Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Pay attention and practice

(5.108) The defining characteristic of guarding alertness
Is to examine again and again
The state of our body, speech, and mind,
And to understand whether our actions are correct or not.

The only way we can change our behavior is if we are aware of what we are doing.  Most people really struggle with this.

Some people suffer from great pride that quite literally blinds them from being able to see their faults.  For the person full of pride, they rarely, if ever, do anything wrong in their eyes, and any mistakes they make are always somebody else’s fault.  When our mind is infected with pride, everything we do feels “justified” and any criticism feels “unfair.”  When pride rules our mind we feel like we have nothing to learn from others, and we often think if only everybody thought like us we wouldn’t have all of these problems.

Other people suffer from great guilt.  They feel like they can’t do anything right, and anytime they are forced to confront their mistakes it reinforces their feelings of helplessness and low self-worth.  Guilt is a form of anger directed at oneself.  It fools us into thinking if we beat ourselves up enough over our shortcomings we will somehow do better, but it never works out that way.  The more we beat ourselves up, the more we feel bad about ourselves.  It ultimately comes from grasping at a false belief that we should already be better than we actually are.  Every time we fall short of our expectations for ourselves, we then feel like a failure and the self-flagellation begins.  Anger seeks to harm the other person, guilt seeks to harm ourselves.  Harming ourselves doesn’t help us.  Since guilt is painful, people who suffer from it are unable to look at their faults and mistakes with an accepting mind.

The middle way between pride and guilt is “humble self-confidence.”  Humility, ultimately, is an acceptance of our own imperfection.  It is not simply an awareness that we are not perfect, but also we are at peace with this fact.  We are keenly aware of our faults, and this doesn’t disturb us at all because we don’t expect ourselves to be any different.  But this does not mean we are complacent about it.  There is no contradiction between accepting where we are at and wishing to get better.  At the same time, we have self-confidence.  People with pride usually confuse their inflated view of themselves with self-confidence.  Pride is thinking we have few, if any, faults; self-confidence knows with effort we can overcome any faults we have and obstacles we face.  Self-confidence is born from having acknowledged our short-comings in the past, having applied effort to overcome them and having had success at doing so.  Once we have some experience of this, we begin to know when confronted with our other mistakes or weaknesses, we can overcome those too.  With enough experience, we begin to realize that with sufficient time, effort and perseverance, there is no fault we cannot overcome – indeed we realize our eventual enlightenment is inevitable if we simply never give up trying.

(5.109) We need to put Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, into practice
Because nothing can be accomplished just by reading words.
A sick man will never be cured of his illness
Through merely reading medical instructions!

Dharma practice, quite simply is applying effort to change our mental habits.  The process is always the same.  First, we identify how our present habits of mind are deluded and self-defeating.  We then consider what is correct behavior and how engaging in such behavior will make things better.  On the basis of this, we generate a wish to change our ways.  The stronger and more pure our wish, the more powerful our Dharma practices will be.  Motivated by this wish, we then try to think, speak and act differently.  As we do so, we will become aware of how hard it is to change, but it is possible.  With persistent effort, we then create new habits of mind until eventually correct behavior comes naturally.  We can even get to the point where we couldn’t engage in negative behavior even if we tried.

All those who have traveled the path have done so in the same way.  There is no other way to change than to decide to change ourselves.  We will only do this if we want to, and we will only want to if we have the wisdom that sees through the lies of our delusions and sees clearly the fruit of correct action.  In short, it all comes down to ignorance and wisdom.  We currently ignorantly believe our delusions.  Once we see they are wrong by realizing wisdom, our behavior will naturally begin to change for the simple reason of we want it to.  This is the essence of moral discipline.

 This concludes the fifth chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled “Guarding Alertness”.


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