Vows, commitments and modern life:  Be the first to get the worst!

Do not aim at being the first to get the best. 

If we own something jointly, we should not want to possess it all for ourselves. If we share something, we should not want the best parts for ourselves.

Aiming to be the first to get the best is the natural tendency of this world.  The reason for this is very simple:  we live in a world where resources are finite and our desires are limitless.  We fear if we do not aim to be the first to get the best we may wind up with nothing at all.  In the workplace, the “successful ones” all seem to put the interests of themselves ahead of everybody else.  They seek the best jobs, they claim the most credit.  When it comes time to bear some unpleasant burden, they manage to maneuver themselves into a position of “management” while we are left to do all of the work.  When there is cake being cut, we want the first piece; when we are waiting in line, we resent those in front of us; when we are in traffic, we cut in front of others; when there is a good seat, we try grab it before somebody else does; when we are at the supermarket, we pick the best fruit for ourselves, etc.  In short, we live our life as one giant scramble to take the last cookie in the cookie jar for ourselves, thinking it is better to have than to go without.

A Kadampa does the exact opposite.  We strive to be the first to get the worst.  If somebody is to go without, we would rather it be us.  We volunteer for the worst jobs that everybody else tries to avoid, such as cleaning the toilets.  We take the smallest and worst piece for ourselves.  We give others credit for all successes and take the blame for all failures.  We would rather lose so others can win.  We provide for others instead of take for ourselves.

Venerable Tharchin goes so far as to say we should simply abolish from our mind any sense of “owning anything as our own.”  We should ban the thought “mine” from our mind.  Our house is not ours, it is what we provide for our family.  Our money belongs to all living beings, we are merely the present custodian managing it for their benefit.  Our body has been given away as a servant to others.  Our realizations are gained on their behalf.  We have literally given away our “self” to others, having transferred this imputation onto others.  We hold nothing back for ourselves.  We would rather be working tirelessly for others than having some “me” time.

And here is the kicker:  we do all this gladly!  On the surface, the above does not exactly make for a good marketing slogan – “Become a Kadampa, get the worst of everything!”  Our reluctance to do this once again shows we have everything completely backwards.

Why are we happy to do this?  First, because we value our future lives more than this present life, our priority in life is to store up good karma for the future, not exhaust it all now on fleeting samsaric rewards.  Second, because we realize samsara’s pleasures are deceptive, they seem as attractive to us as candy we know is laced with poison.  Third, because we have exchanged ourself with others, it is simply more important to us that others be happy than for ourself to be.  Fourth, because we have bodhichitta, we want to push ourselves to become a better person and scrupulously avoiding being the first to get the best does exactly that.  Fifth, because we understand emptiness, we realize it is all a dream so there is no “best” to be had anyways.  Finally, because we are a tantric practitioner, we seek to bring the result into the path by emulated the actions of a Buddha now.

Even in a worldly sense, avoiding being the first to get the best is simply a good life strategy.  Nobody respects the selfish, and everybody tries to knock down the arrogant.  Ghandi said his goal in life was to become the lowest of all.  Who does not hold him up as the highest of all?  Those who put the interests of others first, even at the expense of themselves, are venerated as the greatest statesmen and the world’s moral beacons.  When we start to live our life in this way, others around us begin to do the same.  Geshe-la famously says in Eight Steps to Happiness that somebody who cherishes others more than themselves is like a magic crystal that has the power to transform and purify any community.  Internally, most of our stress in life can be traced back to anxiety about getting our share and making sure we have enough.  All of this vanishes when our priority is for others to get the best.  Many of the world’s externally richest people feel perpetually poor.  No matter how much they have, it never satisfies their desires and they always want more.  There is always somebody with a bigger yacht, a higher position, or a more beautiful wife.

To be truly rich is to feel as if we lack nothing.  No amount of external possessions can ever create this feeling.  Such a feeling comes only from the internal mind of contentment.  The richest person in the world is the one who is most content with what they have, not the person with the biggest bank account.  The reality is we already have it all.  It is only our ignorance grasping at this small self we normally relate to as being “us” that deprives us from enjoying everything.  If everything is our karmic dream, all beings and all things already belong to us.  This small self is just one wave on the ocean of who we really are.  This larger us, the one that is indeed all living beings, already possesses everything, and it makes no difference who enjoys what because we are all one and the same.

This vow does not mean we should shun wealth, position, power and so forth.  Such things are incredibly useful if used for the service of others.  But we do not need to seek them out.  If we live our life as a Bodhisattva, such things will effortlessly fall into our lap.  Our task is to simply use everything in service of others.

One thought on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Be the first to get the worst!

  1. There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be first. It’s the motivation that is important.

    Do not aim at being the first to get the best. This is more about extremes. Sometimes you need to put yourself first and have the best to sustain your practice.
    It’s more about greed and a sense of giving.

    Objects have a continuum. Sometimes they are young, sometimes old.

    Something that looks best has at sometime been worse. It is an ever changing label. We strive to change the meaning of the label.

    Best is a judgement label on a continuum that is like a post it note that says, ‘pick me’
    A promise of better happiness and pleasure.
    First is a label on a continuum that is like a post it note that says, ‘right now’
    A promise of an immediate fulfilment of a wish.

    We want happiness and we want immediate relief. And we have evidence that these things give us what we need. Sometimes we will need this to sustain us. And there is nothing wrong with this. But to sustain Buddhist intention its wise to think about future lives if we want such opportunity again.

    We can accept the impermanent reality whilst maintaining Buddhist intention:
    “I want something everchanging, as it gives me temporary pleasure. It fulfills my temporary need to be happy. Yet, if I really want more of the best as soon as possible, I should remember the law of karma and act accordingly”

    We strive to change the meaning of the label.

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