Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Roadmap of the next three perfections

The next three perfections we will explore are patience, effort and concentration.  Before we do so, I wanted to give a brief overview of their meaning and how they mutually support one another.

First we will examine at length training in patience, patient acceptance.  We currently feel as if our lives are filled with imperfect people and imperfect situations that are the causes of our problems and suffering.  The reality is we are mentally unhappy because we are poor in virtue, and then we mistakenly look for reasons for our unhappiness outside of ourselves and we blame others and our situation.  Because we are convinced that our happiness depends upon our external situations and others acting as we wish them to, when they don’t, we become frustrated and angry.  We become angry because things don’t go the way we want them to, not because things go the way they do.  So the real problem is thinking things are not perfect.  Whether things go the way we want them to or not depends upon what we are trying to accomplish or do.  If what we are trying to do is find a comfortable place in samsara, it is inevitable that some things will not go the way we want.  If instead what we want is to develop spiritually, then everything and everybody is exactly perfect for us because they provide us so many opportunities to practice.

The mind of patient acceptance is a mind that has the ability to see how everything, even the most adverse conditions, is extremely useful and indeed precious for the accomplishment of our spiritual goals.  So no matter how things go, for us it is perfect and we can happily accept the situation.  Therefore, there is no basis for anger to arise.  Just because we see things as perfect for our practice doesn’t mean we think things are perfect the way they are.  Suffering is perfect for our practice, but the point of our practice is to eventually transcend all suffering.   It does mean, however, that we no longer feel like our happiness is dependent upon things going in any particular way, so no matter how things go, it is not a problem for us.  We still try to make things better through all the external and internal means we have.  The main conclusion of the mind of patience is a wholehearted welcoming of whatever happens without the slightest resistance because we realize how it is completely perfect for our practice.

THEN on the basis of a mind patience we can develop effort.  Normally we think effort is working hard.  But according to Dharma, the mind of effort is one that takes delight in engaging in virtue, in other words takes delight in engaging in our practice.  Because we naturally and effortlessly do what we enjoy doing, if for us engaging in virtue is playtime, then we will naturally and effortlessly engage in our practice.  This will be what we want to do.  With the practice of patience we are able to see how every moment and every situation is absolutely perfect for our practice.  With the practice of effort we thoroughly enjoy being able to practice.  With these two, we can thoroughly enjoy every moment of our life.  We can enjoy a spiritual life.  If we enjoy our spiritual life, our enlightenment is just a matter of time.  We will truly enter the Joyful Path and go from joy to joy to the citadel of enlightenment and we will bring countless others with us both now and for the rest of eternity.

On the basis of joyful effort, we then train in concentration.  Concentration is the ability to single-pointedly place our mind on virtue.  At present we have enormous difficulty keeping our mind centered in virtue because it naturally goes out to contaminated objects of attachment, etc.  Why does our mind go out to contaminated objects?  Because we are convinced that happiness arises from mixing our mind with these objects.  Shantideva completely shatters this notion and shows us how going out to these objects of attachment just creates suffering and problems for us and deceives and betrays us.  We become no longer fooled by samsara’s deceptions and so are not drawn into its lies.  When thoughts of attachment arise within our mind, we see it as mental spam and don’t pay it any heed.  Because, on the basis of joyful effort, we are taking delight in the luxury of a virtuous mind, we cannot be bothered with contaminated objects which we know will only bring suffering. We become like a child who has outgrown their toys.  Samsara’s toys no longer interest us, we have found much more sublime enjoyments, the meditations on Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  When we let go of this mind of attachment to the pleasures of samsara it means we no longer look to these things for our happiness, it doesn’t mean that we avoid them.  We just no longer look to them as causes of our happiness.

The mind of non-attachment gives rise to two very special minds:  First, the mind of contentment.  Shantideva says the greatest wealth is the mind of contentment because it lacks nothing.  Ordinary wealth leaves us wanting more, so the more we have the more we feel poor.  But with contentment, we can enjoy everything and never feel any lack.  Second, the mind of being in love with everyone.  One of our biggest attachments is to relationships.  The honey we chase after is the feeling of ‘being in love.’  This feeling is a mind that is delighted just to see and think about others.  When we have a mind of non-attachment we are able to have this feeling of being in love with everyone every moment of the day, like a sun that shines on all before it.  Our relationships will then become sources of infinite pleasure and happiness instead of the constant stream of problems they are now.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  A reminder of the main point

This series of blog posts is my own individual reflections on the meaning of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.  I don’t pretend in any way that I know what I am talking about or that I have anything particularly useful to say.  Geshe-la defines meditation as familiarizing ourself with virtue.  For me, Shantideva’s Guide was my first book (in the form of Meaningful to Behold).  It is thanks to this book that I have any spiritual life at all.  Geshe-la has said the job of Modern Kadampas is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  Everything I do and everything I say is my understanding of what that means.  I write this blog because it gives me an opportunity to mix my mind with the virtue of Shantideva’s Guide.  If other people find some benefit in what I say, then all the better.

It is worth recalling how we become Bodhisattvas.  A Bodhisattva is somebody who is driven by a particular intention – namely the intention to become a Buddha for the sake of others, to help lead them to the same state.  How do we develop this mind?  By considering how things really are.  Globally, we see that natural disasters, like tsunamis, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and so forth seem to be increasing in frequency and deadliness.  Terrorist attacks occur regularly, airplanes are falling out of the sky like flies, killing hundreds in a go.  Genocides and famines are taking place and nobody is doing anything about it.  New diseases are arising very rapidly, like AIDS, SARS, Bird Flu, TB, Malaria, Ebola, Zika, etc.  The population is exploding in the most poor, turbulent and disease ridden areas in the world and declining rapidly where things are better.  The political leaders of the most powerful nations consistently make decisions which make the situation worse.  It is said the next age is the ‘age of arms’ where people see how everything can be used as a weapon to kill others.  We see this age emerging before our very eyes.

Individually people are becoming increasingly selfish, materialistic and angry.  Psychologists estimate that people are 9 times more likely to have negative minds than positive ones, and 9 out of 10 people die with a negative mind.  People’s minds are becoming increasingly uncontrolled.  Spiritually, there is a global collapse of the religious institutions of the last 2000 years.  The spiritual traditions of the West are in total decline, the Archbishop of Canterbury said Christian spirituality is dead, though it heartens to see how the new Pope is bringing about a revival.  In the East the spiritual traditions have been commercialized and politicized and are fading fast in the face of economic growth.  Now it is frequently little more than praying for good exam or business results.  Islam has been hijacked by radical terrorists who use it to justify mass murder.  Mainstream Judaism is now more of a political movement than a spiritual one, and the ‘religious side’ has likewise been hijacked by fundamentalists.  Pure spiritual teachings on Tantra, for example, are being co-opted to be able to extract more pleasure out of samsara or to succeed in business.

In reality, what is going on is this planet is rapidly sinking deeper into samsara.  Things that were hidden (relatively lower realms) are becoming increasingly manifest.  In reality, these sorts of things are happening all over samsara’s 6 realms all the time, it is just happening behind the curtain of our ignorance.  Because we have no control over our mind, we have no control over our death process and we get thrown from one samsaric rebirth to another.  If we take rebirth in the lower realms, we know only suffering; if we take rebirth in the upper realms we burn up all our merit and fall.  Virtually everyone is in the lower realms.  We are trapped in a cycle of uncontrolled rebirth into contaminated aggregates.  Remaining with our uncontrolled mind is like choosing to repeatedly play Russian Roulette where there is no chamber without a bullet.

The creator of this house of horrors is our own contaminated mind.  In reality, none of it is real – it is all a bad nightmare produced by our contaminated minds, but we suffer from it because we believe it is real.  If we purify our mind, we can purify the world it projects and in this way transform the world around us into a pure one.

The Dharma is the method for being able to purify our mind and take control over the death process so we can with choice take rebirth in a pure land, liberation or enlightenment.  Buddha explains to us how, and Sangha provide us with good examples and all the conditions necessary to do it.  Seeing how Dharma is the solution to all the problems of all beings, we then commit ourselves to bringing about this solution in our own mind so that we can help others do the same.  Then one by one we take everybody to freedom.  The intention to do this is bodhichitta.  A Bodhisattva is somebody who has this as their intention.  What does a bodhisattva do with this intention?  They practice the six perfections.  The six perfections are the actual pathway to enlightenment.

A shortcut for being able to quickly generate a qualified bodhichitta is to view others as your future students who you are spiritually responsible for.  If you don’t save the people around you, who will?  It is up to you.  You have the karma with them, so one day it will be up to you.  The longer you take to attain enlightenment, the longer they drown in samsara.  Seeing this, we become very motivated to quickly become a Buddha.  This view radically reorganizes our relationships with others and transforms them into bodhisattva relationships.  This creates the karma with them to one day have them as our students and for us to become a Buddha with the special ability to help them.  Of course we need to be skillful with this and realize that at present we are completely incapable of being their spiritual guide, but seeing this incapacity propels us to wish to become a Buddha who has no such limitations.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Pay attention and practice

(5.108) The defining characteristic of guarding alertness
Is to examine again and again
The state of our body, speech, and mind,
And to understand whether our actions are correct or not.

The only way we can change our behavior is if we are aware of what we are doing.  Most people really struggle with this.

Some people suffer from great pride that quite literally blinds them from being able to see their faults.  For the person full of pride, they rarely, if ever, do anything wrong in their eyes, and any mistakes they make are always somebody else’s fault.  When our mind is infected with pride, everything we do feels “justified” and any criticism feels “unfair.”  When pride rules our mind we feel like we have nothing to learn from others, and we often think if only everybody thought like us we wouldn’t have all of these problems.

Other people suffer from great guilt.  They feel like they can’t do anything right, and anytime they are forced to confront their mistakes it reinforces their feelings of helplessness and low self-worth.  Guilt is a form of anger directed at oneself.  It fools us into thinking if we beat ourselves up enough over our shortcomings we will somehow do better, but it never works out that way.  The more we beat ourselves up, the more we feel bad about ourselves.  It ultimately comes from grasping at a false belief that we should already be better than we actually are.  Every time we fall short of our expectations for ourselves, we then feel like a failure and the self-flagellation begins.  Anger seeks to harm the other person, guilt seeks to harm ourselves.  Harming ourselves doesn’t help us.  Since guilt is painful, people who suffer from it are unable to look at their faults and mistakes with an accepting mind.

The middle way between pride and guilt is “humble self-confidence.”  Humility, ultimately, is an acceptance of our own imperfection.  It is not simply an awareness that we are not perfect, but also we are at peace with this fact.  We are keenly aware of our faults, and this doesn’t disturb us at all because we don’t expect ourselves to be any different.  But this does not mean we are complacent about it.  There is no contradiction between accepting where we are at and wishing to get better.  At the same time, we have self-confidence.  People with pride usually confuse their inflated view of themselves with self-confidence.  Pride is thinking we have few, if any, faults; self-confidence knows with effort we can overcome any faults we have and obstacles we face.  Self-confidence is born from having acknowledged our short-comings in the past, having applied effort to overcome them and having had success at doing so.  Once we have some experience of this, we begin to know when confronted with our other mistakes or weaknesses, we can overcome those too.  With enough experience, we begin to realize that with sufficient time, effort and perseverance, there is no fault we cannot overcome – indeed we realize our eventual enlightenment is inevitable if we simply never give up trying.

(5.109) We need to put Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, into practice
Because nothing can be accomplished just by reading words.
A sick man will never be cured of his illness
Through merely reading medical instructions!

Dharma practice, quite simply is applying effort to change our mental habits.  The process is always the same.  First, we identify how our present habits of mind are deluded and self-defeating.  We then consider what is correct behavior and how engaging in such behavior will make things better.  On the basis of this, we generate a wish to change our ways.  The stronger and more pure our wish, the more powerful our Dharma practices will be.  Motivated by this wish, we then try to think, speak and act differently.  As we do so, we will become aware of how hard it is to change, but it is possible.  With persistent effort, we then create new habits of mind until eventually correct behavior comes naturally.  We can even get to the point where we couldn’t engage in negative behavior even if we tried.

All those who have traveled the path have done so in the same way.  There is no other way to change than to decide to change ourselves.  We will only do this if we want to, and we will only want to if we have the wisdom that sees through the lies of our delusions and sees clearly the fruit of correct action.  In short, it all comes down to ignorance and wisdom.  We currently ignorantly believe our delusions.  Once we see they are wrong by realizing wisdom, our behavior will naturally begin to change for the simple reason of we want it to.  This is the essence of moral discipline.

 This concludes the fifth chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled “Guarding Alertness”.

 

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.”