The moral discipline of gathering virtuous Dharmas.
I have a good friend who is a very successful businessman. No matter where you go with him, whether it is to a restaurant, a golf course, even an amusement park, no matter where he looks he “sees” the business opportunities around him. He can analyze every dish, or every ride, and calculate roughly the profit margins and how the company could make even more money if only they did XYZ. In today’s modern economy, the greatest rewards go not to those who make things, but to those who invent new things or discover new or different ways of doing things. It goes to those who can see and know how to realize opportunities to make money.
Of course as Buddhists, we tend to look down on such people, thinking them they have been seized by samsara, and we scoff, “if only they put as much effort into attaining enlightenment as they do in conducting business, they would be enlightened by now.” Yet, let’s look at this statement from a personal perspective. Put another way, “if only we put as much effort into attaining enlightenment as they do in conducting business, we would be enlightened by now.” In fact, we can say these successful businesspeople are showing us a perfect example of how we should be as we go about our daily life – the only difference is we have a different bottom line. We do not seek to maximize our outer wealth (though we don’t shun it either), rather we seek to maximize our inner wealth of virtuous karma and Dharma realizations. Just like my friend, we should constantly be on the lookout for different ways of making inner wealth, and maximizing our virtues. The difference between an entrepreneur and a Business School Professor is the entrepreneur acts on what they see, they don’t merely identify the opportunities. In the same way, the difference between a Dharma practitioner and a Dharma scholar is the practitioner acts on the virtuous opportunities they see.
We may object, “but isn’t that a selfish way of looking at the spiritual path. It just seems so crass to put it that way.” This objection comes from a failure to make two crucial distinctions. The first is the distinction between a way of doing things and what is being done, the second is between a selfish reason for doing something and a selfless reason for doing the same thing. The way of doing things by the successful businessperson, politician or Olympic athlete is perfect. They are “all in.” They hold nothing back. They leave no stone unturned, no task undone. They push themselves 115% all of the time. They are single-pointed in their quest to accomplish their objectives. Everything they do, directly or indirectly, acts to move them closer to the accomplishment of their goal. They never succumb to laziness, nor complacency with what they have already accomplished. This is how we need to be with our Dharma practice.
Likewise, it may seem selfish to be in constant pursuit of inner wealth, but we can do so for selfish reasons or for selfish reasons. The great philanthropists, like Bill Gates, have worked very hard to accumulate tremendous amounts of outer wealth, but their purpose in doing so is to have more resources with which they can help others. Bill Gates alone has done more to help the people of this world than virtually all but the biggest countries, and you can even argue that he does so for a more altruistic motivation since most foreign aid has little to do with helping other countries and more to do with bringing those countries within one’s sphere of influence. Bodhisattvas are spiritual philanthropists. They work very hard to accumulate tremendous amounts of inner wealth of virtuous karma and Dharma realizations, and their purpose in doing so is to have more inner resources with which they can help others. The goal of a Bodhisattva is take on the hard tasks so others don’t have to. They learn how to do things to make it easier for others. They gain realizations so that their own mind becomes a source of peace and stability for others in this world. They acquire wisdom to be able to share it with others.
While there are countless different ways one can accumulate virtues, from one perspective they can all be classified under two categories: making offerings and doing prostrations. To make offerings, in the broadest possible terms, means to give away what we have that is valuable. Whether we are giving to samsaric beings or enlightened ones, the mind of giving away what is valuable is the same. Quite simple, giving creates the karmic causes to receive what we give. Giving with a bodhichitta motivation functions to multiply the power of our giving by the number of beings upon whose behalf we give, in this case countless. The only reason we have something to give now is because we gave in the past. Giving to enlightened beings is a special form of giving. We may wonder, “if enlightened beings already lack nothing, what is the sense in giving them things?” The answer is we give enlightened beings what we have because we know they will use it in the most beneficial way for all living beings. If you had money to invest, does it not make sense to give it to the most successful money manager? In the same way, if we have virtuous karma to invest, it makes sense to give it to those who know how to make the most of it. Every day, I offer my body, my mind, my time, all of my money, all of my family and the U.S. foreign policy establishment (all things I touch in some way) to Dorje Shugden, and I request him, “please fully use these things for the enlightenment of all beings.” My first teacher, Gen Lekma, said, “Dorje Shugden wastes nothing.” So while it might not be immediately obvious to me how all of these things can be used exclusively for the enlightenment of all beings, I can know with certainty that if my intention in offering them and my faith in Dorje Shugden are sufficient, it is guaranteed that eventually this will come true.
Prostrations, here, does not simply mean folding our hands together and putting our forehead on the ground in front of some Buddha. The physical act of prostration, while in and of itself virtuous, is not the real act of prostration. The mental act of prostration is “applying effort to cultivate within ourself the good qualities we prostrate to.” We are normally completely blind to the good qualities of others, and instead only see their faults. But those who seek to gather virtuous Dharmas have the opposite mental habit. Venerable Tharchin explains that rejoicing in the good qualities of others creates the causes for ourselves to acquire those same qualities; and that criticizing the faults of others creates the causes for ourselves to acquire those same faults. This is worth contemplating deeply and checking against our own habits of mind. Normally, driven by our insecurity, we try knock down in some way those we perceive to be better than us and we generate disdain for those we see as less than us. Such is the pathway to servitude. Instead, we need to make a point of identifying, appreciating and then striving to emulate the good qualities we see in others. If we do, we will make rapid progress towards enlightenment. This is the essential meaning of prostration.
Putting the two together, we “prostrate” to the good qualities we see in others, acquire such good qualities ourselves, and then we give them away in the form of offerings to others.