(4.48) Therefore, having considered this well,
I will strive sincerely to practise these precepts as they have been explained.
If a sick person does not listen to the doctor’s advice,
How can he expect to be cured?
Shantideva’s advice in this chapter can be summarized into three things. First, cherish virtue. We cherish what virtue we have in our mind, such as Bodhichitta, our bodhisattva vows, etc. We need to feel that they really do matter. Second, to abandon non-virtue. We realize that negative actions only harm us, and so we naturally want to stop engaging in them and to purify our old negativities. And third, to abandon delusions. The cause of all our negativities is our delusions. They are our real enemy that needs to be destroyed.
My friend Taro who was in a psychiatric hospital for many years told me once, “I have turned my psychotic mind wishing to harm against my delusions. As a result, I now have enormous power to overcome my delusions.” We need to be like this. We need to take sadistic glee in torturing our delusions and trying to destroy them and undermine them in every way possible. Very often the best way to torture our delusions is to simply not believe them. When we do, they lose all their power over us. We don’t need to resist our delusions, we rather need to see through their lies. Then, we will naturally not want to follow them, any more than we intentionally allow ourselves to be fooled. The ultimate way to eliminate our delusions is to realize their emptiness. Then, they dissolve back into the emptiness from which they came and we can purify completely the causes that give rise to them.
But at the end of the day, progress on the spiritual path comes down to one thing: are we actually applying effort to go against the grain of our delusions? If all the Dharma we have studied for so many years remains theoretical, and we don’t actually use it to think differently, then it is essentially useless. As Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path, there are many Dharma scholars in hell. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to train our mind because at present everything that appears to us gives rise to one delusion or another. If we check our mind, every time we look at any person we generate some delusion, whether it be attachment for the hot babe, a judgmental attitude towards somebody, a feeling of superiority over somebody, frustration at how stupid everyone is, impatience that these people are getting in our way, friend, enemy, stranger, the list goes on and on. Each time these delusions arise we have an opportunity to train our mind to think differently.
The opportunities exist, the question is whether we are seizing them or not. Life passes very quickly. Every old person you speak with says the same thing: it all goes so quickly. It will be no different for us. Only the young delude themselves into thinking they have enough time. I started practicing Dharma 22 years ago, and it has gone in a flash and I have very little to show for it for the simple reason that I remain complacent about the delusions in my mind. I lazily allow them to remain, I arrogantly think I have no need to purify my negative karma, I fool myself into thinking because I “know” the Dharma that it is enough. But delusions still maintain their dominion over me. When will I finally rise up and say enough is enough?
Having a terrible sickness is not so bad if we know there is a cure. Having a cure and not taking it is the peak of stupidity. But if we are honest, we must admit to ourselves that we stand on this peak. We have been given everything: a flawless Dharma, a fully qualified Spiritual Guide, a worldwide network of Sangha friends, an all-powerful Dharma protector who can arrange all the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment and endless opportunities to practice. Yet we do close to nothing. We don’t like to hear this. We like to think we do a lot, but do we really live our life as someone who stands on the precipice of the lower realms? Are we filled with a heart-cracking fear of the negative karma that remains on our mind? Do we view our life in this world as being like the lamb chewing grass oblivious to the fact that they are simply waiting their turn to enter the slaughterhouse? If not, then we haven’t been listening and a terrible reckoning awaits us.
This concludes the fourth chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled “Relying upon Conscientiousness”.