Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The Actual Bodhisattva Vows

The ritual verse we use to actually take the bodhisattva vows is as follows:

(3.23) Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas,
Generated the mind of enlightenment
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,

(3.24) So will I too, for the sake of all beings,
Generate the mind of enlightenment
And accomplish all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training.

What exactly are we promising when we take the Bodhisattva Vow?

We are essentially promising that we will spend the rest of eternity leading living beings to enlightenment.  We have decided that this is what we want to do with the rest of our eternity.  We can sometimes feel overwhelmed by such a prospect, but at this stage we are merely saying we can’t think of anything better to do with the rest of our eternity.  It is a choice of direction and final destination.  We are not committing to already do this, but that we will work in this direction for as long as it takes until it becomes a reality.

Sometimes we think it is not possible, we can never become a high bodhisattva, so we don’t really ‘go for it.’  But it is perfectly possible, the methods are there, the only thing lacking is our wish.  Sometimes we are afraid of committing to such a prospect because we fear that it will mean we will have to give up so much.  We think this because we still believe the deception of samsara.  In reality it is the opposite, we only give up that which prevents us from having everything.

Sometimes we have reluctance because we want to hedge our bets between samsara and our practice, but eventually this becomes impossible and just leads to inner tension.  We will eventually have to let go of one or the other.  If we let go of our practice, all of the problems of samsara come right back.  If we let go of samsara, we go from joy to joy until we attain enlightenment and beyond.  But for now, we should continue to do what we want, but change what we want.  We will talk more about that in later posts.

All of the practices of the Bodhisattva are included in the Six Perfections and the practice of the Bodhisattva vows. For the remainder of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva explains how to prevent our vows from degenerating and how to complete the practice.

In its most general sense, the bodhisattva vow is a promise to eventually become a Buddha for the benefit of all living beings.  It is a choice of what we want to do with the rest of eternity.

You can read in the book ‘The Bodhisattva Vow’ the various downfalls of the Bodhisattva vows and how to purify them.  You can also read the previous series I did on “Vows, commitments and modern life” where I went through each vow in considerable detail, focusing on how to integrate them into our modern life.  Each vow has many different levels, and it is always a question of degree.  We should study each of these vows and make plans to avoid transgressing them.

After we have received the vows formally from a preceptor, which we can do at any Kadampa center around the world, we will no doubt transgress them almost instantaneously.  This is normal.  We are not expected to keep them all perfectly from the very beginning, but instead we work gradually with them over a long period of time until we can eventually keep them all purely and without fault.  When we do break the root downfalls, we can retake the vows on our own and thereby restore them.  When we break the secondary downfalls, we can engage in the 35 confession Buddhas or Vajrasattva meditation.  But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking, “it’s OK for me to break my vows, because I can always retake them later.”  If we think like this, our promise to keep the vows will lack any weight or meaning in our mind and our regret will be artificial.  Not only will we not purify the transgressions, our subsequent taking of the vows will not produce the fruits of sincere practice.

To make things simple, we can reduce our practice of the Bodhisattva vow to two things:  First, practice cherishing others more than yourself.  Geshe-la said that we can most simply keep our bodhisattva vows by practicing cherishing others more than ourselves.  If we do this, we will naturally be keeping our vows.  Second, actively work to transform other living beings into fully qualified Kadampa Spiritual Guides.

The “business plan” (if I can call it that) Je Tsongkhapa gives us for actually accomplishing and fulfilling our bodhisattva promise is to form others into fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  Behind each person are countless others who that person will eventually lead to enlightenment when they become a Buddha, and with a desire to free all those countless others we should seek to form others into fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  This is our main job at this center.  We form Spiritual Guides who can form other Spiritual Guides, and in this way we can send out an army of fully qualified Spiritual Guides out into samsara to lead all living beings to freedom.  The first thing we need to do is transform ourself into a fully qualified Spiritual Guide who has the ability to train others to do the same.

All of our activities we do to support our local Dharma centers, such as working for the center, cleaning, distributing publicity, handling administrative matters, filling statues, etc., are all the very means by which we actually put into practice and fulfil our bodhisattva promise.  Geshe-la has placed at our feet a means by which we can learn how to be bodhisattvas and fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  He said if we really understood the karmic value of working for our local centers, we should even be willing to pay to have the opportunity to do so!  If one has really decided that they want to actually embark on the bodhisattva path they treasure the opportunity to do work for the center to make it flourish.  They see this as the most precious opportunity they have in their life.  Without it, our Mahayana practice is quite abstract.

Geshe-la started with nothing but the bodhichitta in his heart and a copy of Shantideva’s Guide.  From there, he established Manjushri center as the mother center of the New Kadampa Tradition.  He then formed teachers, who themselves established yet more centers, teachers and so on, until Kadampa centers can now be found worldwide.  He has given us the books, the study programs, the practices, the internal rules, the structures, everything.  We lack nothing.  There is no reason why we can’t pick up what he has given us and do for our local area what he has done for the world.  This is our good fortune.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Why should we want to take the Bodhisattva vows?

The next two verses of Shantideva’s Guide are the actual ritual verses we use to take the bodhisattva vows.  Before we discuss what are the vows and how to skillfully practice them, I thought it would be useful to review once again why we should want to take the bodhisattva vows.

We can say that the book Guide to the Bodhsiattva’s Way of Life is divided into three parts:  preparation for taking the bodhisattva vows, taking the bodhisattva vows, and how we put into practice our Bodhisattva vow.

At the beginning of this series, we looked at length at the benefits of bodhichitta in general, and of taking the vows in particular.  In my previous series on “Vows, commitments and modern life,” I went through each vow, outlining the benefits and how to practice them.  But for me, there are a few benefits that stand out and really move my mind.

First, by taking the bodhisattva vows we continuously create non-contaminated karma.  A vow is a special type of promise on our mental continuum.  In this sense, it is a practice of moral discipline.  Even when we are not thinking about this promise, as long as we are not going against it, it continues to accumulate merit of refraining from engaging in the proscribed negativities.  The karma we create is non-contaminated because the moral discipline is aimed at a non-contaminated goal – enlightenment.  Song Rinpoche said that for a lay person in these degenerate times to keep just one vow purely creates the same amount of virtuous karma as a fully ordained monk purely observing all 250+ vows at the time of Buddha.  The best analogy is it is like redirecting the flow of water.  When we place the vows on our mental continuum, we permanently redirect the flow of our mental continuum towards enlightenment.  Once something that redirects water is put in place, it continues to accomplish its function as long as it is not removed.

Second, we maintain the continuum of our bodhisttva practice in all our future lives.  Keeping our vows functions to create the karma which enables us to find the path again and again, in life after life without interruption until we attain enlightenment.  If we lose the path, we lose everything.  Then we have all of samsara to fear.   To pick up once again the water analogy, every time the water gets redirected, we spew forth merit and causes for precious human rebirths on the bodhisattva path.   If we can maintain the continuum of our practice, then it will just be a matter of time before we attain enlightenment.

Third, it continuously functions to purify all our negative karma.  The intention of bodhichitta is the exact opposite of every negative action we have ever committed towards other living beings in all of our countless previous lives.  Taking vows is like introducing a special organism into the mud of our mind that functions to clean up all of this negative karma, like what they do to clean up algea.  It also helps protect against the ripening of negative karma that is on our mind.  It functions like a shield or a protection circle which prevents negative karma from ripening.

Fourth, it puts ourselves in total alignment with the Spiritual Guide.  By taking the bodhisattva vows, our motivation is put into total alignment with his, and as a result of this his blessings and inspiration naturally flow in and through us.  It is like aligning our sails with his perfectly pure winds.  Eventually we can get to the point where we receive perfect inner guidance every moment every step of the way and even be able to become an extension of his body, speech and mind.

The point is this:  all of our problems come from the fact that we are in samsara.  If we escape from samsara, we will know eternal, pure happiness.  The same is true for everybody else.  The bodhisattva’s path functions to transform ourselves into a fully enlightened Buddha, a being capable of leading each and every living being without exception to the same supreme state.  The practice of the bodhisattva vows is the inner essence of the bodhisattva path.  By practicing the vows directly, we are indirectly practicing the entire bodhisattva path.  Our mental continuum is kept “on track” and within the bounds of the bodhisattva path, and we permanently redirect the final destination of our mental continuum to the supreme city of enlightenment.  Practicing these vows, therefore, is the most important thing any of us will do with our life.  They hold the keys to solve all the problems of all living beings for all of their lives.  What could be more important than that?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Becoming the living, loving Dharmakaya

(3.21) Just like the great elements such as earth,
And like eternal space,
May I become the basis from which everything arises
For sustaining the life of countless living beings;

(3.22) And, until they have passed beyond sorrow,
May I sustain all forms of life
Throughout the realms of living beings
That reach to the ends of space.

If we’re practicing giving like Shantideva then we have a wish to be whatever others need, not simply to do what others want.  We want to be what they need.  We think, “if others want me to be someone other, I’ll be that person for them.”  With total faith in Dorje Shugden and a loving heart like Shantideva, we offer ourself to others pledging to become whatever we need to become for them to be able to provide them both temporary and ultimate benefit.  We have an attitude that is ready to endure whatever we need to endure.  We are ready to go through whatever we need to go through.

For me, the easiest way to do this is to view my ordinary self as like a karmic reflection or echo or synthesis of all the delusions and negative karma of those I love that I have taken upon myself through my previous practice of taking.  When suffering arises within our body, delusions emerge within our mind or negative karma ripens in our life, we strongly believe that this is the suffering, delusions and negative karma of all living beings that we have previously taken upon ourselves.  We then believe that – like Jesus – we work through these things for living beings so that they don’t have to.  What do living beings need?  They need somebody to do this for them.  This is why Jesus is so powerful in this world – he meets this need.  But so can we, if we train diligently in correct methods for long enough.

With these verses, Shantideva reveals how the truth body Dharmakaya of a Buddha is of the same nature as his emanation body.  Normally we speak of a Buddha’s emanations, as if they are a multitude of individual emanations.  But in truth, all of conventional reality is a fully integrated blanket of emanations functioning as a whole to liberate living beings.  It is only due to our ignorance that we see conventional reality as a samsara instead of as the unfolding of Buddha’s emanations in this world.  The pure conventional nature of all things is a Buddha’s form body, and the pure ultimate nature is a Buddha’s truth body.  These two are inseparable, like gold from its coin.

To become someone else, to become the person that others need, means we need to change our behavior.  We know what we’re currently like when someone has a problem with our behavior.  Normally, we think “it’s their problem, not mine.”  And sometimes that is true.  Offering ourself to living beings does not mean we offer ourself to their delusions and it is now incumbent upon us to satisfy their every deluded wish.  “Helping” others in this way doesn’t help them at all.  But to offer ourself to others does mean it is incumbent upon us to try meet their legitimate needs and help them in wise and compassionate ways.  This requires extraordinary flexibility of mind and of behavior.  We become whatever the other person is looking for, whatever others want us to be.

Gen-la Losang once told the story of his utter surprise when he took a flight with Geshe-la from the U.K. to America.  When he boarded the plane in the UK and was saying goodbye to those who saw him off at the airport, he was a perfect English gentleman, humble, reserved, composed in his behavior, etc.  When he got off the plane in America, he started hugging everyone and being all light and playful.  Geshe-la simply spontaneously became “American Geshe-la!”  A senior teacher once told the story once of how he had a dream about Gen-la Losang.  There was somebody stuck in some thorn bush, and in the dream the teacher was looking upon the person wishing strongly that they be free.  Then, Gen-la Losang came into the dream and, without a moment’s hesitation or concern about the effects on himself, dived into the bush and pulled the person out.  Then this senior teacher woke up and realized he had work to do.

Are we to cultivate such an approach to life?  If we don’t, the results of enlightenment won’t come.  Such is the power of Shantideva’s love that he wants to be whatever living beings want.  If we have this wish, then in the future we will actually be able to manifest all things wished for by living beings.  This thought to give, to be whatever is needed by others, acts as a cause for such results in the future.   Such a joyful, expansive mind is the perfect mental space for taking the Bodhisattva vow.  Imagine all day long having this mind.  What would you feel like? You’d feel like you were in heaven, wouldn’t you?  You actually would be.  Geshe-la once famously said, “the mind of Lamrim is the pure land.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Compassionate emanations bursting forth from our burning desire to help

(3.18) May I become a protector for the protectorless,
A guide for those who travel on the road,
And, for those who wish to cross the water,
May I become a boat, a ship, or a bridge.

(3.19) May I become an island for those seeking dry land,
A lamp for those needing light,
A place of rest for those who desire one,
And a servant for those needing service.

(3.20) To benefit all living beings,
May I become a treasury of wealth,
Powerful mantras, potent medicine,
A wish-fulfilling tree, and a wish-granting cow.

There is no denying the spiritual poetry of Shantideva.  Who cannot help but be inspired to become whatever living beings need by such words.  As was explained before, a Buddha’s form body has the power to appear in any form beneficial to living beings, from something as simple as a toothbrush to something as divine as the form of a holy spiritual guide.  Mothers describe there is no feeling of love greater than breastfeeding one’s newborn baby, imagine the loving bliss of a Buddha whose body nourishes all beings.

But it is important to move beyond the feelings of inspiration by such imagery to taking practical action to have such ability ourself.  How can we do so?

As with all things in the Dharma, such abilities begin with a pure motivation.  Normally, when we are very busy and people are placing many demands upon us, we become frustrated when people ask even more of us, piling further burdens upon us.  At such times, we develop the thoughts, “I wish people didn’t ask so much of me.”  Or perhaps we pass by somebody in need of something and we think, “I am too busy to help this person,” or maybe it doesn’t even dawn on us that we could be helpful because we see no way in which we could, so we don’t think anything of it.  At all such times, instead of feeling frustrated, too busy or indifferent, we should generate the thought, “at present, there is nothing I can do for this person, but I wish there was.  I wish I could spontaneously become whatever they need.”  We pass by people in need all of the time, indeed everyone we cross is in need of something.  Each situation, therefore, gives us an opportunity to train in generating this altruistic wish.

When we engage in the meditation on generating bodhichitta, we first generate compassion for living beings, then we generate the superior intention wishing to be able to help them ourselves.  Then we think we currently lack the ability to do so, but a Buddha does, therefore we generate the wish to become a Buddha.  Every time we see somebody, we should stop and take the time to ask ourselves, “what does this person need?”  “What does this person need of me?”  If we can provide them what they need, we should provide it unless we have a good reason not to.  If we can’t provide them what they need, we should nonetheless generate the wish thinking, “even though I can’t provide them with or become whatever it is they need, I sure wish I could.  Wouldn’t it be great if I was a Buddha, then I could do so.”  If we think like this every time we encounter somebody in need – which is all the time – we will find the day is filled with opportunities to train in Bodhichitta.

I find it useful to consider the example of 1,000-armed Avalokiteshvara.  One explanation for his thousand arms was he was contemplating the suffering of living beings, and his wish to help them all in every way was so strong 1,000 arms spontaneously sprouted forth from his body enabling him to do so.  This is how we should feel – our wish to help is so strong, the ability to help others spontaneously bursts forth out of us.  I personally believe the ability of bodhisattvas and Buddhas to emanate forms, of things as well as emanations of themselves, is of the nature of their compassion bursting forth spontaneously to help others.  Instead of wishing people weren’t coming to you for help, wish that you had two, three or even 1,000 copies, or emanations, of you with which you can help people.  We see how much we can get done with one of us, imagine having many.  Wouldn’t that be great!  The more we compassionately fantasize in this way, the more karmic causes we create to one day actually be able to emanate forms for the benefit of living beings.

Venerable Tharchin said, “the more we generate the wish to help others, the more opportunities to actually do so will arise.”  In other words, the wish to help others creates the karmic causes to actually have the ability to do so, both in terms of ourselves having the ability to help as well as activating the karma where others arise who need and want our help.  From a conventional point of view, we can understand this in terms of the activation and ripening of special karma; from a faith in Dorje Shugden point of view, we can understand this as him arranging all of the conditions necessary for our own and others swiftest possible enlightenment; and from an ultimate point of view, when we look at the world through the lens of “how can I help?” our mental factor discrimination re-imputes the world we see into a plethora of such opportunities.  Even if we find ourselves alone in our apartment, opportunities to cherish and love living beings will – like magic – simply fall into our lap.  Who could not be happy living a life full of love such as this?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Avoiding the pitfalls of a “happy life.”

We continue with our discussion of our relationship with our Spiritual Guide and life after we have entered the second phase of our practice, namely after we know how to more or less be happy all of the time in this life.  In the first post, we talked about the two phases of our spiritual; in the second post we looked at how teachers can be effective with students in the second phase.  And in this final post, we will look at what we need to do as students to avoid some of the common pitfalls a “happy life.”

From our side as students, what do we need to do?  Three things:

First, we need to take the lamrim as our main practice.  We need to have a daily, formal lamrim practice where month after month we cycle through the lamrim.  This helps us come to a definite decision as to what it is we want out of our practice.  Are we interested in simply having a happy life in this life alone or do we want something more?  If we are interested in just this life, we will fall into the trap of the crisis Dharma practitioner – where we practice earnestly when there is some crisis in our life, but then slide back into non-spiritual life when the crisis passes.   If we break the ‘this life’ barrier, we will naturally become much more motivated AND we will have an even happier life.

We should recall the dream I mentioned in an earlier post.  I was on a floating disk surrounded on all sides by the hell realms.  The disk represents our precious human life.  The disk was crumbling, but there is a life line of our Dharma practice which can take us to the pure land.  We don’t realize that we are on this disk, and agents from the hell realms come up to distract us and keep us preoccupied with this life.  They will give you everything you ask for in this life to keep you distracted and prevent you from completing your path.  Until the very end when it is too late and they say ‘gotcha’ and then you fall.  The conclusion is it is either hell realm or pure land at the end of this life, with essentially no in between.  We need to feel this as our reality and live our life accordingly.

Second, we need to accept ourselves without judgment.  We project expectations onto ourself that we should already be at a certain level, and then when we confront that we are not, we think that it is a problem.  We don’t look at our faults because we feel bad about ourselves.  The key here is to make a distinction between ourself and our contaminated aggregates.  Our contaminated aggregates are faulty and we are trapped within them, so we use this to increase our renunciation.  We take manifestation of a fault as a sign from Dorje Shugden that he wants us to practice a specific thing so we can create the causes we need to create.

Third, we need to overcome defensiveness when our teacher points out our faults.  I want to talk about a specific instance of when we feel our Spiritual Guide thinks badly about us.  We need to identify the attachment/aversion in our minds, where we think our happiness and suffering depends upon what others think.  This is a mistaken mind, our happiness depends only upon whether we respond to the situation with virtue.  When our teacher criticizes us there are three possibilities:  If we are doing something wrong, we admit it without guilt and change.  If we are doing something correct, we continue to do it.

The third possibility is we think we are doing something right, but the teacher thinks we are doing something wrong.  We need to make sure we are not going to the other extreme of exaggerating the bad of what our teacher supposedly thinks.  We often exaggerate thinking the teacher thinks only bad about us, and doesn’t see our good qualities.  We then become defensive and try to justify why we are right and the teacher is wrong.  This shuts down the learning process.  We need to stop projecting that the spiritual guide is viewing us the way we are viewing ourselves.  We think they are judging us and thinking bad about us and not liking us because of our faults because that is how we are relating to ourselves.

Instead, we need to seek clarification until we have clarity about what is correct.  We need to be more concerned with doing what is right than in being right.  Motivated by this, we seek clarification through external and internal methods until all doubts are resolved.  If after clarification we conclude that we are right and teacher is wrong, then we keep an open mind that our view could change later and  we might discover that we were wrong all along.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being an effective teacher with Phase 2 students.

In the last post we explored how our relationship with the Spiritual Guide generally has two phases.  The first is we go from our life being a total mess when we first come into the Dharma to reaching the point where we know how to be happy most of the time in this life, regardless of what curve balls life throws at us.  While good, that is not good enough.  Once we reach the stage where we are more or less happy all of the time in this life, we quickly become complacent, lazy or full of pride.  So how does our relationship with the Spiritual Guide change when we enter into this second phase?

Phase 1 is easy – we feel terrible, we call up the teacher, receive some Dharma and go away laughing and feeling better.  Phase 2 is very difficult.  We feel really good, we call up the teacher get the bubble of our pride or complacency popped, we feel attacked and then go away feeling unhappy and deluded.  Then we get all upset at the teacher and lose our faith in them.  Then we lose everything, because when we think the teacher is bad, we question everything the teacher has to say.  Even when we receive pure instructions all we think about is how the teacher is not following their own advice.

So what is the teacher to do when we respond in this way?  There are two extremes.  The first is the extreme of controlling.  Here the teacher guilt-trips the students or manipulates or controls them into doing the right thing.   The fundamental assumption of this method is people are lazy and just need to be cajoled into doing what they want to do anyway but their delusions are getting in the way.  The main strategy here is – Marpa-style – to to do things which provoke delusions in the students to give the students things to work on and overcome.  The problem with this method is the students do virtue for all the wrong reasons, namely driven by guilt or wishing to make the teacher like them (and so the karma created is worldly, even when doing spiritual things) and gradually they build up all sorts of resentment and go away.

The other extreme is doing nothing.  Here the teacher just leaves people to do as they wish and as they feel motivated to do, and works with that motivation helping in the way the students want the teacher to help.  The fundamental assumption of this method is people are only going to do what they want anyway, so if you push them it will yield short term results but at a long term cost.  The long term is more important.  The main strategy here is it is better to keep people connected to the Dharma than push it and lose them, so just work with motivated people and keep everybody else happy.  Take people as far as they want to go.  The problem with this method is without the system being jolted, people easily fall into low level equilibriums.  They have a happy relationship with their teacher, but that’s all they have got.  At some point our compassion doesn’t let us do this anymore.

The middle way here is to not be afraid to ruffle feathers, but do so in a laughing and transparent way.  Here the teacher points out the faults and mistakes of the student, but does so in a laughing way.  The teacher points out our delusions at the point of absurdity and so puts them on the table but in a humorous, rather than an accusatory way.  So we all have a good laugh about ourselves.  It is totally transparent with respect to what they are doing and why they are doing it.  For example, the teacher warns the student in advance, “I am going to destabilize you because I want you to work through it so that you can overcome X problem.”

The fundamental assumption of this strategy is people are ignorant and take themselves too seriously.  We are not aware of what mistakes we are making, and so we don’t know.  We take ourselves too seriously and so get guilty or defensive when we find out about our mistakes as opposed to laugh at ourselves and learn.  The main strategy here is to believe in the student that once they become aware of a problem without the baggage of guilt and defensiveness they will eventually come around to wanting to get rid of it.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The two phases of our spiritual practice

When we take the Bodhisattva vows, we do so in the presence of our Spiritual Guide, whether in the form of a Kadampa teacher or with the Guru visualized before us in the context of our meditations.  Either way, we should feel like we are actually in the living presence of our Spiritual Guide and we are making these commitments and promises before him.  We should be careful to avoid the habit of just saying the words, without realizing we are giving our Spiritual Guide our word that we will do our best to work with these vows to put them into practice.

For this reason, I thought it would be beneficial if I spoke a bit about our relationship with our Spiritual Guide and how it evolves over time.  I will do so over the next three posts.

When we first come into the Dharma, our life is usually a mess.  But it doesn’t take long before we feel we have enough Dharma experience that we know that no matter what happens to us in this life, we will be able to deal with it.  It may still be challenging, but we know we will work through it in the end.  Some people may have already reached that point, and some others are fast approaching it.  In my view, reaching this point is potentially the most dangerous point of our spiritual practice.  Let me explain.

First of all, what got us to where we are today?  It was our ‘practice of Dharma.’  What does it mean to practice Dharma ?  It means to use the Dharma as the solution to whatever we consider to be our biggest problem, understanding that our problem is our mind and not the external situation.  We have been doing this very well.

But there are two different ways we can do this:  as a ‘crisis Dharma practitioner’ or as a ‘Kadampa practitioner.’  A ‘crisis’ Dharma practitioner is one who uses the Dharma to overcome whatever crisis they are in.  Their primary concern is getting out of the crisis, and they use whatever Dharma they have to get out.  The danger here is when there is no crisis, there is no motivation to practice and they can get trapped in a low level equilibrium.  During tough times, they use their practice to solve it (which is great); but then during normal times they see no need to practice, and they return to samsara (which is not so great).  I have seen this happen to many people.

A Kadampa practitioner will specifically use the lamrim to overcome their problems.  What makes a Kadampa a Kadampa is they take the lamrim as their main practice.  We view our problem within the context of the lamrim and thereby use the objects of lamrim meditation to change our mind towards our situation.  By doing this, our orientation naturally expands to move beyond being interested in simply happiness in this lifetime, which is all the crisis Dharma practitioner is trying to do.

I have seen the spiritual birth and death of hundreds of Dharma practitioners and the difference between those who get trapped in a low level equilibrium and those who continue on is whether they have a consistent practice of lamrim.  Some people find themselves thinking they are drifting a bit in their practice, others feel like they have already left their Dharma life behind as an old chapter in their life.  We need to investigate why this is happening.  A big reason for this is related to whether our motivation is genuinely concerned with happiness beyond this life or not.  Lamrim is all about changing our motivation beyond this life.  So we need to check.

So what are the two phases of our practice?  Phase 1 is when our main task is getting our life under control where we are able to deal with our life and have a happy life.  In this phase our main problems are gross delusions such as attachment, anger, etc.

Phase 2 starts when we have enough Dharma to have a happy life.  In this phase our main problems are complacency, laziness and pride.  With complacency, we are satisfied with what we have accomplished.  We know we can go the rest of our life and be happy combining our external and internal methods.

With laziness, we lose the joy in our practice.  We see the value of practicing when things are difficult and we appreciate it when it gets us out, but when things are going well we want to enjoy the happiness we have worked so hard for and we let our practice linger on.  We derive our happiness from something other than creating good causes.  We ‘do’ a lot of Dharma stuff, but we don’t ‘actively change/heal our mind’ with the Dharma.  We don’t ‘seek out and destroy’ our delusions on increasingly subtle levels.

Pride comes in many forms.  We become like an adolescent child who knows a bit about the world and is convinced he knows everything and certainly more than his parents.  We become unteachable because we are seeking only confirmation that we are right, and become very defensive when we are told we are wrong or that we have certain delusions or things to work on.  Finally, it can take the form of us thinking only our own happiness matters.  We become attached to our happiness we are enjoying, and when a teacher comes a long and pops our bubble we get really upset at them.  We are only concerned with ourselves and don’t really care about the fact that countless others are still suffering and depending on us.