This series of blog posts is my own individual reflections on the meaning of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I don’t pretend in any way that I know what I am talking about or that I have anything particularly useful to say. Geshe-la defines meditation as familiarizing ourself with virtue. For me, Shantideva’s Guide was my first book (in the form of Meaningful to Behold). It is thanks to this book that I have any spiritual life at all. Geshe-la has said the job of Modern Kadampas is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. Everything I do and everything I say is my understanding of what that means. I write this blog because it gives me an opportunity to mix my mind with the virtue of Shantideva’s Guide. If other people find some benefit in what I say, then all the better.
It is worth recalling how we become Bodhisattvas. A Bodhisattva is somebody who is driven by a particular intention – namely the intention to become a Buddha for the sake of others, to help lead them to the same state. How do we develop this mind? By considering how things really are. Globally, we see that natural disasters, like tsunamis, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and so forth seem to be increasing in frequency and deadliness. Terrorist attacks occur regularly, airplanes are falling out of the sky like flies, killing hundreds in a go. Genocides and famines are taking place and nobody is doing anything about it. New diseases are arising very rapidly, like AIDS, SARS, Bird Flu, TB, Malaria, Ebola, Zika, etc. The population is exploding in the most poor, turbulent and disease ridden areas in the world and declining rapidly where things are better. The political leaders of the most powerful nations consistently make decisions which make the situation worse. It is said the next age is the ‘age of arms’ where people see how everything can be used as a weapon to kill others. We see this age emerging before our very eyes.
Individually people are becoming increasingly selfish, materialistic and angry. Psychologists estimate that people are 9 times more likely to have negative minds than positive ones, and 9 out of 10 people die with a negative mind. People’s minds are becoming increasingly uncontrolled. Spiritually, there is a global collapse of the religious institutions of the last 2000 years. The spiritual traditions of the West are in total decline, the Archbishop of Canterbury said Christian spirituality is dead, though it heartens to see how the new Pope is bringing about a revival. In the East the spiritual traditions have been commercialized and politicized and are fading fast in the face of economic growth. Now it is frequently little more than praying for good exam or business results. Islam has been hijacked by radical terrorists who use it to justify mass murder. Mainstream Judaism is now more of a political movement than a spiritual one, and the ‘religious side’ has likewise been hijacked by fundamentalists. Pure spiritual teachings on Tantra, for example, are being co-opted to be able to extract more pleasure out of samsara or to succeed in business.
In reality, what is going on is this planet is rapidly sinking deeper into samsara. Things that were hidden (relatively lower realms) are becoming increasingly manifest. In reality, these sorts of things are happening all over samsara’s 6 realms all the time, it is just happening behind the curtain of our ignorance. Because we have no control over our mind, we have no control over our death process and we get thrown from one samsaric rebirth to another. If we take rebirth in the lower realms, we know only suffering; if we take rebirth in the upper realms we burn up all our merit and fall. Virtually everyone is in the lower realms. We are trapped in a cycle of uncontrolled rebirth into contaminated aggregates. Remaining with our uncontrolled mind is like choosing to repeatedly play Russian Roulette where there is no chamber without a bullet.
The creator of this house of horrors is our own contaminated mind. In reality, none of it is real – it is all a bad nightmare produced by our contaminated minds, but we suffer from it because we believe it is real. If we purify our mind, we can purify the world it projects and in this way transform the world around us into a pure one.
The Dharma is the method for being able to purify our mind and take control over the death process so we can with choice take rebirth in a pure land, liberation or enlightenment. Buddha explains to us how, and Sangha provide us with good examples and all the conditions necessary to do it. Seeing how Dharma is the solution to all the problems of all beings, we then commit ourselves to bringing about this solution in our own mind so that we can help others do the same. Then one by one we take everybody to freedom. The intention to do this is bodhichitta. A Bodhisattva is somebody who has this as their intention. What does a bodhisattva do with this intention? They practice the six perfections. The six perfections are the actual pathway to enlightenment.
A shortcut for being able to quickly generate a qualified bodhichitta is to view others as your future students who you are spiritually responsible for. If you don’t save the people around you, who will? It is up to you. You have the karma with them, so one day it will be up to you. The longer you take to attain enlightenment, the longer they drown in samsara. Seeing this, we become very motivated to quickly become a Buddha. This view radically reorganizes our relationships with others and transforms them into bodhisattva relationships. This creates the karma with them to one day have them as our students and for us to become a Buddha with the special ability to help them. Of course we need to be skillful with this and realize that at present we are completely incapable of being their spiritual guide, but seeing this incapacity propels us to wish to become a Buddha who has no such limitations.