Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 8

If you talk too much with little meaning you will make mistakes, therefore speak in moderation, only when necessary.

While normally we say that idle chatter is the least negative of the 10 non-virtuous actions, from the perspective of a Bodhisattva it is one of the most harmful.  Why?  Because when we say a bunch of non-sense, it creates the causes for people to not listen to what we have to say.  So then, in the future, when we do have something meaningful to say (such as giving Dharma teachings) people don’t really pay attention and therefore receive little to no benefit.  What makes our speech meaningless?  This is easier to define by understanding what is meaningful speech.  Meaningful speech is speech whose purpose is to help others find happiness and freedom from suffering.  Anything other than that is meaningless speech.

When should we speak?  Generally only when we are asked something (either directly or implicitly depending on the situation).  How much should we say?  Generally it is better to say too little than it is to say too much.  Je Phabongkhapa said we should end our conversations before they are over because that creates the causes to meet again in the future.  As a general rule, we should probably listen at least 3-4 times more than we speak.  This number doesn’t come from any qualified source (so take it with a grain of salt), but rather comes from my own understanding of the world.  But it seems about right!

If you engage in many meaningless activities your virtuous activities will degenerate, therefore stop activities that are not spiritual.

Again, what is a meaningless activity?  No activity is, from its own side, meaningless.  Activities become meaningless only when we engage in them with a meaningless mind.  What is a meaningless  mind?  Again, this can be understood by understanding what is a meaningful mind.  A meaningful mind is one whose intention is to help others find happiness or freedom from suffering.  Any mind other than that is a meaningless one, and therefore any activity engaged in motivated by that mind is a meaningless activity.  Notice this has nothing to do with what is our actual activity, rather it has only to do with what we are doing with our mind.  To keep things simple, we can divide our motivations into two types:  worldly and spiritual.  Worldly motivations are ones that are primary concerned with the happiness and well-being of this life alone.  Spiritual motivations are ones that are primarily concerned with the happiness and well-being of our countless future lives.  So it suffices to check to see if our motivation is spiritual or worldly.

It is completely meaningless to put effort into activities that have no essence.

We can basically view others as karmic echos of how we used to be towards others in our previous lives.  Because we were like that, we planted the karma on our mind which is currently ripening in the form of an appearance of somebody who acts like this towards us.  How can we blame the other person when there is no other person, it is just the karmic echo of our own past actions.  If we respond badly, all we do is create new negative karma and restart the cycle. By acting differently, we can create the karma to have different ‘others’ appear to us in the future.  So we accept whatever happens as purification for our past actions and we respond correctly to create the causes for a better future.

If the things you desire do not come it is due to karma created long ago, therefore keep a happy and relaxed mind.

Venerable Tharchin explains that virtually everything that happens to us in this life is the result of actions we engaged in in our previous lives, and virtually everything we do in this life will ripen in our future lives.  Sometimes we see people who lead very negative lives enjoying great good fortune and we see other pure practitioners experiencing endless suffering.  Understanding what is happening to them in this life comes from their previous lives and understanding that what they are doing now will determine the quality of their future lives it is clear who is better off.  This advice primarily is aimed at helping us completely abandon any and all attachment to results.  Ghandi said “full effort is [itself] full victory.”  We don’t care what results ripen, we only care about what causes we are creating.  Trying alone, regardless of whether we succeed, is what creates the good karma for our future.  So even if our life is one tragedy after another, we should not care but instead be satisfied that we are responding well.

Beware, offending a holy being is worse than dying, therefore be honest and straightforward.

From their own side a holy being cannot be offended, but from our side we can create the karma as if they were.  The reason why it is worse than death is death can only harm this one life, whereas the negative karma from offending a holy being harms us in all our future lives.  They are a particularly powerful object, so it multiplies the karma in relation to them, either for good or for bad.  Since we don’t know who is and who is not a holy being, we should treat everyone as if they were one.


3 thoughts on “Atisha’s Advice from the Heart: Part 8

  1. Hi K.R.
    I am wondering if you could expand a little? You have reported something V.Tharchin has said, then said this is not strictly true? Maybe I have misread your intention here? Are you inferring what he said is not strictly true, or that he has said this is a general rule of thumb? In which case which exceptions are you referring to?
    Thank you

    • Hello,

      The fault was not with what Venerable Tharchin said but rather with how I quoted him. He didn’t say “everything” in a strict sense, rather I was being a bit sloppy with how I quoted him for the purpose of stressing the point that we should view this life as a link in an inter-life causal chain, not in a vaccuum. My bad. I have changed the text to reflect his meaning. Thank you for pointing this out.


  2. Meaningful speech extends to our own personal liberation not just the happiness of others, else it is not a qualified Bodhichitta. So you can, for example, say things to others to make them aware of the harm they are causing you. This is one’s own wish to find happiness. Without asserting this within oneself it’s difficult to generate the precious Bodhichitta that Atisha searched for after he found Serlingpa.

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