Vows, commitments and modern life:  Protect others from fear and danger 

To give fearlessness.

We give fearlessness by protecting others from fear and danger.  If we cannot do anything directly to protect others, at least we should make prayers and dedicate our merit so that others may become free from fear and danger.

Giving fearlessness and compassionate action are synonymous.  Compassion is the wish to protect others from suffering, fear and danger.  We live in samsara, and so are surrounded by fears and dangers.  It is the very nature of samsara.  People are in constant danger of losing what they have, be it their money, their position, their reputation or their enjoyments.  People around the world face dangers from others threatening their lives, livelihoods or freedoms.  In schools and in the workplace, the weak or the different are bullied and shunned.  Those with great power manipulate the political system to enrich themselves at the expense of everybody else.  Those with great knowledge deceive those with less, effectively swindling them out of all they have worked so hard to build.  Those with powerful speech judge and condemn those weaker than them, using others as scapegoats for their own failures.  Those with no scruples will lie, deceive and make false allegations against the innocent.  Governments will terrorize and steal from their own people to maintain their hold on power.  Even those in society whose job it is to protect us are often sources of fear and danger.  Doctors may prescribe medical treatments or perform tests just so they can make more money off of our illness.  Lawyers may keep our conflicts going so they get more in fees.  Police may abuse their power to extort money or carry out their racist visions.  Our political leaders may stoke fear and discord in an attempt to gain electoral advantage.  If we check, there is no safety to be found anywhere in samsara.

As Kadampas and as bodhisattvas in training, our job is to protect and to serve wherever possible.  Power is very much like wealth, just with a different causal chain.  We all know that giving creates the cause of wealth.  We want wealth so we have even more to give.  In exactly the same way, protecting others creates the cause for power.  We want power so we have even more ability to protect others.  While it is beyond the scope of this blog to do so, a Dharma reading of the rise and fall of great powers is one of the protecting and then exploiting of others.  The same is true at the level of individuals.  The more we protect others, the more power we will accumulate.  Not all power is formal, indeed most of it is informal.  It doesn’t depend on the ability to coerce, rather it primarily depends on the ability to inspire.  It does not depend on our position, it depends on how much others respect and trust our intentions and opinions.  The Kadampa finds the person in the greatest need, and helps them first.  They find the protectorless, and brings them under their wing.  If they hold any power or influence in the world, they use it to protect the weak.  They wield their power for the common good, not their own narrow self-interest.  When we take our tantric vows we vow to “deliver those not delivered, liberate those not liberated, give breath to those unable to breath, and lead all beings to a state beyond suffering.”

It is of course good to wish to protect people from the effects of suffering, it is even better to wish to protect others from the causes of suffering, namely their own delusions and negative actions.  We easily generate compassion for the rape victim, but do we equally (if not more so) generate compassion for the rapist?  It is easy to condemn those who commit harm, it is hard to help them do right.

Sometimes circumstances require us to stand up and fight against some injustice.  Our doing so must be motivated by compassion.  Compassion not only for the victims, but also for the perpetrators.  Ghandi clearly showed that the best way to fight oppression is to appeal to the oppressors own ideals, and show how their actions contradict their own values.  The Prasangikas clearly show that the best way to oppose wrong views is to expose their contradictions through penetrating questions.  It is not an attack on somebody to request them to live up to their own ideals, it is an act of wrathful compassion.  Most people, even the most destructive people, in their own mind view themselves as fundamentally good people.  Nobody wants to be a bad buy, everyone strives to be the good guy.  Instead of calling somebody bad, invoke them to live up to their own standards of good.  In the short run, this may lead to conflict with the other person, but in the long run it helps free them from continuing to create causes for their own future suffering.

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