Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Being with All Living Beings in Solitude

(8.33) Just as people who travel have no attachment
To a guesthouse where they stay for just one night,
So should I not develop attachment to this body,
Which is the guesthouse for just one rebirth.

(8.34) Before such time as this body of mine
Is borne aloft by four pall bearers
And worldly beings grieve my passing,
I will withdraw to the solitude of the forest.

(8.35) Encountering neither friends nor enemies,
My body will remain in complete solitude.
If I am already counted among the dead,
There will be no one to mourn me when I die.

(8.36) Then, with no one around me
Grieving or planning harm,
Who will there be to distract me
From my recollection of holy Buddha?

(8.37) Therefore, I will dwell alone
In a quiet and peaceful place.
Happy, contented, and with no worries,
I will strive to pacify all distractions.

Ahhh, just imagine that.  As explained in previous posts, the purpose of these sorts of verses is not to make us view our family, friends, work, and so forth as obstacles to our practice of Dharma, but to generate a strong wish to – at least from time to time – withdraw into solitude and go on retreat.  In many ways, it is my greatest wish, but perhaps that is because I have five kids!!!  Ha ha 

When we have family or close friends, we can sometimes feel guilty fantasizing in this way about retreating to the forest or mountains to do retreat.  Is this somehow a betrayal of them?  If I think in this way, will I start to view them all as obstacles?  The answer to this worry is to realize we go on retreat for their benefit.  Our goal in mixing our mind with the Dharma is to attain enlightenment.  Then, we will be able to be with them every day for the rest of eternity.  If we stay with them now and fail to attain enlightenment, then at death, we will inevitably be separated from them.  Then, we will be useless to them.  It is because we want to always be with them that we need to withdraw now to make progress along the path.  Geshe-la uses the analogy of somebody who wants to help people medically.  They have to first go to medical school for many years before they will actually be able to help anybody, but it is time well spent because if they don’t go to medical school, they will never know how to help anybody.

Additionally, when we go on retreat we can bring them with us in our heart.  Physically, we may be alone on retreat, but we bring our family and indeed all living beings with us in our heart.  Every practice we engage in, we imagine they are with us, we send them blessings, we dedicate for their well-being.  We are not running away from them, we are drawing closer to them.  Indeed, when we eliminate our self-cherishing, we love them as we love ourselves.  When we remove our self-grasping ignorance, we leave behind the false duality between ourselves and them, and feel as if we are inseparably one in emptiness. 

But it might not be possible for us to go on retreat now.  As explained before, it doesn’t matter.  The joyful mind of being on retreat can be our experience now.  If we adopt the mind of retreat now, as explained before, our daily experience will be as if we are on retreat as we spend time with our family, do our work, and go out for dinner.  We can view everything that happens to us as emanated by Dorje Shugden as part of our retreat – some things give us opportunities to train in compassion, others give us opportunities to improve our patience, and others still allow us to let go of our attachments.  From the point of view of our mind, we will be on retreat and making rapid spiritual progress every day.  If we prepare like this throughout life, we will definitely create the causes to be able to go on long retreat later.  And when we arrive at our retreat, we will know exactly how to maintain a balanced, joyful mind throughout it. 

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