Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Nobody is an obstacle to our spiritual practice

Shantideva asked in the previous verse, what if the person is obstructing our spiritual practice?  Then surely we don’t want to wholeheartedly welcome that?  There are many people who seem to create obstacles to our practice, such as perhaps our partner or family who think we have joined some crazed cult and we will burn in hell, or whatever.  There are those who make noise when we are trying to meditate, there are bills to pay making us have to work, etc.  We might have people we need to tend to so never find time to practice.  All of these things can be viewed as an obstacle to our practice.  But are they really?  I think they are only an obstacle to our attachment to engaging in certain forms of practice.  We may long to engage in solitary retreat in the woods with only the birds as our company, or we may wish to attend every class and puja at the center, but we can’t due to our life circumstance.  Then we start getting frustrated with all of these people and things in our life that prevent us from practicing in the way we want. 

What does it mean to practice Dharma?  The ancient Kadampas said the essence of Dharma practice was to help others as much as possible and to harm our delusions as much as possible.  If we check, almost all of the things we normally consider “obstacles” to our Dharma practice, and therefore feel justified at getting angry at or frustrated with, are actually all opportunities to help others and harm the delusions arising in our mind.  What is bad for our self-cherishing is actually good for us.  These situations which trigger our delusions are exactly what we need to force us to train in their opponents.  Just as a beggar isn’t an obstacle to the practice of giving, so too the arising of delusions in our mind isn’t an obstacle to our practice of training our mind.  Quite the opposite, both are essential conditions.  With the wisdom mind of patient acceptance, nothing is an obstacle to our practice of Dharma. 

(6.103) If, because of my own shortcomings,
I do not practise patience with my enemy,
It is not he, but I, who prevent me from practicing patience,
The cause of accumulating merit.

(6.104) My enemy is the cause of my accumulating the merit of patience
Because without him there is no patience to practise,
Whereas with him there is.
So how does he obstruct my virtuous practice?

(6.105) A beggar is not an obstacle
To people practising giving
Any more than an Abbot is an obstacle
To those wishing to ordain.

(6.106) Indeed, there are many beggars in this world,
But people who harm me are extremely rare.
In fact, if I had not inflicted harm on others in the past,
There would be no one to inflict harm on me now!

If patience is not just an important part of our spiritual training but an essential one, then clearly we need opportunities to practice patience.  But perhaps we still feel that other parts of our spiritual training are more important. We think there are other virtues greater than patience, and we feel other people can get in the way of our other trainings?  We think of some of the other aspects of our spiritual training, people get in the way. People do get in the way, obstructing our spiritual training, obstructing our virtuous practices.  For example we may feel that our family or the people close to us are obstructions to our spiritual training.  The fact that we need to care for them is an obstruction. 

But what is the real obstruction? Surely one of our greatest obstructions is anger – impatience, anger, hatred in our mind.  If we are to remove obstructions to our enlightenment then we must practice patience. Patience is the opponent. We need to use it.  And who provides us with the opportunity to practice patience, to apply this opponent, directly and indirectly?  The difficult people in our life.  If the people in our life were always well-behaved then then we’d be stuck, wouldn’t we, we’d be left with no objects of patience.

What we would like is for everything and everybody to be perfect.  Others will never be perfect if you look at them with an imperfect mind.  Everybody can be perfect just the way they are if you look at them with a perfect mind of patience.  It is perfect for me that you are as screwed up as you are!  Ha ha Because we are looking at people in a perfect way, they forge us into perfect Spiritual Guides.  How wonderful!  It is only difficult people that can forge us into such teachers, not well-behaved people. 

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