Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Overcoming attachment to worldly life

Joyful effort also helps with our concentration.  It is impossible to direct our mind towards virtue if we have any of the three types of laziness (indolence, attraction to what is meaningless or negative, or discouragement).  We recognize that training our mind in concentration is like training our body.  We are getting our mind in shape.  Choice of mind is like a muscle, the more we exercise it, the stronger it gets.  By making our choice of mind strong, we gain control of everything and every situation, including death.  We gain the ability to choose how we respond to any situation in a way that moves us to enlightenment.  This is real freedom.  In this respect, exercising our choice of mind is the most important thing we can do, because doing it will accomplish everything else.

We want concentration, because it is only through concentration that we can mix our mind with our virtuous objects.  The cause of happiness is inner peace, and the cause of inner peace is mixing our mind with virtue.  The more we mix our mind with virtue, the more peaceful our mind will be, and thus the happier we will be.  If we can mix our mind 24/7 with virtue, then eventually we will be happy all the time, regardless of what happens.  When our mind is taken to other objects by distractions and attachments, then it destroys our inner peace and thus our happiness.  The most important object of meditation is the wisdom realizing emptiness.  By mixing our mind with this virtue, it uproots all of our delusions because the object of all delusions is a contaminated object.  We will look more at emptiness when we get to Chapter 9 of Shantideva’s text. 

In particular, we need to overcome our attachment to worldly life.  We are constantly distracted due to our attachment to worldly life. What we do now, in these next verses, is take a long look at worldly life and develop a strong wish, a determination, to leave it behind. Shantideva helps us to let go of our attachment to worldly life in these next verses.  For the moment we can take a look at worldly life and our attachment to it.  We tend to confuse two things, a Bodhisattva’s life amongst worldly beings and a worldly life itself.  We mix these two thinking they are the same.  They are not.  We need to be able to distinguish the two so that we are not following a worldly life. We cannot follow the example of worldly people. We cannot lead a life like theirs because it leads to suffering, doesn’t it? It leads to further lives in samsara, which are the nature of suffering.

The work we do can sometimes be mundane in its aspect.  But that does not make it worldly.  It is spiritual work if we do it with a spiritual motivation.  There are two ways we can make our mundane activities into spiritual ones.  First, we can have them be directed towards the accomplishment of spiritual goals, such as spreading the Dharma.  Or second, we can engage in them to work on our mind.  Our job is to do these things we normally do in our modern life without delusion.  Our job is to work on our delusions that come up as we do our external work.  Doing work in this way accomplishes two things:  it accomplishes our preliminary practices of accumulating merit and purifying negativity and it also helps connect people with the Dharma. 

We ourselves must reduce and finally overcome our own attachment to worldly life, and instead adopt a spiritual way of life.  We must stop turning to objects of attachment and stop pursuing objects of desire. Otherwise, we end up helping no one. We do not make any spiritual progress and we don’t help anybody else to make progress. We remain trapped within the fangs of delusions like everyone else. 

We can have an interest in people, possessions, and reputation. We must have an interest in things because they can be useful for accomplishing our spiritual goals, but we should not have an attachment to them.  How can we distinguish between the two?  An attachment to these things means we think that our happiness depends upon them, that without them, we cannot be happy.   An interest in them means we realize the value of these things for the accomplishment of our spiritual goals.  But if we do not have them, our happiness is not destroyed, rather we are motivated to do better.  If we have attachment to these things, then they will disturb our concentration in meditation.  If we have a spiritual interest in them, we will be able to set them aside and concentrate on the object of our choice.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Being on Retreat is a State of Mind

We now can turn to Shantideva’s verses.

(8.1) Having generated effort in this way,
I should place my mind in concentration;
For a person whose mind is distracted
Is trapped within the fangs of the delusions.

(8.2) Distractions do not arise for those
Who abide in physical and mental solitude.
Therefore, I should forsake the worldly life
And abandon all disturbing thoughts.

(8.3) Attachment to people, possessions, and reputation
Prevent me from forsaking the worldly life.
To abandon these obstacles,
I should contemplate as follows.

(8.4) Realizing that delusions are thoroughly destroyed
By superior seeing conjoined with tranquil abiding,
I should first strive to attain tranquil abiding
By gladly forsaking attachment to worldly life.

What does it mean to abide in physical and mental solitude?  If this is what we long for, how do we not start to view our family, friends, work, and other responsibilities as “obstacles” to our training in concentration?  What does it mean to abandon the “worldly” life?  How it is possible to train in the way Shantideva explains and still attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life that Geshe-la encourages us to do?

There are two levels at which we can answer these questions:  conventionally and ultimately.  Conventionally speaking, we can say that these instructions on concentration refer to those times when we are able to go on retreat and focus on our practice.  It is very important that we do so.  Retreat is like doing a deep dive into our mind, where we find both terrifying sea monsters but also priceless Dharma jewels.  We should train alternately in retreat and our daily practice.  We go into retreat from time to time to discover new spiritual wonders or take our practice to the next level, and then we train in our daily practice to consolidate and solidity what we discovered during our retreat.  Even physically being on retreat is not enough if mentally we bring our normal world with us in our mind.  We remain distracted and preoccupied with our normal life and are therefore not able to truly and fully mix our mind with our Dharma objects.  We therefore sometimes need both physical and mental solitude, and we need to leave our family, friends, work, and normal concerns completely behind. 

Ultimately, though, we do not need to limit our training in concentration according to Shantideva’s instructions to when we are able to get away on solitary retreat.  There is nothing stopping us from being on retreat right now – with our families, at work, out in the world.  Being on retreat is a state of mind, not an external condition.  We can externally be on retreat, but still mentally in the ordinary samsaric worlds; or we can be in our normal modern lives, but mentally be on retreat.  How can we have physical solitude while out in the world?  By being inside our indestructible drop at our heart with our guru as we go about our day.  The world still churns around us, but we remain with our isolated body (maybe not yet of completion stage, but a similitude of it) inside our heart.  Mentally we can remain in solitude by believing we are on retreat and viewing everything that happens to us during our day as part of our retreat.  We can be certain (or can we?) that we are the only one in our office with this mental view, so in this sense we are in mental solitude on retreat even while at work.  Our work and family are only “worldly” if we relate to them in a worldly way.  If instead, we view everything that happens to us during our day is part of our retreat emanated by Dorje Shugden for our spiritual training, then nothing will be worldly for us, even though conventionally what is happening around us is just another Tuesday in samsara.  

Sometimes we go from one extreme to another.  We either grasp at our normal modern life as inherently “not retreat” and only being on solitary retreat at Tharpaland as being “on retreat.”  Or we go to the other extreme of thinking we can transform our every day into our long retreat by adopting the mind of retreat as we go about our day and then conclude we don’t also need to, from time to time, do conventionally normal retreat.  In truth, we should be on retreat all the time – the only thing that varies is whether we are on retreat in the context of our normal modern life or at a Kadampa retreat center.  We should always be in physical and mental solitude and we should always leave behind worldly life, again regardless of whether we are at Tharpaland or not. 

We can understand the importance of the training we have studied so far in achieving success in concentration. Mindfulness and conscientiousness.  These helps us to become aware of what is going on in our mind and develop an attraction towards and appreciation of virtue and a distaste for non-virtue.  This redirects our mind towards virtue since our mind is naturally drawn to what it considers to be a cause of happiness.  Patient acceptance.   When we are trying to concentrate and we discover that we have lost our object of meditation, we can often enter into a ridiculous dialogue of guilt and discouragement about how we cannot concentrate.  We should just accept what has happened and redirect our mind back towards our object.  How can we accept it? We can study what our mind goes to to show us what we still need to abandon, etc. We can accept it as Dorje Shugden giving us another chance to create the karma of generating our object of meditation, and thus create the tendencies on our mind to do this.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Abandoning Attachment to Results

Bodhisattva Downfall:  Being preoccupied with the taste of mental stabilization

Here taste refers to the experience of bliss, peace, and suppleness induced by concentration.  If we become attached to this and regard it as the ultimate result of concentration, we incur a downfall because this attachment diminishes our wish to help others.  The real value of concentration is it is a means by which higher realizations can be achieved.

For most of us, we have very little experience of the taste of actual mental stabilization, so from one perspective this downfall can seem remote to our experience.  But it drives at a deeper point in terms of how we approach our practice of meditation.  There is a fundamental difference between meditating in search of results and meditating in pursuit of creating causes.  The former is an example of this downfall and the latter is the correct way of practicing. 

What does it mean to meditate in search of results?  Quite simply it means our intention of meditation is to enjoy pleasant inner experiences while doing so.  In other words, we treat meditation as simply another means of fulfilling our worldly concern of experiencing pleasure.  We like to feel “blissed out” or we want to forget our troubles or we simply become attached to experiencing results while we meditate.  Or we become despondent when our practice is a struggle, we can’t seem to focus, find our objects, and we feel nothing in our practice.  All of these are examples of this downfall.  The definition of pure practice is practicing for the sake of our future lives.  Clearly practicing for the sake of the time during our meditation session is not that. 

Attachment to experiencing results while meditating is very common and can be very subtle.  We perhaps want to experience some sort of “ah ha” moment, or perhaps we are attached to attaining a certain level of mental concentration, such as the second mental abiding.  In our Tantric practice, it is very easy to become attached to the imagery and the visualizations, relating to it as some form of spiritual pornography.  At a subtle level, it can simply be a subtle form of wanting to harvest the results of past efforts and judging the success of our meditation against the standard of whether or not it was a “good meditation” (by which we mean one that was pleasant and easy going).  Such attachment to results while meditating quickly destroys our practice.  Attachment functions to separate us from the objects of our attachment, so the more attached to results we become the more distant they will be.  Likewise, when results do not come, we quickly become frustrated with our practice and can falsely conclude that it doesn’t work.  Many have completely abandoned their practice for this reason.  This can especially be a problem for people who do retreat.  In my view, attachment to results during retreat is the single biggest problem people face during retreat, and if they do not learn how to overcome it retreat time can be a living hell creating all sorts of bad habits they then carry into their daily practice.

The correct way of practicing is to completely forget about any results.  Our only goal in engaging in practice is to create good causes, not harvest their results.  We seek not to experience any results, rather we seek to progressively improve the quality with which we create good causes for ourselves.  Like a training gymnast, we strive to perfect the internal gymnastics routine that is our sadhana.  Like someone diligently saving up their money, we view our daily practice as our rare opportunity to put away some good causes for a better future.  Like a squirrel, we go about the work of stocking up inner resources for the long winter ahead.  For a practitioner free from attachment to results, difficulties during meditation are greeted with enthusiasm since we know we are working through our greatest obstacles.  The greater the inner struggle, the happier we are because we know it is by persevering through them that we will make it to the other side.  Retreat for a pure practitioner is not engaged in with any hope for results, rather it is viewed as an extremely rare and precious opportunity to create countless good causes for the future.  Venerable Tharchin said we should think that everything that happens in this life was caused by actions of our past lives, and everything we do now will not ripen in this life but only in our future lives.  While of course this is not strictly true, there will be some effects which ripen from causes created in this life, as a mental outlook this is perfect. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to overcome Obstacles to Concentration

Bodhisattva Downfall:  Not overcoming obstacles to mental stabilization. 

In this context there are five.  If we make no effort to abandon them we incur a secondary downfall: (1) Needless self-reproach and excitement, (2) Malicious thoughts, (3) Sleep and dullness, (4) Distracting desires, (5) Frequent and disturbing doubts.

Needless self-reproach refers to how we tend to beat ourselves up when we discover that we have become distracted.  Anger at ourself is still anger, and therefore a delusion.  When we discover we have been distracted, we should patiently accept it and gently (but firmly) decide to go back to our object of meditation without unnecessary drama.  It’s normal and natural that we become distracted, that is why we are training.  Needless excitement refers to when we have some mental breakthrough or some profound “ah ha” moment and we get over-excited about it.  Sometimes this is hard to resist, but our over-excitement about it will cause us to lose the feeling or understanding.  Better to be happy and try to maintain the continuum of remembering the new discovery for as long as we can.  The longer we do, the more deeply we plant the new understanding on our mind.

Malicious thoughts are bad both in and out of meditation, but they are especially bad in meditation itself.  We do not usually realize, but this happens more than we think.  What often happens for me is I am meditating on some idea of Dharma, and then it causes me to recall how somebody else in my life is not living up to this idea of the Dharma, and then I start to judge the other person using the Dharma as my lens of judgment.  This can also take the form of we are angry at somebody, we sit down to meditate to try calm down, but we spend our whole meditation time contemplating the faults of the other person and why we are right and they are wrong.

Sleep and dullness happens to all of us.  Our gross minds arise from our subtle minds, and our subtle minds arise from our very subtle mind.  The entire purpose of meditation is to plant the Dharma at increasingly subtle levels of mind.  When we do so, all of the minds that are grosser than the depth to which we have planted the Dharma will be a reflection of the Dharma pattern we planted deeper than these gross levels of mind.  It is a bit like putting the stained glass of Dharma on our mind, and the light that then shines through it reflects the pattern of the stained glass.  The more we concentrate, the more subtle our mind becomes.  The problem for us is the only subtle minds we know are sleep.  So when we enter meditation, we fall into the parts of our mind that correspond with sleep and we become sleepy, we get the “nods” (our head bobbing up and down as we fall asleep while trying to stay awake), etc.  There is not a single meditator who does not, from time to time, struggle with this.  What can we do to overcome this?  First, it is usually best to meditate in the morning because we are more rested and less likely to fall asleep.  If we are generally groggy in the morning, we can take our shower and shave first, do our meditation, and then get dressed for the day.  Second, when it does happen, accept it as part of our training.  When we die, our mind will likewise become increasingly subtle.  By learning to try to maintain mindfulness of our objects of meditation as our mind becomes more subtle is the best possible training we can do to become prepared for death.  Third, we need to keep a positive attitude.  Do not beat yourself up or feel like a failure, instead know you are purifying and working through your obstructions.  We all have to go through this.  It is a training, not a demonstration of accomplishment.  Fourth, sometimes if it is really bad, we can try open our eyes, stretch, roll our head around to the maximum extent possible in a circle, etc.  As a general rule, we should avoid giving in to the sleepiness and going to take a nap.  This is a bad habit to get into, and it will train our mind to equate meditation with taking a nap, and so we will have the problem of sleepiness even more in the future.  If you want to take a nap, you can do so after your meditation is over, but you will find that most often as soon as you come out of meditation your sleepiness goes away.  Fifth, request blessings.  The Buddhas are right there waiting to help us with our meditation.  All we need to do is request their help with faith.  It does not matter if the sleepiness goes away.  What matters is we keep training and keep trying.

Distracting desires was discussed extensively in the earlier posts on the vows related to mental stabilization, so I refer you there.

Frequent and disturbing doubts refers to our inability to ever believe anything until we are 100% convinced.  Blind faith is an extreme in the Dharma, but so too is the inability to believe.  We need to ask questions and probe the Dharma to gain a deeper understanding, but we also need to not expect to have a perfect understanding until we actually attain enlightenment.  We need to be like a scientist.  Scientists work with hypotheses.  They gather all available evidence and information, and they say, “given all of this, what is the most logical and reasonable conclusion I can draw.”  That conclusion then is their “hypothesis.”  They then say, “how can I test to see whether or not this hypothesis is correct?” and they design experiments to test the validity of their hypothesis.  The results of their experiment then give them more information and evidence with which they can either confirm or modify their hypothesis.  They continue to work in this way, gradually refining their theories until eventually the develop “laws of nature” or “scientific axioms.”  Throughout this entire process, they are never 100% sure that their theories are correct, but they are able to reach sufficiently high confidence levels that for all practical purposes this is what they “believe” to be true.  On the basis of this belief, they can build cars, computers and space ships. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to Train in Concentration

Once we have a deep appreciation of the benefits of our objects of meditation, and mixing our mind with them is genuinely felt to be the most important thing in our life, then we will not find training in concentration to be that difficult.  We train as follows: First, we contemplate the benefits of mixing our mind with our chosen object to generate a desire to do so.  Then we engage in the contemplations which give rise to our object of meditation as explained in the various books.  Once we have found our object, we simply try to maintain the continuum of remembering it, in particular remembering its meaning.  In the process of doing this, basically without us being aware of it, our mind will gradually slip away and become distracted by something else.  At some point we will “wake up” and become aware of the fact that we have lost our chosen object of concentration.  When this happens, we then ask ourselves the question, “what is more beneficial, mixing my mind with this object of distraction or mixing my mind with my object of meditation?”  If we have done our preliminary work well of realizing the benefits of our objects of meditation, the answer to this question will be obvious and heart-felt.  We then, on the basis of this desire to mix our mind with our object of meditation, re-engage in the contemplations which lead to our object and we start the cycle over.  We continue in this way again and again for as long as we have time to actually meditate.

The actual attainment of tranquil abiding appears to be a very high attainment and appears to be very far off.  Given this, it is difficult for us to actually be motivated to train in tranquil abiding because it seems like an impossible task.  Venerable Tharchin explains if we do not think something is doable, we cannot really generate a genuine effort to do it. 

It is useful for us to consider the benefits of the earlier mental abidings.  The first mental abiding is being able to remember our object for one minute.  This is the basic building block for all subsequent attainments in concentration.  Think of how revolutionary it was for humanity to develop the first brick.  Think how that one invention has changed the world.  It is the same with the first mental abiding.  The second mental abiding is being able to remember our object for five minutes.  These are the cornerstones of our future enlightenment.  Bricks are wonderful, but they can easily fall.  If, however, we have the ability to make solid cornerstones then the structure of the object within our mind will be very solid.  The third mental abiding is when we forget our object of meditation, we can quickly regain it.  This is the difference between having to laboriously make each brick by hand compared with having industrial equipment which can crank them out quickly and perfectly every time. 

The fourth mental abiding is the ability to go an entire meditation session, even one that is four hours long, without ever once completely forgetting our object of meditation.  We are able to maintain the continuum of our meditation without interruption.  This is, in many ways, our most important attainment along the entire path.  The benefits of this are countless.  First, once we attain the fourth mental abiding, we see directly that it is entirely doable to attain tranquil abiding.  Because we see it is doable, we can then easily generate the necessary effort to complete our training in concentration.  Once we attain tranquil abiding, enlightenment will come very quickly.  Getting to the fourth mental abiding is like entering into a slip stream that leads inexorably to the attainment of tranquil abiding.  It is said that once we attain the fourth mental abiding, if we enter into strict retreat it is possible to even attain tranquil abiding within six months. 

Second, once we get one object to the fourth mental abiding it is fairly easy to get all of the others to the same level.  Venerable Tharchin advises we take one object and get it to the first mental abiding.  Once that is stable, we then bring all of the others to the same level.  We then do the same with the second mental abiding, the third mental abiding and finally the fourth mental abiding.  The attainment of each abiding is like a muscle.  Once we build up the strength of a given muscle to lift 10 kilos, then it does not matter if the object we are lifting is round or square, we can lift it.  It is the same with the muscle of concentration. 

Third, we will have built the foundation of our future enlightenment.  Bricks are nice, cornerstones are great, but without a solid foundation it is all vulnerable.  Getting all of our meditation objects to the fourth mental abiding is like laying the entire foundation for our future enlightenment.  Everything that follows will be built on this foundation, and everything we subsequently build will not be lost nor fall down.  Once we get all of our objects of meditation (the 21 lamrim meditation, the six perfections, the three bringings, and the generation and completion stage objects) to the fourth mental abiding we will have laid all the necessary foundation for building enlightenment in our mind.  This is a very important moment in our spiritual life.  It basically means there is no going back for us for at least the rest of this life.  There is no longer a danger of us losing the path in this life.  There is no danger of us wasting our precious human life. 

Fourth, the greatest benefit of attaining the fourth mental abiding is we can guarantee we will make it to the pure land at the time of our death.  Venerable Geshe-la explained at a summer festival many years ago when he first started teaching about the Mahamudra that if we attain the fourth mental abiding on the Mahamudra object, then it is guaranteed we will attain the pure land at the time of death.  Once we attain the pure land, we will be guaranteed to complete our training.  This means attaining the fourth mental abiding is, for all practical purposes, us reaching a point of inevitable emergence from samsara.  If we can just make it to here, we will make it all the way. 

Attaining the fourth mental abiding is entirely doable.  We may not at present genuinely believe we can attain tranquil abiding, but if we put enough effort into it, we do feel that attaining the fourth mental abiding is something that is doable.  It will not be easy, it will take a lot of work, but surely it takes less effort to attain the fourth mental abiding than the amount of effort we put into the average professional career.  But just look at the difference in the rewards between the two!  A good career may create stable external conditions for the rest of this life; attaining the fourth mental abiding will create stable internal conditions for eternity.  

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why We Need Concentration

As I did with the other chapters on the different perfections, I will first discuss how we train in the bodhisattva vows related to the perfection of mental stabilization.  The vows and commitments are like the synthesis instructions for all that follows.  By practicing our vows sincerely, we create all of the necessary conditions for being able to successfully train in the perfection.  This is particularly true for the perfection of concentration.  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that the practice of moral discipline is the foundation of concentration.  Moral discipline functions to control our gross distractions and concentration functions to control our subtle distractions.  Together, they enable us to focus our mind on virtue.  The cause of happiness is mixing our mind with virtue.  Our ability to do so depends upon concentration, which in turn depends upon the mindfulness we develop through the practice of moral discipline.

Bodhisattva downfall:  Neglecting to train in mental stabilization. 

The attainment of Tranquil Abiding is necessary to achieve profound realizations.  Therefore, if we fail to make an effort in the following areas we incur a secondary downfall:  (1) To listen to and think about the instructions on tranquil abiding, and (2) To improve our concentration by training in tranquil abiding.

At the end of the day, we have been given perfect methods for attaining enlightenment.  We have been given everything.  All we now need to do is actually do them.  Our main problem is when we do our practices, our mind is filled with distraction.  While outwardly it appears that we are meditating, inside our mind is wandering everywhere except where it is supposed to be, namely on our practice.  If we can learn to overcome this one problem, progress along the path will come very quickly.

Why is concentration important?  Ultimately, the strength of our concentration determines the extent of our spiritual power.  The more powerful our practice, the more quickly and profoundly we make progress.  It is no exaggeration to say we are fighting a war against our delusions.  It is an all or nothing battle.  Either our delusions defeat us or we defeat our delusions.  There is no middle ground, there is no peace treaty or compromise possible.  Appeasement only emboldens the enemy.  Either we exterminate them or they will not stop until we are pinned down into the deepest hell forever.  This may sound like exaggerated rhetoric, but it is not. 

Delusions are relentless in their deceptions and they will never stop.  At no point will they ever be satisfied thinking this person is deluded enough, they will keep deceiving us until they drive us literally insane.  The more freedom we give our delusion to reign within our mind, the more they will seize control of us and make us do things which only serve to harm ourself or others.  They are an enemy without remorse.  They have no redeeming qualities.  The only reason why we do not see this or realize it is because they have us so firmly in their grasp that they have convinced us they are our friends.  Against an enemy such as this, we need power to defeat them.  Concentration is our power.

Concentration has two components:  (1) remembering our chosen object of meditation, and (2) realizing its object clearly.  In the beginning, our primary focus should be remembering the object.  To remember the object means to keep it in mind, to maintain the continuum of keeping the focus of our mind on the object of our choice.  The ability to do this is called mindfulness.  Mindfulness simply means remembering our object, or more practically, not forgetting it. 

If we check, there is really only one reason why we forget our objects of meditation.  It is because we think our object of distraction is more important or more interesting than our object of meditation.  To us, the value of our objects of distraction seem evident and seem immediate, whereas the value of our objects of meditation seem abstract and seem to be far off in some uncertain future.  If we want to remember our objects of meditation, we need to reverse this.  Remembering our objects of meditation has to become, for us, the most important thing in our life.  If we can remember our objects of meditation, we will find permanent freedom.  If we allow ourselves to forget them, we will quickly be swept away and become lost forever.  Again, this sounds like hyperbole, but it is not.  The stakes are this high, the choices are this stark. 

If we want to remember our objects we have to want to remember them because we understand them to be the most important things in our life.  We accomplish this by meditating again and again on the benefits of each meditation we do.  If we check, a very large proportion of all of Geshe-la’s books is simply an explanation of the benefits of the different objects of meditation.  We should not gloss over these and try jump straight to the object of meditation itself.  If we do this, we will quickly become distracted, receive almost no benefit, and then gradually abandon our practice.  If instead, we take the time in the beginning to focus most of our time and attention on contemplating and meditating on the benefits, then we will become very motivated to remember our objects when we are in meditation.  When we meditate on the benefits of a given object of meditation, the most important thing to focus on is not the “what” but rather the “why.”  In other words, just knowing what the benefits are will have little power if we do not understand why the given object of meditation produces the actual benefit.  If we do not directly see and understand the connection between the two, our desire to mix our mind with these objects of meditation will be superficial at best and lack the power necessary to remain with them.  When distractions come, we will eagerly go with them.  In particular, we should focus on realizing the benefits of meditating on death, the benefits of bodhichitta, the benefits of the self-generation object and the benefits of the Mahamudra object.  These are our main and most powerful objects of meditation.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Understanding Inner Freedom

We now start Chapter Eight, Relying upon Mental Stabilization.

Now it is time for our attachment to come under attack. Are you ready? 

Chapter 8 has two parts:  The first part is technically on concentration, but the part is actually on overcoming attachment.  The second part, which we will do next year, is on exchanging self with others.  Why is the chapter on attachment when its subject is concentration?  The primary obstacle to pure concentration is our attachment.  Our mind goes to whatever it considers to be a cause of happiness. Because at present, we think our happiness lies in samsaric objects, we are naturally drawn to them during meditation.  Because we do not think there is any happiness in our meditation objects, our mind doesn’t remain centered in them.  The only way to change this is to do the work inside our mind to change our assessment of the various objects.  We do this all the time, where our opinion of an object changes from bad to good or from good to bad.  We need to do the same thing here. 

What is freedom?  Normally we say freedom is the ability to choose without obstruction.  There are two types of freedom, outer and inner.  Outer freedom is what we normally think of as freedom, we can do what we wish externally.  Inner freedom is freedom of the mind, where we can choose our reaction to things, and remain calm and happy all the time, regardless of what happens.

The principal obstacle to our inner freedom is our attachment.  Attachment is when we believe that our happiness depends on something external.  That some external object is the cause of our happiness.  This makes us unfree because there are two possibilities:  We do not have the object of our attachment, and therefore we cannot be happy.  Or we have the object of our attachment, and we either fear losing it or it doesn’t live up to our expectations for it of giving us the happiness we seek.  A good example is when I spent my wedding night in the Queen Victoria hotel in Paris.  There was some super rich lady who was not even content there.  She certainly could not be content anywhere else. 

In chapter 8 we will look at our two biggest delusions:  sexual attachment and self-cherishing.  Shantideva knows us.  The more we overcome these delusions, the more freedom we gain of being able to be happy all the time, regardless of our external circumstance.

Before I dive in, I want to saw a few words about dealing with delusions, in particular the attitude we should adopt when delusions arise in our mind.

Step 1:  identify that we are deluded.  The sign a delusion has arisen in our mind is our mind is not at peace.  Normally when our mind is not at peace we go looking in the external to try find out why, but in reality we need to look inside our mind to see what is wrong.  We can make requests, please help me to identify the delusion in my mind.

Step 2:  Acknowledge and overcome the delusion.  Normally we fall into the extreme of expression.  We believe our delusion to be true and we believe it when it tells us if we follow it we will be better off.  In reality, this just makes matters worse because it destroys our inner peace further and it creates the tendencies similar to the cause to have similar delusions again in the future.  The other extreme we fall into is suppression.  This is especially the case if we are a Dharma practitioner and we know we are ‘not allowed’ to express our delusions.  Here we pretend, either to others externally or to ourselves internally that we are not deluded.  Those who are really good at acting tend to be the best suppressors.  We pretend because of our pride.  We cannot admit to ourself or to others that we are deluded.  We think we are better than we are.  We pretend because we do not really want to abandon our delusions.  We know if we admit the problem, we will have to apply the solution.  We prefer to deny that we have a problem, just like a drug addict.  We also suppress when we still ‘want’ to follow the delusion in our heart, but know we ‘shouldn’t.’  In such a situation, when we do not express, we necessarily suppress. 

The middle way is to accept the existence of the delusion within your mind, but not accept its validity.  We need to accept that for as long as we are still in samsara, we will continue to ‘fart’ delusions.  We use this fact to increase our desire to stop identifying with contaminated mental aggregates.  We also accept that we have a lot of karmic inertia in our mind, so just because we know better doesn’t mean we are able to have no delusions arise within our mind. 

One powerful way to accept the existence of the delusion is to break our identification with them.  I am not deluded, rather there is delusion within my mind.  The key to disempowering the delusion is to recognize it as a lie.  It promises us much, but it delivers the exact opposite.  We need to make this very personal and realize how our personal delusions betray us and torture us.  Then we will not be fooled by them.  What we never do is accept the validity of the delusion itself.  Even if the delusion overpowers us, we should never assent to its lies.  Shantideva said it would be better to have our head cut off than to ever bow down to our delusions.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Pride is the death of effort

We allow our delusions to remain because we have pride.  Pride blinds us to the delusions in our mind.  We don’t even realize that we have delusions, and we don’t seek to identify the delusions within our mind.  A good example of this is sometimes people read Dharma instructions where it says, “we are lazy” or “we have pride” or “we have self-cherishing,” and they get all offended, thinking, “no I don’t.  Speak for yourself.”  Geshe-la explains in Universal Compassion that we need to train in the three difficulties, the first of which is identifying the delusions in our mind.  If we don’t admit the delusions in our mind, how can we possibly overcome them.  It takes humility to admit we have delusions, it takes effort to identify them.  It takes work to overcome our delusions, and most of the time we can’t be bothered.

We sometimes feel like Shantideva is exaggerating, but that is only because we do not realize our samsaric situation.  We are lured into a false sense of security based on what is currently appearing to our mind.  We should not be fooled.  Our real home in samsara is hell, and it is to hell that we are bound to return if we do not get out. Maybe not at the end of this life – maybe we will get lucky – but what about the life after that?  What if we do not get lucky?  What if we die today?

(7.75) To ensure that I have the strength for all of this,
Before I commence I will recall
The instructions on conscientiousness
And rise to these tasks with suppleness of body and mind.

(7.76) Just as a piece of cotton moving back and forth
Is controlled by the movement of the wind,
So with my body, speech, and mind controlled by the joy of effort
I will swiftly accomplish all realizations.

We do not have very much suppleness, do we? We do not have any suppleness, really.  Or at least I don’t.  We almost have the opposite of suppleness, really.  Our body and mind are often quite rigid and inflexible.  Tightness in our body or mind makes it quite hard to turn to and remain on virtue. Why do we have tightness?  Because we are holding ourselves back.  When we throw yourself completely into our practice without looking back, then we get this kind of suppleness.  We need to be more determined than ever to overcome our delusions, because they are like chains binding us in samsara.  When we realize this and we understand what real freedom is, then we will naturally want to break free from them.

To attain enlightenment, all we need is effort.  With effort comes everything else.  Without effort, nothing is possible.

This concludes the seventh chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled Relying upon Effort”.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Delusions are more dangerous than death

Now Shantideva turns to relying upon the power of mindfulness.

(7.68) Just as a seasoned warrior on the battlefront
Approaches the enemy’s weapons with care,
So will I protect myself from the weapons of the delusions
And bind these enemies so that I can destroy them.

(7.69) If someone drops his weapon during a battle,
Out of fear he will immediately pick it up again.
Likewise, if I ever lose the weapon of mindfulness,
I will recall the sufferings of hell and out of fear restore it straightaway.

(7.70) Just as a little poison will spread throughout the body
With the circulation of the blood,
So, given an opportunity,
The delusions will spread throughout my mind.

(7.71) A Dharma practitioner should practise as attentively
As a person would walk if he were forced to carry a jar brimming with oil,
Fearful in the knowledge that, if he spilled just one drop,
The tormentor behind him would slay him with a sword.

(7.72) Therefore, just as I would quickly jump up
If a snake were to crawl into my lap,
So, whenever sleep or laziness threaten,
I will swiftly remove them from my mind.

(7.73) Each time faults such as delusions arise,
I will thoroughly chastise myself
And then focus for a long time
On the determination not to let that happen again.

(7.74) In this way, in all situations
I will acquaint myself with mindfulness –
Sincerely and purely practising Dharma
So that I can protect myself and others from suffering.

I love how Shantideva frequently used military metaphors for our Dharma practice.  In truth, the stakes of Dharma practice are much higher than those of warfare since war at most can harm us in this life, whereas delusions can harm us in all our future lives.  Further, by keeping us trapped in samsara, delusions prevent us from attaining enlightenment and all those we would otherwise be helping if we attained enlightenment would continue to suffer.

We should have Shantideva levels of fear of our delusions.  Normally, we don’t think it is a big deal if we generate a little jealousy, anger, or attachment.  So we allow these poisons to course through our mind, growing in strength, until eventually they control us completely.  In the end, we need to make a choice:  our delusions or enlightenment.  We can’t have both, we must choose.  One day or another, we must completely eliminate all the delusions from our mind, the only question is when do we start.

I also think it is very important to remember our default in samsara is we are headed to hell.  All of us.  If we do not purify, we will eventually fall.  There is no third possibility.  Virtually everyone we know or see on the street will soon be in hell.  Hell is the natural abode of samsara.  Demographically speaking, only a very small percentage of the beings in samsara are not in hell.  Trying to escape hell while remaining in samsara is like trying to escape the gravity of the sun while being close to it. 

In Joyful Path the story is told of a person standing in a doorway and he asks his disciple whether he is going in or out.  The disciple replies, “it depends on your intention.”  The same is true for our remaining in samsara or getting out.  We stand in the doorway of a precious human life, whether we go further into samsara or get out depends upon our intention.  In reality, even that is not true.  If we don’t decide to get out and put in the necessary effort, we will fall deeper in.  No one has ever attained liberation or enlightenment by accident.  Either they put in the effort or it never happened. 

To overcome our laziness, we need to rely on mindfulness remembering the dangers of delusions and remaining in samsara.  If somebody thought they were about to starve or their family would be evicted from their home, the would work tirelessly to prevent that from happening.  This is how we should be.  We should constantly remember, “I am en route to hell, and so is everyone I know or love.”  We must think carefully about our samsaric situation if we are to overcome our laziness and increase our effort.

Generally speaking, we’re quite lazy about identifying and opposing our self-grasping and our self-cherishing aren’t we?  We’re quite lazy. We allow them to remain in our mind, don’t we?  We sometimes even think they are our friend.  We think our delusions take care of us and help us so we allow them to remain.  All delusions are deceptive.  They trick us into thinking they are helping us.  It is only when our delusions are really strong and we are really unhappy that we feel any burning desire to get rid of them.  But besides then, we are content to go about our day “happy enough.”  The only function of delusions is to harm us. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Knowing when and how to rest is part of effort

Now Shantideva gives some advice on the fourth power we need to rely upon in order to increase our effort, the power of rejection.

(7.67) If I become weak or tired, I should stop what I am doing
And continue with it once I have rested.
When I have done something well, I should not be attached,
But move on to what needs to be done next.

It is important that we take time to rest so that we can then continue to put effort into our Dharma practice and into our Dharma activities.  People tend to oscillate between being lazy not doing anything or engaging in their Dharma practices like a maniac and then burning out.  Both are equally faults.  With the power of rejection, we are primarily focused on avoiding the latter situation where we push too hard in an unsustainable way.  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that our effort in Dharma needs to be like a slow, steady river making its way to the ocean, not a waterfall cascading and then nothing.  When we hear the teachings on overcoming our laziness, we can easily develop a form of manic guilt that we need to go, go, go with our practice and any letting up is somehow a fault.  I also know many people who feel like it is a fault to relax in non-Dharma ways.  Such a neurotic approach to Dharma practice never lasts.  We need to be honest with ourselves when we are too tired or when we are pushing so hard out of guilt or some sense of obligation.  We know if we become too tired, then we very easily become unhappy, and then we have no strength to fight our delusions, and they will to surface in our mind. If we push ourselves unsustainably for too long, we will burn out and do much less in the long run, and may even wind up abandoning the Dharma altogether.

While there is nothing wrong with resting in non-Dharma ways if we need to, there are also some Dharma ways of resting.  The best method is to let go our self-grasping.  Our self-grasping, our self-cherishing, and our delusions are what tires us out.  Letting go of our delusions allows us to relax.  We can also train in simply shutting off our mind by making it like a block of wood.  We all tend to think too much about everything.  We think way too much, it is exhausting.  We need to allow ourself to not think about anything and relax our mind.  We can do this even sitting in a chair.  We also need to quit taking ourself so seriously.  Because we think everything we do is all so important and  because we think we are so important, we take what happens in our life really seriously.  This makes everything emotionally exhausting.  If instead, we don’t take ourselves so seriously, we can relax and lighten up.  We need to remember, none of this is real – it is all appearances – hallucinations.  There is no reason to take any of it seriously.  When we do, we can break our identification with our tiredness.  We think, there is tiredness in my mind, not I am tired.  There is a big difference between the two.

How can we find a balanced attitude for resting that accepts our capacity but doesn’t use it as an excuse to give in to laziness?  We can try the following strategy:  First, we try resting in a Dharma way as I just described.  If that does not work, then we should do what we want to rest, but learn to want what is actually good for you.  Among the non-Dharma ways of resting, some are more healthy and less deluded than others.  We need to gradually outgrow our unhealthier methods of entertainment and relaxing.  At a minimum, when we rest, we should make sure we do not do anything that is harmful to ourself or to others.  Harmful things do not give us rest, they just create more problems, which in turn tire us out.

The power of rejection also does not mean we reject virtue.  It means we take a break from applying effort to engage in it when we need to.  We still recognize virtue as the cause of our happiness, and we rest so that later we can come back to our Dharma activities refreshed.  The power of rejection is a strategic mind which wishes to maximize the virtue we can do in the long run, and so takes a step back so can do more in the future.  When it comes to learning how to rest in more qualified ways, we need to train gradually without guilt.  We shouldn’t be extreme about it now, but rather understand and learn to enjoy more and more beneficial ways of resting.  Again, we should do what we want to do, but learn to want what is good for us.

The second piece of advice is this verse is “When I have done something well, I should not be attached, But move on to what needs to be done next.” This indicates that we must always be moving forward, taking things that little bit further.  We should feel drawn towards greater and greater goals. Otherwise, we plateau, don’t we?  We can become satisfied with what we have accomplished and become complacent.  It is not enough to just dig ourselves out of the holes we fall into, we need to positively build the future.

Ultimately, we are trying to construct a completely pure world filled with pure beings and environments.  We can look at our mind and ask how much of the world we perceive resembles the pure land.  Seeing the difference, we know there is still work to do.  But we should also remain within our capacity.  We should not try push ourselves too far beyond our capacity, nor should we let the best become the enemy of the good.