(4.4) If, having made the bodhichitta promise,
I do not actually put it into practice,
Since I shall be deceiving all these living beings,
What sort of rebirth shall I then take?
(4.5) It is said that someone who, out of miserliness,
Does not give even the smallest ordinary thing
That he or she has dedicated to others
Will be reborn as a hungry spirit.
(4.6) So, if I were to deceive all living beings,
Whom from the depths of my heart I have invited
To be guests at the banquet of enlightenment,
How could I take a fortunate rebirth in the future?
When we generate bodhichitta, we are making a promise to all living beings that we will not stop until we have saved them all. The fact that they might not be aware of the promise we have made to them changes nothing, the promise has been made. It is generally bad to promise to come to somebody’s aid and then to let them down. To abandon our bodhichitta promise is to let everyone down.
It is important here we make a distinction between what our wisdom knows to be good for us and what our delusions think is good for us. When our wisdom is functioning, we see things clearly and we know what is right. When our delusions are functioning, we see things in a distorted way and it clouds our wisdom. It is normal that there will be times when our delusions are the dominant force in our mind, and at such times we may forget our bodhichitta or even regret it. When this happens, we haven’t gone back on our promise. If we then recall our wisdom that led us to our bodhichitta promise in the first place, we are able to bring ourselves back to that space of clarity and we know clearly and unequivocally that our delusions are wrong and our wisdom is right. This is the “training” of a bodhisattva. Just as when our mind gets distracted in meditation, we need to recall our contemplation and bring our mind back to our object; so too in life when we become distracted by our delusions, we need to recall the wisdom leading to bodhichitta and bring our life back to the bodhisattva’s path. If we fail to apply effort to do so, out of laziness, attachment or lack of concern for others, then we have gone back on our promise.
We imagined ourself surrounded by all living beings, and for their sake made a promise in front of our spiritual guide and the whole field of merit. Not acting on this promise is like going right up to a beggar, getting some money out, and not giving it. Except, it’s a million times worse.
Some people really don’t like Shantideva because he uses such powerful rhetoric and he seems to revel in making us afraid. Being afraid is an uncomfortable feeling, and so we assume such fear is a delusion and to be abandoned. We got into meditation because we wanted to be happy, not become somebody who has the “fear of God (karma) drilled into them.” Many people left their Christian upbringings due to all the fire and brimstone, and quickly become disheartened to find similar things in Buddha’s teachings. It is clear, Shantideva is trying to generate fear in our mind. He does this again and again. Why does he use this approach?
The reality is much of the Dharma is about generating correct fears. It is perfectly appropriate to be afraid of gravity, just as it is appropriate to be afraid of fire. Such fears protect us. Being afraid of losing our boyfriend or our money is an incorrect fear because such events are, in and of themselves, neither good nor bad. It is how we relate to them that makes them so. Irrational fears of the paranoid person believing people are out to get them when they are not are surely destructive and to be abandoned. But fear of valid dangers is entirely correct, and a wisdom mind.
The harsh truth is we remain completely oblivious to the danger we are in, and our denial of it won’t protect us. When we know we are in danger of losing our job, we do everything we can to protect it. In the same way, we are in danger of becoming forever lost in the slaughterhouse of samsara. We should be afraid. We should be very afraid. This fear protects us from the laziness of wasting our precious human life. It protects us against being deceived by our delusions into committing negativity. It protects us from complacency about having a happy life or being satisfied with our own freedom while everyone else drowns.
Many people relate to the Dharma like a hobby or like a club. They enjoy meeting with their Sangha friends and enjoy the feast of a tsog puja. There is nothing wrong with that, and in fact it is far better to enjoy the company of our Sangha friends than a party full of drunk people. But is it good enough? We can even enjoy making offerings, pujas, etc. but if there’s no fear present, then what will be the results of our practices? Will they have the power to deliver us from lower rebirth much less propel us to liberation and enlightenment?
We need to get over our aversion to Shantideva invoking fear. We need to try to understand what kind of fear we’re meant to generate and how important it is, because it comes up again and again. Of course when reacting to anything with strong self-grasping, self-cherishing, the mind will be unpeaceful. This is why we need to increase our faith and wisdom. But unlike others, our mind will become more peaceful. Fear can be present in our mind, but we’ll feel more and more peaceful as a result. The causes of refuge are fear and faith. Without fear, there is no refuge, nor any faith.