Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There is nobody to get angry at

(6.32) “If all things were like illusions, who would restrain what?
Surely, any restraint would be inappropriate.
On the contrary, it is precisely because things lack inherent existence
That it is possible to assert the continuum of suffering can be cut.

Sometimes the objection may arise in our mind that if things lack inherent existence then there is no “us” who can practice Dharma and there is nothing for our Dharma practice to oppose, so what is the point?  Both of these objections arise from grasping at the extreme of non-existence – in other words, going too far with our understanding of emptiness to wrongly assert that things don’t exist at all.

Who is practicing Dharma?  A self that is imputed on a mind that has received Dharma instructions and gained a certain degree of control over one’s mind.  We have received Dharma instructions, we have practiced them in the past, this has given us a certain degree of control over our mind.  With that control, we then choose to practice Dharma.  What are we resisting when we practice Dharma?  In practice, we are disassembling the causes and conditions which cause delusions to appear.  If a rainbow is appearing, but suddenly the sunlight is blocked out, the rainbow simply disappears because the causes and conditions which give rise to it are no longer present.  The same is true with our delusions.  Another way of looking at it is with our choice of mind we create new conditions of the opponent to the delusion which then functions to neutralize the delusion within our mind.

Suffering can come to an end because its causes can be ended.  If you end the cause, the effect cannot arise.

 (6.33) Thus, whenever an enemy, or even a friend,
Commits an inappropriate action,
Such behaviour arises from other conditions.
Realizing this, I should remain with a happy mind.

Once again, this is reminding us how we can use emptiness to oppose our anger.  Normally we hear the teaching on emptiness and quickly become lost in the contemplations and lose the point.  This is why we need to make a point of directly connecting our understanding of emptiness to specific delusions that arise within our mind.

When we become angry with somebody, we should take the time to ask ourselves, “who precisely am I angry at?”  When we look, we find nobody.  We can ask, “what exactly am I angry about?”  When we check, we find nothing.  It’s all just a variety of causes and conditions coming together with nothing behind any of it.  Conventionally, we can’t blame the other person because it is not their fault these causes and conditions have come together.  Ultimately, we can’t blame the other person because there is nobody there to blame.  Realizing this, there is no longer an object of our anger and the anger disappears.  The same sort of reasoning can be used against any delusion.

(6.34) If things occurred independently, out of choice,
Then, since no one wishes to suffer,
How would suffering ever arise
For any living being?

This is actually an important point.  Nobody wishes to suffer.  We all wish to be happy all of the time.  Yet we suffer without choice and find it difficult to secure even a modicum of happiness.  We are all in the same boat.  When somebody harms us, they too are a victim of their delusions.  They do so without freedom or control.  As a result, they accumulate negative karma for themselves, which will ripen later in the form of suffering for them.  We may view ourselves as a victim of their harmful actions, but in reality they are equally a victim because in the future they will have to experience the suffering consequences of their actions.  Why are we experiencing this suffering now?  Because we had the karma to do so arising from our own negative past actions.  So what really is the difference between our attacker and us?  Nothing.  We are both victims, separated only by time.

We want to be happy and so do they.  Unfortunately, they are confused about the causes of happiness.  They are lost.  Instead of getting angry with them, we should generate compassion for them.  We are all the same, therefore there is no basis for loving some and being angry at others.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We don’t blame the stick for hurting us

(6.29) Clearly, if the self were permanent,
Then, just like space, it could not perform any actions;
And, even if it could meet with other conditions,
It would still be unable to do anything.

(6.30) Since, even when acted upon, it would remain as it was,
What effect could an action have on it?
If you say that something else affects the self,
What relationship could the self have with that?

(6.31) Thus, all effects arise from other conditions,
Which in turn depend upon previous conditions.
Therefore, all things are like illusions – they are not independent.
If we realize this, we shall not become angry with anything.

The main point of all of this is anger needs an object – there has to be someone or something to get angry at.  Anger depends on some external thing to be angry with that we consider to be the cause of our suffering.  Everything that arises in dependence upon various causes and conditions, so there is never anything that we can point to that we can get angry at.  If we try get angry at the thing, we realize we can’t because it just arises in dependence upon causes and conditions.  If we try get angry at the causes and conditions, we realize we can’t because they too just arise from different causes and conditions.  So we never find anything that we can get upset at and our anger subsides because anger needs an object.  When we look, we find no such object that we can point to.  Finding none, our anger has nothing to latch on to and it falls away.

In one sense it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of anger within their mind.  But if anger were able to speak up for itself, would it not say the same thing?  “I’m sorry, I have no choice. It is due to inappropriate attention in this person’s mind that I’m here.”  Just as the person can’t help it, the anger can’t help it either.  There is a classic analogy given of somebody hitting us with a stick.  Do we get angry with the stick?  No, youwe get angry with the person because the stick was controlled by the person.  In the same way, if youwe don’t get angry with the stick, we should also not get angry with the person because they too are controlled by their anger.  If we get angry with something, we should get angry with their anger.  But their anger is controlled by their inappropriate attention.  So we should get angry with their inappropriate attention, and so on.

On an easier to understand level, the situations that give rise to our anger do not exist from their own side.  They can be viewed in any way we choose.  Right now our anger is casting this elaborate story about how all these things are the causes of our suffering, and so to be happy we need to destroy these things.  With emptiness we realize that this is just a fictional story projected by my mind that has no truth.  I can view the situation in any way – it is not fixedly any one thing.

So instead of viewing this as samsara, we can view everything as the charnel grounds.  What appears is horrific, but we understand these things to be completely pure teachings arising from the Dharmakaya that are perfect for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  We do can do this with external situations, including anything that normally gives rise to our anger.  We accept it fully as a pure teaching arising from the Dharmakaya.  We can do this internally, where we find even the arising of suffering and delusions as perfect for us because it gives an opportunity to create certain causes, namely practicing their opponents.  In this way, we can have a real equanimity towards all effects that happen, either externally or internally.  We can accept everything as perfect.  When everything is perfect, there is no basis for anger.

We very often blame others and situations for why we get angry, but this is not fair.  Nobody or nothing has the power to make us angry, other than our own deluded mental processes.  It is not fair to others to blame them for what is the fault of our own mind.  This is actually a very liberating thought, because it means that no situation has any power over us.  By accepting responsibility for the problem, the solution falls into our hands.  Nobody or nothing needs to change for us to get better, we just need to change our mind.  Yes, it is a long training, but what is the alternative?  Remain angry forever and fall into terrible states of suffering?


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Nothing creates itself

(6.27) Neither that which is asserted as the “independent creator of all”
Nor that which is asserted as the “independent permanent self”
Can come into being through intentionally thinking,
“Now I will arise.”

There tends to be two extremes when thinking about God, either he inherently exists or he doesn’t exist at all.  Those who assert he inherently exists say he is the creator of all.  But then the question arises, “what created God?”  If something else created God, then that thing is the creator of all.  Some say God created himself, but that denies the fundamental tenet that all causes must precede their effect (how can the effect exist before its cause?).  Some say God is permanent, but if that were the case how could he create anything since to create something is necessarily to change?  Clearly all of these conceptions of God are illogical.  People then wrongly conclude God does not exist at all.

Geshe-la himself refuted this at a festival many years back.  He said Kadampas do not deny that God exist, they simply have a different understanding of what that means.  We say mind is the creator of all, and the contemplations on emptiness prove why this is so.  Quantum physics is gradually catching up to what Buddha explained 2,500 years ago when it says objects come into existence when the mind engages them.  If we understand God to be the Dharmakaya, which is itself inseparable from our own mind of bliss and emptiness, then we can easily believe in God, understand the mind is the creator of all and appreciate the religious teachings of other traditions.  Many people come into the Dharma by rejecting Christianity or the like, but if our understanding of the Kadampa teachings is correct we will later come to appreciate their beauty.

Just as there is no independent creator of all, so too there is no independent creator of ourself.  We did not bring ourselves into existence, rather we emerged from a variety of causes and conditions.  Some people think that our very subtle mind which goes from life to life is our independent self, but that too arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, namely the substantial cause of the previous moment of mind and the circumstantial causes bring about change in that mind.  While the very subtle mind changes continuously, it always remains equally empty.  But this emptiness does not exist independent of the very subtle mind, rather it is the very nature of that mind.  Emptiness itself cannot exist in a vacuum, it is always the emptiness of something.  Without an object, you cannot have its emptiness.

 (6.28) If the independent creator itself is not produced,
Then how can it produce anything?
If the self were permanent, then it would follow
That experiences cannot be changed from unpleasant to pleasant.

Permanent in a Dharma context means unchanging.  If something is unchanging, how can it produce anything?  To produce something is to act in some way upon something else, which necessarily implies some change of the thing acting.  If the thing doing the acting doesn’t change, then how does it go from a state of not creating to something to a state of creating that thing?  It would have to either eternally be creating it or eternally not creating it.  The same is true with all things:  nothing creates itself.

Likewise, if the self were indeed permanent then how could it possibly experiencing anything different?  How could it go from not experiencing an object to experiencing it?  Wouldn’t that imply a change of state?  But a permanent object never changes.  If the self were permanent, it couldn’t experience anything, or if it did, it would have to experience the same thing in the same way forever.  Since clearly that is not our experience of the self, a permanent self cannot exist.

Why does any of this matter?  The point is two-fold.  First, all anger requires an object.  The object of anger we grasp at is permanent others, the harmed object is a permanent self, or maybe we blame a permanent God.  But none of these things exist.  By removing the object of anger, the mind of anger has nothing to hold on to and leaves our mind.

The second point is these sorts of contemplations quite often give rise to all sorts of feelings of discouragement and misunderstanding.  Shantideva uses these verses to help us identify within our own mind our impatience associated with thinking about Dharma.  We don’t understand, and this makes us unhappy.  Or we read the words, but fail to grasp their meaning and conclude it is a bunch of intellectual masturbation.  Or perhaps we just fall asleep because it seems so boring.  All of these reactions are examples of the impatience of thinking about Dharma.  By bringing this impatience to the surface, we can then work on generating a mind of patience towards profound topics.  It takes time, and that is OK.  If we contemplate them again and again with a positive mind, and we do so in the context of applying this sort of reasoning against the delusions that arise in our mind, then we will train in the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Everything is like a rainbow

(6.25) All the shortcomings there are,
And all the various non-virtues,
Arise through the force of other conditions –
They do not govern themselves.

(6.26) The assembled conditions have no thought
To produce a suffering result;
Nor does the resultant suffering think,
“I was produced from conditions.”

At the core, anger is a response to unpleasant feelings within the mind.  It seeks to blame something outside the mind for what is taking place inside the mind.  Here, Shantideva seeks to pull the rug out from underneath that anger by showing, in fact, there is no object of blame outside the mind.

Every phenomena, internal and external, arises like a rainbow in response to causes and conditions.  I remember once I was in the area that used to be the Creperie at Manjushri.  The Mexican sangha came in with a bunch of bags of groceries.  They proceeded to unpack them and being chopping up all sorts of things, like carrots, cheese, apples and the like.  Other people were washing the lettuce, others making dressing.  Everybody was at their own table doing their own thing.  Then, they started putting it all in a common bowl.  When they were done, a “salad” appeared clearly to everyone’s mind.  But where did the salad itself come from?  What was it?  The lettuce, cheese, carrots and dressing are not the salad, yet when you take them all away there is no salad to be found anywhere.  A “salad” simply appears to everyone’s mind when the causes and conditions come together to see it.  The same is true for all other phenomena.  Nothing is actually there.

When the mind of anger arises, it necessarily has an object it is blaming.  But if we perform a salad-like analysis of this object of blame, we will realize nothing is actually there.  The thing we blame is just an appearance that arises when various causes and conditions come together.  Do we blame the carrots?  No, they too come from various causes and conditions.  There is nothing we can point to and blame for our anger.  When we do this, our anger loses its object to hold on to; without an object, it is impossible for the corresponding mind to arise.

The things that supposedly cause us suffering have no intention to do so; rather it is just a series of causes and conditions that come together.  This is easy to understand when we are talking about inanimate objects of harm, but it is likewise true for animate ones.  The person who harmed us isn’t actually there, the delusions which control him aren’t really there either, all are just the coming together of causes and conditions.  And we shouldn’t forget the most important causes and condition of all – ourself!  If we did not have a body, could it be harmed?  If we did not have delusions, would anything be a problem for us.  So if we blame the other person, then we likewise have to blame our body and our delusions.  To blame our body is to blame our parents, and their parents before them.  To blame our delusions is to blame the entire cultural environment we live in and all our previous lives and everyone we ever encountered.  But if we check these things, they are not there either.  We can search to the end of the universe and never find anything to blame – and if we blame one thing, we have to blame everything equally, so what sense is there is being angry at the person who harmed us?

Nothing governs itself.  Everything is like one giant ocean, with various currents flowing in all directions.  Everything affects everything else.  But if nothing governs itself, how can we say we have free will?  Free will itself arises from causes and conditions.  Delusions render our mind uncontrolled, free will emerges from a mind free from delusions.  We don’t intrinsically have free will, we need to create it within our mind through abandoning our delusions and gaining control over our mind.  Somebody whose mind is wholly consumed with delusions (which is pretty much everyone) has no free will at all.

Fundamentally, though, our “problems” come from our delusions.  Delusions come from the meeting of deluded tendencies similar to the cause with inappropriate attention.  Our inappropriate attention grasps at an object as being inherently pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, then exaggerates these qualities and then ignorantly grasps at these objects actually existing in this way.  If we want to free our mind from all “problems” we have to remove from our mind the causes and conditions which create this appearance.  To do so, we need to purify our deluded karma and abandon inappropriate attention.  Just as a rainbow will not appear without sunlight and rain, so too delusions cannot arise without deluded karma and inappropriate attention.  By removing the causes, the effect never arises.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Without choice, delusions take over

(6.23) Although it is not wished for in the least,
Sickness nevertheless occurs.
In the same way, even though they are not wanted,
Delusions such as anger forcibly arise.

(6.24) People do not think, “I will get angry”,
They just get angry;
And anger does not think, “I will arise”,
It just arises.

Delusions are the sicknesses of our mind.  When we become physically sick it it not desired, but it just arises due to the assembling of certain causes and conditions.  In the same way, delusions arise in dependence upon certain causes and conditions coming together.  When somebody gets angry with us or harms us as a result of their delusions it is not because they want to get deluded, the delusions just arise.

Anybody who has dealt first hand with depression or been with a loved one who is suffering through it knows the truth of these verses.  No depressed person wants to be depressed.  People tell them to “snap out of it” or “focus on the good.”  And try they do, but the force of the dark minds within them is (temporarily) much, much stronger.  Even though they want to have a good attitude, they can’t; but since they think they are supposed to be able to just flip a switch and be better, they feel like a failure when they are unable to.  Then their lack of self-confidence makes them feel powerless to get better.  There are many physiological reasons for this, namely depression affects the hormonal balances in the brain.  This shows the power of our mind.  Our mental actions are so powerful they can literally alter the wiring and chemical balance of our brain.   Just as an accident can cause great injury to our body, so too delusions can cause physical injury to our brain which can take months, or even years to heal.

Even though we have heard the teachings that delusions are like a sickness, Buddha is like a doctor, Sangha is like a nurse and Dharma is like medicine, we still don’t have the same attitude towards mental sickness as we do physical sickness.  We think it is a metaphor, not a definitive fact.  When somebody breaks their leg, we naturally generate compassion and we understand that it will take time to heal.  But when somebody becomes sick with delusion, such as jealousy, anger and so forth, we blame the other and person and view them as a failure.  We think that just because delusions are mental people can just turn them off, and the fact that they don’t means the continuation of their delusions is their fault.  We blame them and view them as a failure.  Why the difference in attitude between these two types of sickness?  The real reason why we have this attitude is we have not yet – even after so many years in the Dharma – actually begun the work of trying to root out our delusions.  We attend many festivals, we can recite our book outlines, we begin every sentence with “Geshe-la says,…” but we haven’t actually really begun the work of changing our mental habits.  Anybody who has sincerely tried to do so knows how hard it really is, and they don’t have such judgmental attitudes towards those struggling with their delusions.

A Bodhisattva is somebody who has promised to remain in this world for as long as it takes to gradually lead each and every being out.  This necessarily means we will have to spend a lot of time with highly deluded people.  Yet if we check our present attitude, we try avoid deluded people.  We try justify it with “we don’t want to come under their influence,” but our real motivation more often than not is an aversion to spending time with deluded people.  We have simply replaced our ordinary aversion to people we don’t like to an aversion to deluded people.  Mother Theresa actively sought out to spend time with the poorest and the sickest because that is where she could do the most good.  A Bodhisattva does the same those sick with delusions.  It is a real balance to spend time with the sick while accepting them fully as they are.  Normally, we try to change them.  Our job is to accept them.

This attitude of judging the deluded is particularly common among Dharma practitioners, but it takes a particularly destructive form when the judgment gets directed at oneself.  When delusions flare up in our mind and we know we should not be deluded, we usually respond in one of two ways:  either we pretend that delusions are not arising in our mind or we acknowledge that they are but feel guilty about it, and start beating ourselves up for it.  Kadam Lucy says we will never really overcome our anger until we first overcome our self-guilt.  Guilt is anger directed against ourselves.  We blame ourselves and become angry with ourselves because we are deluded and we feel like a failure because despite our best efforts we can’t stop it.  Such attitudes are completely wrong and are easily removed if we correctly understand delusions as a sickness, no different than any physical one, that arises when certain causes and conditions come together.  The teachings on karma explain that once negative karma has ripened, there is nothing that can be done but ride it out until it exhausts itself.  The arising of delusions within our mind is simply the ripening of a particular karma.  Every karmic seed has a certain duration to it, and we don’t know what the duration is.  Sometimes these delusions can last days, months, years or even lifetimes.  This is not our fault and there is no reason for us to feel guilty about it.  We need to accept that we have simply fallen ill with a particular delusion and we should take special care of ourself, nurturing ourself back to good health.  It is not selfish to do so.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being patient with our Dharma practice

In How to Solve our Human Problems, Geshe-la explains there are three times we need to practice patience.  When we encounter unavoidable suffering, we practice the patience of acceptance.  When we are practicing Dharma, we practice the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  And when we are harmed, we practice the patience of non-retaliation.

Now Shantideva turns to the practice of the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  He does so in particular with respect to our study and practice of the teachings on emptiness.  Why?  Because we usually find these the hardest.  The most important thing to keep in mind is the harder any given topic of Dharma is, the more important it will be for our eventual liberation.  Why?  Because it is hard only because our mind is currently far away from the wisdom realizing this particular aspect of Dharma.  Things that are easy to grasp will not move our mind very much because our mind is already quite close to this wisdom; but the things that are hard will require massive restructuring of our way of thinking before this new Dharma wisdom will dawn in our mind.  I remember when I first started practicing Dharma, I really enjoyed and connected with all of the teachings except those related to faith.  For me, faith was only for those who cannot think for themselves and I rejected it.  Now faith is the lifeblood of my practice, and this change has changed everything for me.

This section is on the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  Shantideva is very clever in the way he teaches it.  The basic idea of this patience is we need to practice patience when studying Dharma subjects.  When we study Dharma, very often we have difficulty understanding what is being said, especially when it is very difficult subjects, like emptiness.

At such times, we should practice joyful acceptance of the fact that we don’t yet understand, but continue to apply ourselves fully understanding the importance of one day gaining a realization.  When we don’t understand things, we often get impatient and our mind blocks and we become discouraged or incapable of understanding anything.  This actually comes from an impatience in our mind that expects to understand very profound subjects easily.  This patience encourages us to accept where we are at, even when we don’t understand, and to joyfully keep trying.

So why is Shantideva clever in the way he teaches this subject?  He goes into a very complicated explanation of emptiness, and a debate between various philosophical schools, which we generally don’t understand at all.  This gives rise to the very impatience Shantideva is trying to encourage us to overcome!!

(6.22) I do not become angry when the cause of suffering
Is something inanimate, such as sickness;
So why become angry with animate causes,
For they too are all controlled by other conditions?

We think there is a difference between animate and inanimate causes of our suffering.  We realize there is no point in getting angry at a storm because it is just arising from causes and conditions.  In the same way, there is no reason for getting angry with others when they harm us because that too is just arising from causes and conditions.  There is actually no difference.

The key to understanding this is to realize that delusions function to make the mind uncontrolled.  So when animate objects (in other words, living beings) harm us in some way it is no different than the storm thundering in the sky.  It is just a situation of certain causes and conditions coming together and the person who gets angry is nothing more than a puppet on the string of their delusions.  They are the victim of their delusions.  Their delusions are propelling them to engage in wrong actions, but they will be the ones who have to suffer the karmic consequences.  We think they have free will and they can choose to not be deluded.  Only those who have not actually tried to overcome their delusions would make such a statement.  I, for example, don’t ever want to get angry, but anger arises in my mind without choice.  I try generate the Dharma opponents to my anger, but the anger remains despite my best efforts to remove it.  A few years ago I was filled with an uncontrollable rage towards my father.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake it until eventually I was very fortunate to receive some powerful blessings which enabled me to let go.  We have the Dharma and we find it hard to let go, what need is there to say of somebody who knows nothing of the Dharma and whose mind is completely seized by delusions?  It’s not their fault.  If anything, it is the fault of our own negative karma which is impelling them to harm us.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Suffering has many good qualities

(6.21) Moreover, suffering has many good qualities.
Through experiencing it, we can dispel pride,
Develop compassion for those trapped in samsara,
Abandon non-virtue, and delight in virtue.

Suffering has good qualities for those intent on following and completing a spiritual path.  If our motivation is worldly, in other words our main goal is to secure for ourselves worldly happiness in this life, then suffering is an unambiguous bad.  If, however, our intention is to follow and complete a spiritual path leading to permanent liberation and enlightenment, then suffering is spiritual fuel.  Just as a car cannot go forward without gasoline, so too a spiritual life cannot progress without suffering.  The truth is simple:  we are lazy.  When life is good, we feel no need to practice Dharma.  But when we are confronted with real suffering, then we realize ordinary solutions don’t work and our desire to practice Dharma becomes intense.  We see it as the only real solution to our problems, both temporarily and ultimately.

People whose primary motivation is spiritual are not afraid of suffering.  When suffering arises, they welcome it because they appreciate its usefulness and many good qualities.  Geshe-la said “we should learn to enjoy our suffering” because so many good things arise from it.  We must try and learn from suffering, not to run away from it.  This does not mean we should seek out suffering.  Suffering will come naturally because we are in samsara.  Obviously if we can avoid the suffering that arises, we should do so and there is no fault in doing so.  But for all unavoidable suffering, we should wholeheartedly welcome it as a gift from our Spiritual Guide and our Dharma Protector.  They are providing for us the conditions we need to make the next step on the spiritual path.

At present we worry about suffering.  We worry about what may happen to us.  In particular, we are very attached to certainty of knowing what is going to happen to us, and so we stress and we plan.  We think certain possibilities are good and others are to be avoided at all costs.  Why?  Every situation is equally empty, so every situation is equally transformable.  No one situation, one place, one job, one partner is better than any other.  Most of the time we go through life trying to manage our attachments and aversions.  True freedom is learning how to equally enjoy any possibility that may arise.  When we are forced to confront unavoidable suffering, we are given the opportunity to expand our mind in this way.  When we believe all of our suffering is emanated for us by Dorje Shugden then we know even though it is unpleasant, it is exactly what we need.  This doesn’t mean Dorje Shugden causes our suffering, rather it means we have the karma to suffer, but he gives us the wisdom blessings necessary to transform it into something useful.  Somebody who has the mind of patience is comfortable with uncertainty, in fact they embrace it, because they know it will be the fuel of their practice.

If we run away from our suffering and not accept it, then we’re going to be stuck in samsara forever.  That’s definite.  We will still grasp at some set of karmic appearances being good and others being inherently bad.  Samsara is not our external world.  Samsara is our delusions.  Our delusions wrongly grasp at external good and bad, and therefore they trap us.  Wisdom realizes every situation is equally good, just in different ways.  Freedom is being able to go anywhere with anybody experiencing anything and finding it all equally useful for our spiritual development.  I am not saying we run towards our suffering, but we stop running away from it and avoiding it and worrying what may happen to us.  Running away from it is not just a physical action, in fact it is primarily mental.  We mentally do not “welcome” the suffering in our life, rather we use all of our mental energy to try push it away and figure out how we can avoid it all while grasping at it as being inherently bad.  Such thinking misses the point of why these situations are being emanated.  We need to put all that to one side and stop worrying.

We can’t run away from suffering because it’s going to come our way anyway. That’s what we’ve got to accept about samsara.  We’re still not accepting life in samsara is the nature of suffering. We can’t change that fact. Suffering will never come to an end within samsara.  If we’re in samsara that is what we have to experience. We can’t change that. So we accept it, whatever comes our way, we accept, and then we use it, we use it to enhance our progress along the spiritual path, for example by dispelling our pride, developing renunciation, compassion, and so forth.

There is no meaning in rejecting suffering.  For ordinary people, when suffering arises they just try to avoid it, but then more comes and more and it is endless.  If instead we develop the courage to welcome it, confront it, then we can use it and we can finally bring suffering to an end.  We can do this if we recognize the good qualities of suffering.  It does require a tremendous amount of familiarity, starting off by voluntarily enduring or accepting minor sufferings, and then increasing our capacity until we can endure major ones.  But if we persevere in this practice, we will eventually succeed.  Then we will know true freedom.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Who are the real heros?

(6.19) Whenever I experience hardship,
I should fight my delusions, such as anger;
And whenever I experience physical pain,
I should use wisdom to maintain a pure and peaceful mind.

(6.20) Those who disregard all suffering
To destroy the foes of anger and so forth
Are the true conquerors worthy of the name “hero”;
Other so-called heroes merely slay corpses.

There are two main pieces of advice Shantideva is giving us here:  First, we should use every experience of suffering to strengthen our determination to win the war against our delusions.  This is called armour-like effort, where the more we suffer the more motivated we are to practice.  Second, we need to be ready to endure whatever difficulties there may be in the name of completing the path.  This is called the power of steadfastness.  Athletes, business people, soldiers, etc., are ready to endure enormous suffering and difficulty to accomplish worldly goals.  As Bodhisattvas, we should be willing to endure any difficulty on the path because the cause we are working for is so great.  A Bodhisattva will happily do so, knowing that because they have the courage and strength to do so, countless living beings will become freed from their suffering.

We have difficulty doing this because our attachment to pleasant feelings and worldly concerns is stronger than our spiritual intentions.  Our self-cherishing makes us concerned only about our happiness and our immediate freedom from our difficulties.  We give in to this, and as a result remain forever trapped.  If we want to break out of our delusions we have to be willing to endure temporary difficulty to gain long term freedom.  If we don’t, we will endure temporary difficulties forever and never break free.  This is our choice.  Kadampa’s see this is the choice and happily endure the difficulties, knowing they are bound for freedom and the ability to lead others to the same sate.

Some people mistakenly feel situations which provoke delusions are obstacles to our spiritual practice.  Quite the opposite, it is those situations that normally provoke delusions which are our opportunities to practice.  Every situation that provokes a delusion in us is an opportunity to train in its opponent.  Once again, we need to make a distinction between the ripening of a deluded tendency similar to the cause and generating a new mental action of a delusion.  A new action of a delusion follows a simple formula:  deluded tendency + assenting to it as being true = mental action of delusion.  If a deluded tendency for anger, for example, ripens, and we subsequently assent to that tendency as being true (strongly believing this external thing is indeed a cause of our suffering and wishing to harm that external thing), then we generate a new mental action of a delusion.  But if a deluded tendency ripens but we respond to it by NOT believing it to be true, and instead by generating the opponent to that delusion, then far from generating a new delusion, we actually just engaged in the virtuous action of the “moral discipline of restraint.”  This mental action creates the cause for upper rebirth and plants new tendencies on our mind which will make virtuous responses increasingly natural in the future.  If situations which normally give rise to delusion are in fact opportunities to practice, then quite literally there is no such thing as an obstacle to our Dharma practice.

There will be times when we experience physical pain, such as stubbing a toe or even having cancer.  At such times, our main practice should be to recall the wisdom of emptiness.  Quite simply, we try break the identification with our body.  If our friend stubs their toe, does it hurt us?  No.  Why?  Because we are not identifying with that toe as our own.  Yet when we stub our toe it hurts.  Why the difference?  Because we are identifying with our toe as being our own.  Every time we experience any pain, we should think, “not my body.”  We can observe the pain, but not identify with it as being our own.  If we see somebody hurt in a movie, we don’t experience any pain because we are in the audience.  In the same way, when we see this body being hurt, we should take a step back into the theater of the clear light emptiness and observe from a distance the movie of the hurt body.  I have a friend who has fibromyalgia, which is an experience of constant bodily pain.  She wrote Geshe-la asking for advice, and he said, “meditate on the emptiness of your body.”  This can be accomplished through breaking our identification with our body or dissolving our body into clear light by meditating on its emptiness.

Another useful way of doing this is to try “find the pain.”  The interesting thing about pain is the more you go looking for it, the more it disappears.  Very often doctors will ask us, “where does it hurt?”  And we point to our arm.  But don’t be satisified with such generalized identification, try identify exactly where it hurts.  When you probe deeper and deeper you can’t actually find the pain anywhere, and it goes away.  I agree, this is not easy; and I agree, it won’t work perfectly right away.  But if we are persistent with this practice, it does become more and more effective.  This does not mean we shouldn’t still take pain killers if we have them, but it does mean we can also apply the ultimate pain killer of the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Defeating external enemies does not make us a hero.  A true hero is able to defeat the internal enemies of their delusions.  Those who have done so are true conquerors, and their victory has actual meaning.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We suffer in proportion to our non-acceptance

(6.16) I should not become impatient
With heat and cold, wind and rain,
Or sickness, confinement, or beatings;
For, if I do, the pain will only increase.

We try then to increase our capacity to experience suffering with a patient mind.  We all have to start somewhere, build and increase that capacity, until eventually we are able to accept all the sufferings of human life.  When we have patient acceptance, it is not that there is a hardness of mind, we become so tough that nothing gets through to us.  Rather, it’s that there is no longer any resistance, any rejection in our mind. There’s actually an openness of mind.  Accommodating.  Open, accommodating, and peaceful.  And in this way, our mind becomes stronger.

How do we reconcile renunciation and patient acceptance?  It seems that acceptance says we should accept whatever suffering, whereas renunciation says we need to reject all suffering.  Actually, the mind of patient acceptance is the foundation of renunciation.  How so?  Renunciation can only arise in the mind of somebody who has accepted, fully and completely, that samsara is the nature of suffering.  As long as we are holding out that happiness can be found within it, we will not be sufficiently motivated to get out.  It is by fully accepting samsara is the nature of suffering that we become prepared to leave it behind.  Not accepting suffering is the same as thinking samsara should be giving us happiness.

Renunciation is developed with a very simple mathematical formula:  patient acceptance + correct identification of the problem = renunciation.  If we grasp at “samsara” as being some inherently existent external world, then we will develop aversion for everything in our lives.  Aversion is not renunciation, it is a delusion.  We have to correctly identify what our problem is, namely our delusions.  Samsara is not the world, it is the world as seen and experienced through the lens of our delusions.  More precisely, it is the world projected by our delusions.  The mind of renunciation is a wisdom that understands delusions can never fix the problems created by delusions.  It is a wisdom that understands deluded, impure glasses will perceive a deluded, impure world; but pure glasses will perceive a pure world.  By purifying our mind and abandoning all delusions, the world created by our delusions will simply cease to appear; and in its place, a new, pure world will appear.

The world we currently perceive is the karmic echo of our past delusions.  This karma is ripening, so we must accept it for what it is.  What gives us the power to accept is our ability to use everything, good or bad, for our spiritual progress.  Each contaminated appearance is another reminder to abandon our delusions.  If we are pushing away our suffering, or rejecting it, then we are not using it.  I would go so far as to say the mind that can patiently accept everything is, functionally speaking, liberation since if we can accept our difficulties they are no longer experienced as “suffering.”  A mind that can accept everything is a mind free from all suffering.

(6.17) Some, when they see their own blood,
Become even stronger and braver;
While for others, just seeing someone else’s blood
Causes them to become weak and even to faint!

(6.18) Both these reactions depend on the mind –
Whether it is strong or it is weak –
So I should disregard any harm that befalls me
And not allow myself to be affected by suffering.

We need to make a clear distinction between what is hard to do and that which is worth doing.  Many people when they hear about the path and overcoming delusions object saying, “but it is so hard.”  Yes, it is hard.  But what does that have to do with anything?  Just because it is hard does not mean it is not worth doing.  The real question is, “what is harder:  doing the path or not doing the path?”  It is far harder to not do the path because then we remain in samsara forever.  Following the path is hard, but it has an end to it and will deliver us from all suffering.  Not following the path might be easier in the short-run, but is infinitely harder in the long-run.  In short, we have no rational choice to not practice.

I’ll admit it, I like war movies and I like the Rocky movies.  These movies always follow the same pattern.  An underdog confronts nearly insurmountable odds, but through the force of their perseverance and ingenuity, they overcome and emerge victorious.  There is always some point where they face the prospect of defeat, then dig deep and give it that extra effort which pushes them through.  Samsara will knock us down – again and again.  Sometimes really hard.  Just as we get up, it will knock us down yet again.  But the hero never gives up, they keep getting up as many times as it takes.  In World War II, in the darkest days of the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill famously came out and simply said, “Never give up!  Never give up!  Never give up!” and then he went back inside.  That is the mind we need.

I believe to attain enlightenment we only need two things:  armor-like effort and the power of perseverance.  Armor-like effort is a mind that the more it is hit the more determined it is to keep up the fight.  The power of perseverance is a Winston Churchill like mind which will never give up, no matter how long it takes and no matter what the cost.  If we have these two, the mind of patient acceptance comes easy.  With patient acceptance, problems are no longer “suffering.”  On this basis, nothing can stop us from completing the path.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Start with accepting the small stuff

(6.14) There is nothing that is not easy to accomplish
If we develop familiarity with it;
So first I should learn to forbear small sufferings
And then gradually endure greater ones.

(6.15) This can be seen in those who voluntarily endure minor sufferings,
Such as animal or insect bites,
Feelings of hunger or thirst,
Or irritations of the skin.

Modern life is full of countless minor irritations.  From the moment our alarm goes off in the morning until having to get up to pee in the middle of the night, the entire day is filled with one minor annoyance after another.  There is almost nobody who does not awake with a groan, wishing to sleep some more.  Our morning practice is often filled with distractions, sleepiness, or little feeling.  We then have to get into uncomfortable clothes, such as a suit, or uncomfortable shoes, to go to work.  We then have to fight traffic only to arrive at work with an inbox filled with tasks to do and nonsense to sort through.  We have to attend mind-numbing meetings where we listen to those who go off on tangents irrelevant to the group or simply like to hear themselves speak.  We never have everything we need to complete our tasks, so they pile up, deadlines are missed and we feel constant pressure.  There is no time to take a break at lunch, just enough time to refill while eating at our desk.  Our work colleagues seek to blame us for their mistakes or pile their work onto us.  The help we receive is often inadequate or poorly done, requiring us to do it all over again ourselves.  Endless administrative paperwork fills our day.  The long report we have been working hard on lies unread on our bosses desk and nothing of substance ever comes of it.  The people who seem to least deserve it get promoted before us.  We leave work late, battle the traffic again, only to come home to a house filled with things to do, like make dinner, do the dishes, give baths to the little ones, brush the teeth of squirming kids, read the same stories for the umpteenth time, plead the kids to go to bed, and help older kids with their homework which we ourselves sometimes don’t understand.  Then, needing some time to unwind, we crash in front of the TV for a short period of time before going to bed later than we would want to.  Having a sex life seems like a distant memory from college.  Only to have to wake up to go the bathroom in the middle of the night with increasing frequency as we get older, leaving us feeling like we never get a full night’s sleep.  And all of this is just daily life.

Add on top of that financial stress of bills to pay, college tuition to save up for, family members becoming sick, ridiculous conflicts over insignificant slights with our closest relatives, family members who never appreciate what we do and who always complain about everything, weather that is too cold in the winter too wet in the spring and fall and too hot in the summer, never having enough money to do what we want, getting sick ourselves, experiencing death of loved ones, watching teenage dramas playing out with flowing tears, being blamed by our kids for all of the different ways we are a failure as a parent.  All of this only to be greeted with our friend’s Facebook feeds showing smiling faces, delightful vacations, award-winning kids, homemade bread making parties and nature hikes while we remain frazzled, exhausted and feel like a failure.  Speaking of Facebook, nobody has conversations anymore, friends are little more than pixels on our mobile phones.  While “friends” with the world, people have never felt so alone.  Oh, and don’t forget the invasion of ants and cockroaches in your kitchen which you try not to kill because you are a good Buddhist followed by the judgmental attitudes of those wondering why you can’t keep your FP or TTP commitments and make it to all the festivals.

Life is filled with minor annoyances, each one not a big deal, but added together and it becomes unbearable.  Chinese water torture is one drop at a time incessantly, so too is modern life.  Even being beaten with a wet noodle will eventually draw blood if struck enough times.  And we haven’t even confronted big suffering, like the death of a child or the sickness that will finally kill us.  If we can’t learn how to accept the small things, they will add up into a crushing burden.

When we do not accept the minor annoyances, each one takes a toll, and eventually we run out of strength to deal with anymore.  We then get into a very fragile state, where even the slightest problem becomes a huge deal for us because we simply can’t take anymore.  This is the experience of millions, but we always feel as if we are the only one enduring such endless problems.  Welcome to modern life.

Geshe-la said the purpose of our tradition is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  We have modern lives such as these, our job is to bring the Kadam Dharma into them so that they become the training ground in which we attain enlightenment.  There is no task more important than learning to accept our small sufferings.

To accept them does not mean to endure them, rather it means to use them in some meaningful, spiritual way.  We can accept them as purification, use them as a reminder of the nature of samsara, view them as an opportunity to train our mind in patience and love, use them as a reminder of the far greater suffering of others and thereby generate compassion, we can recall that in and of themselves, they are nothing, just mere karmic appearances of mind; we can transform them into our pure land with our tantric practice (the charnel grounds resemble quite closely modern life…), we can view ourselves as an emanation sent into this world to help others.  Or we can just take a step back into our clear light mind and watch it all pass like clouds in the sky.  The point is simple:  we either learn how to use these minor annoyances or they will eventually crush us under their constantly accumulating weight.  By learning to accept the small stuff, we can eventually gain the ability to transform worse and worse sufferings until eventually everything for us is an equal dance of bliss and emptiness.