Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Watch your behavior, but don’t be rigid about it

(5.41) Striving for concentration by whatever means,
I should not let my mind wander for even a moment
But closely examine it by asking,
“How is my mind behaving?”

We have two extremes of mind – the busy mind and spacey mind.  Most of the time, our mind can be very busy, active, racing even.  And perhaps it seems with that mind we are able to accomplish a lot externally.  Some of the time, we can have a mind that is relatively peaceful, some space, but we then slide into a laziness, accomplishing very little or perhaps nothing at all.  We need to find the middle way.  We need a sharpness of mind, keenly aware of what’s happening, what needs to be done. Yet at the same time there must be peace, stillness, space, clarity.  We can accomplish a great deal, yet maintain perfect calm and a peaceful mind.  To a great extent we can achieve this state of mind with a focused, disciplined, concentrated mind.

It is especially important to closely examine our mind, asking how is it behaving.   This is an essential part of training the mind.  We’re not used to taking time out for such a proper examination.  But if we do, we will find it very, very easy to practice the moral discipline of restraint.  So much of our behavior is committed through the force of unconscious habit.  Thoughts and feeling arise, then we act on them without much involvement on our part.  This is what needs to change.

Gen-la Losang says what is natural is simply what is familiar.  Our habitual reactions to events in our life arise from karmic tendencies similar to the cause of having reacted in this way in the past (both in this life and in our previous lives).  The problem is this:  our habitual way of reacting is a deluded one, and delusions always make things worse.  No matter how many times we think, “this time will be different,” it never is.  Our life will turn around only when we change our habitual deluded reactions into virtuous and wisdom reactions.  In the beginning, this will feel forced and require great effort.  But if we stick with it, eventually wisdom and virtue will become our habitual reactions and it will become much easier.

(42) It is said there are times, when practising giving, that one can be judicious
In applying some of the finer points of moral discipline.
When there is danger or a special celebration,
One can perform actions suitable for that occasion.

This advice given so that we don’t become too rigid and go to the other extreme with our behavior.  In Meaningful to Behold Geshe-la says our basic consideration should be what is more beneficial for others.  We should do whatever is most important at the particular moment, using our intelligence as much as we can.  Gen-la Losang tells the story of when he was in Spain, one of the benefactors for the center threw a party to celebrate some good development.  As was culturally customary, he brought out Champagne.  As a monk with pratimoksha vows to avoid taking intoxicants, Gen-la Losang at first refused.  The benefactor then felt embarrassed, like he had done something wrong and then told everybody to put it away.  Realizing he had created an awkward moment for everyone, Gen-la then said it was no problem, took the glass and sipped politely to the toast.  The point is we need to act naturally and appropriately in every situation and not sacrifice a great virtue (such as appreciating the kindness of the benefactor and the good intention behind the toast) on the altar of a smaller virtue of not taking a sip of alcohol.  The same sort of reasoning can be applied to a wide variety of circumstances we find ourselves in.

While it is true we should try not to be too rigid, we should also not use this as an excuse to go to the other extreme and abandon our moral discipline entirely.  For example, just because we’re invited to a special celebration with our old friends does not mean we shouldn’t still try to regard ourself as a spiritual person.  We can ask ourselves how somebody we respect would behave in this situation.

Sometimes we lie to ourselves with a Dharma justification “I am doing this to establish or improve my relationships with others” when in reality this is not our motivation.  It is not enough to have a Dharma rationalization, it has to actually be our reason informing our behavior.  We have to lift people out of the ordinary to the spiritual, but we can’t be so otherworldly that we’re unapproachable.  If we are, it’s difficult for people to feel comfortable.  We should not make a scene about how our behavior is different, especially if it will make other people uncomfortable or feel judged for their own behavior.  Likewise, if we come across like some uptight, doesn’t know how to have a good time person, we might feel self-righteous, but we will hardly encourage anybody to enter the spiritual path.  The reality is life is more enjoyable when we experience it without delusion and negativity.  When people see it is possible to have a great (even better) time without delusion and negativity, then people will naturally want what we’re smoking!

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