Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 5

Profit and respect are nooses of the maras, so brush them aside like stones on the path.

How are profit and respect harmful?  Seeking profit is trying to ripen merit.  We are trying to squeeze good things out of samsara.  Actually all of society has one goal – to burn up as much merit as we can.   If we do this and it works, then we think that samsara works and we don’t develop the wish to wake up.

The key question we should ask ourselves whenever we have any of the objects of the 8 worldly concerns is are we consuming them or are we investing them?  If we try to enjoy them, as ends in themselves, then we consume our merit and it is a total waste.  If we ‘reinvest’ them, as a means to the accomplishment of our spiritual goals, then the more such effects ripen, the more merit we can accumulate.  A good example of this is Geshe Langri Tangpa who had a habit of giving away everything he had accumulated every time he moved to a new place.  Through this practice of giving, he eventually became very rich and was able to support thousands of monks.

Venerable Tharchin explains that whether we are burning up our merit or increasing it depends on whether we impute “mine” onto any objects under our care.  For example, if we impute “mine” on our house, then our enjoyment of that house functions to burn up the merit.  If instead, we impute “others’” onto our house, viewing the house as our offering to our family for example or taking good care of our house as a custodian for the future owner, then our use of the house functions to increase our merit because we are continually offering it.

Words of praise and fame serve only to beguile us, therefore blow them away as you would blow your nose.

Who cares if we have a good reputation or not?  We do.  We’re very concerned, aren’t we, about what others think of us. It matters, a good reputation matters to us.  Why?  We need to check what our reasons are to see if they are good reasons.  I actually have a very funny story with this advice.  About 10 years ago I was doing a lot of formal work for the tradition, as a teacher, on the on-line chat groups and with NKTforKids.  Up until that point, I had not had the karma of meeting Geshe-la in person.  I was setting up the Creperie to be the day care for kids during the teaching and Geshe-la was going to give the teaching itself.  This was my chance when it would just be me and him, and I was certain he would just look at me with delight for all that I was doing for the tradition!  So I was standing there waiting for him to come.  He entered the room, took one look at me, then rolled his eyes away in disgust and blew his nose strongly!  Needless to say, this was not the reaction I was expecting, but I immediately remembered this advice from Atisha and realized the lesson.

Compliments and praise beguile us because we take credit for these things ourselves.  Also around the same time as the Creperie story, I started developing pride about all of my wonderous Dharma activities.  Then, all of a sudden, it felt as if the flow of blessings was completely shut off.  I was still responsible for everything I was responsible for before, but now I no longer had this flow of blessings working through me.  This lasted for several days and I was left dangling in the wind.  I realized clearly from this that I had started taking credit for me doing everything when in reality it was Geshe-la working through me all along.  Left on my own, I am completely useless.  Message received!

When it comes to what are others thinking about us, Venerable Tharcin answered this question with an emphatic ‘nothing!’ There is no other person thinking anything.  It is just our dream arising from our karma. So others are thinking about us what they are karmically determined to do.  If we want to change what they think about us, we need to change our karma.  We can think only good things about others, and gradually others will think only good things about us.  We can imagine that when others see us they think Buddha, in this way we can provide real benefit to them.

Since the happiness, pleasure, and friends you gather in this life last only for a moment, put them all behind you.

We are a society in search of stimulation.  Stimulation of any kind is the drug of modern times.  We need more and more just to feel something.  When we do not have strong stimulation, we feel like we are missing something.  When we do have strong stimulation, it makes us even more unhappy afterwards because it is increasingly rare to be able to generate such feelings.  In reality, what we are feeling is completely irrelevant.  Shantideva says if we awoke from a dream in which we experienced a few moments of happiness or a hundred years of happiness, once awake it is all the same.  Instead of running after intense feelings as the meaning of our life, we should build and invest in a solid foundation for the future.

We must be skillful – we cannot drop immediately all worldly concerns so that tomorrow we find ourselves with none. We must be skillful with how we approach our worldly concerns.  The correct model should be a child outgrowing their toys.  Because we have found better things within our mind, we gradually lose interest in our old things.  They don’t work for us because we have seen through their illusion.  Because we are desire realm beings, we will do whatever it is we want.  So the trick is to learn to want what is good for us (virtue) and want to abandon what is bad for us (delusions).  The trick to abandoning any attachment is to realize how it is in fact harmful to us.  Our objects of attachment pretend to be beneficial, but with Dharma wisdom we understand they are harmful.  If we see this, we will naturally not be as interested in them anymore until eventually we outgrow them.   When we do enjoy samsaric enjoyments, we should try to enjoy them in a spiritual way.  But our main focus should be learning how to find our happiness from a different source, namely from our own pure mind.


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