When I was in college, I was quite arrogant (I still am, but that’s another story). There was nothing I felt I could not do. I was eating breakfast one sunny morning outside Collins Dining Hall with a good friend, and he just started laughing at me uncontrolledly. I asked him what was so funny, and he said “you.” He went on, “everything in your life has come easy for you only because you have only done easy things. If you want a real challenge, learn to master your own mind.” Then he laughed some more. After I got over my wounded pride, I asked him how. He said I should start meditating. Thus began my spiritual life. Looking back, this was probably the most important day of my life, and the kindness my friend showed me by laughing at my face was the greatest I have ever received. Without that day, nothing would be the same.
I then started going to the book store, finding books on meditation and then going home to try them out. I devoured many books and felt like I was making progress, but it was all quite ad hoc. In the bookstores, I kept running into the book, “Meaningful to Behold.” I would look at it, see it was quite advanced, and put it back. This happened in bookstore after bookstore, wherever I went, this book would follow me around and I kept putting it back. I then went on a trip to Europe and once again, in a London bookstore, the book found me again. This was too much, so I finally bought it. I read it on the plane ride all the way back to L.A. I couldn’t put it down. I had always held as a life philosophy that there is no point doing anything other than the most you can possibly do with your life. I had thought myself quite ambitious at the time, but after reading this book I realized I was nothing but a child setting his sights on the insignificant. This book presented a life challenge – a goal – that far surpassed anything I had ever imagined. In fact, it seemed to me the challenge of a bodhisattva was literally the greatest of all: take responsibility to solve all the problems of all living beings for all of their lives. I could not think how any goal could even possibly be greater, and I said to myself, “that’s what I am going to do.” Thus began my life as a Kadampa.
I then bought and read all of Geshe-la’s books. The difference between his integrated and complete presentation and everything I had read up until then was so vast that everything else simply fell by the wayside. My first class in a Kadampa Center was the beginning of Joyful Path Foundation Program. When the teaching concluded, Gen Lekma made eye contact with me and I mouthed to her, “thank you.” I knew I had found home. I continued to attend classes, later moved to France and studied under Gen Lhamo, then moved to Geneva and eventually became Resident Teacher there. This enabled me to go to the International Teacher Training Program at Manjushri in the Summers, where the first book I studied was Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. The next three years of teachings I received on this book were probably the best I had ever received. Once again, Shantideva became the guide of my life.
After a few years, through a variety of life events that caused us to lose our home, lose the schooling of our kids and lose all of our money, we went back to the U.S. My wife then unexpectedly became pregnant – with twins no less – bringing our total number of kids up to five. As a result of all of this, I had to give up completely on teaching, going to teachings and even festivals. The karma just wasn’t there to be able to do so. For me, it was like a death. The spiritual life I had known died, and now I had to start over from scratch with a new life. I had a period of limbo for a couple of years, wound up joining the State Department and was then posted for my first assignment to Brussels. When my wife took the kids back to the U.S. for the summer, it afforded me my first chance in years to go to a festival.
The book Modern Buddhism had recently been published, and almost overnight the entire tradition seemed to have reorganized itself around this book. At this festival, Gen-la Dekyong said, “with the publication of Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la has said the central mission of the tradition now is ‘to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.’” Upon hearing these words, I felt as if I had been given my marching orders. I understood why I had died and been reborn in this new life. I had been given a completely normal ‘modern life’ (job, kids, etc.), and now my job was to attain this union. Thus began my modern Kadampa life. I then began this blog in earnest. The goal was to try share what I was learning in my efforts to attain this union. But in the beginning, I struggled to find the right mental space for writing a blog. I knew a blog cannot – should not – be a teaching platform, but what should it be? I found myself growing attached to how many people would read my articles, etc. My mind wasn’t relating to the blog correctly.
Once again, Shantideva came to the rescue. At the very beginning of his Guide, he says:
(2) There is nothing written here that has not been explained before,
And I have no special skills in composition.
My reason for writing this is to benefit others
And to keep my mind acquainted.
(3) Thus, the strength of my faith and my virtuous realizations
Might for a while be increased by this,
And perhaps others who are as fortunate as I
Might also find this meaningful to behold.
When I had read this initially way back when I first read Meaningful to Behold, I always dismissed this as what seemed to me to be a form of false humility that great masters often showed. But when I re-read these verses I realized, “no, like everything else in the Guide, Shantideva is telling the absolute truth.” He wrote his Guide with the intention of simply acquainting his own mind the Dharma and to clarify his own thoughts by having to write them down. If other people reading it found benefit, then all the better. I then realized this is precisely how a Kadampa should approach a blog. It was then that I decided, “one day, I will go verse by verse through Shantideva’s guide and explore how we can put into practice his advice in the context of our modern lives.” That day has finally arrived.
Writing this blog, for me, is part of my practice. It is my opportunity to acquaint my mind with the teachings I have received. By writing it, it forces me to clarify my own thoughts and understanding. By doing so, my familiarity with the teachings grows and hopefully my practice will improve. If other people receive benefit in reading this, then it is icing on the cake. But for me, embarking upon this project is like engaging in an extensive meditation and self-study of Shantideva’s Guide. My goal is to discover how to integrate Shantideva’s timeless wisdom into my modern life as a parent and as a working professional. In this way, I hope to bring my modern life into alignment with the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. My intention is to discover what it means to be a Modern Bodhisattva. I don’t know where this will lead, but I am eager to get started. If others reading along find something useful, then all the better.