Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Not abandoning others to their fate

(8.107) Because one whose mind is acquainted with the equality of self and others
Derives great joy from relieving the suffering of others,
For their sakes, he or she would happily enter the deepest hell,
Just like a wild goose plunging into a refreshing lotus pool.

(8.108) The ocean of joy that will arise
When all living beings are liberated
Is everything I wish for –
So why should I wish for my solitary liberation?

Perhaps we have no wish for solitary liberation, and we are always good bodhisattvas. But does it ever come up, the wish to ‘forget others and just take care of myself’?  We often experience suffering, but we often blame our suffering on the fact that we are spiritual practitioners, that we have these responsibilities to the center, to our families, etc.  It seems that so much of our suffering is related to being involved with having to be there for others, having this responsibility to be good bodhisattvas. Because if we were not, if we didn’t have this responsibility, we think a lot of that suffering would simply disappear.  We could live quite contentedly alone, doing our practice, without all these deluded people constantly disturbing our inner peace.  Perhaps when that mind comes up, we would like to just drop it all, get away from everyone.  We want to free ourself from suffering, that’s what we’re thinking about at such times. I do not want to experience this suffering, what can I do to free myself from it.

At such times we’re not thinking of the situation of others, those who come to the center, the people in our town, the people at our work, or the people in our family.  We are just thinking about ourself and our own liberation from suffering.  But when we do, does our suffering end?  No.  It usually increases.  We start to view everyone as obstacles.  We feel this great tension between “being happy” and “following our spiritual path,” like the two are in conflict.  There are all these other people out there who haven’t taken on the great responsibility to care in every way for the doctrine and migrators, and they seem quite happy.  Happier than me, at least.  There are all these people who happily live alone in quiet places, not bothered by anybody, just doing their practice.  Ah, the life.  Wouldn’t that be great.  But I’m stuck here due to all my responsibiliites towards these people.  We can think like this sometimes. 

When we do, we need to pull out these verses.  Venerable Tharchin said he wants to be reborn in hell because that is where all the living beings are.  In Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we pray, “I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort by striving for supreme enlightenment with unwavering compassion; even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell for many aeons for the sake of each being.”  This is the supreme good heart of the bodhisattva.  We should strive instead to become like the kind-hearted Bodhisattva, accept fully and enjoy what has to be the most meaningful life. How can anything compare to the ocean of joy that arises when all living beings are liberated?

Having given some encouragement to training in equalizing self and others, in these next couple of verses Shantideva gives some special advice in relation to our training, advice that I think is particularly relevant to us as modern Kadampas. He says:

(8.109) But although I work for the benefit of others,
I should do so without pride or pretension.
Moved only by the joy of benefiting others,
I should not hope for any reward.

We do a lot for the benefit of others, but we are not entirely free from worldly motives.  We still expect some degree of gratitude, or at least we expect that others not get mad at us for the help we do provide.  We haven’t quite the pure intention of Venerable Geshe-la, our intention often is mixed, isn’t it? We have still many, many worldly concerns. We assume this responsibility, we do work for the center, for our families, for our work, but we are not quite free yet from worldly motives.

We must try, as Shantideva here is advising, we try to work for others without pride, without pretension.  Our giving must be unconditional.  We must expect nothing back from others.  If we are honest, we do expect some return for our work – or at least not criticism. Parents in particular have this problem.  Despite giving everything, almost all kids wind up blaming their parents for all of their woes.  Their children have to go to therapy to recover from the so-called “trauma” of having been raised by us.  Sure, some times it is legitimate, but most of the time parents are doing their absolute best, but the wishes of the kids are infinite.  We always let them down no matter how much we do, and then they criticize us for all of the different ways we failed them.  They often don’t realize how completely ungrateful they are being until they themselves have kids – and even then, sometimes not.  We should expect this, and love them anyways, give to them anyways.  Maybe they will understand the kindness of their mothers, maybe they never will.  It doesn’t matter – we get the same good karma regardless; in fact, our giving becomes more pure if we get the criticism. 

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