You can receive the dharma from many sources. You can listen to discourses given by dharma kings, rinpoches, lamas, or great dharma teachers or read their writings. You can also read the exoteric and esoteric texts as well, along with the classic commentaries on these texts by fully-realized masters. But how can you tell if these are authentic teachings? How do you know if the master or teacher is a true master and, even if they are, how do you know if the translations you receive are correct if the original source was not in English? This is even true with the holy sutras and tantras which come to us from various traditions, cultures, and translations. You must remember that it took centuries and the power and resources of kings and emperors for these translations to be completed in China, Japan, Tibet, and other Buddhist countries and the subsequent testing of their correctness by greatly accomplished holy ones. They can only be considered correct if they work.
Does following them result in becoming a fully enlightened being? How do you tell if someone is an accomplished one? They will exhibit complete mastery of the sutras and tantras and manifest great proficiency in all five of the vidyas. You need to quickly develop your wisdom to ascertain what you can use and what you cannot and who is a true dharma king or rinpoche and who is not. You need to listen to the discourses and read the books of His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III. His Holiness teaches the correct Buddha-dharma and has exhibited His mastery of all five vidyas. You can rely on His discourses.
Master Mipam Gyatso (1846-1912) of the Nyingma Sect also warned us that “…as sutras and tantras prophesy, there are many who, having abandoned the profound meaning through dry analysis seems so plentiful and so good, distribute quasi-doctrine for material gain, leading those of low merit and small intelligence on a perverse path at this time of the end of the era (Dharma-Ending Age).”
His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha III told us that the real words of dharma will enlighten people and make people’s fortune increase and get rid of their disasters and help them enter the bodhi state. The Buddha further said that the dharma must be taught according to the Buddha’s Tripitaka and other commentaries of those who have realized enlightenment (saints). It does not matter how high a person is who gives the words of dharma or whether he or she is a lay person or a monastic, if the teachings are not according to the Tripitaka or the tantras and if they are not according to bodhichitta and given out of compassion then they will contain some problems. The dharma must tell us how to attain happiness and how to walk the correct path to achieve liberation and freedom from the cycle of reincarnation or it is of no value.
The Buddha has also said that it is very precious to have the necessary affinity to be able to listen to the dharma in our cultivation. Listening to the true dharma for a day may achieve what you can’t get from ten years or even decades of practicing and meditation by yourself…In reality, listening to the dharma is a reward for the merit you have accumulated. Otherwise you would not even have the opportunity to do so. It is not easy to get such an opportunity… This is because it is a matter of karmic conditions related to good fortune.
If you do not understand the many principles of Buddhism, your cultivation will be wasted because you will practice based upon a confused understanding of the teachings. It is necessary to listen to discourses by His Holiness and read genuine Buddhist books to know how to cultivate yourself properly.
How you listen to dharma is also important. The analogy of the three pots is often given in this regard. A pot can have three faults: it can be upside down, it can be dirty, or it can be full of holes. It is useless for holding water if it has any of these faults since 1) the water cannot go in, 2) if it goes in, it will be contaminated by filth, or 3) if it does go in and it is pure, it will not remain. Similarly, even if you have the good fortune to hear the dharma, it will not help you if you 1) do not pay attention, 2) though paying attention, misunderstand what is heard or listen with a bad motivation, or 3) do not remember what was said.
Modern people may lack the incredible capacity for memorization possessed by those in ancient India and Tibet, but we do have the advantage of electronic recordings and the printed word. We should repeatedly listen to and reread the teachings until we thoroughly understand the principles being expounded and practice them daily–that is real understanding.
We also have the “Seven Dharma System” of listening to Dharma Discourses given to us by H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III that provides a simple method for listening to, understanding, and using or applying the dharma to our daily lives. The Xuanfa Five Vidya Institute (XFVU) has developed a series of seminar/courses that uses this method to help us become accomplished.
It is not enough to just listen to or read or even memorize the words of dharma. You must understand the dharma and apply it to your daily life. All of the teachings of the Buddha were intended to be put into practice and not just serve as the basis for intellectual discussion or study. Your actions, speech and thoughts must be consistent with the dharma. Dorje Pa Mu’s book Dharma That Every Buddhist Must Follow is an excellent guide as are all of her and H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha’s books and regular discourses. However, this is just one part. You must read the book H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III to be able to understand where the true Buddha-dharma is in the world today.
The sutras teach that when attending a dharma lecture or listening to any dharma teacher or lama, a practitioner should concentrate on listening and learning the dharma. He should avoid personal reactions to the teacher, such as, the teacher 1) has/has not violated the precepts; 2) comes from a poor/wealthy background; 3) has a pleasant/unpleasant physical appearance; 4) has good diction/a speech impediment; or 5) has a melodious/harsh voice. Furthermore you should heed the advice of the Buddha who gave us four guidelines in the Catuhpratisarana and the Samdhinirmocana Sutras:
Rely upon the teaching, not the teacher.
Rely upon the meaning, not the text.
Rely upon the definitive meaning, not the provisional meaning.
Rely upon prajna (wisdom), not consciousness.
You should become familiar with the Tripitaka and tantras so that you can evaluate the authenticity of any teaching and then practice those teachings and see if they really work. You should also rely on the “128 Evil and Erroneous Views” contained in the Supreme and Unsurpassable Mahamudra of Liberation to evaluate the validity of what you are reading.