Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Stop giving in to self-cherishing

Now Shantideva encourages us not to give in any longer to our self-cherishing mind, and its desires.

(8.167) In this way, selfish mind, you should avoid non-virtue.
If you do not observe this discipline,
I will bring you under control
Through the power of mindfulness and alertness.

(8.168) However, if you choose not to act
In the way that you have been advised,
Since you are the source of all my misfortune
I will completely annihilate you.

(8.169) The time when you could govern me
Has been consigned to the past.
Now that I see you to be the source of all my problems,
I will eradicate you wherever you appear.

(8.170) Now I will immediately cast aside
All thoughts to work for my own sake.
O self-cherishing mind, I have sold you to others;
So stop complaining and get on with helping them!

How much longer are we going to give in to our selfish or self-cherishing mind?  We still tend to go along with it.  Even after all these years of Dharma practice, we still think that our self-cherishing is our friend.  We need to feel that it is actually is our enemy, our worst enemy.   Our self-cherishing is like the devil – it has only one goal, to put us in the deepest hell.  If we follow it, that is exactly where it will lead us.  Perhaps we see this after it has burned us, where we have done something that we know we should not have, or have gotten angry, jealous, etc., and it created some problem.  But then slowly, it creeps back up and convinces us that we should do what it says.  It will help us.  We need to be burned several times before we finally say enough is enough.  Once this becomes clear, then it is just a question of time.

Our job is to destroy this inner enemy – we need to annihilate it.  If you knew you were possessed by some demon, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to exorcise yourself of it?  We should do the same with self-cherishing.  Our delusions are as strong as we make them, and we make them strong by believing them to be true.  The only way we will stop following this inner demon is we realize it is deceptive.  It promises us one thing, but delivers the exact opposite.  It is deceiving and betraying us.  And it always will.  The more we realize it is deceptive, the less power it will have over us.  It often hurts to go against the wishes of our self-cherishing.  This is like somebody blackmailing us.  If we give in to the emotional penalty they invoke, the blackmail will only continue and get worse.

We need to train strategically.  Our job is to completely eradicate every trace of self-cherishing from our mind.  The trick is making our desire to overcome our self-cherishing stronger than our desire for what our self-cherishing wants.  When the balance is tipped in this way, we will find the strength to oppose it.  Otherwise, we will lose every time.  We should focus on the easy things where our self-cherishing is weaker.  Here our desire to overcome our self-cherishing will be stronger than our desire for whatever our self-cherishing wants, and we will be able to weaken our self-cherishing.  We should also focus on the really strong self-cherishing, the one or two things that create big problems for us that we see clearly how our self-cherishing is our enemy.  The middle stuff we will get to with time.  For now, we should focus on the easy and the really strong or problematic.

Often overcoming self-cherishing is just an issue of identifying it clearly within our mind.   Once we see it, it is not hard to see how it is wrong, and then we can overcome it.  Identifying it is quite simple:  do we think about things from the perspective of how they impact us – in other words, is there self-centeredness in our mind, do we view things from the perspective of us being the center of our universe?  If we see how we do this, then we have identified our self-cherishing.  We see the bias and exaggeration in our mind.  The rest flows naturally from that.

One very important point is our self-cherishing will never go away on its own.  It will remain in our mind until we make the decision to eliminate it.  There are people who have been practicing Dharma for 20 or more years, but they have not made this decision, and so self-cherishing remains in their mind.  We need to come to a personal decision, realizing that we are possessed by the demon of self-cherishing, that we need to eliminate it from our mind.  With this intention, we will do so.  Without this decision, no matter how long we remain in the Dharma, we will leave the roots of our delusions intact, like the roots of weeds, and they will come back.  Once we make this decision, we will need constant mindfulness and diligent effort over a long period of time to rid our mind of this inner demon.

The biggest question our self-cherishing poses to us is ‘what is left for me?’  We need to have a good answer to this, otherwise we will feel like we are losing out and we won’t have the power necessary to really make this decision.  If we understand karma, the only thing we will want to be left with is the opportunity to work for others.  We will derive all our pleasure working for others because we will know we are building for the future.  The definition of maturity is when we use the present for the future.  We take great satisfaction in building for the future.  We should strive to become a spiritual Bill Gates, who acquires the inner wealth of Dharma so that it can be given away.  Our happiness comes from the satisfaction of doing that.

Sometimes our self-cherishing objects, ‘I understand I need to do it, but it is so damn hard.’  It is hard because we have so many obstacles.  Where do these obstacles come from?  They are a reflection of our own self-cherishing.  In other words, self-cherishing creates its own obstacles.  Seeing this will help us increase our desire to overcome it.  We have to compare how hard overcoming self-cherishing is with the alternative of remaining with it forever.  No matter how hard it is to overcome our self-cherishing, it is infinitely harder to not.  With self-cherishing, everything we do is hard and nothing works.  Without self-cherishing, everything is easy.  We have a choice, do one hard thing to make everything else easy, or don’t do that one hard thing and have everything else be difficult.  When we see this is our choice, we will naturally make the right decision.

Muhammad Ali’s is my father’s all-time favorite philosopher.  He said, “When a man says I cannot, he has made a suggestion to himself. He has weakened his power of accomplishing that which otherwise would have been accomplished.”  Samsara is a self-enforcing prison.  We remain in samsara because we have not decided to leave.  We decide to stay because we keep going back in for the attractive things of samsara.  Once we are sucked in a little bit with these attractive things, we then get pulled into the main body of samsara, which is the lower realms.   When our self-cherishing starts complaining, we have a choice:  to listen or not.  Because we listen to it, it has power over us.  But if we know it is wrong and see it as some blowhard know-it-all, we will naturally ignore what it says.  It will still be babbling in the background, but we don’t pay attention. 

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