Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Working for others

(5.100) For a Bodhisattva, there is no teaching of Buddha
That he or she should not practise.
If I become skilled in this way of life,
Nothing I do will lack merit.

We have two types of problems, outer and inner.  Outer problems are when things externally go wrong in some way, such as we get cancer.  Inner problems arise when we respond to outer circumstances in a deluded way.  Since we have two types of problem, it is only natural we need two types of solution.  Externally, we need to go to doctors and seek the most sensible forms of medical treatment.  Internally, we need to work on our mind to get to the point where we can sincerely say getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to us.  Such people exist, such is the power of Dharma to transform our mind.

Buddha’s teachings are aimed at helping us change our mind.  That is their main purpose.  Because we have many different delusions, there are many different Dharma practices.  To keep things simple, Atisha simplified all 84,000 teachings of Buddha into his special presentation called Lamrim.  The Lamrim is the condensation of all the Dharma.  When we practice the Lamrim, we directly or indirectly oppose all delusions.  All delusions find their opponent within the Lamrim.  Regardless of what happens in life, internally we respond with a Lamrim mind.  If we do so, we will come to solve all our inner problems.

Venerable Geshe-la, understanding we are busy modern people who work best with generalized principles instead of detailed rules, has simplified the Lamrim even further to 14 meditations presented in How to Understand the Mind and The New Heart of Wisdom.  And even these can be simplified down into “harm your delusions as much as possible, help others as much as possible.”  He has simplified down the entire path of the union of Sutra and Tantra into the very simple meditation on the union of the non-dual profundity and clarity, which is a fancy way of saying, “with a bodhichitta motivation, remembering that though things appear, they do not truly exist.  They are the emptiness of our very subtle mind appearing in the aspect of things.”  As Gen-la Dekyong recently said, “it doesn’t get easier than this.”

Our job, therefore, is simple:  we need to learn to internally respond to whatever arises with a Lamrim mind.  Once this becomes our mental habit, we then learn to simplify our internal reactions further with a mind that views all things as dream-like karmic waves on the ocean of our very subtle mind.   This mind will take us all the way to enlightenment.

(5.101) Whether directly or indirectly,
I should never do anything that is not for the sake of living beings.
I should dedicate everything
Solely to the enlightenment of all living beings.

Geshe Chekawa said there are two activities, one at the beginning, one at the end.  In the beginning, we establish a pure motivation to work solely to work for others, and in the end we dedicate any work, internal and external, to enlightenment.

Most of what we do during the day we do for ourselves.  As a result, we view everything that happens in the day as somehow intruding on us fulfilling our wishes, and we quickly become frustrated with life and everyone around us.  If instead, we let go completely of doing anything for ourselves, and instead work solely for the sake of others, we almost magically discover a complete harmony with everyone around us.  The supposed conflict between what’s good for us and what’s good for others falls away.  By working for others we fulfill ourselves.  Others naturally give us the resources and time we need to complete our work, we make the world a better place and internally our mind is naturally joyful and at peace.  Internally, we know we are karmically building a better future for ourselves and for others.

Geshe-la likes to use the word “work” nowadays. There’s a difference in our mind between “engaging in virtuous actions” for the sake of others, and “working” for the sake of others.  We all work, and we all know the difference between “getting to work” and “getting off work.”  When we are working, we are “getting stuff done.”  We are “being productive,” and “moving the ball forward.”  Work is purposeful activity with clear goals in mind that brings to bear the resources necessary to get the job done.  This is how we should be with our “working for others.”  We ask ourselves, “who can I help today,” and “how can I help this person?”  We then do something for them, whether it be externally helping them with some project or making special prayers on their behalf.  A bodhisattva works for others all day and never retires from their work.  We do our practice in the morning for the sake of others.  We go to work and spend all day helping others.  We come home and work to help our families.  When we go to sleep, we imagine we are dying and wish to take rebirth in the pure land so that we can continue working for others in our next life.

Isn’t this exhausting?  Sometimes yes, but it is a happy, satisfied tired that comes from having made a positive difference that day in the lives of others.  Of course we need to rest, but work for us is not a chore.  As Confucius said, “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

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