(5.57) I should engage only in virtuous actions
To benefit living beings, with no thought for myself;
And I should do so with the understanding that I am like an illusion
That does not exist from its own side.
We should engage ‘only’ in virtuous actions for the simple reason that we wish to be happy and avoid suffering. Virtuous actions are the cause of happiness and non-virtuous actions are the cause of suffering. It is only because we believe the opposite that we eagerly engage in non-virtue and only reluctantly engage in virtue. Engaging in virtue is not complicated: we simply put the interests of others first, and then work for their benefit. All virtuous actions naturally flow from the wish to bring benefit to others.
What is the main object of abandonment of a Bodhisattva? Self-cherishing, working for one’s own sake. We know if we have a selfish intention, we’re not going to work solely for the benefit of others. A good test for self-cherishing is we ask ourselves for whose sake are we engaging in our present action. We need to ask this question again and again. We will eventually realize that virtually all our actions are motivated by self-cherishing. Normally, we are completely blind to this fact. We should pray that it be clearly revealed to us how virtually all of our actions are motivated by selfish desires. The more we become aware of it, the more we will naturally change because we don’t want to be someone like that. If we have wisdom, we will realize all selfish actions are necessarily counter-productive actions. Driven by self-cherishing, we become our own worst enemy.
The reason for this is simple: the “self” we normally work for doesn’t exist at all! It is nothing more than a mistaken construction of mind. We grasp at our body as being our own, but it actually comes from the bodies of our parents, the animals we have eaten and the food harvested by others. We grasp at our thoughts as being our own, but everything we think is derived, directly or indirectly, from what we have been taught or learned from others. There is not a single part of our body that comes from us, nor a single thought that does either. So what, precisely, are we? We are a reflection of everyone else. There is no us, we are rather the synthetic result of countless things that are not us coming together. Take away all of those outside influences, and there is nothing there that we can point to that is us. So what sense is there in working for something that doesn’t even exist at all? How foolish is that?
If we are actually aware of who we are – namely the sum of everyone and everything else we have encountered – then we start to impute “self” onto something we see as a reflection of everyone else. If we are to work for our true self, we naturally work for all living beings because that is, in fact, who we are. We are the final product of all living beings coming together in a particular way. To truly cherish our real self, we necessarily must work to bring benefit to who we really are – everyone else.
With a motivation of Bodhichitta, no action can be non-virtuous. With a motivation of Bodhichitta, we should perform all our actions with an understanding the true nature of things. In Ocean of Nectar, Geshe-la says moral discipline becomes completely pure when it becomes conjoined with a realization of emptiness. We need to realize the three spheres of the non-virtue that is abandoned, the person abandoning it, and the being or beings with respect to whom it is abandoned. We may feel this makes moral discipline more difficult. Actually it makes practicing moral discipline so much easier. Why? Because we understand any harm we do to others we are doing to ourself. If I kick the dog, I am kicking myself, both karmically in terms of I will eventually experience the effects similar to the cause, and literally in that the dog is quite literally “part” of me, “part of my mind”, a wave on the ocean of my mind. Just as two waves appear distinct but are by nature the same ocean, so too “self” and “others” appear distinct but are by nature all equally karmic waves on the ocean of my mind.
It’s very useful to view ourselves as nothing more than a reflection of our mind. But Kadam Lucy says we should go one step further and consider ourselves not to be a reflection in our own mind, but rather we are a reflection in the mind of the Spiritual Guide. When we adopt this view, there is no trace of feeling of independent self-existence. It is also easy to then consider ourselves to be an extension of the Spiritual Guide, which enables him to act through us. Actually it is just him acting at that point. Why hang on to our “self” at all? Saint Francis said, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.” To that, I say, “amen.”