Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  What do you expect?

(6.11) People do not want suffering, criticism,
Harsh words, or anything unpleasant
For themselves or for their friends;
But for their enemies it is the opposite!

Bad things are happening to everybody all of the time.  When bad things happen to those we love, we become angry; when bad things happen to those we dislike, we become happy.  Both reactions are completely wrong.  The first reaction is wrong because getting angry just makes things worse and does nothing to solve the problem.  The second reaction is wrong because rejoicing in the suffering of others creates the karmic causes for ourselves to experience the same suffering in the future.  The correct reaction in both cases is to develop compassion.  We cannot develop compassion for our enemies unless we love them, so our first task is to learn to love everyone.

Sometimes people hear the teachings on how samsara is the nature of suffering and they develop all sorts of wrong understandings.  Some people become very depressed, viewing everything as somehow inherently the nature of suffering and there is nothing we can do about it other than be miserable.  Others wrongly think that it is somehow wrong to be happy since everything is the nature of suffering, instead we should be miserable and grim.  They transform the Joyful Path into the Eeyore Path.  These views are also completely wrong.  Instead, we need to lower our expectations to zero.

If we check, our suffering largely arises out of the gap between our expectations and reality.  We expect things to go well, and when they don’t we become unhappy.  If instead we expect nothing from anybody or anything, and we expect things to always go wrong (but be at peace with that possibility), then if things go wrong we are not unhappy because we didn’t expect anything different.  If things go better than terrible, we are then pleasantly surprised that things turned out better than we expected.  Seen in this way, the teachings on renunciation are, in fact, a giant exercise in expectations management.

The key here is to be able to be at peace with the possibility that everything will always go wrong.  What enables us to be at peace with this possibility?  We know how to “accept” things going wrong as perfect for our spiritual progress.  In other words, we know how to use our suffering.  Since what we want is to make spiritual progress and our suffering helps us to do that, it is no longer a problem for us.  We can “accept it.”  In Transform Your Life, Geshe-la describes patient acceptance as “welcoming wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are.”  In other words we must try to accept fully the situation as it is. Try to accept fully the person as they are. The situation is just how it is. This person is how they are, that’s how they are.

Again we’ll find resistance, thinking, “it’s just not right that the situation is like this, the person is like this.” What’s not right?  What’s actually wrong?  We’re in samsara.  It’s perfectly right and normal for samsara. That’s what things are like in samsara, that’s how people behave.  What do we expect within samsara? Everything to be right?  What’s actually wrong is our mind, because if we put our mind right, everything else will be too. Nothing goes wrong in Geshe-la’s mind, because Geshe-la’s out of samsara.

If we check closely, if we feel that there’s something wrong, it’s an indication that there’s something wrong in our mind.  What are we actually becoming unhappy about?  The problem actually, as Geshe-la has told us so many times, the problem is in our mind.  If we feel that there’s not a problem, with a person, a situation, with the way they’re behaving, then we won’t become unhappy.  We become angry when we’re not accepting the situation for what it is, we’re not accepting the person for what they’re doing.

What would the correct approach be to someone whom we know to be engaging in harmful action, for example?  What we tend to feel is if we are fully accepting of the situation as it is, the person and how they’re behaving, we’ve gone to an extreme.  Are we simply to let be, or not? To let be. This is how it is. This is what they’re like. This is what they’re saying, this is what they’re doing.  Complete acceptance.  Of course we won’t become unhappy; we’ll have a very, very peaceful mind.  Have we gone to an extreme?  What happens when something appears to be wrong, what do we do? We go straight in, make changes straightaway. What is the middle way?  The answer is found in the previous verse:  if we can do something about it, do it; if we can’t, accept it.


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