Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Offering ourself as purification

(2.48) Likewise, I sincerely go for refuge
To the Dharma they have realized,
Which dispels the fears of samsara,
And to the assembly of Bodhisattvas.

Our self is imputed upon our body and mind.  Up until now, we have – unwittingly – offered both to our delusions.  We are slaves to our delusions and we do whatever they ask of us.  Our thoughts are ruled by them and our bodily actions are as well.  For as long as we continue to make this mistake, we will forever remain enslaved by them and liberation and enlightenment will be impossible.

Instead, we need to offer ourself – meaning both our body and our mind – to the three jewels.  The function of delusions is to deceive us into engaging in actions that damn us to the lower realms.  The function of the three jewels is to enlighten us into engaging in actions that free both ourself and all living beings from suffering forever.  The choice is ours, but we must choose.  There is no middle ground between delusion and wisdom.  They are necessarily mutually exclusive.

To offer our mind to the three jewels means to make our every thought consistent with the Dharma.  The Dharma is a way of thinking.  We adopt that way of thinking as our own.  It is not enough to simply start parroting the Dharma we have heard, we need to do the internal work to convince ourselves of its truth by dispelling all wrong views.  The essential meaning of contemplation is “testing the truth” of the teachings.  We engage in this exercise with intellectual integrity, prepared to change our views where proven wrong.  We then examine for ourself whether the teachings are true and reliable.  Everybody who has engaged in such an exercise with an open mind has come to the same conclusion – “yep, that’s right.”  It is also not enough to just have faith that the teachings are true when we don’t really understand why.  Faith is good, wisdom realizing the truth of things ourselves is better.  Only wisdom has the power to actually free us from the control of our delusions.

(2.49) Overcome with fear, I offer myself
To Arya Samantabhadra,
And I offer my body into the service
Of Arya Manjushri.

To offer our body to the three jewels means to offer it into their service.  What does this mean in practice?  Sometimes people think it means we need to go become a slave for the Spiritual Guide, bringing them dinner and tea, and working long hours for Dharma centers.  For some, that may be the case, but for most people that’s not realistic nor even desirable.  To offer ourself into the service of the three jewels quite simply means to offer ourself into the service of all living beings.  The Buddhas have only one objective – to benefit all living beings, indeed to eventually lead them all to everlasting happiness.  When we dedicate ourselves to the same purpose, we offer ourself into the service of the three jewels.

What are the advantages of doing this?  First, all of our actions become powered by all the blessings of all of the Buddhas.  If a sail on a sail boat is not aligned properly with the wind, the boat will not go anywhere even if the wind is howling.  But when the sails are aligned with the wind, the boat is pushed forward.  In the same way, the pure winds of the blessings of all the Buddhas are constantly blowing around us.  They always point in one direction:  the enlightenment of all beings.  When we align the sails of our mind with this objective, their pure winds fill our sails pushing us swiftly and effortlessly towards enlightenment.

Second, all of our actions become causes of our own enlightenment.  Because we work for the enlightenment of all beings, the karma we create while doing so is necessarily non-contaminated.  Since the final purpose of our actions is beyond samsara, the karma we create takes us beyond samsara.  It is as if our body becomes an extension of the body of all the Buddhas in this world, where they act through us but we get the karma.

Third, we are happy all of the time.  Our happiness, quite simply, depends upon whether our mind is at peace or not.  When our mind is controlled by delusions, our mind is rendered unpeaceful.  That is the function of delusions.  The root of all delusions is the self-centered mind (self-cherishing and self-grasping).  Working for all others is the opposite of all delusions, and so it functions to oppose all delusions.  Virtue functions to make the mind peaceful and controlled.  There is no virtue greater than cherishing others because all other virtues flow from it.  Dedicating ourself to the service of others fills our mind with virtue, which makes our mind peaceful and enables us to be happy all of the time.  Even a superficial look around us shows that the selfish are miserable and the selfless are happy.  The question is who do we want to be?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Making our purification practice qualified

Perhaps we still don’t appreciate just how much negative karma remains on our mind from our previous lives.  Perhaps we even look back over this life and think “I haven’t been that bad.”

The heart of purification is admitting our negativity.  If for whatever reason we can’t honestly admit it, our purification practice will lack sincerity and power.  We may superficially appear to be engaging in purification, but we won’t actually be cleaning up the karma on our mind.  If we don’t actually admit our actions are negative, we won’t regret them nor their karmic consequences, instead we will rationalize why they are not so bad.  If we don’t admit our actions were mistaken, we will have no real desire to change our ways.  If we don’t wish to change, then our turning to the three jewels will lack any real meaning or purpose.

When we engage in purification, it is generally more powerful if we have some specific negativity in mind.  It is true we can engage in generalized purification, but there is a tendency for this type of purification practice to become quite abstract.  But when we have a specific type of negative karma in mind, such as purifying all of the wrong views that prevent us from realizing we are bound for the lower realms if we don’t change our ways and purify our negative karma, then our purification practice becomes much more qualified and “real.”

One question we can ask ourselves is what exactly are we purifying?  If we don’t have something specific in mind, we won’t be purifying.  In particular we need to look at our vows: for example with respect to our Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva, and Tantric vows, we can go through all of our vows and ask ourselves honestly, “have I done anything wrong with respect to these?”  If we’re honest, we incur downfalls every single day of our life.  The truly amazing thing is we don’t even see it.  We tell ourselves, “I’m doing my best as a Bodhisattva”, but we use this as an excuse for doing nothing.  We need to check, how important do we feel it is not to incur a downfall?   We need to ask ourselves when we do go against our vows, what specific karma is placed in the mind?  What will the results of these actions be?  We need to examine carefully why we haven’t even looked at what the downfalls are or made any plans to avoid them?   Is it that we don’t want to look because we don’t want to change?  Is it because it requires changing our behavior?  Now is the time to really check how we feel about these things.

(2.47) Therefore, from today I go for refuge
To the Conqueror Buddhas who protect living beings,
Who seek to give refuge to all living beings,
And who, with their great strength, eradicate all fear.

Buddhas can help us with our purification practice in two main ways.  First, their powerful blessings function like a drop of soap dropped into a greasy pool of liquid, the grease is immediately dispelled.  Their blessings effectively neutralize the negative karma on our mind, disarming the karmic bombs we carry with us wherever we go.  Christians believe if they generate faith in Christ they will be saved from their sins.  How exactly does this work?  Each enlightened being has a “specialization,” where their blessings specifically function to help living beings in a particular way.  When people generate faith in Christ, for example, their mind opens up to receive his blessings.  His “special blessings” function to “take” the negative karma on our mind and have it ripen upon him in the form of his sufferings leading up to and including his crucifixion on the cross.  Christians understand his suffering on the cross is his having taken the consequences of our sins upon himself.  Understanding this karmic mechanism, we can say with confidence that Christian practices do indeed work.  In exactly the same way, the special blessings of Vajrasattva and the 35 Confession Buddhas likewise help us purify our negative karma through our generating faith in them.

The second way Buddha’s help with our purification practice is by helping us change our ways.  It is good to engage in purification practices, but such practices alone are not good enough if they are not accompanied with the power of the promise to change our negative ways.  We should not be like Don Corleone in the Godfather who confesses in Church while his hit men kill his enemies.  We should not be like the smoker who promises to quit, only to start up again the next day.  Buddhas can also give us the strength and wisdom to change.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to face the moments just before death.

(2.42) O Protectors, oblivious to dangers such as these,
I, who am devoid of conscientiousness,
Have committed many negative actions
For the sake of this transient life.

(2.43) Terrified is the person who today is led away
To a place where his limbs will be torn from his body.
With a dry mouth and sunken eyes,
His appearance is completely distorted.

(2.44) So what need is there to mention the terrible despair
I shall experience when, stricken by great panic,
I am seized by the physical apparitions
Of the terrifying messengers of the Lord of Death?

(2.45) “Who can grant me real protection
From this great terror?”
Petrified, with wide, bulging eyes,
I shall search for refuge in all directions,

(2.46) But, seeing no refuge anywhere,
I shall become utterly dejected.
If I cannot find refuge there,
What shall I do at that time?

We must be crystal clear:  if we die with a negative mind, we will fall into the lower realms.  The quality of mind we have in any given moment determines the quality of the karma that gets activated.  If we have a negative mind, it will activate negative karma; if we have a positive mind, it will activate positive karma; and if we have a pure mind, it will activate pure karma.  This is true during life as well as at the time of death.  The difference is the karma activated at the time of death ripens in the next life.  So if we die with a negative mind, we will fall into the lower realms; if we die with a positive mind, we will take rebirth in the upper realms; and if we die with a pure mind, we will take rebirth outside of samsara.

We must also be realistic:  since at present we respond to life’s difficulties with negative minds, it is highly probable that we will do the same at the time of death.  Whenever things get stressful in our lives, we respond with negative minds.  There is nothing more stressful than the moment of our death.  We should take our negative reactions to the little things of this life as a warning of how we will likely respond at the time of death.

At the time of death there are three especially strong death-specific delusions which arise.  The first is called, “dependent-related craving.”  This is a special form of craving for everything that we have had strong attachment for during our life.  This strong attachment comes flaring up, much in the same way a child’s attachment to a toy surges when it is being taken away from then.  Because we have residuals of unresolved attachment for certain things still on our mind, at the time of death they come surging to the surface.  There is a big surge in our mind of attachment as we realize that we will be forever separated from these things we crave.  We can see how much we suffer from facing the prospect of not having the objects of our attachment now, it will be many, many times worse at the time of our death because we are losing everything simultaneously and the finality of death is overwhelming.  For this reason, we need to make it a priority to overcome all of our attachments now.  We should essentially live our life as if we are already dead, so the things of this world are no longer of interest or use to us.  Overcoming these attachments now will enable us to die without attachment.  Soldiers are trained to do this to avoid fear in battle.  If they can do so for the sake of battle, surely we can do the same for the sake of bodhichitta.

The second major delusion that arises at the time of death is called “dependent-related grasping.”  When we are afraid or something happens suddenly to us, we feel this strong sense of self-grasping, usually at the heart, much like the feeling we get when the police car flashes its lights at us.  This flares up at the time of death just as dependent-related craving does.  The reason for this is not hard to understand.  We spend almost all of our lives living in total denial of our inevitable death.  There comes a point when we can no longer live in denial and the truth of our imminent death becomes inescapable.  If dependent-related grasping ripens at the time of death and we do not counter it with wisdom, it is guaranteed we will have a contaminated mind at the time of death and so take another samsaric rebirth.  Like with attachment, we need to make it a priority to overcome our feeling of self-grasping now.  The key is to cease identifying with the appearances and start identifying with the container of the mind.   Appearances come and go like waves, but the container of the empty mind is always the same.

The third and final delusion that often arises strongly at the time of death is extreme guilt for having wasted our precious human life.  We essentially die full of regrets.  We realize too late that we wasted our one opportunity to get out and that we will now fall for what will be incalculably long periods of time.  We see our whole life flash before us in a special way where we see all the opportunities we had to practice Dharma but that we wasted because we allowed ourselves to be distracted by samsara.  We realize that we have burned up all the good karma we had on our mind, and so there is no future for us except to fall.  It is too late to do anything about it.  We then feel like we are a total idiot for having known better but still wasted our life, and an enormous feeling of guilt arises in our mind, which is anger directed towards ourself.  We become incapable of stopping this anger towards ourself, even though we know it means it will send us to hell.  We then start to panic and the situation quickly spirals out of control.

We need to do two things to avoid this terrible reckoning.  First, we need to meditate on this possibility again and again to be able to generate a real fear of it happening.  This will lead us to the conclusion:  I will not let this happen to me.  I will leave no stone unturned.  I will do everything I can while I still have the chance.  Second, we need to make a concerted effort to overcome our guilt right now when we make mistakes.  When we make mistakes, we generally fall into one of two extremes:  either we fall into the extreme of guilt where we beat ourselves up about the fact that we made a mistake or we fall into the extreme of denial that we in fact did anything wrong.  We think it doesn’t matter.  The middle way between these two extremes is to accept that we made a mistake, to learn from it, and to generate the virtuous intention to do better next time.  If this middle way is made our habit during life, it will be our reaction at the time of death.  Instead of generating guilt when we see our life flash before our eyes, we will feel like we are being given one last teaching revealing to us the main lessons we can learn from this life before we proceed to our next life.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  It’s your karma, stupid.

(2.38) Thus, through failing to realize
That I shall suddenly die,
I have committed many evils
Out of ignorance, attachment, and anger.

Bill Clinton once famously said when asked what the most important issue was in the presidential campaign, “it’s the economy, stupid!”  His point was it is so easy to get distracted by other issues that we lose sight of what was important and mattered.  In exactly the same way, when we ask ourselves what the most important issue is in the campaign of our life, we should remind ourselves, “it’s our karma, stupid!”  The only thing we take with us into our future lives is our karma.  Everything else we leave behind.  So while what happens in this life matters (kind of, at least), what really matters is our karma.  We should not let ourselves become distracted about our real bottom line.

The fundamental reason we do not think about our karma is we don’t think about the fact that we are going to die – and we don’t know when we will do so.  The karmic consequences of our actions seem far off, affecting some abstract future self that we don’t know and we are not really sure we believe in anyways; but our present sufferings and problems seem quite real and immediate.  We should remind ourselves that our present self is the future self of our past self.  Don’t we wish our past self had enough foresight to not create all sorts of negative karma we are experiencing now?  We will wish the same in the future.

Why does our lack of death awareness enable us to commit negative actions?  When we think only in terms of this life, we think only in terms of cause and effect that we can see in this life.  So we don’t internalize the possibility of the horrific consequences of our negative actions in our decision to engage in them.  When we realize we are going to die at any point, we realize that the only thing that goes on are the karmic potentialities we have created for ourself.  When we deeply internalize this, we won’t engage in negative actions because we will rightly conclude it is simply not worth it.

(2.39) Remaining still neither day nor night,
This life is continuously slipping away
And never increases in duration;
So why should death not come to one such as me?

It is not enough to have an intellectual understanding of the fact that we are going to die, we need to deeply internalize what this means.  Venerable Tharchin says we should live our life from the perspective of not just “I may die today” but “I will die sometime around the end of next week.”  Such an outlook radically alters our decision-making calculus for how we spend our time and what sorts of actions we engage in.  If we make it to the end of next week and are still alive, then we can feel lucky to be alive (appreciate our precious human life), but then once again think, “I will die sometime around the end of next week.”  Week after week, we live our life with this view.  At some point we will be right.  Until then, we don’t waste a second of our time alive.

We may think we realize we are going to die, but the real test is whether our actions are consistent with this fact or not.  Venerable Tharchin also says that the sign we have a realization of Dharma is all of our actions are consistent with that realization and none of our actions are inconsistent with it.  In the present case, if we are confronted with some opportunity to engage in negativity, we ask ourselves, “is it worth it for me to engage in this negativity given that I am going to die sometime around the end of next week?”  Our prospects for harvesting a worthwhile samsaric reward for our negativity will seem insignificant compared to the karma we are going to create for ourselves.

Different people respond to the prospect of imminent death in different ways.  Some people, who think death is the end, reason, “well, if I can die at any point, I might as well enjoy myself as much as possible while I am still around.  When I stare death in the face, my answer is ‘time to party!’”  But as Buddhists, we view things differently.  Geshe-la explains in How to Solve our Human Problems that basic Buddhist view is “future lives are more important than this life.”  If we know death is not the end, our reaction to the prospect of imminent death is quite different.  We view what little time we have remaining as our opportunity to prepare for the long road ahead.  We are about to embark on a journey into a new life in some unknown world, and we don’t want to leave without sufficient karmic provisions.

The only way to bring the intellectual understanding of our death down to our heart is to meditate on this knowledge again and again trying to make it personal.  When we get some change in our feeling, we then meditate on that feeling to familiarize ourself with it.  This is not an intellectual exercise, but one we need to work on to provoke the correct feeling in our heart.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Worry about your karma, not your pride.

(2.36) Just like an experience in a dream,
Everything I now enjoy
Will become a mere recollection,
For what has passed cannot be seen again.

Virtually every negative action we engage in is motivated by a false belief that the ends justify the means.  We are willing to lie because we think, “no harm will be done, and besides I can get something out of it.”  We think the same about stealing, divisive speech, hurtful speech, even killing.  Sometimes we will engage in some sort of negativity for the sake of our friends, family, company or country.  We think what happens really matters, and so it is OK to engage in negativity.  And sometimes, this is even true.  Whether certain bodily or verbal actions are negative depends in large part on the context.  Killing for sadistic pleasure versus killing somebody who if not stopped will kill many others are quite different things.  But such exceptions are actually quite rare.  Generally speaking, when we engage in negative actions we experience some short-term external gain at a long-term karmic loss.  The future karmic loss, almost always, far surpasses the short-term external gain.

But we generally don’t see that.  The reason is we believe in the external gain, we are not so sure about the long-term karmic loss.  That is why it is useful to realize that there are actually ultimately “no short-term external gains.”  In a conventional sense, of course there are, but ultimately there is nothing there to be gained.  It’s all mere karmic appearance.

All of these friends and enemies are nothing other than dreams, simple appearances.  Is it worth creating the causes for aeons in hell for a hallucination?  We think it is worth it because we think they are real.  But they are not.  They are just dreams.  We also think it is worth it because we think now matters, but nothing that happens in this life really matters.  The rest of this life is uncertain, whereas our future lives are certain.  We need to prepare for them.  We also think it is worth it because we think we can get away with it because we are a Dharma practitioner or because we don’t really believe in karma.  But there is no escape from our karma, and there is no guarantee we will be protected if we don’t create the causes to receive such protection.

(2.37) Even during this brief life,
Many friends and others have passed away;
But the unbearable results of the evil I have committed for their sake
Still lie ahead of me.

The point of contemplating all of this is to realize that it is not worth it to engage in negative actions on behalf of our friends or enemies.  The friends and enemies pass, but the karma we create in their regard remains with us forever.  I am not saying our friends and family don’t matter, of course everybody matters and we should care for everyone; rather, I am saying if we truly love and care for them we will not accumulate negative karma for their sake, because if we do we will not be able to provide them lasting benefit.  If our negative actions help them temporarily in this life, but as a result we fail to attain enlightenment for their sake, then in the long-run they are infinitely worse off.  If instead, we do not engage in negativity for their sake because we are prioritizing attaining enlightenment for their sake, in the short-term they might be marginally worse off, but in the long-run they are much better off.

If we have already engaged in all sorts of negative actions for the sake of our family and friends, or even for the sake of ourself, at some point we will need to admit our mistake.  One of the most deadly consequences of pride is it prevents us from admitting our mistakes, and without doing so we can never generate sincere regret nor will we ever take purification practice seriously.  Prideful people are loathe to admit their mistakes or that they were wrong.  They worry that if they admit they were wrong others will lose faith in them; but they don’t realize people are already losing faith in them because they are unwilling to admit their mistakes which are in fact manifest to all.  Likewise, people sometimes worry if they admit their mistakes then they will then become responsible for making compensation to the victims of those mistakes.  This sort of miserliness is extremely short-sighted.  If we fail to make compensation now, the karmic debt we will incur will be far more costly.  If we can’t admit our mistakes, we can’t change our ways.  We will then continue to habitually engage in the same negativities and our promises to not commit negative actions will be empty words.  In short, pride and purification are opposites.  We must choose between the two.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Nothing to hold on to

 

We continue with our discussion of generating regret.  As a reminder, regret is the mind which says, ‘I did X, so if I don’t purify, I will experience Y in the future.  Therefore, I need to purify to avoid these consequences.’  The next few verses talk about how the realization of death informs our regret.

(2.33) Since the untrustworthy Lord of Death
Will not wait while I purify my evils,
Regardless of whether I am sick or not,
This momentary life is unreliable.

We have enormous arrogance thinking that we have time to purify because we will die later.  But there is a great danger that we may die before we have purified.  If this takes place, it is almost certain that we will fall.  This is especially true given the fact that we are doing almost nothing to purify right now.  We could very easily see our entire life slip away without ever getting down to serious purification.  Negative karma is like time bombs within our mind that can go off at any time and throw us into the lower realms where we will remain for aeons.  Allowing such negative karma to remain is simply too big of a risk.  Even if we don’t die, we could have a big delusion ripen which opens the door to us losing everything through abandoning the path or even committing suicide.

The point is this:  by some miracle, right now we have found the Dharma and have an interest in practicing it.  But we don’t know when we are going to die.  We quite literally may die today, tomorrow or in a week’s time.  Venerable Tharchin once said if we can’t get a feeling for “I may die today,” then think, “I will die sometime around the end of next week.”  We live our life as if that was the case.  What would we be doing differently?  If we make it to the end of next week, then maybe it will be at the end of the week after that.  But if we don’t make it, then at least we won’t have wasted it.  At some point, it will be true; in the meantime we live our life informed by wisdom.

(2.34) I shall have to leave everything and depart alone
But, through failing to understand this,
I have committed many kinds of evil action
With respect to my friends and others.

(2.35) And yet my friends will become nothing
And others will also become nothing.
Even I shall become nothing;
Likewise, everything will become nothing.

We commit negative actions against our enemies or for our friends thinking that what happens in this life matters.  The meditation on death helps us realize that the only thing that matters are the causes we create for ourselves.  What happens in this life is very temporary and ultimately makes little to no difference, whereas the causes we create have the potential to affect our eternity.  They are much more important.

There is no safety to be found anywhere in samsara.  There is nothing to hold on to that can protect us.  We are in karmic quick sand.  Our friends cannot help us, our family cannot help us, our wealth, position and reputation cannot help us.  Everything we have worked for in this life will have to be left behind.  We are merely a traveler passing through this world.  Some people stay in one place their whole life wishing they could get out; others are constantly on the move and wish they could plant their roots somewhere.  But in the end, both equally die.

If we have enough merit and enough worldly wisdom, we may be able to create a comfortable life for ourselves, but if we grow attached to it, when death comes it will feel as if everything is being ripped away from us.  We will then grasp more tightly, respond negatively and fall into the lower realms.  We need to stop seeking our stability and security in the things of this life, and instead focus all of our efforts on closing the door to the lower realms by engaging in sincere purification.

When we die, our family, friends, home, wealth, job, reputation, everything will simply vanish.  They were actually never there to begin with.  There is no point in trying to hold onto these things or relying upon them for our stability because they will all be for naught in the end.  This does not mean we abandon them or become indifferent to them, rather it means we don’t seek refuge in them.  When death comes, the only thing that can protect us is our faith in the three jewels, the purification we have already done and the merit we have stored on our mind.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We repay kindness with harm…

(2.30) Whatever harmful actions of body, speech, or mind
I have done under the influence of delusion
Towards the Three Precious Jewels,
My father and mother, my Spiritual Guide, and others –

(2.31) All the extremely unbearable evil actions
Committed by me, an evil person
Polluted by many faults –
I confess before the Deliverers, the enlightened beings.

Negative actions directed towards those that have shown us particular kindness are especially negative.  Sadly, we do this all the time.  It is sad truth that we often treat those who are kindest to us worse than we do strangers or even those who seek to harm us.  We take their kindness for granted, and we abuse it by getting angry at them when they don’t live up to our expectations.  We do this with our parents, with our Spiritual Guides and with our closest friends.

Towards our parents, we have nearly limitless expectations.  No matter how much they do for us, it is never enough.  We focus all of our attention on all of the things they haven’t done for us and are oblivious to all of the things they have done.  Like adolescent children, we rebel against their every advice and we spend our time cataloging all of the different ways in which they are wrong and we are right.  When they fail to show us the love we feel we deserve, we lash out at them and make them feel bad.  We yell at them, make nasty comments, and expect them to serve us.  We forget their birthdays, but can’t forgive when they forget ours.  We feel constantly judged by them, and we resent them for it.  We expect them to be perfect, and feel completely let down when they are not.  We covet their money, become jealous when they appear to love our siblings more, and find fault in most everything they do.  We become embarrassed by them in front of our friends or colleagues, and we talk behind their backs after they have left. We take completely for granted all of the kindnesses they have shown us, and we blame them for all our problems.  When they get older, we either neglect them completely or feel put upon when they need our help.  If we check, there is probably nobody else in our life who we have been systematically more cruel to than our parents.  It is often only when we become a parent ourself that we realize all that our parents do for us and how cruel kids can be in the face of a parent’s kindness.

Towards our Spiritual Guides, in this and in our countless past lives we have committed all sorts of negative deeds, including stealing from them, criticizing them, shunning their advice, creating division within their Sangha, failing to keep our commitments to them, taking their kindness for granted, making no effort to repay their kindness, thinking we know better than them, resenting them for seemingly judging us when we do something wrong, mistreating the sacred objects they have given us, such as our Dharma books, misusing their teachings for our own worldly purposes, lying to them to cover up what we have done wrong, the list goes on and on.

Towards our closest friends, we have talked behind their backs, abandoned them when they need us most, gotten mad at them when they don’t return our calls or text us back quickly enough, we neglect them when they are not around, and forget them when we find new friends.  It doesn’t matter how much past kindness they have shown, we find it hard to forgive even the slightest offense against us.  We become jealous when they hang out with somebody else, unfriend them on social media, and we enter into all sorts of bitter fights with them.  People who used to be our best friends or romantic partners become our worst enemies who we can’t see any good in.  We say all manner of divisive or hurtful speech and create no end of unnecessary dramas between us.  We use them as an object of attachment and expect them to be there to meet our needs.

It is important that we take the time to really look in the mirror and see how we treat those who have been kindest to us.

(2.32) But I might die before I purify
All my negativities;
O Please protect me so that I
May surely and swiftly be freed from them.

It is particularly important to purify the negative karma that we have with respect to the Spiritual Guide and the three jewels.  In fact, there is no karma more important to purify because by doing so we clear the way to receive powerful blessings – they can then easily bestow enlightenment upon us and help us without obstruction.  To purify this negative karma in particular, we need to generate a profound fear of losing the path.  We don’t know what negative karma we have created with respect to our Spiritual Guide, and if this ripens we can easily find ourselves abandoning the path.  If we lose the path, we have all of samsara to fear.  If we stay on the path, we have nothing to fear.

For me, my biggest fear is losing the path.  I have been practicing long enough now to realize it is going to take some time before I turn around this ship of delusion called Ryan.  If I lose the path, either in this life or at the time of my death, what will I do then?  It’s so easy to gradually and unknowingly get sucked back into samsara until pretty soon there is almost nothing left of the spiritual life we used to have.  If we die before we have purified our negative karma, we will almost certainly lose the path.  Falling into the lower realms is certainly painful, but the worst consequence of it is our losing the path.  We will then wander for countless aeons committing all sorts of deluded and negative action before we stumble on the path again.  Gen Lhamo once said, “we must choose:  hold on to our negative habits or go to the pure land.  We can’t have both.”  Either we leave our negative habits behind or we cannot enter the pure land.  If we remain in samsara, we will never know safety.  We take for granted the relative calm and stability we currently enjoy, but it will not last.  The end may not be near for the world, but it is for us.  We should take this to heart.