Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to overcome discouragement

We often seek to justify our laziness by convincing ourselves that those activities are meaningful or beneficial in some way. We must be honest with ourselves. It is so easy to out of laziness fool or deceive ourselves.  Atisha gave us some good advice when he said:   “Until you attain stable realizations, worldly amusements are harmful, therefore abide in a place where there are no such distractions.”  He then went on to say, “If you engage in many meaningless activities your virtuous activities will degenerate, therefore stop activities that are not spiritual.”

What does he mean by “spiritual?”  Geshe-la said something spiritual is necessarily focused beyond this life.  Something is worldly if it concerns this life.  There are many people who spend their whole lives “doing Dharma” – engaging in their practices, going to teachings, working for the center, spending time with Sangha friends, etc. – but in their mind, their motivation remains worldly.  Even though they are “doing Dharma,” they are not actually engaged in spiritual practices.  And there are others who spend their whole day at work, taking care of their families, and a million other seemingly “worldly” activities, but in their mind they view them all as spiritual trainings emanated by Dorje Shugden.  Whether our life is spiritual or worldly depends upon which life we are working for – this life or our future lives.  Whether our life is spiritual or worldly, therefore, fundamentally depends upon whether laziness remains in our mind – laziness to put in the effort to engage in our activities with a spiritual mind. 

Now Shantideva turns to the laziness of discouragement.

(7.16) Without being discouraged, I should collect wisdom and merit
And strive for self-control through mindfulness and alertness.
Then I should equalize self and others
And practise exchanging myself with others.

(7.17) I should not discourage myself by thinking,
“How shall I ever become enlightened?”
For the Tathagatas, who speak only the truth,
Have said that it can be so.

(7.18) It is said that even flies, bees, gnats,
And all other insects and animals
Can attain the rare and unsurpassed state of enlightenment
Through developing the power of effort;

(7.19) So why should I, who am born a human,
And who understands the meaning of spiritual paths,
Not attain enlightenment
By following the Bodhisattva’s way of life?

We can so easily become discouraged. I think we all suffer sometimes quite badly from discouragement.  For example, thinking that we do not have the qualities, the skills, and so forth of a good Dharma practitioner, and because we are not able to do the things that Dharma says, we become discouraged and abandon trying.  Many of us fall into the trap of thinking if we can’t do things “perfectly” we are somehow doing them “badly.”  We judge our practice as not good enough, and even say we are a bad practitioner.  There is always “more” we could be doing, and because we could be doing more but are not, we think what we are doing is bad or not worth anything.  We may have been practicing the Dharma for many years, but still delusions get the better of us, so we feel like a failure.  We think there is no way we will be able to accomplish great things along the spiritual path, we can barely wait in line at the grocery store without becoming impatient.  We know how we “should” be responding to difficult situations with Dharma minds, and everytime we see that we are unable to do so, we judge ourselves a failure.  When we look into the mirror of Dharma with our mind of guilt, all we see is the myriad ways we are falling short and we quickly become discouraged.

Once again, this shows how patient acceptance is the foundation for the practice of effort.  We need to accept where we are at.  It is neither good nor bad, it is just simply where we are at.  It doesn’t matter where we are at, the only thing that matters is are we moving the ball forward by trying.  It doesn’t even matter of we succeed, simply trying creates the karma we are after.  Vajryaogini’s mandala is an inverted double tetrahedron to show how the highest attainments are all built of the foundation of our smallest efforts.  We need to cherish and rejoice anything we do do, not beat ourselves up for everything we are not doing but think we “should” be.

What is the source of our discouragement?  Fundamentally, it is because we grasp at a permanent ordinary self.  We think our ordinary self is our real self and that it is unchangeable.  We often say, “that is not me.”  What are you, anyway?  We project expectations on ourself of already having the results of our practice (patience, compassion, selflessness, wisdom realizing emptiness, etc.) without having created the causes for such attainments.  It is not enough to know how a Buddha acts, we need to train to be able to do so.  We do not believe our spiritual guide.  He has seen our qualities and he knows we can do it, otherwise he wouldn’t have activated our Dharma karma.  But we choose to listen to our whining voice inside.  We should trust our guru and believe we can do it.  And then, we go for it.

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