Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Qualities of correct speech

(5.79) I should speak truthfully, coherently, and to the point,
Making my meaning clear in a pleasant manner.
I should speak gently and in moderation,
Without a selfish motivation.

The quality of our speech is important if we’re going to accomplish the aims of a Bodhisattva.  It is primarily through our speech, both written and verbal, that we communicate with others.  We may wonder what is wrong with the way that we speak.  We need to check.  Just as there are the extremes of not caring about our body or caring too much about our body, so too it is the same with our speech.

To speak truthfully means to never deceive others motivated by delusion.  Sometimes we think telling “the truth” is a virtue in and of itself, even if the truth we wish to speak is harmful.  It is not enough that our words be conventionally true, we should only speak that truth which is beneficial for others to hear.  Normally we grasp at their being an “objective” truth, and of course we grasp at our own perspective as being that objective reality.  According to Dharma, truth is established not objectively, but rather by what is beneficial for people to believe.  Sometimes people misunderstand this to mean we can lie to people if the lie is beneficial.  But it is not beneficial to believe something that is conventionally false.  Therefore, the middle way is speak only those parts of the truth that are beneficial to believe.

To speak coherently means what we say must make sense and not contradict other things we know to be true.  Sometimes people fall into the extreme of being afraid to utter any Dharma that is not verbatim from the books or teachings.  Other people fall into the extreme of inventing their own lineage.  There are three lineages, the lineage arising from listening, the lineage arising from contemplation and the lineage arising from meditation.  How do we know whether our understandings derived from contemplation and meditation are reliable Dharma?  We do three things.  First, we request Dorje Shugden to sabotage any wrong understandings we may have of the Dharma.  Second, we test our new understanding to see if it contradicts any known instruction we have received from listening.  Third, we test to see if our new understanding is consistent with all known instructions.  If we satisfy these three tests, then our new understanding is sufficiently reliable to move forward.  To speak coherently means to satisfy these three tests with our speech.

To speak to the point means we should communicate directly our meaning in as concise a fashion as possible.  If our speech is complicated, it is because we are complicating things.  A clear, concise mind will naturally produce clear, concise speech.  Often times, the fewer words we use to communicate our idea, the more effective our speech will be.  We should not beat around the bush or get side-tracked into secondary topics, instead we should go straight for the heart of the matter.

We need to be clear with our speech so that the listeners are left with no ambiguity as to our meaning.  We shouldn’t leave people guessing and we should make things as simple as possible.  It is easy to use jargon and specialized vocabulary, it takes a master to communicate the same meanings with language our eight year old son and eighty year old grandma alike can easily understand.  What gives speech its clarity is the precison of the distinctions it draws.  The way we know anything is through distinguishing one object from another, thus it is our ability to draw clear distinctions that leads to clear understanding.

We should always speak in a pleasant, friendly manner.  If we are aggressive, attacking or judgmental in our approach others will become defensive and reject what we have to say, even if we are right.  Our speech then becomes counter-productive – it would have been better to say nothing.  The key to pleasant speech is the genuine love we feel in our heart for whomever we are speaking with.  If we feel love and gratitude, our speech will naturally be pleasant.

To speak gently means to let go of any attachment to the other person agreeing with or listening to what we have to say.  Normally when we speak we are trying to manipulate others into thinking or doing what we want them to do, usually for our own selfish purposes.  There is an attachment in our mind to them agreeing with us, and when they don’t we become upset.  People are not stupid, they know when they are being manipulated.  They sense our ulterior motive and therefore reject what we have to say, even if it is exactly what they need to hear.  When we speak, it should matter – at all – whether others accept what we have to say.  We leave people 100% free to take or reject our words as they wish.  Paradoxically, it is only when we let go of needing others to take on board our words they begin to do so.  This is especially true when giving Dharma teachings or advice.

To speak in moderation means we should really only speak when we have something beneficial to say that others are happy to receive.  If what we have to say is of no value, we should keep silent.  If others are not open to our point of view, we shouldn’t offer it.  If others are not asking for our advice, we shouldn’t give it.  The reason for all of this is simple:  if these conditions are not met, then people will actively reject what we have to say.  Instead of helping them, we will be giving them an opportunity to grasp more tightly onto their wrong views.

To speak without selfish motivation means our only objective in speaking should be to help others for their sake.  Normally our speech has no purpose other than an aversion to silence or an attachment to our own views.  The implication of our every criticism of others is we are somehow better.  When we speak nicely, it is usually because we are trying to get something.  Selfless speech is free from all of these and wishes only to help others find happiness through wisdom and virtue.  Selfless speech seeks to create harmony and heal division; it softens the heart and opens the mind.

If we train consistently in improving our speech in these ways, it will naturally become very powerful and there is hope we can bring great benefit to others.  Ultimately, the entire bodhisattva path is about gaining realizations to be able to share with others.  We share our realizations primarily through our speech.  If our realizations are profound but our speech unskillful then our realizations are useless.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Our two choices

(5.77) I should perform all actions for others’ happiness.
This good quality is precious and rare,
And through it I shall enjoy the pure happiness and joy
That arises from actions that benefit others.

(5.78) If I do this, I shall suffer no loss in this life
And in future lives I shall experience great happiness;
But, if I do the opposite,
I shall experience misery and pain in life after life.

If we are honest with ourselves, most everything we do is motivated by selfish concerns.  We examine every situation through the lens of “how can I get what I want?”  Even when we are nice to others, a large part of our motivation is still selfish – just a more clever form of it.  Seeing this, though, we can sometimes go too far thinking if we can’t do selfless things for purely selfless reasons we shouldn’t do them at all.  But how is that any better?  It’s true it is better to do selfless things for selfless reasons than selfless things for selfish reasons; but it is surely better to do selfless things for selfish reasons than selfish things for selfish reasons.  The latter is bad, the former is good and the first is best.  Best is better than good, good is better than bad.

Being selfless does not mean becoming a martyr, who makes a big public display of sacrificing themselves for the sake of others.  “OK, since no one else is willing to take out the trash, I’ll do it!”  We often see this kind of behavior in Dharma centers.  In almost every Dharma center, there are usually a few people who do most of the work and everybody else does the minimum they can get away with doing without calling attention to themselves.  This is probably true in most every Dharma center, with very few exceptions.  We’re all human and imperfect, what can we expect?  Sometimes, though, more often than we care to admit, those who do do most of the work can sometimes become bitter about it.  They become resentful about the fact that they have to do everything, and everybody else just comes and “consumes.”  They then will use all sorts of direct and indirect signals to communicate their displeasure with the people who come to the center, making them feel guilty, or worse, trying to use the Dharma to manipulate them into doing more work.  People are not stupid.  They know when they are being made to feel guilty or when they are being manipulated.  At first they might do more work for the center, but they are doing so to avoid the guilt-tripping and manipulation.  As a result, they develop resentment towards the center administrators and at some point tensions begin to arise.  This just fuels the administrator’s resentment towards the people in the center and so it continues in a vicious cycle.

The entire premise of such a dynamic is completely wrong.  Work for the center is not a chore, it is a spiritual gold-mine.  Geshe-la once said, if we understood how valuable the opportunity is, we would gladly pay money to be able to do so.  But if the center administrators relate to it as a chore to be avoided, they will develop resentment and the negative cycle begins.  If the center administrators relate to it as a spiritual gold-mine, they will do everything they can because they want to.  Their enthusiasm and wisdom will inspire others to do the same, naturally and from their own side.  And if it doesn’t inspire others, big deal.  The center will just be smaller and will do less.  So what?  At least people will be happy.  A small, happy center is spiritually larger than a physically large, but spiritually unhappy community.  But don’t we have to spread the Dharma?  Venerable Tharchin explains the real Dharma center is “the inner realizations of the community bound together by our love for one another.”  If there is guilt, there is no joy.  No joy, no effort.  No effort, no realizations.  If there is mutual resentment, there is no love for one another and nothing is bound together.  Being selfish for good causes is still being selfish.

Family life is no different.  In every family, there are usually a few people who do all the work (usually the mother) and everybody else contributes very little.  The members of the family take advantage of the person who does all the work, and then become bitter when their needs are not met in the way they want.  The mother then feels put upon and develops resentment for everybody else.  The workplace is also no different.  Some people do all the work, others just go along for the ride.  Countries work the same way, even the whole world works this way.  Everyone gets wrapped up in this “maker/taker” paradigm.  All of this comes from the same wrong premise – putting others first makes me worse off.

If there is one central point of the Bodhisattva’s path it is a refutation of this wrong view.  It is only by completely and utterly forgetting oneself that we can fulfill our every possible desire.  Imagine what the world would be like if everyone realized the secret to happiness is to put the interests of others first?  But then we say, “nobody else is doing this, so if I am the only one who is, then I become everybody’s sucker.”  No, you become the only happy person in the room.

The question is not what would happen if the whole world did this, the question is what would happen if we were to do as Shantideva advises?  Would we become disappointed or upset if someone did not take our advice?  Would we try even harder and have even more joyful effort?  The help that we usually give is conditional. If it were unconditional, we wouldn’t get upset when our help doesn’t work out the way we want or the other person doesn’t respond the way we want?  No, we would be like a First Ground Bodhisattva who just hearing the word “give” gives rise to extraordinary bliss.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to ripen others

(5.76) I should discreetly describe others’ good qualities
And pass on any I hear about,
But, should my own good qualities be mentioned,|
I should simply acknowledge any I might have, without pride.

One of the most effective ways of developing good relationships with others, and to help others develop good relationships with each other, is to make a habit of praising everyone’s good qualities.  People then think good about one another and allow them into their lives.  Admiring faith opens the door and allows people in.

Usually when we see somebody engage in some virtuous action or somebody is praised for some great deed, externally we may say, “yeah, that person is great.”  But internally, we say, “but…” and we quickly catalog all of their faults.  We find it really hard to just genuinely rejoice in others virtue.  Spontaneously, our jealousy offers some counterpoint of how the person is faulty.  Shantideva says instead we should praise the other person and develop genuine joy.  When I see some good quality in my colleagues, I try make a point of telling them how much I appreciate their example.  When it is not awkward to do so, I try sing my colleague’s praises with others whenever I can.  If it is said sincerely, without expecting anything in return nor any ulterior motive, it is almost always well received and then the person identifies with being somebody with that good quality.  Ripening others is not hard:  see others’ qualities and genuinely praise them for it.  People are starved for love.  Give it to them.

I have a nephew who has made a few mistakes in his life and as a result has been shunned from the high-achieving end of my family.  But he has this young daughter who he loves with all of his heart, and he really is a good father with her.  Nobody sees it, though, they just see his failings.  Standing in judgment over him doesn’t make him do any better, it just makes him feel rejected and causes him to reject the otherwise good advice of those who are judging him.  But a few simple words of praise, showing him that you see the good in him, helps him identify with his goodness within.  Seeing the good in people helps them identify with it, and this, more than anything else, ripens them.  Venerable Tharchin says when a new person walks in the center door, he views them as “the future holder of the lineage.”  Scary thought that the future of the lineage will one day rest on our shoulders, but because he sees that in us – he genuinely sees it – we naturally start identify with that and start living up to that.  I would almost go so far as to say all we need do to ripen all living beings is see and relate to the good in others.  Just keep doing this until they are all Buddhas.  Ignore the rest, don’t engage with the rest.  If you resist the rest, they grab on tighter to it.  If you ignore it, it withers on the vine.

As a Sangha, it is particular important that we do this.  We should never talk badly about the other people in the Sangha, even if they talk badly to us about others we don’t agree.  When we hear people talking badly, it can sometimes be awkward.  Sometimes all we can do is say nothing.  If we agree with them, we feed their inappropriate attention.  If we disagree with them, they might become further entrenched in their wrong view and seek to defend it.  Sometimes we can say something like, “sorry you see it that way.”  This doesn’t agree, doesn’t disagree and shows that it depends upon the person’s point of view.  Depending on the relationship we have with the other person, we might even be able to say, “hey, you shouldn’t talk like that.  Focus on the good.”

When we are praised, we shouldn’t don an armor of false humility saying, “no, no, I am but a fool” when in reality we think we are wonderful.  Externally, we should just say, “thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot.”  Internally, we offer everything to the Spiritual Guide at our heart.  If we ourselves are praised we can avoid pride arising simply by recognizing that any qualities we may have are simply the qualities of our Spiritual Guide.  In reality, our contaminated samsaric aggregates have no good qualities of their own.  Anything good we have about ourselves comes from the blessings we have received from the holy beings or the good examples we have seen in others.

It is also one of the most skillful ways of improving our own virtues.  By rejoicing we create the cause to acquire whatever skills we are rejoicing in.  If we genuinely appreciate the good qualities we see in others, we will naturally start to emulate them ourselves.  The way we become better is primarily through emulation.  Our normal reaction is to be jealous of the good and to judge the bad.  Instead we need to emulate the good and learn from the bad.  If we do this, the rest will take care of itself in time.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Dealing with unsolicited advice

(5.74) When others offer wise advice or admonishment
That, though unsolicited, is nevertheless beneficial,
I should accept it graciously and with respect,
And always be willing to learn from it.

Sometimes I think it would be a good idea if people who attended Dharma teachings were forced to sign a document before they entered that had two commitments on it:  (1) I acknowledge that the Dharma teaching I am about to receive is personal advice for how I need to change, not an explanation for how everyone else around me needs to change, and (2) I vow I will not give advice to anybody who doesn’t ask for it.

When I first started attending Dharma teachings, all I could think about was how my now wife, my parents, my friends, etc., needed to hear this.  It was so clear to me that the Dharma was the solution to all of their problems.  This attitude pervaded my first many years of Dharma study, and I fooled myself into thinking this was my bodhichitta talking – seeing Dharma is the solution for all the problems of all living beings (except apparently me).  When I had my final meeting with my teacher, Gen Lekma, before I left for Europe, I asked her for some parting advice.  She said, “train in the first of the three difficulties.”  I guess that was her subtle way of telling me I need to identify my own delusions.

Most people, though, will just react defensively when we point out their faults and delusions.  Most people will instead just find a bunch of faults in us when we do so, and then we will enter into a destructive cycle of escalating mutual resentment.  They will seek to show why we are wrong and will actively work to reject our advice, even if it is exactly what they need to hear.  This is why, for ourselves, we should never offer people advice about what they need to do unless they are asking us with a mind of faith.  Yes, this is a high bar.  Intentionally so.

But sometimes people will still give us all sorts of unsolicited advice.  Let’s face it, most human speech is the cataloging of the faults and failings of others.  People are usually not shy telling us what we are doing wrong; and even if they are, behind our backs all sorts of things are being said about us.  This is just part of modern samsara.  No point wishing it was otherwise, instead we need to find a healthy way of responding to it.

Shantideva points the way:  we should graciously accept it and be willing to learn from it.  We must listen, without reacting, just listen.  Just because we are Dharma practitioners, especially if we are Dharma teachers, we expect everyone to listen to us.  After all, we have the Dharma.  We know…  We have to look at this trait. We must be open to advice or criticism, be rid of our proud minds.  We should never think, “I have nothing to learn from this person.”  We often switch off as if there is nothing to learn.  I remember once, many years ago when I was active on NKT-chat, I had some personal problem that I went to Kadam Lucy about.  After she gave me some typically great advice, I thanked her and said it was great to have somebody I could go to and get wisdom from.  She said, “why don’t you ask on NKT-chat?”  I said, “I answer their questions (arrogantly implying that they couldn’t answer mine).”  Without missing a beat she said, “oh, that’s funny.  I find I have something to learn from everyone.”

Instead we should think “what can I learn from what others saying?”  Often when we’re listening we’re just waiting to speak.  That’s not listening, it is a big mistake.  Just waiting to speak is not listening.  We need to learn to just listen – to listen with an open heart.  If we learn to listen well, then we’ll even hear the sound of Dharma whistling through the trees.

(5.75) To anyone who speaks the truth,
I should say, “You have spoken well”;
And whenever I see others perform meritorious actions,
I should offer praise and develop genuine joy.

Of course in modern conversation we would never use a stilted phrase like “you have spoken well,” but the sentiment we should express is the same.  I met somebody shortly after college who was unlike anybody I had previously met.  He had two amazing qualities I have ever since sought to emulate.  When he was shown to be wrong, he would admit it and change his views on the spot.  When those he was discussing with were wrong, he would just ask questions – questions which when answered helped the other person realize they were wrong without feeling attacked.  He was a devout Christian, which for me at the time seemed like a contradiction – how could somebody be such an intellectual and a Christian at the same time (the arrogance of youth…).  He said, “I was atheist before.  But since then I have been convinced by the weight of argument.”  Wow.  It’s reminiscent about the stories of old where spiritual masters would enter into debate with the condition that whoever lost would have to change their views.  Sadly, this almost never happens today, but we can choose to be like the masters of old.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being quiet is more than just making no noise

(5.72) I should not behave in ways that disturb others,
Such as moving furniture noisily
Or opening and closing doors loudly,
But always delight in humility.

Shantideva here is encouraging us to be thoughtful, considerate.  We need to be especially mindful of what might disturb others.  Taking care to not disturb others is a real discipline that we must try to improve until we become just like Geshe-la, caring about everything and everyone.   It goes without saying we should be considerate to others who are meditating and try not to disturb them by making loud noises, etc.  But being quiet is much more than just not making noise.

A very senior practitioner once had as their email name “stillnesswithin.”  I love that.  While it didn’t work out too well for that particular practitioner, it is still a perfect name we should strive for.  Just as we should not disturb others’ meditations by making a lot of noise, we also shouldn’t disturb our own meditations with a bunch of internal noise.  In the teachings on engaging in retreat, we are encouraged to find a quiet place, free from distractions, and of course that is very important.  But it is far more important that we create within our mind a quiet place, free from distractions.  We need a stillness within.

How do we achieve such stillness?  Through the practice of humility.  All noise comes from our ordinary mind.  That’s all our ordinary thoughts are – a bunch of noise.  Kadam Bjorn was somebody who was never far from the clear light.  He spent virtually all of his time centered in it, and would come out only just enough to help people realize they need to let it all go.  He said if we find things complicated, it is because we are complicating them.  There is no complication in the clear light.  Our ordinary mind races from one complication to another unnecessary elaboration, and what good has this ever done us?  None.  But when we allow our ordinary mind to settle down and we can enjoy the silence of stillness, true wisdom can begin to arise.  Samsara is, fundamentally, the elaborations of our non-humility.

We need a humility we’re moving in towards our heart.  We gather inwards, where the five root and branch winds gathering into our heart.  When we are gathered inwards, humble, it is easy to concentrate on virtue.  We are not trying to prove anything or get anybody to think anything in particular about us.  There is no one there thinking anything about us anyways.

Please don’t overlook the importance of this practice.  In Eight Steps Geshe-la gives three reasons why we need to practice humility.  We don’t use up our merit on worldly attainments.  If we have such attainments, we need to use them for others, in particular their spiritual welfare. We accumulate merit because we always put others first, serve them, etc.  There is no inherently existent I.  He says we should view our self or I, the object of our self-cherishing, as the lowest of all.  In this way, our self-cherishing will become weaker and our love for others will increase.  Ghandi said his goal was to make himself zero.

(5.73) Just as a stork, a cat, or a thief
Accomplish their aims with skill and patience,
So should I accomplish my spiritual goal
Of attaining the state of enlightenment.

 What is it about a stork, a cat, or a thief?  They certainly don’t make a big noise about things.  There is a subtlety, grace, stillness, as their body and mind work together in harmony.  We need to be like that walk in to people’s lives, touch their minds, make an impression, and then leave.

The person who first awakened spiritual aspirations in me, a good friend from college, gave me a book on the mind of the ninja.  The essential point was the ninja operates from the shadows.  Shadows here does not mean darkness or negativity, the real meaning was operating from the silence of realizing emptiness.  The ninja engages in their actions silently, unseen, without imposing themselves on the world.  A bodhisattva acts in the same way.  Buddha’s have perfected this.  Buddhas are helping each and every being every single day.  Yet we don’t see them.  Our not seeing them does not mean they are not there, helping us walk in the paths of virtue.  Without Buddhas in this world blessing our minds, this world would quickly fall into spiritual darkness.

Help when no one is looking.  Pray when no one knows.  Give without leaving a trace.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Smile, damn it!

Now we turn to some verses on some very practical skillful behavior we should adopt in our daily life.

(5/71) While I have control,
I should always display a smiling face
And, forsaking frowns and angry looks,
Be friendly and honest towards others.

Sometimes people misunderstand this advice to mean we should fake it.  Inside we might be all upset or disturbed in some way, but externally we put on a show.  Isn’t that repression of our delusions (pretending we don’t have them)?  This is not the meaning at all.  We present a friendly demeanor to others because we internally feel affection for them.  But what if we don’t feel affection for them?  We should realize that any sentiment other than affection towards somebody else is ultimately a deluded feeling.  Knowing this, we try cultivate affection in our hearts and a friendly demeanor externally because we know it is the right thing to do.

Repression only occurs when we believe the delusion to be true but we externally pretend otherwise.  If we know the delusion to be wrong and try direct our mind towards the right thing, we are practicing Dharma.  This is a crucial distinction.  Sometimes people think Dharma practice is all about pretending to think and feel things that we don’t.  That is pretention and repression.  Dharma practice is about realizing what we normally think is wrong and making an effort to move our mind in the direction of thinking and acting correctly.  No, the Dharma way of reacting to people is not “normal” or “natural”, because what is normal and natural is deluded.  But the Dharma way of reacting is healthy, correct and leads to genuine inner peace for ourself and for others.  Dharma practice is about changing our mental habits through a clear understanding why it is beneficial to do so combined with persistent effort and practice.

Shantideva’s advice is very similar to Venerable Atisha’s to “always keep a smiling face.”   When we’re with others, we should feel and express affection for them.  What does this mean?  Quite simply, it means we are genuinely delighted to see and be with others.  We appreciate them and their good qualities and it makes us happy to be with them.  Everyone loves to feel loved and appreciated.  We all, inside, feel lonely, rejected and unloved.  Just a simple smile of delight when seeing somebody shines a light into others hearts and lifts their spirits.  In this way we can show that we are their friend as well as do something to make their day a little brighter.  Geshe-la says a bodhisattva is a friend of the world.  We need to see ourselves in this way.

How do we generate such affection?  Simple:  we should focus on and then appreciate their good qualities.  Normally we do the opposite, we focus on and judge others for their perceived faults.  When we focus on and genuinely appreciate others’ good qualities, affection for them naturally arises in our heart.  Just thinking about them brings delight to our mind, and who doesn’t want to feel delighted all the time?  Focusing on and judging others for their faults naturally gives rise to resentment and anger in our mind.  Just thinking about others then puts us in a foul mood.  Who enjoys that?  So we need to decide what kind of person we want to be:  somebody who is filled with delight or somebody who is bitter and grumbling.

We need to be able to say to others, “I will never deceive you” and actually mean it and know it is true.  Everyone has experienced others violating their trust, and it usually makes us never want to trust again.  But that is the wrong reaction.  The correct reaction is to become somebody who is trustworthy.  If we are always honest and trustworthy with others we will create the karma for others in the future to always be honest and trustworthy with us.

Nowadays, everyone is very busy, busy, busy.  We are so busy, it seems we no longer have time for others.  As bodhisattvas, we have to ask ourselves, “what could we possibly be so busy with that we don’t have time for cherishing others?”  Something is clearly wrong if we think this way.  Our priorities have somehow become reversed.  Perhaps we are so busy helping other people that we don’t have time to help somebody right now.  This can happen.  But we shouldn’t be frustrated when them when they come asking for our help in some way.  Instead, we should greet them kindly and say, “I would love to help you, but unfortunately right now I am trying to help XYZ with ABC.  As soon as I get an opportunity, I will help you.”  In our heart, we should wish we were capable of helping everybody all of the time.  Then, when we encounter situations where we are unable to fulfill that loving wish, we can renew our bodhichitta thinking, “only a Buddha can be there for each and every living being, every day.  I need to become a Buddha so I can do the same.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Becoming a wish-fulfilling jewel

(5.68) A servant is not rewarded with clothes and the like
If he does no work;
So why do you insist on nourishing this collection of flesh and bone
When, even when fed, its loyalties lie elsewhere?

(5.69) In exchange for paying my body its wages,
I will employ it to create virtue for myself and others;
But I should not grasp it as “mine”
Because such grasping is a form of ignorance.

(5.70) I will regard my body as a boat –
A basis for coming and going –
And to accomplish the welfare of all living beings
I will transform my body into an enlightened wish-fulfilling jewel.

Not many of us have servants, but we do use service providers all of the time.  Do we pay the barber if they don’t cut our hair?  Do we tip the waiter if he doesn’t serve?  Do we pay the Doctor if she doesn’t see us?  We only pay people if they accomplish what we have hired them to do.  Shantideva is encouraging us to enter into a similar sort of contract with our body.  We have hired our body to take us to enlightenment, and we will only pay it its wages of food, clothing and shelter if it ferries us to enlightenment.

Previously, Shantideva was helping us to create some distance from the delusions in our mind by criticizing them.  Now he is trying to help us to stop identifying with our delusions.   In particular, he’s helping us to stop identifying with our body by viewing it as a vehicle.  Most of us don’t take many boats, but we all use cars, busses, subways and the like.  We should start to consider our body as our car, our vehicle for taking us to the city of enlightenment.  We don’t identify with our cars (well, most of us don’t, at least), so too we should not identify with our body.  This is hard, because when somebody talks about our body we have the distinct impression they are talking about us.

When we engage in the meditation on the emptiness of our “I” we check inside our body to see if we can find our “I.”  Sure, our arms, legs, skin and bones are “parts” of us, but we wouldn’t say any one of these things is us.  There is nothing anywhere inside our body that we can point to and say, “that’s me.”  In fact, our language choices even now are pretty clear that our body is not us, we say, “my body,” implying there is a possessor of our body that is not the body itself.  Just training in breaking our identification with our body is incredibly liberating.  When our socks get holes in them or our car breaks down, we discard them and get new ones.  We don’t feel like we are losing ourselves in the process, it is just something we have to do.  Same with our body.

Of course we need to use our body.  We should use it for meaningful purposes, namely practicing virtue.  It gives us the means to practice virtue.  Without our body, could we do so?  Sure, if we were a formless realm god we might be able to, but instead we would be burning up our merit enjoying our absorbed mind.  Our body is essential for Dharma practice.  It gives us an opportunity to create for us a pure body of a Buddha, so that when we are separated from it we don’t have to assume another one ever again.

We must develop a different feeling about our body altogether.  Our attitude needs to be to use it to be able to leave it behind.  While we have the opportunity, we need to strive for a better body, a deathless vajra body.  For me, one of the best ways to develop renunciation and Bodhichitta is to think, in my heart is the substantial cause of the body of Heruka or Vajrayogini.  So our attitude is let’s go in and ripen it.  Why be attached to this horrible thing?  Attachment to this gross form stops us.  We must acknowledge this attachment and do something about it.

This body finally has its use as the passageway to the very subtle body at our heart.  In this way we can have a direction for what we are trying to do with our body.  We can develop distaste and disgust, and develop a strong wish to develop the body of a Buddha.  Why do we stay so attached to this gross form when beneath we will find the deity body?  We must understand what it is that is preventing us from doing that.  It’s attachment to it – looking to it as a source of happiness.  Attachment to this body is preventing us finally from attaining the wish-fulfilling jewel body of a Buddha.