Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There is no evil greater than anger

Overcoming delusions is not complicated.  First, we need to identify what they are.  Then, we need to break our identification with them – they are thoughts passing through our mind, they are not us.  Then, we contemplate the faults of the delusions and the benefits of the opponents.  On the basis of that contemplation, we choose to not believe the lies of the delusions and we choose to try think differently in accordance with the opponent.  We then continue this process until we develop new mental habits, where virtue and wisdom come naturally.  Among delusions, anger is the most harmful of them all.

(6.1) All the virtuous deeds and merit,
Such as giving and making offerings,
That we have accumulated over thousands of aeons
Can be destroyed by just one moment of anger.

This is quite a striking introduction to the chapter. Shantideva is pointing out straightaway the faults of an angry mind.  There are many ways in which we can understand anger as being destructive, and from a spiritual point of view it is most destructive in that it takes away the merit that we’re working so hard to accumulate every day of our life.  As spiritual practitioners, we have been given a very special opportunity to create every day of our life an enormous amount of merit. Yet that merit is taken away from us each time we become angry, and it doesn’t have to be full-blown anger to destroy that merit in our mind.

From a worldly perspective, merit is the principal cause of wish-fulfillment.  If you have merit, things will go your way; if things don’t go your way, it is because you lack merit.  So if you have no merit, everything will be difficult and good things will not happen.  From a spiritual perspective, merit is the fuel for our spiritual progress.  It is the fertile ground for a crop of inner realizations.  Without merit, we can make no progress on the spiritual path, and therefore never find the happiness we seek.

For most people the prospect that anger destroys our merit may not seem like a big deal, but for pure spiritual practitioners it is the most terrifying danger.  Pure spiritual practitioner and old people nearing death understand that the only thing that matters is the causes that we create, because they are the only things we can take with us into our future lives.  Everything else is meaningless.  We don’t want to go into our future lives empty handed.  We have worked very hard and endured considerable difficulties to create the good causes we have created for ourselves.  All of our effort becomes a total waste if its fruit all gets burnt in the fire of our anger.  It is like we have been saving up our money our whole life for our retirement, and then on the day of our retirement we take it all out in cash and our house burns down so it is completely gone.  All that wasted work.  Or when we have worked hard on a document for a long time and it gets deleted because the computer crashed.

Perhaps one reason we find it still difficult to fulfill our wishes, and we find ourselves making little progress along that path to Bodhisattva-hood and Buddhahood is because much of the merit we are creating is being destroyed by our anger.  Dedication functions to protect our merit, but if we’re honest we’re not exactly perfect at dedicating our merit.  How often do we dedicate, and when we dedicate, how well do we do so?  We should see anger as a thief stealing our spiritual life.  It makes it as if you never did all the hard work we have done.

 (6.2) There is no evil greater than anger,
And no virtue greater than patience.
Therefore, I should strive in various ways
To become familiar with the practice of patience.

Anger is the worst of all delusions, therefore patience is the greatest of all practices.  Every moment of anger not only destroys our merit but it creates the cause for us to fall into the lower realms.  Shantideva is not saying we need to be attached to the result of not being angry, he is saying the conclusion is we need to apply ourselves fully to trying to practice patience.  The name of the game is trying, even if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t matter because we create causes.  To understand this we need to make a distinction between what tendencies are ripening and what new minds we are generating.  If the tendency to get angry at somebody arises within our mind, this only becomes a new delusion if we assent to that tendency – in other words, we believe it to be true and start thinking that way.  If instead, when the tendency arises, we recognize it as the delusion of anger, realize that it is self-defeating to think in this way, and then choose to try be patient instead, we are not generating the delusion of anger, rather we are practicing the moral discipline of restraint.  Not only does moral discipline create the cause for higher rebirth, each time we train in this way we create the karma for new tendencies of patient acceptance in the future.  With time, we will experience results, it is guaranteed.

Christmas for a Kadampa

For those of us who live in the West, or come from Western families, Christmas is often considered the biggest holiday of the year.  Ostensibly, Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and for some it is.  For most, however, it is about exchanging gifts, spending time with family and watching football.  Or it’s just about out of control consumerism, depending on your view.  Kadampas can sometimes feel a bit confused during Christmas time.  It used to be our favorite holiday as kids, but now we are Buddhists, so how are we supposed to relate to it?

It’s true, Christmas time has degenerated into a frenzy of buying things we don’t need.  It is easy to criticize Christmas on such grounds.  Of course, as Kadampas, we can be aware of this and realize its meaninglessness.  We can correctly identify the attachment and realize it’s wrong.  But certainly being a Kadampa means more than being a cynic and a scrooge.  Instead, we should rejoice in all the acts of giving.  Giving is a virtue, even if what people are giving is not very meaningful.  There is more giving that occurs in the Christmas season than any other time of the year.  Yes, the motivations for giving might be mixed with worldly concerns, but we can still rejoice in the giving part.  Rejoice in all of it, don’t be a cynic.

Likewise, I think we should celebrate with all our heart the birth of Christ into this world.  Why not?  Our heart commitment is to follow one tradition purely while appreciating and respecting all other traditions.  Instead of getting on our arrogant high horse mocking those who believe in an inherently existent God, why don’t we celebrate the birth of arguably the greatest practitioner of taking and giving to have ever walked the face of the earth?  The entire basis of Christianity is Christ took on all of the sins of all living beings, and generating faith in him, believing he did so to save us, functions to open our mind to receive his special blessings which function to take our sins upon him.  He is, in this respect, quite similar to a Buddha of purification.  By generating faith in him, his followers can purify all of their negative karma.

Further, he is a doorway to heaven (his pure land).  If his followers remember him with faith at the time of their death, they will receive his powerful blessings and be transported to the pure land.  In this sense, he is very similar to Avalokiteshvara.  Christ taught extensively on being humble, working for the sake of the poor, and reaching out to those in the greatest of need.  Think of all the people he has inspired with his example.  Sure, there are some people who distort his teachings for political purposes, but that doesn’t make his original intent and meaning wrong.  In many ways, one can say he gave tantric teachings on maintaining pure view, and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven into this world.  Who can read the Sermon on the Mount and not be moved?  Who can read the prayers of his later followers, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, and not be inspired?  Think of Pope Francis.  You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate his positive effect on this world and the church.  All of these things we can rejoice in and be inspired by.  A Bodhisattva seeks to practice all virtue, and there is much in Jesus’ example worth emulating.  Trying to be more “Christ-like” in our behavior is not mixing.  If we can see somebody in our daily lives engaging in virtue and be inspired to be more like them, then why can we not also do so for one of the greatest Saints in the history of the world?  Rejoicing in and copying virtue is an essential component of the Kadampa path.

Geshe-la has said on many occasions that Buddhas appear in this world in Buddhist and non-Buddhist form.  Is it that hard to imagine that Christ too was a Buddha who appeared in a particular form in a particular place in human history for the sake of billions?  Surely all the holy beings get along just fine with one another, since they are ultimately of one nature.  It is only humans who create divisions and problems.  Geshe-la said we do believe in “God,” it is just different people have a different understanding of what that means.  Christians have their understanding, we have ours, but we can all respect and appreciate one another.

Besides celebrating Christ, Christmas is an excellent time for ourself to practice virtue.  Not just giving, but also patience with our loved ones, cherishing others, training in love and so forth.  It is not always easy to spend time with our families.  The members of our family have their fair share of delusions, and it is easy to develop judgmental attitudes towards them for it.  It is not uncommon for some of the worst family fights to happen during the holiday season.  Christmas time gives us an opportunity to counter all of these delusions and bad attitudes, and learn to accept and love everyone just as they are.

When I was a boy, Christmas was both my favorite time of year and my worst time of year.  My favorite time of year because I loved the lights, the songs and of course the presents.  It was the worst time of the year because my mother had an unrealistic expectation that just because it was Christmas, everything was supposed to work out and nothing was supposed to go wrong.  This created tremendous pressure on everyone in the house, and when the slightest thing would go wrong, she would become very upset and ruin the day for everyone.  This is not uncommon at all.  People’s expectations shoot through the roof during the Christmas season, and especially on Christmas day.  These higher expectations then cause us to be more judgmental, to more easily feel slighted, and to be quicker to anger.  We can view this time as an excellent opportunity to understand the nature of samsara is for things to go wrong, and the best answer to that fact is patient acceptance and a good laugh.

As I have grown older, Christmas has given rise to new delusions for me to overcome.  When I was little, I used to get lots of presents.  Now, I get a tie.  Not the same, and it always leaves me feeling a bit let down.  I give presents to everyone, yet nobody seems to give me any.  As a parent, I cannot help but have hopes and expectations that my kids will like their presents, but then when they don’t I realize my attachment to gratitude and recognition.  During Christmas, even though I am supposed to be giving, I find myself worrying about money and feeling miserly.  I find myself quick to judge my in-laws or other members of my family if they don’t act in the way I want them to.  Since I live abroad, far away from any family, I start to feel jealous of the pictures I see on Facebook of my other family members all together and seeming to have a good time while we are alone and forgotten on the other side of the planet.  When kids open presents, they are often like rabid dogs, going from one thing to the next without appreciating anything and I can’t help but feel I have failed as a parent.  Trying to get good pictures is always a nightmare, and getting the kids to express gratitude to the aunts and grandmas is always a struggle.  The more time we spend with our family, the more we become frustrated with them and secretly we can’t wait until school starts again and we can go back to work.  None of these are uncommon reactions, and these sorts of situations give rise to a pantheon of delusions.  But all of them give us a chance to practice training our mind and cultivating new, more virtuous, habits of mind.

Christmas is also a time in which we can reach out to those who are alone.  Suicide and depression rates are the highest during the holiday season.  People see everyone else happy, but they find themselves alone and unloved.  Why can we not invite these people to our home and let them know we care?  Make them feel part of our family.  There are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer to help out the poor and the needy, such as giving our time at or clothes to homeless shelters.  People in hospitals, especially the old and dying, suffer from great loneliness and sadness during the Christmas season.  We can go spend time with them, hear their stories, and give them our love.

Culturally, many of us are Christian.  People in the West, by and large, live in a Christian culture.  Geshe-la has gone to great lengths to present the Dharma in such a way that we do not have to abandon our culture to understand the Dharma.  Externally, culturally, we can remain Christian; while internally, spiritually we are 100% Kadampa.  There is no contradiction between these two.  On the whole, Christmas time gives us ample opportunities to create virtue, rejoice in goodness and battle our delusions.  For a Kadampa, this is perfect.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Bodhisattva vows of patience

We continue with our explanation of the downfalls of bodhisattva vows associated with the practice of patience.  In the previous post, we talked about the first one of not retaliating to harm or abuse.

Not apologizing when we have the opportunity.  If we have disturbed another person by acting unskillfully, and later the opportunity to apologize arises but, out of pride or laziness, we fail to do so we incur a secondary downfall.  Until we have deep experience of the practice of patience, we will get angry.  This is normal.  We should not expect that we won’t still get angry just because we know better or are taking a Dharma class.  But when we do get angry, after we have calmed down, make a point of saying sorry for having gotten angry.  Explain that getting angry only makes the situation worse, and you are sorry.

When we apologize it does several things:  First, it softens the heart of the other person.  When people are harmed by us, they wind up bearing a grudge against us.  Every moment anger is running through their mind, they are creating terrible karma for themselves and they feel terrible.  When we apologize it enables them to let go because we have admitted we made a mistake and said we are sorry.  A huge emphasis of Christianity is related to forgiveness.  By apologizing we give the other person a chance to forgive.  Second, it is a powerful form of purification.  Purification works primarily on the basis of the mind of regret.  Regret is a mind that accepts that we have made a mistake.  It is quite different from guilt, as we will discuss more as our explanation of this chapter goes on.  But accepting we have made a mistake and making a point of admitting that to the other person is a powerful purification of the negative karma we accumulated by getting angry.  Third, it creates a special patience in the other person.  When we get angry with somebody and don’t apologize, we infect them with our anger and pretty soon everybody is angry at everybody.  But when we apologize for getting angry, the person becomes more accepting of the mistakes of other people.  It also teaches that anger makes us uncontrolled and is an object to be abandoned.  It helps them accept themselves more when they make their own mistakes.  By us apologizing to them, we indirectly teach them to apologize when they make mistakes.  It also gives them a chance to forgive.  I know an abusive father who only once apologized to his family, admitting that he was out of control, and this was enough for the wife and family to forgive him for countless wrongs, before and after.  This has protected them against so much anger.  Fourth, it undoes the bad lesson taught.  When we get angry with somebody about something, what does it teach the other person?  It teaches them that it is justified to get angry about the given issue, so we set them up for a lifetime of getting angry and creating the cause to go to hell on that issue.  When we apologize for getting angry, we undo that damage by showing it is never justified to get angry.  We can apologize for getting angry while maintaining our position on the issue we got angry about (if we are right on the issue in question).

Sometimes we fear saying sorry and admitting our mistakes, because we fear if we do so the other person will lose respect for us.  This is completely wrong.  There are two possibilities:  First, the other person does not think we made a mistake, at which point if we do not apologize and admit our mistakes, we teach them that it is not a mistake to get angry and that this mistake was not a mistake, but the right thing to do.  Second, the other person realizes that it is a mistake, at which point if we do not admit to it, they lose respect for us because we cannot face up to our mistakes.

If we apologize, it cures all of these problems.  In the first possibility, by admitting our mistakes and apologizing, we teach what is a mistake, thereby protecting the person from making the same mistakes, and we show integrity of admitting our mistake even when the other person didn’t see it, so their respect for us grows.  In the second possibility, by admitting our mistakes and taking corrective action, their respect for us increases because we have the courage to learn and do not fear the consequences of owning up to our mistakes and faults.  We should really focus on this one.  Make a point of doing it.  Mentally make the decision to apologize every time you get angry, even if that means you are apologizing 6 times a day.

Not accepting others’ apologies.  If someone who has previously harmed us later apologies and, without a good reason but not out of resentment (which is a root downfall) we refuse to accept, we incur a secondary downfall.  When somebody apologizes to us, by accepting it we are able to let go of our anger and stop creating a mountain of negative karma.  We also give the other person a chance to let go of their anger.  If we don’t accept their apology, they will likely renew their anger and create a bunch of negative karma for themselves.  Again, take everything you know about Christianity and forgiveness and apply it here.  There is enormous healing power of forgiveness.

Making no effort to control our anger.  If we do not make a special effort to practice patience when we find ourselves getting angry we incur a secondary downfall.  We are not vowing to not get angry, that will be impossible for now.  Rather, we are making the vow to try our best.  Because the methods we have work, if we apply them persistently over a long period of time our anger will gradually subside.  All it takes is persistent effort.  When we try, we create the karma to have the effects of being able to be patient in the future.  Our interest is in creating causes, not in experiencing their effects.  Even if we are a raging inferno inside, if we try not to be then we are creating lots and lots of good causes.  With time, this will manifest in our being less and less angry.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  A reminder of our Bodhisattva vows

In an earlier post, we talked about generating the mind of bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all.  Essentially we become aware of our samsaric situation, and that of others; and how if we gained control of our mind we would be able to escape from it.  We see how all living beings are in the same situation, and if they are going to be saved it is up to us to do it.  This leads to the superior intention to take responsibility for the spiritual welfare of others.  We see how we are currently incapable of doing so, but if we were a Buddha we would be able to.  Understanding this, we generate the wish to become a Buddha for all living beings.

The question now is how do we act on this wish?  We do so by practicing the six perfections.  The six perfections are the actual pathway to enlightenment.  By training in them we travel the internal path to enlightenment.  The six perfections are:  giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom.

We can synthesize our practice of the six perfections into the keeping of the Bodhisattva vows.  A few years ago, I did an extensive series of posts going over all of the different Kadampa vows and commitments, which you can find in the special series in the link at the top.  The bodhisattva vows are a practical means of practicing the six perfections.  One of the main reasons why we take vows is it is a special way to continuously accumulate virtuous causes, even when we are not thinking about it.  For as long as we have not un-done our vows, we continue to accumulate merit.  For example, once a trench or a valley has been dug, any subsequent water poured into it will effortlessly follow the path previously forged.  In particular, the karma keeping our Bodhisattva vows functions to create the causes to maintain the continuum of our Mahayana Buddhist practice between now and our eventual enlightenment.  The biggest fear of the wise is losing the path.  If we fear losing the path, we won’t, and therefore we will have nothing to fear.  If we don’t fear losing the path, we very well could and then we would have all of samsara to fear.

If you have not yet taken the Bodhisattva vows, I strongly encourage you to do so.  You can make the request at any Kadampa center around the world, and they are almost invariably given at every empowerment.  Once we have taken them once with a preceptor, we can then take them again any time we wish on our own, and most Kadampas renew their vows every day.  Nonetheless, it is good to retake them in a more formal way from time to time as the impact this has on our mind is often deeper than just taking them every morning in the context of our daily practice.

In this and the next post, I will review the transgressions of the bodhisattva vows associated with the practice of patience.

Retaliating to harm or abuse.  If out of impatience we retaliate to harm or abuse we incur a secondary downfall.  When somebody harms us in some way, our natural instinct is to harm them back.  This just perpetuates the cycle of harm and sows the seeds for future suffering for everyone.  Wishing to break the cycle, we should not retaliate when we are harmed, but instead we should accept it as purification of a long-standing debt.  We should be happy that we are finally bringing an end part of the harmful dance we have with living beings.

Very often we get angry with people when they do not show us the respect that we think we deserve and when they do not listen to us.  But when we get angry at them, we send the message that we are not worthy of respect or listening to – how can we respect somebody who is out of control and cannot admit their faults?  If they show us respect in response to our anger, it is not real respect but rather fear of us, or mafia-respect.  This never works because as soon as the threat of fear is gone, the feigned respect will disappear and they will rebel and retaliate for all the anger we sent at them over a long period of time.  When this happens, they lose all of the benefit that we have given them.  Parents experience this all the time.  If we are patient regardless of the provocations against us, people naturally gain respect for us because this takes enormous strength.  If we are able to go further and respond constructively and positively while everybody else is out of control, then we really stand out and their respect for us grows abundantly.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Roadmap of the next three perfections

The next three perfections we will explore are patience, effort and concentration.  Before we do so, I wanted to give a brief overview of their meaning and how they mutually support one another.

First we will examine at length training in patience, patient acceptance.  We currently feel as if our lives are filled with imperfect people and imperfect situations that are the causes of our problems and suffering.  The reality is we are mentally unhappy because we are poor in virtue, and then we mistakenly look for reasons for our unhappiness outside of ourselves and we blame others and our situation.  Because we are convinced that our happiness depends upon our external situations and others acting as we wish them to, when they don’t, we become frustrated and angry.  We become angry because things don’t go the way we want them to, not because things go the way they do.  So the real problem is thinking things are not perfect.  Whether things go the way we want them to or not depends upon what we are trying to accomplish or do.  If what we are trying to do is find a comfortable place in samsara, it is inevitable that some things will not go the way we want.  If instead what we want is to develop spiritually, then everything and everybody is exactly perfect for us because they provide us so many opportunities to practice.

The mind of patient acceptance is a mind that has the ability to see how everything, even the most adverse conditions, is extremely useful and indeed precious for the accomplishment of our spiritual goals.  So no matter how things go, for us it is perfect and we can happily accept the situation.  Therefore, there is no basis for anger to arise.  Just because we see things as perfect for our practice doesn’t mean we think things are perfect the way they are.  Suffering is perfect for our practice, but the point of our practice is to eventually transcend all suffering.   It does mean, however, that we no longer feel like our happiness is dependent upon things going in any particular way, so no matter how things go, it is not a problem for us.  We still try to make things better through all the external and internal means we have.  The main conclusion of the mind of patience is a wholehearted welcoming of whatever happens without the slightest resistance because we realize how it is completely perfect for our practice.

THEN on the basis of a mind patience we can develop effort.  Normally we think effort is working hard.  But according to Dharma, the mind of effort is one that takes delight in engaging in virtue, in other words takes delight in engaging in our practice.  Because we naturally and effortlessly do what we enjoy doing, if for us engaging in virtue is playtime, then we will naturally and effortlessly engage in our practice.  This will be what we want to do.  With the practice of patience we are able to see how every moment and every situation is absolutely perfect for our practice.  With the practice of effort we thoroughly enjoy being able to practice.  With these two, we can thoroughly enjoy every moment of our life.  We can enjoy a spiritual life.  If we enjoy our spiritual life, our enlightenment is just a matter of time.  We will truly enter the Joyful Path and go from joy to joy to the citadel of enlightenment and we will bring countless others with us both now and for the rest of eternity.

On the basis of joyful effort, we then train in concentration.  Concentration is the ability to single-pointedly place our mind on virtue.  At present we have enormous difficulty keeping our mind centered in virtue because it naturally goes out to contaminated objects of attachment, etc.  Why does our mind go out to contaminated objects?  Because we are convinced that happiness arises from mixing our mind with these objects.  Shantideva completely shatters this notion and shows us how going out to these objects of attachment just creates suffering and problems for us and deceives and betrays us.  We become no longer fooled by samsara’s deceptions and so are not drawn into its lies.  When thoughts of attachment arise within our mind, we see it as mental spam and don’t pay it any heed.  Because, on the basis of joyful effort, we are taking delight in the luxury of a virtuous mind, we cannot be bothered with contaminated objects which we know will only bring suffering. We become like a child who has outgrown their toys.  Samsara’s toys no longer interest us, we have found much more sublime enjoyments, the meditations on Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  When we let go of this mind of attachment to the pleasures of samsara it means we no longer look to these things for our happiness, it doesn’t mean that we avoid them.  We just no longer look to them as causes of our happiness.

The mind of non-attachment gives rise to two very special minds:  First, the mind of contentment.  Shantideva says the greatest wealth is the mind of contentment because it lacks nothing.  Ordinary wealth leaves us wanting more, so the more we have the more we feel poor.  But with contentment, we can enjoy everything and never feel any lack.  Second, the mind of being in love with everyone.  One of our biggest attachments is to relationships.  The honey we chase after is the feeling of ‘being in love.’  This feeling is a mind that is delighted just to see and think about others.  When we have a mind of non-attachment we are able to have this feeling of being in love with everyone every moment of the day, like a sun that shines on all before it.  Our relationships will then become sources of infinite pleasure and happiness instead of the constant stream of problems they are now.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  A reminder of the main point

This series of blog posts is my own individual reflections on the meaning of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.  I don’t pretend in any way that I know what I am talking about or that I have anything particularly useful to say.  Geshe-la defines meditation as familiarizing ourself with virtue.  For me, Shantideva’s Guide was my first book (in the form of Meaningful to Behold).  It is thanks to this book that I have any spiritual life at all.  Geshe-la has said the job of Modern Kadampas is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  Everything I do and everything I say is my understanding of what that means.  I write this blog because it gives me an opportunity to mix my mind with the virtue of Shantideva’s Guide.  If other people find some benefit in what I say, then all the better.

It is worth recalling how we become Bodhisattvas.  A Bodhisattva is somebody who is driven by a particular intention – namely the intention to become a Buddha for the sake of others, to help lead them to the same state.  How do we develop this mind?  By considering how things really are.  Globally, we see that natural disasters, like tsunamis, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and so forth seem to be increasing in frequency and deadliness.  Terrorist attacks occur regularly, airplanes are falling out of the sky like flies, killing hundreds in a go.  Genocides and famines are taking place and nobody is doing anything about it.  New diseases are arising very rapidly, like AIDS, SARS, Bird Flu, TB, Malaria, Ebola, Zika, etc.  The population is exploding in the most poor, turbulent and disease ridden areas in the world and declining rapidly where things are better.  The political leaders of the most powerful nations consistently make decisions which make the situation worse.  It is said the next age is the ‘age of arms’ where people see how everything can be used as a weapon to kill others.  We see this age emerging before our very eyes.

Individually people are becoming increasingly selfish, materialistic and angry.  Psychologists estimate that people are 9 times more likely to have negative minds than positive ones, and 9 out of 10 people die with a negative mind.  People’s minds are becoming increasingly uncontrolled.  Spiritually, there is a global collapse of the religious institutions of the last 2000 years.  The spiritual traditions of the West are in total decline, the Archbishop of Canterbury said Christian spirituality is dead, though it heartens to see how the new Pope is bringing about a revival.  In the East the spiritual traditions have been commercialized and politicized and are fading fast in the face of economic growth.  Now it is frequently little more than praying for good exam or business results.  Islam has been hijacked by radical terrorists who use it to justify mass murder.  Mainstream Judaism is now more of a political movement than a spiritual one, and the ‘religious side’ has likewise been hijacked by fundamentalists.  Pure spiritual teachings on Tantra, for example, are being co-opted to be able to extract more pleasure out of samsara or to succeed in business.

In reality, what is going on is this planet is rapidly sinking deeper into samsara.  Things that were hidden (relatively lower realms) are becoming increasingly manifest.  In reality, these sorts of things are happening all over samsara’s 6 realms all the time, it is just happening behind the curtain of our ignorance.  Because we have no control over our mind, we have no control over our death process and we get thrown from one samsaric rebirth to another.  If we take rebirth in the lower realms, we know only suffering; if we take rebirth in the upper realms we burn up all our merit and fall.  Virtually everyone is in the lower realms.  We are trapped in a cycle of uncontrolled rebirth into contaminated aggregates.  Remaining with our uncontrolled mind is like choosing to repeatedly play Russian Roulette where there is no chamber without a bullet.

The creator of this house of horrors is our own contaminated mind.  In reality, none of it is real – it is all a bad nightmare produced by our contaminated minds, but we suffer from it because we believe it is real.  If we purify our mind, we can purify the world it projects and in this way transform the world around us into a pure one.

The Dharma is the method for being able to purify our mind and take control over the death process so we can with choice take rebirth in a pure land, liberation or enlightenment.  Buddha explains to us how, and Sangha provide us with good examples and all the conditions necessary to do it.  Seeing how Dharma is the solution to all the problems of all beings, we then commit ourselves to bringing about this solution in our own mind so that we can help others do the same.  Then one by one we take everybody to freedom.  The intention to do this is bodhichitta.  A Bodhisattva is somebody who has this as their intention.  What does a bodhisattva do with this intention?  They practice the six perfections.  The six perfections are the actual pathway to enlightenment.

A shortcut for being able to quickly generate a qualified bodhichitta is to view others as your future students who you are spiritually responsible for.  If you don’t save the people around you, who will?  It is up to you.  You have the karma with them, so one day it will be up to you.  The longer you take to attain enlightenment, the longer they drown in samsara.  Seeing this, we become very motivated to quickly become a Buddha.  This view radically reorganizes our relationships with others and transforms them into bodhisattva relationships.  This creates the karma with them to one day have them as our students and for us to become a Buddha with the special ability to help them.  Of course we need to be skillful with this and realize that at present we are completely incapable of being their spiritual guide, but seeing this incapacity propels us to wish to become a Buddha who has no such limitations.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Pay attention and practice

(5.108) The defining characteristic of guarding alertness
Is to examine again and again
The state of our body, speech, and mind,
And to understand whether our actions are correct or not.

The only way we can change our behavior is if we are aware of what we are doing.  Most people really struggle with this.

Some people suffer from great pride that quite literally blinds them from being able to see their faults.  For the person full of pride, they rarely, if ever, do anything wrong in their eyes, and any mistakes they make are always somebody else’s fault.  When our mind is infected with pride, everything we do feels “justified” and any criticism feels “unfair.”  When pride rules our mind we feel like we have nothing to learn from others, and we often think if only everybody thought like us we wouldn’t have all of these problems.

Other people suffer from great guilt.  They feel like they can’t do anything right, and anytime they are forced to confront their mistakes it reinforces their feelings of helplessness and low self-worth.  Guilt is a form of anger directed at oneself.  It fools us into thinking if we beat ourselves up enough over our shortcomings we will somehow do better, but it never works out that way.  The more we beat ourselves up, the more we feel bad about ourselves.  It ultimately comes from grasping at a false belief that we should already be better than we actually are.  Every time we fall short of our expectations for ourselves, we then feel like a failure and the self-flagellation begins.  Anger seeks to harm the other person, guilt seeks to harm ourselves.  Harming ourselves doesn’t help us.  Since guilt is painful, people who suffer from it are unable to look at their faults and mistakes with an accepting mind.

The middle way between pride and guilt is “humble self-confidence.”  Humility, ultimately, is an acceptance of our own imperfection.  It is not simply an awareness that we are not perfect, but also we are at peace with this fact.  We are keenly aware of our faults, and this doesn’t disturb us at all because we don’t expect ourselves to be any different.  But this does not mean we are complacent about it.  There is no contradiction between accepting where we are at and wishing to get better.  At the same time, we have self-confidence.  People with pride usually confuse their inflated view of themselves with self-confidence.  Pride is thinking we have few, if any, faults; self-confidence knows with effort we can overcome any faults we have and obstacles we face.  Self-confidence is born from having acknowledged our short-comings in the past, having applied effort to overcome them and having had success at doing so.  Once we have some experience of this, we begin to know when confronted with our other mistakes or weaknesses, we can overcome those too.  With enough experience, we begin to realize that with sufficient time, effort and perseverance, there is no fault we cannot overcome – indeed we realize our eventual enlightenment is inevitable if we simply never give up trying.

(5.109) We need to put Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, into practice
Because nothing can be accomplished just by reading words.
A sick man will never be cured of his illness
Through merely reading medical instructions!

Dharma practice, quite simply is applying effort to change our mental habits.  The process is always the same.  First, we identify how our present habits of mind are deluded and self-defeating.  We then consider what is correct behavior and how engaging in such behavior will make things better.  On the basis of this, we generate a wish to change our ways.  The stronger and more pure our wish, the more powerful our Dharma practices will be.  Motivated by this wish, we then try to think, speak and act differently.  As we do so, we will become aware of how hard it is to change, but it is possible.  With persistent effort, we then create new habits of mind until eventually correct behavior comes naturally.  We can even get to the point where we couldn’t engage in negative behavior even if we tried.

All those who have traveled the path have done so in the same way.  There is no other way to change than to decide to change ourselves.  We will only do this if we want to, and we will only want to if we have the wisdom that sees through the lies of our delusions and sees clearly the fruit of correct action.  In short, it all comes down to ignorance and wisdom.  We currently ignorantly believe our delusions.  Once we see they are wrong by realizing wisdom, our behavior will naturally begin to change for the simple reason of we want it to.  This is the essence of moral discipline.

 This concludes the fifth chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled “Guarding Alertness”.