Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Motivation for doing series

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.


10 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Motivation for doing series

  1. Precious friend, you have our prayers and blessings to continue with this wonderful composition. We pray that your words convey your special intention. That alone brings joy to our lives. Scott/Joan

  2. Ryan- your blog is so appreciated by me as a working Dad myself. I started Meaningful to Behold but for various reasons couldn’t continue so your new project will give me a good reason to revisit Shantideva;s inspired poem!

  3. I see you as a close spiritual brother Ryan. My heart often leaps with joy when I hear your faith in our Guru speaking. It connects me to my own faith and to you and to all of our extraordinary Kadampa family.
    It is our faith that transforms our lives into something truly ‘Meaningful to Behold’. Thank you 🌸💕🌸

  4. Hi Ryan,

    Thank you for your writings. I especially delight and understand your reflections on emotional blackmail, on healing conflict with family members, and fostering good relationships.

    I’m not a Buddhist per se and have a challenge/question that I don’t seem to be able to find the answer in Buddhism. I am a lesbian, and gays and lesbians like myself face a lot of discrimination in our home countries. We can be fired from our jobs for being out, society frowns upon our relationships, families encourage us to be hidden/abuse us, we cannot own property because it’s linked to marriage, television shows portray us as perverted or laughable. Marriage equality, health coverage, visitation rights, and societal recognition are all closed off for now from us.

    I don’t believe being gay is the result of previous wrong actions. How does Buddhism address the anger we feel at being discriminated?

    Or take racism for example. How does Buddhism help us when someone is racist towards us?

    I would often feel depressed, or angry and distracted, when people are homophobic against me. For example, when colleagues say in public that gay people are predators or harmful. Or, for example, when my parents say that such discrimination is fine, don’t fight, just accept it.

    If Martin Luther King was not angry, would he ever have righted injustice?

    I appreciate your answer and look forward to it.

    • Hello,

      Thank you for your message. I understand why this is a tough one. First, to be 100% clear, Buddhism has no problem whatsoever with somebody being gay or lesbian (or any other sexual preference). It is not the result of any wrong action because nothing is wrong with it. Somebody who was born in a male body (throwing karma to be born male) but is attracted to men (karmic tendencies similar to the cause of having been attracted to men in the past) is simply one of a wide variety of different karmic combinations that could ripen, none better or worse than any others. One of the first lesbian wedding ceremonies I attended was of two close friends in a Dharma center almost 20 years ago, long before such things were considered perfectly normal in the U.S.

      However, being discriminated against (whether it is due to your sexual identity, race or anything other) is the karmic result of having similarly discriminated against others in the past. It is sad, but true, oppressors and the oppressed often wind up in a tragic karmic dance through time, with one group taking the place of the other as the karma unfolds. This is not a “blame the victim” point of view. It is not the oppressed fault that they were an oppressor in the past, their past acts of oppression were motivated by ignorance and delusion just as today’s oppressors acts are. So you were deluded and ignorant in the past, you engaged in discriminatory behavior based on those delusions and now you are experiencing the unfortunate karmic results.

      But karma is not deterministic. Kadam Bjorn often said, “if you don’t like your karma, change it.” If we change our actions now we can change our karma, and thereby change our experience in the future. Use your current experience of discrimination as a reminder that you should be extremely careful to never discriminate again so that you can once and for all break the karmic cycle.

      As far as dealing with the anger is concerned, I encourage you to think as Ghandi did. He said, “the oppressor is unfree when they oppress.” This is true on many levels. First, the mind of discrimination is necessarily an ignorant and deluded mind, so these people are trapped in the prison of their own delusions. Second, they are creating terrible karma for themselves which will ripen in the future in the form of them being oppressed. Do you like being discriminated against now? They won’t like it either. Instead of viewing this as karmic justice, develop compassion for them since they are ignorantly creating the causes for their own future suffering.

      As far as your parents saying to “don’t fight it, just accept it” I think they are half right. Yes, we do need to “accept it.” But “accept it” in Buddhism has a very specific meaning. To “accept” suffering means to “use” the suffering circumstance as spiritual fuel – we transform the adversity into the path, such as viewing it as an opportunity to purify our negative karma, train in universal love and compassion and so forth. But just because we accept it doesn’t mean we “cooperate” with it. Geshe-la says if we have a headache, we should take an aspirin but practice patient acceptance of the pain while we wait for the pain killer to take effect. In other words, change what you can, accept what you can’t change. If other people have a problem with you being lesbian, it is, frankly, their problem not yours. If you change your behavior as a result and hide everything, you are assenting to their wrong views having some validity. By the same token if you flaunt it in their face in an exaggerated way just to thumb your nose at them, you feed their stereotypes about how awful you all are. Instead, just “ignore them while acting completely normal.” Do whatever is completely normal for you to do “as if they weren’t having some issue with you.” If they then protest or make some problem, you can say, “while I respect your right to your own opinion, if you have a problem with my behavior or choices it is your problem, not mine. I am not hurting anybody, I am not doing anything wrong. So I won’t judge you, I ask you to not judge me.” If they still have a problem, ignore them or walk away. Your job is not to change them, your job is to show the example of somebody who genuinely feels compassion for the ignorant and who doesn’t get sucked into childish exchanges.

      I hope this helps,


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