Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t neglect to purify your negative karma

(5.97) Within the limitless practices
Taught as the Bodhisattva’s way of life,
I should start by emphasizing
These practices that train the mind.

Examining and improving our behavior, learning new skills and so on, are very important if we are to follow the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, but the most important practice is training the mind.  Success in all of our Bodhisattva activities depends so much on the moral discipline that we keep in our heart, which is essentially an intention, a virtuous determination to become a Bodhisattva by abandoning all faults.

Shantideva finishes this chapter with 10 final verses on the most important things we should focus on with our practice of guarding alertness.

(5.98) I should practise the Sutra of the Three Heaps
Three times each day and three times each night,
And, with reliance on the Three Jewels and bodhichitta,
Purify non-virtues and downfalls.

It is not enough to simply from this time forth renounce non-virtue and embark upon a path of virtue.  We have made a terrible karmic mess and we can’t exactly leave it behind hoping that it will somehow clean itself up.  We wouldn’t go into somebody’s house or a public park and make a big mess and then just leave all our trash lying around.  We need to clean up the mess we have made, and we accomplish this through purification.

The hard truth is this:  either we purify our negative karma or we will have to experience its effects.  There is no third possibility.  It’s better to purify.  The reason why we don’t is either we can’t admit we have engaged in countless non-virtuous actions or we don’t really believe in the laws of karma.  Those who suffer from pride, and especially those who suffer from good external conditions such as great wealth and so forth, have tremendous difficulty admitting their mistakes and wrong actions.  Somehow everything they do is always justified and it is everybody else who is wrong.  They are literally incapable of seeing their faults, so it is impossible for them to generate regret.  To overcome this, we should recall emptiness.  Every person we see and every situation they are experiencing is both autobiography and prophecy.  It is autobiography in that we have all experienced the exact same troubles in the past and we reacted exactly as they are – with more delusion and negativity.  It is also prophecy in that if it is appearing to our mind it is arising from our own karma.  Their suffering is essentially a warning to us of what is to come if we do not purify – it is just a question of time.

Likewise, it is essentially a given that whatever faults we see in others are actually those within ourselves that we have repressed and are blind to.  When we repress our delusions and faults, they don’t disappear, rather we begin to start “seeing them” in all those around us.  They basically become re-directed and wrongly projected onto others.  Understanding this, every time we see the faults of somebody else we should remind ourselves we are looking in the mirror.  We should then apply effort to identify how we have these same faults within ourselves.  We can request special blessings that it be revealed to us how we ourselves are making the same mistakes we see in others.

To overcome our lack of faith in the laws of karma we can consider three things.  First, there is not a single thing in this universe that does not have a cause.  The laws of physics, for example, are absolute.  It seems highly unlikely (indeed logically impossible) that everything would have a cause except our own experiences.   Second, we can consider emptiness.  Imagine a bowl of completely still water.  Now imagine you begin repeatedly tapping your finger in the water.  What will happen?  Pretty soon, the entire bowl will be filled with all sorts of intersecting waves bouncing off of one another in a variety of different waves.  Eventually, mathematically, all of those waves must pass at some point back through their point or origin.  In the same way, emptiness explains that every object is like a wave arising on the ocean of our mind.  If we begin disturbing the waters of our mind with the tapping of our contaminated actions, it will generate all sorts of different karmic waves bouncing off of one another in a variety of different ways (samsara and the beings within it).  Not only will eventually all of these waves pass back through their point of origin, they all have never been outside of the bowl of our mind.  Third, we can rely upon faith.  Every other subject of Dharma can be verified through logical reasoning and our own experience.  When we put all of the other instructions into practice, they are found to be true and reliable.  If the Buddhas are right about everything else, and everything else they teach itself depends upon the workings of karma, then it stands to reason that they are also right about karma.  I don’t know how the engine in my car works, but when I see my car move I know that the engine does indeed work.

Our motivation for engaging in purification determines the extent of the negative karma we purify.  If we engage in purification to avoid experiencing misfortune in this life, then we will purify only the most shallow layers of the negative karma we have accumulated in this life.  If we engage in purification simply in order to avoid lower rebirth ourselves in the future, it will be slow going but we will eventually accomplish our goal.  If we engage in purification practice so that we may become a Buddha with the power to free all beings, we will quickly purify all of our negative karma because the power of our purification practices will be multiplied by the number of beings upon whose behalf we engage in the practice.

To actually engage in purification, it suffices to generate regret understanding what misery awaits us if we do not purify, and then engage in any virtuous action as an opponent to our past non-virtue.  The reason why this works is the same reason as why -1 + 1 = 0.  A negative action is neutralized by a positive action aimed at it (which regret accomplishes for us)The practice of the Three Superior Heaps is a special practice of purification conjoined with reliance upon the 35 Confession Buddhas.  By prostrating to the 35 Confession Buddhas with faith, we open our mind to receive their special blessings which function to purify, our neutralize, the negative karma on our mind.  Each of the Confession Buddhas “specializes” in the purification of a particular type of negative karma, but taken as group their special blessings function to purify all of our negative karma.  A commentary to this practice can be found in the book, The Bodhisattva Vow.

Finally, we need to employ the power of promise to avoid non-virtue in the future.  Each day we must on one hand renew or strengthen our vows by renewing them before the field of merit, and also purify.  It is helpful to read every day the little booklet Geshe-la has given us of the vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism.  Over about a 2 year period, I did an extensive series of posts going through each of the vows and commitments and how we can practice them in our modern daily lives.  You can find these by clicking on the link to the series, “Vows, commitments and modern life.”  At least we can remind ourselves of them and generate a strong intention to keep them as well as we can.

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