Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We wouldn’t uninvite somebody to a party.

(4.4) If, having made the bodhichitta promise,
I do not actually put it into practice,
Since I shall be deceiving all these living beings,
What sort of rebirth shall I then take?

(4.5) It is said that someone who, out of miserliness,
Does not give even the smallest ordinary thing
That he or she has dedicated to others
Will be reborn as a hungry spirit.

(4.6) So, if I were to deceive all living beings,
Whom from the depths of my heart I have invited
To be guests at the banquet of enlightenment,
How could I take a fortunate rebirth in the future?

When we generate bodhichitta, we are making a promise to all living beings that we will not stop until we have saved them all.  The fact that they might not be aware of the promise we have made to them changes nothing, the promise has been made.  It is generally bad to promise to come to somebody’s aid and then to let them down.  To abandon our bodhichitta promise is to let everyone down.

It is important here we make a distinction between what our wisdom knows to be good for us and what our delusions think is good for us.  When our wisdom is functioning, we see things clearly and we know what is right.  When our delusions are functioning, we see things in a distorted way and it clouds our wisdom.  It is normal that there will be times when our delusions are the dominant force in our mind, and at such times we may forget our bodhichitta or even regret it.  When this happens, we haven’t gone back on our promise.  If we then recall our wisdom that led us to our bodhichitta promise in the first place, we are able to bring ourselves back to that space of clarity and we know clearly and unequivocally that our delusions are wrong and our wisdom is right.  This is the “training” of a bodhisattva.  Just as when our mind gets distracted in meditation, we need to recall our contemplation and bring our mind back to our object; so too in life when we become distracted by our delusions, we need to recall the wisdom leading to bodhichitta and bring our life back to the bodhisattva’s path.  If we fail to apply effort to do so, out of laziness, attachment or lack of concern for others, then we have gone back on our promise.

We imagined ourself surrounded by all living beings, and for their sake made a promise in front of our spiritual guide and the whole field of merit.   Not acting on this promise is like going right up to a beggar, getting some money out, and not giving it. Except, it’s a million times worse.

Some people really don’t like Shantideva because he uses such powerful rhetoric and he seems to revel in making us afraid.  Being afraid is an uncomfortable feeling, and so we assume such fear is a delusion and to be abandoned.  We got into meditation because we wanted to be happy, not become somebody who has the “fear of God (karma) drilled into them.”  Many people left their Christian upbringings due to all the fire and brimstone, and quickly become disheartened to find similar things in Buddha’s teachings.  It is clear, Shantideva is trying to generate fear in our mind.  He does this again and again.  Why does he use this approach?

The reality is much of the Dharma is about generating correct fears.  It is perfectly appropriate to be afraid of gravity, just as it is appropriate to be afraid of fire.  Such fears protect us.  Being afraid of losing our boyfriend or our money is an incorrect fear because such events are, in and of themselves, neither good nor bad.  It is how we relate to them that makes them so.  Irrational fears of the paranoid person believing people are out to get them when they are not are surely destructive and to be abandoned.  But fear of valid dangers is entirely correct, and a wisdom mind.

The harsh truth is we remain completely oblivious to the danger we are in, and our denial of it won’t protect us.  When we know we are in danger of losing our job, we do everything we can to protect it.  In the same way, we are in danger of becoming forever lost in the slaughterhouse of samsara.  We should be afraid.  We should be very afraid.  This fear protects us from the laziness of wasting our precious human life.  It protects us against being deceived by our delusions into committing negativity.  It protects us from complacency about having a happy life or being satisfied with our own freedom while everyone else drowns.

Many people relate to the Dharma like a hobby or like a club.  They enjoy meeting with their Sangha friends and enjoy the feast of a tsog puja.  There is nothing wrong with that, and in fact it is far better to enjoy the company of our Sangha friends than a party full of drunk people.  But is it good enough?  We can even enjoy making offerings, pujas, etc. but if there’s no fear present, then what will be the results of our practices?  Will they have the power to deliver us from lower rebirth much less propel us to liberation and enlightenment?

We need to get over our aversion to Shantideva invoking fear.  We need to try to understand what kind of fear we’re meant to generate and how important it is, because it comes up again and again.  Of course when reacting to anything with strong self-grasping, self-cherishing, the mind will be unpeaceful.  This is why we need to increase our faith and wisdom.  But unlike others, our mind will become more peaceful.  Fear can be present in our mind, but we’ll feel more and more peaceful as a result.  The causes of refuge are fear and faith.  Without fear, there is no refuge, nor any faith.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Why do we feel so unconcerned when our bodhichitta fades?

(4.2) If an ordinary action is undertaken in haste
Or without being well thought out,
It might be appropriate to reconsider,
Even if a promise has been made;

(4.3) But how could I possibly turn back
From something that has been examined
By the wisdom of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,
And that I too have repeatedly examined?

One of my most frequent mistakes is I let my enthusiasm get ahead of my wisdom.  I have all sorts of big plans, I will often commit myself to all sorts of projects, only to realize I am unable to complete them all or in fact the projects I have started aren’t worth completing at all.  Doing this with respect to ordinary projects is generally a bad habit.  It is better to commit to less, but bring it all to completion than to commit to everything and not accomplish anything.  Most of the time we can solve this problem with careful sequencing.  We put off certain projects until later so we can complete the priority projects now.  But sometimes we need to just abandon certain efforts.  It is better to admit your mistakes than to continue to repeat them just because at some point you made a commitment to do the wrong thing.

But our bodhichitta commitment, our Bodhisattva vows, can’t be like that.  There is a famous joke which says, “Quitting smoking is easy!  I’ve done it many times.”  Our bodhichitta commitment needs to be different.

The point is this:  all the omniscient ones have spent aeons examining what is most beneficial for living beings, and their conclusion is it is the mind of bodhichitta.  A Buddha’s mind knows all paths, directly and simultaneously.  They can see what is beneficial and what is harmful to living beings.  The paths of delusion, the paths we have been travelling up until now, all lead to further suffering.  Indeed, just as all roads lead to Rome, all delusions eventually lead us to the deepest hell realm.  But the path of bodhichitta leads to permanent freedom for ourself and for all living beings.  It will never deceive us, we can follow it with confidence.

The problem is this:  the benefits of bodhichitta seem uncertain and far off whereas the supposed benefits of delusion seem certain and near at hand.  As a result, we choose delusion every time.  This is why it is critical that we become an expert at realizing, as Geshe-la has told us, “all delusions are deceptive.”  All delusions promise us some reward or benefit if we follow them.  Our attachment tells us that through it we can obtain the object of our attachment, but the more we grasp the more it remains out of our reach.  Anger tells us it can destroy our causes of suffering, but all it does is create even more.  Jealousy tells us we will be able to keep what we hold dear, but all it does is drive good things away.  Ignorance tells us it gives us an “objective” look at reality, but all it does is enmesh us in a web of illusions.  Spite tell us we will feel better when we see our enemies suffer, but as Shantideva points out there are special cauldrons in hell for those with such minds.  Our miserliness tells us it is guarding our wealth, but it condemns us to future poverty.  Our doubts tell us they protect us from believing something that is wrong, but it actually prevents us from believing anything, even what is right.  All delusions are deceptive.  They promise us happiness, but they only increase our suffering.  All we need do is examine our own life and the truth of this will become obvious.

There is nothing about our present happiness that makes it more important than our future happiness.  Our happiness of now seems very important, but this happiness used to be a happiness in the future.  If we hadn’t cherished our future happiness in the past, we would enjoy no happiness now.  In the same way, if we do not now cherish our future happiness, we will know nothing but misery and misfortune.  Present happiness is temporary and short-lived, whereas future happiness is forever.  Future happiness is more important for the simple reason it is longer in duration.  Our attachment to our present happiness causes us to waste our precious opportunity to train in the path of Dharma, an opportunity we are unlikely to find again.

If we are to sustain our bodhisattva path, we need to contemplate again and again how the fruits of bodhichitta are definite (and indeed immediate because we are happy all of the time when this precious jewel pervades our mind), whereas our delusions always lead us astray.  Then we won’t be fooled by the false logic of sacrificing our bodhichitta wishes for the sake of temporary elusive gains.

Most of the time, we don’t actually make the decision to abandon our bodhichitta, rather it just gradually fades away serendipitously.  Without us noticing, day by day, month by month, year by year the Dharma begins to fade in importance.  We still pay lip service to our bodhichitta, and when times of crisis come we rediscover our faith, but the sense that our life has a clear spiritual direction and purpose, the feeling that we are on a mission from which we will never turn, is gone.

We know how precious Bodhichitta is.  Over the years we’ve thought a lot about this mind.  We’ve come to appreciate the value of this mind so much.  We know how precious it is.  What is curious is why do we seem so unconcerned about its increase or decrease within our own mind?   If someone were to ask us, “how has your Bodhichitta been over the last few months?  Has it become stronger or weaker,” most likely we wouldn’t really know, or might not really care.  We think it doesn’t matter.  It comes back to this.  Generally we seem a little unconcerned as to its increase or decrease.  If we value Bodhichitta, why do we feel so unconcerned?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Now the work begins

CHAPTER 4 – Relying upon Conscientiousness

It’s quite remarkable that we met the Mahayana Dharma, and have found ourselves taking Bodhisattva Vows.  Due to quite powerful virtuous karma we created in the past we are now experiencing its effects.   What we have to be careful of is not “riding upon our karma,” enjoying what we have created for as long as those imprints continue to ripen, without trying to build on what we have.  If we don’t apply effort, creating even greater, more powerful causes day by day, things naturally will degenerate.

We have to remember that tendencies are effects of karma.  We can find ourselves now engaging in virtue.  Maybe there’s some tendency to engage in virtuous practices, Mahayana practices.  But right now our deluded tendencies are stronger than our virtuous tendencies, and our virtuous tendencies eventually will run out if we don’t apply effort, if we don’t build on what we have.

Why is it that we do let things slip?  Perhaps because we feel it doesn’t matter so much.  Which leads to the question we must ask ourselves, “what does matter in my life and what doesn’t matter?” This is a very important question.  Our answer very much depends on what we want from our life, ourself, others.  It seems to me conscientiousness is very much related, directly related, to what we believe matters.  When we believe something matters, we’re always ready to act if necessary.  If we feel something doesn’t matter, then we won’t act.

We can generate and even maintain a strong intention sometimes, for example around the time of Spring and Summer Festivals.  But we know those intentions deteriorate after a while.  Our virtuous intentions deteriorate and other intentions arise, taking us in a different direction, along familiar paths, samsaric paths, ordinary paths.  When this happens, whatever practice remains has little power to bring about any deep changes.  How do we stop this from happening to us?  In particular how do we prevent our Bodhisattva Vows from degenerating?  Shantideva gives us the answer – only by practicing conscientiousness.  Without conscientiousness, we will gradually stray from the trainings we have promised to engage in.  It is just a question of time.

(4.1) A practitioner who has firmly generated
Aspiring and engaging bodhichitta in this way
Should always apply effort without wavering
So as not to stray from the trainings.

We must “apply effort without wavering so as not to stray.”  There is a real danger of us straying.  This happens time and time again, we see it all the time.  Familiar faces we would rediscover at every festival suddenly disappear, Sangha friends we imagined spending eternity with gradually drifting away.  Or perhaps we see it in ourselves.  Whereas before, we could think of nothing more important to do than receiving teachings, now we can’t seem to find the time to do so.   Even if we feel insulated from this now, we have on our mind the seeds to misunderstand something and then it spirals out of control and we lose everything.  All it takes is one doubt, usually about one’s teacher, and we lose everything.

What is conscientiousness?   It is a mental factor which in dependence upon effort cherishes what is virtuous and guards the mind from delusion and non-virtue.  In the context of Shantideva’s Guide, our conscientiousness will be cherishing the virtue of Bodhichitta, the causes of Bodhichitta, the Bodhisattva Vows, the Six Perfections, and so forth.  At the same time it also guarding the mind against anything that will take us in a different direction.  Geshe-la says that conscientiousness prevents the mind from being influenced by delusion. Through conscientiousness we can reduce our delusions and it can protect us from incurring downfalls.

It is great to be inspired by Shantideva’s soaring poetry on the benefits of bodhichitta, but such inspiration can wear off and lose its power to move our mind.  What we need is not to be inspired, we need to be ready to get to work.  It all begins with conscientiousness.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Invite all living beings to be your guests

(3.32) It is a vast sun that completely dispels
The fog of unknowing from living beings.
It is the quintessential butter that arises
When the milk of Dharma is churned.

(3.33) For the honoured guests, the beings on samsara’s paths
Who wish to enjoy the delights of bliss,
Bodhichitta will satisfy them all
By leading them to the supreme state of bliss.

(3.34) Today, in the presence of all the Protectors,
I invite all living beings to be my guests
To enjoy these temporary and ultimate delights.
May gods, demi-gods, and everyone else be joyful!

The sign our understanding of emptiness is correct is we feel a sense of responsibility towards everything.  Geshe-la says, “there is no creator other than mind.”  Our mind is the creator of all, so therefore we are naturally responsible for everything that appears to it.  When we understand that others are not separate from us, but are rather other limbs on the body of living beings or other waves on the ocean of our mind, then the duality between ourselves and others fades away.  We no longer make a distinction between our own and other’s happiness, rather we come to see all beings as parts of our self.  In the same way, if we live our life according to Bodhichitta, we naturally come to see and understand the interdependent nature of reality.  We live in accordance with how things are, and as a result our wisdom naturally increases.  Bodhichitta realizes that only wisdom has the power to solve our problems because all of our problems arise from ignorance.  Instead of being preoccupied with avoiding the result of suffering, we seek to eliminate its cause, namely ignorance.

All of the Dharma can be condensed into bodhichitta.  We have a precious human life with which we can accomplish the highest of all possible spiritual goals, but we will most certainly die and we don’t know when.  We are most likely headed for the lower realms, and even if we avoid them we remain trapped in the illusion of samsara just like everyone else.  Other living beings are our kind mothers, indeed they are aspects of ourself.  Seeing this, there is no sense in freeing only one part of our self (the self that we normally see) when we need to free all of ourself (all living beings).  Only a Buddha has the power to do that.  Within bodhichitta is great compassion, faith and superior intention.  Within great compassion is cherishing others and renunciation.  Within renunciation is the teachings on karma, the lower realms and death.  With one mind, we have all virtues and oppose all delusions.

Bodhichitta seeks not to merely bestow upon others ordinary, contaminated happiness of samsara, but the eternal freedom that comes with liberation and enlightenment.  Even the most sublime pleasures of samsara are crude toxins compared to the inexpressible bliss of enlightenment.  Safety in samsara is not safe at all, it is simply a waiting room for our inevitable slaughter and resurrection, only to be slaughtered again.  Only the bliss of full enlightenment is real safety, for ourself and for all living beings.  Beings seek satisfaction in a good partner, their jobs, intoxicants, etc., but like someone drinking sea water, they find none.  Deep inner satisfaction is only found when our mind is at peace, and there is no inner peace more sublime than the mind of great bliss.

Bodhichitta is the most precious thing in the universe.  It is everything, everything that others need, especially in order to find the freedom and happiness they yearn for.  It can be brought to them only by the power of Bodhichitta. Everything that we need can be brought to us by the power of Bodhichitta.  Shantideva knows this and he’s thinking “and I have it! I have it!” He wants to throw a party and toast Bodhichitta. He’s overjoyed.  Amongst all the virtues, Bodhichitta is unsurpassed.  And it has arisen in his mind! He can’t believe it.

We should feel the same way, even with artificial Bodhichitta.  Every day we should take the Bodhisattva Vow and spend time feeling like Shantideva feels.  We should delight in our decision.  At such times we try to strengthen our decision to follow the internal path of a Bodhisattva leading to the supreme inner peace at our heart.  At such times we must see ourself as an actual Bodhisattva, and then try to behave as an actual Bodhisattva.

I had the good fortune of receiving teachings from Gen-la Losang on the benefits of bodhichitta.  For more than an hour, without any notes, he spontaneously went from one benefit to the other extolling bodhichitta’s unsurpassable benefits.  He said the bodhisattva’s way of life is like somebody preparing for the greatest banquet the universe has ever seen, in which all beings are invited to partake freely of pure enjoyments and rediscover their loved ones never to be parted again.  It is a party in which every pure wish is forever fulfilled, all good results are brought to fruition.  It is like the ultimate victory party over the greatest enemy of all, delusion, a hard won freedom fully enjoyed.  And the best part is the party will never stop, but can be enjoyed forever by all.

 This concludes the third chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled Generating Engaging Bodhichitta”.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The universal bridge to freedom

(3.30) It is the supreme medicine that relieves
The sickness of living beings,
And a shady tree that provides shelter
For weary beings travelling samsara’s paths.

The bodhisattva’s path is the supreme medicine that relieves all sickness.  Kadam Bjorn explained that all physical sickness comes from delusion, and all delusion comes from imbalances within our subtle body.  If we treat the physical sickness without curing the underlying causes, new, different sicknesses will inevitably emerge to take their place.  But if we can remove the underlying causes, we need never be sick again.  We can gain permanent release from all sickness.

The essence of the Sutra bodhisattva path is the mind of bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of all.  This supremely virtuous mind directly or indirectly opposes all delusions.  All sickness is a result of negative karma, and all negative karma is driven by delusion.  The bodhisattva does not merely seek to pacify his or her own delusions, they seek to eradicate completely the delusions of all living beings.  The essence of the Tantric bodhisattva path is gathering and absorbing all of our inner energy winds into our central channel at our heart, giving rise to the mind of clear light with which we meditate on emptiness.  This brings perfect balance and harmony to our subtle body, permanently freeing us from all sickness.  Ordinary medicines have no such power, only the supreme medicine of the Bodhisattva’s path does.

Samsara’s paths are endless and they provide no respite.  Even when we enjoy good fortune, we never stop having problems because our deluded mind re-projects “problems” on everything we experience.  Samsara’s paths are endless because they go in circles, they never lead anywhere.  Samsara is like a Rubik’s cube for which there is no solution, but we vainly keep playing thinking, “maybe this time it will be different.”  Where are we to find shelter?  Where are we to find the way forward?  Where are we to find an actual solution?  Only in the Bodhisattva’s path.  It solves all our “problems” because everything becomes fuel for our training.  It leads us on the only road away from the cycle of suffering.  It makes clear the only solution to samsara’s games is to stop playing them.  We all thirst for relief, but it will only be found by taking up the Bodhisattva’s path.

(3.31) It is a universal bridge by which all living beings
Can be delivered from the lower realms,
And a rising moon of a mind
That relieves the torment of their delusions.

If we actually could see the demographics of samsara, we would realize virtually all beings languish in the lower realms.  Look at the world today, about 1% control most everything, and the rest of us  struggle over scraps.  Human beings only account for about 0.1% of all beings on this planet, the rest are animals, insects and so forth.  Virtually all of the actions of those in the lower realms are non-virtuous, so of course they remain.  The fortunate beings burn up their virtuous karma and do little to nothing to replenish it.  When it is exhausted, they inevitably fall.

Only the bodhisattva’s path provides a way of emptying the lower realms once and for all.  By eliminating ignorance and dullness from our mind, we close the door on the animal realm for ourselves.  By eliminating miserliness and attachment from our mind, we close the door to the hungry ghost realm for ourselves.  By removing anger from our mind, we close the door to the hell realms for ourselves.  By becoming a Buddha, we gain the ability to bless the minds of all beings every day, and we have the patience and time to lead each and every being gradually to freedom.  According to Tantra, we can literally end samsara in an instant, not just for ourselves, but for all the beings of our karmic dream.

Geshe-la says that the person who cherishes others is like a magic crystal that has the power to transform any community.  What need is there to say of the transformative power of one driven by bodhichitta?  Look at what Geshe-la has done in this world.  One sickly and frail Tibetan armed only with his bodhichitta and Shantideva’s Guide has single-handedly restored the pure Kadam Dharma in the world and brought it to every corner of the modern world.  Look at what great beings like Ghandi, Jesus, Mohammed, Moses and the like have done in this world.  Such is the power of a bodhisattva.  There is no reason we cannot do the same, if not in this life, then in our future lives.  Venerable Tharchin said, “every time I see a new person come through the center door, I see the future savior of all, a future holder of the lineage.”  Such is the vision of a bodhisattva.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else can promise such things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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