Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Hardships? What hardships?

(4.39) If scars inflicted by enemies for no great reason
Are displayed on the body like ornaments,
Why should I not be prepared to endure hardships
In striving sincerely to accomplish the great purpose?

(4.40) If fishermen, hunters, and farmers,
Who think only of their own livelihood,
Endure such sufferings as heat and cold,
Why can I not forbear hardships for the sake of the happiness of all?

Embarassing isn’t it?  Here we are working to bring happiness to all living beings, yet we give up at the slightest hardship.  Yet fishermen, hunters, athletes undergo incredible hardship for nothing.

What’s going on?  What makes us lose sight of our goal?  Why is it that we get side-tracked so easily? At the end of the day it is because we think it matters how we feel?  We think that it is important that we feel good and not bad at any time.  We think our feelings matter, and because they matter we set ourselves on the immediate, not the future.  We lose sight of our goal.  If we check, this is the ultimate in self-cherishing – we are saying that our present feelings are more important than Bodhichitta, our intention to attain Buddhahood for all living beings.  We sacrifice that intention for the sake of our feelings.  Either we have a pleasant feeling and become distracted or we have an unpleasant feeling and we become distracted.  Either way we lose direction.  We forget about our goal.

The only reason why what we feel matters is because we think we matter.  It is our self-cherishing that convinces us that our happiness matters.  It is this delusion that causes us to suffer when something happens to us.  If we didn’t have it, we would say it doesn’t matter when we have bad feelings.  Yes, we have them, but it doesn’t matter.  It is not a problem.  Actually it doesn’t matter if we have a good or bad feeling right now because that is just an effect.  What matters is maintaining a good intention regardless of whether we are experiencing good feelings and bad feelings.  Why don’t we want bad feeling in our mind?  We feel it’s important we not have them in our mind.  Geshe-la and Shantideva say it’s important we feel bad so we can develop renunciation, compassion and bodhichitta.

What exactly are the hardships we have to endure on the spiritual path?  There is only one:  we have to go against the grain of our delusions.  Sometimes we mistakenly think to follow the spiritual path means we have to give up our jobs, our partners, our family and our enjoyments.  We think it means we are not allowed to enjoy things like a going to a good restaurant, seeing a movie, listening to music and going to a party.  We think it means we have to let people abuse us and take advantage of us.  We think it means we need to sacrifice our own wishes and desires so that we can put others first.  We think it means allowing our partner to run off with somebody else, forgoing a high-level career, renouncing wealth and becoming a nobody.  We think it means we need to shave our heads, change our clothes and move into a Dharma center.  We think it means we can no longer go on a regular vacation, but instead have to camp in the rainy Lake District for the rest of our life.  We think it means we have to stop going out with our regular friends and stop going to the pub.  We think it means we can’t go into a Church without saying something like “Jesus was an emanation of Avalokiteshvara.”  We think it means we need to begin every sentence with “Geshe-la says,” and start using all sorts of fancy philosophical sounding words.  We think it means we can no longer enjoy Christmas or Easter with our families without it being awkward.  It can mean all of these things, but it actually means none of these things.

We do not have to give up our family, friends or enjoyments; we need only give up relating to them as objects of attachment.  We can relate to them as objects of love and offering instead.  We can enjoy restaurants, movies, music and parties, not as worldly indulgences but as miraculous teachings of our guru through all of these things.  We do not let others abuse or take advantage of us, not out of self-cherishing but as a wish to protect them from creating negative karma for themselves.  We do not sacrifice our wishes and desires, we change them from being selfish to selfless ones and suddenly find our every wish being fulfilled.  Our partner may leave us for somebody else, but we realize we can be genuinely happy for them because we have discovered the true meaning of love.  We can pursue our full career potential and all the wealth and good reputation in the world, not viewing these things as ends in themselves, but rather as means of fulfilling our bodhichitta wishes in this world.  We don’t have to become ordained or move into a Dharma center, but we can rejoice without guilt or judgment in those who do. We can go on regular vacations too, and if we adopt the “mind of a Festival” while there, we can receive teachings on the Greek isles too.  We do not have to abandon our friends, rather we discover what it means to be a friend.  We can still go to the pub, but just enjoy it in different ways.  We can go to a Church and rejoice in Jesus as just being one amazing guy, even as the Son of God, without needing to put some Buddhist spin on it.  We can quote Geshe-la and use fancy words, but the sign of a true master is they can explain things in terms their grandma would understand.  There is no need for us to feel awkward with our families during the holidays, in fact we can for the first time not be so bothered by their little quirks.

So really, what hardships does the path of wisdom and virtue require of us?  None at all.

2 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Hardships? What hardships?

  1. “The only reason why what we feel matters is because we think we matter. It is our self-cherishing that convinces us that our happiness matters.”

    you make a point of stating that people are so concerned with feeling good rather than feel bad and this is somehow this life thinking, immediate and our basic Buddhist intention of future lives is gone. However, there’s no fault in wanting to feel good and relying on a happy mind alone or remaining with peaceful minds as an activating agent for other positive ripening of karma.

    Imagine comtaminated feelings to your enlightened self are dirt in the mind. What would they be telling that enlightened mind? Simply, that your mind is already pure. Does it matter then to that mind that they are there. Not at all.

    Then imagine, with your enlightened mind that it creates a non existent self that looks like you, it wants to be happy but these contaminated feelings are stopping it from being happy.

    Essentially, you’ve forgotten who you are.

    The happiness of this illusory like self, although a seemingly big waste of time, also matters to the extent that we are still grasping at it. It is intimately connected to our pure self in so far attaining the state of our pure self. If we are too quick to abandon the temporary happiness of this illusory self in order to attain ultimate happiness of our real self without calibrating our effort, we shall fall to extremes. We have to be flexible and realistic with our practice.

    We are not our bodies or mind. There is a pure self that we rarely spot and wants us to be at peace so it emanates, out of emptiness, these unpleasant feelings as if as a message to let us know we are out of alignment with its pure intention. We are ALWAYS pure. We are always dreaming.
    Self cherishing is an aspect of the dream-like self and likewise does not recognise the pure self. The pure self WANTS you and everyone to be happy, all the time! The dream-like self likewise WANTS you to be happy all the time. Check to see if it’s your dream-like self cherishing OR your real self.

    All extremes are to be abandoned until we can become like Shantideva.

    Wanting to be happy is an extension of our wish to renounce samsara so that we can experience pure uncontaminated feelings. Our illusory like self experiences contaminated feelings. Feelings help us get a flavour of our reality as being an unsatisfactory contaminated existence. Changing suffering. Happiness is a part of inner peace that appears from our clear light mind, our real self.

    Experiencing hardships with acceptance entails understanding karmic consequences of previous actions and choosing not to suffer more by accepting that it is ripening and welcoming the unpleasantness that comes with it. That’s the only understanding we need to be mindful of, which is of course, a Lamrim object. The aversion or wanting to not experience our unpleasant karma is forgetting this understanding. Acceptance can be a light and sometimes joyful mind seen as a debt being repaid, never to return, a weight lifted.

    Also, we our real self does matter, this is not self cherishing. We matter to our families and friends.

    And, what we feel matters a lot! They teach us a great deal. They arise from our real self and these messages become distorted. Even more so important in Tantra. It is impossible to locate the winds that the minds are mounted on without feelings, therefore your whole Tantric practice is impotent without them. Yes, you can still absorb your gross minds to subtle etc but unless you are in long retreat, always mindful of Mahamudra, then it’s a difficult ask.

    Precious and important: all human beings, including yourself are EQUALLY that.
    I can want to be happy and want everyone else to be happy. No problem. That’s Bodhichitta.

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