Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Guard your mind or fall.  There is no third option.

(5.28) These legions of thieves of the delusions
Are just waiting for an opportunity
And, when one arises, they will steal my wealth of virtue
And destroy any chance of a fortunate rebirth.

We need an accurate sense of the danger we are in.  If there was one thief on the loose in a big city, we wouldn’t be too worried and we could feel safe.  If there were legions (thousands) of thieves waiting outside our door to pounce at the first opening they have, we would be on constant guard.  In the same way, if we only had one or two delusions in the infinite expanse of our mind, we wouldn’t need to be too worried (though, actually we would).  But if there are legions of delusions waiting for an opportunity to slip through the cracks of our spiritual defenses, we would be on constant guard of our mind.  It’s pretty clear what our situation is – delusions have near total dominion over our mind.  It takes very little to activate our delusions, and if left unchecked they will grow and grow, stealing our virtue.

I really enjoy Christian teachings about the devil, especially from Southern Baptists preachers.  In their description, the devil is merciless and utterly deceitful.  He makes all sorts of false promises, and duped by them we follow his advice only for him to betray us every time.  We become more and more ensnared in his web of lies, he gradually takes over more and more of our behavior, causing us to engage in all sorts of negative and destructive acts.  His sole objective is to lead us to the very pit of the deepest hell.  While Buddhists don’t grasp at their being some being out there doing this, the description of the devil and his ways is a perfect description for how delusions operate.  The Baptist preacher tells us we need to be on constant lookout because Satan is just looking for an opening and is tempting or provoking us at every turn.  If we are not mindful, we will fall into one of his many traps from which we may never escape for what is for all practical purposes eternity.

Delusions know where we are weakest and they will attack us mercilessly.  For some it is anger, for others it is jealousy, for others it is attachment to what others think, for many it is sexual attachment.  One of my favorite stories is the one where the woman tells the monk you either drink with me, have sex with me or I will kill myself.  Thinking drinking was the least bad of the three options, the monk proceeded to drink, got drunk, lost his moral discipline and wound up having sex with the woman.  The result was he committed spiritual suicide.

Delusions are like water.  Water has an incredible ability to relentlessly find the cracks and seep into them.  Water, which we can playfully splash our hands through, nonetheless has the power to carve out great canyons one drop at a time.  In the same way, delusions relentlessly find the cracks within our mind, and they can seep into our virtues.  An individual delusion, in and of itself, never seems like a big deal and we can playfully splash our mind through it, but it nonetheless has the power to carve out great canyons of bad mental habits or pathways one deluded drop at a time, until eventually all the water of our mental continuum flows in deluded ways.

(5.29) Therefore, I will not allow my mindfulness
To stray from the doorway of my mind;
And, if I notice it is about to leave,
I will restore it by recalling the sufferings of the lower realms.

The reason why delusions succeed in deceiving us is each time we think, “it’s no big deal.”  And it’s true, as a one off, no single delusion is that big of a deal.  But each time we allow one delusion to run free, it will be harder to stop the next one.  It does not take long before even if we wanted to stop them we couldn’t.

A good Sangha friend of mine once said, “in every moment, we are either going out of samsara or deeper into it, there is no third possibility.”  In exactly the same way, either we are guarding our mind or we are falling into the lower realms, there is no third possibility.  Sooner or later, if we do not maintain constant mindfulness, our delusions will slowly or quickly drag us down.  All delusions are necessarily bottomless pits.  We often follow our delusions once hoping doing so will bring us happiness.  When it fails to do so, we think next time will be different, so we try again.  We keep repeating this mistake again and again until it becomes too late and we can no longer stop ourselves, just like a drug addict.  We either stop our delusions or they will damn us to the deepest hell.  There is no third possibility.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Without alertness, we can lose everything

(5.26) Even those who have much learning and faith
And who have sincerely applied great effort
Will become defiled by moral downfalls
Through the fault of lacking alertness.

Some practitioners put a tremendous amount of effort into studying and practicing Dharma.  They attend all the teachings they can, even if only by correspondence, they have been working hard for the center and going to all the festivals.  In their daily lives, they strive diligently to put the instructions into practice, be more generous, patiently accept adversity, not retaliate when harmed, etc.  Many practitioners have given up a tremendous amount for the sake of their practice, including their money, their spare time, their careers, their enjoyments including sex, and some even their spouses and children.  (Note, you do no thave to abandon these things to be a Dharma practitioner, but some have done so for the sake of their practice).  There are many sincere practitioners out there doing all of these things, year after year.  As a result, they have accumulated great virtues, tremendous merit, and profound wisdom.

The merit and wisdom accumulated through such effort are, without a doubt, our most prized possessions.  We go to great lengths to protect our external valuables, such as buying insurance for our home, car and physical health, we put locks on doors, use safes, created a banking system, put firewalls on our computers, passwords on our phones, security guards everywhere, police in the streets and armies deployed around the world.  The security industry is one of the largest industries in the world, indeed we can say that the entire “state system” that the world is organized by is itself an outgrowth of the need for security.  Trillions of dollars, millions of people, countless hours are all dedicated to security.  If protecting these external things is worth such effort, what need is there to say of the need for internal security of guarding the mind?  Our inner wealth of merit and realizations are far more valuable than anything external, yet more often than not we do nothing to protect such inner wealth.

A dam has the power to hold back a giant river, but it only takes one small crack for the whole thing to collapse.  For this reason, engineers on dams routinely monitor the integrity of the structure and diligently repair any potential weaknesses.  In the same way, our practice of virtue has the power to hold back the giant river of or delusions and negative karma, but it only takes one small crack for the whole thing to collapse and all our efforts are washed away.  The mind of alertness is our maintenance engineer who keeps a constant lookout for any potential weaknesses.  Without such an engineer, it is just a question of time before all that we have worked to build up in our mind is swept away by the powerful currents of delusion and negative karma coursing through our mental continuum.

(5.27) If I lack alertness, the thieves of the delusions
Will cause my mindfulness to degenerate,
And then steal even the merit I have so diligently gathered
So that I shall fall into the lower realms.

When Geshe-la opened the temple at Manjushri, he essentially gave three days of teachings on overcoming distractions.  He said distractions are like a thief that robs us of our spiritual life.  In the same way, all delusions are like thieves that enter into our mind, cause our mindfulness to degenerate and then steal away all of the merit we have worked so hard to accumulate.

It is said that one moment of anger towards a bodhisattva has the power to burn up aeons worth of merit we have previously accumulated.  Though perhaps to a lesser extent, this is true about anger towards anybody who has been particularly kind to us, such as our parents, teachers and so forth.  When personal computers first came out, they were much more unstable than they are today (hard to believe, but true).  People were advised to save their work every 5 or 10 minutes, because there was always a danger of the computer crashing and losing all of our hard work.  If we failed to do so, we would have to start over again completely from scratch.  In the same way, we work very hard to accumulate virtue and realizations.  But the delusions of our mind can quickly and easily cause our spiritual life to crash and we can lose everything we have worked so hard to accumulate.  Guarding alertness is like saving on our computer, it protects our spiritual work from being lost.  Delusions are like computer viruses which can infect our computer and steal all or passwords or corrupt our spiritual files.  We wouldn’t go on-line without anti-virus software protecting us, so too our mind of alertness is like a firewall keeping out unwanted delusions.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Without guarding the mind, no virtue is possible

(5.24) Just as people who are troubled by sickness
Have no strength for any kind of physical work,
So those whose minds are disturbed by confusion
Have no strength for any kind of virtuous action.

Geshe-la says in Joyful Path that when sickness strikes, even a champion boxer is knocked out and sapped of all strength.  We know ourselves when we are sick we are incapable of doing much, if anything.  In the same way, when our mind becomes seized by delusion, it is nearly impossible to generate any kind of virtue.

I think the best analogy is cancer.  When people get cancer, it is quite literally all consuming.  If radical steps are not taken to stop its spread, it is just a question of time before the cancer will literally eat us alive.  People who get cancer must struggle to survive and use all of their remaining strength to fight it.  There is rarely any strength of energy left over for them to do anything else.  But cancer can at most harm us in this life, the cancer of our delusions harm us in this and all our future lives.  If we do not take radical steps to remove every last trace of the cancer of delusions from our mind, it will spread until eventually it completely kills our spiritual life.  If just one cell of cancer remains in our body, if left unchecked, it can and will mutate and eventually spread throughout our body.  In the same way, if we allow even one cell of delusion to remain in our mind, it will mutate and eventually spread throughout our mind.

Delusions are like weeds which if not stopped will gradually grow in strength and crowd out and destroy any good crops.  Just as nothing good can grow in a field of weeds, so too no virtues can grow in a mind overrun by delusions.

(5.25) Moreover, for those whose minds lack alertness,
The wisdoms from listening, contemplating, and meditating
Will not be retained by their memory
Any more than water will remain in a leaky pot.

If we check, it is quite rare that we ever do much to mix our mind with Dharma.  But if our mind lacks alertness, the little we do is quickly lost so our effort is almost for naught.

As time goes on, I am increasingly of the view if it weren’t for the fact that samsara gives us one problem after another, we would never really practice Dharma.  I know for myself that when everything is going well in my life, it is very easy to become lazy and just coast and enjoy the ripening of good karma.  It is only when life smacks me down in one way or another that I am forced to actually use the Dharma to change the way my mind thinks in a more positive way.

It’s so easy to just take the Dharma at the level of interesting philosophical ideas.  Of course there is benefit in merely understanding what the Dharma says, but the fruit of Dharma is only realized when we actually transform our mind with it.  Meditation is defined as “familiarizing our mind with virtue.”  There are three different levels at which we do this, listening, contemplating and meditating.  Listening to Dharma is not just hearing the sounds of Dharma, but it is a special way of paying attention to Dhama instructions.  Practically speaking, to listen in a qualified way means to have the sickness of our delusions in mind, and then we listen to the Dharma instructions we are receiving as if they were personal advice on the cure coming from our Spiritual Doctor.  Contemplating is not just thinking about the Dharma we have heard, it is a rigorous process of testing its validity against the experience of our own lives until we see, yes, the Dharma is truth.  My happiness does depend on whether my mind is at peace, not my external circumstances.  Delusions destroy my inner peace and virtuous states of mind increase it.  Selfishness ruins everything, selflessness is the key to everything.  Everything does depend entirely upon how I view things, and I have complete freedom to change my view into something more positive, indeed pure.  And when I do so, everything gets better.  If I change my mind, I quite literally can change the world.  Meditating is not just sitting cross-legged for a period of time in the morning before we begin our day, it is the actual process of changing ourselves with the Dharma truths we have realized.  Meditation is not just remembering the ideas of Dharma, it is the inner work of bringing about a deep transformation of who we are.  With listening, for example, we come to understand what pure compassion is.  With contemplation, we generate the feeling of compassion in our heart.  With meditation, we become a compassionate person.  Venerable Tharchin said, “meditation makes Dharma an acquisition of your personality.”

Alertness does not just distinguish fault from non-fault, it distinguishes faults from non-faults within our own mind.  We are quite skilled at distinguishing faults from non-faults in others, but this is not alertness, rather it is ignorance.  Others have no faults, rather they appear that way only because we look at them in a faulty way.  Geshe-la says, “a pure mind experiences a pure world and an impure mind experiences an impure world.”  Our ignorance, however, grasps at the appearance of faults in others as being objectively true.  We then “find fault” in others, become upset about their shortcomings, generate anger and resentment when they fail to live up to our expectations, and then find ourselves in conflict with all those around us.  Alertness looks inward and is able to distinguish fault from non-fault within our own mind.  Only this can keep us on track.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Never let your guard down

(5.22) I can accept losing my wealth and reputation,
Or even my livelihood or my body,
And I can even accept my other virtues degenerating;
But I can never allow my practice of guarding the mind to decline.

Normally we think our wealth and reputation are the most important things in our life.  We know this because we spend most of our time thinking about these things and seeking to protect them.  We feel our happiness and well-being depend upon them.  Some people are willing to sacrifice anything to secure these two.  There is of course nothing wrong with wealth and a good reputation if we use these things for virtuous purposes.  But we should not be attached to them, thinking that our happiness depends on them.

Our livelihood and our body are often, quite rightly, considered even more important than our wealth and reputation.  Our livelihood is the means by which we acquire wealth, and certainly the cause of generating new wealth is more important than wealth itself.  If we lose all our wealth but not our livelihood, we can gain our wealth back.  Our body is even more important than all of these.  Without our body, we can have no livelihood, wealth or reputation.  Without our body, we would lose everything we have in this life.  All of these things are important, and we are correct to try protect them, but Shantideva is telling us they are trivial in importance compared to guarding our mind.

In other words, whatever happens, I mustn’t leave my mind unprotected. If I do, I stand to lose everything from my spiritual life.  My spiritual life will end.  If we lose anything else we can get them again, but we will never regain anything of value if we lose our practice of guarding the mind.  All good fortune comes from merit, and all merit comes from virtue.  All virtue depends upon the practice of guarding the mind.  The cause of wealth is giving.  The cause of a good reputation is rejoicing in other’s good qualities.  The cause of a livelihood is the intention to help others.  The cause of a human body is the practice of moral discipline.  All of the things we cherish in fact come from our virtues, which in turn depend upon our practice of guarding the mind.

Our wealth, reputation, livelihood and even our body at most can help us in this life alone, but our practice of guarding the mind can help us in this and all our future lives.  Which is more important to protect?  Of course we should protect them all, but Shantideva is highlighting for us what really matters, the thing we should protect at all costs.  Do we live our life this way?  If not, why not?

Geshe-la has said we make prayers, prostrations, recite sadhanas, and so forth, but we never guard our mind.  He once said guarding the mind is our most important practice, and then quoted Shantideva with verse 22, indicating that it has to be the most important of our practices.  If so, one could argue this is the most important verse in Shantideva’s guide.  We should regularly meditate on this verse in order to strengthen our determination.

(5.23) With my palms pressed together,
I beseech those who wish to guard their minds:
Always put effort into guarding
Both mindfulness and alertness.

Mindfulness, quite simply, is remembering our Dharma conclusions.  We engage in all sorts of contemplation of Dharma, and in dependence upon receiving blessings, we are occasionally led to clear virtuous conclusions, such as the need to be grateful for what our parents have provided us, not resentful about what they haven’t; or the need to forgive others for the harm they have caused; or even realizing nothing is more important than guarding our mind.  It is not enough to have a flash of wisdom insight, we need to maintain the continuum of these understandings for longer and longer periods of time so that they can bring about a deep transformation of who we are.  Mindfulness does it.  It functions to keep our mind on an object that has not been forgotten, preventing us from losing it, and it also functions to bring back to mind our object after we have forgotten it.  Without mindfulness, our virtues will merely be like a flash of lightening at night, providing a temporary glimpse of how things are.  With mindfulness, our virtues become like the sun on a clear day illuminating without interruption our path.

Alertness, quite simply, is a wisdom mind that can distinguish fault from non-fault.  It is like a Secret Service agent always on the look out for the slightest danger or threat to the virtue within our mind.  Alertness functions as a spy.  It is a wisdom alerting us to a fault, so that we can take appropriate action such as strengthening our mindfulness. In particular it watches out for inappropriate attention.  All delusion arises from inappropriate attention.  Inappropriate attention is an exaggeration of the good or bad qualities of an object or situation.  Inappropriate attention is then the main cause of delusion.  Alertness constantly keeps a watch out for inappropriate attention arising in our mind.  When we are driving on a busy road, with cars, bikes and pedestrians moving in every direction, it is alertness that protects us from getting in an accident.  In exactly the same way, when internally travelling the path, with delusions, negativities and distractions moving in every direction, it is alertness that protects our spiritual journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Stop exaggerating!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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