Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Intestines fit to suck?

(5.64) If you do not find any essence there
Even when you search with such effort,
Why, mind, do you still grasp this body
With so much attachment?

(5.65) It is so impure, it is not even fit to eat,
Its blood is not fit to drink,
And its intestines are not fit to suck;
So what use is this body to you?

The point is this:  if the body is empty, there is nothing there to be attached to.  All delusions exaggerate and distort their observed object, just in different ways.  Anger mentally constructs objects as somehow having the power to harm us.  Attachment mentally constructs objects as external sources of true happiness.  Ignorance mentally constructs something actually being there when nothing can be found.  If our inner peace is disturbed, all we need do is ask ourselves, “how am I exaggerating?”  If we stop exaggerating – in any way – then all of our delusions would simply disappear.

When it comes to bodies, our two main exaggerations are viewing them as being sources of happiness and viewing something as actually being there.  But we might also exaggerate thinking “mine” when we see somebody else’s body, and then become jealous when they go off with somebody else.

It’s really worthwhile to go around the body and try identify what, exactly, are we so attached to.  Here, Shantideva looks at the body from the perspective of being a good meal.  Anybody for a nice juicy thigh?  A rump steak?  How about fried human breast?  We love guava juices, why not blood?  An entire culture is built around beer, how about that other similar looking liquid?  Can we find even a single thing in the human body that we would be happy to eat or drink?  No wonder women don’t like being looked at or thought of as a “piece of meat.”  Until I read Shantideva, I never thought of sucking on an intestine.  Apparently that is a thing – somewhere.  What is in intestines again?  What comes out of them?

If we still have attachment for our body at the time of our death, our death will be very difficult.  When we die, if we are unable to let go of our body, our death will be painful.  Our desperate grasping at our body will activate contaminated karma, throwing us once again into a samsaric rebirth.  Instead, if we die free of any attachment to our body (indeed with a renunciation wishing to escape forever from such cages of filth), then death will be easy.  We need to prepare for this moment.  All of our Dharma trainings can correctly be viewed as preparation for the moment of death.  If we allow our attachment to our body to remain throughout our life, it will be strong also at the time of death, making us feel like we are being ripped against our will from our body.  Such misery will all but guarantee another samsaric rebirth, with all its troubles.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Realizing our misplaced focus on our body

(5.59) If, mind, you are concerned
About death taking this body from you
And its being burned or buried beneath the ground,
Why do you cherish it so now?

(5.60) Why, mind, do you hold this body as “mine”
And grasp it with such affection?
It is only borrowed from others
And will soon be taken from you.

Shantideva now begins his explanation of the moral discipline on gathering virtuous Dharmas.  He begins by helping us break free of our obsessive concern with our bodies.

It first should be noted that Shantideva is not saying our bodies are unimportant.  Our human body is the vehicle through which we can engage in virtue, including our meditation practices.  Our body is incredibly precious.  The path is long and we need a long life to be able to make progress on it.  Without this body we could not serve others, give good advice, engage in prostrations or our tantric practices.  There is no doubt our body has great spiritual significance and importance.

But what it isn’t is a cause of our happiness.  It is a vehicle through which we can accomplish spiritual goals, so of course we should take good care of it, but it utterly fails with respect to the purposes we normally assign it.  The delusion of attachment, quite simply, views some external object and wrongly considers it to be a cause of our happiness.  A glass of water may look thirst quenching, but when we swallow and discover it is salt water we feel like throwing up.  The same is true for all objects of attachment.  They mistakenly appear to our mind to be objects of our happiness, but when we take refuge in them for this purpose they always fail to satisfy.  Our body is, in many ways, our most deceptive object of attachment.

Such is our concern for our bodies that we are seriously distracted from gathering virtue.  Take a moment to consider just how much of our daily energy is aimed at trying to please or take care of the body.  First, let’s look at the time we spend caring for our body, say 30 minutes a day cleaning it, 30 minutes a day dispelling the impurities it produces.  Three hours a day feeding it, an hour a day preparing its food.  Eight hours a day resting it as we sleep.  Eight hours a day working at our jobs to have the financial resources we need to clothe it, feed it, move it around and house it.  Many people try pamper it with spa treatments, make it appear more attractive than it really is with make up or painful surgeries, or create pleasant feelings in it by eating delicious foods, taking intoxicants or the endless efforts aimed at obtaining sexual pleasures.  If you look at the whole world from a macro-perspective of what everybody is doing, we are left with one conclusion alone:  we all worship the God of our body.  Shopping malls, hospitals, restaurants, cars, buildings, gyms, factories and finance are all almost exclusively aimed at meeting the needs of our bodies.

And for what?  Most of the negativity we engage in is done for the sake of attachment to our body.  We spend almost all of our money on it.  And what does it give us in return?  Aches, pains, disease and death.  Sex is enjoyable, sure, but is it worth it?  All the mental and physical effort it takes to have it, is it worth it all for a few short moments of pleasure?  The longer we stay in our body, the more it betrays us with more pain, less ability to do things until eventually the final betrayal of all, it dies.  When we need it the most, it abandons us.  The pleasures of the body are short-lived at best, but what we sacrifice to secure them (our karma, our time, our precious human life) last forever.

Sometimes it can make sense to engage in negative actions for the sake of some higher purpose, such as killing somebody to protect those he is about to kill.  But is it worth it to engage in any negativity for the sake of trying to please the slave-master of our body?  Shantideva asks what is it really about our body that warrants such attachment?  We have no answer to this question.  We will be separated from our body anyway at the time of death.  This body that we cherish is going to be burned or eaten.  This will happen.

And what makes it particularly foolish is our body is not even our own body.  It was taken from our parents, it is made of all the food and animals we have eaten.  There is nothing about it that is ours other than our selfish thought thinking it belongs to us.    We should not go to the other extreme of thinking it doesn’t matter at all – it does – but it matters for its usefulness in accomplishing spiritual goals.  Beyond that, it is a burden we carry around with us everywhere and we should long for the day when we can finally see it for what it is.  In reality, it is really like a piece of clothing we wear for a while and discard.  Our goal is to no longer ever identify again with one of these fleshy things.  Why settle for pus and blood when we can enjoy bodies of blissful vajra light?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Eye on the prize

(5.58) Contemplating again and again
That I have attained this special freedom after a very long time,
I should hold as unmoveable as Mount Meru
The intention to accomplish the real meaning of a human life.

In every aspect of human endeavor, lack of strategic focus results in failure.  In military and business circles, a distinction is made between strategy and tactics.  Strategy is the overall goal that one is trying to accomplish and the plan for how to accomplish that goal.  Tactics more narrowly focuses on how to use existing resources to accomplish short-term objectives.  It is possible to be tactically brilliant, but strategically foolish.  Basically it means we do the wrong things very well.  If we lose sight of our strategic objective, we can easily become side tracked in distractions and deplete the means with which we can accomplish our strategic objective, resulting in strategic failure.  We sacrifice the larger purpose on the altar of issues of lesser importance.  If instead, we stay single-pointedly focused on our overall objective, we protect ourselves from wasting our energies on secondary goals.

It is exactly the same with our human life.  We have complete freedom in life to choose the goals towards which we work.  For simplicity sake, we can divide these goals into two categories:  worldly and spiritual.  Worldly goals are those aimed at securing happiness and freedom in this life.  Spiritual goals are those aimed at securing happiness and freedom in our countless future lives.  Before we find the Dharma, virtually all of our goals are worldly in nature.  The central purpose of the first nineteen meditations of the Lamrim is to change our goals to become spiritual in nature, first wishing to close the door on the lower realms, then to escape completely from samsara and finally to lead all beings to full enlightenment.  It does not take much to realize spiritual goals are far more important than worldly goals.  Our future lives are countless whereas this life is only one.  Countless is more than one, therefore it is more important.  Similarly avoiding lower rebirth is good, but if we remain at risk of it happening later we are not truly safe.  The complete safety of liberation is far better than the temporary safety of upper rebirth.  Finally, securing our own permanent freedom is good, but securing the permanent freedom of all living beings is a far more worthy goal since, once again, countless living beings are more important than one.

Yet, despite this, we remain almost single-pointedly focused on the accomplishment of our worldly goals.  We deplete our energies doing worldly things, leaving us without the time or resources to accomplish our spiritual objectives.  We may become an incredibly successful, wealthy, well-loved individual, but all of that will be for naught when we face the Lord of Death.  We may have tactically lived our life brilliantly, but been strategically quite foolish.  We will have done the wrong things very well.

Shantideva is reminding us with this verse, to keep at all times in our mind the precious Bodhichitta.  In can be quite hard to always examine our behavior, having to restrain ourselves, having to stop thinking or saying certain things.  We know we can quite easily become discouraged, so we must contemplate and meditate on our precious human life so that we can become resolute, so that our intention to accomplish the ultimate goal is unmoving as Mount Meru.  When we consider all the good we can do for ourselves and for others if we persevere with our training of the mind, we find the power we need.

Our actions are as meaningful as the goals towards which we work.  Going to work, taking care of our families, and the myriad of other things we do in this life are not inherently meaningless.  They only become meaningless when we do them for meaningless reasons.  If we do these exact same things with meaningful reasons, these same activities become highly meaningful.  The most meaningful reasons are spiritual ones.  Every situation we face in life will give rise to one delusion or another, therefore every situation gives us a chance to abandon our negative habits and train in virtue.  Every situation gives us a chance to relentlessly battle our enemy of delusions.  Every situation gives us a chance to dedicate our life to the service of others.  Every situation is equally empty, so every situation equally gives us a chance to train in ultimate truth.  If we are clear on our purpose in life, then we can integrate all of our activities into a single purpose.  In this way, we can both do what needs to be done in life and remain focused like a laser on our ultimate spiritual objectives.  Then everything we do will have great meaning, we will protect ourselves from becoming distracted and we will quickly accomplish our spiritual goals.

If we fail to do so, our life will become devoid of meaning, we will become distracted by meaningless pursuits, we will dissipate our energies leaving nothing for our spiritual trainings and then arrive at death empty handed.  What will we do then other than realize our foolishness of a life wasted and die full of regrets and fear for what is to come?  Don’t let this be your fate.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Benefit others with no thought for yourself

(5.57) I should engage only in virtuous actions
To benefit living beings, with no thought for myself;
And I should do so with the understanding that I am like an illusion
That does not exist from its own side.

We should engage ‘only’ in virtuous actions for the simple reason that we wish to be happy and avoid suffering.  Virtuous actions are the cause of happiness and non-virtuous actions are the cause of suffering.  It is only because we believe the opposite that we eagerly engage in non-virtue and only reluctantly engage in virtue.  Engaging in virtue is not complicated:  we simply put the interests of others first, and then work for their benefit.  All virtuous actions naturally flow from the wish to bring benefit to others.

What is the main object of abandonment of a Bodhisattva?  Self-cherishing, working for one’s own sake.  We know if we have a selfish intention, we’re not going to work solely for the benefit of others.  A good test for self-cherishing is we ask ourselves for whose sake are we engaging in our present action.  We need to ask this question again and again.  We will eventually realize that virtually all our actions are motivated by self-cherishing.  Normally, we are completely blind to this fact.  We should pray that it be clearly revealed to us how virtually all of our actions are motivated by selfish desires.  The more we become aware of it, the more we will naturally change because we don’t want to be someone like that.  If we have wisdom, we will realize all selfish actions are necessarily counter-productive actions.  Driven by self-cherishing, we become our own worst enemy.

The reason for this is simple:  the “self” we normally work for doesn’t exist at all!  It is nothing more than a mistaken construction of mind.  We grasp at our body as being our own, but it actually comes from the bodies of our parents, the animals we have eaten and the food harvested by others.  We grasp at our thoughts as being our own, but everything we think is derived, directly or indirectly, from what we have been taught or learned from others.  There is not a single part of our body that comes from us, nor a single thought that does either.  So what, precisely, are we?  We are a reflection of everyone else.  There is no us, we are rather the synthetic result of countless things that are not us coming together.  Take away all of those outside influences, and there is nothing there that we can point to that is us.  So what sense is there in working for something that doesn’t even exist at all?  How foolish is that?

If we are actually aware of who we are – namely the sum of everyone and everything else we have encountered – then we start to impute “self” onto something we see as a reflection of everyone else.  If we are to work for our true self, we naturally work for all living beings because that is, in fact, who we are.  We are the final product of all living beings coming together in a particular way.  To truly cherish our real self, we necessarily must work to bring benefit to who we really are – everyone else.

With a motivation of Bodhichitta, no action can be non-virtuous.  With a motivation of Bodhichitta, we should perform all our actions with an understanding the true nature of things.  In Ocean of Nectar, Geshe-la says moral discipline becomes completely pure when it becomes conjoined with a realization of emptiness.  We need to realize the three spheres of the non-virtue that is abandoned, the person abandoning it, and the being or beings with respect to whom it is abandoned.  We may feel this makes moral discipline more difficult.  Actually it makes practicing moral discipline so much easier.  Why?  Because we understand any harm we do to others we are doing to ourself.  If I kick the dog, I am kicking myself, both karmically in terms of I will eventually experience the effects similar to the cause, and literally in that the dog is quite literally “part” of me, “part of my mind”, a wave on the ocean of my mind.  Just as two waves appear distinct but are by nature the same ocean, so too “self” and “others” appear distinct but are by nature all equally karmic waves on the ocean of my mind.

It’s very useful to view ourselves as nothing more than a reflection of our mind.  But Kadam Lucy says we should go one step further and consider ourselves not to be a reflection in our own mind, but rather we are a reflection in the mind of the Spiritual Guide.  When we adopt this view, there is no trace of feeling of independent self-existence.  It is also easy to then consider ourselves to be an extension of the Spiritual Guide, which enables him to act through us.  Actually it is just him acting at that point.  Why hang on to our “self” at all?  Saint Francis said, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”  To that, I say, “amen.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  If you want to help others, don’t judge them

(5.56) I should not become disheartened by the behavior of others –
The childish, who are in disharmony with one another –
But understand how this behaviour arises through the force of delusions
And be compassionate towards them.

The bottom line is most of us simply don’t like being around deluded people.  Their constant negative attitude, wrong views, faulty actions and complete ignorance that they are doing anything wrong just grates at us.  It’s simply no fun to be around them, and we naturally try to avoid them.  It is a fundamental contradiction to claim to be an aspiring bodhisattva yet hold on to an aversion to being around deluded people.  What is a bodhisattva promising to do other than spend the rest of eternity helping deluded people?

The behavior of others should never disturb us. No matter what they may be saying or doing, if their behavior does disturb our mind then there’s something wrong in our mind.  We like to blame others for what happens in our mind, but ultimately we are entirely responsible.  The extent to which others can influence what happens in our mind is the extent to which our mind is under the influence of delusions.

Regardless of their behavior we must be utterly accepting of them, just as our spiritual guide is utterly accepting of us.  Normally, we expect everyone else to behave almost perfectly.  When they don’t, we find fault in them.  We say, “the ‘normal’ reaction would be for the other person to do XYZ.”  We usually feel entirely justified in our expectations regarding others’ behavior.  But thinking “you shouldn’t behave like that” is an unfair and unrealistic expectation of a human being.  What is in fact ‘normal’ is for people to act in deluded, counter-productive, inconsiderate, selfish ways.  Why should we expect anything differently?  It is the very nature of contaminated aggregates to behave like that, just as it is the very nature of fire to burn.  It is not their fault — it’s the fault of delusion. To judge them for not behaving according to our expectations leaves us constantly frustrated and the other person resentful.  The appropriate reaction on our part to the deluded behavior of others is compassion.  Because they are under the influence of delusion, everything they do is self-defeating.

We have to be aware of the unaccepting thoughts arising in our mind.  We have to be careful of such thoughts because they manifest themselves in our words and expressions, and others can easily feel like they’re being told off or judged.  What we say and do can easily upset others.  People sense our disapproval; they know if there’s judgement taking place.  They become unhappy, discouraged, develop negative minds. They feel, “in this person’s eyes I can never do anything right.”  This is especially a problem if people look to us, like our children or students or friends who we help, etc.

Sometimes we think we help people by ‘telling them what they need to hear.’  But we need to check our own mind.  If our heart is genuinely full of compassion, then perhaps sometimes it is appropriate to do so.  But if our motivation is more frustration where we need the other person to change, then this is just anger.  If we accept others as they are, we don’t need them to change at all.  For us, they are perfect just the way they are, delusions and all.  When this is genuine, then we are in a position to actually help people and they will know that what we are saying we are saying for their own benefit.  Otherwise, they just see our frustration and will resist everything we say.

We need to follow the example of Geshe-la.  If we think how many times Geshe-la has told us off and how much he encourages us.  We know a lot of our behavior is wrong.  But still he’s encouraging.  The people who look to us need to sense that from us too.

When we accept others as they are, it creates a space for them to change from their own side.  When they feel judged, then they close up and defend themselves instead of try get better.  If people feel judged, unhappy or discouraged by us, this is a sign of unskillful behavior.   If we want to help people, we need to completely remove from our mind all forms of disapproval.  When they know we are not judging them, they will come to us with their problems and then we can help them.  If they feel judged by us, they will come to us with nothing, and we will be powerless to help them.  Seeing that they are not coming to us, we will feel the need to force our way in.  When we do this, they will internally reject what we have to say.  This will make the situation worse.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Strive to bring joy to others

(5.54) Thus, having checked thoroughly for delusions
And minds that are drawn to meaningless things,
Courageous practitioners should hold their mind steady
Through applying the appropriate opponents.

(5.55) With complete certainty, strong faith,
Steadfastness, respect, politeness,
Sense of shame, fearfulness, and inner peace,
I should strive to bring joy to others.

Here, Shantideva outlines the main causes and conditions necessary for our practices of guarding the mind and moral discipline.

First, we need constant mindfulness of what we are doing with all of our bodily, verbal and mental actions.  If we are not aware of what we are doing nor seek to improve it, we will never change, but continue to be blown by the winds of our delusion and negative karma.  If instead we remain mindful of our behavior, we will become aware of our mistakes and learn how we can do even better.  In this way, we gradually improve and overcome all our faults.

Second, we need complete certainty about the objects to be abandoned and the objects to be attained.  For as long as we grasp at our outer problem as being our problem, we will remain confused about what is to be abandoned and what is to be attained.  We will waste all of our energy seeking to change our external circumstance and invest little in changing our own mind.  For me, the most important distinction on the spiritual path is between our outer problem and our inner problem.  If we are clear about the difference between the two, we will naturally seek two types of solutions:  outer solutions for solving our outer problems and inner solutions for our inner problems.  Happiness depends on peace of mind, delusions destroy our peace of mind, virtue is enhances our peace of mind, our mind goes on into countless future lives.  When we are clear on these fundamentals, the objects to be abandon and the objects to be attained become self-evident.  We have certainty in our practice.

Third, we need strong faith.  Venerable Tharchin explains that the key to effort is realizing the methods actually work.  When we see our spiritual goals are doable because the methods we have are reliable, then effort becomes “effortless.”  When, however, we believe our spiritual goals are unattainable and we have no idea how to accomplish any of them, effort will be almost impossible.  As Buddhists, we generate faith in Buddha Shakyamuni as somebody who has actually completed the path himself.  Because he has “been there, done that” we know he knows what he is talking about.  To generate faith in the Dharma, we are encouraged to test the instructions out for ourselves.  We are encouraged to be inner scientists who verify the truth of Dharma for ourselves.  Everyone who has put his instructions into practice has confirmed for themselves their efficacy.  To generate faith in Sangha, we learn from their example, both their successes and their mistakes.  With faith, we will know we are on the right track and that if we put the instructions into practice, we will enjoy all of the results indicated by the instructions.

Fourth, we need steadfastness, the mind that is undeterred by spiritual adversity.  We have a vajra-like mind that is prepared to do “whatever it takes” to accomplish our spiritual goals, no matter how hard it might be and no matter how long it might take.  Because we have methods that work, if we never give up, our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed.

Fifth, we need respect.  When we have respect for somebody, we look up to them and we naturally seek to fulfill their wishes.  If we respect our spiritual teachers, we will admire their many good qualities and wish to emulate them; and we will naturally wish to fulfill their wish for us to make progress along the spiritual path.  If we respect living beings, we will admire their good qualities and rejoice in their virtues, and we will naturally cherish others and put their interests first.

Sixth, we need politeness.  If we do not act in ways that are consistent with societal norms and expectations, then people will view us strange and have no wish to enter the spiritual paths we follow.  Without politeness, people will find us abrasive and naturally reject our advice, even when it is exactly what they need.

Seventh, we need a sense of shame and fearfulness.  A sense of shame is not guilt.  Guilt is anger towards ourselves and a non-acceptance of the fact that we are not perfect.  A sense of shame seeks to avoid faults for reasons concerning ourself, such as wishing to live up to certain ideals or even simple fear of taking lower rebirth if we do not.  Fear is not a delusion if the object of our fear is valid.  We should fear delusion, negativity, lower rebirth, rebirth in samsara and all those we love taking rebirth in samsara.  These fears protect us from making mistakes and the provide constant encouragement to do the right things.

Finally, we need inner peace.  If our mind is unpeaceful, it is necessarily uncontrolled.  If it is uncontrolled, we will have no ability to bring our behavior under control and our actions will remain faulty.  The more peaceful our mind is the more control we will have over our behavior.

And what should we do with these eight inner causes and conditions?  We should dedicate ourselves to bringing joy to the world.  Normally people bring only problems, but as bodhisattvas we strive to bring joy and meaning to others.  Our path is called the Joyful Path not just because it is such a delight to travel it, but also because it is the purpose of our path, namely bringing joy to others.


Strange Dream: Purifying the obstructions to being able to teach again

I had a very strange dream. I was supposed to teach a meditation class to a group of total beginners. I have not taught a class in a long time. Much happened before the class was to begin. At first, I was completely naked and had no clothes. I was in front of them for a while, but nobody seemed to mind. Eventually, I went to a bathroom to try find clothes, but couldn’t find anything that made sense, so I went back out naked. Then I thought that seems strange, so I went back to find some clothes and found something imperfect, but good enough.

Then, my mouth suddenly filled up with a bunch of gunk, like phlegm, but much thicker, and I couldn’t speak at all. It was so sticky, I couldn’t just spit it out because it was stuck in my mouth. So I went to a different bathroom and tried to pull it all out of my mouth, which was not easy, but eventually I managed to do so for most of it.

Then, I went into the room to begin the class. Everyone was very loud and mentally scattered. I tried to encourage everyone to calm down and eventually sit to do meditation. I then started guiding the meditation, and while I was talking saying things like “let go of your thoughts, etc.” in my mind I saw a demon who was circling around me. Eventually, he latched onto my neck and was trying to strangle me while I was trying to guide the meditation. I thought about how refuge was the only protection. I kept talking guiding the meditation encouraging everyone to let go. I then recalled emptiness, and explained that emptiness provided the best protection because it was impossible for negativity and delusions to latch on to nothing. The hold of the demon on my neck then broke and he started circulating in front of me again and I was mostly free from it.

I then ended the guided meditation and opened my eyes, and some people in the audience had been busy doing Christmas decorations. I then felt I needed to get to know the people around in the audience to know where they were coming from. Most were total beginners, they all seemed to enjoy the meditation.

Then I came to this one woman who had regular clothes on. She then said something about Je Tsongkhapa, which made no sense how she would know him. I then looked at her clothes under her arm, and saw that there were ordained robes underneath. I then asked her how she knew about Je Tsongkhapa, and she started mumbling as if her cover was blown, and then I woke up.

What does this dream mean? I haven’t taught in a long time, but eventually I need to start doing so again. I have a lot of negative karma obstructing my ability to do so – physically, represented by the episode with the clothes; verbally, represented by the episode with the phlegm; and mentally, represented by the episode with the demon. The solution is refuge in the three jewels and in particular realizing emptiness so that there is nothing there for the negativity to latch onto. Each solution to these three levels was imperfect, but good enough for me to continue, meaning for now I should accept good enough to be able to proceed. When teaching Dharma, it is important to know personally the people you are teaching and to accept them where they are at, as represented in the situation with their rowdiness and then doing Christmas decorations. But because people are hurting, they find the meditations meaningful, as represented by the positive reception despite people seeming to be distracted. Finally, we can be certain that some (or all) of the people will be emanations of Je Tsongkhapa in disguise, as represented by the woman who was an undercover emanation.