Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Abandoning meaningless activities

We continue with an explanation of the bodhisattva downfalls related to the perfection of effort. 

Indulging in senseless conversation out of attachment

Here the main point is the following:  Do you seek your enjoyment in the meaningless activities of samsara or do you seek your enjoyment in creating good spiritual causes?  Senseless conversation is just an example.  Our training in effort is learning how to derive all of our enjoyment from creating good causes and not from samsaric effects. 

One of the most common expressions in the Dharma is “meaningful” and “meaningless.” We use this in all sorts of contexts, from activities to our whole life.  In the beginning, when we hear these terms, because we are still grasping at external activities as being inherently “meaningful” or “meaningless” we can quickly feel judged by the Dharma that it is calling our life and our activities meaningless.  Because we have very little experience of transforming daily appearance into the path, when we grasp at inherently existent meaningful or meaningless activities, we can fall into despair thinking “to practice Dharma” means going to all the teachings and festivals, getting ordained, moving into the center, working for the center, etc., and everything else is somehow “meaningless.”  Since most teachers and center administrators are people who have done exactly that, their own language choices can unwittingly reinforce this view, creating all sorts of anxiety for people in the center.  They start to think, “my wife, my job, my kids, these are all ‘obstacles’ to me practicing Dharma…”  Ridiculous!  But quite a common view. 

What makes an activity meaningless is our intention, not the activity itself.  Any ordinary activity can be in reality a pure spiritual practice, and any spiritual practice can be a mundane activity depending on our motivation.  The test is:  what do you consider to be your job – rearranging the furniture on the Titanic of Samsara or training your mind (overcoming your delusions and cultivating virtues)? 

To help us generate the wish to overcome our laziness, we can consider that since all things are empty, in fact we are the creator of this world of suffering, so if we do not exert effort, we leave the beings in this world of suffering to suffer and drown.  Since this world is our creation, if we don’t fix it, it will never be fixed.  A powerful request we can make to Dorje Shugden would be, “Please don’t let me not attain enlightenment in this life time.”  If we can make this request with sincerity and faith, it is certain we are keeping our bodhisattva vow here.

This has to come from within, not imposed from the outside.  Our vows and commitments are not things imposed on us from the outside, and we are not externally accountable to anybody if we break our vows.  They are internal promises we make to ourself because we see the value of such behavior and the faults of opposite behavior.  We make the promises in front of the Buddhas (or preceptors) to show to ourselves the sincerity of our commitment and to have them bear witness, much in the same way we get married in front of others who rejoice in our commitments.  We need to ask ourselves:  “what am I doing with my life?” “Why am I doing this?”  We need to realize ourselves how we are completely wasting our precious human life.  Then, from our own side, we will make the most of it.  If it comes from the outside, we just become defensive and engage in self-justification for our meaningless activities and develop resentment because we feel judged.

We should not motivate ourselves by guilt or others by shaming them – this is a type of laziness.  Motivating ourselves by guilt or others by shaming them does not give rise to effort because there is no joy – we or they are engaging in virtue to avoid feeling bad, which is a worldly concern.  I originally started in Dharma centers in the United States, but then later went to France, and finally Switzerland.  It is interesting to see how different cultures react to vows, commitments, and center responsibilities.  In the U.S., if you made vows, commitments, FP commitments, center responsibilities, etc., obligatory, you would have a riot on your hands, and everybody would reject them just because they were made obligatory.  In instead, you left people free to make their own choices and gave people the opportunity to assume responsibility if they competed in an election for it, then everyone naturally stepped up.  France was the exact opposite.  If something was not obligatory, the conclusion was “it doesn’t matter” and could be ignored completely.  If you held an election for center officers, nobody would run and everybody would try to avoid having to assume the responsibility, so a more heavy hand was necessary to get people to do anything.  Not because they were any more lazy, it was just different cultural contexts.  Switzerland was about halfway in between these two.  You couldn’t make anything obligatory for fear of rebellion, but you did need to provide a good deal of structure and clear expectations (without emotional penalty).  That seemed like a good balance, frankly.  The point is, every culture is different and will relate to these things in different ways.  What matters for us as practitioners, though, is regardless of what culture we are in we view our vows, commitments, and responsibilities as personally adopted based upon our own wisdom. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Practicing the Bodhisattva Vows of Effort

We now turn to Chapter 7 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the Perfection of Effort.  To introduce the chapter, I will first provide some commentary on each of the bodhisattva vows associated with effort.  There are three downfalls in particular:  Gathering a circle of followers out of desire for profit and respect, not trying to overcome laziness, and indulging in senseless conversation out of attachment.  These will each now be discussed in turn.

Gathering a circle of followers our of desire for profit and respect

The main idea of this downfall is the following:  Do you pursue your relationships with others on the basis of what you can get from them or on the basis of what you can give to them?  Are you a consumer of others or are you a benefactor of others?  This vow basically says you should not seek friends and relationships for selfish reasons.  This advice is not just for Dharma teachers, but for all of us, including our on-line selves with our Twitter “followers” and Facebook “friends.”  We need to ask ourself the question:  ‘why do I want a relationship with this person?  What is my motivation?’  Is my goal something they can bring to me or something I can bring to them.  A selfish relationship is when you are trying to get something from others – them liking you, giving your something, somehow being a cause of your happiness, etc.

Sometimes we are very clever and kiss other people’s butts and we are all nice to them because we want something from them.  Other people see this – they always do, even if sub-consciously.  As a result, they do not trust us and we cannot help them.  It creates the tendency for us to do the same in the future, so we will more likely abuse our power and never be able to help others.  It is not sincere or honest, and if they believe us the effect is in the future for us to be duped by somebody who is trying to manipulate us.

The correct frame of mind is to view all people as our future disciples who it our responsibility to lead to enlightenment.  This is the organizing principal of all our relationships – I need to lead this person to enlightenment.  A useful recognition in this regard, when you see other people you should think, “I am responsible for this person.”  Any other principle creates the causes for when you meet these people again in the future you will have an ordinary, meaningless relationship with them instead of a spiritual one where you can help them.

Not trying to overcome laziness

The main point here is the following:  Do you organize your life around your practice or do you organize your practice around your life?  We need to make effort to overcome the reasons why we don’t do this.  Another easy way to make the distinction – We train in learning to enjoy doing what is good for us and to become dis-interested in doing what is bad for us.  This is an incredibly vast practice.

From my experience, it seems our practice goes through two phases.  In the beginning, or phase 1, we are generally a crisis Dharma practitioner.  Our  principal motivation for practicing Dharma tends to be using it to resolve whatever crisis we are facing at the moment, whether it be with our family, at work, with our health, or in the world.  There is nothing wrong with using the Dharma to be able to emotionally survive the trials and tribulations of this life.  In fact, we should do so, understanding how Dharma enables us to be happy regardless of our external circumstance.  The realizations we gain as a crisis Dharma practitioner can be useful in overcoming all sorts of delusions, not only for this life, but for our countless future lives.  Phase 2 occurs when, in dependence upon our sincere practice in Phase 1, we don’t really have many problems in this life that we can’t handle with the Dharma wisdom we already have.  The danger here is we settle into a low-level equilibrium with our practice – happy enough to have a happy life, but not suffering enough that we don’t start preparing for our future lives.  In short, we become complacent with our spiritual progress.  This is good, but not good enough.  At such times, we need to renew our meditations on death, lower rebirth, renunciation, and great compassion to find reasons to practice that transcend this life.  We need to keep going until we have secured controlled rebirth and enlightenment.  It is primarily in Phase 2 where we work on our laziness of attachment. The question is whether our practice is reactive to problems or it is proactive in our attempt to attain enlightenment.  It is not enough to just not do bad, we need to actively construct something good.  We need to identify each of the different types of laziness within our mind, and make effort to overcome it.  As we work our way through Chapter 7, we will go over the different types of laziness, but for now the point is you need to decide to actively overcome the laziness in your mind.

It is important to note that Phase 1 and Phase 2 are not discreet in time, like passing from one year to the next, but it can shift multiple times in any given day.  The cycle is usually we get confronted with some difficulty, delusions arise, we see the value of practicing, we practice, our delusions subside somewhat, we feel better, we then lose interest in practicing when things are good; and then we wait until something bad happens and we start the whole cycle over again.  Likewise, this dynamic plays out over many years where in the beginning we are very motivated to practice, we solve the majority of our daily problems and gain the ability to do so with regularity, and we then just content ourselves with using the Dharma for a happy life. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Patience is the foundation of Renunciation

Now we reach the concluding verses in which Shantideva gives some final encouragement in practicing patience:

(6.127) Practising in this way pleases all the Buddhas,
Is a perfect method for accumulating good fortune,
And gives me the ability to dispel the sufferings of the world.
Therefore, I should always practise the three types of patience.

(6.128) If, for example, a king’s minister
Were to cause harm to many people,
Far-sighted people would not retaliate
Even if they were able to do so

(6.129) Because they would see that he was not alone
But was supported by the might of the king.
In the same way, we should not retaliate
To those who cause us a little harm,

(6.130) Because they are supported by the compassionate Buddhas –
And by the guardians of hell!
Therefore, we should be like the subjects of a powerful king
And try to please other living beings.

(6.131) Even if such a king were to get angry,
He would not be able to subject me to the sufferings of hell,
Which is what I shall experience
If I harm other beings.

(6.132) And, no matter how benevolent that king might be,
He could not bestow upon me the attainment of Buddhahood,
Which is what I shall experience
If I please other beings.

The choice finally is a simple one: To serve or to harm others.  We can think of the compassionate Buddhas supporting all living beings. And we can join them in their Buddha lands by practicing patience and pleasing and serving living beings.  We can think of the guardians of hell harming all living beings. Our alternative is we can be with them in the hell realms by getting angry and harming living beings. It is our choice, we can please or we can harm.

(6.133) Why can I not see that my eventual attainment of Buddhahood,
And my success, good reputation,
And prosperity in this life,
All come from pleasing other living beings?

(6.134) Even while I remain in samsara,
Through patience I shall attain beautiful forms,
Good health, reputation, very long lives,
And even the extensive happiness of a chakravatin king!

We have now had a very extensive discussion of patience.  I would now like to explain how this mind of patience is the foundation for two key stages of the path:  renunciation and the perfection of effort.

On renunciation, the idea is simple:  In every moment, either you are moving deeper into samsara or you are moving out.  From an ordinary perspective, regardless of whether things go well or badly, externally or internally, our current deluded reactions move us deeper into samsara.  When things go well externally, we develop attachment to these external effects which causes us to think that samsara isn’t so bad and undermines our desire to wake up, and we decide to turn towards samsara for our happiness.  This moves us deeper into samsara.  When things go badly externally, we develop anger against these external things which causes us to try push them away or engage in negative actions towards them.  This also moves us deeper into samsara.  When things go well internally, we become complacent and develop attachment to the good feelings we are having.  This stops our progress and causes us to think we can find happiness within our ordinary mind.  When things go badly internally, such as us developing delusions, we respond with guilt and discouragement and we give in to our delusions, which also draws us deeper into samsara.  So in all the cases, no matter what happens externally or internally, our current reactions pull us deeper into samsara.

When we have the mind of patient acceptance, it is the exact opposite.  Regardless of whether things go well or badly, externally or internally, everything functions to push us out of samsara.  When things go well externally, we accept it as the result of our past actions of virtue but we are not fooled by it.  Such rewards remind us that samsara is deceptive, that these things are tempting us to remain in samsara, and so it reinforces our renunciation.  When things go badly externally, we accept that just as it is the nature of fire to burn, it is the nature of samsara to go wrong.  Seeing yet another example, our renunciation is increased and we realize the only solution to such problems is to wake up.  When things go well internally, we accept it as the result of our past virtue, which reminds us to take refuge in virtuous and pure minds, not in external things.  When things go badly internally, we accept that just as it is the nature of the body to fart, it is the nature of the ordinary mind to fart delusions.  We see that this will continue for as long as we identify with an ordinary mind, so it increases our determination to get out of contaminated aggregates.  So no matter what happens, externally or internally, instead of being dragged down into samsara by what happens, we are pushed out, literally shoved out of samsara.  Everything becomes a cause of our enlightenment.  In this way, we can see how the mind of patient acceptance accomplishes the same function as Dorje Shugden.

Some people wonder why Geshe-la’s book “How to Solve our Human Problems” is supposed to be about the 4 noble truths, but in reality it only has a few pages on the four noble truths and the rest is an explanation of how to overcome our anger.  The main subject of the four noble truths is developing the mind of renunciation – the wish to escape from samsara.  Gen-la Dekyong explained that in reality the mind of patient acceptance is the foundation for developing renunciation – if we accept things the way they are, that samsara is broken, only then can we develop the wish to actually leave.  But if we are still holding our hope that samsara is different than it actually is, it is impossible for us to develop renunciation.

This concludes the sixth chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled “Relying upon Patience”.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Becoming a servant of all

(6.124) Therefore, since I have caused harm to living beings,
Which has displeased the compassionate Buddhas,
Today I confess individually all these non-virtues –
Please, O Compassionate Ones, forgive me for offending you so.

(6.125) From now on, to delight the Tathagatas,
I will definitely become like a servant to all living beings.
Even if people kick me and humiliate me,
I will please the Buddhas by not retaliating.

On the one hand we must have regret for having caused harm to other living beings previously. On the other hand we must try and promise not to cause harm to them in the future. It’s a refuge commitment, isn’t it?  No matter what others may say, no matter what they may do, we must not retaliate. Rather, we try, try to accept any harm, patiently accept any harm, and try to fulfill their wishes, just like a servant.

We need to make a commitment to others to be their servant.  I think with respect to other living beings we should have this attitude of mind.  We think, “I would like to give you whatever you want, whatever you feel you need.”  We can think, “you can have me any time you want. … all of the time, I am your servant, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”  But of course at present there are many factors preventing us from giving each and every being in our life all of my time.  Often, when people place demands on our time that we can’t fulfill, we quickly become frustrated with them for being so demanding and needy, and how inconsiderate they are to keep asking when they know how busy we are. 

This is exactly opposite of the correct attitude.  Yes, there are many living beings and we have lots of responsibilities, but in our heart we should have the thought, “I would want to give you all my time, be with you all the time, helping you in every way that I can.  I feel myself to be your servant.”  We can explain to others who place demands on us we cannot fulfill, “I would want to help you, but unfortunately I can’t right now.”  We then use these times when we confront our limitations in being able to be there for everyone all of the time to strengthen our bodhichitta wishing to become a Buddha where we will have the ability to be with each and every living being every day, 24/7.  In the future when I am a Buddha I will be able to give you all of my time. That attitude of mind is what is important, and is the essence of the spontaneous bodhichitta of a Bodhisattva.  We want to help everyone in every way, but we keep bumping up into our limitations.  Each time we confront these limitations, we are reminded why we must become a Buddha.

(6.126) There is no doubt that the compassionate Buddhas
Have completed exchanging self with all living beings.
Thus, the nature of living beings is the very nature of the Buddhas,
So we should afford them the same respect.

This is quite profound. We can look in detail at the practice of exchanging self with others when we get to Chapter 8. But for the moment with respect to the advice here in this verse, we can believe simply where there is any living being, even one who has a harmful intention towards us, there is Buddha. Or where there is any living being there is my spiritual guide, the essence of all Buddhas.  Since they have exchanged self with others perfectly, completely, Buddhas are not separate from any living being, therefore the very nature of any living being is the nature of all the Buddhas. For this reason we can respect other living beings like we respect Buddhas.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Would you harm somebody in front of Geshe-la?

(6.119) Moreover, besides pleasing living beings,
What other way is there for us to repay
Those supreme, unchanging friends
Who bestow immeasurable benefit?

(6.120) By benefiting these living beings, I can repay Buddha,
Who many times gave up his life and entered the deepest hell for their sake.
Therefore, even if they inflict great harm on me,
I will always treat them respectfully and with a good heart.

(6.121) If Buddhas, who are far superior to me,
Disregard their own bodies for the sake of living beings,
Why do I act out of foolish pride
And not behave as if I were a servant of others?

We can consider the kindness of our own spiritual guide.  How much have we already benefited from his dedication to us? How much have we benefited from that, let alone anyone else?   We can ask ourselves, what kind of life would I have had if he had never appeared in my world? What would this world become like if he had not appeared in it?  We are indebted to him, naturally we feel indebted to him. He has given us so much, he has given this world already so, so much.

What then is the best way of repaying his kindness?  Shantideva says it is to please living beings.  The best way to repay his kindness is to help him fulfill his wish to bring freedom, to bring happiness to the people of this world.  Everyone we meet then, they are an object of our spiritual guide’s love, they are an object of our spiritual guide’s compassion.  He’s given us the opportunity to help them. We can repay his kindness by doing so. We can take that opportunity and help them, we help them in whatever way we can, try to benefit them, try to please them.

Regardless of what they say to us, regardless of what they do. We make it our commitment to serve them.  Our spiritual guide is totally dedicated to this person.  So we can think, I will serve this person as my spiritual guide would.  We try make this a commitment.  I will be of service to each and every being I meet.  We start with the people around us, in our families, in the center, in our daily life, and then gradually we expand it to include the people of our town and region and country and finally all beings.  We consider ourselves a servant to these people. 

Continuing with Shantideva’s advice on respecting other living beings

(6.122) Buddhas are delighted when living beings are happy
And displeased when they are harmed;
So it follows that, when I please or harm living beings,
It is the same as pleasing or harming all the Buddhas.

(6.123) If we harm a child,
There is no way to please its mother.
In the same way, if we harm any living being,
There is no way to please the compassionate Buddhas.

One reason we need to remind ourself throughout the day of the presence of enlightened beings is because we will naturally try our best to refrain from such harmful thoughts and actions.  Would we harm somebody in front of our spiritual guide?  Would we yell at somebody, saying hurtful or divisive words?  Of course not.  We respect him too much.  We would feel shame for doing so.  In exactly the same way, we can recall that all of the Buddhas are with us right now, we are always in their presence.  They see and are aware of everything we do.  It is perfectly correct to say anytime we harm somebody else we are doing so in the presence of our Spiritual Guide. 

How does our spiritual guide feel, for example, when we behave badly towards the people in our life? Of course he is aware. How does he feel when we behave badly towards those people whom he wants us to help, he has given us the opportunity to help.  There is a big contradiction, isn’t there? Behaving well before Buddhas, for example being humble, being considerate and so forth when we’re in the presence of our spiritual guide, and behaving badly before others. Being arrogant, inconsiderate, when we’re with others. It’s like we’re trying to fool our spiritual guide.  Perhaps we feel we cannot displease Buddhas. How can we displease an enlightened being?  We cannot make them unhappy, but they can certainly be displeased with what we are doing.  They are sad for us because they know the karma we are creating. 

In the same way, would we hurt a child in front of their mother?  We know how much the mother loves her child, and we couldn’t possibly harm the child with her watching unless we had an iron or spiteful heart.  Likewise, everyone we meet has a mother (indeed, everyone has been our mother).  It is correct to say if ever is at least one other person present, we are in front of that person’s mother.  Would you harm her child?  This doesn’t mean it’s OK to harm others if nobody else is a witness, but there are plenty of times in which others are around when we get angry or engage in harmful actions.  Remembering we are in the presence of their mother can at least protect us from engaging in harmful actions at such times.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Respecting everyone as we would Buddhas

(6.114) They are not equal with regard to their realizations;
But, because living beings have the good quality
Of helping to produce the same result, Buddhahood,
They are equal in the sense of also being a field of merit.

We know our spiritual guide, Je Tsongkhapa for example can be a field of merit.  In just the same way, one living being, the living being whom we find most difficult in our life, can be for us a field of merit.  But we do not want to recognize that person as a field of merit in the same way we happily recognize our our spiritual guide Je Tsongkhapa as a field of merit.  Why not?  Why do we not want to regard such a person as a field of merit, yet quite happily regard our spiritual guide as a field of merit?   The only reason why not is worldly concerns.  If we were more interested in gaining spiritual realizations than we were worldly concerns, we would naturally think like this.

Certainly to hold in our mind those we find to be difficult to be a field of merit will bring enormous benefit.  We look at this person and we think, “You are my field of merit.”  That recognition itself brings about such change in our mental environment. “You are my field of merit.” Just that thought. We need to train in this until it becomes habit and natural.  Think about what changes this will bring about.  It is quite a practice!

(6.115) Whatever merit there is in venerating one with limitless love
Is due to the greatness of all living beings,
And whatever merit there is in having faith in the Buddhas
Is due to the greatness of the Buddhas.

(6.116) Thus, they are said to be equal because being respectful to both
Leads to the attainment of the state of Buddhahood;
But because living beings do not possess limitless good qualities,
They are not actually equal to Buddhas.

(6.117) The unique qualities of a Buddha are so extensive
That any being in whom even a small fraction of them appears
Is worthy of veneration that would not be adequately expressed
Even by offering them everything in the three worlds.

(6.118) Therefore, because they share in giving rise
To the supreme state of Buddhahood,
At least from this point of view
It is suitable to venerate living beings.

The idea here is very simple:  when we respect people, we generally don’t get angry with them.  If we can come to respect all living beings, then we are must less likely to get angry at any of them.  If we can respect them in the same way we respect all the Buddhas, then it is almost impossible for anger to arise in our mind towards them. 

Obviously the qualities of a Buddha are vastly superior to those of an ordinary being, otherwise why bother attaining enlightenment.  It is helpful to contemplate the good qualities of Buddhas so that we know all of the different ways they can help us.  In many of our practices, there are praises and requests, such as the praises to the 21 Taras or the prostrations in Offering to the Spiritual Guide.  We don’t contemplate the good qualities of Buddhas just to think how awesome they are or how much better than us they are, but rather because when we know their function, we can request their specific blessings to help us in these ways.  Further, when we contemplate the good qualities of Buddhas, we develop admiring and believing faith thinking, “how amazing.”  This then leads to wishing faith, wishing to gain these good qualities ourselves.  This wishing faith is the main force behind our bodhichitta, wishing to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others.  If we don’t think Buddhas are amazing and worth becoming like, then we won’t be sufficiently motivated to travel the path.

Fundamentally, though, the one common characteristic of all of the good qualities of the Buddhas is they are helpful, indeed indispensable for our attainment of enlightenment.  Without them, we couldn’t do it; with them, we can.  By attaining enlightenment, we can accomplish all of our own and other’s wishes.  Enlightenment is the real wishfulfilling jewel.  Many Sutras begin with a homage to compassion because compassion is the cause of enlightenment, and it is better to pay homage to the cause than merely the effect.  When we genuinely appreciate the essential nature of Buddhas, we naturally generate deep respect for them, and we naturally treat them accordingly.  It would almost be impossible to get angry at a Buddha when we appreciate how truly valuable their helping us attain enlightenment is.

In exactly the same way, all living beings are equally indispensable for our attainment of enlightenment.  Without others, we would not be able to practice compassion, giving, patience, and so forth.  Without others, we could never generate bodhichitta, and thus have sufficient power in our mind to overcome our obstructions to omniscience.  Other living beings are an essential prerequisite to our attaining enlightenment, just like Buddhas are.  Without them, we couldn’t do it.  So just as we respect Buddhas seeing them as being indispensable for our attainment of enlightenment, so too we respect all living beings as being equally indispensable.  With this appreciation of their preciousness, it is almost impossible for anger to arise in our mind towards them.  No matter what they may do, it pales into petty insignificance compared to their indispensable help for our becoming enlightened.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Venerating our enemies

(6.109) “But your enemy has no intention to help you practice patience,
So why should you venerate him?”
Then why venerate the holy Dharma
As a way of practising virtue?

(6.110) “Surely you should not venerate an enemy
Who harbours the intention to cause you harm.”
But if everyone was like a doctor striving to help me,
When would I ever practise patience?

(6.111) Thus, because the practice of patience occurs
In dependence upon those with hateful minds,
Such people should be venerated just like the holy Dharma
Because they are causes of the practice of patience.

Outrageous! Shantideva is so outrageous.  If we appreciate or value the Buddhadharma, then we should appreciate or value those who bring us problems and suffering because in dependence upon them, Dharma realizations develop in our mind.  We should appreciate and value those with hateful minds towards us. We should venerate them in the same way that we venerate the holy Dharma.  It does not matter that they have no intention to help. After all, neither does the Dharma. That doesn’t matter. Because we still benefit.  What matters, actually, is that they have the intention to harm. That’s important! Because it is then that I must really train in patience.  Those people I must venerate, just like I venerate the holy Dharma, because the practice of patience occurs in dependence upon those with hateful minds.

Now some verses encouraging us to venerate living beings just as we venerate holy beings:

(6.112) Buddha says that the field of living beings
Is like the field of enlightened beings,
For there are many practitioners who, through pleasing living beings,
Have attained the state of perfection, Buddhahood.

(6.113) Since living beings and enlightened beings are alike
In that the qualities of a Buddha arise in dependence upon them,
Why do we not show the same respect to living beings
As we do to the enlightened beings?

How can we understand this?  Enlightened beings give us the opportunity to engage in spiritual practice, spiritual practice leading to liberation, to enlightenment. How kind. Enlightened beings such as our spiritual guide are kind in giving us such an opportunity to follow the spiritual path leading to freedom, to happiness.  How are living beings any different in this sense? They also give us the opportunity, in just the same way they give us the opportunity to follow the path, spiritual path, to liberation and enlightenment. They give us freedom and happiness.  Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to respect them exactly as we would the enlightened beings.

Additionally, even from a worldly point of view, it makes sense to respond to harm with respect.  If we retaliate against others, then the cycle of retaliation will continue without end and the other person will continue to bother us in the future.  Even if we don’t externally retaliate and neither do they, we will wind up having ill feelings in our heart every time we think of or see the other person.  We are just torturing ourself.  Even from a worldly perspective of wanting pleasant relationships, it is better to heal our negative, dysfunctional relationships.  Treating the other person with respect, and trying to understand things from their perspective is the best way of doing so.

Ghandi showed how it is possible to use peaceful non-violent, non-cooperation and a willingness to accept suffering to not only gain independence, but earn the respect of the colonizer in the process.  If such methods can be used to defeat the most powerful empire in history, then surely it will be enough to heal our relationship with our loved ones or difficult work colleagues.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Loving those who harm us

(6.107) Just as if some treasure were suddenly to appear in my house
Without my making any effort to obtain it,
I should be delighted to have found an enemy
Who can help me practise the conduct that leads to enlightenment.

(6.108) Along with myself, my enemy is the cause of my practising patience.
Therefore, I should first dedicate
Whatever fruits arise from this practice
To the person who was a cause of it.

As Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness, others can be a treasure or a mara.  Either. It depends upon us.  He says if we practice Dharma in a skillful way, they can be priceless jewels.  Geshe-la says, “for a sincere Mahayana practitioner, just seeing other living beings, speaking with them, or even thinking about them is like finding buried treasure.” If someone criticizes us, then they can be a treasure, a precious treasure, increasing our inner wealth of patience, in this way helping us to make progress along a spiritual path.  So, when such a person turns up, we should be happy, not unhappy. I should be delighted to have found an enemy who can help me practice the conduct that leads to enlightenment.

But if our practice is mixed with the eight worldly concerns, they can become like maras. If someone praises us, they can be a mara, act and function like a mara because we allow them, the fault is within our own mind, we allow them to stimulate attachment or pride. We have created a mara for ourselves, obstructing spiritual development.

Shantideva really pushes us by saying we should in particular dedicate our merit from our practice of patience to the one who provokes our anger.  This is the opposite of how we normally think.  Normally, we want to retaliate and harm the other person back to teach them a lesson to not mess with us again.  Perhaps at best we don’t wish to harm them, but to actually be happy to reward them for harming us with our dedications seems quite radical.

Paulo Friere says “the oppressor is unfree when he oppresses.”  This is the mind of a bodhisattva.  From the point of view of the karma ripening, it is the oppressed who is being harmed.  But from the point of view of the karma being created, the oppressed is purifying their karma and the oppressor is creating the causes of future suffering.  Who is truly harmed and who is benefiting?  The mind of universal love wishes for all beings to enjoy happiness, including those who inflict the most harm.  In many ways, Hitler, Stalin and so forth are worse off than their victims because they now must spend aeons in hell working through their negative karma.  Who is in greater need of dedications if we truly love all beings equally?  Surely it is the person who does the most harm.  This is especially true when we consider the only reason why the person created the negative karma of harming us is because we still have not purified the negative karma on our mind which triggers others to harm us! 

Shantideva is encouraging us to not only practice patience, but as an act of love give away our merit we accumulated from practicing patience to the one who harmed us.  Not only is the person who harmed us more in need of our dedications, but our responding to harm with love is how we purify our toxic relationship with the other person.  Geshe-la famously said, “love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  Not only conventionally does a loving response change the dynamic in our relationship with the person who is harming us, it also fundamentally purifies the karma between us and the other person.  Gen Tharchin says we should view each person as our future disciple who it is our responsibility to lead to enlightenment.  We have a close karmic connection to the person who is harming us and it is our responsibility to eventually lead them to enlightenment.  Why make that task  harder by poisoning our relationship with them by retaliating when instead we can begin a relationship of love with them?

An objection may arise that if we reward the person who harms us with love, then aren’t we encouraging – indeed enabling – them to harm us again in the future?  This is why we need to love with wisdom.  We don’t give the person who harmed us what they wanted to obtain by harming us, because yes, that would encourage them to harm us again (unless of course we were unjustly depriving them of whatever they wanted, at which point giving it to them would be entirely appropriate).  There is nothing about loving others that means we need to become objects of abuse.  Quite the opposite, actually.  If we do love them, we will cease cooperating with their abuse because we want to protect them from creating negative karma.  So externally, making them stop if we can or separating ourself from them if we can’t is an act of love.  But internally, we need not hold back at all.  We can wholeheartedly give all our merit and all our prayers to the person.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The mind of patience is the pure land

A pure land and its residents are created by mind. It’s subjective. That creation of a pure land and pure beings must be taking place in our lives.  Where else?  We spend most of our time in our daily life, where else are we going to be creating a pure land with pure residents?  That creation must be taking place with a patient mind. Otherwise we will never be able to create it, it will never be a pure land for us.

There is no objectively existent pure land, with pure beings inhabiting it.  We push away a deluded being, they remain a deluded being.  If we push away deluded beings, which is what we do if anger comes up, they remain for us a deluded being. They remain a deluded being. Where is the Bodhichitta in that?  We will never transform that person into an enlightened being, never. A pure being can never appear in their place. So where is the Bodhichitta?  There can be no Bodhichitta without patient acceptance, pushing no one away, welcoming wholeheartedly everyone without exception. Everyone.

What is a pure land like? In a pure land, everything appears as a Dharma lesson, every moment is an opportunity to practice Dharma, and we have no problems. What is the mind of patient acceptance like? Because we are able to accept everything, everything teaches us some lesson of Dharma. Indeed, it is our ability to transform everything into a lesson of Dharma that enables us to accept everything. Further, with a mind of patience acceptance, no matter what happens, no matter how difficult the circumstance, everything is viewed as an opportunity to train our mind. We don’t need to push away anything or anyone because they are all viewed by the mind of patience as an opportunity to practice Dharma. With a mind of patient acceptance, we may still experience all sorts of unpleasant and indeed painful situations, but for us, none of it will be a problem because we can wholeheartedly welcome everything as an opportunity to train or purify our mind. So from a practical, experiential point of view, there is essentially no difference between being in a pure land and the mind of patience. With both, everything is a Dharma lesson, every moment is an opportunity to practice Dharma, and nothing is a problem.

In Transform your Life, Geshe-la says, “We underestimate the value of patience. It is possible that people might sometimes interrupt our meditation sessions or Dharma study, but they can never take away our opportunity to train in inner virtues such as patience. It is this mental training rather than outer virtuous activities that is the essence of Dharma practice. If we truly understand the value of patience, we shall never resent an opportunity to practise it. Even if we never found the opportunity to sit down to study and meditate throughout our entire life, but we truly learnt to practise patient acceptance every moment of the day, we would make vast progress on the path to enlightenment. On the other hand, if we spent our whole life studying and meditating, but we never practised patience, our spiritual practice would remain superficial and inauthentic.”

Speechless. There is no virtue greater than patience. So if we really want to make progress ourselves and help others, we must take every opportunity to practice patience. Who gives us those opportunities? We need to start seeing the difficult people in our life as the most precious.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Becoming fearless

Here, in the chapter on patience, Shantideva is highlighting the connection between the worldly concerns and our anger.  We need to abandon the worldly concerns as triggers of our anger.  Who helps us to overcome our attachment to worldly concerns?  Of course, we can say our spiritual guide, holy beings, enlightened beings, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas. True. True.  But what about those who obstruct our worldly happiness? Those who obstruct our worldly happiness, those who damage our good reputation, those who do not acknowledge us in any way, or when they do speak to us they criticize us: these are the people we need in our lives. They help us as spiritual practitioners to overcome our attachment to worldly concerns.  So we should develop deep appreciation for them.   

Please read the section in 8SH where Geshe-la gives the commentary to the verse “Even if someone I have helped, and of whom I had great hopes, nevertheless harms me without any reason, may I see him as my holy spiritual guide.”  These people are like Buddhas teaching us the spiritual path.  We should see them as such.  They are emanations of my Spiritual Guide.  Geshe-la gives several examples of people acting like Buddha, supreme spiritual guide, blessing our mind to purify our negative karma, blessing our mind to develop renunciation, blessing our mind to increase our patience, yeah, and in this way leading us along liberating paths.  It is mainly the difficult people in our life that will help us to become holy beings.  The people who are kind to us, who are always happy and never make problems are actually generally only helpful for feeding our worldly concerns; it is the difficult people in our life who are our real spiritual benefactors.  They basically force us to practice, and if we are honest, without them pushing us as they do, we would quickly become lazy and practice much, much less.  They will help us become the perfect teachers that our spiritual guide wants us to be.   Rather than getting angry with them, why cannot we learn to appreciate them? Why cannot we learn to appreciate how important, how necessary they are for our spiritual development.

(6.102) “Don’t they obstruct your virtuous practice?”
No! There is no virtuous practice greater than patience;
Therefore, I will never get angry
With those who cause me suffering.

I think it’s good to imagine actually what transformation would take place in our mind if we stopped pushing things away out of anger or hatred, if we stopped pushing things out of our mind.  Imagine what transformation would take place if we stopped distancing ourselves, separating ourselves from objects of anger, objects of hatred.  What transformation would take place if we were to accept wholeheartedly everything we presently find difficult. Welcoming into our heart not just the good but the bad too. Equally. We can imagine and then we could ask ourselves, what do I need to protect myself from? I think now we can understand how it really does function to weaken our self-cherishing, to weaken our self-grasping. What would we need to protect ourselves from? Self-cherishing serves to protect our I.

Can you imagine if we were to welcome wholeheartedly, welcome into our heart without any hesitation, without any resistance, all things that we presently find difficult? So how can there be any virtuous practice greater than patience?  “Therefore I will never get angry with those who cause me suffering but I will welcome them.”

When people are worried about something bad happening, the normal reaction is for people to say, “that is unlikely to happen” as a way of consoling ourselves or others.  It is true, all worry and all anger tend to exaggerate the so-called bad, and part of that often involves exaggerating the probability of something bad happening.  Different people process risk in different ways, and for some, even a 1% chance of something happening is experienced as if it is a 100% certainty to happen.  To helping reduce the perceived likelihood of something bad happening does indeed lessen our worry.  There is nothing wrong with that.

But is that good enough?  No, because we still think, “but it might happen,” and worry.  Why do we still worry?  Because we are still grasping at the thing we are worried about as being inherently bad – if this happens, it would be “bad.”  Patient acceptance is the opposite way of thinking.  It stares straight into the abyss saying, “even if XYZ happened, it is not only not bad, it is something I would welcome wholeheartedly.”  We can welcome it wholeheartedly, we feel no need to push it away, because we know we will be able to transform its arising into a cause of our own or others’ enlightenment.  It is not a bad thing, it is rocket fuel for our spiritual progress.  So we don’t fear it happening, we can accept it wholeheartedly without feeling any need to push it away.  If we have this mind, then all worry disappears.  Yes, it might happen, but that is OK too.  No problem.  We fear nothing.