We now turn to Chapter 7 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the Perfection of Effort. To introduce the chapter, I will first provide some commentary on each of the bodhisattva vows associated with effort. There are three downfalls in particular: Gathering a circle of followers out of desire for profit and respect, not trying to overcome laziness, and indulging in senseless conversation out of attachment. These will each now be discussed in turn.
Gathering a circle of followers our of desire for profit and respect
The main idea of this downfall is the following: Do you pursue your relationships with others on the basis of what you can get from them or on the basis of what you can give to them? Are you a consumer of others or are you a benefactor of others? This vow basically says you should not seek friends and relationships for selfish reasons. This advice is not just for Dharma teachers, but for all of us, including our on-line selves with our Twitter “followers” and Facebook “friends.” We need to ask ourself the question: ‘why do I want a relationship with this person? What is my motivation?’ Is my goal something they can bring to me or something I can bring to them. A selfish relationship is when you are trying to get something from others – them liking you, giving your something, somehow being a cause of your happiness, etc.
Sometimes we are very clever and kiss other people’s butts and we are all nice to them because we want something from them. Other people see this – they always do, even if sub-consciously. As a result, they do not trust us and we cannot help them. It creates the tendency for us to do the same in the future, so we will more likely abuse our power and never be able to help others. It is not sincere or honest, and if they believe us the effect is in the future for us to be duped by somebody who is trying to manipulate us.
The correct frame of mind is to view all people as our future disciples who it our responsibility to lead to enlightenment. This is the organizing principal of all our relationships – I need to lead this person to enlightenment. A useful recognition in this regard, when you see other people you should think, “I am responsible for this person.” Any other principle creates the causes for when you meet these people again in the future you will have an ordinary, meaningless relationship with them instead of a spiritual one where you can help them.
Not trying to overcome laziness
The main point here is the following: Do you organize your life around your practice or do you organize your practice around your life? We need to make effort to overcome the reasons why we don’t do this. Another easy way to make the distinction – We train in learning to enjoy doing what is good for us and to become dis-interested in doing what is bad for us. This is an incredibly vast practice.
From my experience, it seems our practice goes through two phases. In the beginning, or phase 1, we are generally a crisis Dharma practitioner. Our principal motivation for practicing Dharma tends to be using it to resolve whatever crisis we are facing at the moment, whether it be with our family, at work, with our health, or in the world. There is nothing wrong with using the Dharma to be able to emotionally survive the trials and tribulations of this life. In fact, we should do so, understanding how Dharma enables us to be happy regardless of our external circumstance. The realizations we gain as a crisis Dharma practitioner can be useful in overcoming all sorts of delusions, not only for this life, but for our countless future lives. Phase 2 occurs when, in dependence upon our sincere practice in Phase 1, we don’t really have many problems in this life that we can’t handle with the Dharma wisdom we already have. The danger here is we settle into a low-level equilibrium with our practice – happy enough to have a happy life, but not suffering enough that we don’t start preparing for our future lives. In short, we become complacent with our spiritual progress. This is good, but not good enough. At such times, we need to renew our meditations on death, lower rebirth, renunciation, and great compassion to find reasons to practice that transcend this life. We need to keep going until we have secured controlled rebirth and enlightenment. It is primarily in Phase 2 where we work on our laziness of attachment. The question is whether our practice is reactive to problems or it is proactive in our attempt to attain enlightenment. It is not enough to just not do bad, we need to actively construct something good. We need to identify each of the different types of laziness within our mind, and make effort to overcome it. As we work our way through Chapter 7, we will go over the different types of laziness, but for now the point is you need to decide to actively overcome the laziness in your mind.
It is important to note that Phase 1 and Phase 2 are not discreet in time, like passing from one year to the next, but it can shift multiple times in any given day. The cycle is usually we get confronted with some difficulty, delusions arise, we see the value of practicing, we practice, our delusions subside somewhat, we feel better, we then lose interest in practicing when things are good; and then we wait until something bad happens and we start the whole cycle over again. Likewise, this dynamic plays out over many years where in the beginning we are very motivated to practice, we solve the majority of our daily problems and gain the ability to do so with regularity, and we then just content ourselves with using the Dharma for a happy life.