Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being a good example without trying to be one

(5.107) In summary, since I generated engaging bodhichitta and took the Bodhisattva vow,
I should practise all the precepts mentioned above,
So that others’ pure view, mind of faith, and good intention
Will be increased by my example.

We often hear we need to show a good example for others.  Parents tell their older kids to do so for their younger ones, employers ask us to put on a good face in front of clients, countries try to do so during big international sporting events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics.  But usually those watching know better, and we know better.  It is all a show.  Don’t get me wrong, it is better to try put on a good show than to put on a bad one.  At least we know what is correct behavior and for a brief period of time try to embody it.  It is also true that all of the spiritual path is somewhat “artificial” in that deluded behavior is what comes naturally, and so we are all forcing ourselves a bit to act better than we otherwise would.

So what then distinguishes somebody trying to show a good example and somebody who is, quite simply, a good example.  The difference, as with most things, is in the why.  The person trying to show a good example is ultimately motivated by an attachment to what other people think.  They grasp at the false belief others thinking good things about them is a cause of happiness.  Actually, in modern times, concern about what others think of us is the source of a significant portion of our daily problems, anxiety, conflicts and so forth.  The person who is a good example has no concern for such things.  They seek to engage in pure behavior for internal reasons, non-deluded reasons.

Someone who is a good example doesn’t pretend to be better than they are, rather they accept that they are fundamentally deluded and make many mistakes.  They can be at peace with this fact because they know two things.  First, they know they are sincerely trying to become a better person for correct reasons; and second, they know they have methods which work when sincerely put into practice.

Kadam Morten says we need to “accept that we are deluded, but never accept the validity of the delusion.”  This is a crucial distinction.  To accept that we are deluded means to accept the fact that delusions will arise in our mind.  This is not a problem for us because when they do, they give us a chance to train our mind.  A beggar isn’t an obstacle to somebody who wants to practice generosity, an annoying person is not an obstacle to somebody who wants to practice patience, a delusion arising in our mind is not an obstacle to somebody who wants to train their mind.  We have almost an inexhaustible supply of negative karmic habits built up in our mind from previous lives, so we shouldn’t think just because we now know intellectually what the right way of viewing things is we will actually always be able to think that way.

But we never accept the validity of the delusion.  All delusions are deceptive.  They promise us one thing, but if we follow them they deliver the opposite of what was promised.  Attachment promises happiness, but delivers insatiable want.  Anger promises freedom from harm, but brings endless agitation and conflict.  Jealousy promises us possession of what we want, but it actually drives everyone away.  Pride promises us a lofty sense of self, but it makes us increasingly insecure.  In short, a Kadampa knows they will still be deluded, but they know their delusions are wrong.  When we know our delusions are wrong, even though they will still arise within our mind, they will have no more power over us.

Sometimes people come into the Dharma, learn what correct behavior and thought is, then wind up shoving all of their delusions and negative habits under the carpet as they attempt to externally “be a good Kadampa.”  Their doing so is not necessarily motivated by attachment to what others think, rather from a complete lack of experience of what it means to change oneself from the inside out.  All of society functions in the opposite way, namely from the outside in.  But once we learn how to be kind to ourself while being ruthless with our delusions, a certain inner softness emerges.  We don’t expect ourselves to be perfect, in fact we expect the opposite.  We know delusions and bad habits will arise, but that’s OK, it is just what we are working on.  We will make mistakes, but we will also make course corrections, and day by day, drop by drop, we will gradually transform ourselves into a better and better person.  We know inner victory goes to the one who never gives up.

Someone who is a good example never judges others because they know from their own experience how hard it is to do the right things.  Just as we have learned how to accept that we are deluded but not accept the validity of our delusions, so too we accept that others are still deluded.  We quite literally don’t need them to change.  Their being deluded suits our purposes just fine.  We can accept people as they are, without judgment without needing them to change in any way.  Of course if somebody from their own side wants to change, we are happy to help them do so; but we feel no need to go around fixing people.

As Shantideva says at the beginning of his guide, he is writing all of this primarily to clarify his own thoughts and as an opportunity to familiarize his own mind with virtue.  If others reading it also find it meaningful or useful, all the better, but that is not his main purpose.  This is a difficult balance to actually put into practice.  On the one hand, our entire purpose of attaining enlightenment is ultimately to help others do the same thing; yet on the other hand, we have no need whatsoever for others to change nor do we try change them in any way.  What Shantideva is telling us is if we give up trying to change others and simply go about the business of changing ourselves, we will naturally show an inspiring example and others will begin to want to change themselves too.  Since we will have personal experience of having done such inner work ourselves, we stand ready to help all those who wish to do the same.

This, in essence, is the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

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