Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Investing our precious merit

(3.7) Thus, through the merit I have collected
From all these virtuous actions,

Sometimes people let a false understanding of humility get in the way of their dedication.  They think, “my virtues are small and insignificant, there is nothing really to dedicate,” so they don’t dedicate at all.  Any virtue, no matter how small, is better than no virtue at all.  Vajrayogini’s mandala is an inverted double tetrahedron to symbolize that the greatest attainments of enlightenment are built upon the foundation of the smallest of our virtues.  We should never think our virtues are too small, because without them it is impossible to build something even greater.

Others fail to dedicate because they don’t understand how easily it is to lose our merit.  We work hard to make and then save our money.  If you left your wallet full of cash lying on the ground in a crowded square, how long do you think it would be before you would lose it?  Not long.  If instead, you put that money in the bank, no matter what happened outside, the money would be safe.  Merit is like internal wealth.  It takes tremendous effort to accumulate it and save it up.  But if we are careless with it and fail to put it into the bank through dedication, it won’t take long before we lose it all.  Delusions burn up merit, anger in particular.  Why?  Because delusions and virtues are opposites, when a -1 wave hits a +1 wave, the end result is zero waves.  Just one moment of anger towards a bodhisattva can burn up in just one instant the merit we have accumulated over countless aeons.  Dedication, however, functions to protect it.  We invest the merit in a good cause, and once invested in this way it can’t be subsequently destroyed.

Instead, we should rejoice in our virtues and really appreciate what a cosmic miracle it is that we engage in any virtue.  Our virtues, even the smallest ones, are like priceless jewels.  They are our initial spiritual capital which, when carefully invested, will eventually become an inexhaustible fountain of good fortune which we share freely with all living beings.  In finance, there is a concept called the “miracle of compound interest.”  For example, just $100 put into the stock market in 1915 would be worth about $300,000 today all through the power of compound interest.  Dedicated merit works in the same way.  If we said, “oh, it is just $100, it is not worth anything” before, then we would have nothing now.  Realizing how precious our virtues are, we then carefully engage in dedication.

May the suffering of every living being
Be brought completely to an end;

(3.8) And until all those who are sick
Have been cured of their illness,
May I become their medicine,
Their doctor, and their nurse.

When we dedicate, on the one hand we want to dedicate for the vastest possible goal, namely the enlightenment of all beings.  But the problem is when we dedicate towards vast goals it is easy to lose any heart-felt feeling for the meaning of the dedication because it feels too abstract.  On the other hand, if we dedicate for narrow, close to home purposes, it is easy to get a good feeling for it, but the goal is so small that the potential benefit of our dedication is cut short.  So we want to try find the optimal point where our dedication is vast enough to have meaning, but not so vast that we lose all feeling for it.  To keep it simple, I try dedicate across a range of purposes, vast, middling and narrow.  For example, every day I make prayers that everything be arrange for all beings to attain enlightenment as swiftly as possible (vast), I dedicate that everything I touch or have some control or influence over be used for this purpose (middling) and I make specific dedications for my wife and kids whom I naturally love with all my heart (narrow).

Here, Shantideva reveals how a bodhisattva dedicates.  They don’t simply dedicate towards some good end, rather they dedicate that they themselves become whatever others need.  What distinguishes a bodhisattva from merely compassionate people is their superior intention to take personal responsibility for fulfilling their compassionate wishes.  While Shantideva gives the example of transforming ourselves into medicine, doctors and nurses for the sick, we can apply the same spiritual logic for any and all good purposes.

It is important that this is not just some idea, but rather becomes our way of life.  We need to look around and ask ourselves, “what do these people need?”  Then, we need to apply effort to become that for them.  What I try do is focus my efforts on “making things easier for those who follow.”  Whatever I do in life, I try leave behind some clear instructions or advice on how to get to the same point easier.  Whatever lessons I learned, I try share so others don’t have to struggle as I did.  Or, when you are in a group of people, ask yourself, “what can I do to help?”  Then do that.  When this becomes our reflex habit in all situations, it won’t be long before we spontaneously transform ourselves into whatever living beings need.  Ultimately, the form body of a Buddha does precisely that in all three times.  That is our final goal.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Creating the causes for Buddhas to appear in our world

Shantideva continues with the other limbs.  With these practices, like any practice, we need to make them personal.  They have to be our own, and we need to try understand their meaning and purpose on a personal level.  We need to get a feeling for them.  Otherwise they’re just words.   They won’t be ‘our’ practice.  If they are not our own practice, then these practices will have little or no effect on our mind.   For example, we need to ask ourselves, what is my purification practice?  How am I purifying?  What am I doing?  I need to know how my purification practice is freeing my mind from what is blocking it, freeing my mind from obstructions.  It is the same with the other limbs.  Make it real.

(3.5) To the Buddhas residing in all directions,
With my palms pressed together I make this request:
Please continue to shine the lamp of Dharma
For living beings lost and suffering in the darkness of ignorance.

The Buddhas want to teach, but if we don’t make requests to receive teachings, then we don’t create the causes for ourselves to receive them.  We make requests on behalf of others because it is an enormous act of compassion and it multiplies the effect for ourselves.  It is not enough to have Buddhas around, because they need to teach as well.  It is not just an issue of making requests to receive formal teachings, but rather that we receive teachings through everyone around us.

Exactly what is it we’re requesting?   We are requesting that Buddhas continue to teach us, for example in the form of our holy spiritual guide.  But this is not just limited to receiving teachings at festivals and Dharma centers.  We have to ask ourselves, what happens when Geshe-la leaves this world?  Will that be it?  I don’t know about you, but I want to be taught every day of my life by my Spiritual Guide.  This is what we are asking for.

We know that we can receive teachings from our spiritual guide every day.  There are external methods, such as those explain which how to transform adverse conditions into the path.  Suffering, our daily experience in samsara, is a powerful teaching about the laws of karma, renunciation and patient acceptance.   There are internal methods through learning how to communicate directly with the Buddhas inside our mind.  These have been discussed in detail in some of my earlier series of posts, such as How to Rely upon the Guru’s Mind Alone and Activating the Inner Spiritual Guide.  The bottom line is we if we maintain a faithful mind, our Spiritual Guide can teach us day and night through everything that appears to us.

(3.6) To the Conquerors who wish to enter paranirvana,
With my palms pressed together I make this request:
Please do not leave living beings in a state of blindness,
But remain with us for countless aeons.

The best way to get the feeling for this is imagine what our life would be like if Geshe-la had not entered into our world.  What chance would we have?  Buddhas remaining is not just a question of whether they wish to remain, because they certainly do.  Their remaining is a function of whether we create the causes for them to remain and appear in our karmic world, and we accomplish this through requesting them to do so.

This is not just an issue of wishing that they remain in this world, but that they remain in our lives and in the lives of those we love.  It is not enough that there are Buddhas in this world, there needs to be Buddhas in our lives.  We make this request motivated by compassion for the beings in our refuge visualization – ourselves, our family, our sangha, our work colleagues, the people of our region, for generation after generation after generation.

Again we can ask ourselves, how are we helped and guided by enlightened beings? How are we helped by our spiritual guide?  We must be careful never to lose the wish to be helped, to be guided in our development.  There’s a danger we’ve seen in the past practitioners who gradually fade away.   This often comes from the mara of pride thinking we don’t need Spiritual Guides and spiritual friends in our life.  It’s horrible.  None of us are free yet from this mara.   Geshe-la has warned us to watch out for the mara of pride.  We must invite Buddhas into our daily life and seek help and guidance.   We need to watch out for that mind that doesn’t want to invite our spiritual guide into our life for guidance.  We need to check, are we allowing ourself to be guided every day by our spiritual guide?

If we don’t invite the Buddhas into our lives, then change is slow.  It may even stop.  But when we do invite them, we can create very quickly a special pure mental environment in which there can be extraordinary growth of virtue.   Real change can take place.  Such a fertile environment comes from requesting in a heartfelt way that the Buddhas remain in this world and teach us.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Rejoicing in those bound for enlightenment.

(3.3) I rejoice in the enlightenment of the Conqueror Buddhas
And in the spiritual paths of the Bodhisattvas.

(3.4) With delight I rejoice in the ocean of virtue
That arises from generating the mind of enlightenment, bodhichitta,
Which brings happiness to all living beings,
And in the deeds that benefit those beings.

We need to ask ourselves why do we find rejoicing so difficult?  What are we afraid of?  We can appreciate the virtues themselves: love, compassion, bodhichitta.  Why then is it difficult to see those qualities in others?  I think one reason is spiritual jealousy.  I have many delusions, but pride is one of my biggest.  It is not enough for me to think I am better than everyone around me, I don’t feel comfortable unless everyone agrees I am better than everyone else.  Needless to say, such a mind never finds comfort.  I find it incredibly difficult to admit others are better than me at things I find important.  My pride and jealousy find faults in the other person as a defense mechanism so I can sustain the illusion that I am better than everyone around me.  It takes great humility to rejoice in others.  We don’t want to do that.

We need living examples of people putting the practice of Dharma first and foremost in their lives.  This does not mean we all need to get ordained or move into a Dharma center, we can make the Dharma central to any life, job or family circumstance.  Dharma, quite simply, is wisdom.  Wisdom works in all situations, otherwise it wouldn’t be wisdom.  We need to perceive virtuous qualities in others, regardless of whether they are spiritual practitioners, the highest king or the lowest beggar.  Only then will we wish to emulate all good qualities, and become a living example ourselves.  There is a difference in the mind between thinking about a virtue and seeing such a virtue in others and rejoicing in that.   There is a big difference.  The former is abstract, the latter is practical.

We have to be very careful how we see others, especially other Dharma practitioners.  We should practice pure view with one another by asking how we can receive perfect benefit from what they have done, even when they make terrible mistakes. This does not mean we turn a blind eye to their faults and mistakes, rather it means we gain the ability to learn Dharma lessons from everything they do, especially their mistakes.

For ourself, we should rejoice in whatever we do do, not judge ourselves for whatever we don’t.  Very often we judge ourselves for what we don’t do, but feel we should.  We judge ourselves as failing to live up to the standards we set for ourselves, thinking what we do is not good enough.  This just creates the cause for us to do less.  We need to accept our weaknesses as weakness – accept that is where we are at and happily try to do better.  We need to take the time to rejoice in our own virtue, no matter how small.  Doing so creates the cause for us to do more and to enjoy our practice.  This is just karma, it is how things work.

As a general rule, we should rejoice in whatever virtues others do do, and ignore the rest.  Rejoicing in others should be our main practice.  The world we pay attention to is the world we experience.  If we pay attention to others’ faults, we will live in a faulty world; if we pay attention to others’ good qualities, we will live in a pure world.  Whatever we relate to, we draw out.  If we relate to people’s faults, we will draw them out; and if we relate to their good qualities, we will draw them out instead.  Seen in this way, rejoicing is a real act of love and compassion.

Rejoicing creates the cause to acquire whatever good quality we are rejoicing in.  Criticizing creates the causes to acquire the faults that we criticize.  Rejoicing is the root of the Mahayana path.  Enlightenment depends upon bodhichitta, which depends upon compassion, which depends upon cherishing others, which depends upon finding others precious, which depends upon rejoicing in their good qualities.

We all love a good deal.  A good deal is something that has a good relationship between the quality of the good and what we have to pay for it.  Every Dharma practice has different benefits, and different costs in terms of how hard it is to practice.  It seems to me, of all the practices of Dharma, none bring so great of benefits for such an easy to do practice as rejoicing. Surely, bodhichitta and the meditation on the union of bliss and emptiness bring the greatest benefits of all, but such minds are incredibly hard to generate, and only arise superficially after many decades (if not lifetimes) of practice.  But rejoicing is easy from day one.  It is a naturally happy mind and it is easy to do.  It is just a question of what we pay attention to in others.  We can choose to pay attention to their qualities or we can choose to pay attention to their faults.  Simple choice, simple practice, limitless benefits.  I would say the entire Mahayana flows naturally, like dominos, from the mental habit of rejoicing.  Do this, and the rest will naturally follow.

Thanksgiving for a Kadampa

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  Geshe-la said our job now as a tradition is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  Thanksgiving is part of modern life and one of the most important days on the American calendar.  Therefore, it is our job to figure out how to celebrate it in a Kadampa way.

Traditionally on Thanksgiving, extended families get together and have a big feast and give thanks for the things and people in their life.  Even if people live far away, they travel to reunite with their family.  It is really only at Thanksgiving and Christmas that most Americans make a point of coming together as a family.  But that is often where the trouble starts!  We all have our uncle Bob or Grandpa John who just can’t help themselves saying offensive things.  Because it is supposed to be a “special day,” Mom and others get all stressed out that everything has to be “perfect,” but it is their anxiety about perfection that ruins it for everybody else.  Then of course, there is always the cynic – the person who is “too good” for Thanksgiving and feels the need to lambaste everyone else for their hypocrisy, fake friendliness, and consumerism come tomorrow.  Or perhaps we are Uncle Bob, the Nervous Nellie, or the cynic ruining the holiday for everyone else.  So the first things a Kadampa needs to do on Thanksgiving is to (1) fully accept and love our obnoxious relatives for who they are without feeling the need to change them in any way, and (2) make sure we are not the one ruining the holiday for everyone else.  As a cultural tradition, getting together with your family to give thanks is something to be rejoiced in, so we should throw ourselves into it and do what we can to make it good for everybody else.

Next, of course, comes the question about being vegetarian – or even more difficult, a vegan – on Thanksgiving.  What’s a good Kadampa to do with a giant Turkey carcass on the table, butter on the bread and mashed potatoes, and a hungry hoard ready to dig in?  Here, it entirely depends upon circumstance.  If your family is accepting of your vegetarianism, then make a vegetarian dish that you can share with everybody, and you eat what you can.  If your family does not understand and will feel offended or judged by your dietary choices, then I would advise to not make a stink out of it.  Take a small piece, eat a few bites without commentary to be polite and not hurt your mother’s feelings who prepared this big elaborate meal, and get on with your day.  But under no circumstances should you get on your soap box and make everybody else feel judged or guilty about their choices.  It is not our place to tell other people what dietary choices they should make.  Say some prayers for all the turkeys slaughtered on Thanksgiving, then transform everything into a giant Tsog offering and imagine you are offering up completely purified nectar to all the heroes and dakinis gathered around the table.

Usually during Thanksgiving, often during the meal, there comes a time where everyone explains what they are grateful for.  If your family is not accepting of your Buddhist path, now is not the time to profess your gratitude for your guru and the three precious jewels!  Internally, you should of course generate such gratitude.  But externally, you should express gratitude for things everyone else at the table can likewise generate gratitude for.  Why is this important?  If you express gratitude for something others are not grateful for, they may politely smile while you say your thanks, but in their heart they will be generating a critical mind towards your object of thanks.  You may feel like you have made your point, but they will have accumulated negative karma of holding on tightly to wrong views.  If you focus your thanks on things that everyone can be grateful for, then it is like you are leading a guided meditation in gratitude for all our kind mothers.

One of the hardest parts about Thanksgiving is, if we are honest, we don’t necessarily like our family very much.  Of course this isn’t true for everybody, but it is true for many people.  We are all just so different – different views and different priorities in life.  The members of our family have unique abilities to say all the wrong things which upset us in so many different ways, whether it is the irresponsible brother, controlling mother, judging father, obnoxious uncle, or embarrassing aunt, we find something we don’t like in all those closest to us.  One thing I have seen quite frequently among Kadampas is a very pure love for all the living beings they have never met, but general aversion for those closest to them in their life.  It’s easy to love all living beings in the abstract, loving actual deluded and annoying people is a different thing altogether.  Geshe-la tells us in all of his books we should start by learning how to love our family and those closest to us, and then gradually expand the scope of our love outwards until it encompasses all living beings.  Thanksgiving is a good day to start doing it right.  Love them, accept them, stop judging them.

Some people, though, find themselves alone on Thanksgiving.  Perhaps there is so much conflict in their family that they just don’t get together anymore.  Perhaps they would like to be with their family, but they lack the financial resources to join them.  Perhaps their whole family has already passed away.  Depression and suicide rates are often highest during the holidays.  We attach so much importance to these holidays, and then when people find themselves alone or unloved, they fall into despair.  When we were little, my mom was a single mother and the holidays were very important to us.  Fortunately, some kind person always found a place at their table for us.  It was annoying for me and my brother because we had to spend Thanksgiving with people we didn’t know nor particularly get along with, but it made a big difference for my emotionally fragile mother.  If we know somebody who is alone on Thanksgiving, we should invite them to join us.  There are so many people hurting out there, and most people just want to feel loved.  So create a space at your table for them as my mother’s friends did for her.  Don’t underestimate the difference such a gesture can make.

I also think it would be wonderful if every Dharma center in America had a Thanksgiving party in which everyone was welcome.  Geshe-la often talks about Dharma centers as belonging to the community.  Why can’t a Dharma center have a Thanksgiving celebration?  This could be a private affair for the people of the center, or it could even be an open house community celebration for anybody to come.  In addition to a great meal and quality friends, discussions can be had about the kindness of all our mothers.  It doesn’t matter if the people who come never come back, or perhaps they only come on Thanksgiving because they have nowhere else to go.  We are grateful for all living beings, so Thanksgiving is our chance to give some love and kindness back.  Gen-la Losang once asked who is more important, the people who come to the center and stay or the people who come and never come back?  If we look at how most centers are run, it seems our answer is the people who come and stay.  But he said the correct answer is those who never come back for the simple reason they are more numerous.  If somebody comes once, but walks away thinking, “hey, those Buddhists ain’t bad,” then they have just created the karma to find the path again in the future.  If our centers belong to the community, there is no reason why our centers can’t start doing community service.  Perhaps this isn’t currently the tradition at our center, but there is no reason why it can’t become a tradition next year.

Internally, for me, Thanksgiving is a reminder that for the most part I am an extremely ungrateful individual and I take for granted the kindness of everyone around me.  As many of you know, I have had lots of difficulties with my father over the years.  At the core of it, he simply finds me ungrateful for all that he has done for me.  I, of course, disagree and protest; but why should I do so?  If others find me ungrateful, then instead of becoming defensive, I should use that as a reminder that I need to be more grateful.  How could that be a bad thing?  If we think about it, a feeling of gratitude is really the foundation of the entire Mahayana path.  It is not enough to just generate a feeling of gratitude once a year on Thanksgiving, nor is it enough to generate such a feeling once every 21 days when we come around to it on our Lamrim cycle.  Rather, gratitude should be a way of life.  Venerable Tharchin says that the definition of a realization of Dharma is when all of our actions are consistent with that realization and none of our actions are in contradiction with it.  A feeling of gratitude towards everyone is a stage of the path, and one we should carry with us every day of the year.

But Thanksgiving is about more than just feeling grateful, it is also about “giving” back.  Giving is one of our basic virtues, and one of our perfections  which will take us to enlightenment.  Venerable Tharchin says the thought “mine” is the opposite of the mind of giving, so the way to perfect our giving is to stop imputing “mine” on anything, instead we should mentally give everything we have to others.  We mentally think everything, including our very body and mind, belong to others.  We give them to others.  Of course we may still retain control over certain things, but we should have no sense of ownership over anything.  We are custodians of things for others, but our intention is to use them all for their benefit.  We offer our body, our mind, our money, our time, our family, our careers, everything, to others.  We commit that we will use everything we have for their sake.  At the very least, we can offer a good meal and a warm heart.  In the end, what most people want is to feel loved.  This is something we can give if we put a little effort into it.

Most of all, on Thanksgiving, I try give thanks to those closest to me.  Before I got married, I had a vision where Tara came to me and handed to me a child.  As she did so, she said, “this is where you will find your love.”  My children may be a lot of work, insanely expensive, and they may be maddening at times, but I love them with all my heart.  There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.  If they were not in my life, I wouldn’t know what it means to really love another person and put their interests first.  The path would remain quite abstract.  I am also extremely grateful for my wife.  I have to work all the time, but she takes care of our kids and she takes care of our home.  She is my best friend.  Before I received highest yoga tantra empowerments for the first time, I met with Venerable Tharchin for the first time.  I explained to him all of the troubles I was having with my then girlfriend, and he told me two things.  First, view all of her apparent faults as reflections of the faults within your own mind, and then purge those faults like bad blood.  When you do, they will “magically” disappear from her because they aren’t coming from her side anyways.  Second, he said, “never forget she is an emanation of Vajrayogini sent to bring you in this life to the pure land.”  Of course, at the time, I didn’t understand emptiness enough to understand that my now wife is or isn’t anything from her own side, but thinking she was an emanation saved our relationship and enabled me to transform my relationship with her into the path.  Later, when I came to understand emptiness a bit more, I realized it didn’t matter what she was, it was beneficial for me to believe she is an emanation.  When I was in Toronto this year, during the Vajrayogini empowerment, I was reminded very clearly of this conversation with Venerable Tharchin 20 years ago.

I am also grateful to my father for all the mental torment he has put me through.  If he hadn’t, there are a great many things I would have never realized.  The truth is, I am very lazy, and if I am not going through some big crisis or difficulty, I quickly become complacent.  These problems have pushed me to grow far more than a good relationship with him would have.

Most of all, I am thankful for Geshe-la entering into my life.  He found me at my darkest hour, pulled me up, gave me a purpose, taught me what my real problem was (my own deluded, unpeaceful mind), gave me methods that work to heal my mind, provided me with perfectly reliable outer and inner advice, opened up my heart, revealed to me the magic of faith, provided teachers and centers who could help me bring the Dharma into my life, gave me the opportunity to teach the Dharma, and has been with me when I have felt otherwise alone.  He has created for me a vajra family of Sangha Brothers and Sisters who are some of the dearest people in my life, even though I rarely am able to see them.  He has shown me the root of my suffering and a doorway out.  He has provided me with everything I need to enter, progress along, and complete the path.  He has blessed my mind with countless empowerments, and has promised to remain in my heart helping me along until I attain the final goal.  Most of all, he has introduced me to Dorje Shugden and defended him when anybody and everybody else would have abandoned him.  Dorje Shugden is my guru, yidam and protector who helps me in this life and will be with me when I need him most – at the time of my death.

On Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of this.  And I offer myself as a servant to my guru and to all living beings.  Please keep me in your service for as long as space exists.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Rejoice!

CHAPTER 3:  Generating Engaging Bodhichitta

Now Shantideva describes the remaining limbs: rejoicing, requesting, beseeching, dedicating, as well as the practice of giving. First we turn to rejoicing.

(3.1) With great gladness I rejoice
In the virtues that protect living beings
From the sufferings of the lower realms
And lead all those who suffer to fortunate realms.

(3.2) I rejoice in the accumulation of virtue
That releases living beings from samsaric rebirth
And leads them to the state of nirvana –
The supreme, permanent inner peace.

One of the most important methods for attaining good qualities for ourselves is the practice of rejoicing.  Every time we rejoice in virtue, we create strong causes to possess that virtue in the future in abundance.  This happens on two levels, first the mental action of rejoicing itself is virtuous and creates for ourselves a similitude of the virtue we are rejoicing in.  For example, when we see an ordained person working hard to maintain their ordination vows in this modern world filled with temptations, we create for ourselves karma similar to if we were ordained ourselves.  Why would we want this?  It is not hard to imagine how wonderful it would be to be a child of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton or George Bush Sr.  Belonging to such a family brings tremendous benefits.

The uncommon characteristic of family is it is the people we would be willing to do anything to help, and we stick together no matter what.  The ordained belong to the close family of Je Tsongkhapa.  They are his close spiritual children, and by virtue of his close karmic relationship with his children, they receive special blessings, virtue and protection.  When ordinary beings engage in the practice of moral discipline it creates the cause for a higher rebirth.  When spiritual beings engage in the practice of moral discipline it creates the causes for a precious human life in which we find the Dharma.  When an ordained spiritual being engages in the practice of moral discipline it creates the causes for them to be reborn into Je Tsongkhapa’s Kadampa family with deep faith and a desire to practice.  The uninterrupted continuum of their spiritual practice is ensured, and with it their eventual enlightenment.  We should all want this, regardless of whether we are lay or ordained.

The second way in which rejoicing bestows upon us great virtue is in the mind of rejoicing there is present very strong admiring faith that welcomes the virtue into our own mind.  We all are reluctant to invite our enemies into our home, but we gladly welcome our friends and family.  Faith, quite simply, is a mind that welcomes virtue into our hearts.   Sometimes we fear virtue, thinking it will make us unhappy because we have to deprive ourselves of all those things we enjoy, but such a thought is born of profound ignorance.  Virtues only function is to bring happiness.  Faith sees this and welcomes it wholeheartedly.  If we are to make authentic progress we must rejoice in the spiritual paths of others.  We need to learn to see such qualities in others and rejoice in others’ spiritual paths.  Try to see those qualities in other people.  When we do this, we naturally start to emulate their view and actions.  We start to act in similarly wholesome ways.  Wholesomeness is a unique form of spiritual beauty, but one that only appeals to a pure heart.  Sometimes we mistakenly think wholesomeness means we all need to become socially uptight people who judge everyone else’s morals.  Not at all.  Genuine wholesomeness is a mind that lacks nothing – it is whole – and so it overflows with kindness and generosity.  It judges nobody and welcomes all.  Because it seeks nothing, everyone naturally trusts it and admires it.  Without saying a word, it naturally inspires others to become better people and it heals the sorrows of this world.

We should especially rejoice in those areas where we have difficulty ourselves in certain aspects of our training.  The best method really to improve ourselves is by rejoicing.  If we have difficulty training in concentration, meditation, then we must rejoice when we become aware of others who are good at meditating.  We have to watch out for the mind that says, “they may look like they’re meditating, but …”  There’s a mind that always tries to get in and spoil our rejoicing.  It always yes, “yes, but…”  Why do we want to think like that?  Why do we allow ourselves to?  If we can’t understand Dharma, maybe subtle subjects, then we must rejoice in those who are able to understand Dharma — subtle subjects, clearly, quickly.

We sometimes ask ourselves “is there a danger if I’m looking to someone as an example that I’ll be let down if that person suddenly disappears?”  Never any danger in looking at a person’s example, spotting good qualities, and rejoicing.  We need to take every single person who leaves the Dharma and learn from their mistake.  Perhaps they are a Buddha showing you a potential pitfall in your mind so that you can avoid it.  Venerable Tharchin says we must take our primary refuge in the Dharma, not the person.  If we take primary refuge in the person and they do something stupid, we can lose everything.  If we take primary refuge in the Dharma and the person does something stupid, we receive a Dharma teaching.  Then we are protected regardless of what they do.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Make it real, make a promise.  Keep your word.

(2.63) Whatever I have done
Out of unknowing and confusion –
Be it a natural non-virtue
Or a transgression –

(2.64) With my palms pressed together
And my mind fearful of suffering,
Prostrating myself again and again,
I confess them all before the Protectors.

(2.65) I request all the holy beings
To free me from all my evils and faults;
And since these bring only harmful results,
In future I will not commit them again.

Shantideva concludes his chapter on purification with a prayer we can memorize and recite at any time we wish to engage in purification.  Sometimes people struggle with recollecting the meaning as they recite Sanskrit mantras, other times we can’t begin prostrating to the 35 Confession Buddhas during a meeting in the conference room at our work.  But there is never a time we can’t recite these verses as a prayer of purification.  In my view, they capture perfectly the essentials of purification practice.  It is advisable to memorize all of Shantideva’s Guide, but at a minimum we can select specific verses that speak to us and memorize them.  These three verses certainly stand out as worthy of memorization.

This is Shantideva’s conclusion: “since these bring only harmful results, In future I will not commit them again.”  We must cease engaging in any harmful actions arising from attachment, aversion, ignorance. If we feel like Shantideva that we need to stop, we will stop.

When we make a promise, we do so because we genuinely “want” to stop (not “should”). We think, “I feel like stopping.”  Then our promise has real power.  This only happens when we make a direct and irrefutable connection between our negative actions and our suffering.  As long as we are not convinced of the relationship between the two, our promises to stop our negativity will lack power.  We do not struggle to make promises to never drink poison again, so why should we struggle to make a promise to not engage in negative actions again?  It can happen that poison does not harm us, but our negative karma always will.

It is vital that we no longer want to engage in negativity.  Because we are desire realm beings, we have no choice but to do what we desire.  If in our heart we still want to engage in negativity, such as taking intoxicants, engaging in sexual misconduct, cheating on our taxes or expense reimbursements, etc., but out of some feeling of obligation or attachment to reputation we refrain from doing so, all we will really do is repress our deluded tendencies.  They will eventually grow in power until we “crack” and like a bulimic, binge on our negative habits.  If we change what we actually want, then there is no danger of this.  Our promises are the nature of wisdom knowing actions and their effects.  If we gain this wisdom, we will promise because we want to.  Later, when our delusions remanifest, we can remind ourselves of the wisdom that took us to the conclusion to refrain from negativity.  After we have done this a few hundred times, we will begin to change, not because we “should” do so, but because we “want to.”

It is important that we have promises.  When we do make a promise, it is important to focus on some specific behavior.  We need to take the time to honestly examine our own behavior, admit where we are making karmic mistakes, contemplate deeply the consequences of our wrong choices, and then make specific promises to refrain from such behavior again knowing what awaits us if we don’t.  Generalized promises of “I won’t do anything wrong ever again” are so vague they lack sufficient concreteness to change our behavior.

We should likewise feel we are actually making promises to holy beings that we will stop.  Sometimes people post on Facebook for the world to see New Year’s Resolutions because doing so in front of others makes it more real.  In the same way, when we make our promises we should feel like we are actually going before Geshe-la and making an actual commitment (offering) that we will change.  This makes it more real and powerful in bringing about real change.  If we were to make an actual promise in front of Geshe-la, we would certainly keep our word.  This is how we should feel when we make promises in the context of our purification practice.

Sometimes in dependence upon such a promise, especially when we ask for help, results come quickly.  We quickly turn around a behavior that we have had for a very long time and we never turn back.  All it takes is the decision from our own side to do it and to let go of trying to do both stop and not stop.

We very often overlook the power of the promise, but this is in many ways the most important. The power of the promise purifies the tendencies similar to the cause to repeat our bad actions.

Every time we resist the direction of our delusions, in other words keep our promise, we create the cause for an upper rebirth.  So this reframes the choice:  the choice is not between having something we want or depriving ourselves of that thing; rather it is a choice between an upper rebirth vs. lower rebirth.  The reason why we have a precious human life now is because in the past we resisted the grain of our delusions.

Finally, when we make promises we need to make mini-promises and train gradually.  If we make too big of promises and break them, then decrease confidence and capacity and it gets worse.  If make too small of promises, it doesn’t do anything.  If we make promises which push us slightly, and we keep them, then our confidence and capacity increase and we can gradually abandon all negative actions.

This concludes the second chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled Purifying Negativity”.

Compassion is the answer to the U.S. Election

My take on the election: I do not believe Trump won because the United States is any more sexist, racist, or Islamaphobic than it was two days ago, rather I believe he won despite him showing all of these signs. He won because whether he realized it or not, the new political divide in the world today is not between right and left as we have known them for the last forty years, but rather between a globalizing elite and those who feel left behind by the new world.

The New York Times has an outstanding graphic which shows geographically which areas Trump outperformed Romney four years ago. It is very clear: he won the former industrial mid-west, in particular those areas with relatively fewer college graduates – in other words, the white working class. His racist and sexist attitudes probably cost him more votes than he won by them. Many of the haters would have voted for him anyways, many more were grossly turned off by them. The people he flipped were working class whites, former union people and a large portion of the population who normally don’t vote at all, in particular in rural areas. We see the same thing in Brexit and around the developed world.

The truth is the situation of poor, low-education, working class whites in America has become a disaster. And the truth is globalization has played a large part in that decline. These people are forced to compete with literally billions of new entrants into the global middle class, primarily in East Asia, India and yes Latin America. In their gut, the white working class know globalization has played a massive role in their prospects becoming so grim. When somebody comes along who tells them what they feel in their bones to be true, they think “finally, somebody who gets it and somebody who has the balls and will to reverse it,” and so they come out in sufficient numbers to propel him to victory (it only takes a few percent of the voting population to flip the election result in swing states, and thus the country).

Why did the pollsters and data wizards get it wrong? The only explanations I can think of are (1) many people weren’t willing to share openly their support for Trump with pollsters precisely because they knew Trump was so politically incorrect and they feared being stigmatized as racists and sexists by expressing their support, and (2) because modern polling techniques have some sort of systematic sample bias of primarily polling those who have been hurt less by deindustrialization (technology and communication habits, most likely).

The reality is this – Economics correctly states globalization benefits the country more than it hurts it, but there are populations which lose out from it. The solution, of course, is for the winners of globalization to compensate the losers so that we are all better off. This basic bargain hasn’t been implemented. The globalized elite have pocketed their gains and live in informational bubbles where they do not even encounter people who have lost from globalization. I find it telling that Trump supporters just knew Trump would win because everybody they knew supported Trump, and the same is true for Hillary supporters – they just knew Hillary would win because everyone they knew despised Trump and because Nate Silver was never wrong. But we live in different worlds. The failure of the left to insist on some form of compensation for those left behind by globalization as a condition for their support of it is a primary reason why Trump won. Why did the left not care? Because we had, consciously or not, labeled such people deplorables. Because some of them were haters and we thought they were all going to vote Republican (or not vote at all) anyways, we just wrote them off. We arrogantly called them “racist, ignorant white trash.” We also didn’t really know they existed because we live and travel in cities and fly over or drive quickly past their reality.

None of this is to say Trump’s stated policies will make their situation any better. In fact, I fear they could make us all much, much worse off. I think many of these people have been conned into supporting somebody who will not be able to deliver on his promises to them. Eventually that con will be revealed. Maybe these people know it is probably a bunch of false promises, but figure they have nothing to lose by trying it Trump’s way. But it is not enough for us to just wait for his failure to meet expectations to happen. Progressives need to find solutions for poor whites too. I am not saying globalization is entirely to blame. Technological advances in robotics also play a huge role. Most of the failure is actually one of policy support for the working class.

People on the left now face a challenge: we have been criticizing Republicans for putting party before country. Will we now do the same? There are parts of Trump’s agenda which are good, most notably his plans for massive increases in infrastructure spending (I am not talking about the Wall here) and his at least stated intention to do something about campaign finance (though his Supreme Court picks are likely to undo any progress here). But mostly, we need to start thinking of new solutions.

I think we can easily make the case that universal health care, universal pre-K, support for working mothers, free job retrainings and apprenticeships – in short, public support for the working poor – simultaneously helps the poor live middle class lives and keeps the cost of hiring workers low, enabling U.S. companies to compete globally. This is the case we need to make. Just labeling them all racists, sexists, and deplorables will not bring us any closer to solutions or any closer together as a country. We need to heal the divisions this election has laid bare. We can do that with compassion for our fellow citiizens who have communicated clearly they have been hurting and we haven’t been bothered to care.

As Kadampas, we need to remember our fight is with delusions, starting with our own.  There is no creator other than mind.  Everything that appears to us is mere karmic appearance of mind.  This world is our dream, it is our responsibility to reconstruct it.  How?  Through wisdom, compassion, and pure view.  We must resist racism, sexism, Islamaphobia, of course, but we must also resist the elitism and arrogance and uncaring in our own mind.  We must also realize that samsara is the nature of suffering and is the nature of deception.  We know political solutions will only take us so far.  The real solution lies in us destroying the demons of self-cherishing, self-grasping, ordinary conceptions, and ordinary appearances in our own mind, then helping others do the same.  We live in degenerate times.  We must be sources of good.