Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Becoming intimate with everyone

(5.80) Whenever I see other beings,
I should think, “I can attain enlightenment
In dependence upon these living beings!”
And cherish them sincerely.

(5.81) With either a cultivated motivation
Or one that arises spontaneously,
I should always sow seeds of great virtue
In the fields of holy beings and living beings.

Sometimes we hear Dharma practitioners, especially ordained ones, say things like “relationships are deceptive.”  It is true, we can’t take refuge in our relationships with others thinking that they will provide us with any protection or security at the time of death.  It is also true we shouldn’t look to our relationships with others as being a source of our happiness.  But relationships in and of themselves are not deceptive, it is only our unrealistic attachment to them that is.

Relationships are the very means though which we fulfill our bodhisattva wishes.  We are only able to benefit others in dependence upon the quality of the relationship we have with them.  Geshe-la once told Venerable Tharchin that if he stayed on retreat, he would attain enlightenment but he would be a “useless Buddha” because he would have no karmic connections with living beings.  Our ability to transmit the Dharma primarily depends upon three things:  (1) our personal experience of the instructions through which blessings can pass, (2) the purity of our love and compassion for the other person, free from selfish concerns, and (3) the quality of our karmic relationship with the other person.  All three are necessary.  A great Yogi once trashed a farmer’s field because he understood a bad karmic connection was better than none at all, and once the negative karma had been purified he would then be able to help.  We may justify isolating ourselves from others as us learning to live contently in our cave, but more often than not we are merely running away from our relationships with others.

The path to enlightenment is a process of gathering a collection of merit and wisdom.  Merit is accumulated in dependence upon virtue, and all virtue depends upon others who serve as objects of our virtue.  Wisdom is accumulated in dependence upon learning from interaction, and all interaction depends upon having others to interact with.  The purpose of attaining enlightenment is to serve all living beings and lead them to the same state.  It is clear, there is no enlightenment without others.  This does not mean we should never be alone, rather it means when we are alone we never stop thinking about others.

As we go through our daily lives, we are with people a lot.  As a result, we have a lot of opportunities to sow seeds of merit in the field of living beings.  We can’t forget about living beings, but we usually forget they are a field of merit.  In Chapter 6, Shantideva says that the field of living beings is like the field of enlightened beings in that both are a field of merit.

If we view others as a field of merit, it will no doubt lead to great results. With everyone we meet, we should think “this person is a field of merit,” “I can attain enlightenment in dependence upon you.”  We must value the presence of any living being in the same way we value the presence of holy beings.  We can feel each and every living being is important and cherish them. We can think “you are important.”  If we think in this way, we will never ignore them.  Then we will never miss an opportunity to gather virtue, to take another step in the direction of enlightenment.  We want to attain enlightenment for that person!  For every living being, including that person.  Imagine if we were to do this.  We would be enlightened in no time.

It is quite easy to have superficial relationships with a great many people; it is quite hard to be really close to even one person.  The reason for this is simple:  the closer we are to somebody, the more deeply we are forced to confront the delusions within our own mind.  When we are very close to somebody, they “rub up into” those deeper delusions we have not yet tamed.  We then mistakenly think the other person has the power to disturb our inner peace and we then push them away.  This is exactly the wrong approach.  Our close relationship with another person enables us to identify and finally overcome these deep-seated delusions.

Ultimately, our goal is to become a fully qualified spiritual guide.  When we are, we will seek to mix our mind inseparably with those of our students, and our students will wish to mix their minds inseparably with ours.  There is no more intimate and close relationship than this – all duality between ourself and others dissolves away.  If we don’t know how to be close to others without becoming heavily deluded, how will we ever be able to mix our mind inseparably with our Spiritual Guide’s, much less our future students?  Sexual intimacy is superficial, the intimacy we seek with others is total.

5 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Becoming intimate with everyone

  1. Thank you got all your insightful articles on how to make dharma practical in daily life.

    I’m a bit confused as you seem to advocate being in a relationship with a partner. Does that mean it’s a bad idea to remain single or ordain? The latter frees up a lot of time for study and practice and you are still in relationship with your family, friends, students and sangha, and every person you encounter, plenty of relationships to train with, in my opinion. However, if you do have a wish to have a partner, you train with that just as you explain. We have choice and both paths are equally powerful, right?

    Could you please clarify my confusion? Thank you!

    • Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Of course I am not saying it is a problem to be ordained, etc., just as it is not a problem to have a relationship with a partner in the sense you mean it. When I use the term relationship, I mean it in the more general sense of any relationship we have with another living being. I have a relationship with my wife, son, and boss – all of which are very different in nature, but they are all relationships with others. Whether we are ordained or lay, as bodhisattvas, we are entering into relationships with all living beings. The nature of those relationships will be different, but all bodhisattvas have as their final goal to enter into the most intimate of all relationships with each and every living being – namely mixing our mind inseparably with theirs, and them mixing their minds inseparably with what will be our future mind of enlightenment. I hope it is clearer now.

      • Thank you, yes, it’s super clear now! My apologies as in the culture here we use “relationship” to mean romantic relationship by default, so my listening was at fault.

        Thank you for answering my doubt and explaining the “most intimate of all relationships”! It was very helpful.

        Thank you.

  2. Thank you Ryan for this helpful post pointing out the closer we are to others, the clearer our delusions. They go against our wishes – that highlights attachment. This is what makes me want to pull away and live on an island! Instead – I love your suggestion- mix my mind with theirs.

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