Vows, commitments and modern life: Wrong livelihood and engaging in frivolity

Acquiring wealth or fame through wrong livelihood. 

Geshe-la explains if with a selfish motivation we behave as follows we incur a secondary downfall:  (1) we resort to dishonest means to acquire wealth, praise, respect, etc., (2) we pretend to be outwardly good, but subtlety hint that we need others possessions for ourself, or (3) we give small presents in the hope of receiving larger presents in return.

It was explained earlier how there is nothing wrong with wealth, power or fame.  In and of themselves, these things are neutral.  It is our motivation for using them that determines their value.  Backed by a good motivation, these things can in fact be quite positive.  It is possible that we could have the opportunity to acquire these things and our motivation for wanting to do so is pure and virtuous, but we would need to engage in some negative actions in order to acquire these things and we could find ourselves in a moral dilemma.  Basically, do our virtuous ends justify our non-virtuous means? This vow answers that moral dilemma.  The answer is no, they don’t.  Even if our motivation for acquiring these things is pure, if we have to use non-virtuous means we shouldn’t do it.  It is better to lack these resources, but maintain our moral discipline than it is to have these resources, but sacrifice our moral discipline in the process. 

The concrete examples of the different ways we can do this are too numerous to enumerate.  It suffices to look at Geshe-la’s explanation above of the three types of instance where we incur a downfall and test it against our own contemplated action to know if we are making this mistake.  One very simple test we can apply is we can ask ourselves, “If Geshe-la asked me how I got these resources, power or reputation, could I explain it to him without feeling like I had done something wrong?”  If no, then we have our answer.

Indulging in frivolity. 

If, without a good reason but motivated only by excitement, attachment, or lack of conscientiousness, we indulge in frivolous activities we incur a secondary downfall.

Again, no activity is from its own side inherently frivolous.  An activity is frivolous only if we engage in it with a frivolous mind.  Any activity can be made meaningful if we engage in it with a meaningful mind.  But let’s be honest here:  we quite often have frivolous minds!  Just because in theory the activity can be engaged in with a meaningful mind doesn’t mean we ourselves are engaging in the activity with a meaningful mind. 

Generally speaking, we can divide our activities into two categories:  those things we have to do and those things that are optional.  Each of these categories can in turn be divided into two of those things we want to do and those things we don’t want to do.  This covers all possibilities.  Let’s explore each one in turn. 

For those things we have to do and we want to do them, there is no problem.  We just do them.  For those things we have to do but we don’t want to do, we can either grumble about the fact that we have to do it or we can change or our attitude.  One way or the other, we still need to do the action; but if we grumble we torture ourselves and if we change our attitude we don’t.  To change our attitude, it suffices to ask ourselves the question, “how does engaging in this action give me a chance to develop some skill or learn some truth of the Dharma?”  Once we have an answer to that question, we have a valid reason for engaging in the action, transforming our not wanting to do the action into wanting to do the action for good reasons.

For those things that are optional and we don’t want to do them, again, there is no problem.  Since we don’t want to do the actions and we don’t have to, we simply don’t do them.  For those things that are optional and we want to do them, there are two possibilities:  either we want to do them for virtuous reasons or we want to do them for deluded reasons.  If it is something we want to do and we have a virtuous reason for doing it, then again there is no problem – we just do the action. 

If however we want to engage in the action for deluded reasons, then there are two possibilities:  our engaging in the action is harmful to others or it is harmful to ourself.  If the action is harmful to others, then we should consider the karmic implications of the action and realize it is simply not worth it to accumulate negative karma which could potentially ripen in the form of a lower rebirth or other suffering and we train in standard moral discipline of restraint. 

If, however, the action is only harmful to ourself then again there are two possibilities:  it harms us by somehow destroying our capacity to help others or it harms us by wasting our time.  There are all sorts of examples of actions that destroy our capacity to help others.  It is interesting all of the different ways we are attracted to things that ultimately are harmful to us, such as drugs.  For these, we should consider how these actions are exactly opposite of our bodhichitta motivation.  Bodhichitta is the wish to increase our capacity to help others, whereas this action is decreasing our capacity to help others, so it runs exactly opposite of our bodhichitta wish.

If the action is simply a waste of time, then again there are two possibilities:  either we can relate to the action in a different way to make it not a waste of time or we can’t.  If we can relate to the action in a different way to make it not a waste of time, then we should apply the effort necessary to do so.  It is not enough to just know theoretically it is possible to relate to the action differently, we need to actually do so.  There are several things we can do to relate to the action differently.  First, we can ask ourselves what delusion this activity gives us a chance to overcome or what truth of Dharma does this activity teach us.  Second, we can offer the enjoyment of the activity to our guru at our heart.  Third, we can relate to the action as a metaphor for something that is meaningful, such as “just as I walk down this road, may I always walk down the road to the city of enlightenment.”  Fourth, we can recite mantras or special verses while we engage in the action.  And finally, we can just view our engaging in the action as the power of rest.  We are resting now so that we can return to our normal activities fresh and energized.  Without proper rest, we can become burned out and then do even less in the long-run. 

Finally, there is the case of the action is a waste of time and there is no way we can transform it.  Almost anything can be transformed, so this case should happen only very rarely, but if it does, there is still something we can do.  Quite simply, we should probably just abandon the action.  If we can’t at present, we should generate the intention to one day do so understanding we are wasting our precious human life. 

 

2 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Wrong livelihood and engaging in frivolity

  1. Summarised:

    Activities:
    things we have to do
    things that are optional.

    Sub-divided:
    things we want to do
    things we don’t want to do

    Things we have to do and want to
    No problem

    Things we have to do but don’t want to
    Become frustrated or
    Change attitude

    Things that are optional & want to do them:
    Virtuous reasons or we want to do them (no problem)
    deluded reasons.

    Deluded reasons:
    harmful to others
    harmful to ourself

    Harmful to others:
    Consider karmic implications
    Realise it is not worth the consequences

    Harmful to ourself:
    destroys our capacity to help others
    wasting our time

    Waste of time:
    relate to action in a different way to not make it a waste
    we can’t relate to it in a different way
    cant be transformed (rare)

    Things that are optional and don’t want to do them
    No problem

    Several things we can do to relate to actions differently:

    What delusion this action gives us as an opportunity to overcome.
    What truth of Dharma does it teach?
    Offer enjoyment at our heart to guru
    Relate action to some sort of metaphor for something meaningful
    Recite mantras or special verses
    Power of relaxation/rest

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