Now we turn to some verses on some very practical skillful behavior we should adopt in our daily life.
(5/71) While I have control,
I should always display a smiling face
And, forsaking frowns and angry looks,
Be friendly and honest towards others.
Sometimes people misunderstand this advice to mean we should fake it. Inside we might be all upset or disturbed in some way, but externally we put on a show. Isn’t that repression of our delusions (pretending we don’t have them)? This is not the meaning at all. We present a friendly demeanor to others because we internally feel affection for them. But what if we don’t feel affection for them? We should realize that any sentiment other than affection towards somebody else is ultimately a deluded feeling. Knowing this, we try cultivate affection in our hearts and a friendly demeanor externally because we know it is the right thing to do.
Repression only occurs when we believe the delusion to be true but we externally pretend otherwise. If we know the delusion to be wrong and try direct our mind towards the right thing, we are practicing Dharma. This is a crucial distinction. Sometimes people think Dharma practice is all about pretending to think and feel things that we don’t. That is pretention and repression. Dharma practice is about realizing what we normally think is wrong and making an effort to move our mind in the direction of thinking and acting correctly. No, the Dharma way of reacting to people is not “normal” or “natural”, because what is normal and natural is deluded. But the Dharma way of reacting is healthy, correct and leads to genuine inner peace for ourself and for others. Dharma practice is about changing our mental habits through a clear understanding why it is beneficial to do so combined with persistent effort and practice.
Shantideva’s advice is very similar to Venerable Atisha’s to “always keep a smiling face.” When we’re with others, we should feel and express affection for them. What does this mean? Quite simply, it means we are genuinely delighted to see and be with others. We appreciate them and their good qualities and it makes us happy to be with them. Everyone loves to feel loved and appreciated. We all, inside, feel lonely, rejected and unloved. Just a simple smile of delight when seeing somebody shines a light into others hearts and lifts their spirits. In this way we can show that we are their friend as well as do something to make their day a little brighter. Geshe-la says a bodhisattva is a friend of the world. We need to see ourselves in this way.
How do we generate such affection? Simple: we should focus on and then appreciate their good qualities. Normally we do the opposite, we focus on and judge others for their perceived faults. When we focus on and genuinely appreciate others’ good qualities, affection for them naturally arises in our heart. Just thinking about them brings delight to our mind, and who doesn’t want to feel delighted all the time? Focusing on and judging others for their faults naturally gives rise to resentment and anger in our mind. Just thinking about others then puts us in a foul mood. Who enjoys that? So we need to decide what kind of person we want to be: somebody who is filled with delight or somebody who is bitter and grumbling.
We need to be able to say to others, “I will never deceive you” and actually mean it and know it is true. Everyone has experienced others violating their trust, and it usually makes us never want to trust again. But that is the wrong reaction. The correct reaction is to become somebody who is trustworthy. If we are always honest and trustworthy with others we will create the karma for others in the future to always be honest and trustworthy with us.
Nowadays, everyone is very busy, busy, busy. We are so busy, it seems we no longer have time for others. As bodhisattvas, we have to ask ourselves, “what could we possibly be so busy with that we don’t have time for cherishing others?” Something is clearly wrong if we think this way. Our priorities have somehow become reversed. Perhaps we are so busy helping other people that we don’t have time to help somebody right now. This can happen. But we shouldn’t be frustrated when them when they come asking for our help in some way. Instead, we should greet them kindly and say, “I would love to help you, but unfortunately right now I am trying to help XYZ with ABC. As soon as I get an opportunity, I will help you.” In our heart, we should wish we were capable of helping everybody all of the time. Then, when we encounter situations where we are unable to fulfill that loving wish, we can renew our bodhichitta thinking, “only a Buddha can be there for each and every living being, every day. I need to become a Buddha so I can do the same.”