Happy Tsog Day: Transforming Adverse Conditions into the Path (part 1)

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 32 of a 44-part series.

The third to the seventh points of training the mind

Though the world and its beings, filled with the effects of evil,
Pour down unwanted suffering like rain,
This is a chance to exhaust the effects of negative actions;
Seeing this, I seek your blessings to transform adverse conditions into the path.

Sometimes people do not like the teachings on the sufferings of samsara because they think it is a very pessimistic way of thinking. And we believe that being an optimist is how to be happy. The solution to this dilemma is to be pessimist with respect to expecting samsara to ever deliver happiness, but an optimist with respect to our pure potential to become an enlightened being. Usually we do the opposite. We expect samsara to work and are then frustrated and disappointed when it does not.  We likewise do not believe that we are capable of accomplishing any of the spiritual grounds and paths and therefore, we do not commit ourselves to training in them. We need to reverse this. The truth is samsara is the nature of suffering. Just as it is the nature of fire to burn, so too it is the nature of samsara to always go wrong. It is exceedingly rare that things go right, and when they do it does not last very long and never works out in the way we had hoped.

Why is this not a pessimistic way of thinking? It all comes down to managing our own expectations. We all know the logic of managing others’ expectations. If someone asks us how long it will take to complete a report, we think to ourselves it will probably take one week, but we tell the other person it will take two weeks. Why do we do this? Because if we told them it will take one week, and it takes one week, they will just simply accept it. But if we tell them it will take two weeks, and then we deliver it in one week, they will think we did an outstanding job. In both cases, the job itself was still done in only one week, the difference is what people’s expectations were determined how they experienced what happens. In exactly the same way, if we always expect things to go wrong, and it does, then we just accept it. But if it winds up being better than we expected, then we are pleasantly surprised. Either way, we are happy. Gen-la Losang said we should expect nothing from samsara – absolutely zero. If we do, then we will never be disappointed and will sometimes be pleasantly surprised. Thus, if we wish to be optimistic in terms of effect, in other words being happy with what happens in life, then we need to be pessimistic with respect to what we expect will happen.

There are two types of experience in samsara – pleasant experiences and unpleasant experiences. We can transform pleasant experiences into the path through the tantric teachings, as explained before during the tsog offering. And we can transform unpleasant experiences into the path through the Lojong teachings. In this way, no matter what we experience, it serves as fuel for our spiritual development, and therefore is not a problem.

What are some ways that we can transform adverse conditions into the path? Geshe-la explains in Universal Compassion that we can do so by means of method and by means of wisdom. By means of method means we use the adverse circumstance to increase our renunciation or bodhicitta. When something bad happens to us, we can view it as a reminder that if we wish to escape from suffering permanently, we must escape from samsara. When something bad happens to others, we can view it as a reminder that we must become a Buddha so that we can free all other living beings from samsara. Further, patiently accepting when bad things happen functions to purify the negative karma that is ripening. In this way we can gradually exhaust the effects of our negative actions. If we also refrain from engaging in new negative actions, it is just a question of time for our karma changes. To transform adverse conditions by means of wisdom means to recall that our self, the suffering, and whatever gave rise to suffering, are all equally empty of inherent existence. They are all mere karmic appearances to mind. Instead of grasping at some things as being good and other things as being bad, we can experience all things equally as the dance of bliss and emptiness.

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