Vows, commitments and modern life:  Dealing with mental spam

Train without bias towards the objects. 

The objects of training the mind are not just living beings but also inanimate objects. All objects have pleasant and unpleasant aspects, and these serve as opportunities for training the mind, where we do not develop attachment to their pleasant aspects nor aversion to their unpleasant aspects.  We should use good conditions to encourage us to accumulate merit, and bad conditions to encourage us to purify our negativity.  We can also practice taking and giving with regard to any situation, good or bad.

Many people mistakenly believe that situations that give rise to our delusions are somehow obstacles to our practice of Dharma.  Quite the opposite, such situations are in fact emanated to give us a chance to actually practice the Dharma.  Dharma practice is not an intellectual exercise of playing with interesting concepts, rather it is a practical exercise of creating new, positive habits of mind.  When we encounter pleasant or unpleasant objects in our life, our natural tendency is to develop attachment or aversion.  Gen-la Losang explains that, “what is natural is simply what is familiar.”  Why are our delusions our natural tendencies?  Because that is what we are most familiar with.  If we apply effort over a long enough period of time, we can change our natural tendencies to be virtuous.  The more opportunities we are given to apply such effort, the more we create new habits of mind.  Eventually, these habits become our spontaneous natural reaction to things.

It is very important that we remember all objects are equally empty, so encountering any object is equally transformable into the path.  In the final analysis, there are essentially only two types of objects (pleasant and unpleasant).  Yes, we say that there are neutral objects, but in reality these are just objects that give rise to only minor levels of attachment and aversion.  So if we develop a genuine equanimity towards pleasant and unpleasant objects, viewing them equally as opportunities to train our mind, then nothing will be a problem for us.  We can spend our whole life training our mind.  The world we inhabit, the tasks we do (family, work, etc.) merely become the context in which we train.  We develop a true freedom to be able to go anywhere, with anybody, doing anything, and we are never moved from our practice.

We of course, however, need to be honest with ourselves about our ability to transform.  If we are an alcoholic, for example, our mind might not yet be strong enough to go into a bar and transform the experience into our path to enlightenment.  We might be far more likely to eventually be overwhelmed by our past bad habits and “fall off the wagon.”  For objects that are currently beyond our ability, we should still avoid as a precaution.  But if we train conscientiously, the day will eventually come when we can go into that bar, and the more we feel the urge to drink the more we will develop disgust for delusions.  Disgust for delusions and renunciation are the same mind.  Far from sucking us back into samsara, the arising of deluded tendencies in our mind will propel us out of samsara.

The key lies in making a distinction between the arising of a deluded tendency and the generating of a delusion.  The arising of a deluded tendency is the karmic ripening of a “tendency similar to the cause” of having generated a delusion in the past.  Generating a delusion has two parts (1) the ripening of a deluded tendency, and (2) assenting to the validity of that deluded tendency.  All delusions lie to us.  They promise us happiness if we follow their “advice,” but they deliver to us more suffering.  This is why all delusions are called “deceptive.”  We assent to the validity of the delusion when we believe the lie the delusion is telling us, basically we get duped by the delusion.

I think the best analogy is email spam.  We all have received the emails the Nigerian businessman who needs to hide his millions, and he has reached out to “us” as “someone he can trust” to safeguard his millions if only we give him our bank account numbers so he can transfer the funds.  Receiving this email in our inbox is like the ripening of a deluded tendency in our mind.  If we believe the spam, we may think we are going to get rich, but in the end we get our account stolen from.  But most of us when we receive such spam recognize it as a scam, and the more we receive such spam the more we strengthen our wisdom determination to not be fooled by it.  It is exactly the same with delusions.  The more they arrive in the inbox of our mind, the more we become determined to not once again be fooled by them.  So the arising of these deluded tendencies become a condition of our practice, not a danger to it.  Just as the poor person is an essential condition to our practice of giving, and the annoying person is an essential condition to our practice of patience, so too the arising of any object which gives rise to a deluded tendency within our mind becomes an essential condition for our practice of training the mind.

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