Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Engage in every practice for the benefit of others

(5.82) I should perform all my Dharma activities
With skill, clear understanding, and strong faith,
So that others will increase their wisdom
And experience immeasurable benefit.

To engage in our Dharma activities with skill means to engage in them at the appropriate level.  For ourselves, this means not engaging in such easy practices that we are not forced to grow, but also not engaging in such advanced practices that we are not actually moving our heart.  For others, this means not doing nothing to try help them progress along the path, but also not forcing the Dharma upon them.  Our advice should engage others at the level they are at, not the level we are at.  Likewise, we should abandon any need whatsoever for others to take our advice to heart, instead we leave them completely free to do with it what they wish.

Performing our Dharma activities with clear understanding means we are very clear on what are the objects to be abandoned and what are the objects to be attained.  Attachment and aversion think something external needs to change.  Wisdom understands the difference between our outer and inner problem, and uses appropriate external methods to solve external problems and internal methods to solve internal problems.

Working for others with faith means to practice with confidence knowing our methods will work, even if we don’t yet understand exactly how things work.  For example, we are taught that anger always makes things worse and patience always makes things better.  Sometimes it seems to us the opposite is true.  But because we have faith, we nonetheless let go of our anger and learn to accept.  The inner workings of karma are a deeply hidden phenomena, but that doesn’t make them any less true.  With faith, we are able to abandon non-virtue and instead practice virtue.  Cherishing others is the root of all happiness and self-cherishing is the root of all suffering.  But every habit within our mind moves in the opposite direction.  Faith gives us the power to overcome these bad habits.

The purpose of all of our actions should be to help others increase their wisdom.  Giving people good advice helps them once, helping people develop their own wisdom helps them forever.  All the suffering of all living beings comes from mistaken actions.  Only wisdom reveals the unmistaken path.  Generally speaking, if we give people wisdom it will remain intellectual for them; but when they experience its truth for themselves, they own that wisdom as their own.  Therefore, our goal should always be to help people gain person experience of the truth of Dharma by helping them act upon their wisdom.

(5.83) Although in general the perfections of giving and so forth
Are progressively higher than those that precede them,
I should not forsake great virtues for the sake of small ones.
Principally, I should consider the benefit to others.

The meaning here is each virtuous action can be engaged in at multiple levels in dependence upon our motivation.  Giving flowers, for example, can be done for selfish purposes, to gain a higher rebirth, to escape from samsara or to become a Buddha.  We need to practice where we are at.  If we try practice at a level that exceeds where our heart is, our practice will largely be intellectual.  If we practice at too low of a level, then we won’t actually be moving our mind.  We should honestly admit to ourselves where our mind is really at, and then gently push things a little further.  It does no good to pretend we are better than we actually are, and it is self-defeating to not try do better because it is not “natural.”  Sometimes people mistakenly think “if it is forced, it is wrong.”  What is natural is simply what is familiar.  All Dharma practice is about changing our habits, so it is necessarily “forced.”  But forced does not mean “fake.”  It means we know right from wrong, and we try do right even though our natural tendency is to do wrong.

In Meaningful to Behold, Geshe-la says taking all things into consideration we should try to determine which course of action is most beneficial – what will ultimately be most beneficial for others.  We need to consider both the long-term effects and short-term effects.  When we don’t know, we must look to our spiritual guide, also to other teachers to see how they do things.  Above all, we should pray for the wisdom to know what is the most beneficial thing to do.

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