(1.35 continued) Even when Bodhisattvas are faced with great adversity,
Negativity does not arise; rather, their virtues naturally increase.
For the vast majority of us, when we encounter some form of adversity we usually don’t take it very well. We become angry, frustrated, jealous, worried, stressed-out, etc. The reason for this is simple: our wishes are still worldly. What we want is pleasant experiences, wealth, a good reputation and a life of ease. Anything that threatens these things is viewed by us as a problem. We then generate delusions, and usually respond with some form of negativity. While bad enough, this habit quite literally leads to our own damnation. If we die with a negative or deluded mind, it will activate negative karma throwing us into a lower rebirth from which it is almost impossible to escape. This is not some fiction or some religious theory, but the reality of how samsara works. If we respond to the slight inconveniences of modern life with delusion and negativity, what hope do we have of responding to the trauma of death with wisdom and virtue? Unless we change, our fate is all but sealed.
But the Bodhisattva, in contrast, feasts on adversity. Venerable Tharchin once said, “my main practice now is my dying body.” For the Bodhisattva, every adversity is another opportunity to grow and train in virtue. The reason they can do this is they have the mind of patient acceptance. The mind of patient acceptance fully accepts samsara as it is without any resistance. How can it accept samsara? Because it has the wisdom that knows how to use every last bit of its sufferings to advance on the path. For the Bodhisattva, the more negativity and difficulties that ripen, the more the bodhisattva is literally ‘pushed out’ of samsara instead of dragged down into it. More on this when we get to the Chapter on Patience.
(36) I prostrate to those who have generated
The holy, precious mind of bodhichitta;
And I go for refuge to those sources of happiness
Who bestow bliss even upon those who harm them.
In modern times, external expressions of prostration is just seen as weird and cult-like. Sometimes students who study under other Tibetan Lamas in India will meet with Geshe-la, and when they do, as per their custom, when they enter the room they prostrate. Geshe-la tells them, “please, get up, it is not the modern way.” The modern way is spiritual leaders should not hold themselves up as being anything special, quite the contrary they should assume an unpretentious and humble demeanor that puts others at ease. I remember my first meeting ever with a “Gen-la.” I was very nervous and when I came in, I was all respectful with my hands pressed together at my heart, etc. He said, “oh, please, none of that. Come in, come in, can I get you a tea?” Geshe-la has said when we interact with our teachers and spiritual guides, we should act “exactly as normal.” They are our spiritual friends, not our spiritual masters. We should view them as “Sangha Jewel,” not “Buddha Jewel.” This represents a huge departure from how things were done in India and Tibet, but in modern times, this makes all the difference. Such a “normal” approach to relations prevents the tradition from outwardly appearing as some crazed cult, it makes our teachers much more approachable enabling us to more easily receive benefit from them, and it protects our teachers from feeling like they have to put on some pretentious show of how holy they are. Everybody can relax and be normal.
But inwardly, if we truly understood the infinite good qualities of the Bodhisattva, we would spontaneously throw ourselves at their feet in awe and humility in the face of their greatness. It would be like for a Christian who found themselves before the radiance of God himself. But for the Buddhist, prostration takes on a much deeper meaning. To prostrate is essentially to humbly request, “help me to become just like you.” It does not just recognize the greatness of that to which we prostrate, but it seeks guidance to cultivate within ourselves these very same qualities. It says, “this is what I seek to become. Please help me to do so.” If we had even the slightest inkling of a fraction of a Bodhisattva’s good qualities, we would realize they far surpass everything good in samsara put together. Why settle for the table scraps of a dog when we can feast at the table of spiritual kings? The choice is ours, our destiny is our own.
This concludes the first chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled “An Explanation of the Benefits of Bodhichitta”.