(4.41) If I myself am not free from delusions
When I promise all living beings
Abiding in the ten directions throughout space
That I will liberate them from their delusions,
(4.42) Is it not foolish of me to say such things
While disregarding my own shortcomings?
This being so, I must never turn back
From destroying my own delusions.
We have made a promise to free all living beings from all of their delusions, in this and all their future lives. This is simultaneously a task of cosmic proportions, yet at the same time fairly straight-forward. In fact, it is quite simple: if we eliminate completely delusions and their imprints from our own mind, we will then gain the ability to effortlessly do the rest. By doing one thing – purifying completely our own mind – we accomplish everything else.
As long as we ourselves are weighed down by the heavy burden of our own delusions, we are, for all practical purposes, useless to others. A perfect example of this is the subtle, but crucial, distinction between compassion wishing our loved ones were free from suffering and attachment wishing our loved ones were free from suffering. I am married and have kids. While intellectually I know the difference between these two, I am not there yet in my mind. When my wife or kids are suffering, upset, heavily deluded, etc., then I too become upset and deluded. Either I buy into their deluded view or reaction to things or because I am attached to them being happy (thinking my happiness depends on them being happy), so when they go down, I go down too. I then get frustrated at them, thinking, “why can’t you be happy?” or I get tired of their negative view of things and bothered that what they do just makes the problems worse. It is true, I can’t bear to see them suffer, but not because there is pure selfless compassion in my mind, but rather because I am sick of having to deal with their problems. This makes me useless to them. I fight with them about them being deluded, I don’t help them find a non-deluded solution to their problems. I allow myself to get swept away by their negativity, I don’t stay centered in a positive, constructive frame of mind.
In Offering to the Spiritual Guide it says, “I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort by striving for complete enlightenment with unwavering compassion; even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell for many aeons for the sake of each being.” Normally, we run away from our own problems, much less other people’s problems. Normally, we have real aversion to negative, deluded people. How can we possibly fulfill our bodhichitta wishes if we can’t stand to be around deluded people? Venerable Tharchin said, “when I die I want to be reborn in hell because that is where all the people be.” He said, “we need to design our own enlightenment, decide what kind of Buddha we want to be.” He wants to be a Buddha that is specifically capable of helping people who have fallen into hell. Amazing.
If we ourselves learn how to overcome our own attachment, anger, jealousy and so forth, then through the force of that experience we will naturally know how to help people do the same. If we ourselves do not have this experience, then even if we give them a textbook perfect answer to their problems, our advice will lack any power because it is not coming from personal experience. This is why Kadam Bjorn said the only Dharma we can effectively teach is that which we have personal experience of. His advice to new teachers was not, “study hard,” his advice was “get out into life and apply the Dharma. Then share what you’ve learned.” He would require all of his teachers in his centers to at least have a part-time job on the logic of if we don’t know how to apply the Dharma in the life of our students, then how can we actually help them?
Venerable Tharchin said, “the way we grow our centers is easy. Our job is to gain authentic realizations. These realizations are like a beacon of light in the minds of the beings in our community. Even though they can’t see it, they are naturally drawn to it.” When I was teaching, time and again I would have the experience where I would make some mistake in life, learn some Dharma lesson, and then within a few months somebody would appear at the center who was making a similar mistake. I would then just share my own story. Our own realizations create the causes for those who need such wisdom to appear in our life, then we just share what we have learned. We continue in this way until we are enlightened, and so is everyone else.
It is also vital that we not be attached to others following our advice or changing. As paradoxical as it sounds, it makes no difference to the bodhisattva whether people follow her advice or not. It is because she does not need others to listen that others take on board what she has to say. They know she has no ulterior or selfish motive, they know the bodhisattva has no need for the other person to change at all, so they can trust the advice as being unconditionally offered.
The more we check, the more clear it becomes the best way we can help others is to quite simply work on overcoming our own delusions. Kadam Lucy once told Geshe-la, “my main job now is to flourish the Dharma.” Geshe-la interrupted her and said no, “your job is to practice Dharma. Everything else flows naturally from that.”