Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to develop equanimity with respect to worldly concerns

(6.98) Praise and so forth distract me from virtue,
Weaken my disillusionment with samsara,
Cause me to envy others’ good qualities,
And undermine everything that is beneficial.

(6.99) Therefore, those who conspire
To prevent me from being praised
Are really acting to prevent me
From falling into the lower realms!

(6.100) I, who seek liberation, have no need for wealth or a good reputation
For they only keep me bound in samsara;
So why should I get angry
With those who free me from this bondage?

(6.101) Those who cause me suffering
Are like Buddhas bestowing their blessings.
Since they lead me to liberating paths,
Why should I get angry with them?

At present, we do not yet have equanimity about the eight worldly concerns (or at least I don’t).  We know we prefer happiness to suffering. We prefer wealth to poverty. We prefer praise to criticism. We prefer a good reputation to a bad reputation. Who doesn’t?  What is the result of this preference in our mind? We remain worldly. As was mentioned in an earlier post, as long as we’re concerned with such things our Dharma practice will not be a pure Dharma practice. We will be distracted from spiritual paths, pure spiritual paths. We won’t really be interested in liberation.  Rather, we will continue to make or try to make our daily samsaric life work better.  We’ll invest the majority (if not all) of our energy trying to make it enjoyable and comfortable, to get on the right side of the worldly concerns, and continue to push away and reject our suffering.  As long as we have preference for worldly concerns, we are not going to get out of samsara, instead we will seek to make ourselves more comfortable in it.  A Bodhisattva doesn’t need to do this because they can transform and embrace their suffering.  They have no preference for a happy day, because they realize that happy days are deceptive and difficult days are blessings.

We need to train gradually over a long period of time to develop genuine equanimity with respect to each of the eight worldly concerns.  But we need to be clear what this means.  At present, we prefer happiness, wealth, praise, and a good reputation, viewing all of these as causes of our happiness.  We then hear we need to have equanimity towards the eight worldly concerns, and we think about how we can transform suffering, poverty, criticism, and a bad reputation into the spiritual path.  Assuming we can do so, have we actually developed genuine equanimity with respect to the eight worldly concerns at that point?  Shantideva with these verses clearly tells us no.  Equanimity doesn’t mean we still have attachment towards the “good” stuff, and transform into the spiritual path the “bad” stuff, we need to equally transform both the “good” and the “bad” stuff into the spiritual path to have genuine equanimity towards the eight worldly concerns. 

To do that, we need to transform happiness, wealth, praise, and a good reputation from being objects of attachment into objects of lamrim.  In many ways, this is harder than transforming the unpleasant side of the worldly concerns into the path because we want to transform suffering into the path to make it tolerable, we don’t want to transform pleasant things into the path because we are worried we will then lose our enjoyment of these things in the process – and we don’t want to do that.  With these verses, Shantideva helps us shatter our attachment to these things by showing how each one of them – if related to as an object of attachment – is actually a cause of lower rebirth, not happiness.  In many ways, as long as our mind is controlled by attachment, these things are actually dangerous!

We need to be crystal clear, pleasant feelings, wealth, praise, and a good reputation in and of themselves are neutral (technically, they are nothing in and of themselves).  They are not intrinsically good, bad, objects of attachment, or objects of lamrim.  What they are for us depends entirely upon our mind.  Geshe-la explains in Heart Jewel that Great Wisdom is understanding clearly and unmistakenly what are the objects to be abandoned and what are the objects to be attained.  Such wisdom can distinguish between wealth as an object of attachment and wealth as an object of lamrim.  Wealth is not an object of abandonment, but wealth as an object of attachment is.

So how do we transform each of these “good” things into objects of lamrim?  We can view each thing through the lens of initial scope, intermediate scope, great scope, and tantric practice.  If we use wealth as an example, attachment to wealth can cause us to engage in all sorts of negative actions, which propel us into lower rebirth.  Attachment to wealth can prevent us from becoming disillusioned with samsaric existence, and thus apply no effort to get out.  Attachment to our wealth can make us miserly and selfish, thus interfering with developing the mind of giving – one of the six perfections.  Attachment to wealth makes us grasp at inherently existent causes of happiness, thus strengthening our ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions (the main objects of abandonment on the tantric path).  All of these show the disadvantages of attachment to wealth.  But how can we view wealth in a virtuous way? Wealth can however also be very helpful because with it we feel less need to steal.  We can use our wealth to fund engaging in our Dharma practice or retreats to escape ourselves from samsara.  Wealth can be used to engage in the practice of giving, including to spiritual causes, such as funding Dharma centers.  Wealth can also be viewed as an offering to ourselves or others generated as the deity.  We can use the same way of reasoning to understand how happiness, praise, and a good reputation can be transformed from being objects of attachment to objects of lamrim.

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