Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Channeling the joy of an elephant plunging into a refreshing pool

Now we turn to the power of joy.

(7.63) Like a Bodhisattva, I should long to work for others
With the same enthusiasm as that possessed by someone
Who thoroughly enjoys playing a game.
I should never tire, but experience uninterrupted joy.

(7.64) Although it is uncertain whether the result will be happiness or suffering,
Worldly people still work hard to make themselves happy;
So why do we not derive joy from the practice of Dharma,
Which definitely results in happiness?

(7.65) I have a strong wish to pursue objects of desire,
Which, like honey on a razor’s edge, give no real satisfaction;
But it would be far better to develop a strong wish to pursue virtuous actions,
Which result in the everlasting happiness of liberation from all suffering.

(7.66) Therefore, to complete the virtuous actions mentioned above,
I will engage in them with the same enthusiasm
As that with which an elephant, tormented by the heat of the day,
Plunges into a cool, refreshing pool.

Oh, to enjoy in this way!  Imagine if we enjoyed our Dharma practice and our Dharma activities like a child at play. When we practice Dharma, we should strive to have a lightness in mind, the joy of a hot elephant plunging into a cool, refreshing pool.  We have been given such a special opportunity to once and for all free ourselves from all suffering and put ourselves in a position to help others in the same way.  We have a truly unique opportunity. Why do we not enjoy it?  We need to check what exactly within our mind prevents us from deriving such enjoyment from the opportunity that we’ve been given?   If we are too serious, especially if we worry, then we can become unhappy, and we can lose our enthusiasm until there is none left.

But with joy, results come easily and quickly.  Why?  Because our mind is focused 100% on creating causes.  Because we are creating lots of causes, it is inevitable that results will come.  With joy, there is no attachment to results.  When we have attachment to results, we create the causes to be separated from results.  But with joy, our mind is naturally faithful, simply happy to create causes.  If we knew the results of our actions were rebirth in a pure land, how could we not be happy?  In dependence upon our faith, we receive a constant flow of blessings.  This makes everything easier and everything work. 

Some people think either we have joy or we don’t, but like all things it is a dependent arising.  If we create the causes for joy, we can grow it.  There are several things we can do.

First, the most important thing we can do is change our desires to be spiritual ones by practicing lamrim.  It is intention that determines the karma we create, and it is lamrim practice that transforms our intentions into spiritual ones. 

Second, we need to connect our study and practice of Dharma with the problems we are experiencing in our life.  Geshe-la explains in Transform your Life that we need to make a distinction between our outer problem and our inner problem.  Our outer problem may be somebody we love is suffering greatly or our boss things we are doing a terrible job, but our inner problem arises from our deluded reactions to these external developments.  If we instead were able to view these external developments as Dharma teachings or opportunities to train in overcoming our delusions, then the external situation would still be what it is, but we would not internally have a problem with it.  We turn to the Dharma not because we “should,” but simply because it works to solve our problems.  We feel joy at knowing we have real solutions that work.  One possibility is to use whatever is our lamrim meditation of the day to solve everything that comes up that day.  For example, if our meditation object of the day is death, we can ask ourselves with respect to whatever arises, “will this matter to me on my death bed?” 

Third, we need to be careful to not treat our Dharma practices like we do a samsaric object that have some power to do something to us, rather we need to realize that our Dharma practices are something we ourselves need to do.  For example, when we do our sadhanas, we shouldn’t wait for the sadhana to do something to us, rather it is a mental regimen we ourselves need to do.  Our focus should not be on trying to experience results from the practice, rather to be like a guitar player focusing on improving the quality with which they play their song.  Each time we practice, we try to do a little bit better than the last time.  After every failure, we patiently examine what went wrong, make strategies for what we will do differently, and then meditate on the determination to do better. It is important that we accept where we are at.  We expect ourselves to already be farther along than we are, or perhaps we are puffed up with pride thinking we are much better than we thought we were.  It’s perfectly OK to be exactly where we are at.  If it is not good enough for others or not good enough for our pride, so be it.  We accept where we are at, and we joyfully grow from there.

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