ve done unpacking and tracking the Rigpa cult. And to thank Sange for speaking out so bravely and openly.

    I threw out the religion when I left Rigpa in 2005. I kept an interest in various spiritual things but nothing too serious. It was family suffering that caused me to ask deeper questions in 2016. I began this questioning by investigating the perennial philosophy which has remained a core belief of mine. This is basically what you describe above.

    Aldous Huxley thought you could follow a path back to the source/truth/reality outside of the traditional religions, conversely Huston Smith believed you could not. I’ve focused on Huston Smiths traditionalist view but don’t necessarily think it’s the only way. I feel like the original religions were very pure revelations but became corrupted over time. As Sange alluded to above (“denigration of open Buddha”) the original Buddha said on his deathbed (mahaparinirvana sutra I think) that he had not held anything back and had no secret teachings (but then Sogyal says he has secret teachings and all the power games that go along with them).

    1. Good to hear from you again, and thanks for sharing. I love hearing about people’s explorations beyond the Temple.

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