YOUTH IN FOCUS: Except for two or three subjects, my school marks were always excellent. But in the two of three subjects where I failed, they were horrible – an utter disgrace to a straight ‘A’ student like me. I have a doubt that this might be because I don’t believe in religion and miracles. Is my constant lack of interest in religion and prayers affecting me? Have I committed a great sin that has jinxed me and created bad karma? Actually, everyone had high hopes for me, but now I am not even sure that I want to continue with my life and dreams. In particular, I am disturbed by the fact that religion can bring negative consequences to even those who didn’t cause any harm to sentient beings but who merely don’t believe in those deeply rooted religious principles. Lama, what can I do?

KT, Thimphu

Hi KT,

Thanks for writing. Your lack of interest in Buddhist ritual will definitely not affect your exam results. If it did, then everyone in non-Buddhist countries would also get low marks, and that is not the case, right?

With regard to Buddhist teachings, they are simply based on the Buddha’s insights at the time of his enlightenment. They are logical and have nothing to do with miracles. Basically, the Buddha understood that all things are compounded, all things are impermanent, all emotions are pain and that freedom from suffering is beyond extremes.

These teachings are not a set of dogmatic rules, with a punishment for those who do not follow them. They are more like traffic regulations that guide people to their destination.

Basically, following traffic rules offers us the means to travel safely and smoothly. Likewise, following the Buddha’s advice enables us to face life’s challenges wisely and with an open mind. As an example, if we deeply understand the teaching that everything is impermanent, then we will be less disturbed when things change or disappear. We can even face our own aging and death in a more peaceful and open way.

Similarly, when we accept that all things are compounded, we realize that like the organs in the body everything exists in relation to everything else. If we examine our internal organs for example, we will realize that the blood from the heart is in the kidneys, and the fluid from the kidneys in is the heart. Similarly, a tree, a mountain or ourselves depend on other things to exist. When we deeply understand that we and the world around us are connected, we naturally will not hurt others or damage our environment. On the other hand, if we reject this teaching, we can easily become like an industrialist who pollutes the planet without realizing that he will also be affected by the contaminated environment.

Still, you should not feel compelled to accept these teachings and questioning them will certainly not bring negative consequences. In fact, the Buddha himself advised people to analyze his teachings and not accept them with blind faith: “Do not accept my Dharma merely out of respect for me, but analyze and check it the way a goldsmith analyzes gold, by rubbing, cutting and melting it.”

With regard to your ‘horrible grades’, I’m just wondering whether this occurred because you focused too much on the goal and not enough on the process. Basically, you should just try to do each of your assignments beautifully and without expectations.

Maybe it is helpful to think of your studies like hiking on a mountain. The peak is the goal, but if you focus only on reaching your destination then you are likely to stumble and fall. Instead, you recognize the goal, but focus on the journey, aiming to make each step stable and enjoyable. In terms of study, this means that you accept that you have exams in the future, but you focus on your assignments and aim to do each one beautifully and to the best of your ability. In this way, the study itself becomes the goal, rather than the exams.

If you do this, you may one day achieve you dream. On the other hand, you might discover that your dream actually exists right now at this moment and not somewhere in the future.