Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: It doesn’t matter what others think

(6.92) For the sake of fame and reputation,
People give away their wealth and even sacrifice their lives;
But what good can a few dry words do when we die?
To whom can they bring any pleasure?

(6.93) When people lose their reputation,
They become despondent, like a child
Who cries when the sandcastle he has built
Is washed away by the tide.

Who cares if we have a good reputation or not? We do.  We’re very concerned, aren’t we, about what others think of us. It matters, a good reputation matters to us.  Why?  We need to check what our reasons are to see if they are good reasons.  There are two extremes when it comes to what others think of us:  We are attached to what they think of us.  We think our happiness depends on others liking us and thinking/feeling good about us.  Then, we become obsessed with what they think, etc.  There is so much suffering with this.  The other extreme is not caring at all what others think.  Whatever they think is their problem.  This also leads to many problems, because then we may act in all sorts of unpleasant ways, say things others aren’t ready to hear, cause others to lose faith in us, etc.  The middle way is care what others think for valid Dharma reasons, but not be attached to what anybody thinks.  There are many valid reasons for wanting others to think good of us, so we need to be careful to manage our reputation.  We want others to be pleasantly disposed towards us so that they respect what we have to say and seek out our advice.  We want people to rely upon us to escape from samsara, and they won’t do so if think poorly of us.  But ultimately, our own personal happiness, should not depend in any way on what others think of us.  We know how to transform whatever others appear to be thinking about us into the path.  The best way to ensure that others think well of us is for ourselves to always think well of others.

There are valid reasons for being ‘interested’ in having a good reputation, namely our ability to help people.  So we should make an effort to be on good terms with everybody and try to be understood as a good person. 

It is worth considering ultimately what are others thinking about us?  The answer is ‘nothing.’  There is no other person there thinking anything.  It is just our dream arising from our karma.  There is a mere appearance of others thinking something about us, but ultimately there is no one there thinking anything.  Conventionally speaking, though, yes, there is an appearance of what others think and this does have an effect on our conventional existence.  So what are others conventionally thinking about us?  What they are karmically determined to do.  What they think of us is a karmic echo of how we have thought about others in the past.  If we are surrounded by people who think poorly of us it is because in the past we have thought poorly of everyone else.  If we want to change what they think about us, we need to change our karma.  We can think only good things about others, and gradually others will think only good things about us.  We can imagine that when others see us they think Buddha, in this way we can provide real benefit to them. 

We should be concerned simply with improving ourself by practicing Dharma purely, and thereby helping others to improve themselves by practicing Dharma.  Then we will become a holy being who is naturally respected. We know such people have some power, but we will be using that power in such beneficial ways.  We will be helping ourselves. We can improve the quality of our spiritual life, we can improve the quality of others’ lives, spiritual lives, and we can help to further our tradition, this pure tradition that flourishes throughout the world.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Enjoying ourselves without guilt

(6.91) Transient pleasures, such as drinking and playing meaningless games,
Are deceptive.
If I understand the real meaning of a human life,
Such things will have no value for me.

We need to personally look at our worldly concerns for happiness, wealth, reputation, praise and so forth and think about how we can reduce, finally destroy such concerns.  Our attachment to worldly pleasure prevents us from striving for the happiness of future lives, happiness of liberation, happiness of enlightenment. We’re more concerned for temporary, immediate happiness. And so we waste our human life. We waste our precious human life. We are no different from animals.  It matters to us, doesn’t it, that we are able to experience pleasure daily. It’s important to us.  A pure Dharma practitioner is only concerned about what causes they are creating.  What effects they are experiencing is just the context in which they can create causes. 

We distract ourselves with worldly enjoyments. Sometimes Dharma practitioners feel they can’t enjoy themselves as much as they used to or we feel guilty when we do worldly things. We must be skillful – we cannot drop immediately all worldly concerns so that tomorrow we find ourselves with none.  That is unrealistic. We must be skillful with how we approach worldly concerns.  The correct model should be a child outgrowing their toys.  Because we have found better things within our mind, we gradually lose interest in our old things.  They don’t work for us because we have seen through their illusion.  The trick to abandoning any attachment is to realize how it is in fact harmful to us.  How it pretends to be beneficial, but with Dharma wisdom we understand it is harmful.  Then we will naturally not be as interested in it anymore until eventually we abandon it. 

But at the same time, if we’re ever going to stop we have to make effort and try find our happiness from a different source, our enjoyment from a different source – from our pure mind.  If we can do this, then we can enjoy everything.  The more we build up the alternative, the more it becomes effortless to become a spiritual being and to abandon our attachments.  But to get to this point, we need to make an effort.  If we don’t, we will never get there and we will always be struggling with ourselves.  The main point of renunciation is we realize that there is nothing for us in the non-existent dream, and we don’t look for it because we know it is not there.  Rather we look in a different source, the development of pure minds.  This doesn’t mean we don’t still go out to dinner or movies, or play games with our friends or on the computer, it means we try do so emphasizing our pure reasons for doing so and minimizing our worldly reasons for doing so.  Eventually, some activities will fall by the wayside, others will continue.  No problem, very natural.  Again, as Geshe Checkhawa ways, “remain natural while changing your aspiration.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Worldly concerns are the root of our anger

Now Shantideva introduces once again worldly concerns with the phrase:

(6.90) Praise, fame, and good reputation
Will not increase my merit or extend my life,
Nor will they give me strength, freedom from illness,
Or any form of physical pleasure.

We’ve seen already we can easily become angry when faced with the threat of losing our reputation, wealth and so forth.  I would say that the more we seek happiness, wealth, praise, reputation, and the more we try to avoid suffering, poverty, criticism, bad reputation, the more we will suffer from anger, and the more we will find ourselves retaliating.  In many ways, our worldly concerns are at the root of all of our anger.  Therefore, it is of utmost importance that as Dharma practitioners we make effort to destroy such worldly concerns.  

We will never achieve the goals of spiritual training as long as we possess such worldly concerns. In Joyful Path, Geshe-la explains the difference between pure and impure Dharma practice is identified by looking at which life we are practicing for:  this life or our future lives.  Of course Dharma will help us be happy in this life, and there is nothing wrong with that, but for our Dharma practice to be spiritual practice, our motivation must be at least the happiness of future lives.  But even among those who practice only for the sake of this life, there are two types:  those who use the Dharma to oppose their delusions in this life to be happy in this life and those who use the Dharma to secure their worldly desires, such as fame, a good reputation, high status, and even wealth. 

When people quite literally put you on a throne, prostrate at your feet, and are encouraged to view you as an emanation of a Buddha, it is very hard for our pride to not sneak in and corrupt the whole process.  We can even start to do so for seemingly virtuous reasons, thinking it is good that others view us as Buddhas because then they receive greater blessings, but in reality it is our pride that is enjoying it.  Getting sucked into this vortex is extremely dangerous because then the Dharma teacher starts to pretend that they don’t have any delusions or faults.  When they do that with others, it creates a cult-like atmosphere in the Dharma center.  When they do that with themselves, it leads to repression and eventual meltdown of our spiritual life. 

Our whole lives can get wrapped up in our worldly concerns that any threat to them becomes a “justified” cause of anger.  Again, our worldly concerns can hijack our Dharma understanding to justify our grasping at these things – we need wealth and high status so we can spread the Dharma, etc. – but in our heart, it is just worldly concerns leading to ordinary anger. 

Results come from pure Dharma activities.  Pure Dharma activities are when we have a spontaneous realization of ‘it doesn’t matter’ for everything, and the only thing that matters to us is creating good causes for future lives.  I’m not saying that we do not need wealth and a good reputation, but that problems come for ourself, others, and our tradition when our concern for these things is a worldly concern.  We must begin to sort this out right now. We must make strong effort to destroy any worldly concerns that we have so that things can be unblocked and can grow.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Be careful what you rejoice in

(6.86) It is bad enough that you, mind, have no remorse
For the non-virtues you have committed;
But why do you compound it
By being jealous with those who practise virtue?

Rejoicing is probably the easiest virtue we can engage in.  All we need to do is be happy for others, and especially when they create the causes of happiness, namely engage in virtue.  When we rejoice in others virtues, we get a similitude of the karma they create from engaging in the virtue.  Rejoicing in others’ virtue also inspires us to engage in more virtue ourselves because we are seeing it as something good and worthwhile.

But often, when we see others engage in virtue, we start to feel competitive thinking that we are better than that other person or we find a way to criticize the virtue of others as being mixed with worldly concerns or selfish intent or is unskillful, or whatever.  Where do such minds come from?  I think they come from a toxic combination of guilt about our own weak virtues and jealousy of others being better than us.  These two get together and then make us find fault when instead we should be rejoicing. 

(6.87) The thought that wishes for our enemy to suffer
Harms only us, through creating non-virtue;
Understanding this, we should not develop harmful thoughts
Towards anyone, including our enemies.

(6.88) And even if your enemy did suffer as you wish,
How would that benefit you?
If you say, “Well, at least it would give me some satisfaction”,
How can there be a mind lower than that?

(6.89) Such thoughts are like unbearably sharp hooks
Cast by the fishermen of the delusions, such as anger.
Once caught on them, we shall definitely be boiled alive
In the terrifying cauldrons of the guardians of hell.

Harmful thoughts themselves can only bring suffering upon ourself. They can never make us happy even if they come true.  

About a year after 9/11, I was visiting my family in my childhood home.  My brother comes to me and says he has something he wants to show me.  He then begins a video of a U.S. military strike of some base in Afghanistan.  Apparently, the United States has these superfortresses that can basically hover above an area, and they use laser guided targeting to shoot individual people.  So first, a missile came in and destroyed the main building.  Then, people started fleeing out of the wreckage and surrounding buildings, and the video showed the computer locking in on individual people, then shooting them; then it would turn to the next person, shoot them, and so on until all on the scene were dead.  While this was going on, the gunner in the plane could be heard with a crazed sound in his voice of, “got him,” and “take that,” and “woohooo.”  I then looked over at my other brother who was watching with us, and he was also making faces each time somebody would be shot like, “yes!” 

I felt absolutely nauseated.  I was reminded of what Gen Tharchin once said, “when people read the newspaper about battle reports and rejoice in all those killed, they create basically the same karma as if it had been them pulling the trigger.”  We live in incredibly politically polarized times, and feel great joy when we hear about how our political “enemies” suffer some kind of defeat – we want them to suffer in the ways they have caused others to suffer.  Lately, a trend in the media has been to report on how the family of certain government leaders feel ashamed of their children or uncles serving under Trump, and instead of imagining how that must emotionally hurt to the person being written about, we feel self-righteous about how even their families hate them for what they are doing.  When violence breaks out at protests, we become enraged when somebody from our side gets killed, but think they had it coming when somebody from the other side gets hurt. 

At work we take great delight hearing about how those who are creating problems for us or are standing in the way of our wishes face setbacks, and on Facebook we cheer when those we disagree with get “owned.”  So much of modern life is people rejoicing in other’s misery. 

If we are honest we become pleased when a person who has harmed us suffers some misfortune.  We become pleased thinking perhaps they deserve what has come to them.  The karmic consequences of rejoicing in the misfortune of others is as Shantideva explains.  We must avoid this at all costs unless we want to be boiled alive.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: What is wisdom anger?

Jealousy, in particular of towards those we dislike, is a common cause of our anger.  Now Shantideva suggests how we can rejoice in their good fortune instead.

(6.84) People become angry when someone benefits their enemy,
But, whether their enemy receives benefit or not,
It is the enemy’s own anger that urges him to attack;
So it is that anger which is to blame, not the benefactor.

We become angry when somebody helps our enemy, even if it is not helping them to harm us.  If somebody is engaging in a virtuous action towards another, we need to rejoice in that person’s action, not become angry at them!  If we see somebody enjoying themselves with our enemy, we become angry at them.  When we see people happy, we need to rejoice in that happiness, not become angry with them.  In any case, the friend of the enemy has done nothing wrong, so there is no reason to have any bad feelings towards him.  And why is the other person viewed as our enemy in the first place?  The person him/herself is our kind mother, it is their present or past delusions which propelled them to harm us at some point.  To get angry with somebody who has helped our kind mother surely makes no sense.  If we are going to direct our frustration towards anything, it should be the anger in our “enemy’s” mind.  Our objective should be to dispel their anger through healing the relationship.

(6.85) Why, by getting angry, do we throw away our merit,
The faith others have in us, and our other good qualities?
Would it not be better to get angry with anger itself,
For it brings no benefit to us or to others?

We hear this a lot in the Dharma teachings – it’s OK to get angry at the delusion of anger.  But what exactly does that mean and how do we practically put it into practice.  Anger views something as a cause of our suffering and then seeks to harm that cause.  Deluded anger views something external (and inherently existent) as a cause of our suffering, exaggerates the harm we have received, and then seeks to harm the object of our anger in some way.  Wisdom anger (anger directed against delusions) views delusions as the cause of our suffering and seeks to harm them as much as possible.  These are very different things.

The first main difference is the object of blame – an inherently existent external object or a delusion.  The second main difference is the method of harming.  Deluded anger typically retaliates through either mentally “hating/greatly disliking” the other person, grasping at them as a real cause of our suffering; verbally, by saying hurtful or divisive words; or even physically, by harming or even killing the other person.  Wisdom anger harms delusions by identifying them clearly, reducing them through applying Dharma opponents, and finally eliminating them altogether with the wisdom realizing emptiness. 

Wisdom anger can be directed at our own delusions or against the delusions of others.  The process is basically the same.  When we direct it against others, we first identify clearly that the reason why our so-called “enemy” harms us is because they are under the influence of their delusions, and thereby we make a distinction between the person (for whom we have compassion) and the sickness of delusion within their mind (which we want to heal).  To apply opponents to others delusions can take many forms.  The most common form is simply setting a good example.  This we can always do regardless of whether the other person is seeking our advice or not.  When we set a good example, we should do so completely free from any attachment to the other person changing and we should avoid making a point of “showing a good example” as some obvious attempt to shame the other person or show them that what they are doing is wrong.  Additionally, we can pray that those who suffer from delusions receive powerful blessings to pacify the delusions in their mind.  Our prayers will be effective in proportion to the closeness of our karmic connection with the other person, the purity of our motivation in praying for them, and the degree of our faith in the Buddha we are praying to. 

Sometimes we are able to apply the opponents to other’s delusions by offering Dharma advice or Dharma teachings.  But we must be careful here.  Giving unsolicited advice almost always backfires.  If the other person is not genuinely asking us for our advice or we are not highly certain that they have sufficient faith that they will be open to receiving our advice, then we should probably refrain from offering it.  When we offer correct advice to somebody who doesn’t want it, all we do is create the conditions for them to engage in the negative action of rejecting wisdom and grasping even more tightly to their wrong views.  We may feel self-righteous for the great advice we have offered, but in truth we have done harm to the other person by doing so. 

In terms of applying the antidote of the wisdom realizing emptiness to other’s delusions, we can again do so through giving wisdom advice that shows people it is how they mentally relate to things that is the problem, or even give teachings on emptiness itself (again, assuming they are open to receiving our advice).  We can likewise meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena ourself.  The other person’s mind is also empty of inherent existence, which means the delusions that appear to us to be arising in their mind are also empty and mere appearances to our mind.  Anytime we meditate on the emptiness of any phenomena, we purify the contaminated karma giving rise to that appearance.  When we meditate on the emptiness of other’s delusions, we purify the contaminated karma for such delusions to appear.  This is a very profound point. 

In my very first meeting with Gen Tharchin, more than 20 years ago, I was explaining all of the different delusions I saw in my then girlfriend (now wife).  He looked me straight in the eye, and then said, “the faults she appears to have are actually mirror-like reflections of the faults within your own mind.  If you purge these faults from your own mind they will, like magic, gradually disappear from her.”  He then leaned closer and said, “and never forget, she is an emanation of Vajrayogini (followed by a knowing wink of the eye).”  This is ultimately how Buddhas ripen and liberate us.  They have realized directly the emptiness of all our faults, this realization functions to gradually bless our mind to reduce and finally eliminate all of our faults.  By seeing us as already enlightened beings, they ripen our pure potential and draw out our own good qualities.  By mixing our mind with their minds, we come to adopt their view of us, first seeing the emptiness of our faults and eventually seeing ourselves as fully enlightened beings.  This very brief encounter with the uncomparable Gen Tharchin reveals the very essence of a wisdom Bodhisattva’s way of life.  

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Be happy for others

(6.78) Those who are not concerned with others’ happiness
And do not want them to be happy,
Are like someone who stops paying wages to those who work for him,
Who then experiences many problems.

One thing’s for sure – if we’re not concerned with the happiness of others, then we won’t get anything from them other than problems. Sooner or later, problems will come for us.  We may feel, we may say, “I am concerned. I am concerned for others’ happiness. Why else would I be practicing Dharma and doing all that I do.”  Ours is not yet a perfectly altruistic, selfless motivation. It is still to a large extent it is a selfish one. We have a problem of self-cherishing.  This is not an attack, it is a diagnosis, but one that we each individually need to make about ourselves.  The truth is we often help others for our own selfish reasons.

Seeing this can sometimes lead to a degree of paralysis.  We see that our motivation is mixed, and we then think it is wrong for us to cherish the other person with a mixed motivation, so we hold ourselves back from engaging in virtue!  Clearly that is wrong.  We should still engage in the cherishing action, even if our motivation is mixed, because our motivation is still partly good and the action is still partly virtuous.  Some virtue is better than none.  If we wait until we can do things completely purely, we would have to wait until we attain enlightenment.  But how are we supposed to attain enlightenment if we never start engaging in virtuous actions in the first place because our motivation is mixed?  Clearly that is absurd.  Instead, we can engage in the virtue, but become aware where our motivation is mixed.  Then, we gradually try to purify our motivation so that it is becomes increasingly pure.  As Geshe Chekawa says, we should “remain natural while changing our aspiration.”

(6.79) When my own good qualities are praised,
I want others to rejoice in me;
So why, when others’ good qualities are praised,
Should I not want to rejoice in them?

If I want others to rejoice, then I should join them in rejoicing.

(6.80) Having generated the bodhichitta motivation
Wishing for all living beings to be happy,
Why on Earth do we not rejoice
When others find some happiness for themselves?

(6.81) If I really wish for living beings to become Buddhas,
Who are worshipped throughout all worlds,
Why do I dislike it so
When others receive a little mundane respect now?

(6.82) If someone I was looking after
And providing for in different ways
Were to find his own source of livelihood,
Surely I would be happy, not upset.

(6.83) If I begrudge living beings even this,
How can I wish for them to attain enlightenment?
Where is the bodhichitta in one who is not happy
When others receive something good?

Good question. So when someone experiences some happiness in their generally miserable life, why can’t we be happy about that?  Every day we wish, don’t we, every day we wish for all living beings, all living beings without exception to experience the perfect happiness of enlightenment.  So why can’t we be happy when they find some happiness now?  Perhaps we do not rejoice when we see others’ happiness coming from non-Dharma activities.  But where does the happiness come from? What is the main cause of happiness? Their past virtue.

Rejoicing when other people are happy is one of the best opportunities we have to make a connection with them at such times.  If they sense that we’re unhappy when they’re experiencing happiness, they won’t want to draw very close to us. We can come across as disapproving.  We must be extremely careful. Even if someone has done a negative action, we mustn’t be disapproving. It is very important that we don’t come across as disapproving, judgmental, critical. For a long time people engage in worldly enjoyments for their happiness. We still do. So who are we to judge?

If we really love someone and we see that they’re happy, doesn’t that make us happy?  If we’re not happy, perhaps that’s a sign indicating we need to love them more.  We need to love them as they are, not who we want them to be. Just love them as they are.  We shouldn’t have the attitude of, “if you were a real spiritual practitioner and stopped engaging in worldly enjoyments and so forth, then I’ll really love you.”  We should really love them now! We need to accept and love everyone wherever they are at. We do this with people we are not close to reasonably well, but for those who are closest to us – our families, our work colleagues, our Sangha friends – we expect more, and we get mad at them when they fail to be less than perfect.

It is especially important to be happy for people when they have worked hard at something and accomplished something, even if for us it is something little. For example, when somebody is working hard at something, it is important to really praise them.  If they are really happy about what they have accomplished, and we belittle it, it is devastating for them and it results in discouragement and they don’t try anything.  If we are happy for them, genuinely happy, this will give them encouragement to keep trying.  The only thing we have to do to attain enlightenment is never give up trying.  If people are taking a long time, we need to be patient.  A Bodhisattva works with people over lifetimes and lifetimes.  We go as far with people as we can, and be happy with whatever they have accomplished.  

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Rejoice!

Now Shantideva explains how jealousy and envy can also lead to anger. 

(6.76) If someone else develops a mind of joy
Through praising another’s good qualities,
Why, mind, do you not praise him too
And experience the same kind of joy?

Our normal reaction when others experience some sort of good fortune is jealousy or envy.  We think about how the other person doesn’t deserve that good fortune, or we simply wish we were experiencing it but are frustrated that we are not.  It is quite common for some people to work very hard and they never seem to catch a break, whereas others hardly work at all, yet good things just naturally fall into their lap.  This usually leaves us feeling jealous and discouraged, and then we go looking for others to blame for our plight, leading to anger.

We all wish to experience joy, happiness in our lives and whenever there is an opportunity to do so, we take it.  So why not rejoice in others’ good qualities, happiness, and so forth, rejoice when others are being praised?  The only reason for a difference in our reaction is because we are still influenced by the wrong view that our happiness is somehow more important than theirs, or their happiness is somehow not important.  The key to developing a robust practice of rejoicing, therefore, is the meditation on equalizing self and others.  Once we have some experience of considering the happiness of each and every living being as being equally important, then rejoicing will come easily.  Once rejoicing comes easily, we will be able to accumulate merit all of the time – we merely need think of those who are experiencing some good fortune, and we can rejoice.

We should also take an opportunity to share in the happiness experienced by the one who is giving praise.  As we go through our daily life, we will sometimes hear one person praising another.  Our normal reaction when this happens is externally we may nod in apparent agreement, but internally we then quickly going on to point out some fault that we have noticed in the person who is being praised.  There is always a ‘yeah, but’ in our mind.  We see only faults.  But when we see somebody praising another it is a particularly good time to practice rejoicing, because we can rejoice both in the person receiving the praise and the person giving the praise. 

As Dharma practitioners we must rejoice in one another’s good qualities, we must rejoice in one another’s activities, virtuous activities. We need to not just observe, but also admire them and rejoice in them.  We need to admire and rejoice in their skillful means. And then we will be inspired to follow the example others are setting for us.  And as well we must rejoice in the joyful effort of others. Whenever they try, we must make a point of rejoicing in their efforts, and talk to others of the good qualities that we see in them.  And we should also rejoice when others understand things that we don’t.  

The benefits of rejoicing are almost limitless.  First, rejoicing creates the cause to acquire the qualities you rejoice in.

(6.77) I should always rejoice in others’ happiness and virtue.
This joy causes my virtues to increase.
Moreover, it is the cause of delighting the holy beings
And the supreme method for benefiting others.

Rejoicing I think is one of the best ways of accomplishing results.  We’re so concerned with results! If we really want results, rejoice. It is the best way of accomplishing both internal and external results.  Rejoicing creates the causes to acquire what we are rejoicing in.  If a teacher and students are rejoicing a lot, then even if mistakes are being made at their Center, progress is being made, both internal and external.  No doubt that holy beings easily, powerfully can help progress in such a joyful, harmonious environment.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We can’t afford to not practice

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kadam Lucy once said we shouldn’t be too concerned about other’s relationships with us, but rather their relationships with each other.  We work out of the wish that all living beings have love for one another.  Our goal is not that everyone have good relationships with us, rather that they have good relationships with each other. 

Very often we criticize one to move closer to the other.  We see this all the time, and not just with teenagers.  Most political speech these days is of this nature, we signal our judgment of some other group so that we feel accepted by a group we wish to be a part of.

We need to do the opposite.  We need to say only good things about each person to all the others.  We need to praise people for being kind and good with others.  It is also good to praise the people in our world for being friendly and happy with others.  This draws these characteristics out.  We need to make people feel like they are a light in other’s lives, then they become such a light.  It starts with us individually and then it broadens to the whole world.  Individually we strive to do this for the Sangha to be happy and harmonious and learn how it works.  Then our Dharma community does the same for those outside of the community and in our daily lives.  Our role in the world is to help others love one another.   In this way, we can gradually transform our society and world into an enlightened society and an enlightened world. 

(6.73) If we cannot bear the relatively slight suffering
That we have to experience now,
Why do we not refrain from anger,
Which causes the far greater sufferings of hell?

(6.74) In the past, because of my attachment to non-virtuous actions,
I have endured aeons of torment in the hells and elsewhere,
And yet none of that has brought any benefit
Either to myself or to others;

(6.75) But now, through enduring comparatively little discomfort,
I can accomplish the greatest purpose of all –
To free all living beings from their suffering –
So I should feel only joy at having to endure such hardships.

If we genuinely felt that we could attain perfect freedom and help others do the same by enduring the difficulties on the spiritual path, we would feel only joy, wouldn’t we?  The problem is the benefits of the path seem very far off in the future, if they ever come at all; whereas the inconveniences of following the path are experienced now.  Our delusions all have a similar function – to fool us into thinking happiness is found by following them.  Because we still have strong faith in our delusions and weak faith in the Dharma, to go against the grain of our delusions is hard – it takes effort.  It’s very easy to conclude it is not worth it and settle into our spiritual life being a temporary fad, or a part-time hobby.

But if we can gain conviction in the 100% certainty of the sufferings of samsara and we can come to understand clearly how Dharma works to provide a solution, then this calculus reverses.  We realize if we really want to be free from inconvenience, we must practice – not practicing is worse.  When we have this long-term outlook, then we view working through the temporary difficulties on the path as the very substance of our spiritual practice – we are digging ourselves out of samsara.

Sometimes we can become very frustrated with Dharma teachings, either thinking they are asking the impossible of us or they are so difficult (such as the teachings on emptiness) that they seem meaningless.  Shantideva has a tendency in particular to provoke these sorts of reactions.  When we first start practicing Dharma we are like a baby that eats only mashed food, but now we are learning how to chew.  We need to train in the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma, accepting that we don’t understand, but joyfully working with it like a spiritual puzzel, knowing that when we get it all figured out it will be well worth it.  So we should be willing to gladly accept the difficulties because we understand it is completely worth it.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Attachment enables anger to spread like wildfire

(6.70) If, for example, a house caught fire
And there was a danger of the fire spreading to an adjacent house,
It would be advisable to remove anything, such as dry grass,
That might enable the fire to spread.

(6.71) In the same way, when those to whom I cling are harmed,
My attachment to them enables the fire of anger to spread to me.
Fearing that this will consume all my merit,
I should definitely abandon such attachment.

(6.72) How fortunate is a person condemned to death
Who is spared with having just his hand cut off;
And how fortunate are we if, instead of the agonies of hell,
We have to experience only the sufferings of the human realm.

It is surprising, but not surprising, how easily we become angry and retaliate when those we are attached to are harmed in any way.  This is especially true for parents.  When our kids are harmed in some way, we leap into action and are ready to go to war on their behalf.  I have too many stories to tell where this has happened to me, but the point is because we are attached to those we love being happy, when they are harmed in some way, we quickly become angry.

Why do we do this?  Because we have attachment to others being happy.  This seems like a just and normal reaction.  But we need to make the distinction between attachment to others being happy and compassion and love.  On the surface, they seem like the same in that they both wish others are happy and free from suffering.  What is different is for whose sake we want them to be happy and free from suffering.  Attachment to others being happy is concerned about ourselves, and becomes unhappy when others are not happy. We think our happiness depends on them being happy, so when they become unhappy we become unhappy, so anything that causes them to be unhappy, we also get angry with. 

When we have attachment to others being happy, we are not able to help them when they are down because we fall with them, so we become useless to them.  When we have attachment to others being happy, we can’t do what we need to do to actually help them.  Sometimes we have to do things that will make people unhappy when we don’t go along with their dysfunction, but we do it for their own benefit, even if they don’t realize this.  Parents have to do this all the time.  Unconditional love and compassion is concerned about others, and when they are unhappy we just love them more and so are still happy.

But it seems almost wrong to abandon our attachment to those we love being happy.  Won’t that make us indifferent to their plight and a cold and heartless person?  The opposite is actually the case.  It is our attachment to them being happy which actually gets in the way of us loving them purely, especially when they need us the most. 

We think instead of give up our attachment to our friends and family and children, can we just try hard not to get angry? We can even make promises to do so.  But is it possible if we have attachment to others being happy for us to not to get angry when they are harmed? If we have attachment, then is it definite that at some time we will get angry?  Of course it is. 

Our attachment to others being happy also can turn us into emotional tyrants.  We so can’t bear them being unhappy that when they are, we become angry with them and get upset at them for not being happy.  We then think we know what they need to be happy, and we will use our anger to try manipulate them into doing what we think they need to do to become happy.  Of course, this never works, but it doesn’t stop us from trying. 

We also, frankly, like our attachment to others.  Society fails to make the distinction between love and attachment, which is why there are so many poems and songs about how painful love is.  If we find ourselves getting angry often at those we have the most attachment to, is there a connection between the two?  We need to look at these things.  We don’t want to lose our object of attachment.  Do we have to?  When we abandon the mind of attachment, what happens to its object?  Does it cease altogether? Does part of it remain?  In truth, when we abandon our attachment, the object of our attachment disappears.  This doesn’t mean the person disappears, rather they turn into an object of love.  Objects of love are so much more pleasant than objects of attachment, so we can abandon our attachment without fear.

Of course we don’t want to experience hardship of abandoning the objects of our attachment.  But as Shantideva indicates, abandoning our attachment is nothing compared to the suffering we’ll experience if we keep our attachment, especially if we continue to get angry in dependence upon that attachment.  If we are not willing to pay the short-term price of abandoning our attachment we will never know the long-term rewards of permanent freedom.  A Dharma practitioner is somebody who is willing to do this because they know it is worth it.  The difficulty we experience does not come from the fact that we are now making the right decision, rather it comes from having repeatedly made the wrong decision in the past.  When we see this clearly, the more difficult it is, the more determined we will be to get free from it. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Becoming magic crystals

(6.67) If one person causes harm out of ignorance
And another gets angry with him, also out of ignorance,
Which person is at fault
And which one is not?

We read all of the teachings on the faults of anger, and how angry people are just so awful, so we tend to think it is justifiable to get angry with angry people, or at least we find it easy to do so.  In reality, the person who gets angry and the person who gets angry back are the same – they’re both as bad as one another.  No one can be right in getting angry.  It is wrong, always wrong, to get angry.  In many ways, you can say that we are more wrong for getting angry at people for getting angry, because we know better. 

(6.68) Out of ignorance, previously I committed actions
That now result in others causing me harm.
Thus, all the harm I receive is related to my own actions,
So why get angry with others?

(6.69) Seeing this to be the case,
I should practise what is meritorious,
Impelled by the wish that all living beings
Will develop love for one another.

It is important that our Dharma communities and our families show the example in this world of living with one another, being with one another, in harmony – or at least trying to.  We need to show the example of accepting and loving one another. Being able to accept one another and to love one another, regardless of differences, regardless of difficulties that we may experience.

Kadam Lucy once said we shouldn’t be too concerned about other’s relationships with us, but rather about their relationships with each other.  We work out of the wish that all living beings have love for one another.  Very often we criticize one person as a means of getting closer to the other.  I did this with my parents, teenagers do it all the time.  We need to do the opposite.  We need to say only good things about each person to all the others.  It starts with us, we need to do this for our Sangha and within our families.  We need to show patience, and we need to show love for them.  They will then be a bit kinder with those around them, and outward it spreads like the magic crystal (see Eight Steps to Happiness).  Within our centers, our families, and our places of work, we create mutually loving communities.  Then gradually the much larger community, society, will be influenced by the example of our micro communities.  In this way we transform our world into an enlightened society.  It is also good to praise the people in our world for being friendly and happy with others.  This draws these characteristics out.  We need to make people feel like they are a light in other’s lives, then they become such a light.