Vows, commitments and modern life: Not avoiding a bad reputation or negativity

Not avoiding a bad reputation. 

If we unnecessarily engage in actions that cause us to receive criticism or a bad reputation we incur a secondary downfall.  However, if our actions benefit others, cause the Dharma to flourish, or are necessary to preserve our moral discipline, it does not matter if a few people criticize us.

I would say in modern times our biggest attachment that creates the most problems for us is attachment to what others think about us.  First our parents, then our friends, then society, then our kids, etc.  We need to break completely free from this and make our own decisions about what is the right thing to do, and if other people have a problem with it, then frankly it is their problem, not ours.  We shouldn’t let their misunderstanding of what is best for us prevent us from doing what is in fact best for us (and them) in the long-run.  Buddha showed this example when he left his father’s palace.  This was not his father’s first choice, but because Buddha’s motivation was pure and his father eventually came to see this, he agreed to let his son go even though he didn’t necessarily want to. 

But we also need to be careful to not go to the other extreme with this.  In general, we should go along with others’ wishes for us, unless doing so is somehow harmful.  We should try be of service to whoever we meet and do whatever is the most beneficial for others.  We should not unnecessarily antagonize others with our actions nor should we abandon our conventional responsibilities.  Unless the situation is extreme and we have received very clear indications, we should never abandon our partner or our children thinking we need to do so to pursue our spiritual goals.  We also need to assume our full parental and professional responsibilities.  If we don’t do so in the name of supposedly following our spiritual path, all we will do is bring the Dharma into disrepute and cause others to reject it.  Who does that help?  There is no contradiction whatsoever between living up to our normal modern responsibilities in the world and being a Kadampa.  If there were, it would be impossible to attain the union of the Kadam Dharma and modern life.  As explained by Geshe Chekewa, “remain natural while changing your aspiration.”  We live our external lives completely as normal, but inside we change everything.

Not helping others to avoid negativity. 

If we have the ability and the opportunity to help others avoid committing negative actions but, without a good reason, fail to do so we incur a secondary downfall.

As a general rule, we shouldn’t get into other people’s business or tell others what they need to do.  Our job is to make our own actions correct.  The more we try tell others what they need to do, the more they will rebel against us and the Dharma which they know is behind our proselytizing.  There is nothing wrong with sharing our own experience if people are open to hearing it, but we should leave it up to them to apply our experience to their own circumstance.  This is why quite often when you ask a Kadampa teacher some question about what you should do they won’t answer you directly but they will instead tell some story from their own experience (or that of their friends).  They leave it up to you to apply the story to your own life and situation as you see fit.

With that being said, situations do arise where we have some degree of influence over others and they are about to engage in some negative action and if we say something we could stop them (or at least get them to think twice).  When such situations arise, we should not just sit on the sidelines, we need to act.  Basically, if we can help somebody we need to do so.  Our ability to do so depends entirely on whether the other person trusts us that we have their own best interests at heart.  If they feel like we are just trying to manipulate them for our own purposes, or we are wanting them to stop due to our own attachment to them doing the right thing (attachment to others happiness is quite different than love and compassion), then they will just reject what we have to say.  But if they know we have no hidden agenda and only want what is best for them, and ultimately we don’t need them to make the choice we want them to make, then they will be open to listening to what we have to say.  We never know when somebody we know and love might start doing stupid, self-destructive things, so we need to cultivate trusting relationships with everyone in our life so that if the day does come where we need to intervene, they will listen to us. 

Our intervening doesn’t guarantee that the other person will stop, and we need to be prepared for them to engage in the negative action anyways.  But at the very least we will be able to say we did all that we could, but ultimately the other person’s actions are beyond our control.  When this happens, we can renew our bodhichitta saying may I one day become a Buddha so that I can always be there for this person and gradually lead them along correct paths.


3 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Not avoiding a bad reputation or negativity

  1. Not avoiding a bad reputation.

    What others think of us is largely due to actions from our past.
    We tend to think of vows as something we do now that will have an effect now. This is true but we can be strategic and think of the future lives. Our reputation goes on once we depart this life. It will remain a hidden from us as our next life’s reputation will begin. They do not exist inherently. The future reputation of future lives will provide much opportunity to influence and inspire many others. The end goal of reputation is that all living beings know you as Buddha. Geshe-Kelsang for example, is known as a Buddha, has a reputation of being a holy man. We could say that’s because of his actions in this life. We could also say that it goes back further than that.

    Action: Imagine that everyone sees you as a Buddha at all times. Then you create your future reputation, which will be more important than this life’s reputation, when you can really influence others. They will trust who you really are and relate to your inner self. Even if you do things which conventionally gives you a bad reputation, you imagine it as the actions of a Buddha. We are not dealing with self-deception here or lack of responsibility, we are thinking of the future. We do that by trying to be more Buddha-like with our actions right now.

    This is where Bodhichitta comes alive very much again. You also imagine that people view you purely. They do not see your faults. You therefore help create the karma for them to see you purely in the future.

    Not helping others to avoid negativity.
    It’s easy to use the Dharma words when speaking with others. But the language we use when we talk about negativity and negative actions should be in the context of what is helpful and what is unhelpful. What is beneficial and what is not beneficial.

    We could say to others “killing any living being is a negative action” – this isn’t as powerful as:

    How is this helpful? How does it benefit anyone? This simple change of language emphasises responsibility very clearly. It is empowering. Instead of something outside myself being a ‘negative’ thing. I learn to see what is useful, beneficial, helpful, productive etc etc.

  2. I recommend getting a severe injury that means you can’t dress yourself properly. Also it means you can’t stand up long enough to shave, you can’t sit enough long enough to get a haircut, and you have to lie on the floor most of the time. Most people won’t respect you or your opinion anymore. It’s a great way to see your attachment to reputation!

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