Stephen here! Thanks so much for sharing your feelings about the course, what brought you here and what you liked about it.
Just to be clear, my partner Scott Snibbe leads the meditations and discussions. I am glad that you found Scott’s delivery and content helpful.
As many of us know, Buddhism comes from India and carries with it many cultural references and idioms. Tibetan Buddhism preserves and utilizes many of these Indian cultural idioms and also carries elements that come from Buddhism’s interaction with Tibetan culture. This can sometimes seem overwhelming for sure! However, the Buddha and the lineage of teachers and practitioners that follow his lineage emphasize that the main point is this: that the mind is workable and can be developed to reduce the suffering of ourselves and others and establish them in greater states of wisdom. Great teachers like his His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasize this again and again. The Buddha and these teachers emphasize that critical inquiry is never abandoned in favor of blind faith or acceptance of a belief that does not make sense to oneself. One thing to remember is that these teachers teach the same thing to heritage practitioners in the Himalayas and Tibet. I know and live with people who grew up within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and can attest that they too have doubts about some of the cultural idioms that get intermingled with Buddhist practice!
You mentioned that practice can be difficult. I think that many of us can relate to that feeling! I have had difficulties in practice for sure and still do! With practice I think a bit of difficulty is par for the course. In activities like hiking, studying or even traveling there are difficult points. Sometimes practice can even feel really difficult. It is always ok to take a break from practice and this is even mentioned by masters. Take a break when you need to. This will keep one mentally and physically fresh. We never want practice to ever approach “burnout” or “overwhelm.” Maintaining a light feeling of joy is so helpful when we practice.
There is a great bit of advice from teacher and author Pema Chodron that touches on the feeling of difficulty and the dense, vibrant visual imagery of Tibetan Buddhism. Ven. Pema says that when we see all the images on thangkas (Tibetan religious paintings) we can remind ourselves that, like us, they exerted themselves in practice to benefit themselves and all beings and it was difficult! They may have even felt that it was EXTREMELY difficult at times! Those word comfort me and reorient me when I see all those images in a Buddhist center, temple or monastery.
It is so wonderful to have you on this journey with all of us!