Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Developing a sense of spiritual honor

We now start the second of the four powers, the power of self-confidence:

As mentioned in Vajradotsa Sutra,
Whatever Dharma practice I study, I should complete it with strong confidence.

(7.47) First, I should examine what is to be done,
To see whether I can do it or not.
If I am unable to do it, I should not start it;
But, once I start something, I should never turn back.

(7.48) Otherwise this habit will carry into my future lives
And my non-virtue and suffering will continue to increase.
Moreover, other virtuous actions will take a long time to accomplish
And will yield only meagre results.

This is incredibly important and practical advice.  Very often we swing from the extreme of making huge commitments we have no means of keeping or completely giving up trying to do anything.  Both function to destroy our self-confidence.  Instead, we need to consider carefully what we can actually accomplish (and that we want to accomplish), and then we make a very defined commitment to accomplish that no matter what.  For example, in Alcoholics Anonymous, people are advised to take things “one day at a time.”  We make a commitment, “I will not drink today.”  This is a small, doable commitment.  When we make this commitment, then we keep it.  When we keep it, our confidence and our capacity grows, and we can start the cycle over again.  Eventually, we will gain the ability to commit for two days, then a week, then a month, and eventually for the rest of our life.  In this way, we work skillfully with all of our spiritual vows and commitments until we are eventually able to keep them all perfectly all the time.  But if we make an unrealistic commitment we can’t keep, then we will break it.  When we do, our confidence and capacity will wither.  Then, in the future, when we make commitments to ourselves, they will have no meaning and no power because we know we will not be able to keep them.

It is the same with making commitments to others.  We want to help others and be there for them.  But sometimes we overpromise and then later have to under-deliver.  We aren’t able to do everything we committed to, and so we leave people disappointed.  This causes them to not trust us and it becomes a habit for us where we fail to live up to our commitments to others.  As bodhisattva’s, we are making the commitment to lead each and every living being to the ultimate state of full enlightenment.  If we start breaking our smaller commitments to others, then it becomes a habit and we will never be able to keep our ultimate commitment to others.  It is this commitment that gives our bodhisattva vows power.  If we know our commitment is meaningless in our own mind, then so too will our bodhisattva vows.  The point is we need to “right size” our commitments to something that is actually doable.  Not too great that we can’t keep them, and not too small that they are meaningless. 

Whether we are making commitments to ourself or to others, once we have made them, we need to be like Eddard (Ned) Stark from Game of Thrones.  Ned Stark was the most honorable man in Westeros.  He always kept his commitments – to himself and to others.  It was his honor.  He valued his honor more than his life.  True, it got his head chopped off, but it was the reputation of him as an honorable man that ultimately led to many of his children ultimately surviving and rising in their own right.  Even though he died, his honor won in the end.  So too it is with our spiritual honor.  If we keep our spiritual honor, even if we get our heads chopped off (an unlikely event, to be sure), we will keep our vows in tact on our mental continuum and be able to refind the spiritual path again in our future lives.  We should not fear losing our life for our spiritual honor, rather we should fear losing our spiritual honor for the sake of this one life.  In truth, it is almost unthinkable that we could find ourselves in a situation where we need to choose between our spiritual honor and our life, but internally we have already made our choice.  We know what we would choose.  We would channel our inner Ned Stark. 

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