Vows, commitments and modern life:  Always turn towards the Mahayana

The additional commitments of abandonment. 

These are to abandon the causes of turning away from the Mahayana, to avoid scorning gods and to avoid stepping over sacred objects.

The causes of turning away from the Mahayana are the opposite of the causes of turning to it.  The causes of turning to it are the minds of wishing love, bodhichitta, confidence that we can succeed at becoming a Buddha if we persevere and allowing ourselves to come under the influence of our Sangha friends.  Therefore, the causes of turning away from the Mahayana is abandoning love or generating hatred for others; abandoning the wish to attain enlightenment, settling for a lesser goal; becoming discouraged thinking we will never succeed in our spiritual training; and coming under the influence of those who think the spiritual path is a waste of time.

We tend to think of our practice as something we do, as opposed to an actual life.  Just as we need to feed our body and maintain good health to keep our normal life alive, so too we need to feed our spiritual body and maintain good spiritual health to keep our spiritual life alive.  If we neglect the health and well being of our normal life, or we engage in reckless behavior, there is a danger we may lose our life, or at least die sooner.  In exactly the same way, if we neglect the health and well being of our spiritual life, or we engage in reckless spiritual behavior, there is a danger we may lose our spiritual life, or at least have it end sooner.  It is perfectly possible, indeed common, for someone’s spiritual life to die long before their ordinary life does.  We feed our spiritual life by eating a rich diet of virtue, primarily through meditation and accumulating merit.  We keep our spiritual life healthy by maintaining our moral discipline.  Moral discipline, especially done with a spiritual motivation, creates the substantial cause for higher and higher forms of spiritual life.  We do not have to die and take rebirth for such seeds to ripen, but within our present human body have our spiritual life progress from being an ordinary small being all the way to a fully enlightened being.  Moral discipline is a true wish fulfilling jewel.

Ordinary beings often worship gods and demi-gods, turning to them for help and protection.  But there is a danger that bodhisattvas can out of pride wind up scorning such beings.  It is true that a spiritual being is a higher form of rebirth than being born as a god or a demi-god.  The reason for this is clear:  gods and demi-gods have little to no opportunity to engage in the spiritual path, whereas humans can.  But gods and demi-gods are preoccupied with the pleasures and struggles of samsara, and so they have little interest in making spiritual progress.  It is not at all uncommon for Dharma practitioners to develop haughty minds thinking that they are better than others because they are spiritual practitioners.  The fact that such minds are completely at odds with the Dharma doesn’t seem to stop us from generating them.  In the same way, even high bodhisattvas can generate similar minds towards gods and demi-gods.  It is also possible that we can fail to understand and generate compassion for the sufferings of gods and demi-gods, and as a result they fall outside the scope of our compassion and love.  We may effortlessly generate love for those who suffer samsara’s manifest sufferings, but struggle to do so for the rich, powerful and sublime.  We do so only because we still think samsara’s pleasures are good as opposed to deceptive.  Finally, just as it is a fault to scorn women or men in general because there are many emanations amongst them, so too it is a fault to scorn gods and demi-gods because there are many emanations amongst them.  Emanations do not just appear in the human realm, but they do so in all six realms.  They do not just take the form of spiritual teachers, but can take any form, from a crazy person to a spoon.  Since we cannot say for certain who is and who is not an emanation, better to scorn nobody.

Finally, we also need to abandon mistreating sacred objects.  Stepping over them is just one example, the actual meaning here is mistreating them in any way.  We should view our Buddha statues as actual emanations of Buddhas.  What appears to our eye awareness may be some finely shaped metal, but with our mental awareness we see a living Buddha sitting there, ready to communicate with us and bestow upon us their blessings.  Recently, they started making statues of Geshe-la.  We should not think of this as a mere statue, but as a living emanation of Geshe-la in our very room.  If we have faith and pure view, we can learn to communicate with him in almost exactly the same way we would with anybody else in our room.

In a similar way, we should view our Dharma books as the living speech of Buddha in this world.  Geshe-la said that he has blessed his books, Joyful Path in particular, where we can with faith ask it a question, then flip randomly to some page, and the answer to our question will be on that page.  I have tried this many times, and it definitely works.  It is not always immediately obvious how what is on that page is the answer to our question, but it will be revealed to us over time.  In the Lamrim teachings, Geshe-la advises us to read our Dharma books in a particular way.  We should do so understanding we are sick with delusions and the words we are reading are the remedy.  As we read, we should feel as if it is our spiritual guide speaking to us directly, compassionately explaining to us how to overcome our troubles.  If we approach our Dharma books in this way, we will come to view them as magical telephones through which we can communicate directly with our spiritual guide.  The words on the page may be the same each time, but due to the special blessings we will receive in dependence upon reading them with faith and a wish to get better, the understandings we gain from reading will be different every time.  We can read the same book 100 times, but with a different mind each time, and get something completely different out of our reading every time.  The secret is to not read the books as intellectual information, but rather to clearly have our inner problem in mind and to read the books as our personal advice for how to solve our problem.  If we do this, our Dharma books will come to be seen as our most precious possessions, our most trusted friends.

In a similar way, our vajra can be seen as our realization of great bliss, our bell can be seen as our realization of emptiness, our mala can be seen as the speech of all the Buddhas, our mandala kit can be seen as an inexhaustible fountain from which we can draw merit and good fortune at will, and so forth.  These objects are ordinary if we relate to them with an ordinary mind, but they become magical when we relate to them with a magical, spiritual mind.

If we come to view our Dharma objects in these ways, we will naturally come to treat them with respect without having to make a special effort to do so.  In the meantime, everytime we see that our Dharma objects are not being treated with the respect they deserve we can use that as a reminder to consider how truly miraculous they are and then we set things right by treating them respectfully.  If we train in this way, it won’t be long before treating them with respect becomes second nature.

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