Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Guarding the wound of our mind

(5.19) Just as I would be careful of a wound
When in a jostling and unruly crowd,
So should I always guard the wound of my mind
When among those who might provoke delusions.

(5.20) If I am careful of a physical wound
Out of fear of even the slightest pain,
Why do I not protect the wound of my mind
Out of fear of being crushed by the mountains of hell?

(5.21) If I always practise in this way,
Then, whether I am among harmful beings
Or with people I find attractive,
Neither my steadfastness nor my vows will decline.

This is a very special piece of advice that is so relevant to our living and working in the land of the jostling and unruly.  This advice we have to take to heart.  If we do we will succeed.  We will accomplish so much in the society in which we’re working.  What is the advice?

There are many people or situations that might provoke our delusions.  There are many people already in our lives who provoke attachment.  How many car accidents happen due to some guy looking at an attractive woman on the street?  And not all attachment is sexual.  Attachment to people is thinking that they are causes of our happiness.  If we check, no matter who we engage with our first thought is “how can this person help me accomplish my objectives.”  In actual fact, we are constantly on the look out for how to use people for our own purposes, and we view everyone through this lens.  When we find people who can help us fulfill our proposes, almost instantly attachment develops within our mind.

There are also many people who might provoke impatience, anger, and so on.  When we lived in Geneva, my wife worked at the local international school which gave our kids free tuition.  They sold the school and the new owner has the bright idea of getting rid of free tuition for the kids of teachers.  The end result was this was the primary reason why we had to leave Europe and move back to the U.S.  I remember walking on campus once behind the new manager who was spearheading this effort, and for the first time in my life I actually had to physically restrain myself from strangling the guy!  There was this sudden surge of aggression in my mind.  There are not only extreme cases like this, we can be bothered by the person who sits next to us at work who just never stops talking, preventing us from working; or the little old lady who drives really slowly blocking traffic.  Some people we just find terribly arrogant, others very presumptuous.  Pretty much everybody bothers us in one way or the other.

We need to identify where we are weak to the attacks of the delusions, and at such times be particularly mindful.  We need to examine our life and try identify those situation where we are particularly susceptible to generating delusions.  If we were to walk in a dangerous neighborhood at night, we would be on high alert.  Yet we think nothing of walking into a shopping mall or into a conference room at work.  We need to become alert to dangerous situations for our mind, not just our body.

Shantideva says we should regard our mind as an open wound.  It’s exposed—therefore I cannot, dare not, leave it unprotected.   If we feel this way about our mind then we’ll be concerned for it. We’ll take care so that no harm will come to us.  If I don’t protect my mind I will be hurt, seriously hurt.  We need to think not only about short term hurt, but the long term hurt in the future which is far greater.

When people hurt themselves, such as breaking a bone, they put casts or special braces on so as to protect their injury from becoming worse.  We need to do the same with our delusions.  For example, I have long suffered from jealousy about how I perceive my father loving my brother more.  This is a sore and sensitive point for me.  Likewise, I often worry about how he judges me and the decisions I make in life.  It does not take much for me to become heavily deluded about these things.  My mind is already badly injured in this way and the “break” hasn’t fully healed yet (not even close, actually).  I need to put on the mental cast of alertness to be mindful of when my mind starts going down the roads of inappropriate attention which lead quickly to delusions.

People who have bad backs know if they twist just wrong or lift something too heavy, they can quickly hurt their back, and back pain can sometimes last for days.  As a result, they are very careful.  We need to be the same with our mind.  At our current state of spiritual development, there are some things we can handle easily without generating delusions, there are some things which are currently way beyond our capacity and then there are those things in the middle which could go either way.  For these things in particular, we need to guard our alertness.  They are the things which might just be too heavy for us, so we need to be careful.

When we have been sick a long time, our body is weak and we have not yet regained all of our strength.  If we push it too hard, too quickly, we could quickly relapse into our illness or set back our recovery by days or even weeks.  Instead, we move slowly, gradually regaining our strength and capacity.  In the same way, when we are coming off of a long period in which our mind was heavily under the influence of delusions, we should be mindful to not push things too hard or too quickly.  Our mind is weak and fragile, and it might not take much to reactivate our delusions quite strongly.  We see this in particular with people who suffer from depression.  When we are depressed, we think “nothing goes our way, everything is hard.”  When just the slightest thing goes wrong, even though in and of itself it is of no great significance, it nonetheless deflates our spirits and we become down and despondent.

Next time you are sick or injured, look and see how your mind naturally has great wisdom of self-preservation guiding you in your recovery.  Then take that as an analogy for how you should be with respect to your delusions.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Stop exaggerating!

Now Shantideva enters into an explanation of skillful means, and how a Bodhisattva should behave.

Each one of us has a great responsibility now for helping Buddhadharma to flourish.  To do so we know we have to go out into the world and be very much part of society, giving people the opportunity to meet the Buddhadharma, the Kadam Dharma.  To do this, no doubt that we need strength of mind, stability of practice, a lot of courage.  In one sense what we’re doing is very unusual.  If we look throughout history, what we’re doing now is quite extraordinary.  We are taking a set of spiritual instructions that has been in India and Tibet for thousands of years, and we are trying to bring it into the modern world and integrate it into our modern lives.  This has never been done before, and we have been tasked with doing it!

If we are to succeed, then there’s no duobt we need to be able to protect our mind, guard our practice.  In particular, we need many different types of skillful behavior; we need to maintain strength of mind, stability, courage, etc.  With this chapter in particular, there is a lot of advice that is of particular relevance.  If we are to succeed in our work, we must follow this advice.  It is absolutely essential.  Please take this advice right to heart.  It is important for us all—if we are to succeed, it’s quite necessary to take this advice to heart.  Otherwise we’ll blow it!

(5.18) Therefore, I will guard my mind well
And protect it from what is inappropriate.
Without the discipline of guarding the mind,
What is the use of many other disciplines?

What is inappropriate?  Shantideva is primarily referring to protecting our mind from inappropriate attention.  Inappropriate attention is synonymous with exaggeration in a way that produces delusion.

With inappropriate attention, we exaggerate the apparent qualities of an object.  This is something we do all the time.  First we exaggerate the objects attractiveness or repulsiveness.  We think the object is actually attractive or unattractive from its own side.  Then we exaggerate its ability to be a source of happiness or suffering.  We project all sorts of hopes or fears onto the object and relate to the object as if it actually had these powers.  On this basis we generate attachment or aversion.  And we always exaggerate how much it exists.  We think the object actually exists as an independent thing.  On this basis we generate ignorance.

Shantideva is encouraging us to guard our mind well.  We do this by binding our mind to the pillar of virtue.  If we are to protect our mind from all that is inappropriate, all exaggeration, then we won’t allow our mind to go out to an object of attachment to pull it in. We won’t allow our mind to go out to an object of attachment or be pushed away from an object of aversion.  We will stay within and recognize that an object being attractive or unattractive is an appearance of mind.  In other words, there’s nothing to go out to.  We feel it is just a pleasant or attractive appearance.  Just an unpleasant our unattractive appearance.  Just a karmic appearance to mind.  In this way we can protect our mind, guard our mind, keep control over our mind, and thereby keep a very peaceful mind.

As soon as we go out to an object, there’s naturally an exaggeration taking place.  We know in dependence upon that delusion will naturally arise.  All stemming from that inappropriate attention.  Even though we may know intellectually about inappropriate attention, we need to look deeply within our own mind to discriminate the different types and levels of inappropriate attention in order to protect our mind from it.  If we don’t, we will fail in all other disciplines.

In particular, we need to do this with strong attachment and strong anger.  There might be certain objects we have particularly strong attachment towards or certain people we have particularly strong aversion towards.  It is certain there is strong exaggeration present in our mind.  If we are not reacting to situations as they actually are, we are certain to make mistakes and make things worse.  Bringing things down a notch always helps.

To keep it simple:  there is no delusion without exaggeration.  So if you find your mind is unpeaceful or disturbed about something, your first task is to identify how you are exaggerating things.  This alone will help bring you under control and give you the space to then apply other opponents.  Ultimately, if there is no exaggeration in our mind, there is no delusion.  Our mother was right, “stop exaggerating!”

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Beginning the process of healing

(5.17) Even those who wish to find happiness and avoid suffering
Will wander without meaning or purpose
If they do not practise training the mind,
The supreme and principal Dharma.

To find the happiness that we seek, the freedom that we seek, we have to train our mind in wisdom.  If we wish for true happiness, real freedom, then we have to train our mind in wisdom.   There is actually no other way.  Our mind is unhappy because it is unpeaceful.  It is unpeaceful because delusions have taken over.  Wisdom opposes all delusions, making our mind peaceful and calm.

Delusions take control of our mind and then cause us to say or do things which we later regret.  It only takes a few moments of anger, for example, to destroy even a lifetime’s worth of our closest relationships.  It is only by learning to gain control of our mind, even in the most difficult and provocative of situations, that we can have any hope of being happy just in this life, much less in lifetimes to come.

This is hard too, because it is difficult enough to accept that our freedom and happiness depend upon our mind.  We may know this, but have we yet accepted it?  We still grasp at our freedom and happiness depending upon our bank account, whether we are getting along with our family, how we are advancing in our career.  We are convinced these things determine our happiness and work unquestioningly towards their accomplishment.  But no matter how much money we have in the bank, no matter how many people love us, and no matter how successful we are in our career, we still remain ill at ease.  Yet, even when we are staring into the abyss of poverty, in the middle of huge conflicts with our loved ones and we have lost our job, if our mind is calm and peaceful, free from delusions, we are happy.  This doesn’t mean we don’t try improve our external circumstance, it just means we don’t look to it to make us happier.

Here Shantideva is saying that my freedom and happiness does not just depend totally on my mind, but real freedom, real happiness, depends upon realizing ultimate truth.  Do we realize this?  Have we accepted this?  The whole world, and all of our lives, are filled with all sorts of drama.  Why?  Because we think this is all real.  We think all of this matters.  In reality, it is just the dance of karmic appearances with nothing behind them.  Nothing is actually happening.  Nobody is actually there thinking anything about us.  We have never gone anywhere.  Yet it all seems so real, it all seems so important.  As a result, we overreact to what appears and make everything worse.  We are like somebody drowning, panicking, and flailing about, but in actual fact we are in 3 feet of water and if we could just calm down we would realize we could stand without trouble.  Nothing is as bad as it seems, because in reality the things that seem to exist don’t.  We of course still need to respond conventionally to what appears, but the sting of everything falls away.  Knowing nothing is wrong (because nothing is happening) we are able to calm down, look at the situation in a peaceful way, and then respond with wisdom and compassion instead of ignorance and anger.

The test for whether we really understand the importance of ultimate truth is how often each day are we training in ultimate truth?  If we are honest, we are still turning to other things as the source of our happiness.

That’s our responsibility then as bodhisattvas: with a deeply compassionate mind of Bodhichitta, we need to train in wisdom.  To make spiritual progress we have to oppose at deeper and deeper levels the obstructions in our mind.  We do this by training in the spiritual paths that are the opponents to our delusions.  When delusions arise, we need to make an active effort to recall our virtues and recall our wisdom and use them to bring our mind back to a clear, peaceful, constructive, happy space.  Hanging on to our anger, going over again and again all of the perceived faults against us and plotting our revenge are all minds that destroy our peace now and will take us to the lower realms later.

We need to know clearly what we need to abandon and what in our mind we need to cultivate.  If we don’t clearly know these things, how can we heal our own mind?  Once we have this knowledge we can actually set about the process of transforming our mind.  We can begin the process of healing.

New Year’s for a Kadampa

New Year’s Day is of course preceded by New Year’s Eve.  The evening before is usually when friends get together to celebrate the coming of the new year.  Sometimes Kadampas become a social cynic, looking down on parties like this, finding them meaningless and inherently samsaric.  They mistakenly think it is somehow a fault to enjoy life and enjoy cultural traditions.  This is wrong.

If we are invited to a New Year’s party, we should go without thinking it is inherently meaningless.  Geshe-la wants us to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  New Year’s Eve parties are part of modern life, so our job is to bring the Dharma into them.  Venerable Tharchin said that our ability to help others depends upon two things:  the depth of our Dharma realizations and the strength of our karmic connections with living beings.  Doing things with friends as friends helps build those karmic bonds.  Even if we are unable to discuss any Dharma, at the very least, we can view such evenings as the time to cultivate our close karmic bonds with people.  Later, in dependence upon these bonds, we will be able to help them.

One question that often comes up is at most New Year’s Eve parties is what to do about the fact that everyone is drinking or consuming other intoxicants.  Most of us have Pratimoksha vows, so this can create a problem or some awkward moments for ourself or for the person who is throwing the party.  Best, of course, is if you have an open and accepting relationship with your friends where you can say, “you can do whatever you want, but I am not going to.”  It’s important that we don’t adopt a judgmental attitude towards others who might drink, etc.  We each make our own choices and it is not up to us to judge anyone else.  We might even make ourselves the annual “designated driver.”  Somebody has to be, might as well be the Buddhist!

If we are at a party where we can’t be open about being a Buddhist, which can happen depending upon our karmic circumstance, what I usually do is drink orange juice or coke for most of the night, but then at midnight when they pass around the glasses of Champagne I just take one, and without a fuss when it comes time, I just put it to my lips like I am drinking but I am not actually doing so.  If we don’t make an issue out of it, nobody will notice.  Why is this important?  Because when we say we don’t drink, they will ask why.  Then we say because we are a Buddhist.  Implicitly, others can take our answer to mean we are saying we think it is immoral to drink, so others might feel judged. When they do, they then reject Buddhism, and create the karma of doing so. We may feel “right,” but we have in fact harmed those around us. What is the most moral thing to do depends largely upon our circumstance. It goes without saying that others are far more likely to feel judged by us if in fact we are judging everyone around us! We all need to get off our high horse and just love others with an accepting attitude.

Fortunately, most Kadampa centers now host a New Year’s Eve party.  This is ideal.  If our center doesn’t, then ask to host one yourself at the center.  This gives our Sangha friends an alternative to the usual New Year’s parties.  We can get together at the center, have a meal together, do a puja together and just hang out together as friends.  We are people too, not just Dharma practitioners, so it is important to be “exactly as normal.”  If our New Year’s party is a lot of fun, then people will want to come again and again; and perhaps even invite their friends along.  It is not uncommon to do either a Tara practice or an Amitayus practice.   Sometimes centers organize a retreat weekend course over New Year’s weekend.  For several years in Geneva, we would do Tara practice in six sessions at the house of a Sangha member.  The point is, try make it time together with your Sangha family.  Christmas is often with our regular family, New Year’s can be with our spiritual family.

What I used to do (and really should start doing again), is around New Years I would take the time to go through all the 250+ vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism and reflect upon how I was doing.  I would try look back on the past year and identify the different ways I broke each vow, and I would try make plans for doing better next year.  If you are really enthusiastic about this, you can make a chart in Excel where you rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how well you did on each vow, and then keep track of this over the years.  Geshe-la advises that we work gradually with our vows over a long period of time, slowly improving the quality with which we keep them.  Keeping track with a self-graded score is a very effective way of doing this.  New Years is a perfect time for reflecting on this.

Ultimately, New Year’s Day itself is no different than any other.  It is very easy to see how its meaning is merely imputed by mind.  But that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful, ultimately everything is imputed by mind.  The good thing about New Year’s Day is everyone agrees it marks the possibility for a new beginning.  It is customary for people to make New Year’s Resolutions, things they plan on doing differently in the coming year.  Unfortunately, it is also quite common for people’s New Year’s Resolutions to not last very long.

But at Kadampas, we can be different.  The teachings on impermanence remind us that “nothing remains for even a moment” and that the entire world is completely recreated anew every moment.  New Year’s Day is a good day for recalling impermanence.  Everything that happened in the previous year, we can just let it go and realize we are moving into a new year and a new beginning.  We should make New Year’s resolutions spiritual ones.  It is best, though, to make small changes that you make a real effort to keep than large ones that you know won’t last long.  Pick one or two things you are going to do differently this year.  Make it concrete and make sure it is doable.  A former student of mine would pick one thing that she said she was going to make her priority for the coming year, and then throughout the year she would focus on that practice. I think this is perfect. Another Sangha friend of mine would every year ask for special advice about what they should work on in the coming year. This is also perfect.

When you make a determination, make sure you know why you are doing it and the wisdom reasons in favor of the change are solid in your mind.  On that basis, you will be able to keep them.  Making promises that you later break creates terrible karma for ourselves which makes it harder and harder to make promises in the future. We create the habit of never following through, and that makes the practice of moral discipline harder and harder.

Just because we are a Kadampa does not mean we can’t have fun like everyone else on New Year’s Eve.  It is an opportunity to build close karmic bonds with others, especially our spiritual family.  We can reflect upon our behavior over the previous year and make determinations about how we will do better in the year to come.

I pray that all of your pure wishes in the coming year be fulfilled, and that all of the suffering you experience become a powerful cause of your enlightenment.  I pray that all beings may find a qualified spiritual path and thereby find meaning in their life.  I also pray that nobody die tonight from drunk driving, but everyone makes it home safe.  Since that is unlikely to come true, I pray that Avalokiteshvara swiftly take all those who die to the pure land where they may enjoy everlasting joy.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Distraction destroys our spiritual life

(5.15) Rebirth as a first form realm god and so on,
Which results from the mental action of clear concentration,
Does not come from actions of body or speech
But from actions of mind.

(5.16) Buddha, the All Knowing One, has said
That reciting mantras and prayers, and enduring spiritual hardships,
Even for a long time,
Are to no avail if the mind is distracted elsewhere.

Geshe-la has often warned us about the distracted mind during pujas or while we are engaging in our practice.  When Geshe-la first opened the temple at Manjushri he gave teachings on Lamrim, but in reality he spent three days talking about distraction, calling it the thief which is robbing us of our spiritual life.  He said the sadhanas we have been given have everything we need to attain enlightenment.  The only thing we have to do is apply ourselves fully to doing them with single-pointed concentration.  If we do this one thing, we will attain enlightenment.

One of the many bad habits we have gotten into is distraction.  When we engage in sadhanas, because we are familiar with them, we do them without paying much attention to what we are doing.  Perhaps the feeling arises that we need a new practice because this one has grown boring or dry.  This feeling arises because we relate to our sadhanas as things that do something to us as opposed to things we are supposed to do.  We relate to them as we do any samsaric object.

The key to practicing sadhanas with constant freshness is we should try to generate the minds indicated by the words, not just recite them.  Because the minds indicated by the words have multiple levels, we can engage in the sadhana at multiple levels.  Doing sadhanas is an art form to be perfected.  We need to continuously strive to perfect the quality with which we do our practices.  This is how we advance.  It is not complicated, we just need to be mindful about what we are supposed to be doing, and then we do it.

For me, the most effective way of keeping our sadhana practice alive is to view each recitation of each line of the sadhana as an implicit request to the Spiritual Guide that he generate within our mind the correct mind indicated by the words.  When we rely upon the Spiritual Guide in this way we need to avoid two extremes.  The first is the extreme of relying upon our ordinary mind – we try do the sadhana with our ordinary mind.  This doesn’t work any more than it is possible to clean a dirty room with a dirty rag.  The other extreme is the extreme of doing nothing.  Here we just request the Spiritual Guide to do it all, but then we do nothing from our own side.  We just wait passively with lots of attachment to results that he does something.  The middle way here is to make the requests, but then try from our own side to generate in our hearts the minds indicated by the words to the best of our ability.  Effectively, what we try do is align ourselves with what he is doing/generating within our mind.  With our effort and his blessings, we will definitely move our mind.  Not every meditation will be filled with mind-blowing revelation, but we will feel with every meditation, even the ones where we struggle to simply stay awake, we are moving the ball forward.

Training in virtuous habits requires concentration, because concentration allows us to familiarize ourself with virtue.  To achieve such extraordinary results from a virtue such as conscientiousness requires extraordinary effort.  Effort is not a lot of visible external work.  We can be doing a whole lot of external work, but be doing it with an unhappy mind, and there is no effort.  Effort is enjoying engaging in virtuous actions.  We enjoy engaging in virtuous actions themselves.  Geshe-la said whether we see good results from our activities is not important.  Sometimes we will, sometimes we won’t.  What is meaningful is our joyful effort, because good results will always come in time from such effort.

Christmas for a Kadampa

For those of us who live in the West, or come from Western families, Christmas is often considered the biggest holiday of the year.  Ostensibly, Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and for some it is.  For most, however, it is about exchanging gifts, spending time with family and watching football.  Or it’s just about out of control consumerism, depending on your view.  Kadampas can sometimes feel a bit confused during Christmas time.  It used to be our favorite holiday as kids, but now we are Buddhists, so how are we supposed to relate to it?

It’s true, Christmas time has degenerated into a frenzy of buying things we don’t need.  It is easy to criticize Christmas on such grounds.  Of course, as Kadampas, we can be aware of this and realize its meaninglessness.  We can correctly identify the attachment and realize it’s wrong.  But certainly being a Kadampa means more than being a cynic and a scrooge.  Instead, we should rejoice in all the acts of giving.  Giving is a virtue, even if what people are giving is not very meaningful.  There is more giving that occurs in the Christmas season than any other time of the year.  Yes, the motivations for giving might be mixed with worldly concerns, but we can still rejoice in the giving part.  Rejoice in all of it, don’t be a cynic.

Likewise, I think we should celebrate with all our heart the birth of Christ into this world.  Why not?  Our heart commitment is to follow one tradition purely while appreciating and respecting all other traditions.  Instead of getting on our arrogant high horse mocking those who believe in an inherently existent God, why don’t we celebrate the birth of arguably the greatest practitioner of taking and giving to have ever walked the face of the earth?  The entire basis of Christianity is Christ took on all of the sins of all living beings, and generating faith in him, believing he did so to save us, functions to open our mind to receive his special blessings which function to take our sins upon him.  He is, in this respect, quite similar to a Buddha of purification.  By generating faith in him, his followers can purify all of their negative karma.

Further, he is a doorway to heaven (his pure land).  If his followers remember him with faith at the time of their death, they will receive his powerful blessings and be transported to the pure land.  In this sense, he is very similar to Avalokiteshvara.  Christ taught extensively on being humble, working for the sake of the poor, and reaching out to those in the greatest of need.  Think of all the people he has inspired with his example.  Sure, there are some people who distort his teachings for political purposes, but that doesn’t make his original intent and meaning wrong.  In many ways, one can say he gave tantric teachings on maintaining pure view, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into this world.  Who can read the Sermon on the Mount and not be moved?  Who can read the prayers of his later followers, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, and not be inspired?  Think of Pope Francis.  You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate his positive effect on this world and the church.  All of these things we can rejoice in and be inspired by.  A Bodhisattva seeks to practice all virtue, and there is much in Jesus’ example worth emulating.  Trying to be more “Christ-like” in our behavior is not mixing.  If we can see somebody in our daily lives engaging in virtue and be inspired to be more like them, then why can we not also do so for one of the greatest Saints in the history of the world?  Rejoicing in and copying virtue is an essential component of the Kadampa path.

Geshe-la has said on many occasions that Buddhas appear in this world in Buddhist and non-Buddhist form.  Is it that hard to imagine that Christ too was a Buddha who appeared in a particular form in a particular place in human history for the sake of billions?  Surely all the holy beings get along just fine with one another, since they are ultimately of one nature.  It is only humans who create divisions and problems.  Geshe-la said we do believe in “God,” it is just different people have a different understanding of what that means.  Christians have their understanding, we have ours, but we can all respect and appreciate one another.

Besides celebrating Christ, Christmas is an excellent time for ourself to practice virtue.  Not just giving, but also patience with our loved ones, cherishing others, training in love and so forth.  It is not always easy to spend time with our families.  The members of our family have their fair share of delusions, and it is easy to develop judgmental attitudes towards them for it.  It is not uncommon for some of the worst family fights to happen during the holiday season.  Christmas time gives us an opportunity to counter all of these delusions and bad attitudes, and learn to accept and love everyone just as they are.

When I was a boy, Christmas was both my favorite time of year and my worst time of year.  My favorite time of year because I loved the lights, the songs and of course the presents.  It was the worst time of the year because my mother had an unrealistic expectation that just because it was Christmas, everything was supposed to work out and nothing was supposed to go wrong.  This created tremendous pressure on everyone in the house, and when the slightest thing would go wrong, she would become very upset and ruin the day for everyone.  This is not uncommon at all.  People’s expectations shoot through the roof during the Christmas season, and especially on Christmas day.  These higher expectations then cause us to be more judgmental, to more easily feel slighted, and to be quicker to anger.  We can view this time as an excellent opportunity to understand the nature of samsara is for things to go wrong, and the best answer to that fact is patient acceptance and a good laugh.

As I have grown older, Christmas has given rise to new delusions for me to overcome.  When I was little, I used to get lots of presents.  Now, I get a tie.  Not the same, and it always leaves me feeling a bit let down.  I give presents to everyone, yet nobody seems to give me any.  As a parent, I cannot help but have hopes and expectations that my kids will like their presents, but then when they don’t I realize my attachment to gratitude and recognition.  During Christmas, even though I am supposed to be giving, I find myself worrying about money and feeling miserly.  I find myself quick to judge my in-laws or other members of my family if they don’t act in the way I want them to.  Since I live abroad, far away from any family, I start to feel jealous of the pictures I see on Facebook of my other family members all together and seeming to have a good time while we are alone and forgotten on the other side of the planet.  When kids open presents, they are often like rabid dogs, going from one thing to the next without appreciating anything and I can’t help but feel I have failed as a parent.  Trying to get good pictures is always a nightmare, and getting the kids to express gratitude to the aunts and grandmas is always a struggle.  The more time we spend with our family, the more we become frustrated with them and secretly we can’t wait until school starts again and we can go back to work.  None of these are uncommon reactions, and these sorts of situations give rise to a pantheon of delusions.  But all of them give us a chance to practice training our mind and cultivating new, more virtuous, habits of mind.

Christmas is also a time in which we can reach out to those who are alone.  Suicide and depression rates are the highest during the holiday season.  People see everyone else happy, but they find themselves alone and unloved.  Why can we not invite these people to our home and let them know we care?  Make them feel part of our family.  There are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer to help out the poor and the needy, such as giving our time at or clothes to homeless shelters.  People in hospitals, especially the old and dying, suffer from great loneliness and sadness during the Christmas season.  We can go spend time with them, hear their stories, and give them our love.

Culturally, many of us are Christian.  People in the West, by and large, live in a Christian culture.  Geshe-la has gone to great lengths to present the Dharma in such a way that we do not have to abandon our culture to understand the Dharma.  Externally, culturally, we can remain Christian; while internally, spiritually we are 100% Kadampa.  There is no contradiction between these two.  On the whole, Christmas time gives us ample opportunities to create virtue, rejoice in goodness and battle our delusions.  For a Kadampa, this is perfect.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Don’t be a control freak!

(5.13) Where is there enough leather
To cover the surface of the Earth?
But just having leather on the soles of one’s feet
Is the same as covering the whole Earth.

(5.14) In the same way, it is not possible
To control all external events;
But, if I simply control my mind,
What need is there to control other things?

I think that we all have this bad habit of wanting to control. On one level we’re all control freaks.  Why?  Because we want everything to be how we want it to be.  This desire arises from our self-grasping and self-cherishing minds.  If we examine closely our thoughts, even our speech and our physical behavior, the truth of this will become apparent.  We need to know these things.  We need to identify these things in our own mind.  To destroy our enemy of delusions, we must first identify them.

This controlling mind is a horrible mind.  Rather than accepting happily whatever happens, we prefer to control.  We mentally grasp at some things being good and others being bad, and as a result we seek to control what happens.  We exhaust ourselves doing this to no avail.  We can take a simple example of just listening to somebody else.  Are we able to happily allow the other person to say what they want, how they want, for as long as they want, and we simply listen and enjoy listening.  There are levels of impatience that we suffer from all the time, in every aspect of our life. Do we genuinely leave people free to do what they wish or do we try control them?

Our mind seeks to control, it wishes to change things, it seeks to push certain things away.  Instead, we need to learn to accept them all.  This will sometimes mean our selfish wishes go unfulfilled, and this can be painful.  But what is bad for our self-cherishing is good for us.  Generally we get too concerned with immediate results.  We do the slightest virtue, and we expect to get our karmic benefits right away.  If they don’t, we are not willing to engage in the virtue.  This comes from worldly concerns.  This is a real training of the mind.  Yes, it is hard work, but the rewards are infinite.  If we have the mind of patient acceptance, it is as if we are in a pure land while still abiding in samsara.  We accept everything, can go anywhere in any situation and are perfectly happy.  We know how to accept everything just as it is without the slightest need to change anything.  We can do this because we know how to use everything that arises to accomplish our spiritual purposes.  Everything gives us a chance to train in some form of virtue or to realize some truth of Dharma, so we can use everything to advance along the path.

This does not mean we do not alleviate harm where we can do so.  Of course if there are things we can do to stop suffering, for ourself or for others, then we should do so for virtuous reasons, such as wanting to protect others from creating bad karma for themselves.  But when we can’t do anything to change the external situation, it doesn’t matter because we know how to accept everything as it is.

It is so difficult for us—to let go of our desire to have any control over others.  Are we ready to let people be as they want to be, do as they want to do—without any wish to control?  We even need to let go of the desire for control over situations.  We do this because we are still suffering from the mind that thinks that our inner wellbeing depends on what is happening in the external world, so to be happy we need to manipulate and force the external to conform to our wishes.  Most anger comes from this, we strongly convince ourselves that some external thing needs to happen, and we try force the world to conform to our vision of things.  This only creates more problems.

A Bodhisattva instead desires only to control their own mind. Shantideva says “if I simply control my own mind, what need is there to control other things?”  When we are free from needing to control other things for ourself, then we will be in a position to help people make the right choices for themselves.  We don’t want them to change for us.  Whatever they do, it is perfect for us.  Rather, we want them to change for them.  We only help people change the things about themselves that they wish to change, not what we wish to change.  For example, we might be with somebody who has huge faults, but doesn’t see any but the smallest.  We help them change what they want to change, and we accept the rest as perfect for our training.