(4.9) And if someone else were to obstruct or hinder
A Bodhisattva’s virtuous actions, even for a moment,
Since he would be undermining the welfare of all living beings,
There would be no end to his lower rebirths.
(4.10) For if I would experience misfortune
As a result of destroying the happiness of just one being,
What can be said of the consequences of destroying
The happiness of all living beings as extensive as space?
These two verses indicate the significance of a Bodhisattva’s deeds. If they are halted in any way, the welfare of others is affected. It is important to note that our practice can be obstructed by ourself or by others. First we will discuss others.
We need to be careful to not let others obstruct our practice. When others create obstacles to our practice and we allow them to do so, they incur very heavy negative karma of indirectly harming all living beings. This is very important to understand. Sometimes we think we are cherishing others to not do our practice because it upsets them when we do, but this comes at the expense of all other living beings and causes the other person to incur heavy negative karma.
There are some qualifiers to this. First, we need to think about things in a long-term perspective. Sometimes it is better to allow some minor interference in the short run to eliminate much greater interference in the long run. If you push too hard too quickly you could wind up with less. Second, we don’t always have to tell the obstructing person what we are doing. Sometimes they just wouldn’t understand and would create obstacles for us. If we can avoid saying anything and still do our own thing, that is often the best course of action. But sometimes we might be forced into a situation where we are faced with a choice: lie and do Dharma or tell the truth and not do Dharma. In such a case, we need to not sacrifice a greater virtue on the altar of a lesser virtue. Under what conditions is this a lie and under what conditions is it not a lie? It all depends on whether we are driven by delusion or not. As a general rule though, most of the obstacles we encounter are minor. If we transform the obstructions the other person throws at us into the path, they will still accumulate negative karma for interfering with our practice, but less so. And if we are able to transform their obstacles into the path, can we really say they are interfering in fact with our practice?
Even if others do not interfere with our practice, we can wind up interfering with our own practice. In comparison with conscientiously engaging in the bodhisattva’s path, if we do nothing, then living beings remain in samsara for longer. This is true for two reasons. First, we don’t directly lead them out; and second, we don’t help others become bodhisattva’s themselves who would help others still.
Is this meant to make us feel bad? It seems unfair: here I’ve made a promise, but if I don’t act on it then I am the cause of others having to experience suffering for a longer and longer period of time. It seems like the Bodhisattva’s path is a high-stakes way of life. The results are far, far greater in either direction. Is it better to play it safe and not enter such a life? The answer is an unequivocal no. Will we make mistakes? Of course, many. But our intention is to learn and do better next time. Since it is primarily our intention that determines the karma we create, if we maintain a good intention while remaining humbly aware we will make many mistakes along the way, we will accumulate far more virtue from our efforts than non-virtue from our mistakes. In any case, what is the bigger error, trying and making mistakes or not trying at all and abandoning the bodhisattva’s path?
It is good to have fear of interfering with a bodhisattva. Generating fear is a good way of identifying the self-cherishing mind. In these verses Shantideva is helping us to generate fear. At the same time we have to feel so happy. Conscientiousness is a happy mind, cherishing virtue. Shantideva’s helping us to generate such conscientiousness through developing some fear. We need to think about this quite carefully.
Geshe-la says in The Bodhisattva Vow we need to be very skillful in our practice of the Bodhisattva Vows. If we feel so unhappy and give ourselves a hard time after incurring a downfall, we’re taking the wrong approach. There is a danger when we contemplate the dangers we can become heavy with our practice, but as Kadam Bjorn said, “there is not a single mind in the Dharma that is heavy or tight. They are all light and spacious.” Conscientiousness is not a heavy mind for the simple reason that it is not fooled by the lies of our delusions. It is confident in its choice of virtue and the inner struggle between wisdom and delusion has been resolved – at least intellectually.