Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Channeling the joy of an elephant plunging into a refreshing pool

Now we turn to the power of joy.

(7.63) Like a Bodhisattva, I should long to work for others
With the same enthusiasm as that possessed by someone
Who thoroughly enjoys playing a game.
I should never tire, but experience uninterrupted joy.

(7.64) Although it is uncertain whether the result will be happiness or suffering,
Worldly people still work hard to make themselves happy;
So why do we not derive joy from the practice of Dharma,
Which definitely results in happiness?

(7.65) I have a strong wish to pursue objects of desire,
Which, like honey on a razor’s edge, give no real satisfaction;
But it would be far better to develop a strong wish to pursue virtuous actions,
Which result in the everlasting happiness of liberation from all suffering.

(7.66) Therefore, to complete the virtuous actions mentioned above,
I will engage in them with the same enthusiasm
As that with which an elephant, tormented by the heat of the day,
Plunges into a cool, refreshing pool.

Oh, to enjoy in this way!  Imagine if we enjoyed our Dharma practice and our Dharma activities like a child at play. When we practice Dharma, we should strive to have a lightness in mind, the joy of a hot elephant plunging into a cool, refreshing pool.  We have been given such a special opportunity to once and for all free ourselves from all suffering and put ourselves in a position to help others in the same way.  We have a truly unique opportunity. Why do we not enjoy it?  We need to check what exactly within our mind prevents us from deriving such enjoyment from the opportunity that we’ve been given?   If we are too serious, especially if we worry, then we can become unhappy, and we can lose our enthusiasm until there is none left.

But with joy, results come easily and quickly.  Why?  Because our mind is focused 100% on creating causes.  Because we are creating lots of causes, it is inevitable that results will come.  With joy, there is no attachment to results.  When we have attachment to results, we create the causes to be separated from results.  But with joy, our mind is naturally faithful, simply happy to create causes.  If we knew the results of our actions were rebirth in a pure land, how could we not be happy?  In dependence upon our faith, we receive a constant flow of blessings.  This makes everything easier and everything work. 

Some people think either we have joy or we don’t, but like all things it is a dependent arising.  If we create the causes for joy, we can grow it.  There are several things we can do.

First, the most important thing we can do is change our desires to be spiritual ones by practicing lamrim.  It is intention that determines the karma we create, and it is lamrim practice that transforms our intentions into spiritual ones. 

Second, we need to connect our study and practice of Dharma with the problems we are experiencing in our life.  Geshe-la explains in Transform your Life that we need to make a distinction between our outer problem and our inner problem.  Our outer problem may be somebody we love is suffering greatly or our boss things we are doing a terrible job, but our inner problem arises from our deluded reactions to these external developments.  If we instead were able to view these external developments as Dharma teachings or opportunities to train in overcoming our delusions, then the external situation would still be what it is, but we would not internally have a problem with it.  We turn to the Dharma not because we “should,” but simply because it works to solve our problems.  We feel joy at knowing we have real solutions that work.  One possibility is to use whatever is our lamrim meditation of the day to solve everything that comes up that day.  For example, if our meditation object of the day is death, we can ask ourselves with respect to whatever arises, “will this matter to me on my death bed?” 

Third, we need to be careful to not treat our Dharma practices like we do a samsaric object that have some power to do something to us, rather we need to realize that our Dharma practices are something we ourselves need to do.  For example, when we do our sadhanas, we shouldn’t wait for the sadhana to do something to us, rather it is a mental regimen we ourselves need to do.  Our focus should not be on trying to experience results from the practice, rather to be like a guitar player focusing on improving the quality with which they play their song.  Each time we practice, we try to do a little bit better than the last time.  After every failure, we patiently examine what went wrong, make strategies for what we will do differently, and then meditate on the determination to do better. It is important that we accept where we are at.  We expect ourselves to already be farther along than we are, or perhaps we are puffed up with pride thinking we are much better than we thought we were.  It’s perfectly OK to be exactly where we are at.  If it is not good enough for others or not good enough for our pride, so be it.  We accept where we are at, and we joyfully grow from there.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Delusions are like spam

(7.60) When I find myself assailed by a host of delusions,
I will oppose them in a thousand ways.
Like a lion among a group of foxes,
I will not allow myself to be harmed by delusions.

(7.61) Just as people protect their eyes
When in dangerous situations,
So, whenever there is a danger of the delusions,
I will protect myself from their influence.

(7.62) It would be far better for me to be burned to death
Or to have my head cut off
Than it would be for me ever to submit
To the enemy of the delusions.

This is an expression of the kind of self-confidence that we need in overcoming the delusions.  We need this sort of courage and feel as if we are in a fight for our life.  In truth, it is more than a fight for our life because if we develop a habit of giving in to our delusions, they will harm us not only in this life, but all our future lives.

Here it is important to make a crucial distinction – we cannot overcome our delusions with will-power alone.  Instead, we need to stop wanting to follow them because we realize they are wrong, indeed deceptive.  They promise one thing, but deliver the exact opposite.  Most of our delusions are simply wrong desires fueled by ignorance.  Attachment wants terribly our objects of attachment because we are convinced that they are causes of our happiness, and we want to be happy.  Anger very much wants to harm its object because we are convinced that it is the cause of our suffering.  We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to do what we desire.  We can use our will power for a short period of time to resist the pull of our delusions, but eventually our delusions will win because they remain our dominant desire.  We still want to follow our delusion, so eventually we do.  When we use will power, we simply repress the delusions until they gradually build up in strength until we eventually give in. 

To actually oppose our delusions we need to dismantle their inner logic with wisdom.  When we know somebody is trying to scam us, such as receiving an email from the Nigerian prince who wants to transfer his fortune to us “for safe keeping” is only we send him our bank account numbers, we are not easily tempted.  We know it is a lie, a scam, so we are not fooled.  Indeed, reading the email knowing it is a scam reinforces our desire and determination to not be tricked by others out to fool us.  We need to be exactly the same with our delusions.  When we don’t want to follow them, we won’t, just like the scam email.

There are two ways to expose the lies of our delusions so that we actually don’t want to follow them anymore.  The first is to see the lie of the delusion itself.  All delusions are by nature deceptive.  They promise us happiness, but always leave us more miserable.  We need to go through the specific delusions in our life that come up again and again and see how they have deceived us time after time.  For me, a very common one is hitting “send” when I’m still angry.  Damnit, I want to say something.  My anger gives me the courage to say it.  But every time, it just makes things worse and I always regret doing so and then have to exert a great deal of effort cleaning up the mess my anger created.  Sometimes its jealousy.  Often it is attachment.  Our attachment tells us we will feel better if we give in to it, but then it never works out the way we hoped and we remain forever addicted. 

Second, we need to not want to be under the influence of the delusion itself.  We take the example of wanting to smoke a cigarette when we are trying to quit.  If we just think of things in terms of the harm of the cigarette to our health versus the relief we might feel from smoking, we might conclude the benefits of smoking outweigh the costs of smoking.  Even though we know it is bad for our health, we want to do it anyways.  But if we consider the faults of giving in to the delusion itself, the calculus changes.  Every time we follow what our delusions tell us to do, it grows stronger in our mind.  Venerable Tharchin likens it to feeding the Dragon who will eventually devour us.  If we give in now, we will give in again and again and again in the future and we will never break free.  Yes, the immediate relief of smoking might be better than the harm an individual cigarette will do to us, but it won’t just be once – it will be time and time again, forever until we stop.  If we give in to one delusion, we will give in to others, and pretty soon they will have complete control over us.  Either we gain control over our delusions or they will forever control us – in this life and in all our future lives.  Seen in this larger light, we can then not want to follow the delusion for long-term considerations, not just the immediate circumstances. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Looking in the mirror of our self-importance

(7.56) Anyone who is governed by the view of self-importance
Is under the influence of delusion, not self-confidence.
Such a person has succumbed to the enemy of the self-important view,
Whereas one with self-confidence has not.

(7.57) Those who are inflated by the deluded view of self-importance
Will be reborn in the lower realms;
And, if they later take rebirth in a human form,
They will be poor and miserable, like slaves eating others’ food.

(7.58) Stupid, ugly, and feeble, they will be despised by everyone.
So-called “tough people” who are puffed up with pride
Are also counted among the self-important –
Who could be more pathetic than they are?

(7.59) By contrast, whoever develops the self-confidence to conquer the enemy of the self-important view
Is a self-confident one who is a true conquering hero;
And whoever completely eradicates the enemy of the self-important view
Will be able to fulfil the temporary wishes of living beings and bestow upon them the fruit of enlightenment.

We need to make a distinction between self-cherishing, self-importance, and self-confidence.  Self-cherishing is the mind that thinks that our happiness is supremely important.  We think that only our happiness matters, and since our happiness is really important what happens to us is really important.

Self-importance is self-cherishing with pride.  We have an exaggerated and exalted view of ourselves as being somebody special and important.  When we have self-importance, we feel like we deserve recognition for how wonderful we are, and when others don’t give us the recognition we think we deserve, we feel easily slighted.  We demand a certain respect from others and feel perfectly justified in getting angry with people when they do not provide it.  Self-importance can also take the form of a feeling that the whole world needs us, but we do not need them. We can accomplish things well, we can look after ourselves, our world, and we feel others need us rather than we need them.  We influence rather than are influenced. Others listen to us, we don’t need to listen to them.  An extreme example of this is so-called “tough people,” who are not only self-important, but they also make a big show of it all.  They make sure that everyone knows they are there and how special and important they are.

Self-confidence, in contrast, makes a distinction between our contaminated aggregates and our true self.  We are completely humble with respect to our contaminated aggregates.  We realize that they are broken and useless.  To have confidence in our contaminated aggregates is pride.  Anytime we think anything good about our contaminated aggregates, it is pride.  We can look at Geshe-la.  There is nobody more confident than he is, but he is not in the slightest bit proud.  But we can be completely confident with respect to our true self.  We realize that by nature we are the Spiritual Guide, and anything he can do, we have the potential to do.

If we have self-importance, we don’t really take notice of anyone else, to some extent even our spiritual guide.  As a result, we gradually lose everything.  There is a story Geshe-la gives of a disciple who took rebirth as a God, and the spiritual guide went to try help him in the god realm, but the former disciple just ignored him because he was so busy enjoying his godly delights.  We see this also with people who rise to important positions in society.  They no longer have time for “the little people.”  Those who strongly have this view of self-importance often only have self-reliance.  For them, they are the Guru, and they don’t need anybody else

If we think carefully with our wisdom, we realize that we have accomplished nothing on our own and everything in dependence upon others.  The meditation on the kindness of others reveals how everything comes from others.  We can also consider that any good fortune that ripens does so as a result of good karma.  How were we able to create good karma?  Through the blessings of the enlightened beings.  We need others for anything good.

In life we have many things that we call our own.  Like our job, our house, our children, and our friends.  Thinking “mine” with respect to things just reinforces our feeling of self-importance.  A Bodhisattva who has perfected the perfection of giving has no feeling of anything being theirs.  We should give everything we have away right now, so that we no longer consider anything to be our own.  Some things we can directly give away, other things we retain possession of, but now ownership.  We feel our things belong to others and we are using them for their benefit.

One of the best ways of doing this is to offer everything to the Spiritual Guide or to Dorje Shugden.  To the Spiritual Guide, we feel like all the beings in our life are Geshe-la’s children that we are taking care of.  To Dorje Shugden, we offer everything to him so that he can use it for our spiritual practice and that of others.  We may fear offering everything in this way, but it is only our self-cherishing that fears this.  The guru will use things in the way that is in fact most beneficial for us.  It is our self-cherishing that will use things in a way that is the most destructive for us.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Be like Piglet

(7.52) If a snake lies dying on the ground,
Crows will act like brave eagles and attack it.
In the same way, if my self-confidence is weak,
Even the slightest adversity will be able to harm me.

(7.53) If, out of laziness, I give up trying,
How shall I ever attain liberation in such a feeble state?
But if, out of self-confidence, I generate effort,
It will be difficult for even the greatest adversity to harm me.

(7.54) Therefore, with a steadfast mind
I will overcome all downfalls
For, if I am defeated by a downfall,
My wish to triumph over all obstacles will be but a joke.

(7.55) “I will conquer all obstacles,
And none shall conquer me.”
Thus I, who will become a Conqueror,
Will practise with self-confidence.

Geshe-la says if we lack this self-confidence we will easily be defeated by discouragement or malevolent interferences.  It seems many of us give up too early and we give up too easily.  As soon as things are even remotely difficult, we give up trying.  One reason for this is our motivation for overcoming our delusions is still worldly.  We are doing it for this life, and indeed right now.  Delusions make us unhappy now, we want to be happy now.  As soon as it become “less fun” to not follow the delusions than to follow them, we give in.  This is very short-sighted because no matter how hard it is to overcome our delusions, it is always harder in the long run to not do so.  Another reason for this is pretty much every time in the past that we have stood up to our delusions, we have been defeated.  Anyone who has battled addiction knows this experience.  Since we “know” we will lose, we do not even bother putting up a fight anymore.  But if we never resist, there is no way we will ever win the war.  We have to use each defeat to strengthen our determination to eventually win the war.  We also give up due to attachment to results.  We want immediate results now, and if we do not get them, we give up.  Again, this is a question of spiritual immaturity.

All we need to attain enlightenment is the decision to never give up trying.  Samsara is a self-imprisonment.  We are here because we choose to keep coming back by taking refuge in samsaric objects or being dragged down.  We can generate self-confidence because we realize that if we never give up, nothing can stop us.  If we decide to leave, nobody and nothing can stop us.  If we decide to lead all beings to enlightenment and to never give up in that endeavor, nothing can stop us.  Enormous confidence comes from this understanding.

I think we need to take Piglet from Winnie the Pooh as our Yidam.  For those not familiar with Piglet, he is this tiny little pig with a big heart.  Everything is so big compared to him, but he never gives up.  When the wind blows strongly, despite him pumping as hard as he can to go forward, it pushes him back.  But he never gives up, he keeps trying, and eventually he gets there.  It is the same with our spiritual life.  If we never give up trying, even when we are blown back, we will eventually get out.  It is guaranteed.  The only way we can fail is if we give up trying.  The name of the game in the Dharma is the creation of causes.  The only thing we are interested in is creating good causes, and we create good causes by trying, not succeeding.  In this way, trying itself is success.  Not trying itself is failure.  If we try, we create good causes, and the future results are guaranteed because one of the laws of karma is if the cause is created the effect is guaranteed.

Very often, things are the most difficult when we are on the verge of a breakthrough.  When we are about to have a breakthrough, there is often significant obstruction before we finally push through.  People give up often when they are just about to break through.  This is a shame.  We see this in children when they are learning to walk, talk, etc.  The same process occurs in the Dharma.  When we are in a particularly difficult situation, we should recall this and use it to keep going and push through.  It is very useful to recite as a mantra these words from Shantideva, “I will conquer all obstacles, and none shall conquer me.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Become whatever others need us to be

With respect to self-confidence, we can think, “I’m going to try, I’m going to try in my Dharma practice, my Dharma activities and so forth, for the sake of others. I will do these things because I want to help others, because I want to free others from their suffering.”  This thought will definitely give power to our actions.  We think, “no matter what I’m doing, I’m going ahead with my Dharma practice, I’m going ahead to overcome my delusions because sentient beings need me.”

(7.50) Unlike me, worldly beings are powerless.
Being under the control of delusion and karma,
They are unable to make their lives meaningful.
Therefore, I will practise virtue for their sake.

(7.51) How can I sit and do nothing
While others waste their lives on meaningless tasks?
Although it might seem like self-importance,
I should act out of self-confidence, which is quite different from self-importance.

Worldly beings are powerless, they are helpless, being under the control of delusion and karma.   Therefore, we have to take responsibility for them because we have been given all the tools we need, both externally and internally.  We know how to take responsibility for others who have no power – we can provide encouragement, we can set a good example, and we can pray.  If we do these three things for long enough, they will eventually be enough to liberate all beings. 

I like to recall that everyone I see is a being of my karmic dream.  If I am not responsible for them, who is?  Venerable Tharchin said we need to take responsibility for removing the faults we perceive in others.  Normally we think it is their responsibility to remove their faults, but it is our mind projecting them, so it is our responsibility.  Why are they helpless?  Because I have been neglecting them.  I have not given them the power.  They are just karmic appearance, they do what we have karmically created the causes for them to appear to do.  How do we remove the faults from their mind?  By removing them from our own.  Since they are a reflection of our own mind, if we purify our own mind of the faults we perceive in others, they will gradually – almost like magic – disappear in others. 

We need to find the right balance between waiting for them to come to us and going out to help them.  It is an extreme to just wait for them to come to us.  We do not wait for a drowning person to come to us, we just dive in and help.  What hope do others have other than us?  It is also an extreme to force our help on others – I am here to save you, I am here to help you.  Because if people are not asking for help and we give it, they will reject our help and this creates the tendencies for them to reject the solution of Dharma. 

The middle way is to become whatever others need us to be – not necessarily what they want us to be, but what they need us to be.  We look back at ourself from their perspective and ask what we need from that person (ourself).  Then we give them whatever they need, according to their needs and wishes.  In the beginning, we will help them with a lot of ordinary things, but this is OK, because in this way we become part of their lives.  Gradually we are able to help them with higher and higher spiritual objectives because they seek it from us.  What they really need us to be is a Buddha.  When we see that, bodhichitta will become effortless.

We should follow the example of our fellow Sangha, teachers, and Geshe-la.  We should have admiring faith for what others do.  As a result of this admiring faith, we will naturally develop the wish to do the same.  Then we can follow their example.  When we see that it works because we have good examples, then we can have confidence that if we try, we can do the same thing.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Practice without doubt

(7.49) I should maintain self-confidence in three things:
My Dharma practice, my Dharma activities, and overcoming my own delusions.
I should encourage myself by thinking, “I alone will lead all living beings to the happiness of enlightenment”,
And in this way sustain my self-confidence in these three things.

Perhaps we lack confidence in one, two, or possibly all three things. Our Dharma practice, our Dharma activities, and overcoming our delusions are all difficult.  Actually we need to cultivate each of these in turn.  We should also actively discuss with our Sangha friends how to overcome our lack of self-confidence in these three and how to improve our self-confidence for each of them.  If we have self-confidence in these three, we will accomplish everything; if we doubt we can do it, we will accomplish nothing.  There is little more important than cultivating these three types of self-confidence.

With respect to the first, our Dharma practice, in Guide to Dakini Land Venerable Geshe-la, in general whenever we practice Dharma, we should first overcome all doubts about the instructions we have received and reach a clear conclusion about them.  There is no doubt that if we do, we will become a lot more confident in our Dharma practice.  With a faithful mind, we need to apply the instructions we have received.  Through applying them, both our understanding and our familiarity with them will grow. And as they do, we will become more and more confident.  A good example is our practice of generation stage.  At first, it seems overwhelming, but with familiarity, it becomes much easier, even natural.  Many people receive the empowerments.  Those who have tried their best are now starting to get it and their confidence is growing.  Those who thought it was too difficult and did not even try are still stuck, and may have even abandoned their practice completely out of discouragement. 

Second, we need to develop self-confidence in our Dharma activities.  I have spent roughly 20 years of my life in the United States, 20 years in Europe, and 8 years in Asia.  In the United States, the cultural tendency is to dive in to things even if they are beyond our capacity, so sometimes we get in over our head, and then give up trying things we once failed at.  In Asia, people are generally afraid of trying anything unless they can do it perfectly.  They would rather do nothing than publicly try and fail.  In Europe, people often see how things can be done better than what they can do, and so they conclude if they cannot do it perfectly, they are somehow doing it badly.  They would rather do nothing than risk somebody pointing out their mistakes trying.  The point is, pretty much all of us have an unhealthy relationship with trying and failing.  Our job is to develop a healthy relationship.

The key to gaining confidence in our Dharma activities is to let go of attachment to results and realize that trying itself is succeeding.  It is the mental factor intention that creates karma, so even if we do not succeed in accomplishing specific results, we will succeed in planting seeds.  Because we have faith in karma, we know if the cause is created, the future effect is guaranteed.  We are just happy to be constructing a good future.  The definition of maturity is when we use today for the future.  Spiritual maturity is when we use this life for future lives.  There is a special satisfaction that comes from building for the future.

One thing we can do to increase our confidence in our Dharma activities is to rely more on our spiritual guide.  We need to feel the presence of our spiritual guide at our heart with everything you do.  The Spiritual Guide can do anything.  We simply need to realize the relationship between him and us.  He is our own pure potential fully developed.  When we realize this, everything he can do, we can do.  To develop faith in him is to develop confidence in ourselves.  If we try to develop confidence in our contaminated aggregates, it is just deluded pride and everything falls apart.  If we invest the time to learn how to rely upon the spiritual guide for all our activities, then we will realize everything is possible.  When we are involving our spiritual guide in this way, there is every reason to be confident.

And then the third, we need to develop self-confidence in our ability to overcome our delusions.  Again, we find it difficult because it seems our delusions are a lot stronger than we are. What can we do?  What I find helpful is to remind myself simply:  delusions and seeds of delusions are not an intrinsic part of my mind and they can be destroyed, my Buddha nature cannot be. We can also consider that Buddhas – like Vajrapani who has infinite spiritual power – are actually aspects of our own pure potential, so whatever they can do, we can do. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Once you make a commitment, keep it

We must set ourselves goals or targets towards which we direct our mind and our activities.  We are quite used to doing this for worldly goals.  We also need to set ourselves meaningful spiritual goals. Some for a day, some for our life.  All Dharma goals are ‘do’ goals, not ‘result’ goals.  We cannot make a commitment, “I will attain spontaneous bodhichitta by the end of this year.”  We can’t control when the results will ripen.  But we can say, “I will focus my spiritual practice on training in bodhichitta this year.”  That is something we can do.  We can also commit, “I will keep training and never give up until I attain spontaneous bodhichitta.”  Once again, that is a “do” goal – something we commit to doing. 

Once we make a commitment, we then commit ourselves to keeping it. We commit ourselves to striving towards and eventually achieving or accomplishing these goals.  Our spiritual progress very much depends upon keeping our commitments.  We can look at parents.  Parents make huge commitments to take responsibility for the lives of their children.  We need to do the same for our spiritual children – all the beings in our karmic dream.   

But generally, if we are honest we don’t like to commit ourselves, do we. We think commitments limit our freedom, when in reality it is our delusions that limit our freedom, and keeping commitments is what sets us free.

There is no doubt by setting ourselves goals, and committing ourselves to reach those goals, we increase our capacity, don’t we?  Our spiritual guide is trying to help us do this. He is always trying to get us to increase our capacity until we possess the capacity of an actual Bodhisattva, finally an actual Buddha.  But we must be realistic right about what we are able to accomplish. What we feel we are able to accomplish. We must be honest with ourselves.

It is difficult to know sometimes what we can accomplish.  This is one reason we need reliance on our spiritual guide. One good reason why we need to be of service to him is because he knows what we are capable of.  Perhaps what he feels we are capable of and what we feel are going to be different which is why we need to trust our spiritual guide.  We offer ourself to him – please do with me whatever you want.  We don’t need to move to a Dharma center or receive detailed instructions from him about what we should do with our time, it is a mental attitude.  We offer ourself to him.  We commit ourselves to the fulfillment of his wishes in our own little karmic world.  All he wants of us is that we practice Dharma, so we commit to doing so at our work, in our homes, and with our families and friend. 

If we have offered ourself to be of service to him, then we can expect sometimes to be stretched.  Sometimes we mistakenly think if we start practicing Dharma, life will somehow get easier.  We will somehow be protected from samsara’s sufferings.  Ha!  If only.  The truth is, it never gets any easier.  It is always equally hard, we just start dealing with more and more responsibilities as our capacity grows.  Maybe sometimes we feel we cannot accomplish the results that our spiritual guide is asking us to accomplish. We think we cannot reach the goals, even the short-term goals that he is asking us to reach.  But we need to trust, to have faith and trust, and then apply ourselves without hesitation to reaching those goals, accomplishing those results.  He believes we can do it, we do not.  Who do we trust? Even if sometimes we do not manage to reach those goals, from our side is there any fault in doing our best to try?  Perhaps trying our best and failing is how we learn the spiritual lesson we need to learn.

This is why we need patience, we need patient acceptance.  We need to be able to accept our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Our inabilities as well as our abilities. It is so important.  Perhaps sometimes we all feel we just cannot do it. We think of some goal we would really like to set ourselves, some practice perhaps that we would like to engage in, and we feel we are not ready, that we can’t do that yet.  If we are not accepting of where we are at, we then set unrealistic goals and set ourselves up for failure.  Then how can we ever develop our confidence?  If there is no acceptance, then how can we be confident, and then how can we ever improve? If we strive for a goal and fail, we also need to accept that.  It is OK to fail as long as we are learning.  We accept we didn’t make it, but we just pick ourselves back up and try again.  When we accept ourselves, we can also accept our failures.  Then, we never fail, we only learn.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Developing a sense of spiritual honor

We now start the second of the four powers, the power of self-confidence:

As mentioned in Vajradotsa Sutra,
Whatever Dharma practice I study, I should complete it with strong confidence.

(7.47) First, I should examine what is to be done,
To see whether I can do it or not.
If I am unable to do it, I should not start it;
But, once I start something, I should never turn back.

(7.48) Otherwise this habit will carry into my future lives
And my non-virtue and suffering will continue to increase.
Moreover, other virtuous actions will take a long time to accomplish
And will yield only meagre results.

This is incredibly important and practical advice.  Very often we swing from the extreme of making huge commitments we have no means of keeping or completely giving up trying to do anything.  Both function to destroy our self-confidence.  Instead, we need to consider carefully what we can actually accomplish (and that we want to accomplish), and then we make a very defined commitment to accomplish that no matter what.  For example, in Alcoholics Anonymous, people are advised to take things “one day at a time.”  We make a commitment, “I will not drink today.”  This is a small, doable commitment.  When we make this commitment, then we keep it.  When we keep it, our confidence and our capacity grows, and we can start the cycle over again.  Eventually, we will gain the ability to commit for two days, then a week, then a month, and eventually for the rest of our life.  In this way, we work skillfully with all of our spiritual vows and commitments until we are eventually able to keep them all perfectly all the time.  But if we make an unrealistic commitment we can’t keep, then we will break it.  When we do, our confidence and capacity will wither.  Then, in the future, when we make commitments to ourselves, they will have no meaning and no power because we know we will not be able to keep them.

It is the same with making commitments to others.  We want to help others and be there for them.  But sometimes we overpromise and then later have to under-deliver.  We aren’t able to do everything we committed to, and so we leave people disappointed.  This causes them to not trust us and it becomes a habit for us where we fail to live up to our commitments to others.  As bodhisattva’s, we are making the commitment to lead each and every living being to the ultimate state of full enlightenment.  If we start breaking our smaller commitments to others, then it becomes a habit and we will never be able to keep our ultimate commitment to others.  It is this commitment that gives our bodhisattva vows power.  If we know our commitment is meaningless in our own mind, then so too will our bodhisattva vows.  The point is we need to “right size” our commitments to something that is actually doable.  Not too great that we can’t keep them, and not too small that they are meaningless. 

Whether we are making commitments to ourself or to others, once we have made them, we need to be like Eddard (Ned) Stark from Game of Thrones.  Ned Stark was the most honorable man in Westeros.  He always kept his commitments – to himself and to others.  It was his honor.  He valued his honor more than his life.  True, it got his head chopped off, but it was the reputation of him as an honorable man that ultimately led to many of his children ultimately surviving and rising in their own right.  Even though he died, his honor won in the end.  So too it is with our spiritual honor.  If we keep our spiritual honor, even if we get our heads chopped off (an unlikely event, to be sure), we will keep our vows in tact on our mental continuum and be able to refind the spiritual path again in our future lives.  We should not fear losing our life for our spiritual honor, rather we should fear losing our spiritual honor for the sake of this one life.  In truth, it is almost unthinkable that we could find ourselves in a situation where we need to choose between our spiritual honor and our life, but internally we have already made our choice.  We know what we would choose.  We would channel our inner Ned Stark. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Don’t be complacent with your current ways

Sometimes we are afraid of changing because what we are doing is working out alright for us.  Not perfectly, not as good as it could be, but seemingly good enough.  We know if we change we might lose that good enough and it will be harder for us in the short-term before we get to the long-term when things start to get better.  Our objects of attachment or our present worldly life, for example, are giving us some modicum of happiness now; but our meditations on lamrim aren’t really doing that much for us. 

Sure, in the long-run, if we gain deep realizations of lamrim we will be happy all the time, but if I have to give up my enjoyments in the short-term, I will be more unhappy then until I reach the long-term.  I’m not willing to do that, so I never get serious about my practice.  There are two main faults with this way of thinking.  First, there is nothing about our future happiness that makes it any less important than our present happiness.  Indeed, the reason why we suffer now is because in the past we didn’t work for our future happiness.  Our goal should be to maximize the happiness of the totality of our mental continuum, not just this one life, and certainly not this one present moment. 

Second, it grasps at there being a tension between happiness in this life and spiritual practice.  We mistakenly think we need to sacrifice our happiness in this life in order to be happy in our future lives.  This is completely wrong.  We travel the Joyful Path of good fortune.  By adopting a spiritual outlook on life now, we will both be happier in this life and in all our future lives.  Someone who has a spiritual life is able to find great meaning in everything that happens – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and so they are able to enjoy and be happy all the time regardless of what happens.  When we hang on to our worldly outlook on life, then we can be happy for those few moments when things go well, but then we suffer all the rest of the time when things go badly.  And let’s face it, things go wrong in samsara far more than they go right.

Shantideva says the root of Dharma is the intention to practice.  This is why virtually all the lamrim meditations have as their object of meditation, therefore I must practice Dharma.  This intention will never come on its own.  We need to cultivate it.  If we don’t cultivate it, it will never come and we will remain the same (or worse) forever.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The root of Dharma is the intention to practice it

(7.39) In my previous lives I held views
That denied Buddha’s teachings
And, as a result, I am now very poor in spiritual realizations.
Knowing this, how can I give up the practice of Dharma?

Previously we lacked the aspiration to practice Dharma, which is why we are poor in spiritual realizations.  If we do not develop the aspiration, what will be the result in the future?  I think one of the worst results is that we will not meet Buddhadharma again. If we are given the Dharma and all the conditions for practicing the Dharma, and we make no effort due to lacking any genuine aspiration, then how will we meet Buddhadharma again in the future?  Of course we won’t.  For example, we have been given the Meditation Handbook and the opportunity to practice and meditate on lamrim.  If we do not do it, what will happen to that opportunity?

To help us strengthen our aspiration and intention to practice Dharma, Shantideva over these next few verses describes the results of both non-virtue and virtue.  The purpose of this is to help us develop the desire to abandon non-virtue and the desire to practice virtue.

(7.40) Buddha, the Able One, has said
That the root of Dharma is the intention to practise it.
We can generate this intention by meditating
On the law of karma, or actions and their effects.

(7.41) All physical suffering and mental unhappiness,
All the different types of fear,
And the suffering of being separated from what we wan
Arise from non-virtuous actions.

(7.42) Through committing non-virtuous actions,
Even though we may wish for happiness
We shall be pierced by the weapons of suffering
Wherever we find ourself;

(7.43) But, through performing virtuous actions with a pure intention,
We shall be sustained by a happiness
That results from that merit,
Wherever we are reborn.

(7.44) Those born in Buddha’s Pure Land arise from the lotus of pure actions performed through receiving the light of Conqueror Buddha’s blessings.
They are completely pure, uncontaminated by delusions, like a lotus unstained by mud.
Nourished by hearing Conqueror Buddha’s speech directly, they experience supreme inner peace.
All this happiness and goodness is the result of virtuous actions, such as the six perfections, prayer, and dedication.

(7.45) By contrast, those born in hell, on the fiery ground of red-hot iron, suffer at the hands of the henchmen of the Lord of Death,
Who tear open their skin and pour molten copper into their bodies
And then, piercing them with flaming swords and spears, cut their flesh into hundreds of fragments.
Such sufferings, which are experienced for many aeons, are the result of non-virtuous actions.

(7.46) Therefore, I should always keep the intention to accumulate virtues, not non-virtues,
And put this intention into practice with strong effort.

Gaining a general understanding of cause and effect is not difficult.  But that is not enough.   We must allow that understanding to affect us, to influence us. Then, naturally, our intention will change. It will become a Buddhist intention, a basic Buddhist intention.  If Shantideva’s words, such as verses 44-45, cannot motivate us more strongly to practice Dharma, to abandon non-virtue, and to cultivate virtue, then what can? What can?  We need to make this real.  This is our inevitable future if we do not purify and change our ways.

We need to check why do we not allow that understanding to influence us? Why not? Why don’t we want to accept it?  Usually it is because we still believe that these negative things we are attracted to are causes of our happiness and we think virtue is boring.  We are so confused.  We think we have to give up something that is good and eat our bad tasting spiritual vegetables.  We do not think about the long-term.  We only think about the happiness of this life.  But future lives are like tomorrow.  In fact, it is certain future lives will come, it is not certain tomorrow will!  We are afraid because we know if we internalize this understanding, it will destroy our ordinary way of life.  We don’t want that to happen, it scares us.  Everything must change, mustn’t it?  Why do we want to hold on to what we have got?