Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to develop mindfulness.

(5.30) Fortunate ones who follow the instructions they receive,
Maintain respect for their Spiritual Guide,
And generate fear of the lower realms
Can easily develop and maintain mindfulness.

In the previous verses, Shantideva has encouraged us to generate mindfulness of Dharma.  Mindfulness is remembering the Dharma, it is maintaining the continuum of our Dharma realizations for longer and longer periods of time.  It is actually quite easy to practice Dharma, what is hard is remembering to do so.  Hours, days, weeks, months, years and even lifetimes can go by between our “remembering to practice.”  Once we remember, it is fairly easy to know what to do, so our real task is to remember to do so.  Everything else flows naturally from this.  In this verse, Shantideva explains how.

First, we need to realize we are “fortunate ones.”  Do we feel fortunate?  Most of the time we actually feel unlucky and put upon.  But we have found the keys to the prison of samsara, and not only can we escape, we can bring everyone with us.  We have been wandering in the realms of suffering for countless aeons and by such incredible good fortune, we have found a way out.  We can, once and for all, put an end to all problems and sufferings for ourselves and for all those we love.  We have been given perfectly reliable methods for bringing our mind under control, purifying our negative karma, accumulating an infinite amount of merit and fulfilling all our pure wishes.  We have at our fingertips the precious instructions of Tantra with which we can guarantee that we will take rebirth in the pure land at least within the next seven lifetimes.  If we were a dog and we encountered our Kadampa books, we might view them as a chew toy.  We have precious Sangha friends who inspire us to engage in virtue, we have a worldwide network of Dharma centers so anywhere we go in the world we will have access to the same precious Dharma.  Our good fortune is beyond measure.

Second, realizing our good fortune, we must follow the instructions we receive.  Venerable Tharchin explains that if we have a spiritual opportunity and we seize it, we create the causes for an even better opportunity in the future; but if we fail to seize the opportunity, we burn up the karma to have such opportunities and they will become harder and harder to find in the future.  What does it mean to follow the instructions we receive?  It means we actually use the instructions to try change our habits of mind.  We put effort into seeing through the lies of our delusions and instead to think differently.  Delusions are just habits of mind, virtues are as well.  At present, our deluded habits are dominant and our virtuous habits are weak, but with effort we can change this and eventually reach the point where we would have to apply effort to think and act in deluded ways!  Following the instructions does not mean being perfect, it means to try do a little bit better every day until we are able to act perfectly all of the time.

Third, we need to maintain respect for our Spiritual Guide.  What, exactly, does it mean to respect our Spiritual Guide?  Respect, here, does not mean to treat with deference, though that will happen naturally if our mind is respectful.  Rather, respect has two parts.  First, it means we look up to the Spiritual Guide, valuing and trusting what they have to say.  Who among us has accomplished as much good in life as our spiritual guides have?  Think of the great masters, Buddha Shakyamuni, Atisha, Je Tsongkhapa and our own precious Geshe-la.  Buddha Shakyamuni founded the Dharma in this world, Atisha combined the vast and profound path, Je Tsongkhapa united Sutra and Tantra, and Geshe-la has represented the sacred Kadam Dhama for the people of this modern world.  Through their actions, countless people receive incalculable benefit in this and all our future lives.  They show flawless examples of how to behave and how to respond with wisdom and compassion to whatever happens in our life.  The second part of respect is, motivated by gratitude for what our Spiritual Guides have provided us, striving sincerely to fulfill their wishes for us.  What do they wish for us?  They wish for us to be happy and to become a positive force for good in this world.  They wish us to tame our delusions, cultivate our virtues and becomes that magic crystal which heals the communities we live in.

Fourth, we need to generate fear of the lower realms.  We arrogantly assume our present good fortune in the human realm will last forever.  If we think deeply about what the instructions are telling us, we are inexorably led to the conclusion that our real home in samsara is the lower realms, and it is only by a near miracle of good fortune that we have taken rebirth has a human with an opportunity to practice Dharma.  In the Christian teachings, it is presented that at the end of this life we either get to heaven (the pure land) of we will fall into hell, there is no third possibility.  While technically incorrect since it is possible we could take rebirth as an animal, a hungry spirit, a demi-god or a god, or even a human again, statistically speaking our choices are indeed for all practical purposes either we lift ourselves up to the pure land or we will fall into hell.  How can we understand this?  There are approximately 7 billion people on earth.  When you consider all the insects and 8 million other species of animals, it is very conservative to say that there are at least 7 trillion animals.  Using the same proportions, that means there are 7 quadrillion hungry spirits and 7 quintillion hell beings.  Likewise, about 7 million demi-gods, and only 7,000 gods.  If you calculate then the percentages of each type of being, we find that humans only make up 0.00000001% of all beings, and hell beings constitute 99.9% of all beings.  This makes sense when you think about how samsara works.  The cause of lower rebirth is negative karma.  When we are in the lower realms, we essentially engage only in negative actions; when we are in the upper realms we burn up all our virtuous karma and then fall.  So while the wheel of life and the analogy of the house make it seem like beings are evenly distributed among the six realms, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking this is the case.  We stand on the precipice of falling into hell.  The only way this won’t happen is if we get ourselves to the pure land in dependence upon the practice of guarding alertness.

If we contemplate again and again these four main causes, mindfulness will naturally arise within our mind.  Mindfulness, like anything else, is a dependent arising.  If you create the causes and conditions for it, it will definitely arise.  If we have mindfulness, we will easily obtain everything else; if we lose our mindfulness, we will quickly lose everything else.  What could be more important than this?

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