(6.32) “If all things were like illusions, who would restrain what?
Surely, any restraint would be inappropriate.”
On the contrary, it is precisely because things lack inherent existence
That it is possible to assert the continuum of suffering can be cut.
Sometimes the objection may arise in our mind that if things lack inherent existence then there is no “us” who can practice Dharma and there is nothing for our Dharma practice to oppose, so what is the point? Both of these objections arise from grasping at the extreme of non-existence – in other words, going too far with our understanding of emptiness to wrongly assert that things don’t exist at all.
Who is practicing Dharma? A self that is imputed on a mind that has received Dharma instructions and gained a certain degree of control over one’s mind. We have received Dharma instructions, we have practiced them in the past, this has given us a certain degree of control over our mind. With that control, we then choose to practice Dharma. What are we resisting when we practice Dharma? In practice, we are disassembling the causes and conditions which cause delusions to appear. If a rainbow is appearing, but suddenly the sunlight is blocked out, the rainbow simply disappears because the causes and conditions which give rise to it are no longer present. The same is true with our delusions. Another way of looking at it is with our choice of mind we create new conditions of the opponent to the delusion which then functions to neutralize the delusion within our mind.
Suffering can come to an end because its causes can be ended. If you end the cause, the effect cannot arise.
(6.33) Thus, whenever an enemy, or even a friend,
Commits an inappropriate action,
Such behaviour arises from other conditions.
Realizing this, I should remain with a happy mind.
Once again, this is reminding us how we can use emptiness to oppose our anger. Normally we hear the teaching on emptiness and quickly become lost in the contemplations and lose the point. This is why we need to make a point of directly connecting our understanding of emptiness to specific delusions that arise within our mind.
When we become angry with somebody, we should take the time to ask ourselves, “who precisely am I angry at?” When we look, we find nobody. We can ask, “what exactly am I angry about?” When we check, we find nothing. It’s all just a variety of causes and conditions coming together with nothing behind any of it. Conventionally, we can’t blame the other person because it is not their fault these causes and conditions have come together. Ultimately, we can’t blame the other person because there is nobody there to blame. Realizing this, there is no longer an object of our anger and the anger disappears. The same sort of reasoning can be used against any delusion.
(6.34) If things occurred independently, out of choice,
Then, since no one wishes to suffer,
How would suffering ever arise
For any living being?
This is actually an important point. Nobody wishes to suffer. We all wish to be happy all of the time. Yet we suffer without choice and find it difficult to secure even a modicum of happiness. We are all in the same boat. When somebody harms us, they too are a victim of their delusions. They do so without freedom or control. As a result, they accumulate negative karma for themselves, which will ripen later in the form of suffering for them. We may view ourselves as a victim of their harmful actions, but in reality they are equally a victim because in the future they will have to experience the suffering consequences of their actions. Why are we experiencing this suffering now? Because we had the karma to do so arising from our own negative past actions. So what really is the difference between our attacker and us? Nothing. We are both victims, separated only by time.
We want to be happy and so do they. Unfortunately, they are confused about the causes of happiness. They are lost. Instead of getting angry with them, we should generate compassion for them. We are all the same, therefore there is no basis for loving some and being angry at others.
(6.29) Clearly, if the self were permanent,
Then, just like space, it could not perform any actions;
And, even if it could meet with other conditions,
It would still be unable to do anything.
(6.30) Since, even when acted upon, it would remain as it was,
What effect could an action have on it?
If you say that something else affects the self,
What relationship could the self have with that?
(6.31) Thus, all effects arise from other conditions,
Which in turn depend upon previous conditions.
Therefore, all things are like illusions – they are not independent.
If we realize this, we shall not become angry with anything.
The main point of all of this is anger needs an object – there has to be someone or something to get angry at. Anger depends on some external thing to be angry with that we consider to be the cause of our suffering. Everything that arises in dependence upon various causes and conditions, so there is never anything that we can point to that we can get angry at. If we try get angry at the thing, we realize we can’t because it just arises in dependence upon causes and conditions. If we try get angry at the causes and conditions, we realize we can’t because they too just arise from different causes and conditions. So we never find anything that we can get upset at and our anger subsides because anger needs an object. When we look, we find no such object that we can point to. Finding none, our anger has nothing to latch on to and it falls away.
In one sense it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of anger within their mind. But if anger were able to speak up for itself, would it not say the same thing? “I’m sorry, I have no choice. It is due to inappropriate attention in this person’s mind that I’m here.” Just as the person can’t help it, the anger can’t help it either. There is a classic analogy given of somebody hitting us with a stick. Do we get angry with the stick? No, youwe get angry with the person because the stick was controlled by the person. In the same way, if youwe don’t get angry with the stick, we should also not get angry with the person because they too are controlled by their anger. If we get angry with something, we should get angry with their anger. But their anger is controlled by their inappropriate attention. So we should get angry with their inappropriate attention, and so on.
On an easier to understand level, the situations that give rise to our anger do not exist from their own side. They can be viewed in any way we choose. Right now our anger is casting this elaborate story about how all these things are the causes of our suffering, and so to be happy we need to destroy these things. With emptiness we realize that this is just a fictional story projected by my mind that has no truth. I can view the situation in any way – it is not fixedly any one thing.
So instead of viewing this as samsara, we can view everything as the charnel grounds. What appears is horrific, but we understand these things to be completely pure teachings arising from the Dharmakaya that are perfect for our swiftest possible enlightenment. We do can do this with external situations, including anything that normally gives rise to our anger. We accept it fully as a pure teaching arising from the Dharmakaya. We can do this internally, where we find even the arising of suffering and delusions as perfect for us because it gives an opportunity to create certain causes, namely practicing their opponents. In this way, we can have a real equanimity towards all effects that happen, either externally or internally. We can accept everything as perfect. When everything is perfect, there is no basis for anger.
We very often blame others and situations for why we get angry, but this is not fair. Nobody or nothing has the power to make us angry, other than our own deluded mental processes. It is not fair to others to blame them for what is the fault of our own mind. This is actually a very liberating thought, because it means that no situation has any power over us. By accepting responsibility for the problem, the solution falls into our hands. Nobody or nothing needs to change for us to get better, we just need to change our mind. Yes, it is a long training, but what is the alternative? Remain angry forever and fall into terrible states of suffering?
My daughter has recently helped me realize how my non-acceptance has hijacked my Dharma understanding to turn me into an unwitting emotional tyrant.
I often see clearly how delusions seize my kids and family and how they and I suffer as a result. I know the opponents and how they should be thinking instead. My non-acceptance that they need to work through things themselves, my non-acceptance of their suffering, my non-acceptance of the drain on me associated with having to bear the brunt of their delusions or to have to spend the time to help them work through their delusions has all combined together into an implicit expectation on my part that everyone around me be emotionally perfect; and if they are not, I am judging them, becoming frustrated by them, and expecting them to already be free from their delusions.
This in turn makes the people around me feel like an emotional failure, makes them hate themselves and beat themselves up for not already being perfect. Because they are trying to live up to my expectations of emotional perfection, they then begin to repress all of their delusions, pretending they don’t have delusions, which then causes things to fester and build up underneath the surface. Inner stress and tension then builds up in them into chronic anxiety and self-hatred, which then triggers more delusions in them in a vicious spiral.
I see now how I have been doing this to my eldest daughter, with my son, with my other daughter, with my mildly autistic son, with my other son who has no particular problems so I expect him to be even more perfect. I have been doing this to my wife for 25 years. I do this with my father, with my brother, and even to this day, I do this with my long dead mother.
Of course, I haven’t been doing this on purpose, and wasn’t even aware it was happening. It’s all very subtle and sub-conscious in all those involved; but when brought to the surface, I now see it quite clearly.
This behavior in me manifests most strongly when I am very pressed for time and feel as if I have no capacity to deal with one extra burden of some emotional meltdown or problem by those around me. I have felt I don’t have time to deal with others’ delusions, which then becomes a non-acceptance of others who still have delusions, which then turns into them not accepting themselves still having delusions, leading to repression, anxiety, and self-hatred in them in a vicious spiral. As my daughter so aptly pointed out, the truth is accepting others as they are is actually more time efficient in the long run because non-acceptance leads to even more problems. I actually dont have time to not accept others.
Becoming aware of how I do this is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my spiritual life, and I’m extremely grateful to my daughter and to Dorje Shugden for helping me see this. Old habits die hard, and it will take a long time before I’m able to change, but whole new vistas of potential spiritual growth now appear before me.
(6.27) Neither that which is asserted as the “independent creator of all”
Nor that which is asserted as the “independent permanent self”
Can come into being through intentionally thinking,
“Now I will arise.”
There tends to be two extremes when thinking about God, either he inherently exists or he doesn’t exist at all. Those who assert he inherently exists say he is the creator of all. But then the question arises, “what created God?” If something else created God, then that thing is the creator of all. Some say God created himself, but that denies the fundamental tenet that all causes must precede their effect (how can the effect exist before its cause?). Some say God is permanent, but if that were the case how could he create anything since to create something is necessarily to change? Clearly all of these conceptions of God are illogical. People then wrongly conclude God does not exist at all.
Geshe-la himself refuted this at a festival many years back. He said Kadampas do not deny that God exist, they simply have a different understanding of what that means. We say mind is the creator of all, and the contemplations on emptiness prove why this is so. Quantum physics is gradually catching up to what Buddha explained 2,500 years ago when it says objects come into existence when the mind engages them. If we understand God to be the Dharmakaya, which is itself inseparable from our own mind of bliss and emptiness, then we can easily believe in God, understand the mind is the creator of all and appreciate the religious teachings of other traditions. Many people come into the Dharma by rejecting Christianity or the like, but if our understanding of the Kadampa teachings is correct we will later come to appreciate their beauty.
Just as there is no independent creator of all, so too there is no independent creator of ourself. We did not bring ourselves into existence, rather we emerged from a variety of causes and conditions. Some people think that our very subtle mind which goes from life to life is our independent self, but that too arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, namely the substantial cause of the previous moment of mind and the circumstantial causes bring about change in that mind. While the very subtle mind changes continuously, it always remains equally empty. But this emptiness does not exist independent of the very subtle mind, rather it is the very nature of that mind. Emptiness itself cannot exist in a vacuum, it is always the emptiness of something. Without an object, you cannot have its emptiness.
(6.28) If the independent creator itself is not produced,
Then how can it produce anything?
If the self were permanent, then it would follow
That experiences cannot be changed from unpleasant to pleasant.
Permanent in a Dharma context means unchanging. If something is unchanging, how can it produce anything? To produce something is to act in some way upon something else, which necessarily implies some change of the thing acting. If the thing doing the acting doesn’t change, then how does it go from a state of not creating to something to a state of creating that thing? It would have to either eternally be creating it or eternally not creating it. The same is true with all things: nothing creates itself.
Likewise, if the self were indeed permanent then how could it possibly experiencing anything different? How could it go from not experiencing an object to experiencing it? Wouldn’t that imply a change of state? But a permanent object never changes. If the self were permanent, it couldn’t experience anything, or if it did, it would have to experience the same thing in the same way forever. Since clearly that is not our experience of the self, a permanent self cannot exist.
Why does any of this matter? The point is two-fold. First, all anger requires an object. The object of anger we grasp at is permanent others, the harmed object is a permanent self, or maybe we blame a permanent God. But none of these things exist. By removing the object of anger, the mind of anger has nothing to hold on to and leaves our mind.
The second point is these sorts of contemplations quite often give rise to all sorts of feelings of discouragement and misunderstanding. Shantideva uses these verses to help us identify within our own mind our impatience associated with thinking about Dharma. We don’t understand, and this makes us unhappy. Or we read the words, but fail to grasp their meaning and conclude it is a bunch of intellectual masturbation. Or perhaps we just fall asleep because it seems so boring. All of these reactions are examples of the impatience of thinking about Dharma. By bringing this impatience to the surface, we can then work on generating a mind of patience towards profound topics. It takes time, and that is OK. If we contemplate them again and again with a positive mind, and we do so in the context of applying this sort of reasoning against the delusions that arise in our mind, then we will train in the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.
(6.25) All the shortcomings there are,
And all the various non-virtues,
Arise through the force of other conditions –
They do not govern themselves.
(6.26) The assembled conditions have no thought
To produce a suffering result;
Nor does the resultant suffering think,
“I was produced from conditions.”
At the core, anger is a response to unpleasant feelings within the mind. It seeks to blame something outside the mind for what is taking place inside the mind. Here, Shantideva seeks to pull the rug out from underneath that anger by showing, in fact, there is no object of blame outside the mind.
Every phenomena, internal and external, arises like a rainbow in response to causes and conditions. I remember once I was in the area that used to be the Creperie at Manjushri. The Mexican sangha came in with a bunch of bags of groceries. They proceeded to unpack them and being chopping up all sorts of things, like carrots, cheese, apples and the like. Other people were washing the lettuce, others making dressing. Everybody was at their own table doing their own thing. Then, they started putting it all in a common bowl. When they were done, a “salad” appeared clearly to everyone’s mind. But where did the salad itself come from? What was it? The lettuce, cheese, carrots and dressing are not the salad, yet when you take them all away there is no salad to be found anywhere. A “salad” simply appears to everyone’s mind when the causes and conditions come together to see it. The same is true for all other phenomena. Nothing is actually there.
When the mind of anger arises, it necessarily has an object it is blaming. But if we perform a salad-like analysis of this object of blame, we will realize nothing is actually there. The thing we blame is just an appearance that arises when various causes and conditions come together. Do we blame the carrots? No, they too come from various causes and conditions. There is nothing we can point to and blame for our anger. When we do this, our anger loses its object to hold on to; without an object, it is impossible for the corresponding mind to arise.
The things that supposedly cause us suffering have no intention to do so; rather it is just a series of causes and conditions that come together. This is easy to understand when we are talking about inanimate objects of harm, but it is likewise true for animate ones. The person who harmed us isn’t actually there, the delusions which control him aren’t really there either, all are just the coming together of causes and conditions. And we shouldn’t forget the most important causes and condition of all – ourself! If we did not have a body, could it be harmed? If we did not have delusions, would anything be a problem for us. So if we blame the other person, then we likewise have to blame our body and our delusions. To blame our body is to blame our parents, and their parents before them. To blame our delusions is to blame the entire cultural environment we live in and all our previous lives and everyone we ever encountered. But if we check these things, they are not there either. We can search to the end of the universe and never find anything to blame – and if we blame one thing, we have to blame everything equally, so what sense is there is being angry at the person who harmed us?
Nothing governs itself. Everything is like one giant ocean, with various currents flowing in all directions. Everything affects everything else. But if nothing governs itself, how can we say we have free will? Free will itself arises from causes and conditions. Delusions render our mind uncontrolled, free will emerges from a mind free from delusions. We don’t intrinsically have free will, we need to create it within our mind through abandoning our delusions and gaining control over our mind. Somebody whose mind is wholly consumed with delusions (which is pretty much everyone) has no free will at all.
Fundamentally, though, our “problems” come from our delusions. Delusions come from the meeting of deluded tendencies similar to the cause with inappropriate attention. Our inappropriate attention grasps at an object as being inherently pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, then exaggerates these qualities and then ignorantly grasps at these objects actually existing in this way. If we want to free our mind from all “problems” we have to remove from our mind the causes and conditions which create this appearance. To do so, we need to purify our deluded karma and abandon inappropriate attention. Just as a rainbow will not appear without sunlight and rain, so too delusions cannot arise without deluded karma and inappropriate attention. By removing the causes, the effect never arises.
(6.23) Although it is not wished for in the least,
Sickness nevertheless occurs.
In the same way, even though they are not wanted,
Delusions such as anger forcibly arise.
(6.24) People do not think, “I will get angry”,
They just get angry;
And anger does not think, “I will arise”,
It just arises.
Delusions are the sicknesses of our mind. When we become physically sick it it not desired, but it just arises due to the assembling of certain causes and conditions. In the same way, delusions arise in dependence upon certain causes and conditions coming together. When somebody gets angry with us or harms us as a result of their delusions it is not because they want to get deluded, the delusions just arise.
Anybody who has dealt first hand with depression or been with a loved one who is suffering through it knows the truth of these verses. No depressed person wants to be depressed. People tell them to “snap out of it” or “focus on the good.” And try they do, but the force of the dark minds within them is (temporarily) much, much stronger. Even though they want to have a good attitude, they can’t; but since they think they are supposed to be able to just flip a switch and be better, they feel like a failure when they are unable to. Then their lack of self-confidence makes them feel powerless to get better. There are many physiological reasons for this, namely depression affects the hormonal balances in the brain. This shows the power of our mind. Our mental actions are so powerful they can literally alter the wiring and chemical balance of our brain. Just as an accident can cause great injury to our body, so too delusions can cause physical injury to our brain which can take months, or even years to heal.
Even though we have heard the teachings that delusions are like a sickness, Buddha is like a doctor, Sangha is like a nurse and Dharma is like medicine, we still don’t have the same attitude towards mental sickness as we do physical sickness. We think it is a metaphor, not a definitive fact. When somebody breaks their leg, we naturally generate compassion and we understand that it will take time to heal. But when somebody becomes sick with delusion, such as jealousy, anger and so forth, we blame the other and person and view them as a failure. We think that just because delusions are mental people can just turn them off, and the fact that they don’t means the continuation of their delusions is their fault. We blame them and view them as a failure. Why the difference in attitude between these two types of sickness? The real reason why we have this attitude is we have not yet – even after so many years in the Dharma – actually begun the work of trying to root out our delusions. We attend many festivals, we can recite our book outlines, we begin every sentence with “Geshe-la says,…” but we haven’t actually really begun the work of changing our mental habits. Anybody who has sincerely tried to do so knows how hard it really is, and they don’t have such judgmental attitudes towards those struggling with their delusions.
A Bodhisattva is somebody who has promised to remain in this world for as long as it takes to gradually lead each and every being out. This necessarily means we will have to spend a lot of time with highly deluded people. Yet if we check our present attitude, we try avoid deluded people. We try justify it with “we don’t want to come under their influence,” but our real motivation more often than not is an aversion to spending time with deluded people. We have simply replaced our ordinary aversion to people we don’t like to an aversion to deluded people. Mother Theresa actively sought out to spend time with the poorest and the sickest because that is where she could do the most good. A Bodhisattva does the same those sick with delusions. It is a real balance to spend time with the sick while accepting them fully as they are. Normally, we try to change them. Our job is to accept them.
This attitude of judging the deluded is particularly common among Dharma practitioners, but it takes a particularly destructive form when the judgment gets directed at oneself. When delusions flare up in our mind and we know we should not be deluded, we usually respond in one of two ways: either we pretend that delusions are not arising in our mind or we acknowledge that they are but feel guilty about it, and start beating ourselves up for it. Kadam Lucy says we will never really overcome our anger until we first overcome our self-guilt. Guilt is anger directed against ourselves. We blame ourselves and become angry with ourselves because we are deluded and we feel like a failure because despite our best efforts we can’t stop it. Such attitudes are completely wrong and are easily removed if we correctly understand delusions as a sickness, no different than any physical one, that arises when certain causes and conditions come together. The teachings on karma explain that once negative karma has ripened, there is nothing that can be done but ride it out until it exhausts itself. The arising of delusions within our mind is simply the ripening of a particular karma. Every karmic seed has a certain duration to it, and we don’t know what the duration is. Sometimes these delusions can last days, months, years or even lifetimes. This is not our fault and there is no reason for us to feel guilty about it. We need to accept that we have simply fallen ill with a particular delusion and we should take special care of ourself, nurturing ourself back to good health. It is not selfish to do so.