Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 3

Dedicate your virtues throughout the day and the night, and always watch your mind.

If we think about it deeply, one of the scariest disadvantages of anger is it functions to destroy our undedicated merit.  We may engage in very extensive spiritual training and engage in all sorts of virtues, but if we fail to dedicate and we subsequently get angry, we will lose all of the good karma we have created for ourself.  Karmically speaking, it will be as if we had never engaged in the virtue in the first place.  The best analogy for understanding how this works is saving our work on our computer.  We have all had the experience of doing a lot of work on a computer but then for whatever reason the computer crashes, and since we haven’t saved our work we lose it completely.  Then we have to start over from scratch.  Dedicating our merit is like saving our spiritual work on the computer of our very subtle mind.  It protects it in such a way that even if our mind subsequently crashes with anger, the merit is safe, secure and retrievable.

What does it mean to “dedicate” our merit.  I think the best analogy is “choosing how to invest it.”  If you make a lot of money then you have excess savings that you need to invest.  You want to invest the money in such a way that you get a good return on your money.  So you invest the money into something.  Once it is invested, that money is set aside and reserved, and even if you subsequently make no more money, the invested money is still there.  If instead you kept all of your money under your mattress at home, if there was a fire (of anger) in your house, you would lose everything.  So, like a spiritual philanthropist, we need to consciously decide how we want to invest our merit.  We can invest it in things like praying that others be granted the wisdom to transform their difficulties into the path or we can invest it in things like having the Kadampa tradition flourish in this world forevermore or we can invest it in things like having our mind be blessed at the time of our death so we are taken to the pure land where we can complete our training.

“Always watch your mind” means always watch your mind to avoid getting angry or other delusions, which functions to destroy your undedicated merit.

Because you have received advice, whenever you are not meditating always practise in accordance with what your Spiritual Guide says.

If we view everyone as our spiritual guide, then we can receive teachings from him through absolutely everybody.  In particular, the Spiritual Guide is a Buddha appearing in the aspect of an ordinary being.  He does so that you relate to him in a normal way.  By relating to him in a normal way, you will gain the realizations you need to attain enlightenment.   This does not mean doing whatever he says.  With this special view, you will receive powerful blessings through everybody, where whatever people say it will contain a Dharma lesson for you.  We can also do this with situations as well, not just people.

If you practise with great devotion, results will arise immediately, without your having to wait for a long time.

This refers primarily to practicing without attachment to results. If we have faith in karma, we are happy to just create causes because we know the karmic results are guaranteed.  This faith enables us to let go of attachment to results which actually blocks results from ripening.  The ‘result’ here is ‘enjoying practicing Dharma’.  If you have faith in karma, you will enjoy creating causes.  From this, the rest comes.

We need to have faith in the Dharma jewel of emptiness.  It is easy to develop faith in this Dharma jewel because it actually doesn’t take faith to establish it.  When we check, we realize directly that it is true.  So we do not take a risk by living our life as if it were a dream because that is exactly what it is.  What does it mean to live your life as if it were a dream?  It means to realize what needs to change is our own mind since it is our mind that creates the world.

To practice with devotion means to practice with faith, so I thought it might be useful to say a few words about faith.  What are the types of faith?

  1. Blind faith – this is faith without a valid reason.  We completely reject this is Buddhism (though in our Tantric practice, blind faith is better than no faith at all).    Blind faith is better than no faith only when you happen to get lucky and place your blind faith in something that is perfect.  But with blind faith there is the risk that you could place your faith in something not worthy of faith.  And even if you did put blind faith in a worthwhile object, you wouldn’t get very far because from a Buddhist perspective you need to realize all the stages of the path from your own side.  We are not training to be followers, we are training to be leaders, those who lead others to perfect freedom.  You can never do this if you don’t understand everything perfectly yourself in your heart.
  2. Admiring faith – appreciation for the good qualities of enlightened beings, or their teachings, or our spiritual friends.  Our mind naturally becomes very clear and free from disturbing conceptions.  This creates the space within our mind to allow ourselves to come under the influence of what we admire.  For example, when I was growing up I aspired to be like the Karate Kid and Michael Jordon.  Normally we keep a distance between ourselves and other objects because we fear coming under their influence.  But by contemplating and realizing their good qualities from our own side helps us to break down this fear, and thereby enables us to open our mind up.  But the way in which we open up is through investigating these things.
  3. Wishing faith – here we wish to acquire for ourselves the good qualities that we admire with our admiring faith.  This compels us to engage in practice.
  4. Believing faith – This is faith based on valid reasoning.  Even though it does not fully understand the given subject, it engages the topic without doubt.  Believing faith accomplishes a similar function as wisdom.  Wisdom knows its object thoroughly from one’s own side, and it functions to dispel doubt.  Believing faith accepts the truth of the subject even while uncertainty remains, and so therefore functions to dispel doubt.  It enables the practitioner to practice fully even when they don’t yet fully understand.

It is important to understand the key relationship between faith and wisdom.  This can be understood according to the following equation:  intellectual understanding plus believing faith equals wisdom.  There are many different methods we can use to develop believing faith.  First, we can use the logical reasoning contained within the Lamrim to convince ourselves by weight of argument.  Second, we can be like a good scientist who for the sake of the experiment suspends their doubts about whether it works or not, and instead puts the instructions into practice purely to see if they work.  Third, we can choose to believe.  Faith is a choice to believe.  What do we choose to believe?  That which is most beneficial to believe.  So we simply investigate whether it is beneficial to think in a particular way, and then we choose to do so.

The fundamental question of faith is:  upon whose mind do I rely?  Since we are not enlightened, if we rely upon ourself we will just go in circles and never get anywhere.  Since the guru has gotten there, if we rely upon his perfect mind then he will take us to wherever we want to go.  The most intelligent thing to do is to rely upon the guru’s mind alone.


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