Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The true meaning of Exodus

(3.28) Just as it is rare indeed
For a blind person to find a jewel in a heap of garbage,
So too, by some very rare chance,
I have generated bodhichitta.

It is quite extraordinary that we have met Buddhadharma, Mahayana Dharma, met a spiritual guide, and found ourself wanting to become a Buddha.  We’ve found ourself even taking Bodhisattva Vows and trying to behave as an actual Bodhisattva. It is remarkable, truly remarkable.  All these verses after taking the Bodhisattva Vow are expressions of the joy Shantideva feels.  His heart is full of rejoicing. “I’ve generated Bodhichitta! I’ve just taken the Bodhisattva Vow!”  We should rejoice in the same way, from the depths of our heart.  Our Spiritual Guide is definitely rejoicing like this for us!  We should feel his joy.

If we found a winning lottery ticket, we would feel extremely lucky.  In reality, lottery winners sometimes conclude it was the worst thing that ever happened to them.  If we were in prison and we found a way out, we would feel extremely lucky.  But if we didn’t change our ways, we would soon find ourselves back in prison.  By finding the bodhisattva’s path, we have won the spiritual lottery, we have found the way out of samsara and we can bring everyone with us in a true spiritual exodus.  There is no way to describe our good fortune, for it is quite literally beyond description with ordinary words.

We hold within our hands the keys to unlocking universal happiness.  Such claims are so bold that we automatically assume it is exaggeration and we don’t take them seriously.  If we did, it would change everything for us.  We have been mired in the swamp of samsara for countless aeons, and miraculously we have found solid ground, a path that leads out forever.  Every living being wishes for happiness, but they don’t know how to fulfill that wish.  We have found the way.  All that is required is to realize our incredible good fortune and the firm determination to not waste it.

(3.29) It is the supreme nectar that overcomes
The dominion of death over living beings,
And an inexhaustible treasury
That dispels all their poverty.

Samsara is described with many different analogies, such as a prison, a swamp and a nightmare.  But for me, it is a slaughterhouse in which none will be spared.  All enter, none come out.  We correctly decry the Nazi death camps, but we don’t think twice about the much larger genocide taking place all around us.  All who are born must die, and they will be tormented by suffering the whole way.  Death holds total dominion over us all.  His reign goes unquestioned and unchallenged by all but the few brave souls, such as Jesus and Buddha, who stood their ground and defeated death itself.  Because we doubt it can be done, we don’t even try.  But it can be done, and we have been given the methods for how to do so.

If we succeed, and success is guaranteed if we never give up trying, we will not only conquer death ourselves but we will gain the ability to help all others do the same.  We will stand at the door of death where we will lovingly greet all and guide them to permanent freedom.  We admire the soldiers who free people from captivity, we worship those who free people from Egyptian bondage, but no real freedom is ever found in samsara.  The true meaning of Exodus is from samsara, from uncontrolled death itself.  The Buddhas have come for us.  Our time is now.  We are invited to bring along all those we love.  The freedom of all is assured if we but follow.

Material poverty is tragic, but it pales in comparison with spiritual poverty.  We could be the richest person on earth, but spiritually poor, and our life would have no meaning.  We could be the poorest person on earth, but spiritually rich, and we would lack for nothing.  The only reason we lack anything is because we ignorantly grasp at ourselves as somehow being separate from all things.  When we realize the wisdom of non-dual emptiness, we not only will lack nothing we will become everything.

What else can promise such things?  Why do we turn it down when it is placed before us?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Nurturing the seed of enlightenment

Now we turn to Shantideva’s explanation for how we nurture the seed of the bodhisattva vows which has been planted on our mind.  When we received the vows, we received on our mental continuum a very special seed which will eventually ripen in our enlightenment.  Now we learn how to cultivate and nurture this seed.

Everything that follows in Shantideva’s Guide is an explanation of that.  We can say that the rest of Shantideva’s Guide is an extensive explanation for how we nurture this seed of enlightenment within our mind, but the next couple of verses in particular summarize the mental attitude with which we should improve our bodhisattva training.

(3.25) The wise who have sincerely taken up
The mind of enlightenment in this way,
So as to maintain it and increase it
Should encourage themselves as follows.

(3.26) Now my life has borne great fruit,
My human life has attained great meaning;
Today I am born into the lineage of Buddha
And have become a Bodhisattva.

(3.27) All my actions from now on
Shall accord with this noble lineage;
And upon this lineage, pure and faultless,
I shall never bring disgrace.

The purpose of these two verses (26 & 27) is to encourage ourselves to take to heart our bodhisattva’s way of life.  Nothing in this world will encourage us to make the bodhisattva’s path our life mission, in fact everything points in the opposite direction.  Besides our guru, our Sangha friends and the teachings of Dharma, who or what will encourage us?  We must do so ourselves.  Up until now, we have led an ordinary life.  Why?  Because we haven’t made the choice to live differently.  But now we have that opportunity.  What we do with this opportunity is our choice.  We can continue to live an ordinary life, perhaps enjoy a few pleasurable moments, and then we will lose it all at death.  Or we can take up the mantle of a Bodhisattva and proceed from joy to joy for eternity.  We all want meaning in our life.  Well, here it is.  But it will require us to work at it.  It will require sacrifice.  But all those who have taken up this path have never regretted doing so.  Those who have failed to take up the path, all have come to regret it.  Many of us retake the bodhisattva vows and recite these verses every day in the context of our Dakini Yoga practice.  But how many of us emerge from meditation thinking, “from this time forth, my life will be different.”  Maybe today is the day.

These two verses are helping us to see/feel ourself as an actual Bodhisattva and to behave as an actual Bodhisattva. Shantideva is encouraging us.  We might think “this doesn’t apply to me because I’m not an actual Bodhisattva.”  But we need to feel like now we are! We’ve made a promise.  We’ve generated Bodhichitta, aspiring and engaging, in our mind.  We should feel like we are a Bodhisattva.  At the very least, we should feel like we have actually embarked upon the bodhisattva path.  This is not just something we did one weekend because we had nothing better to do, we should feel like the trajectory of our life (and all our future lives) has permanently changed.  We now walk in the footsteps of all the Buddhas.

One of our problems is we feel ourself to be ordinary. Perhaps the way that we relate to ourself in this sense is not much different from the way we related to ourself many, many years ago.  We need to ask ourselves, do we see ourself as someone who has actually embarked on the Bodhisattva’s path?  If not, why not?

We actually have no real identity.  We are only the person we think we are.  If we identify with ourself in a different way, then over time naturally we’ll see change.  We’ll see change in the type of person that we are.  We need to ask, how do we view ourself?  As a Bodhisattva?  Do we feel ourselves to be someone who is bound for enlightenment?  Do we think, “that’s who I am.”  If we think like this, we can see we’re not ordinary.  Instead of an identity based on past experience, we have an identity based on our potential.  We need to think about this deeply.

We need to wake up to what’s happening.  Our guru has chosen us to be the Bodhisattvas of this world, in which case we’d better behave ourselves.  Overtime, we will come to genuinely see ourselves as someone who is dedicating ourself to the welfare of others.  That’s how we will see ourself and our activities.

What does it mean to bring disgrace to this noble lineage?  Quite simply, it means to be a hypocrite with our practice of Dharma.  We may put on a good show, say all the right words, but when nobody is looking we remain as ordinary as ever.  We tell everyone else that they need to be virtuous, but we remain, usually when nobody is looking, as negative as ever.  We pretend to be better than we are, we hold ourselves up as a representative of the tradition, but then act in contradiction with its teachings.

How do we prevent ourselves from bringing disgrace on this noble lineage?  If we could behave perfectly, there is no danger of that; but few amongst us can.  Therefore, we prevent ourselves from bringing disgrace by eliminating every last trace of pretention from our mind.  We present ourselves as nothing more than what we really are – somebody doing their best to become a better person, but we still have a long ways to go.  When we make mistakes, we admit them, learn from them, and try again.  We don’t tell others what they need to do, we recall that Dharma is personal advice for how we ourselves need to change.  We don’t pretend to be a representative of the lineage, rather we present ourselves as somebody sincerely trying to live up to its ideals.

I asked Imam Tahir (a famous Imam from San Francisco) once, “in three words, what is Islam?”  To my surprise, and without hesitation, he gave me an answer in only three words, “Islam is sincerity.”  It is simple:  if we are sincere with our practice, we will never bring disgrace, no matter how much we make a mess of things and no matter how many mistakes we may make.  If we are not sincere with our practice, we will inevitably bring disgrace, no matter how many good results we may bring into the world or how much faith we inspire.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t worry, be happy (with your vows)!

I don’t know why it is, but when people think about vows and commitments, misunderstandings about their meaning usually prevail.

One of my favorite analogies for understanding our vows is they are like road signs, or a more modern analogy, they are like our own internal GPS.  If we decide that we want to go to a given destination, such as the airport, we highly appreciate the road signs which point us in the right direction.  The street signs are helpful reminders that appear when we need them most to make sure we stay on course to reach our desired destination.  When we make a wrong turn, the signs do not judge us, we are simply going the wrong way and they point the way back.  We do not need to beat ourselves up about taking a wrong turn, we just need to accept the situation as it is and get back on the right road.  Yes, we may lose some time in the process as we double back, but if we remain committed to reaching our destination and we diligently follow the signs we are given, we will definitely eventually reach our destination – the only question is when.

In exactly the same way, our vows and commitments are like internal spiritual road signs or GPS system, which direct us how to get to our desired spiritual destinations.  They are helpful reminders of which internal roads we should take and which ones we should not.  When we take a wrong turn, they don’t judge us, rather they just continue to point us in the right direction.  If we listen to our GPS and follow its instructions, we will definitely eventually reach our final spiritual destination, the only question is how long it will take us.  Instead of cursing our vows or viewing them as some inner critic constantly judging us, we can welcome them as helpful reminders of where we should be going with our mind.

It is important that we understand the vows not as results we are supposed to artificially impose, but rather directions we are supposed to train in.  Vows function to direct the flow of our mind towards enlightenment, like water rides at an amusement park.  If you train to keep your behavior within the context of your vows, your mind will naturally be directed towards your desired destination.

The different levels of vows are more like a zeroing in on the spiritual target of our choice for the destination of the flow of our mental continuum.  When we take refuge vows, it directs our mind towards Dharma goals in general, but it is not very precise.  When we take pratimoksha vows, it directs our mind towards liberation, and the power becomes more intense like water being directed through a narrower tube.  When we take bodhisattva vows, it directs our mind towards enlightenment, and the power becomes even more intense.  When we take tantric vows in general, it directs you towards enlightenment as a tantric deity, and the water becomes even more intense.  When you take mother tantric vows, it directs you towards enlightenment as either Heruka or Vajrayogini, and the water becomes the most intense directed at a very specific target.

Of course there will be some water that spills over, and sometimes we will fly out of the chute yourself.  That’s OK, we just train.  Every time we fall out of the guidelines and we train to put ourself back in, we strengthen and reinforce that part of the course.  Eventually it becomes like concrete, and the water is directed surely.  If a little water spills over, we can restore it by doing 35 confession Buddhas or Vajrasattva.  When we fall out completely, we can renew it by retaking the vows.  The only way we fall out completely is if we intentionally decide to go back on our aspirational promise to one day keep all the vows purely, which is something we rarely do.

It is generally a good idea to retake the vows every day.  In most of our tantric sadhanas, we do precisely that.  Geshe-la said that fresh vows are the perfect mental environment to die with. Since we don’t know when we are going to die, it is a good idea to always have fresh vows on our mental continuum.

We need to build these pathways in our mind through training in the vows consistently over a long period of time.  We need to construct these pathways within our mind.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The different levels at which we can take the vows

There are many levels at which you can take the bodhisattva vows.

We can take them as a special blessing.  This is the level usually given when we receive lower tantric empowerments.  Usually people aren’t even aware that they were given.  This is because it is just a special blessing which creates a favorable environment for receiving the empowerment.  We should never worry that somehow vows were put in our mind against our will or without our knowledge.  Vows only become our vows when we take them from our own side.  If we are not ready to take the vows, we can receive them as a special blessing or even just rejoice in those around us taking them at higher levels.  Of course it is possible to take at a higher level at such times if we wish.  Taking vows is something that shouldn’t be rushed.  The choice of what we are going to do with our life is a big decision, but the choice of what we are going to do with the rest of eternity is an even bigger decision, so we need to take our time and not feel any pressure whatsoever.  By receiving the bodhisattva vows as a special blessing, it will help inspire us to one day take up the Bodhisattva’s path.

Second, we can take them at a provisional level.  This can be done in one of two ways.  First, we can think, given all the information I have available, I promise that I will eventually become a Buddha and liberate all beings.  If new information comes along, that justifies changing this decision, I leave the door open.  Or second, we can ‘try on’ the vows for a limited period of time to see how they fit.  For example, when people are considering ordination, they are advised to take the ordination vows provisionally for one year to see how it works for them.  In a similar way, in the Lamrim texts we are given the example of the butcher who vowed to not kill animals at night time.  While not the “full” bodhisttva vows, it is nonetheless immensely beneficial to take the vows for only a limited amount of time to get a feel for what it is like.  When we do this with the bodhisattva vows, we provisionally take on the aspiration.

Third, we can take them at the aspirational level – we promise to maintain the intention to one day keep all your vows perfectly.  Essentially you are making one vow:  to eventually take all the vows later.  When we take highest yoga Tantra empowerments, for example, this is usually the level at which we are encouraged to take the vows.  Oftentimes people ask the question, “how do I know if I am ready to take the tantric empowerments?  Different people have different answers to this question, but my answer is if we feel like we are ready to make this sort of aspirational promise, then we are ready; if we are not ready to make this sort of aspirational promise, then we are not.

Finally, we can take them at an engaging level – we actually promise to do these things.  Only very advanced practitioners are able to do this and keep the vows.  However, we might find that some vows we can promise to keep perfectly for the rest of our life, while others we aren’t ready yet.  There is no reason why we can’t mentally specify all of these variants when we take the vows.  Those who have been around the Dharma for many years wind up receiving quite a few empowerments, sometimes two or three a year.  Each time we do is another occasion to revisit how we are doing with our vows.  We should take the time before each empowerment to review our progress, make plans for which vows we will take at which level, each time trying to do slightly better than we did last time.  In this way, we gradually and skillfully work with all of the vows until one day we can keep them all perfectly.  It is important to make a clear distinction between “picking and choosing which vows to take” and “picking and choosing at which level we take all of the vows.”  We can take individual bodhisattva vows, but doing so is not taking “the” bodhisattva vows, rather it is an example of a specific moral discipline.  When we take the bodhisattva vows, we take all of them and promise to work with all of them, but we are skillful in understanding the level at which we take each one, and we commit to work gradually with all of the vows until we are able to keep them all perfectly.

We need to consciously choose the promise and level that we can keep and that want to keep.   We should not feel forced in any level.

This has to be a personal decision.  Regardless of what level we take the vows at, what matters most is that we make the promise our own, and in this way it becomes sincere.  This qualified mental intention is what brings about the benefits, not just reciting the words.  To return to our redirecting water analogy, if the redirection is to actually work, the promise must actually be real and strong, otherwise the deluded currents in our mind overpower or erode our attempts at redirection.  The more real and personal we make the promise, the more power it will have to actually redirect the flow of our mental continuum.  It is more important to have whatever promise we make be ‘real’ than it is that you take the promise at a high level.  So I generally encourage people to take their vows at a lower level, but to make it a meaningful, genuine and personal promise we intend to keep.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The Actual Bodhisattva Vows

The ritual verse we use to actually take the bodhisattva vows is as follows:

(3.23) Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas,
Generated the mind of enlightenment
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,

(3.24) So will I too, for the sake of all beings,
Generate the mind of enlightenment
And accomplish all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training.

What exactly are we promising when we take the Bodhisattva Vow?

We are essentially promising that we will spend the rest of eternity leading living beings to enlightenment.  We have decided that this is what we want to do with the rest of our eternity.  We can sometimes feel overwhelmed by such a prospect, but at this stage we are merely saying we can’t think of anything better to do with the rest of our eternity.  It is a choice of direction and final destination.  We are not committing to already do this, but that we will work in this direction for as long as it takes until it becomes a reality.

Sometimes we think it is not possible, we can never become a high bodhisattva, so we don’t really ‘go for it.’  But it is perfectly possible, the methods are there, the only thing lacking is our wish.  Sometimes we are afraid of committing to such a prospect because we fear that it will mean we will have to give up so much.  We think this because we still believe the deception of samsara.  In reality it is the opposite, we only give up that which prevents us from having everything.

Sometimes we have reluctance because we want to hedge our bets between samsara and our practice, but eventually this becomes impossible and just leads to inner tension.  We will eventually have to let go of one or the other.  If we let go of our practice, all of the problems of samsara come right back.  If we let go of samsara, we go from joy to joy until we attain enlightenment and beyond.  But for now, we should continue to do what we want, but change what we want.  We will talk more about that in later posts.

All of the practices of the Bodhisattva are included in the Six Perfections and the practice of the Bodhisattva vows. For the remainder of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva explains how to prevent our vows from degenerating and how to complete the practice.

In its most general sense, the bodhisattva vow is a promise to eventually become a Buddha for the benefit of all living beings.  It is a choice of what we want to do with the rest of eternity.

You can read in the book ‘The Bodhisattva Vow’ the various downfalls of the Bodhisattva vows and how to purify them.  You can also read the previous series I did on “Vows, commitments and modern life” where I went through each vow in considerable detail, focusing on how to integrate them into our modern life.  Each vow has many different levels, and it is always a question of degree.  We should study each of these vows and make plans to avoid transgressing them.

After we have received the vows formally from a preceptor, which we can do at any Kadampa center around the world, we will no doubt transgress them almost instantaneously.  This is normal.  We are not expected to keep them all perfectly from the very beginning, but instead we work gradually with them over a long period of time until we can eventually keep them all purely and without fault.  When we do break the root downfalls, we can retake the vows on our own and thereby restore them.  When we break the secondary downfalls, we can engage in the 35 confession Buddhas or Vajrasattva meditation.  But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking, “it’s OK for me to break my vows, because I can always retake them later.”  If we think like this, our promise to keep the vows will lack any weight or meaning in our mind and our regret will be artificial.  Not only will we not purify the transgressions, our subsequent taking of the vows will not produce the fruits of sincere practice.

To make things simple, we can reduce our practice of the Bodhisattva vow to two things:  First, practice cherishing others more than yourself.  Geshe-la said that we can most simply keep our bodhisattva vows by practicing cherishing others more than ourselves.  If we do this, we will naturally be keeping our vows.  Second, actively work to transform other living beings into fully qualified Kadampa Spiritual Guides.

The “business plan” (if I can call it that) Je Tsongkhapa gives us for actually accomplishing and fulfilling our bodhisattva promise is to form others into fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  Behind each person are countless others who that person will eventually lead to enlightenment when they become a Buddha, and with a desire to free all those countless others we should seek to form others into fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  This is our main job at this center.  We form Spiritual Guides who can form other Spiritual Guides, and in this way we can send out an army of fully qualified Spiritual Guides out into samsara to lead all living beings to freedom.  The first thing we need to do is transform ourself into a fully qualified Spiritual Guide who has the ability to train others to do the same.

All of our activities we do to support our local Dharma centers, such as working for the center, cleaning, distributing publicity, handling administrative matters, filling statues, etc., are all the very means by which we actually put into practice and fulfil our bodhisattva promise.  Geshe-la has placed at our feet a means by which we can learn how to be bodhisattvas and fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  He said if we really understood the karmic value of working for our local centers, we should even be willing to pay to have the opportunity to do so!  If one has really decided that they want to actually embark on the bodhisattva path they treasure the opportunity to do work for the center to make it flourish.  They see this as the most precious opportunity they have in their life.  Without it, our Mahayana practice is quite abstract.

Geshe-la started with nothing but the bodhichitta in his heart and a copy of Shantideva’s Guide.  From there, he established Manjushri center as the mother center of the New Kadampa Tradition.  He then formed teachers, who themselves established yet more centers, teachers and so on, until Kadampa centers can now be found worldwide.  He has given us the books, the study programs, the practices, the internal rules, the structures, everything.  We lack nothing.  There is no reason why we can’t pick up what he has given us and do for our local area what he has done for the world.  This is our good fortune.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Why should we want to take the Bodhisattva vows?

The next two verses of Shantideva’s Guide are the actual ritual verses we use to take the bodhisattva vows.  Before we discuss what are the vows and how to skillfully practice them, I thought it would be useful to review once again why we should want to take the bodhisattva vows.

We can say that the book Guide to the Bodhsiattva’s Way of Life is divided into three parts:  preparation for taking the bodhisattva vows, taking the bodhisattva vows, and how we put into practice our Bodhisattva vow.

At the beginning of this series, we looked at length at the benefits of bodhichitta in general, and of taking the vows in particular.  In my previous series on “Vows, commitments and modern life,” I went through each vow, outlining the benefits and how to practice them.  But for me, there are a few benefits that stand out and really move my mind.

First, by taking the bodhisattva vows we continuously create non-contaminated karma.  A vow is a special type of promise on our mental continuum.  In this sense, it is a practice of moral discipline.  Even when we are not thinking about this promise, as long as we are not going against it, it continues to accumulate merit of refraining from engaging in the proscribed negativities.  The karma we create is non-contaminated because the moral discipline is aimed at a non-contaminated goal – enlightenment.  Song Rinpoche said that for a lay person in these degenerate times to keep just one vow purely creates the same amount of virtuous karma as a fully ordained monk purely observing all 250+ vows at the time of Buddha.  The best analogy is it is like redirecting the flow of water.  When we place the vows on our mental continuum, we permanently redirect the flow of our mental continuum towards enlightenment.  Once something that redirects water is put in place, it continues to accomplish its function as long as it is not removed.

Second, we maintain the continuum of our bodhisttva practice in all our future lives.  Keeping our vows functions to create the karma which enables us to find the path again and again, in life after life without interruption until we attain enlightenment.  If we lose the path, we lose everything.  Then we have all of samsara to fear.   To pick up once again the water analogy, every time the water gets redirected, we spew forth merit and causes for precious human rebirths on the bodhisattva path.   If we can maintain the continuum of our practice, then it will just be a matter of time before we attain enlightenment.

Third, it continuously functions to purify all our negative karma.  The intention of bodhichitta is the exact opposite of every negative action we have ever committed towards other living beings in all of our countless previous lives.  Taking vows is like introducing a special organism into the mud of our mind that functions to clean up all of this negative karma, like what they do to clean up algea.  It also helps protect against the ripening of negative karma that is on our mind.  It functions like a shield or a protection circle which prevents negative karma from ripening.

Fourth, it puts ourselves in total alignment with the Spiritual Guide.  By taking the bodhisattva vows, our motivation is put into total alignment with his, and as a result of this his blessings and inspiration naturally flow in and through us.  It is like aligning our sails with his perfectly pure winds.  Eventually we can get to the point where we receive perfect inner guidance every moment every step of the way and even be able to become an extension of his body, speech and mind.

The point is this:  all of our problems come from the fact that we are in samsara.  If we escape from samsara, we will know eternal, pure happiness.  The same is true for everybody else.  The bodhisattva’s path functions to transform ourselves into a fully enlightened Buddha, a being capable of leading each and every living being without exception to the same supreme state.  The practice of the bodhisattva vows is the inner essence of the bodhisattva path.  By practicing the vows directly, we are indirectly practicing the entire bodhisattva path.  Our mental continuum is kept “on track” and within the bounds of the bodhisattva path, and we permanently redirect the final destination of our mental continuum to the supreme city of enlightenment.  Practicing these vows, therefore, is the most important thing any of us will do with our life.  They hold the keys to solve all the problems of all living beings for all of their lives.  What could be more important than that?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Becoming the living, loving Dharmakaya

(3.21) Just like the great elements such as earth,
And like eternal space,
May I become the basis from which everything arises
For sustaining the life of countless living beings;

(3.22) And, until they have passed beyond sorrow,
May I sustain all forms of life
Throughout the realms of living beings
That reach to the ends of space.

If we’re practicing giving like Shantideva then we have a wish to be whatever others need, not simply to do what others want.  We want to be what they need.  We think, “if others want me to be someone other, I’ll be that person for them.”  With total faith in Dorje Shugden and a loving heart like Shantideva, we offer ourself to others pledging to become whatever we need to become for them to be able to provide them both temporary and ultimate benefit.  We have an attitude that is ready to endure whatever we need to endure.  We are ready to go through whatever we need to go through.

For me, the easiest way to do this is to view my ordinary self as like a karmic reflection or echo or synthesis of all the delusions and negative karma of those I love that I have taken upon myself through my previous practice of taking.  When suffering arises within our body, delusions emerge within our mind or negative karma ripens in our life, we strongly believe that this is the suffering, delusions and negative karma of all living beings that we have previously taken upon ourselves.  We then believe that – like Jesus – we work through these things for living beings so that they don’t have to.  What do living beings need?  They need somebody to do this for them.  This is why Jesus is so powerful in this world – he meets this need.  But so can we, if we train diligently in correct methods for long enough.

With these verses, Shantideva reveals how the truth body Dharmakaya of a Buddha is of the same nature as his emanation body.  Normally we speak of a Buddha’s emanations, as if they are a multitude of individual emanations.  But in truth, all of conventional reality is a fully integrated blanket of emanations functioning as a whole to liberate living beings.  It is only due to our ignorance that we see conventional reality as a samsara instead of as the unfolding of Buddha’s emanations in this world.  The pure conventional nature of all things is a Buddha’s form body, and the pure ultimate nature is a Buddha’s truth body.  These two are inseparable, like gold from its coin.

To become someone else, to become the person that others need, means we need to change our behavior.  We know what we’re currently like when someone has a problem with our behavior.  Normally, we think “it’s their problem, not mine.”  And sometimes that is true.  Offering ourself to living beings does not mean we offer ourself to their delusions and it is now incumbent upon us to satisfy their every deluded wish.  “Helping” others in this way doesn’t help them at all.  But to offer ourself to others does mean it is incumbent upon us to try meet their legitimate needs and help them in wise and compassionate ways.  This requires extraordinary flexibility of mind and of behavior.  We become whatever the other person is looking for, whatever others want us to be.

Gen-la Losang once told the story of his utter surprise when he took a flight with Geshe-la from the U.K. to America.  When he boarded the plane in the UK and was saying goodbye to those who saw him off at the airport, he was a perfect English gentleman, humble, reserved, composed in his behavior, etc.  When he got off the plane in America, he started hugging everyone and being all light and playful.  Geshe-la simply spontaneously became “American Geshe-la!”  A senior teacher once told the story once of how he had a dream about Gen-la Losang.  There was somebody stuck in some thorn bush, and in the dream the teacher was looking upon the person wishing strongly that they be free.  Then, Gen-la Losang came into the dream and, without a moment’s hesitation or concern about the effects on himself, dived into the bush and pulled the person out.  Then this senior teacher woke up and realized he had work to do.

Are we to cultivate such an approach to life?  If we don’t, the results of enlightenment won’t come.  Such is the power of Shantideva’s love that he wants to be whatever living beings want.  If we have this wish, then in the future we will actually be able to manifest all things wished for by living beings.  This thought to give, to be whatever is needed by others, acts as a cause for such results in the future.   Such a joyful, expansive mind is the perfect mental space for taking the Bodhisattva vow.  Imagine all day long having this mind.  What would you feel like? You’d feel like you were in heaven, wouldn’t you?  You actually would be.  Geshe-la once famously said, “the mind of Lamrim is the pure land.”