Do not think about others faults.
This commitment advises us not to dwell on the faults of others. If we contemplate our own faults we can identify them and overcome them. This is true wisdom. Contemplating our own good knowledge and qualities leads to conceit, but contemplating the good qualities of others leads to respect and affection.
If we understood the previous commitment, then this naturally follows. The main point here is Geshe-la takes things one step further. In the previous commitment we are advised to stop talking about other’s faults, here we are advised to not even think about them! But again, it all depends on our motivation. If our motivation is sincerely cherishing love, then our thinking about other’s faults enables us to generate compassion for them instead of disdain. Once again, it is very important to make a distinction between the person and their delusions. A person is not their delusions.
The reality is this: the world we experience is the world we pay attention to. If all we do is pay attention to the faults of those around us, we will live in a faulty world. If all we do is pay attention to the qualities of those around us, we will live in a world full of qualities. Ultimately, whether something is a fault or something is a quality has nothing to do with the characteristic itself, but instead has everything to do with how we mentally relate to that appearance. If our wish is to not be bothered, then other’s delusions appear to us as a problem. If instead our wish is to grow as a person, then their delusions are helpful for us. From our own side, we don’t need them to change because their faulty behavior suits our practice just fine. For us, it is a beneficial condition in our life. Of course for their sake, we may wish for them to be free from the apparent fault, but from our side we have no such need. When people sense this in us, they naturally respect what we have to say and readily take it on board because they know they can trust that we are only looking out for their sake.
Purify your greatest delusion first.
If we purify our greatest delusion first, we will find it easier to overcome all our others. With persistent effort we will slowly diminish our delusions until they cease altogether.
I have a former student who at the beginning of every year would have a meeting with me where she would decide what delusion she wanted to primarily work on for the coming year. This became her main project for the year. The reality is sustained focus brings results, so by focusing on one delusion over an extended period of time we can bring about real change. If instead, we jump from one delusion to another we will always feel like we are just putting out fires and not radically altering our mind. This does not mean that we don’t also work on eliminating our other delusions when they arise, but in terms of what we focus on, we focus on whatever is our biggest delusion. When we are clear in purpose, we then look for and find opportunities to work on overcoming that delusion. When we have a primary objective in mind, we know what we need to focus on in a given situation, therefore our priorities are always clear. We should pick a delusion, make it specific, make it clear and then make overcoming it the main focus of our practice.
How do we choose what is our greatest delusion? We should start with the one that creates the most problems for us, or the one that does the greatest harm to those around us. For example, we can choose our anger. But we need to make it specific, not abstract. So we can say our anger and frustration with our family. We should also pre-plan what are the main opponents we will use to oppose this delusion. Interestingly, if we plan ahead of time how we intend to overcome certain delusions when they arise, when the time comes our use of that opponent is much more effective.
Generally, whatever we have the most difficulty with in the beginning of our practice will be the most important realizations for us later. For example, when I first started practicing I was totally in agreement with all of the Dharma except this whole faith thing! To me, faith was for people who didn’t know how to think for themselves. For me, faith was dangerous because I then opened myself up to be manipulated and betrayed. I came into the Dharma because I wanted answers – and I was finding real answers – so the whole idea of having faith just made no sense to me. I continued practicing in this way for many years until during a retreat once I absolutely hit a wall. I had gone as far as one can go without faith and everything died. It was as if I had been going 70 miles per hour on the freeway and all of a sudden all four wheels came flying off. I didn’t know what to do. So I called my teacher, who in turn just laughed at me. She said, “you don’t know what to do, do you?” I said, “no.” She then asked, “so why are you relying upon yourself then?” And then it hit me. I then asked, so what should I do? She said, “don’t ask me. Go sit down on your cushion, generate a pure motivation and ask for guidance. Then do whatever is revealed to you.” I then did as I was instructed, nothing came at first, but then a message came to me very clearly: “I need to start over from scratch.” I then asked how, and a reply came back, “I will guide you.” And from there, my entire practice got rebuilt with reliance as the center of my practice. I would now not have it any other way. I think when we get in trouble with our practice, it is always a good idea to do as my teacher advised.
The reason why we focus on our biggest delusion first is because it is the most pervasive, and is often the cause of many of our other smaller delusions. So by attacking the big one, we take out a whole bunch of little ones. But if we attack the little ones, and not the big one, new little ones will grow back. Further, the skills we learn in being able to deal with our big delusions enables us to more easily deal with our smaller ones.
In the end, delusions are nothing other than bad habits of mind. There is nothing intrinsic about delusions to our mind. So with persistence and familiarity, we can reduce and finally eliminate our delusions. It is useful to recall the story of the man cutting an iron block with a feather. People thought he was crazy and would never succeed, but he said, “look, I have already made a mark.”