Happy Tsog Day: How to practise the perfection of moral discipline

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 36 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of moral discipline
By not transgressing even at the cost of my life
The discipline of the Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva, and Secret Mantra vows,
And by gathering virtuous Dharmas, and accomplishing the welfare of sentient beings.

Moral discipline is the primary cause of higher rebirth. The perfection of moral discipline is engaging in moral discipline with a bodhichitta motivation. Every time we engage in an action of moral discipline motivated by a spiritual determination, we create the cause for some form of higher rebirth. If we do so with an initial scope motivation, we create the cause to be reborn in the upper realms. If we do so with the motivation of renunciation, we create the cause to attain liberation from samsara. If we do so with a bodhicitta motivation, we create the cause to attain full enlightenment.

There are many different types of moral discipline. The one we practice most frequently and find the most difficult is the moral discipline of restraint. For the most part, the habits of our mind tend to move in a negative direction. When we observe this, we can consider the karmic implications of acting upon our negative tendencies. Realizing that we do not want to go down that road, we make the decision to not listen to and not follow our negative tendency. And instead, we choose to listen to and follow our Dharma wisdom encouraging us to go in the other direction.

It is very important that we make a distinction between the practice of the moral discipline of restraint and repression. Because we are desire realm beings, we have no choice but to do whatever it is that we desire. Repression is when we want to engage in the negativity, but then think we shouldn’t and therefore we use “will power” to stop ourselves. This can work for a little bit, but our desire remains to engage in the negativity, and eventually this desire will grow and grow until eventually we give in. The practice of the moral discipline of restraint, in contrast, actively dismantles our negative desires by recognizing that in fact we do not want to go down that road and we do not want to follow the bad advice our negative tendencies are giving us because we understand the karmic consequences of doing so. We consider the karmic benefits of practicing moral discipline, and therefore want to do that instead. In short, we change our desires. When we do this, we are not repressing, but we are in fact practicing the moral discipline of restraint.

Sometimes people feel very guilty when they observe how often their mind looks to move in a negative direction, for example wishing to steal, wishing to lie, wishing to harm, and so forth. They can then develop guilt and self-hatred and become very discouraged thinking that they are accumulating all sorts of negative karma and they cannot stop themselves. This is wrong. Just as we need an annoying person to practice patience and we need those in need to practice giving, so too we need negative tendencies in order to practice the moral discipline of restraint. The fact that a negative tendency arises is not the creation of new negative karma, rather it is the exhausting of existing negative tendencies similar to the cause that remain on our mind. It only becomes a new action of negativity if we assent to the validity of the negative tendency and choose to follow it. If instead, at that time, we dismantle our negative desires, cultivate virtuous desires, and then act upon those, we are practicing the moral discipline of restraint. If over the course of an hour we have one hundred negative tendencies wishing to engage in some compulsive negative behavior, but each time we managed to dismantle that desire and choose to not follow it, we just created the causes for attaining one hundred precious human lives. Far from creating a host of negative karma, we just won the spiritual lottery.

The most important moral discipline we have is maintaining our vows and commitments. Breaking our vows causes us to lose the spiritual path. Maintaining our vows creates the causes to remain on and re-find the spiritual path in all our future lives. The reason why we need to take vows is because the tendencies of our mind move in the wrong direction. If we could maintain all our vows perfectly, we would not need them. It is because the natural tendencies of our mind are to move in opposite directions that we are given the vows to provide us with an opportunity to redirect the trajectory of our mental continuum. Keeping our refuge vows creates the causes for us to re-find the Buddhist path in all our future lives without interruption until we attain enlightenment. Keeping our pratimoksha vows creates the causes for us to find a path to liberation in all our future lives without interruption. Maintaining our bodhisattva vows creates the cause to re-find the Mahayana path, and maintaining our tantric vows creates the cause to re-find the Vajrayana quick path to enlightenment. If we are able to maintain the continuum of our Dharma practice between now and our eventual enlightenment, then our eventual enlightenment is guaranteed, and we will not suffer too much along the way. Thus, simply making the decision to apply efforts to maintain our vows and commitments is the same as essentially guaranteeing our enlightenment. Seen in this way, we can understand there is nothing more important in our life than our vows and commitments.

Sometimes people relate to their vows as a restriction of their freedom. They want to do things, but all their vows and commitments prevent them from doing so. This way of thinking is exactly backwards. The truth is as long as our mind is under the influence of delusions, we know no freedom. We are forced to do whatever it is our delusions require of us. The only way to truly become free is not to indulge in whatever our delusions want, but rather to overcome all our delusions. A mind that is free from all delusions is truly free – in fact, it is liberated.

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