(6.19) Whenever I experience hardship,
I should fight my delusions, such as anger;
And whenever I experience physical pain,
I should use wisdom to maintain a pure and peaceful mind.
(6.20) Those who disregard all suffering
To destroy the foes of anger and so forth
Are the true conquerors worthy of the name “hero”;
Other so-called heroes merely slay corpses.
There are two main pieces of advice Shantideva is giving us here: First, we should use every experience of suffering to strengthen our determination to win the war against our delusions. This is called armour-like effort, where the more we suffer the more motivated we are to practice. Second, we need to be ready to endure whatever difficulties there may be in the name of completing the path. This is called the power of steadfastness. Athletes, business people, soldiers, etc., are ready to endure enormous suffering and difficulty to accomplish worldly goals. As Bodhisattvas, we should be willing to endure any difficulty on the path because the cause we are working for is so great. A Bodhisattva will happily do so, knowing that because they have the courage and strength to do so, countless living beings will become freed from their suffering.
We have difficulty doing this because our attachment to pleasant feelings and worldly concerns is stronger than our spiritual intentions. Our self-cherishing makes us concerned only about our happiness and our immediate freedom from our difficulties. We give in to this, and as a result remain forever trapped. If we want to break out of our delusions we have to be willing to endure temporary difficulty to gain long term freedom. If we don’t, we will endure temporary difficulties forever and never break free. This is our choice. Kadampa’s see this is the choice and happily endure the difficulties, knowing they are bound for freedom and the ability to lead others to the same sate.
Some people mistakenly feel situations which provoke delusions are obstacles to our spiritual practice. Quite the opposite, it is those situations that normally provoke delusions which are our opportunities to practice. Every situation that provokes a delusion in us is an opportunity to train in its opponent. Once again, we need to make a distinction between the ripening of a deluded tendency similar to the cause and generating a new mental action of a delusion. A new action of a delusion follows a simple formula: deluded tendency + assenting to it as being true = mental action of delusion. If a deluded tendency for anger, for example, ripens, and we subsequently assent to that tendency as being true (strongly believing this external thing is indeed a cause of our suffering and wishing to harm that external thing), then we generate a new mental action of a delusion. But if a deluded tendency ripens but we respond to it by NOT believing it to be true, and instead by generating the opponent to that delusion, then far from generating a new delusion, we actually just engaged in the virtuous action of the “moral discipline of restraint.” This mental action creates the cause for upper rebirth and plants new tendencies on our mind which will make virtuous responses increasingly natural in the future. If situations which normally give rise to delusion are in fact opportunities to practice, then quite literally there is no such thing as an obstacle to our Dharma practice.
There will be times when we experience physical pain, such as stubbing a toe or even having cancer. At such times, our main practice should be to recall the wisdom of emptiness. Quite simply, we try break the identification with our body. If our friend stubs their toe, does it hurt us? No. Why? Because we are not identifying with that toe as our own. Yet when we stub our toe it hurts. Why the difference? Because we are identifying with our toe as being our own. Every time we experience any pain, we should think, “not my body.” We can observe the pain, but not identify with it as being our own. If we see somebody hurt in a movie, we don’t experience any pain because we are in the audience. In the same way, when we see this body being hurt, we should take a step back into the theater of the clear light emptiness and observe from a distance the movie of the hurt body. I have a friend who has fibromyalgia, which is an experience of constant bodily pain. She wrote Geshe-la asking for advice, and he said, “meditate on the emptiness of your body.” This can be accomplished through breaking our identification with our body or dissolving our body into clear light by meditating on its emptiness.
Another useful way of doing this is to try “find the pain.” The interesting thing about pain is the more you go looking for it, the more it disappears. Very often doctors will ask us, “where does it hurt?” And we point to our arm. But don’t be satisified with such generalized identification, try identify exactly where it hurts. When you probe deeper and deeper you can’t actually find the pain anywhere, and it goes away. I agree, this is not easy; and I agree, it won’t work perfectly right away. But if we are persistent with this practice, it does become more and more effective. This does not mean we shouldn’t still take pain killers if we have them, but it does mean we can also apply the ultimate pain killer of the wisdom realizing emptiness.
Defeating external enemies does not make us a hero. A true hero is able to defeat the internal enemies of their delusions. Those who have done so are true conquerors, and their victory has actual meaning.