Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Virtuous negativity and giving everything

Shantideva now introduces the moral discipline of benefitting others – helping others in whatever way we can – as a discipline, a moral discipline.

(5.84) Buddha, the compassionate Far-Seeing One,
Allows Bodhisattvas to perform certain actions that are otherwise proscribed.
Understanding this well, I should always put effort
Into my practice of the Bodhisattva’s way of life.

A big part of the Bodhisattva’s way of life is to enter people’s lives just as our Spiritual Guide has entered our lives, and then with a pure intention, attempt to tame their minds.  We cannot hold back. We need to become more and more aware of how helpless people are – people need so much help.  We have to be willing to put ourselves out, to inconvenience ourselves if need be.  We have to give others whatever they need.  More, we need to become the person that other people need.

Sometimes we will make mistakes.  We should have a pure intention and try to learn from our mistakes.  We can’t hold back being afraid to make mistakes.  Sometimes people think it is better to do nothing than to make mistakes, but this is not as helpful to others.  We have to be willing to make mistakes, sometimes even big ones, in the name of helping others.  It is sometimes only by making mistakes that we can learn what is the right thing to do, and even if our actions are not perfect, they will often be better than doing nothing.  People are in a hopeless situation. We can’t just sit by and watch.

Our Spiritual Guide will help us to help others.  We bring him into our heart and then we just go for it, doing our best.  We can’t hold back, we have to give as much of ourselves as we can to others.  Our Spiritual Guide at our heart will help us avoid many mistakes.  For those we do make, we learn from them and then we request Dorje Shugden that he bless others’ minds so that even our mistakes become a cause of their enlightenment.

Sometimes, even, otherwise negative actions of body and speech can be virtuous actions.  The example is given in the scriptures of Buddha Shakyamuni in a previous life killing a sailor who was planning on killing all the others on the boat.  It is likewise sometimes appropriate to engage in what might otherwise be hurtful and divisive speech if doing so is what is required to preserve the pure Kadampa tradition in this world.  But when we engage in these otherwise negative actions, we must be very careful that our motivation for doing so is pure love and compassion for others.  Buddha was trying to protect the all the sailors, both the ones who would have been killed and the one who was intending on doing the killing.  Protesting for religious freedom protects those who are doing nothing wrong to practice freely as they choose and protects those who would persecute them from accumulating negative karma for themselves.

(85) I should share my food with animals,
People who are hungry, and practitioners,
And eat merely what I need.
Ordained people can give everything except their three robes.

We decide what we actually need in our life to be able to comfortably follow the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, and then we give away everything else for the benefit of others.  Geshe-la says we need inner peace, but also we need good physical health, and for this we need reasonably comfortable physical conditions, such as food, etc. to support our practice.  But by and large, we should give everything else away.

Some people save their money to spend it on themselves.  Philanthropists earn money to be able to give it to others.  Parents work hard to provide for their families.  Bodhisattva’s give everything away.  They offer to all living beings all of their money and possessions, their body, their mind, their time, everything.  Ultimately we give everything away by using things and ourselves for the sake of others.   Sometimes we may retain possession of certain things that we manage well for the sake of others, but mentally we never forget that others have ownership.  We can spend money on ourselves to stay healthy, support our practice, develop our abilities to better serve, and so forth; but everything else we have we should use for the sake of others.

It is true, the highest cause we can give towards is the flourishing of the Dharma because only it can solve the problems of living beings.  Everything else can at most temporarily reduce people’s suffering.  But sometimes we can go too far with this and fail to live up to our worldly responsibilities.  If we have a family we are responsible for, our first responsibility is to our family.  If we give all of our money and time to our center, but as a result we neglect providing adequately for our families, then we will being the Dharma into disrepute because we will be acting in conventionally inappropriate ways.  But even if we are not giving everything to the Dharma, we are giving everything we have, holding nothing back for ourselves.  For myself, mentally I first offer my family to all the Buddhas, and then I provide for my family.  In this way, mentally my action of giving is both giving to the flourishing of the Dharma indirectly while providing for my family directly.

2 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Virtuous negativity and giving everything

  1. Hi Ryan
    If this is the case why do so many people who run centers treat people who take time to care for their non-center responsibilities as if they are often less committed practitioners? During one of my meetings with Venerable Geshe-la, he told me he needed lay teachers. Now I see now many reasons he might have told me that. Anyway, thanks as always for sharing your thoughts.

    • I would make three observations. First, people tend to project onto others the rationale for their own choices, without checking whether that rationale also makes sense in the context of somebody else’s life. This is a common error we all make. Second, it doesn’t matter if other people judge the choices we make due to not understanding our unique karmic positionality. It is very hard for people to understand another’s perspective, so their inability to understand your situation is in many ways normal. We don’t need to judge them for their perspective, but we can understand it is incompletely informed. What matters is that we are sincerely doing our best to dedicate our life to the practice of Dharma, regardless of our particular karmic circumstance. All lives are equally perfect for training in Dharma. Third, people who work for centers are often over worked. They do so much to provide opportunities for others and are often met with people complaining about how everything isn’t good enough. They then become frustrated and a bit resentful towards those who don’t do as much work as they do. This is also normal and understandable. Of course, if they were perfect, they would be happy to give unconditionally without expecting anything from anybody else, but few of us are there yet. We each are doing the best we can, we all just face different outer and inner obstacles.

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