Joyful effort also helps with our concentration. It is impossible to direct our mind towards virtue if we have any of the three types of laziness (indolence, attraction to what is meaningless or negative, or discouragement). We recognize that training our mind in concentration is like training our body. We are getting our mind in shape. Choice of mind is like a muscle, the more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. By making our choice of mind strong, we gain control of everything and every situation, including death. We gain the ability to choose how we respond to any situation in a way that moves us to enlightenment. This is real freedom. In this respect, exercising our choice of mind is the most important thing we can do, because doing it will accomplish everything else.
We want concentration, because it is only through concentration that we can mix our mind with our virtuous objects. The cause of happiness is inner peace, and the cause of inner peace is mixing our mind with virtue. The more we mix our mind with virtue, the more peaceful our mind will be, and thus the happier we will be. If we can mix our mind 24/7 with virtue, then eventually we will be happy all the time, regardless of what happens. When our mind is taken to other objects by distractions and attachments, then it destroys our inner peace and thus our happiness. The most important object of meditation is the wisdom realizing emptiness. By mixing our mind with this virtue, it uproots all of our delusions because the object of all delusions is a contaminated object. We will look more at emptiness when we get to Chapter 9 of Shantideva’s text.
In particular, we need to overcome our attachment to worldly life. We are constantly distracted due to our attachment to worldly life. What we do now, in these next verses, is take a long look at worldly life and develop a strong wish, a determination, to leave it behind. Shantideva helps us to let go of our attachment to worldly life in these next verses. For the moment we can take a look at worldly life and our attachment to it. We tend to confuse two things, a Bodhisattva’s life amongst worldly beings and a worldly life itself. We mix these two thinking they are the same. They are not. We need to be able to distinguish the two so that we are not following a worldly life. We cannot follow the example of worldly people. We cannot lead a life like theirs because it leads to suffering, doesn’t it? It leads to further lives in samsara, which are the nature of suffering.
The work we do can sometimes be mundane in its aspect. But that does not make it worldly. It is spiritual work if we do it with a spiritual motivation. There are two ways we can make our mundane activities into spiritual ones. First, we can have them be directed towards the accomplishment of spiritual goals, such as spreading the Dharma. Or second, we can engage in them to work on our mind. Our job is to do these things we normally do in our modern life without delusion. Our job is to work on our delusions that come up as we do our external work. Doing work in this way accomplishes two things: it accomplishes our preliminary practices of accumulating merit and purifying negativity and it also helps connect people with the Dharma.
We ourselves must reduce and finally overcome our own attachment to worldly life, and instead adopt a spiritual way of life. We must stop turning to objects of attachment and stop pursuing objects of desire. Otherwise, we end up helping no one. We do not make any spiritual progress and we don’t help anybody else to make progress. We remain trapped within the fangs of delusions like everyone else.
We can have an interest in people, possessions, and reputation. We must have an interest in things because they can be useful for accomplishing our spiritual goals, but we should not have an attachment to them. How can we distinguish between the two? An attachment to these things means we think that our happiness depends upon them, that without them, we cannot be happy. An interest in them means we realize the value of these things for the accomplishment of our spiritual goals. But if we do not have them, our happiness is not destroyed, rather we are motivated to do better. If we have attachment to these things, then they will disturb our concentration in meditation. If we have a spiritual interest in them, we will be able to set them aside and concentrate on the object of our choice.