Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Investing our precious merit

(3.7) Thus, through the merit I have collected
From all these virtuous actions,

Sometimes people let a false understanding of humility get in the way of their dedication.  They think, “my virtues are small and insignificant, there is nothing really to dedicate,” so they don’t dedicate at all.  Any virtue, no matter how small, is better than no virtue at all.  Vajrayogini’s mandala is an inverted double tetrahedron to symbolize that the greatest attainments of enlightenment are built upon the foundation of the smallest of our virtues.  We should never think our virtues are too small, because without them it is impossible to build something even greater.

Others fail to dedicate because they don’t understand how easily it is to lose our merit.  We work hard to make and then save our money.  If you left your wallet full of cash lying on the ground in a crowded square, how long do you think it would be before you would lose it?  Not long.  If instead, you put that money in the bank, no matter what happened outside, the money would be safe.  Merit is like internal wealth.  It takes tremendous effort to accumulate it and save it up.  But if we are careless with it and fail to put it into the bank through dedication, it won’t take long before we lose it all.  Delusions burn up merit, anger in particular.  Why?  Because delusions and virtues are opposites, when a -1 wave hits a +1 wave, the end result is zero waves.  Just one moment of anger towards a bodhisattva can burn up in just one instant the merit we have accumulated over countless aeons.  Dedication, however, functions to protect it.  We invest the merit in a good cause, and once invested in this way it can’t be subsequently destroyed.

Instead, we should rejoice in our virtues and really appreciate what a cosmic miracle it is that we engage in any virtue.  Our virtues, even the smallest ones, are like priceless jewels.  They are our initial spiritual capital which, when carefully invested, will eventually become an inexhaustible fountain of good fortune which we share freely with all living beings.  In finance, there is a concept called the “miracle of compound interest.”  For example, just $100 put into the stock market in 1915 would be worth about $300,000 today all through the power of compound interest.  Dedicated merit works in the same way.  If we said, “oh, it is just $100, it is not worth anything” before, then we would have nothing now.  Realizing how precious our virtues are, we then carefully engage in dedication.

May the suffering of every living being
Be brought completely to an end;

(3.8) And until all those who are sick
Have been cured of their illness,
May I become their medicine,
Their doctor, and their nurse.

When we dedicate, on the one hand we want to dedicate for the vastest possible goal, namely the enlightenment of all beings.  But the problem is when we dedicate towards vast goals it is easy to lose any heart-felt feeling for the meaning of the dedication because it feels too abstract.  On the other hand, if we dedicate for narrow, close to home purposes, it is easy to get a good feeling for it, but the goal is so small that the potential benefit of our dedication is cut short.  So we want to try find the optimal point where our dedication is vast enough to have meaning, but not so vast that we lose all feeling for it.  To keep it simple, I try dedicate across a range of purposes, vast, middling and narrow.  For example, every day I make prayers that everything be arrange for all beings to attain enlightenment as swiftly as possible (vast), I dedicate that everything I touch or have some control or influence over be used for this purpose (middling) and I make specific dedications for my wife and kids whom I naturally love with all my heart (narrow).

Here, Shantideva reveals how a bodhisattva dedicates.  They don’t simply dedicate towards some good end, rather they dedicate that they themselves become whatever others need.  What distinguishes a bodhisattva from merely compassionate people is their superior intention to take personal responsibility for fulfilling their compassionate wishes.  While Shantideva gives the example of transforming ourselves into medicine, doctors and nurses for the sick, we can apply the same spiritual logic for any and all good purposes.

It is important that this is not just some idea, but rather becomes our way of life.  We need to look around and ask ourselves, “what do these people need?”  Then, we need to apply effort to become that for them.  What I try do is focus my efforts on “making things easier for those who follow.”  Whatever I do in life, I try leave behind some clear instructions or advice on how to get to the same point easier.  Whatever lessons I learned, I try share so others don’t have to struggle as I did.  Or, when you are in a group of people, ask yourself, “what can I do to help?”  Then do that.  When this becomes our reflex habit in all situations, it won’t be long before we spontaneously transform ourselves into whatever living beings need.  Ultimately, the form body of a Buddha does precisely that in all three times.  That is our final goal.

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