Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being a good example without trying to be one

(5.107) In summary, since I generated engaging bodhichitta and took the Bodhisattva vow,
I should practise all the precepts mentioned above,
So that others’ pure view, mind of faith, and good intention
Will be increased by my example.

We often hear we need to show a good example for others.  Parents tell their older kids to do so for their younger ones, employers ask us to put on a good face in front of clients, countries try to do so during big international sporting events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics.  But usually those watching know better, and we know better.  It is all a show.  Don’t get me wrong, it is better to try put on a good show than to put on a bad one.  At least we know what is correct behavior and for a brief period of time try to embody it.  It is also true that all of the spiritual path is somewhat “artificial” in that deluded behavior is what comes naturally, and so we are all forcing ourselves a bit to act better than we otherwise would.

So what then distinguishes somebody trying to show a good example and somebody who is, quite simply, a good example.  The difference, as with most things, is in the why.  The person trying to show a good example is ultimately motivated by an attachment to what other people think.  They grasp at the false belief others thinking good things about them is a cause of happiness.  Actually, in modern times, concern about what others think of us is the source of a significant portion of our daily problems, anxiety, conflicts and so forth.  The person who is a good example has no concern for such things.  They seek to engage in pure behavior for internal reasons, non-deluded reasons.

Someone who is a good example doesn’t pretend to be better than they are, rather they accept that they are fundamentally deluded and make many mistakes.  They can be at peace with this fact because they know two things.  First, they know they are sincerely trying to become a better person for correct reasons; and second, they know they have methods which work when sincerely put into practice.

Kadam Morten says we need to “accept that we are deluded, but never accept the validity of the delusion.”  This is a crucial distinction.  To accept that we are deluded means to accept the fact that delusions will arise in our mind.  This is not a problem for us because when they do, they give us a chance to train our mind.  A beggar isn’t an obstacle to somebody who wants to practice generosity, an annoying person is not an obstacle to somebody who wants to practice patience, a delusion arising in our mind is not an obstacle to somebody who wants to train their mind.  We have almost an inexhaustible supply of negative karmic habits built up in our mind from previous lives, so we shouldn’t think just because we now know intellectually what the right way of viewing things is we will actually always be able to think that way.

But we never accept the validity of the delusion.  All delusions are deceptive.  They promise us one thing, but if we follow them they deliver the opposite of what was promised.  Attachment promises happiness, but delivers insatiable want.  Anger promises freedom from harm, but brings endless agitation and conflict.  Jealousy promises us possession of what we want, but it actually drives everyone away.  Pride promises us a lofty sense of self, but it makes us increasingly insecure.  In short, a Kadampa knows they will still be deluded, but they know their delusions are wrong.  When we know our delusions are wrong, even though they will still arise within our mind, they will have no more power over us.

Sometimes people come into the Dharma, learn what correct behavior and thought is, then wind up shoving all of their delusions and negative habits under the carpet as they attempt to externally “be a good Kadampa.”  Their doing so is not necessarily motivated by attachment to what others think, rather from a complete lack of experience of what it means to change oneself from the inside out.  All of society functions in the opposite way, namely from the outside in.  But once we learn how to be kind to ourself while being ruthless with our delusions, a certain inner softness emerges.  We don’t expect ourselves to be perfect, in fact we expect the opposite.  We know delusions and bad habits will arise, but that’s OK, it is just what we are working on.  We will make mistakes, but we will also make course corrections, and day by day, drop by drop, we will gradually transform ourselves into a better and better person.  We know inner victory goes to the one who never gives up.

Someone who is a good example never judges others because they know from their own experience how hard it is to do the right things.  Just as we have learned how to accept that we are deluded but not accept the validity of our delusions, so too we accept that others are still deluded.  We quite literally don’t need them to change.  Their being deluded suits our purposes just fine.  We can accept people as they are, without judgment without needing them to change in any way.  Of course if somebody from their own side wants to change, we are happy to help them do so; but we feel no need to go around fixing people.

As Shantideva says at the beginning of his guide, he is writing all of this primarily to clarify his own thoughts and as an opportunity to familiarize his own mind with virtue.  If others reading it also find it meaningful or useful, all the better, but that is not his main purpose.  This is a difficult balance to actually put into practice.  On the one hand, our entire purpose of attaining enlightenment is ultimately to help others do the same thing; yet on the other hand, we have no need whatsoever for others to change nor do we try change them in any way.  What Shantideva is telling us is if we give up trying to change others and simply go about the business of changing ourselves, we will naturally show an inspiring example and others will begin to want to change themselves too.  Since we will have personal experience of having done such inner work ourselves, we stand ready to help all those who wish to do the same.

This, in essence, is the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

Understanding being LGBT+ through a Dharma Lens

In many ways, the civil rights question of our time is LGBT+ rights. The recent push for recognition of gay marriage, for example, has been a proxy for this larger debate. While thinking in much of the world in the last 10 years has changed radically, this is still a relatively new field of acceptance for many people, especially in more traditional and conservative countries (or pockets of communities). This is a topic that is rife with emotional and physical suffering. As my small contribution to this on-going discussion, I thought I would offer my thoughts on how I see all of this through the lens of Dharma.

Before I begin, it is first worth noting I do not pretend to say my views are in any way the definitive Dharma view of all of this, rather, this is just my understanding. Also, I think it is always a bit dangerous to discuss politically charged topics from a religious perspective. The first danger is if people politically disagree with our position, there is a risk they could wind up rejecting the Dharma entirely because they think that then requires them to think in a particular way which politically they don’t want to. The second danger is mixing Dharma with politics.

If I’m careful, I believe in writing this I can avoid both dangers. I can avoid the first by saying feel free to ignore everything I am saying, I’m simply sharing my thoughts. I welcome any other thoughts and am happy to discuss with anybody who has an open-mind. If you disagree with me, perhaps you are right. I don’t know. The problems of mixing Dharma with politics primarily come from using the power of the state to enforce one person’s religious views on another. I am clearly not doing that here. Dharma practitioners are allowed to have political opinions. Political life is part of modern life, and our job is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. Politics is also necessarily worldly, so it is important that Dharma does not become worldly as we try to make it fit our political predispositions.

With these caveats in mind, I think the Dharma teachings provide a very useful lens for compassionately and wisely understanding the experience and life of LGBT+ individuals. I would in particular like to explore three dimensions – emptiness, karma, and compassion.

According to the teachings on emptiness, a “name” is appropriate if the aspect and function of the basis of imputation are appropriate for that name. It is clearly inappropriate to call my iPad a toothbrush, for example. The teachings on emptiness also say objects come into existence when we name them and that naming is appropriate with the aspect and function. In thinking about gender issues, I find it helpful to think of things along three axes – biological sex, socially constructed gender, and sexual attraction. Biological sex refers to the physical make up of our body, including, but not limited to, our genitalia. Socially constructed gender refers to societal conventional conceptions of male and female personality and interests. Sexual attraction refers to who somebody is naturally sexually attracted to. For example, somebody could biologically have male genitalia, conventionally be a manly man, and be attracted to women. This would be a heterosexual male. Somebody could be biologically male, conventionally a manly man, and be attracted to men. This would be a gay man. Somebody could also be biologically female, conventionally manly, but attracted to men. In the past, this was called a “tom boy,” but now we might call this person a trans man. In total, there are 8 combinations of these three binaries, or 27 combinations of we include the point in the middle of each binary, and queer theorists have come up with “names” for each one. These are observable facts we see in the world. We can find examples of all 27 in the world, people who have a biological sex, who conventionally are more masculine or feminine, and who are attracted to men or women. Having names for each one of these combinations of basis of imputation seems entirely descriptive. So no problem here.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of suffering related to gender questions. The sufferings of sexism arise when we place value judgments saying that which is male is somehow more valuable than that which is female. The sufferings of heterosexism arise when we place value judgements saying two of these 27 combinations (heterosexual male and heterosexual female) are somehow more valuable than the other 25.

Understanding karma enables us to break out of these binaries and realize that each of the three axes are actually spectrums. Somebody might have a penis, but physically more feminine than Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example. Somebody might be attracted to both men and women, but mostly women. Somebody’s personality might be very masculine, feminine or anywhere in between. So there are not just 27 combinations, there are as many combinations as there are people. And one’s position on this matrix is not fixed. In one life, you might be a gay man, in another life a trans woman. Even within one life, one’s positionality is not fixed. I know people whose sexual attraction has changed over time, and I know people whose physical gender has changed. Impermanence teaches nothing is fixed and unchanging. An infinite diversity of past karmic actions will quite naturally give rise to an infinite diversity of possibilities.

The different types of karma also helps us understand the nature of these three axes. One’s biological sex is the ripened effect – born with certain physical characteristics. One’s sexual attraction is largely a product of tendencies similar to the cause of having been attracted to men or women in the past. One’s socially constructed gender is a combination of tendencies similar to the cause and environmental effects of the culture/society we are raised in. Whether one is discriminated against or accepted arises from the karmic effects similar to the cause of how we treated others in the past.

The teachings on compassion are also very helpful in thinking about LGBT+ experience. It is basically undeniable that we live in a heterosexist society, but we seem to be moving in a direction of greater acceptance of the diversity. In the past, LGBT persons suffered from very powerful negative societal value judgments. This caused many to suffer from bullying, guilt, beatings, and sometimes suicide – not to mention the “repression” of being in the closet – pretending to conform to societal value judgments when that didn’t conform with what they felt inside.

Even today, this still occurs. My son, for example, is biologically male, but there is zero doubt that inside he feels more like a girl and personality wise acts more like a socially constructed girl. And he has gotten a tremendous amount of ridicule for it – from his cousins and from his classmates at school. This ridicule made him suffer inside, doubt himself, pretend to be different just to fit in, and become very angry at the frustration of dealing with it all. My daughter is biologically female, but has almost no sexual desire at all, and feels judged or guilty for not ever having had (or really wanted) a boyfriend, like something is wrong with her. When I was growing up, I never got along with “the boys” because I just wasn’t into the same things and I felt socially excluded for a long time until high school when it became OK for a boy to have mostly friends who were girls. My wife was a total tom boy, but in a sexist society that is more acceptable. These are just four examples within one family. I would guess nearly everyone has some experience where their positionality on the three axes gave rise to some degree of suffering due to the value judgments society places on certain positionalities. There are many people who spend their whole life in the closet, there are many who commit suicide, there are many who come out of the closet who lose their family’s love as a result. The examples are endless.

From a Dharma perspective, it seems to me there is no basis for these value judgments, favoring one positionality over another. A diverse ecosystem is a more adaptive and creative one, so too a diverse humanity is a more adaptive and creative one. Who are we to judge one person’s positionality as being somehow better or worse than another? From the point of view of emptiness, all are equally valuable, just in different ways. There is also no denying people suffer from these value judgments, so as compassionate individuals, it seems to me we should accept everyone as they are and as they define themselves to be. They are not hurting anybody, so what is the problem? If somebody is hurt by another’s gender identity (for example, a parent who can’t accept their child is a lesbian), the parent might need to learn acceptance and the child might need to learn how to be skillful in how she expresses herself in front of her parents to give the parent time and space to adapt.

Grasping at gender identity can even become an obstacle to our tantric practice. Some men, for example, really struggle with being a Vajrayogini practitioner because they think it might make them gay or they grasp so tightly onto their current gender construction that they can’t realize the infinite possibilities – creating an obstruction to their tantric practice.

None of this is easy – for LGBT individuals, their families, or society – but learning how to think about these things in a way that leads to less suffering seems to me to be part of the bodhisattva’s way of life. I might be wrong. If you think I am and you have an open mind, let’s discuss. If you don’t have an open mind about it, feel free to ignore me. I’m OK with that. 😉

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Rely upon the Guru’s mind alone

(5.102) Never, even at the cost of my life,
Should I abandon my Spiritual Guide,
Who is skilled in the meaning of the Mahayana
And a supreme practitioner of the Bodhisattva trainings.

Probably the most important moment in my spiritual life came in 1999 when I was doing a retreat and hit a brick wall – I realized I was incapable of doing anything.  I called up my teacher and she told me, “the problem is you are trying to do it on your own.”  I asked her what I should do.  She said, “don’t ask me, go sit down and in your heart ask Geshe-la what you should do, and then do that.  Rebuild your practice from there.”  At the end of this retreat, I was left with the inescapable conclusion, “the smartest thing I can do is rely upon my Guru’s mind alone.”

We normally grasp at the Guru’s mind as somehow being separate from our own, distinct, out there, with an unpassable chasm between us.  This view is the greatest deception of our ignorance.  In reality, our Spiritual Guide abides within us, within our mind, literally part of our mind.  Our job is to make this part of our mind increasingly manifest to the point where it becomes the source of all of our actions.  I have explained how to do this in detail in the series of postings on Activating the Inner Spiritual Guide.

But to keep it simple, there are essentially two things we need to do.  First, we need to strongly believe our Spiritual Guide is within our heart, and then with faith and a pure motivation, we request him to work through us to help others, to bless our mind with wisdom and compassion, and to guide us internally in all of our practices.  All that is required is a mind of faith, a pure motivation and some basic understanding of emptiness.  Second, we need to apply effort to cultivate within ourselves the good qualities of our spiritual guide.  We can do this by training in the Lamrim meditations.  I once had a dream where Geshe-la told me, “your love is [Heruka] in you.”  In other words, I shouldn’t see the love I generate in my Lamrim meditations as being somehow separate from the guru deity; rather the love I cultivate in my heart is actually my guru’s love becoming manifest within me.  The same is true for all other Dharma realizations.

(5.103) I should train in relying upon the Spiritual Guide
In the manner explained in the Biography of Shri Sambhava.
I can understand this and other advice given by Buddha
From studying the Mahayana Sutras.

(5.104) I should read these Sutras
Because they reveal the Bodhisattva trainings.
First, it is important to study
Akashagarbha Sutra.

(5.105) Also, it is important to read again and again
The Compendium of Trainings
Because it extensively reveals
What is to be practised all the time.

(5.106) Moreover, sometimes one should read|
The Condensed Compendium of Sutras;
And with great effort, one should also study
The same two titles by Superior Nagarjuna.

Perhaps we haven’t these texts, but we have Great Treasury of Merit, Universal Compassion, Bodhisattva Vow, and Eight Steps to Happiness written by our kind Spiritual Guide.  He has complete mastery of the essential meanings of all of the teachings of these great masters, and he has represented them to us in a way that is easy to understand and put into practice.  If we had to dig into these texts ourselves and try extract their essential meaning we would quickly become lost, confused, discouraged and we would likely give up.  Fortunately, Geshe-la has already done this work for us and he has extracted for us what we need.  By directly putting into practice the instructions in his books we are indirectly putting into practice all the instructions of these sutras.  We should read these books again and again, and by putting what we have learned into practice we will gradually improve our moral discipline and become a perfect Bodhisattva.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Working for others

(5.100) For a Bodhisattva, there is no teaching of Buddha
That he or she should not practise.
If I become skilled in this way of life,
Nothing I do will lack merit.

We have two types of problems, outer and inner.  Outer problems are when things externally go wrong in some way, such as we get cancer.  Inner problems arise when we respond to outer circumstances in a deluded way.  Since we have two types of problem, it is only natural we need two types of solution.  Externally, we need to go to doctors and seek the most sensible forms of medical treatment.  Internally, we need to work on our mind to get to the point where we can sincerely say getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to us.  Such people exist, such is the power of Dharma to transform our mind.

Buddha’s teachings are aimed at helping us change our mind.  That is their main purpose.  Because we have many different delusions, there are many different Dharma practices.  To keep things simple, Atisha simplified all 84,000 teachings of Buddha into his special presentation called Lamrim.  The Lamrim is the condensation of all the Dharma.  When we practice the Lamrim, we directly or indirectly oppose all delusions.  All delusions find their opponent within the Lamrim.  Regardless of what happens in life, internally we respond with a Lamrim mind.  If we do so, we will come to solve all our inner problems.

Venerable Geshe-la, understanding we are busy modern people who work best with generalized principles instead of detailed rules, has simplified the Lamrim even further to 14 meditations presented in How to Understand the Mind and The New Heart of Wisdom.  And even these can be simplified down into “harm your delusions as much as possible, help others as much as possible.”  He has simplified down the entire path of the union of Sutra and Tantra into the very simple meditation on the union of the non-dual profundity and clarity, which is a fancy way of saying, “with a bodhichitta motivation, remembering that though things appear, they do not truly exist.  They are the emptiness of our very subtle mind appearing in the aspect of things.”  As Gen-la Dekyong recently said, “it doesn’t get easier than this.”

Our job, therefore, is simple:  we need to learn to internally respond to whatever arises with a Lamrim mind.  Once this becomes our mental habit, we then learn to simplify our internal reactions further with a mind that views all things as dream-like karmic waves on the ocean of our very subtle mind.   This mind will take us all the way to enlightenment.

(5.101) Whether directly or indirectly,
I should never do anything that is not for the sake of living beings.
I should dedicate everything
Solely to the enlightenment of all living beings.

Geshe Chekawa said there are two activities, one at the beginning, one at the end.  In the beginning, we establish a pure motivation to work solely to work for others, and in the end we dedicate any work, internal and external, to enlightenment.

Most of what we do during the day we do for ourselves.  As a result, we view everything that happens in the day as somehow intruding on us fulfilling our wishes, and we quickly become frustrated with life and everyone around us.  If instead, we let go completely of doing anything for ourselves, and instead work solely for the sake of others, we almost magically discover a complete harmony with everyone around us.  The supposed conflict between what’s good for us and what’s good for others falls away.  By working for others we fulfill ourselves.  Others naturally give us the resources and time we need to complete our work, we make the world a better place and internally our mind is naturally joyful and at peace.  Internally, we know we are karmically building a better future for ourselves and for others.

Geshe-la likes to use the word “work” nowadays. There’s a difference in our mind between “engaging in virtuous actions” for the sake of others, and “working” for the sake of others.  We all work, and we all know the difference between “getting to work” and “getting off work.”  When we are working, we are “getting stuff done.”  We are “being productive,” and “moving the ball forward.”  Work is purposeful activity with clear goals in mind that brings to bear the resources necessary to get the job done.  This is how we should be with our “working for others.”  We ask ourselves, “who can I help today,” and “how can I help this person?”  We then do something for them, whether it be externally helping them with some project or making special prayers on their behalf.  A bodhisattva works for others all day and never retires from their work.  We do our practice in the morning for the sake of others.  We go to work and spend all day helping others.  We come home and work to help our families.  When we go to sleep, we imagine we are dying and wish to take rebirth in the pure land so that we can continue working for others in our next life.

Isn’t this exhausting?  Sometimes yes, but it is a happy, satisfied tired that comes from having made a positive difference that day in the lives of others.  Of course we need to rest, but work for us is not a chore.  As Confucius said, “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Becoming a spiritual MacGyver

(5.99) Whatever I do in any situation,
Whether for myself or for the benefit of others,
I should strive to practise
Whatever training has been taught for that occasion.

Any handyman will tell you the same thing:  “right tool for the right job.”  There are a wide variety of things that need to be fixed in the world, and so a wide variety of tools have been developed to fix them.  Perhaps a more modern analogy is “there’s an app for that.”  In the same way, when we encounter inner problems that need fixing, we need to use the right tool for the right job.

Every delusion has its opponent, which is essentially the opposite mind.  For example, the opposite of anger is patience, the opposite of jealousy is rejoicing and so forth.  Just as virtuous actions can neutralize negative karma, so too different virtuous minds can serve as opponents to different delusions.  A doctor has at their disposal countless different medications which can help treat the countless different diseases of the body.  In the same way, as Buddhists we have countless different internal medicines (Dharma practices) we can use to treat the different diseases of our mind.  Our job is to become skilled at using these different inner tools, apps or medicines to heal our own or other’s minds.

Some people, though, find this rather daunting.  There are so many different delusions and it is hard enough to even know what their opponents are, much less have sufficient experience of them to actually have the power to oppose any delusions with them.  From a practical point of view, these people are right.  Ultimately, our ability to oppose our delusions depends upon (1) our wish to be free from our delusions, and (2) our experience and skill of employing the opponents.  Our delusions have aeons of practice, it seems quite likely – in the beginning at least – that our delusions will be more skilled than our virtues.

I know this will date me, but there was a show in the 1980s called MacGyver, and with a Swiss Army knife and a little bit of duct tape, he was able to improvise solutions to all sorts of different life threatening situations.  In the same way, I generally find it helpful to pick a couple of key practices that really work to move my mind, and then I use them against any and all delusions that arise.

It is said the Lamrim directly or indirectly opposes all delusions.  So while the Lamrim itself has only 21 (or 14 depending on the presentation) different meditations, it nonetheless functions to oppose all delusions in their myriad different permutations.  It is also said that the mind of bodhichitta is the “quintessential butter” that comes from churning the milk of the Lamrim, so in effect the mind of bodhichitta has the power to oppose all delusions single-handedly.  All delusions have ignorance as their root, so the wisdom realizing emptiness is also a universal panacea.

But for me, I resolve almost all of my delusions with my faith in Dorje Shugden.  Dorje Shugden’s job is to arrange all of the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  When attachment for something arises in my mind, I request Dorje Shugden, “if I am supposed to get this, please arrange it; if I am not supposed to get this, please sabotage it.”  Then, whatever happens, I know Dorje Shugden will arrange what is “best.”  So I no longer need to worry if I get it or not, I know the best will happen.  If aversion arises in my mind, I request Dorje Shugden, “with respect to X, please arrange whatever is best.”  If the external problem goes away, then I know it was an obstacle.  If the external problem remains (or even intensifies), then I know this challenge is exactly what I need to take the next step on my spiritual journey.  So I can accept it patiently.  If ignorance arises in my mind about something, I request the Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden, “please bless my mind with the wisdom that understands this situation correctly and knows how to respond.”  If my request is made with faith and a good heart, it is certain blessings will eventually come (perhaps after a little purification and a sufficient amount of time for the situation to ripen enough that the lesson is ready to be learned).  I would say I resolve about 95% of my delusions with my reliance on Dorje Shugden.  But each practitioner is different, so they need to find what works for them.

Once we gain deep experience of a couple of all-purpose Dharma tools, we can then begin to deepen our experience of the more specialized tools.  Eventually, we will become a skilled spiritual doctor with the power to heal our own and others mental continuum with the medicine of Dharma.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t neglect to purify your negative karma

(5.97) Within the limitless practices
Taught as the Bodhisattva’s way of life,
I should start by emphasizing
These practices that train the mind.

Examining and improving our behavior, learning new skills and so on, are very important if we are to follow the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, but the most important practice is training the mind.  Success in all of our Bodhisattva activities depends so much on the moral discipline that we keep in our heart, which is essentially an intention, a virtuous determination to become a Bodhisattva by abandoning all faults.

Shantideva finishes this chapter with 10 final verses on the most important things we should focus on with our practice of guarding alertness.

(5.98) I should practise the Sutra of the Three Heaps
Three times each day and three times each night,
And, with reliance on the Three Jewels and bodhichitta,
Purify non-virtues and downfalls.

It is not enough to simply from this time forth renounce non-virtue and embark upon a path of virtue.  We have made a terrible karmic mess and we can’t exactly leave it behind hoping that it will somehow clean itself up.  We wouldn’t go into somebody’s house or a public park and make a big mess and then just leave all our trash lying around.  We need to clean up the mess we have made, and we accomplish this through purification.

The hard truth is this:  either we purify our negative karma or we will have to experience its effects.  There is no third possibility.  It’s better to purify.  The reason why we don’t is either we can’t admit we have engaged in countless non-virtuous actions or we don’t really believe in the laws of karma.  Those who suffer from pride, and especially those who suffer from good external conditions such as great wealth and so forth, have tremendous difficulty admitting their mistakes and wrong actions.  Somehow everything they do is always justified and it is everybody else who is wrong.  They are literally incapable of seeing their faults, so it is impossible for them to generate regret.  To overcome this, we should recall emptiness.  Every person we see and every situation they are experiencing is both autobiography and prophecy.  It is autobiography in that we have all experienced the exact same troubles in the past and we reacted exactly as they are – with more delusion and negativity.  It is also prophecy in that if it is appearing to our mind it is arising from our own karma.  Their suffering is essentially a warning to us of what is to come if we do not purify – it is just a question of time.

Likewise, it is essentially a given that whatever faults we see in others are actually those within ourselves that we have repressed and are blind to.  When we repress our delusions and faults, they don’t disappear, rather we begin to start “seeing them” in all those around us.  They basically become re-directed and wrongly projected onto others.  Understanding this, every time we see the faults of somebody else we should remind ourselves we are looking in the mirror.  We should then apply effort to identify how we have these same faults within ourselves.  We can request special blessings that it be revealed to us how we ourselves are making the same mistakes we see in others.

To overcome our lack of faith in the laws of karma we can consider three things.  First, there is not a single thing in this universe that does not have a cause.  The laws of physics, for example, are absolute.  It seems highly unlikely (indeed logically impossible) that everything would have a cause except our own experiences.   Second, we can consider emptiness.  Imagine a bowl of completely still water.  Now imagine you begin repeatedly tapping your finger in the water.  What will happen?  Pretty soon, the entire bowl will be filled with all sorts of intersecting waves bouncing off of one another in a variety of different waves.  Eventually, mathematically, all of those waves must pass at some point back through their point or origin.  In the same way, emptiness explains that every object is like a wave arising on the ocean of our mind.  If we begin disturbing the waters of our mind with the tapping of our contaminated actions, it will generate all sorts of different karmic waves bouncing off of one another in a variety of different ways (samsara and the beings within it).  Not only will eventually all of these waves pass back through their point of origin, they all have never been outside of the bowl of our mind.  Third, we can rely upon faith.  Every other subject of Dharma can be verified through logical reasoning and our own experience.  When we put all of the other instructions into practice, they are found to be true and reliable.  If the Buddhas are right about everything else, and everything else they teach itself depends upon the workings of karma, then it stands to reason that they are also right about karma.  I don’t know how the engine in my car works, but when I see my car move I know that the engine does indeed work.

Our motivation for engaging in purification determines the extent of the negative karma we purify.  If we engage in purification to avoid experiencing misfortune in this life, then we will purify only the most shallow layers of the negative karma we have accumulated in this life.  If we engage in purification simply in order to avoid lower rebirth ourselves in the future, it will be slow going but we will eventually accomplish our goal.  If we engage in purification practice so that we may become a Buddha with the power to free all beings, we will quickly purify all of our negative karma because the power of our purification practices will be multiplied by the number of beings upon whose behalf we engage in the practice.

To actually engage in purification, it suffices to generate regret understanding what misery awaits us if we do not purify, and then engage in any virtuous action as an opponent to our past non-virtue.  The reason why this works is the same reason as why -1 + 1 = 0.  A negative action is neutralized by a positive action aimed at it (which regret accomplishes for us)The practice of the Three Superior Heaps is a special practice of purification conjoined with reliance upon the 35 Confession Buddhas.  By prostrating to the 35 Confession Buddhas with faith, we open our mind to receive their special blessings which function to purify, our neutralize, the negative karma on our mind.  Each of the Confession Buddhas “specializes” in the purification of a particular type of negative karma, but taken as group their special blessings function to purify all of our negative karma.  A commentary to this practice can be found in the book, The Bodhisattva Vow.

Finally, we need to employ the power of promise to avoid non-virtue in the future.  Each day we must on one hand renew or strengthen our vows by renewing them before the field of merit, and also purify.  It is helpful to read every day the little booklet Geshe-la has given us of the vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism.  Over about a 2 year period, I did an extensive series of posts going through each of the vows and commitments and how we can practice them in our modern daily lives.  You can find these by clicking on the link to the series, “Vows, commitments and modern life.”  At least we can remind ourselves of them and generate a strong intention to keep them as well as we can.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The Yogas of Sleeping and Rising according to Sutra

(5.96) To sleep, I should lie in the appropriate position –
Just as Protector Buddha lay when he entered paranirvana –
And before falling asleep, with alertness,
Make a definite decision to rise quickly.

I tend to think of sleep as nourishment for the subtle mind.  We all know our body needs nourishment to remain healthy.  If we have been meditating for some time, we also realize that our gross mind also needs a healthy diet of virtue to maintain its vitality.  In the same way, sleep is how we nourish our subtle mind.  When we fall asleep, our gross winds and minds dissolve and our subtle mind becomes manifest.  Sometimes we have awareness of this, remembering our dream, but most of the time we have little to no memory of what happened while we slept.  Unless we are an accomplished completion stage meditator, the only time our gross winds and minds dissolve in this way is when we sleep (or when we die).

If we fail to get adequate sleep, everything quickly unravels.  We become more irritable and our body is more likely to become sick.  Why is this?  Because our gross minds arise out of our subtle mind, and our body arises out of our gross minds.  If our subtle body is not given a chance to rejuvenate itself, the gross minds and gross body which emerge will likewise reflect the underlying imbalance within our subtle mind.  So the first and most important thing to know about sleep is we need to get enough of it!  For most people, this will be between 6-9 hours of sleep, with most people being fully functional with an average of 7-8 hours of sleep.  We all know the stories of the great yogis who can get by with little or not sleep, but then again we are not great yogis so that is certainly no reason for us to not making getting adequate sleep a priority.  But we shouldn’t go to the other extreme and get too much sleep, because then we become groggy and lethargic.

When we go to sleep, we are advised to sleep on our right side, with our right hand underneath our pillow under our head.  Our left hand should be resting comfortably along the side of our body.  Our legs are generally together, but it is normal to have some slight displacement so the knees and ankles aren’t hurting one another.  There are many reasons for falling asleep this way.  First, it is a stable position that doesn’t strain any part of our body.  Second, the acids in our stomach will stay there since the opening of our stomach to our esophagus will be facing up.  Third, our inner winds circulate much easier compared to having our face buried in our pillow or snoring like a mad man on our back.  Fourth, sleeping in this way is conducive to better mindfulness both as we fall asleep and during sleep itself, enabling us to better bring our practices into our sleep.

Before we fall asleep, we should do two things.  First, we should resolve to get up when it is time to wake up.  For those who have to work, this seems an obvious necessity but the point is much deeper.  When we normally wake up, our only desire is usually to go back to bed.  Once we start giving into this tendency, it quickly becomes a habit.  Then, to avoid being late for work, we need to set the alarm even earlier.  But this means we are getting less quality sleep.  Additionally, wanting to fall back asleep when it is time to wake up quite simple makes us suffer more.  Our suffering, quite simply, comes from not accepting reality as it is.  The reality is it is time to wake up.  Not wanting to wake up doesn’t change that fact, it just makes us suffer more when we have to force ourselves out of bed.  If instead, we resolve the night before, that we will quickly rise we blast through this daily pain and get to the other side of it.  We might even become one of those people who doesn’t need to become addicted to coffee to get up in the morning.  Finally, there is a close relationship between disciplining ourselves to come out of the sleep minds and maintaining good concentration during meditation.  When we meditate, our mind naturally becomes more subtle.  Normally, the only time our subtle minds become manifest is when we sleep, which is why we are so prone to falling asleep while meditating.  If we develop the strength of mind to arise from the mind of sleep every morning, then we will have greater ability to do so while we are meditating.

The second thing we need to do as we fall asleep is choose to mix our mind with some object of virtue.  The reason for this is both simple and instructive.  The last mind we have as we fall asleep determines the general trajectory of the minds we will have as we sleep and dream.  If we fall asleep with an agitated mind, our sleep will be fitful and our dreams troubled.  If we fall asleep with a calm and peaceful mind, we will sleep well and our dreams will generally be pleasant.  Tantric practitioners are taught to fall asleep in the lap of their guru, or as the self-generation or even while remaining absorbed in clear light emptiness.  We can also fall asleep meditating on love, compassion, or even mounting taking and giving upon the breath.  We can fall asleep believing that we are going to die in the night and generate a strong wish to wake up in the pure land so that we may complete our training.

Most of all, I would say we should try fall asleep with a mind of faith, strongly believing you are in the living presence of your guru.  In all the great religions, it is said if we remember holy beings at the time of our death with a mind of faith, they will bless our minds taking us to a fortunate rebirth.  Faith is a naturally virtuous mind, and wherever faith meets a good heart, blessings spontaneously flow.  All of our Dharma training has, in the final analysis, one purpose:  preparing our mind for the time of death.  If we practice training how to die every night, when the actual time of our death comes we will know what to do.  Because we have spent every night for the last 20, 30, or even 60 years with our holy Spiritual Guide, we will have a very close and personal relationship with him and it is certain we will feel his presence when we need it most at the time of death.