Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being patient with our Dharma practice

In How to Solve our Human Problems, Geshe-la explains there are three times we need to practice patience.  When we encounter unavoidable suffering, we practice the patience of acceptance.  When we are practicing Dharma, we practice the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  And when we are harmed, we practice the patience of non-retaliation.

Now Shantideva turns to the practice of the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  He does so in particular with respect to our study and practice of the teachings on emptiness.  Why?  Because we usually find these the hardest.  The most important thing to keep in mind is the harder any given topic of Dharma is, the more important it will be for our eventual liberation.  Why?  Because it is hard only because our mind is currently far away from the wisdom realizing this particular aspect of Dharma.  Things that are easy to grasp will not move our mind very much because our mind is already quite close to this wisdom; but the things that are hard will require massive restructuring of our way of thinking before this new Dharma wisdom will dawn in our mind.  I remember when I first started practicing Dharma, I really enjoyed and connected with all of the teachings except those related to faith.  For me, faith was only for those who cannot think for themselves and I rejected it.  Now faith is the lifeblood of my practice, and this change has changed everything for me.

This section is on the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  Shantideva is very clever in the way he teaches it.  The basic idea of this patience is we need to practice patience when studying Dharma subjects.  When we study Dharma, very often we have difficulty understanding what is being said, especially when it is very difficult subjects, like emptiness.

At such times, we should practice joyful acceptance of the fact that we don’t yet understand, but continue to apply ourselves fully understanding the importance of one day gaining a realization.  When we don’t understand things, we often get impatient and our mind blocks and we become discouraged or incapable of understanding anything.  This actually comes from an impatience in our mind that expects to understand very profound subjects easily.  This patience encourages us to accept where we are at, even when we don’t understand, and to joyfully keep trying.

So why is Shantideva clever in the way he teaches this subject?  He goes into a very complicated explanation of emptiness, and a debate between various philosophical schools, which we generally don’t understand at all.  This gives rise to the very impatience Shantideva is trying to encourage us to overcome!!

(6.22) I do not become angry when the cause of suffering
Is something inanimate, such as sickness;
So why become angry with animate causes,
For they too are all controlled by other conditions?

We think there is a difference between animate and inanimate causes of our suffering.  We realize there is no point in getting angry at a storm because it is just arising from causes and conditions.  In the same way, there is no reason for getting angry with others when they harm us because that too is just arising from causes and conditions.  There is actually no difference.

The key to understanding this is to realize that delusions function to make the mind uncontrolled.  So when animate objects (in other words, living beings) harm us in some way it is no different than the storm thundering in the sky.  It is just a situation of certain causes and conditions coming together and the person who gets angry is nothing more than a puppet on the string of their delusions.  They are the victim of their delusions.  Their delusions are propelling them to engage in wrong actions, but they will be the ones who have to suffer the karmic consequences.  We think they have free will and they can choose to not be deluded.  Only those who have not actually tried to overcome their delusions would make such a statement.  I, for example, don’t ever want to get angry, but anger arises in my mind without choice.  I try generate the Dharma opponents to my anger, but the anger remains despite my best efforts to remove it.  A few years ago I was filled with an uncontrollable rage towards my father.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake it until eventually I was very fortunate to receive some powerful blessings which enabled me to let go.  We have the Dharma and we find it hard to let go, what need is there to say of somebody who knows nothing of the Dharma and whose mind is completely seized by delusions?  It’s not their fault.  If anything, it is the fault of our own negative karma which is impelling them to harm us.

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