Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Understanding the voice of the Guide

(1.2) 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.

(1.3) 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.

Shantideva is very clear that nothing he is saying is new, rather he is just saying once again what has already been taught.  By saying this, Shantideva shows that everything he says has lineage.  Anybody can come up with a new theory or new ideas, but only a few in this world have been able to present timeless wisdom.  In Buddhism, the essential meaning of the teachings remains the same, only the presentation changes.  We pass on what Buddha taught not what we think for the simple reason that he is enlightened and we are not.

Likewise, his saying this forces us to challenge our own attachment to hearing something new.  When Geshe-la publishes a new book, we usually focus our attention on what is “new.”  When he reproduces chapters found in other books, we tend to skip over the quickly thinking we have already heard that.  We relate to Dharma teachings like we do any samsaric object, namely always looking for the newest and latest instruction.  When we hear the same instructions over again, we feel like they have gone stale.  It is true, the instruction may be the same, but it will only feel stale if it is our own mind that has not changed since the last time we heard the instruction.  If when we hear an instruction we immediately put it into practice, our mind will change.  As a result, when we next hear the same instruction, even though the instruction will be the same, we will hear something different.  Because our mind has changed, we will discover a new deeper truth to what is being taught.  In this way, the instructions can seem fresh even if we have already heard them over 100 times.  The chapter on Ultimate Bodhichitta from Eight Steps to Happiness has been reproduced in several different books.  Geshe-la once said of this chapter that we should meditate for an hour on each sentence in it, and then repeat that process 100 times for the entire chapter.  One day, I hope to do exactly that.  In the meantime, I will try check my mind for attachment to new instructions.

As was discussed in the introduction to this series, when I first read this and its corresponding commentary in Meaningful to Behold, I took it to be the false humility it seemed to me that Buddhist masters sometimes show.  In reality, they are these high lamas, but they just say, “I am nothing but a humble monk, bumbling my way through.”  But actually, now, I think like everything else in the Guide we should take Shantideva at his word.  When he wrote the Guide, he did so to clarify his own thoughts and to provide himself with an opportunity to acquaint his mind with virtue.  If other people reading it also receive benefit, then all the better.  In fact, I would say it is because he had no attachment whatsoever to others receiving benefit from what he said and he has no need to change other people because he accepts them all as they are that his words function to provide benefit and induce change.

When reading the Guide, we should understand this is Shantideva talking to himself.  Sometimes when people read his Guide, they feel attacked by Shantideva and they reject what he has to say as a result.  Instead, we should understand that Shantideva is simply showing us how he talks to his own delusions and to himself.  He is attacking them, not us.  Further, he is revealing to us the attitude we ourselves should take vis-à-vis our own delusions.  Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness that when we make a clear distinction between ourselves and our delusions, we can simultaneously be utterly ruthless with our delusions while being kind and gentle with ourselves.  Shantideva shows us how to do this.  Our own inner discourse can come to resemble his.

I think these two verses reveal not only the voice of the Guide, but they also indicate how we should approach things like writing blogs or giving Dharma teachings.  It is very easy when writing a blog or when giving Dharma teachings to become attached to others receiving benefit from our teachings or even to receiving praise about how wonderful our explanations are.  Such attitudes completely destroy any benefit from our efforts, both for ourself and for others.  If we approach giving Dharma with such an attitude, people will naturally sense that this is our motivation.  As a result, they won’t see our explanations as sincere and they will reject them.  Further, if we are trying to change others with our explanations, people will naturally sense that too and they will begin to resist the change we are trying to bring about.  Far from helping them, we will actually make their situation worse because now they are rejecting the Dharma.

If instead we approach things as Shantideva does, namely we are writing to clarify our own thinking and to give ourselves an opportunity to acquaint our own mind with Dharma, then we will have complete equanimity whether others like our explanations or not.  Of course we want others to receive benefit, but we don’t need them to in any way.  Because we are not trying to change others, people feel no need to resist what we have to say.  A Bodhisattva accepts everybody exactly as they are without judgment.  As a result, when they share Dharma nobody feels attacked or manipulated by the explanations.  This enables them to accept what we have to say.

Quite often, after we have been practicing or teaching Dharma for some time, we can become very arrogant thinking we know all the answers or we become very judgmental about other people and the choices they make.  Even if we say nothing, others sense our disapproval and feel judged.  If the other person goes along with what we would want them to do in order to avoid feeling judged, they might externally seem to be practicing Dharma but in reality they are just avoiding our condemnation.  For Dharma to work, it has to be practiced from our own side and for our own internal reasons, not from the outside in an effort to avoid judgment.  Instead, if we adopt Shantideva’s approach of remaining humble and not presuming to impose what we are saying on others, then people will naturally be open to what we have to say and might receive some benefit.

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