Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: If you want to be given everything, give everything up

(7.25) To begin with, Buddha, the Guide, encourages us
To practise giving such things as food.
Later, when we become used to this,
We can gradually learn to give our own flesh.

(7.26) When eventually we develop a mind
That regards our body as being just like food,
What discomfort shall we feel
From giving away our flesh?

Sometimes we become discouraged thinking about all that has to be done, and everything that we will have to give up.  Let us be clear, we will have to give everything up.  There is nothing in samsara we do not have to give up.  We have to be willing to leave it all behind.  We need to get to the point where we realize, “there is nothing for me here.”

A pure practitioner I know wrote me once: “Recently I made this request – ‘I’m ready to take anything (lose job, money, reputation. go to prison, die) if you could give me enlightenment in this very life. So please help me’. I could not do this before. I was scared. When I was able to say this prayer, though, it was such a sense of freedom and joy.” 

Are we ready to make a request like that?  Would we feel a sense of freedom and joy in making such a request?  It is worth exploring what types of resistance we might have to honestly requesting such a thing.  Most of us are not yet ready to make such a request, and that is normal.  But what are we willing to give up and lose for our enlightenment?  These are important things to consider – what is our price – I am willing to give up this for enlightenment, but not that.  What makes it hard is our selfish wishes.  We still want to hang on to some things for ourself.  We aren’t willing to let go of these things because our selfish wishes are so strong.  This holds us back.  Eventually we will have to give up everything.  The mind of renunciation is one where if somebody offered us all of samsara for all the three times, we would not even be tempted.  We are single-pointedly interested in one thing:  waking everyone up from the dream of samsara.

The interesting thing, though, is the more we are ready to give up, the more we are given.  Giving is the cause of receiving.  We are so confused about karma that we think keeping is the cause of having things.  If we are willing to give up everything, what will we be given?

For example, how can we practice giving away our body right now?  We can take the example of a mother breast-feeding.  This is how we should view our practice of offering our body.  We put our body at the disposal of others.  We can do this at work, when we are with our family, anytime.  We view our body as belonging to others and we use it for their benefit.  We give them the ownership of our body, even though we retain control over its actions.  The supreme way of offering our body to all living beings is to offer ourself fully and completely, in this and all our future lives, to the spiritual guide.  We think, “Do with me what you wish.”  We can do this because we have confidence that he will transform us into a Buddha and use us to benefit countless beings.  We wish this very much and gladly surrender ourself in this way.  We can start small, by offering ourself to a few beings for a limited amount of time, such as playing with our kids or listening to a friend in need.  Then, gradually we can expand the scope until we can offer everything.  This is the supreme practice of a Bodhisattva. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The struggles of the path are a small price to pay

Our spiritual guide is creating for each one of us a perfect teacher out of his supremely skillful means and he is encouraging us to follow the Bodhisattva’s way of life leading to enlightenment.  We are being forged right now into the Buddhas we need to become.  We can view all of the problems we have now as those of our future students that we have taken on.  We have been given the problems of our future students now so we can learn how to overcome them.  By learning how to overcome our problems with Dharma wisdom, we gain the realizations we will need to help our future students be able to do the same.  We should view our difficulties as emanated by Dorje Shugden to forge us into the Buddha we need to become. 

We have everything we need.  If we do the math on the analogy of the blind turtle from the teachings on our precious human life, we see that the opportunity we have now comes only once every 475 trillion lives.  We have it all, the only thing we lack is the decision to do it.  Geshe-la has said this on many occasions.  To attain enlightenment, we only need one thing:  a stubborn refusal to ever give up trying, no matter what.  If we have this, since we have perfect methods, we will definitely get there.  It is guaranteed.  If we never give up, we will definitely succeed.  This is worth meditating on.  As Shantideva asks, “why should I, who am human and who understands the meaning of spiritual paths not attain enlightenment by following the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life?”

(7.20) Some people might be discouraged out of fear
Of having to sacrifice their flesh,
But this is due to not understanding
What we should give, or when.

(7.21) In our previous lives, over countless aeons,
We have been cut, stabbed, burned,
And flayed alive innumerable times;
But we have not achieved anything from these hardships.

(7.22) Yet the hardships we must forbear to attain enlightenment
Are insignificant compared to these.
It is like enduring the lesser suffering of surgery
So as to stop much greater pain.

(7.23) If doctors have to use unpleasant medical treatments
To cure people of their illnesses,
I should be able to forbear a few discomforts
To destroy the many sufferings of samsara.

(7.24) But Buddha, the Supreme Physician, does not use
Ordinary treatments such as these;
Rather, he uses extremely gentle methods
To eliminate all the great diseases of the delusions.

So perhaps we may become discouraged because we may feel that the hardships that we have to undergo to make progress along the path are too great. When we think of the sacrifices a Bodhisattva makes, even those we have to make right now, we can become discouraged thinking it is too much.  It’s too much work to do.  And a lot of things we feel we just cannot give up. We cannot give them up now, we cannot even see ourselves giving them up in the future. Many we do not even want to give up. We may think, “I can’t do it, I just can’t do it.  The Dharma is asking too much of me. It’s just overwhelming.” If we begin to feel like this or even if we feel overwhelmed right now, overwhlemed, then there is a danger that we turn to other things.  We give up on the idea of trying to follow purely the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life for a more modest goal.  Or maybe we give up on spiritual pursuits entirely.  We turn to other things that we feel perhaps could be more fulfilling with more immediate and seemingly attainable results.  Since Dharma seems so unrealistic, we turn to things that we feel will be just as beneficial to ourselves and to others – perhaps even more so. And importantly, we feel the need to turn to other things that we might find a lot easier.

We do not like to experience hardship. We like things to be easy and comfortable for us. There are many things perhaps we could do that are fulfilling for us, they are beneficial for ourselves and others, and that are a lot easier.  Seeing this, there is some danger we have to be aware of.  Perhaps such thoughts are lurking in our mind and we are tempted to give in to them and abandon our bodhisattva path.

We do exaggerate. Compared to what people in this world have to endure, let alone what people have to experience in other worlds such as the world of hell beings, it is nothing.  In comparison, it is nothing.  Even in this world we can think of – even in this country, in this town – we can think of the mental and physical suffering people experience every day of their life. Every day. And then we think of the suffering we have to experience every day of our life. Really, really, what do we suffer from? Compared to most people what do we suffer either mentally or physically by putting in effort to travel the path? It is insignificant, really. Almost laughable to even complain about.  And the medicine of Dharma, is it really that hard to swallow?  Venerable Geshe-la said that compared to the hardships yogis like Milarepa had to experience to purify their mind, we follow a much more comfortable path. The meditations that we are given are quite easy to swallow, really. Geshe-la has indicated many times we travel a comfortable path.  As Shantideva says, “But Buddha, the Supreme Physician, does not use ordinary treatments such as these; rather, he uses extremely gentle methods to eliminate all the great diseases of the delusions.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are all going to hell (unless we reverse course)

(7.8) With some things not yet started
And others half-finished,
The Lord of Death will suddenly strike
And I shall think, “Oh no, this is the end for me!”

(7.9) When I become a victim of the Lord of Death,
My relatives – their eyes red and swollen with sorrow
And their faces flushed with tears –
Will finally give up hope.

(7.10) Tormented by memories of my previous non-virtues
And hearing the sounds of impending hell,
Out of terror I shall cover myself in excrement!
What shall I be able to do in such a pathetic state?

(7.11) If even in this human life I shall experience terror
Like that felt by a fish being cooked alive,
What can be said of the unbearable sufferings of hell
That I shall experience as a consequence of my non-virtuous actions?

(7.12) As a result of the non-virtues I have committed,
I shall be reborn in the hot hells
Where my tender, young flesh will be scalded by hot, molten metals;
So how can I remain at ease under the control of laziness?

(7.13) I wish for higher attainments without having to make any effort,
Permanent freedom without having patiently to endure any pain,
And to remain like a long-life god while living in the jaws of death.
How foolish I am! When death comes, I shall be overwhelmed by suffering!

(7.14) By depending upon this boat-like human form,
We can cross the great ocean of suffering.
Since such a vessel will be hard to find again,
This is no time to sleep, you fool!

When we read such verses, we need to make them personal.  These things will happen to me.  It is guaranteed I will experience such suffering if I don’t purify and I don’t get out of samsara.  Such immense suffering inevitably and inescapably awaits us, yet we’re not prepared to give up our attachment to pleasure and to a comfortable life.  We agree that spiritual attainments, freedom, long life, and so forth would be great, wonderful! But in reality, we want these things as long as we do not have to put any effort in to get them. 

This is primarily due to our attachment to worldly concerns.  Why can we not even be bothered to even try to abandon this laziness of indolence?  When we think of the suffering that lies ahead of us. And if we think of the extraordinary happiness that could lie ahead of us, why do we not want to abandon this laziness of indolence?  We need to ask ourselves these questions and actually come up with answers – why exactly do we still do almost nothing?

The truth of our spiritual life is it is now or never. With the conditions we have now, we can achieve all the higher attainments, we can achieve permanent freedom, we can make it to the pure land.  We can achieve all these things with the conditions that we have.  We lack nothing.  Wo why do we allow this reluctance or resistance to practice to remain in our mind?  Why instead can we not see our laziness as one of our very worst enemies? This inner demon is preventing me from applying myself.  It is obstructing my joyful effort that would otherwise naturally give rise to such great results.

In this next verse, Shantideva addresses the laziness of being attracted to meaningless and non-virtuous actions.  There are many actions born of attachment that we would consider to be harmless, but they actually are by nature non-virtuous. For example, covetousness is a non-virtuous action. Idle chatter is a non-virtuous action.  Perhaps we feel these non-virtuous actions are harmless, but actually they are quite harmful because of the alternative we have.  They cause us to do nothing when we could be using our precious human life to do something.  Such meaningless and non-virtuous activities cause us to develop the habit of wasting our precious human life.  There are so many meaningless activities we distract ourselves with.  Why do we do it?

(7.15) Why do I forsake the joy of holy Dharma,
Which is a boundless source of happiness,
Just to seek pleasure in distractions and meaningless pursuits
That are only causes of suffering?

This is worth memorizing.  We have to think carefully about this.  Perhaps we feel many of our distractions or meaningless pursuits are not causes of suffering.  There are so many things that we do to distract ourselves, and we are not hurting anybody by doing them, are we?  Rather than focusing on virtue, we turn to other things for our pleasure.  We turn to the same things again and again, habitually.  This becomes a form of idle chatter.  We do not really enjoy those activities, but we also do not want to do anything virtuous, so we turn to these distractions instead. We are not actually getting much pleasure from them, but we would rather do such things than focus upon any virtuous activity.  It seems our biggest distractions are our mobile phones, the internet, and television.  How much time do we waste with these things?  This is our precious human life slipping away.  We should try spend a week without these things and we will see how much attachment we have for them.  We will also discover how much time letting go of these things frees us up to engage in virtuous activities.

This is not to say our phones, the internet, or television are inherently meaningless.  They only become meaningless if we do them with a meaningless mind.  But just because in theory they can be transformed into our spiritual practice does not mean we ourselves actually do so.  We have to be honest with ourselves.  This also does not mean we don’t sometimes need to rest.  Of course we need to rest to recharge our batteries, and sometimes doing these things is a good form of rest.  The fault lies when we do them beyond resting enough to be able to return to our spiritual practices refreshed. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Viewing our pets as our actual Yidam

The laziness in our mind is no doubt one of our biggest obstacles. It is also extremely dangerous.  Right now our Dharma karma is ripening, but if we don’t learn how to enjoy creating new good causes for ourselves, then we will eventually burn it all up and lose everything.  Usually what happens is we enter into a slow-motion drift.  We start doing less and less because we do not enjoy it anymore.  If we notice this pattern in our mind, we need to be careful.  It will not be long before we lose everything.  We will start to do the Dharma because we think ‘we should’ as opposed to ‘we want to’, and then this will lead to resentment towards the Dharma, our teaches, the center, our practices, etc., and eventually we will have the worst of both worlds – no enjoyment in samsara because we know none can be found there and no enjoyment of Dharma because we don’t pour ourself into it – we simply don’t want to do it.

(7.4) Why do we not realize that while we are caught
In the snare of delusions such as laziness,
We are trapped in the net of samsara
And held within the jaws of the Lord of Death?

(7.5) If I check carefully, I can see that the Lord of Death
Is systematically slaughtering everyone;
Yet still I am not concerned about my death,
Just like an animal unconcerned about being butchered.

(7.6) The Lord of Death is looking for his next victim
So that he can prevent him from travelling the path to liberation,
And that victim might well be me;
So how can I just indulge in worldly pleasures?

We do not realize our predicament. We are, frankly, not that different from animals.  Cats and dogs are attracted to the life of ease, aren’t they? Look at cats and dogs, they sleep so much of the time. Occasionally they get up to drink or to eat, or to go for a walk.  Once they have done so, they stretch themselves once again and go back to sleep. Such is a cat’s life – sub-consciously, there is part of us that thinks this is our ideal life.  Dogs are just the same. There is an attraction to it – an easy life. It is what we want.  We want a comfortable life. At no time does a cat or dog turn its mind to virtue.  If they had their choice, they would just relax throughout their life, oblivious to the fact that death is coming.  When they die, they then take another samsaric rebirth, probably a worse one.  How are we any different?  Of course, there is part of us that is different, but there is still part of our mind that wishes to live like our pets.  We are attached to a life of ease, unconcerned about our future.

(7.7) The time of death will come quickly,
So accumulate wisdom and merit while you can.
Do not wait until the time of death to abandon laziness,
For then it will be too late!

If we suffer from this laziness and make no effort to abandon it, then we will waste one opportunity after another.  How many opportunities do we have in one day to create virtue, to create the cause for liberation and enlightenment?  We can fill the whole of our day and make every moment of our day meaningful.  But due to laziness, we don’t.  There are so many things we can do in one day, turn to the field of merit, apply our understanding of lamrim in the circumstances we find ourselves in, recite mantras, send out emanations, accept things joyfully as purification.  All of these things we can do comfortably, joyfully. But we do not, due primarily to our laziness.  We know the methods, we just choose not to do them.

We can spend an hour, two hours, the whole morning, doing many different things, but none of them particularly meaningful. None of them leading to our attainment of liberation and enlightenment.  We can even be ‘doing’ Dharma things all day – working for the center, listening to teachings, etc. – but we are not actually practicing because we are not trying to change our mind and overcome our delusions and cultivate virtuous thoughts.  We just go through the motions out of some past momentum, but there is no new joyful effort in our mind.

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

With the mind of patience, it is as if we are in a pure land right now, while remaining in samsara.  I would say the mind if patience is a pure land.  In a pure land, there is no manifest suffering and everything functions to lead us to enlightenment.  With the mind of patience, there is no manifest suffering because we wholeheartedly welcome everything as useful.  Things may still be painful and difficult, but we do not experience these feelings as “suffering.”  These experiences are helping us attain enlightenment.  With the mind of patience, we create the pure land right here right now.

(7.2) Effort is a mind that delights in virtue.
Its opponents are the laziness of indolence,
The laziness of being attracted to non-virtuous actions,
And the laziness of discouragement.

We need to learn to distinguish clearly these three types of laziness.  We need to distinguish them clearly in our own mind. We need to know our own laziness of indolence, our own laziness of being attracted to non-virtuous actions, and our own laziness of discouragement.  We also need to identify how these forms of laziness prevent us from enjoying virtuous activity. 

(7.3) The laziness of indolence develops
When, through being attracted to worldly pleasures,
And particularly to the pleasures of sleep,
We fail to become disillusioned with the sufferings of samsara.

If we check we are all attracted to a greater or lesser extent to a life of ease.  If it requires any hardship and effort, then we’d rather not do it.  In fact, we’d rather not even think about it.  For example, setting our alarm – do we enjoy setting our alarm so we can rise early in the morning?  When we do wake up, whether it be naturally or unnaturally, are we eager to get out of bed and start our day?  It seems this is a metaphor for our samsaric life.  Just as we’d rather stay in bed, so too it seems we’d rather not bother doing what it takes to get out of samsara.

We have to be careful that we don’t simply enjoy our present conditions and use up our merit.  There was a teacher once who was simply enjoying his conditions, Ven Geshe-la said he used up his merit and lost everything.  It seems as if the goal of worldly life is to burn up as much merit as we can – to get as much worldly enjoyment out of this life as we can.  In personal finance, there is a rule ‘never consume your capital’.  If you do, then you have nothing at the end.  Instead, you invest it and then can consume the interest that is kicked off.  As Bodhisattva’s, we never consume, we always invest.  When our merit ripens, we reinvest it in the accomplishment of our spiritual goals.  In this way, we always increase our merit.

We live our life constantly with the thought, ‘I really must do …, but …’  This thought is all pervasive in our mind.  We say we really must do or Heart Jewel and Lamrim, we really must do our Dakini Yoga, we really must study for FP, we really must do some task for the center, we really must deal with the things that have been dragging on in our life.  But we always give in to the ‘but.’  We do other things, and never do what we have to do.  These things drag on, pile up, and overwhelm us.  The problem with this strategy is we have limited time.  In our ordinary activities, there are generally deadlines by which we have to get things done.  But for our spiritual practice, there is a real ‘dead’line that we can’t be late for – our death.  If we allow this habit of ‘I really must, but’ to remain in our mind, it is guaranteed that we will waste our precious human life and when we arrive at our death, we will be filled with regret. 

Why do we do this?  There is a very simple reason – we don’t want to do what is spiritually required of us.  There is resistance in our mind.  There is no real enjoyment at the prospect of engaging in our spiritual practice, there is no enthusiasm.  When we do engage in that virtuous action, we are often not delighting in it.  There is often no joyful effort in our mind.  Sometimes we feel we simply cannot be bothered, don’t we?  We can’t be bothered to pick up a book and study or do our practice.  Because we are too attached to doing nothing or to indulging in our worldly enjoyments.  At other times, we can even feel more strongly that we actually don’t want to engage in virtue.  We think and arrive at a conclusion, “In fact, I’m not going to. I’m not going to.” Such is the strength of our resistance, the strength of our laziness, actually.  We need to know the various types of resistance or reluctance that comes up in our mind and how to overcome it.  If we do not do this, it is guaranteed we will never make progress on the spiritual path, and we will never get out of our samsara. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: If you’re not enjoying yourself, you have no effort

The success of our spiritual training depends upon effort. Effort is not, as we will see, just engaging in the training itself but the enjoyment of it, delighting in it, even.  If we are delighting in it then we will maintain an enthusiasm for it, and we will always look forward then to opportunities to train in formal and informal ways.  We will come to enjoy formal training, such as studying, meditating, teaching, doing puja, and so forth. We look forward to such opportunities.  But we will also appreciate too any opportunities that arise during our daily activities to train. For example, we can appreciate the opportunity to train in being of service to others, showing a good example to others, and so forth. In general, our main job is to bring lamrim into our daily life. With effort, we’ll happily take every opportunity to do so.

We know too well that when we go to practice – whether it is our daily meditations, attending classes or pujas, going to festivals, or even just looking at our daily life through a lens of Dharma – we sometimes meet with resistance in our mind.  Sometimes we have obstacles and sometimes we just don’t want to do Dharma things.  Over these next verses, we will be looking at the obstacle of laziness that prevents us from joyfully putting effort into our training.  

The old Kadampas used to say that our main job is to help others as much as possible and harm our delusions as much as possible.  Shantideva’s Guide is our primary manual for how to do so.  He is ruthless with our delusions.  If we are not careful to differentiate between ourselves and our delusions, we can feel like Shantideva is attacking us or judging us.  In reality, he is trying to free us from the tyranny of our delusions.  In the last chapter, he trashed our anger.  In this chapter, he eviscerates our laziness.  Just wait until Chapter 8, when he takes on our attachment – especially our sexual attachment!  It is important that it feels like our delusions are being bashed, not us.   It is hard to feel joy in our practice if it is an exercise in self-flagellation.  Over the next several posts we will discuss this obstacle of laziness that we have in our mind that is opposing our efforts. And we will as well discuss the four powers that we can use to strengthen and increase our effort.

(7.1) With the practice of patience I should train in effort
Because the fruit of enlightenment depends upon it.
Just as a candle flame cannot move without wind,
So the collections of wisdom and merit cannot grow without effort.

It is important to further explore the link between patience and effort.  Patience gives us freedom to enjoy ourselves.  We will see through our practice of patience that we can enjoy ourselves even whilst in samsara. How does patience then give us such freedom?  At present there is an imbalance in our mind. Mainly our attachment on one hand, and aversion, anger, hatred on the other. A severe imbalance. We know the stronger the one, the stronger the other.  If we weaken our aversion, anger, hatred, and so forth, through the practice of patient acceptance, it will weaken our self-cherishing and self-grasping.   Without a doubt, this will make our mind a lot more peaceful.  And the more peaceful we are feeling, the more we are able to enjoy what we are doing.  In this way, patient acceptance gives us freedom to enjoy.

When things are difficult for us, we generally cannot enjoy ourselves.  All day long, we face one difficult situation after another.   We must be careful because we can be pushing things away all day long. From when the alarm goes off in the morning until we go to bed at night, we are pushing away things that we don’t like.  This prevents our enjoyment.  We end our day feeling that we haven’t enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole of that day. We feel difficulties come along and they end our enjoyment. They bring our enjoyment to an end. There are difficulties. Why?

We can ask ourselves now. Why is our enjoyment either prevented or stopped?  It is because we are not accepting difficulties with a patient mind.  What is definite is without acceptance, there can be no enjoyment. Without such acceptance, how can there be any enjoyment? It is only when we accept, when we have a patient acceptance that we can then enjoy or continue to enjoy.

With acceptance we can enjoy whatever happens or comes our way.  Normally if we are enjoying ourselves doing what we wish and somebody comes to us with a problem or with something for us to do, we think, “oh no.”  There is a mind of rejection.  Now, if we were to welcome the person with a problem, without any resistance, then we can maintain the peaceful, happy mind that we had whilst we were enjoying ourself. Now we can enjoy being with and helping others.  That is patience.  What we need to understand is patience gives us the freedom to enjoy ourselves, whatever we may be doing.

We reject things because we don’t know how to use them to accomplish our goals.  We easily accept things that we do know how to use to accomplish our goals.  Because our goals are presently largely worldly, there are some things we can use and some things we need to push away.  If our goals our primarily spiritual, where we genuinely want to train our mind to become a Buddha, then we can use everything.  Because we can use everything, we can accept everything with a peaceful mind.  Because we can accept everything with a peaceful mind, we can enjoy everything, all day long, without break. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Without patience, there is no effort

Before we dive in to the actual verses on the perfection of effort, I want to first say a few words about the relationship between the perfection of patience and the perfection of effort.  All of the six perfections mutually reinforce one another – strengthening our experience and realization of one makes all of the others easier.  Likewise, we can say that the earlier perfections are the foundation for the later perfections, for example giving is the foundation of moral discipline because giving counters our attachment, the principle cause of our non-virtue.  In the same way, patience is the foundation of effort. 

How can we understand this?  Patience is a mind that is able to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, including adverse conditions or unpleasant feelings.  It can do this because it knows how to transform whatever arises – the good, the bad, and the ugly – into spiritual fuel.  Effort is taking delight in engaging in virtue.  It does not mean working hard, gritting our teeth and grinding on, it means genuinely enjoying ourselves as we travel the spiritual path.  The Kadampa path is called the “Joyful” path, and the joyful here comes from our joyful effort.  We cannot “enjoy” things we are pushing away with aversion, we are pushing them away precisely because we don’t enjoy them.  Since we encounter unpleasant things all of the time, if we are encountering them with an unhappy mind, we necessarily do not have joyful effort, even if it seems we are “practicing” Dharma in response to what is arising.  So at least half of our time is not “joyful.” 

But as we saw in our discussion of the last chapter, we need the mind of patience acceptance to also spiritually transform so-called pleasant experiences, such as wealth, happiness, praise, and a good reputation.  Normally, our attachment hijacks these experiences and transforms them into “enjoying samsara” not “enjoying our spiritual practice.”  There are many people who think the mind of renunciation is a tight, unhappy mind that deprives itself of joy.  After all, aren’t we renouncing samsara’s pleasures?  Without the mind of patient acceptance, we do not know how to wholeheartedly welcome pleasant conditions with a spiritual mind.  We just welcome them with our ordinary mind of attachment.  Further, when good things happen, we normally show no interest in spiritual practice.  We are happy to enjoy our pleasant life, and only feel the need to practice when samsara shows its ugly head.  

But effort is not just joyful, it is also energy that powers our practice forward – in other words, it is fuel.  The wisdom of the perfection of patience knows how to transform everything into spiritual fuel, and this fuel in turn powers our practice forward with effort.  We need to differentiate effort in our Dharma practice into two types:  impure and pure.  Impure effort is effort we put into our Dharma practice for the sake of this life and pure effort is for the sake of our own or other’s future lives.  Pure effort and spiritual effort are synonymous, because they concern things beyond this life.  Pure effort itself has three levels – effort aimed at escaping lower rebirth, effort aimed at escaping samsara, and effort aimed at becoming a Buddha to liberate all beings from samsara. 

All three of these types of pure effort depend upon patience.  Many people deny the existence of lower realms and many people live in denial about all of the unpurified negative karma that remains on our mind.  To patiently accept also means to mentally be at peace with the truth of Dharma.  When we don’t know how to process facts such as lower rebirth, we tend to push such teachings away.  But we need to embrace the horror of what they imply before we will feel a burning energy to do something about it.  Likewise, patience is the foundation of renunciation.  As long as we push away samara’s sufferings and chase after its pleasures, our real motivation is to find a comfortable place within samsara, not escape it.  The wisdom of patient acceptance accepts the truth of samsaric existence and it is able to transform all of its experiences into spiritual fuel propelling our practice.  Others still become very attached to those they love not suffering, and when they go down, we go down with them.  We alternate between the extremes of indifference to others suffering or being crushed and discouraged by it.  Just as we need to accept the truth of our own suffering before we will generate renunciation, so too we need to accept the truth of others’ suffering before we will be compelled to seek to become a Buddha to do something about it. 

For all of these reasons, we can see clearly without patience, then, we have no effort.   

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”.