(4.43) This will be my main objective:
Bearing a strong grudge, to do battle with my delusions.
Although such a grudge appears to be a delusion,
Because it destroys delusions it is not.
(4.44) It would be better for me to be burned to death
Or to have my head cut off
Than to ever allow myself
To come under the influence of delusions.
I love Shantideva. To not put too fine a point on it, he just kicks our ass. Reading his words, you can just feel his vajra-like clarity and certainty of purpose. He does not hold back, he does not coddle. Why? Because he is at war.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, the devil taunted him, “do you really want to take on the sins of all beings? Are you really ready for what that means?” After a moment’s hesitation, he came to a decision and said unequivocally yes, and he crushed the serpent’s head. Then, quite literally, a world of suffering came crashing down on him. He accepted it all because he knew his purpose, and just before death some of his last words were, “forgive them father, for they know not what they do.” When we read Shantideva, we can’t help but feel he has come out of his own Garden of Gethsemane armed with clarity of purpose. He has not simply declared war on his own delusions, he has declared war on all the delusions of all living beings – and he is fighting to win. He is playing for keeps. He is taking no prisoners. He is showing no quarter.
We know the path to freedom and happiness involves removing all trace of delusions. We will be unable to lead anyone along that path in its entirety unless we have travelled it ourselves—unless we have freed ourselves from delusions. This does not mean we need to overcome all of our delusions before we can provide any help; rather it means we will only be able to actually help people up to the extent that we have actually overcome our delusions within ourselves. Until we have overcome our own delusions, we will have no power to free even one person from their delusions. We may have knowledge of this path, but we must travel along it if we are to free others from their delusions.
Therefore, our main job must be to abandon delusions. This is very easy to forget. We have a lot of jobs, and things we do. But we have to ask what is our main objective? All of our other activities provide us with an opportunity to change our mind and our way of life, finally into those of a Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas have incredible influence on the world around them, incredible power to lead others. They do not go around telling everyone “I am bodhisattva, hear me roar.” Simply their presence in any community radically reshapes it. In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says that somebody who cherishes others is like a magic crystal the functions to heal any community. What need is there to say of the power of a Bodhisattva, whose wish is to lead all beings to everlasting freedom.
We ourselves should want such influence and power. But such power does not come from teaching or from working to flourish the Dharma, but rather from working on our own mind. We need confidence that we can actively eliminate delusion from our mind, and confidence that once eliminated they will never return. And we need this experience in the world of living beings. For centuries, this was primarily a monastic tradition, but not any more. Even monks and nuns in this tradition live in the world, even if their jobs are working for Dharma centers. Venerable Tharchin said all it takes is a handful of true spiritual masters in a given country to make that country a source of peace in the world. We need such Bodhisattvas in Dharma centers, but we also need them in our schools, in our corporations, in our hospitals, in the government, in the military, in the highest reaches of politics, and in the home. Who will be these bodhisattvas for our country if not us?
We must do both – heal our mind and heal our world. To do just the external or just the internal is an extreme. In the past many practitioners have experienced many problems due to an unskillful approach, of either being extreme with their inner practice and no engagement with the world; or being extreme with their outer activities while neglecting inner transformation. We must get it right with respect to our formal practices, informal practices, our work, our family life and our civic engagement. We know there is no contradiction within the Dharma. Our job is to realize there is no contradiction between practicing Dharma and living a modern life. This is the task Geshe-la has given us.