Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Abandoning meaningless activities

We continue with an explanation of the bodhisattva downfalls related to the perfection of effort. 

Indulging in senseless conversation out of attachment

Here the main point is the following:  Do you seek your enjoyment in the meaningless activities of samsara or do you seek your enjoyment in creating good spiritual causes?  Senseless conversation is just an example.  Our training in effort is learning how to derive all of our enjoyment from creating good causes and not from samsaric effects. 

One of the most common expressions in the Dharma is “meaningful” and “meaningless.” We use this in all sorts of contexts, from activities to our whole life.  In the beginning, when we hear these terms, because we are still grasping at external activities as being inherently “meaningful” or “meaningless” we can quickly feel judged by the Dharma that it is calling our life and our activities meaningless.  Because we have very little experience of transforming daily appearance into the path, when we grasp at inherently existent meaningful or meaningless activities, we can fall into despair thinking “to practice Dharma” means going to all the teachings and festivals, getting ordained, moving into the center, working for the center, etc., and everything else is somehow “meaningless.”  Since most teachers and center administrators are people who have done exactly that, their own language choices can unwittingly reinforce this view, creating all sorts of anxiety for people in the center.  They start to think, “my wife, my job, my kids, these are all ‘obstacles’ to me practicing Dharma…”  Ridiculous!  But quite a common view. 

What makes an activity meaningless is our intention, not the activity itself.  Any ordinary activity can be in reality a pure spiritual practice, and any spiritual practice can be a mundane activity depending on our motivation.  The test is:  what do you consider to be your job – rearranging the furniture on the Titanic of Samsara or training your mind (overcoming your delusions and cultivating virtues)? 

To help us generate the wish to overcome our laziness, we can consider that since all things are empty, in fact we are the creator of this world of suffering, so if we do not exert effort, we leave the beings in this world of suffering to suffer and drown.  Since this world is our creation, if we don’t fix it, it will never be fixed.  A powerful request we can make to Dorje Shugden would be, “Please don’t let me not attain enlightenment in this life time.”  If we can make this request with sincerity and faith, it is certain we are keeping our bodhisattva vow here.

This has to come from within, not imposed from the outside.  Our vows and commitments are not things imposed on us from the outside, and we are not externally accountable to anybody if we break our vows.  They are internal promises we make to ourself because we see the value of such behavior and the faults of opposite behavior.  We make the promises in front of the Buddhas (or preceptors) to show to ourselves the sincerity of our commitment and to have them bear witness, much in the same way we get married in front of others who rejoice in our commitments.  We need to ask ourselves:  “what am I doing with my life?” “Why am I doing this?”  We need to realize ourselves how we are completely wasting our precious human life.  Then, from our own side, we will make the most of it.  If it comes from the outside, we just become defensive and engage in self-justification for our meaningless activities and develop resentment because we feel judged.

We should not motivate ourselves by guilt or others by shaming them – this is a type of laziness.  Motivating ourselves by guilt or others by shaming them does not give rise to effort because there is no joy – we or they are engaging in virtue to avoid feeling bad, which is a worldly concern.  I originally started in Dharma centers in the United States, but then later went to France, and finally Switzerland.  It is interesting to see how different cultures react to vows, commitments, and center responsibilities.  In the U.S., if you made vows, commitments, FP commitments, center responsibilities, etc., obligatory, you would have a riot on your hands, and everybody would reject them just because they were made obligatory.  In instead, you left people free to make their own choices and gave people the opportunity to assume responsibility if they competed in an election for it, then everyone naturally stepped up.  France was the exact opposite.  If something was not obligatory, the conclusion was “it doesn’t matter” and could be ignored completely.  If you held an election for center officers, nobody would run and everybody would try to avoid having to assume the responsibility, so a more heavy hand was necessary to get people to do anything.  Not because they were any more lazy, it was just different cultural contexts.  Switzerland was about halfway in between these two.  You couldn’t make anything obligatory for fear of rebellion, but you did need to provide a good deal of structure and clear expectations (without emotional penalty).  That seemed like a good balance, frankly.  The point is, every culture is different and will relate to these things in different ways.  What matters for us as practitioners, though, is regardless of what culture we are in we view our vows, commitments, and responsibilities as personally adopted based upon our own wisdom. 

One thought on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Abandoning meaningless activities

  1. Such a practical and helpful way of exploring this important topic. This has given me a lot of peace having stepped down from a sponsored position at a Center, yet remaining a very active volunteer. There’s often times I feel bad or like I’ve let go of an opportunity to grow Dharma. Thank you for framing this in such a way that is helpful to see, it’s more about what’s inside my heart.

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