Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Will it matter on my deathbed?

Shantideva continues with the various objections our mind comes up with for why we are justified in retaliating when others speak to us harshly.

(6.55) “If people dislike you, that might prevent you
From acquiring wealth or status.”
But I shall lose all my worldly acquisitions when I die –
The only thing to remain will be the non-virtue I create.

(6.56) It would be better for me to die today
Than to live a long life filled with non-virtue;
And, even if I have a long life,
I shall still have to face the suffering of death.

(6.57) If one person were to awake from a dream
In which he had experienced a hundred years of happiness,
And another were to awake from a dream
In which he had experienced but a brief moment of happiness,

(6.58) Once awake, the situation would be the same for both
Because neither could ever return to that happiness.
In the same way, whether our life is long or short,
At the time of death everything ends just the same.

(6.59) Even if I live happily for a long time
And acquire great wealth and possessions,
I shall still have to leave this life empty-handed and naked,
As if I had been robbed by a thief.

As our merit and influence in the world grows, we stand to gain a lot of wealth and high status. Over the years our wealth will increase as will our status. And we wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of that, would we? Are we interested in money, respect, status?  Should we be interested in such things?  If so, for what reasons?  Once again, there are valid reasons for wanting these things, but the main point Shantideva is making is “I shall still have to leave this life empty-handed and naked” no matter how much wealth and status I have achieved. Atisha himself says we have to leave behind everything we have, so do not be attached to anything. 

The death test is a powerful tool of wisdom to identify what is and what is not important.  If we can take something with us beyond death, such as our mind and karma, then it is important; if we can’t take it with us beyond death, in the cosmic scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter, so why make a big deal out of it?

(6.60) “Even so, acquiring wealth will support your life
So that you can purify non-virtue and accumulate merit.”
But if in acquiring that wealth I generate non-virtues such as anger,
It will be my non-virtue that increases and my merit that declines.

(6.61) What is the point of a life
In which we commit only non-virtue?
Non-virtues are the main cause of our suffering,
And suffering is the main object to be abandoned!

Of course we need good conditions to support our spiritual life, our Dharma practice, our functioning successfully as teachers, parents, etc.  But how much do we need? How much do we need to support our life as a Dharma practitioner?  Sometimes those who depend upon others’ sponsorship to sustain their practice can become frustrated with their benefactors, thinking, “don’t they realize I am trying to become a Buddha for their benefit?  Why do they leave me in such poverty?”  There are several flaws with such thinking.  First, perhaps we want more than we actually need.  Second, either we have faith Dorje Shugden is arranging the conditions we need or we don’t.  If we are in poverty, perhaps it is what we need.  Third, the cause of our poverty is our lack of past giving, so we have nobody to blame but our own past delusions.  Fourth, perhaps our poverty is a good thing because it means we are not burning up our merit. 

Atisha says since you will definitely have to depart without the wealth you have accumulated, do not accumulate negativity for the sake of wealth.  Much of the modern economy is based upon seeking profit through information asymmetries.  Bankers and others take advantage of people who don’t know any better.  Such theft and manipulation creates terrible karma for the perpetrators.  Finally, if we are bodhisattvas and we have accumulated merit thanks to our practice, what rights do we have to use it for ourselves?  Haven’t we already given it all away to others?

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