(5.24) Just as people who are troubled by sickness
Have no strength for any kind of physical work,
So those whose minds are disturbed by confusion
Have no strength for any kind of virtuous action.
Geshe-la says in Joyful Path that when sickness strikes, even a champion boxer is knocked out and sapped of all strength. We know ourselves when we are sick we are incapable of doing much, if anything. In the same way, when our mind becomes seized by delusion, it is nearly impossible to generate any kind of virtue.
I think the best analogy is cancer. When people get cancer, it is quite literally all consuming. If radical steps are not taken to stop its spread, it is just a question of time before the cancer will literally eat us alive. People who get cancer must struggle to survive and use all of their remaining strength to fight it. There is rarely any strength of energy left over for them to do anything else. But cancer can at most harm us in this life, the cancer of our delusions harm us in this and all our future lives. If we do not take radical steps to remove every last trace of the cancer of delusions from our mind, it will spread until eventually it completely kills our spiritual life. If just one cell of cancer remains in our body, if left unchecked, it can and will mutate and eventually spread throughout our body. In the same way, if we allow even one cell of delusion to remain in our mind, it will mutate and eventually spread throughout our mind.
Delusions are like weeds which if not stopped will gradually grow in strength and crowd out and destroy any good crops. Just as nothing good can grow in a field of weeds, so too no virtues can grow in a mind overrun by delusions.
(5.25) Moreover, for those whose minds lack alertness,
The wisdoms from listening, contemplating, and meditating
Will not be retained by their memory
Any more than water will remain in a leaky pot.
If we check, it is quite rare that we ever do much to mix our mind with Dharma. But if our mind lacks alertness, the little we do is quickly lost so our effort is almost for naught.
As time goes on, I am increasingly of the view if it weren’t for the fact that samsara gives us one problem after another, we would never really practice Dharma. I know for myself that when everything is going well in my life, it is very easy to become lazy and just coast and enjoy the ripening of good karma. It is only when life smacks me down in one way or another that I am forced to actually use the Dharma to change the way my mind thinks in a more positive way.
It’s so easy to just take the Dharma at the level of interesting philosophical ideas. Of course there is benefit in merely understanding what the Dharma says, but the fruit of Dharma is only realized when we actually transform our mind with it. Meditation is defined as “familiarizing our mind with virtue.” There are three different levels at which we do this, listening, contemplating and meditating. Listening to Dharma is not just hearing the sounds of Dharma, but it is a special way of paying attention to Dhama instructions. Practically speaking, to listen in a qualified way means to have the sickness of our delusions in mind, and then we listen to the Dharma instructions we are receiving as if they were personal advice on the cure coming from our Spiritual Doctor. Contemplating is not just thinking about the Dharma we have heard, it is a rigorous process of testing its validity against the experience of our own lives until we see, yes, the Dharma is truth. My happiness does depend on whether my mind is at peace, not my external circumstances. Delusions destroy my inner peace and virtuous states of mind increase it. Selfishness ruins everything, selflessness is the key to everything. Everything does depend entirely upon how I view things, and I have complete freedom to change my view into something more positive, indeed pure. And when I do so, everything gets better. If I change my mind, I quite literally can change the world. Meditating is not just sitting cross-legged for a period of time in the morning before we begin our day, it is the actual process of changing ourselves with the Dharma truths we have realized. Meditation is not just remembering the ideas of Dharma, it is the inner work of bringing about a deep transformation of who we are. With listening, for example, we come to understand what pure compassion is. With contemplation, we generate the feeling of compassion in our heart. With meditation, we become a compassionate person. Venerable Tharchin said, “meditation makes Dharma an acquisition of your personality.”
Alertness does not just distinguish fault from non-fault, it distinguishes faults from non-faults within our own mind. We are quite skilled at distinguishing faults from non-faults in others, but this is not alertness, rather it is ignorance. Others have no faults, rather they appear that way only because we look at them in a faulty way. Geshe-la says, “a pure mind experiences a pure world and an impure mind experiences an impure world.” Our ignorance, however, grasps at the appearance of faults in others as being objectively true. We then “find fault” in others, become upset about their shortcomings, generate anger and resentment when they fail to live up to our expectations, and then find ourselves in conflict with all those around us. Alertness looks inward and is able to distinguish fault from non-fault within our own mind. Only this can keep us on track.