There is a saying, "One who protects the dhamma, the truth, will be protected by it." Sometimes this concept of protection is a little difficult for us to understand. It can seem an awful lot like defensiveness, or fear.
Protection, as we use the word in Buddhism, is actually wisdom, it's insight. Protection is seeing and knowing deeply that all things in our experience arise due to causes, due to conditions coming together in a certain way. We need the compassion and the courage to change the conditions that support our suffering. Those conditions are things like ignorance, bitterness, negligence, clinging, and holding on. That is why the path is so gentle and so wise -- even the pain that we experience is seen as a combination of conditions coming together, and rather than struggling against the pain, we develop confidence that if we change the conditions we will change the effect.
If we understand this one concept, then we can understand what it is meant by the word "protection." This is how we can move our lives and train our hearts in a certain direction and not just float along taking things as they come, getting knocked down and feeling helpless as we suffer. It's a little bit like owning a plot of land. To use it well is to protect it, to treasure it. I recently heard an interview with the Dalai Lama, where the interviewer pointed out that when the Dalai Lama had been asked a few days prior what he thought about Tiger Woods's situation, the Dalai Lama had not known who Tiger Woods was. But then when asked about the need for discipline in one's personal life, in contrast to the harshness we might associate with the word discipline, the Dalai Lama noted that discipline could be seen as protecting our own best interests. It's like nurturing our own true happiness.
One who protects the dhamma, the truth, will be protected by it. When we see the relatedness of ourselves to the universe, that we do not live as isolated entities, untouched by what is going on around us, not affecting what is going on around us, when we see through that, that we are interrelated, then we can see that to protect others is to protect ourselves, and to protect ourselves it to protect others. To cherish others is to cherish ourselves. To cherish ourselves is to cherish others. And in that same way, we relate to the truth. If we support it, if we embrace it, if we uphold it, we will be embraced by it, we will be supported and upheld by it.
At the heart of this idea is the knowing that what we are looking for is a place to rest. We are looking for a safe haven, a sense of being. To be still, instead of toppling forward, careening through the world of constant change. We're looking for a refuge. To find the refuge, we learn to protect ourselves, and in protecting ourselves we learn to protect all beings.
There are two phrases in Pali - one is called klésa bhumi and the other is called pañña bhumi. Bhumi means place of occurrence, place of arising. Klésa means defilement or more literally, torment of the mind, those qualities like greed and anger that, when we are lost in them, bring a strong degree of unhappiness. And pañña means wisdom. What these two phrases taken together mean is that the body and the mind are the place of occurrence for both tremendous unhappiness and for wisdom, for both bondage and for freedom.
When the body and the mind are unobserved, we remain unawakened. This is the ground for suffering to arise. When we do observe, then we see deeply the nature of the body and the mind, then that very same body and mind are the ground for liberation to arise. It's not as though we have to take our body and mind, and trade them in for better ones in order to be able to experience liberation. It's the very same body and mind, unobserved or observed, that is the ground for being lost or being free. We have the power to go in either direction.