The brutal truth is we will never be able to help others with the Dharma if it appears that our own lives are out of control. Communication theorists say that something like 80% of effective communication is non-verbal, about 15% is the tone with which we say things, and only about 5% is the content of what we have to say. These are stunning statistics. In a Dharma context, our non-verbal communication of what it means to be a Kadampa is the totality of our life. If our life is a mess, if we are a mess, then that will speak far louder than any amazing teachings we might be able to give. But if we have our life together, the power of our example will teach volumes even if we say very few Dharma words.
Sometimes in Dharma circles there is this mistaken notion that it is somehow worldly to put effort into learning good conventional practices of living and managing our lives. Geshe-la dispelled this one year at a teacher’s meeting when he said when it comes to management and conventional living, we have much to learn from society. When it comes to the Dharma, we rely upon our Dharma books. When it comes to worldly affairs, we rely upon all conventional wisdoms.
The reality is our life habits very much determine our habits for our practice. If we train in good habits of life, then we will have good habits for our practice. Kadam Bjorn once told me that in the German part of Switzerland, the sangha has very functional lives, but a dysfunctional understanding of the Dharma. He said in contrast, the French part of Switzerland, the sangha had very dysfunctional lives, but they had a very functional understanding of the Dharma. The goal, of course, is to have a functional both. Then we can accomplish great things, both externally and internally. To help us do this, I wanted to share my understanding of some basic life skills for making the fulfilling of our ordinary lives part of our spiritual practice.
Get your priorities right:
- Do what you have to do before what you want to do. Learn to want to do what you have to do.
- Invest your energy now into creating causes/building a better future.
- Learn to be organized, prioritize and focused in all that you do.
- Do the difficult thing now so that you are unencumbered later.
- Everything is important, but nothing is serious.
- Do what you want, but want what is actually good for you.
- Never consume for now, always invest for the future.
- Your real job is to learn how to live your life and do what you do with the least delusion and the most virtue possible.
- We waste time by thinking the following: I have plenty of time, so I don’t get to it. Then things come up, so it gets pushed back. Then, I am running out of time and some things have to get done so I can’t do it. Finally, I run out of time and it doesn’t get done. We do this with wasted time, vacation time, our precious human life, etc.
- View all activities from the point of view of what opportunity it gives you to practice and how doing it will transform you into the Buddha you need to become. Because that is exactly what the situation is.
Accept responsibility for everything
- Assume personal responsibility for everything and for your own experience. Then, help others do the same. Do not accept the blame for other people’s experience or reaction. That disempowers them from being able to effectuate their own solution.
- View others as future emanations of yourself, and treat them accordingly.
- Think before you commit, but once you have committed to do something, see it through to the end, no matter how hard it is to do so. If you start something, see it through to the end. If you give up due to obstacles, you will never be able to accomplish anything and you create the karma for massive obstacles to accomplishing things in the future.
- Creating the space to make mistakes is part of being perfect. Making mistakes is not a problem if you learn from them and try to do better next time.
- Laugh at the fact that everything goes wrong, this is samsara after all.
- Realize that others don’t owe you anything.
- Attachment to justice comes from a false belief that samsara should work. Let go of it.
- Your suffering will last for as long as you don’t end it. So quit blaming others, and get on with it.
- You will know others minds to the extent that you have cleaned up your own. The extent to which you have cleaned up your own mind is the extent to which you will have the clairvoyance of knowing others minds and knowing what is wrong to be able to help them.
- The challenges you have are those given to you to forge you into the Buddha you need to become.
- The world you experience is the world you pay attention to.
- Do not provoke delusions in others, rather draw out the best in them.
- Don’t fall into the trap of if you can’t do everything, you do nothing. Instead, get across the finish line all that you can, but get something across the finish line.
Apply skillful effort
- Don’t worry about what you are accomplishing, just improve the quality with which you do things. Results come naturally from that.
- Accept where you are at, but do not remain. There are two things: where you are at and where you are going.
- Appearance-Response. Respond to whatever appears with the least delusion and the most wisdom/virtue possible.
- When you fall, laugh, get back up and try again.
- The only way you can fail is if you give up trying.
- Reprogram yourself where the harder it is, the more motivated you are to keep going.
- There is nothing you can’t do if you practice.
- Rejoice in what you do do, don’t judge yourself for what you don’t do. Do the same with others and help others do the same with themselves.
- If you do not have an effect that you want, take that as a sign you need to create its cause.
- Be rigorous, but never rigid, in everything you do.
- Adapt as necessary when your plan meets reality, but keep innovating until the objective is accomplished. Adapt, yes; abandon, no.
Be on good terms with everyone
- Maintain good relationships with everyone in your life.
- Like the sun, make everyone around you feel good about themselves.
- Help others accomplish what they are trying to do.
- Be genuinely happy for others good fortune and successes.
- Don’t expect samsaric beings to act in non-deluded ways any more than you expect fire to not burn.
Employ skillful means
- Say nothing and think nothing bad about anyone.
- Learn from everybody’s mistakes
- Quietly do your own thing under the radar, without telling others what you are doing. Anonymous bodhisattva. Do not be quiet because you think they are wrong and that they are not open minded enough to discuss it. Rather, respect each person’s choice to practice in the way that seems best to them, accepting where they are at and trusting their intention. Don’t not be quiet about of defensiveness or feeling they need to change others.
- Give up trying to change others and just focus on changing yourself.
- Personal experience speaks. Everything else is just words.
- Instead of giving people the solution, ask them the right questions to help them find their own solutions.
- Become trustworthy and reliable. Always keep your word. If you say you are going to do something for others, always follow through.
- Under promise and over deliver in all your interactions with others.
- Always do the right thing. The right thing is that which leads to self and others to decrease delusions and increase virtuous minds. Do not be quiet because fear of people judging you and thinking that you are doing something wrong and you do not want others to judge you about it.