Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Exchanging Self with Others According to Tantra

When attachment is in our mind, we try to pull things towards us which leads to suffering.  The more we grasp at things being separate, the more we suffer.  The stronger our attachment, the more we actually create a separation because we grasp at this gap or distance.   But then, of course, we try find someone who we can feel safe to be close to because we are so desperate to remove that separation.  What happens, generally, is that there is an attachment arising in our mind because people appear to exist from their own side.  Our attachment does not draw us close actually because the stronger our attachment, the stronger our self-grasping, then the greater distance, and that is so frustrating. It is a suffering state.

We then try to push things away from us, which also leads to suffering.  Sometimes there are people who when we are around them it hurts, so we want to separate ourselves from them.  We feel so overwhelmed that when others put demands on our time, we want to push them away.  Also, we are convinced that they are causes of our suffering.  When we are with them, we suffer, so we think they are the cause of our suffering.  When in reality, the problem is they are at that time an object of delusion for us, so when they are present it gives rise to delusions in our mind which causes us to suffer.  The problem is not them, it is the delusion within our own mind.  But when we push others away, we create even greater separation, and we suffer even more.  We go further from the natural state, but are unable to, so just become more frustrated, etc.

What can we do to address this?  We can exchange self with others, which is the next topic in Shantideva’s guide.  Out of a wish to remove that separation we feel with others, out of a wish to no longer be separated, or no longer feel separated from others, from the whole world, actually, we cultivate the mind of exchanging self with others.  In order to reduce to a great extent the distance, the gap, we must exchange self with others.  We must develop a pure love, a pure love for others. That pure love will enable us to draw close to others – even identifying with them as ourselves.  When we impute our I onto others, there is no longer any separation, no gap, but there is also no self-cherishing and attachment.  Then, we can be inseparably one with others, but without the delusion.

Because this practice is so related to wisdom, our self-grasping itself will reduce, and then we will sense over time that distance will reduce, until finally it will feel like there’s no gap between ourselves and others.   According to Sutra, exchanging self with others is exchanging the object of our cherishing from self to only others.  According to Tantra, which is Shantideva’s explanation, to exchange self with others means to exchange the basis of imputation of our I to all others.  We literally identify with others as ourselves.  We come to view each being as an aspect or part of ourselves.  Just as our hand removes the thorn from our foot because it is part of the same living whole, so too we care for all others because they are part of the same living whole.  When we see others, we see part of ourselves.  If they are suffering, part of ourself is suffering.  If they are happy, part of ourselves is happy.  If they are not enlightened, part of ourselves is not enlightened.  With this sort of view, we can love others from the inside, as opposed to from the outside. 

Ultimately, our ability to complete this exchange of self with others according to Tantra, we need to realize the emptiness of both ourself and others.  When we grasp at ourselves and others as being some inherently independent from one another, it is impossible to complete the exchange.  We need to realize our I is just a label that we can impute onto anything.  It does not adhere to the self we normally see.  Only habit keeps it there.  Likewise, when we look at all living beings, they are not inherently “other,” that too is just a label.  We can take the basis of all living beings, and impute our I.  We can change the basis of imputation of our I from the self we normally see to all living beings.  Then, we will have completed the exchange of self with others. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Learning lessons from Gen-la Samden’s story

It is entirely natural that we want to be close to others.  In reality, we are all inseparable interrelated.  There’s no fault in wanting to be close and wanting relationships with others in which we are inseparably one.  There’s nothing wrong, quite the opposite, it seems quite natural, really, to want to be close to others.  There’s a yearning for close relationships with others because it is only our ignorance that grasps at a separation. 

It is unnatural to want to be separated. Being separate from others is unnatural when there is a dependent relationship. It is like an independence which we know does not actually exist. There is no independent object existing anywhere. We long to be close to other people and we cannot bear to be separated.  That seems natural since we are in fact inseparably interdependent with one another.  Being close with others is our natural state, actually, because there is a dependent relationship.

Because we do not understand the nature of things, in response to this natural feeling we suffer.   We think things exist from own side, so feel separate.  Due to our self-grasping, we feel like we are separate from one another.  Due to the force of our self-grasping then we experience fear and mental pain due to the feeling of separation.  There’s a distance, isn’t there, between ourselves and others, so naturally there is some fear in our mind.  Why is it, why do we experience so much suffering?  It is because what we experience at the moment is a separation due to our self-grasping, and with that a fear or an attachment arises?

This is where the problems start.  Because we are attached – we want to mix with the other person or the objects of our attachment.  I believe this is how people in the past have gone down the wrong road with allowing their sexual attachment to hijack their Dharma understanding to then pervert the teachings.  How far is it really from recognizing we want inseparably close relationships with others to breaking our moral discipline all under a rationalized pretext of engaging in “tantric practice” with an action mudra?  I think, but of course do not know, that this is how Gen-la Samden, Gen Lodro, and others eventually lost everything.  There is no way they would intentionally do anything against their vows.  They just got tricked by their attachment into thinking they were able to eliminate that sense of “separation” from others by engaging in Tantric union.  It was all in the name of realizing emptiness, so certainly that’s not breaking our vows, right?  Well we all know how that ended. 

This is how our delusions work.  They take our Dharma understandings and then subtly twist them over a long period of time until what was once “unthinkinable” becomes “natural,” and pretty soon we have lost our spiritual life and brought the entire tradition into disrepute.  The same is true for the rest of us, just in our own way.  How many different ways have our delusions hijacked our Dharma understanding?  How many different ways have we been willing to sacrifice our spiritual life, even if only on the margins, for the sake of following the “logic” of our delusions.  Are we really that different?  If not, then we are in no place to cast stones.

Venerable Tharchin said that our primary refuge must be in the Dharma, not the person.  If it is in the person, and the person does something stupid, then we lose everything.  But if our refuge is in the Dharma, and the person does something stupid, then we learn powerful Dharma lessons.  For me, when I look to the stories of Gen-la Thubten, Gen-la Samden, Gen Lodro, and others, I see powerful Dharma warnings about how all this works and can quickly go off the rails.  In many ways, we can say that these were their most powerful teachings to us.  Whether they intended them to be their most powerful teachings is actually irrelevant, for us they can be.  We can then generate a strong, compassionate wish that they realize and learn from what happened and find their way back. Gen-la Thubten has.  I heard former Gen Lodro has (I don’t know his lay name).  I pray one day former Gen-la Samden does as well.  He was an amazing teacher and had a very pure heart. 

But we need to be careful to not over-learn their lesson in the sense of allowing separation to remain so as to avoid it getting kidnapped by our attachment.  They are right – we do need to get to this stage of inseparability with all living beings – but we need to do so without attachment.  Attachment is the problem, not our longing to be inseparably one with others. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How the six perfections reinforce each other

At this point, I think it might be helpful to review everything Shantideva has explained so far, to see how it all fits together into one coherent story.  This will enable us to better appreciate how we got to this point, and provide the proper context for understanding the remainder of Shantideva’s guide.  We essentially have two main parts left – exchanging self with others as the engine of our bodhichitta and to overcome our self-cherishing; and the perfection of wisdom realizing emptiness, to overcome our self-grasping.  These two – our self-cherishing and our self-grasping together – make up our self-centered mind.  This self-centered mind is the very root of our samsara.  All of our suffering comes from this self-centered mind, and all of our freedom will come from abandoning it.  Everything Shantideva has explained so far is really just preparing the conditions in our mind for our main task – abandoning our self-centered mind, abandoning both our self-cherishing and our self-grasping.  In this light, I will spend the next several posts summarizing the main points of all we have previously done.

Our responsibility as Bodhisattvas is essentially to guide all the beings of our karmic dream back to the source from which they come, the Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas, so that they can bathe eternally in an ocean of purity and bliss.

Why are beings trapped in samsara?  The living beings we see around us are karmic appearances to our mind.  They are trapped in contaminated aggregates because we have created the karma for them to be trapped in such aggregates.  We create this karma every time we assent to them existing outside of our mind and we engage in contaminated actions towards them.  Each one of us is the creator of everything we know.  They are actual beings, our creation, suffering due to our ignorance and self-cherishing since time without beginning.

To free these beings, we need to create the karma necessary to guide each of these beings back to the source from which they came, the Dharmakaya.  So how do we do this?  By practicing the bodhisattva’s way of life as explained by Shantideva.

First, we need a mind of total acceptance for how things are.  When we get angry at the appearances of our mind, we just make them more turbulant.  By grasping at them as existing inherently, we reimprison others into their contaminated aggregates, and worse, we create the karma for them to be ‘enemies.’  They then act in harmful ways and create a new hell for themselves.

The mind of patient acceptance is a special wisdom that is able to accept everything that happens without any resistance.   It is able to do this because it sees how it can use whatever arises to lead ourselves or others to enlightenment.  Since everything can be used for our path, everything is perfect, so everything can be accepted and there is no basis for anger to arise.  By accepting whatever arises, we gradually exhaust the negative karma giving rise to such appearances, and because we do not create new turbulent appearances, gradually this world filled with enemies disappears.  Instead, everyone becomes our kind mother, and indeed our kind spiritual guide.

It is especially important to accept others as they are without any judgement.  When you do not accept others, they feel judged and get defensive.  When they are defensive, you block them from deciding from their own side to change.  But when you accept others as they are, and have no personal need whatsoever that they change, then it creates the space for them to decide from their own side that they need to change. If they do not themselves engage in the actions that will lead them back to the source, they will never get there.  Our impatience with them blocks them from deciding to change.

Then, we need a mind of joyful effort.  The mind of joyful effort is a mind that is happy to just create causes.  It does not seek results, it is simply happy to create causes.  It is not that it is only happy when experiencing the effects of our practice, it is happy simply to create causes for a better future.  What enables us to have this mind is faith in the law of karma.  We know that if we create the causes, the results will eventually come.  It is just an issue of joyfully building a new and better future, completely confident in the knowledge that nothing can stop us.  The appearance of this world of suffering is just that, a karmic appearance.  If we change our actions, we can change our karma, and in this way, we can change what world appears.

We commit to ourselves to happily go about our training, knowing that when we are finished, all the suffering of all these beings will never have been.  When we attain enlightenment, all three times are completely purified, so it is as if everyone had been a Buddha from the very beginning.  When we see others suffering terribly, we can know that soon their suffering will never have been.

We need to engage in the actions necessary to bring all of these beings back to the source from which they come.  When we engage in our tantric practices or we engage in powa, we create the karma to completely free the living beings of our dream from their contaminated aggregates and for them to emerge in the Dharmakaya.  Since there other living beings other than the ones projected by our mind, at a deep karmic level, our actions will actually free others.  When we do powa for somebody, for example, we bring one of the beings of our dream to the Dharmakaya in such a way that they never return to this world of suffering.  We need to do the same with each and every being, especially through our Tantric practice.

And we need to concentrate single-pointedly on creating good causes.  It is not enough to create one cause, but we need to create many, many causes.  It is not enough to create superficial causes, but we need to create high quality causes.  Our concentration enables us to do this.  The primary obstacle to developing concentration is our attachment to samsara, this contaminated dream, this world of suffering.  Because we think there is something to be had or accomplished within this dream, we never develop the wish to get ourselves or others back to the source of the Dharmakaya.  Out of attachment for what takes place in this contaminated dream, we engage in actions that keep ourselves and others trapped within it.  The mind of renunciation and great compassion is a mind that realizes there is nothing that can be accomplished within this contaminated dream, so the only thing that remains is to wake up from it.

It is true that this is a big job to free all beings, but when we understand the bodhisattva’s way of life, everything becomes easy.  When we understand patience, when we understand joyful effort, when we understand concentration, when we understand the relationship between self and others, and when we understand that our mind is the creator of all, we realize that we can change everything by changing our own mind.  Everything becomes feasible.  When things are seen to be feasible, effort becomes effortless, and we enter into a truly joyful path that we know with total certainty will lead to the freedom of all those we love and care for.

Our homework in life is simple:  Various things will appear to our mind.  We should view all of them as mere karmic appearances ripened by our spiritual guide to give us an opportunity to create good causes.  Then, respond well – create good causes – to whatever appears.  To do this, we just respond with as much love and wisdom as we can, joyfully creating causes knowing we are definitely emerging.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The content are truly wealthy

(8.85) Thus, having become disillusioned with worldly desires,
We should generate the wish to abide in solitude.
Fortunate ones stroll in quiet and peaceful places,
Far away from all conflict and objects of delusion.

(8.86) Cooled by flower-scented moonlight
And fanned by peaceful, silent breezes,
They abide joyfully without distraction,
With their minds focused on benefiting others.

(8.87) They dwell for as long as they wish
In empty houses, beneath trees, or in remote caves.
Having abandoned the pain of clinging to and guarding possessions,
They live independently, free from all cares.

(8.88) They live freely without attachment
And unbound by any relationships.
Even the most powerful humans and gods
Cannot find a life as contented and happy as this!

Shantideva was of course writing 1,300 years ago.  Perhaps we won’t go wander in the forest or remote caves, but there is nothing stopping us from doing the modern day equivalent of that.  Why do we chase after so much wealth, so much pleasure, so much worldly success?  Will any of it bring us any happiness?  Maybe we will have a few good experiences, but as long as we are chasing rainbows, we will never truly be happy. 

Compare that to somebody who has the mind of contentment.  They are genuinely happy with whatever they have, and feel like they don’t “need” anything.  They are content to be nobody professionally.  They are content to simply have enough.  They are content with a stroll in the park.  They are content with their partner and the friends they have.  They are content with how their kids are doing.  Imagine that!  That is happiness, that is peace.  No more chasing, no more discontent.  In truth, contentment is the real wealth.  Whoever has a contented mind is truly wealthy, no matter how physically poor they might be; and whoever lacks contentment is truly poor, no matter how much wealth they might have. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Overcoming attachment to wealth

(8.79) We should realize that a preoccupation with wealth leads to endless problems
Because acquiring it, protecting it, and losing it all involve pain.
Those who allow themselves to become distracted out of attachment to wealth
Will find no opportunity to escape from the miseries of samsara.

Fear of poverty is an overwhelming fear for many.  I had a strange experience growing up.  My father had millions, but he was extremely miserly.  We had all the latest toys, a lake cabin, everything.  But my mother was a single mom, who worked as a secretary for most of my time growing up.  My father hated my mother more than he loved us, and so he couldn’t see to provide my mother with anything but the absolute minimum he could get away with – and he had very good lawyers who made sure he hardly paid anything.  When we were with my mother during the school year, we wore second hand clothes and shopped for food at Valu Village and other thrift stores.  We had nothing, and often had to go without heat because we could not afford the heating oil.  But then in the summers, I would go to my Dad’s, where we would experience a very privileged life.  Living poor with my mom made me very fearful of ever being poor again; being influenced by my father’s habits, I learned miserliness.  Together, these have caused me to have deep attachment to wealth (or specifically, not being poor) and tendencies to be miserly. 

Venerable Tharchin provided for me the keys to breaking out of this.  He said, “mentally give away everything you have nothing, so that you don’t consider anything as belonging to you, but still maintain custodianship over certain things – keeping them in safe keeping until eventually you actually transfer possession to others.  In your mind, others ‘own’ everything, but you still have possession until it is appropriate to transfer over.” 

Ultimately, we should follow the example of people like Geshe Langri Tangpa.  Every time Geshe Langri Tangpa left some place, he gave away everything he acquired there.  He had no interest in wealth, possessions, at all, other than to help others with it. He gave everything he had away to others. Absolutely everything. He left nothing to call his own.  Geshe-la once said that he never bought anything just for himself.

(8.80) People attached to a worldly life
Experience many such problems, and for little reward.
They are like a horse forced to pull a cart,
Who can grab only an occasional mouthful of grass to eat.

(8.81) Those who are driven by uncontrolled desires
Waste this precious freedom and endowment, so hard to find,
For the sake of a few petty rewards that are in no way rare,
For even animals can obtain them.

(8.82) Our objects of desire will definitely perish,
And then we shall fall into the lower realms.
If we consider all the hardships we have endured since beginningless time
In pursuing meaningless worldly pleasures,

(8.83) We could have attained the state of a Buddha
For a fraction of the difficulty!
Worldly beings experience much greater suffering than those who follow the path to enlightenment –
And yet they do not attain enlightenment as a result!

(8.84) If we consider the sufferings of hell and so on,
We shall see that the discomforts endured by worldly people in this life –
Such as those caused by weapons, poison, enemies, or treacherous places –
Bear no comparison in their severity.

These verses really strike a chord for me.  We have had to experience so many hardships in our pursuit of worldly pleasures, not only in this life but in our countless previous lives.  And what do we have to show for it?  Almost nothing.

What do we want from our life, really?  Do we want to just be blown by the winds of our ordinary desires until we die or do we want to make a real difference, both for ourself and for others, and change this situation. 

Shantideva is saying if only we had put as much effort into Dharma practice as we had pursuing worldly desires, we would be enlightened already!  Think about that.  Enlightenment often seems impossible, but it is easier to attain enlightenment than it is to stay in samsara.  Of course we can’t go back and redo our past, but we can decide what our future will be.  Going forward, we have a choice:  remain in samsara or attain enlightenment.  Which of these two paths is easier?  Normally, we think following our delusions is easier, but Shantideva is saying it is far easier to attain enlightenment.  If we are truly lazy and want things to be easy, we would be wise to pour ourselves into attaining enlightenment.  Then, everything will not only be easy, it will be effortless.  Putting effort into samsara is wasted effort because it has no chance of succeeding.  But putting effort into our Dharma practice is guaranteed.  It is much easier to attain enlightenment than it is to find happiness in samsara.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Temporary release vs. Ultimate release

(8.77) Deceived by desire, people become fools.
Some think, “I need money to support my life”,
And, although they fear for their lives, go off to war;
While others enslave themselves for the sake of profit!

(8.78) Some, as a consequence of their desires,
Suffer cuts to their bodies
Or are stabbed, impaled,
Or even burned.

In general, people find their conditions difficult to live with.  More and more, as times become more degenerate, people find their condition quite unbearable. It is as if their pervasive suffering is becoming manifest.  And they have to do something for some relief.  They are not looking inward at themselves. So they distract themselves instead, don’t they? Don’t we?

People have some sense of suffering – such as our fear, loneliness, boredom, frustration, and so forth. And these things build up, due in particular to self-cherishing, they tend to buildup.  When this happens, people have to seek some form of release, otherwise they simply would not be able to cope.  And a lot of people do not. Some people commit suicide or have total breakdowns because they are unable to cope and they have to find some kind of release.

What do they do, they lose themselves, they try to at least, don’t they?  They lose themselves in social media or Netflix, they lose themselves by taking drugs, they lose themselves by having sex.  There are all sort of things people turn to to lose themselves.  They are constantly distracting ourselves.  If they did not, they feel they wouldn’t be able to cope.  So they chase after some temporary relief, some temporary release. And immediately afterwards, there is a buildup once again.  So it is in samsara. As soon as we have some sort of relief, there is a buildup in tension all over again, leading to another temporary release. Followed by another buildup. If that is not changing suffering, I do not know what is.  It seems sometimes, if there is a buildup of stress, then people have nervous breakdowns. There must be some release for people, and if they cannot find it, their system malfunctions and they have a breakdown.

From their attachment there can be a buildup of all sorts, and in part I think a buildup of sexual energy, can’t there?  There is a sexual tension arises in people’s minds, affecting them both mentally and physically. Of course if they continue to turn to objects of attachment, especially attractive males, attractive females, attractive bodies, and so forth, then what can we expect?  Generally, what we do to find release just makes our situation worse.   We can expect this. Due to our own self-grasping in part, it will be like this:  things building up in our own mind and becoming more and more unbearable for us, then we will seek just like everybody else some kind of release from it all.

What other people do and what we as Kadampas do must be different. How then can we prevent this buildup taking place, leading to again and again a need for release, a desperate need for release?   We can meditate on renunciation.  We can consider the impurity of the body to stop our exaggeration.  We can realize that our sexual attachment comes at a terrible price in this life in terms of the problems and mental suffering it creates.  We can think about the problems it will create at the time of our death and beyond and realize it is just not worth it.  Am I going to go another round in samsara just for a few moments of contaminated pleasure?  Moksha means release, we let go realizing we no longer want to follow what our delusions say.  It is like we have been possessed, and we are released from our possession.  By letting go, we get release, because the release comes from a build up of tension from wanting and expecting things to be different.  With the mind of renunciation, we stop looking within the dream, we have given up on it, so we do not expect anything from it.

As well, we can meditate on love and compassion, as I explained before.  We try not to forget that the bodies that we are attracted to are the basis for suffering living beings, an “I” imputed onto a contaminated aggregate.  If we find their bodies attractive, it causes them to identify more closely with their contaminated aggregates, which keeps them trapped in samsara.  We can also meditate on unconditional love that does not seek anything from the other person, but just wishes to make them happy.

We must know that the only true release is what we will experience with the wisdom realizing ultimate truth.  When we realize ultimate truth, emptiness, directly, then there will no longer be any buildup. What we will experience is a permanent release. A permanent, on-going, eternal release, otherwise known as liberation. It is a state beyond sorrow.  This is what we should seek. Permanent release. Then there will be no inner buildup leading to pain and suffering ever again.  We don’t have to wait until we have a direct realization of emptiness for this to have an effect.  Whatever extent to which we have some understanding of emptiness, it can be effective right now.  The more we apply this understanding, the more it will work for us, until eventually it uproots all our delusions.

It is best we train in all three: nonattachment or renunciation, compassion or Bodhichitta, compassion, and the correct view of emptiness.  Perfect.  It will work.  If we train in all three, then we will be able to transform graveyard cities full of moving bones into the charnel grounds of Heruka and Vajrayogini.   We try now to patiently apply ourselves without any expectation. It does not matter if we don’t succeed straightaway.  With joyful effort, we must patiently apply ourselves.  If we eventually succeed in doing this, think about what we will have to offer to others.  Living beings are increasingly finding their condition more and more unbearable, but we will have a solution.  To gain such a solution, we must be taking the medicine ourselves. If we are to bring about a change for others, first of all we must bring about a change, a deep change, for ourselves. This requires us to actually try. 

Then, we will make things better for ourselves, and every day we will create the cause for that permanent release in the future. Even now, we will find definitely we can experience some relief from the buildup of tension, some release.  With our present understanding, we can prevent this buildup that takes place in our minds.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Lay people need to overcome sexual attachment too

(8.69) Putting so much effort into beautifying it
Is just like polishing a sword that will be used to harm you.
It seems the whole world is pervaded by this madness
Because people believe beauty is only external.

(8.70) Having contemplated the piles of bones in the burial ground,
Once we turn our mind elsewhere
And see graveyard cities full of moving bones,
How can we find pleasure in them?

In Meaningful to Behold Venerable Geshe-la said that attachment to sexual pleasures is one of the most universal forms of desire. This attachment in our mind sows the seeds of the destruction of all our meaningful relationships.  So many people as a result of sexual attachment go off with other people or end their existing relationships. Then, they wonder why in the future none of their relationships are stable.

We want to find people attractive, and we can.  We just need to do it in the right way.  If we have attachment to people, we find them to be very attractive, but we view them in the context of what they can bring us.  Affectionate love naturally finds people attractive, but it is totally different because it does not seek anything for oneself – it just admires and appreciates the good qualities we see in the person we love.  Nothing is wrong with that.  We need to mentally make this distinction, because otherwise we will never abandon our attachment because we like finding others attractive.

If someone came to see us for some advice, and said to us that they suffer from strong sexual desire, what would be our advice? What would we say?  If we do not know, then it says something.  This is a big problem for people, so we need to internally realize some answers.  The reality is this is a huge problem for pretty much everybody, yet nobody talks about it.  We hide in shame with it or we even glorify it with poetry.  We all suffer from this attachment, but we are still all convinced it is our friend, and we react very negatively when somebody comes along and challenges our view.  Why?

It’s not just monks and nuns who need to work on sexual attachment, but lay people, too.  Thinking that this problem is one experienced only by the ordained is ridiculous, so naive, really if we feel this, so naive. Thinking, “I actually enjoy my sex life, I have a good sex life, I don’t have a problem with this. This is only a problem for the ordained.” Ridiculous.  If you want to see how much difficulty you have with sexual attachment, take a temporary vow of celibacy (3-6 months) and see how your mind does.  Just because lay people give in to their sexual attachment does not mean they don’t have a problem with it.

(8.71) Furthermore, we do not come to enjoy others’ bodies
Without acquiring material possessions.
We exhaust ourself in non-virtuous activities to gather these,
Only to experience suffering in this life and the lower realms in the next.

(8.72) When we are young, we do not have the resources to support a partner;
And later we are so busy that there is no time to enjoy ourself.
When at last we have accumulated the resources we need,
We are too old to indulge our desires!

(8.73) Some, under the influence of desire, work like slaves.
They tire themselves out working long days
And, when they return home in the evening,
Their exhausted bodies collapse like corpses.

(8.74) Some have to experience the disruptions of travel
Or suffer from being far from home.
Although they long to be close to their partners,
They do not see them for years at a time.

(8.75) Some, confused about how to earn what they desire,
Effectively sell themselves to others.
Even then they do not get what they want
But are driven without meaning by the needs of others.

(8.76) Then there are those who sell themselves into servitude
And work for others without any freedom.
They live in lonely, desolate places
Where their children are born with only trees for shelter.

We need to think about why we would give up our spiritual life to return to a worldly life.  People do.  They primarily do so because Dharma practice does not give them immediate rewards like worldly life can.  Their impatience for results kills their spiritual practice.  Very sad, actually.  They do so because they are not thinking about death.  We have to ask ourselves if it is enough to have a happy, comfortable life.  We have the opportunity to lead a fully spiritual life, become a spiritual guide, even.  This is the most meaningful existence a living being can have.  Why are we not interested?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Taking an Honest Look at Disgusting Human Bodies

(8.57) If your main interest is in attractive forms,
Why do you not prefer to touch such things
As beautiful young flowers
Rather than desiring others’ bodies, which are just cages of filth?

We might object, we like to engage in sexual activities with others bodies because they are beautiful.  We are attracted to their beauty.  But flowers are also beautiful.  But they just don’t do it for us in the same that bodies do, do they?  We might like a pretty flower, but we don’t wish to engage in sexual intercourse with it. So it’s not the attractive form that pulls us in, is it? It cannot be just the attractive form because a young flower is an attractive form, it’s a beautiful form.

So what is it then? Again what is it about bodies? Compare that beautiful young flower with a cage of filth, we still go for the cage of filth. The cage of filth does it for us, flowers do not. Why? What is it that we’re actually interested in? Fascinating, isn’t it?  When we look and try find what exactly we are so attracted to, we find nothing.  When we try find what is worth copulating with, we find nothing.

(8.58) If you do not want to touch a place
Covered with impurities such as vomit,
Why do you want to touch the body
From which these impurities come?

(8.59) If you are not attached to what is unclean,
Why do you embrace others’ bodies,
Which come from impure blood and sperm
Within an unclean womb?

(8.60) You have no desire for the body of an insect, however small,
That emerges from a pile of dung;
So why do you desire a gross, impure body
That is produced from thirty-six impure substances?

(8.61) Not only do you not disparage
The impurity of your own body,
But, out of attachment to what is unclean,
You desire other bags of filth!

(8.62) Even pure medicinal herbs
And delicately cooked rice or vegetables
Will defile the ground on which they land
If they are spat out after having been in the mouth.

(8.63) Although the impurity of the body is obvious,
If you still have doubts, go to a burial ground
And reflect on the impurity of the corpses
That have been abandoned there.

(8.64) Once you have understood
That, when the skin is removed,
The body gives rise to great aversion,
How can you ever derive pleasure from it again?

We dislike anything, don’t we, that is filthy, unclean, contaminated, in some way. Such as the unpleasant things that come out of the body.  Yet the body is the very source of these things, the body is unclean, impure, contaminated. Again why do we like bodies that are by nature impure, unclean?   Why do we laugh when we hear these descriptions? Because we all do. … Why? Shantideva is just describing what our body is actually like. It’s filthy, it’s unclean. Why do we laugh?  We think perhaps the way Shantideva puts it seems absurd.  But is it?  Or is this not objective and our actual view is the one that is absurd.  I think reading descriptions like this make us nervous – we don’t want to take them on board because we don’t want to let go of our attachment, but we have to have some reaction, so we nervously laugh.  I think our self-cherishing feels cornered by Shatideva’s words.  I think we laugh because we don’t want to accept it, and we don’t want to look at it.  His words are true, and we try and spend our whole life pretending that they are not.

(8.65) The fragrance of another’s body comes from other sources,
Such as the sandalwood with which it is anointed;
So why are you attracted to a body
Because of scents that are not its own?

(8.66) Since in its natural state the body smells foul,
Would it not be better to have no attachment for it?
Why do those who crave the meaningless things of this world
Anoint this body with perfume?

(8.67) If the scent comes from perfume, such as sandalwood,
How can it come from the body?
Why be attached to others
Because of a scent that is not theirs?

(8.68) When left naked in its natural state,
The body is hideous, with long hair and nails,
Foul-smelling, yellowing teeth,
And a pervasive stench of dirt.

So perhaps it is the smell of the body that we’re attracted to?  No, that can’t be, bodies generally stink.  Perhaps it is the perfume on it. But if we like the perfume, then why are we attached to the body?  If we put perfume on a pillow, we wouldn’t be as attached. 

It is not the smell, so what is it, really?  We can see that Shantideva is engaging in a wisdom search for what, exactly, are we so attached to.  It is like trying to find an inherently existent object, when we search, we find nothing.  Here, Shantideva is using wisdom to search for what exactly it is we are attached to.  When we look with wisdom, we find nothing. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why Are We Attached to Bags of Filth?

(8.52) We might feel that what we are attracted to is not impure;
And yet we want to copulate with others’ bodies,
Which are just cages of bone tied together with muscles
And plastered over with the mud of flesh!

(8.53) We have enough impurities of our own
That we constantly have to contend with;
So why, out of an obsession with the unclean,
Do we desire other bags of filth?

From an objective point of view, a human body is just that – a bag of filth.  Can we deny this truth?  They are just cages of bone tied together with musles and plastered over with flesh.  This is manifestly obvious, and when put in these terms, absolutely disgusting. 

Yet our attachment makes us believe that these objects are pure.  And non-attachment informs us that they are not, that they are impure.  Yet we do not want to hear that.  We don’t even want to think about that because we think doing so will ruin our enjoyment.  So which is the mind that we are relying upon – our wisdom or our attachment? The attachment or the nonattachment? Attachment arises from ignorance, nonattachment from wisdom. Why is it that we do not even want to accept any reasoning that Shantideva is putting forward, why don’t we want to accept the absurdities that Shantideva is pointing out? Why not? Even though our wisdom is saying actually Shantideva is right, he is right.

Perhaps some people think that they are practicing Tantra by having sexual attachment. People say all the time, ‘look at those Dakinis’.  When somebody says this, they are just revealing that they don’t know what Tantra is all about.  Such a view of Tantra actually results in the most horrible of karmas – it creates the cause for the degeneration of Tantra in this world.  People who teach so-called Tantra classes are creating the karma that every time they find a pure spiritual path that teaches Tantra that they will take it for worldly reasons.  Or worse, they will encounter false teachers.  Such people will be amongst the last to be liberated from samsara.

It is impossible to practice Tantra on a basis of anything other than non-attachment.  Tantra is a transformation of the impure into the pure.  How can such a transformation take place when you are conceiving the impure to be pure?  It is our disgust for the contaminated objects of samsara that cause us to wish to generate pure forms with our minds. 

We can distinguish the mind of attachment from the mind of non-attachment by the direction it moves.  The mind of attachment moves outwards, towards the object, and becomes glued within it.  The mind of non-attachment is a withdrawing inwards as we let go.  This enables our mind to stabilize.

OK, now we look at the question, “what is it about bodies that we are so attracted to?”

(8.54) “It is the flesh that I enjoy.”
If this is what you like to see and touch,
Why do you not want it in its natural state –
When it is devoid of mind?

We already looked at this one above.  It is not the flesh we enjoy, if it was, we would equally enjoy having sex with a corpse. 

(8.55) Any mind that you desire
Can be neither seen nor touched,
And anything you can see or touch cannot be mind;
So why engage in meaningless copulation?

So then we say, we are attracted to their mind.  But if we are attracted to their mind, then we would wish to mix our thoughts with theirs in a conversation or think deeply about their writing, why bother with the sexual activity?  Why do we find their bodies attractive when what we are appreciating is their mental qualities?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Further, we may know people who have many mental qualities, yet we don’t find them to be attractive.  If it is their mental qualities we find attractive, then why do we not wish to have sex with “ugly” people with beautiful minds?

(8.56) Perhaps it is not so strange
That you do not realize others’ bodies are impure,
But it is very strange
That you do not realize your own is.

Do we think of our own body as impure?  No.  As a result, we have attachment to it.

If we were to contemplate the nature of our own body then of course we would realize it is impure.  We don’t typically see others bodies at their worst, such as when they are going the bathroom or when they stink.  But we do know what our own body is like.  It’s gross, really.  Yet others bodies are the same.  And even if they are not, since we know our own body is disgusting, why would we wish to do things with it?  Do we typically play with unclean, disgusting things?  And why would we want to rub something as unclean as our own body onto something else that we find to be beautiful?  Do we rub or excrement all over a clean marble countertop?

How many people reading this actually want to think in these ways.  There is so much resistance in our mind to even thinking this way because we know if we do, we will no longer derive the same sort of enjoyment we used to out of sexual activities.  But Shantideva already pointed out that the pleasure we get from sexual activities is not even remotely worth the effort or the negative karma. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Having Sex with Pillows?

(8.45) Although we jealously guard our lover from others’ advances,
The Lord of Death will take him from us
And his body will be burned or buried in the ground;
So what is the point of our jealousy and attachment?

Where there is a strong attachment, usually there will arise some jealousy, too. When we see someone whom we are attached enjoying other people’s company, we become jealous. As bodhisattva’s or as Dharma teachers, we need to be particularly careful because if we develop attachment towards some, we will make others who come to us for help jealous.  We need to have equanimity for others. 

Meditation on death always works, doesn’t it?  Venerable Tharchin said we should view our life from the perspective of our death bed.  If it will not matter on our death bed, then why does it matter now?  If it will make it harder on our death bed, do not do it now.  What is the point of generating jealousy towards anybody.  At the time of death, we will be separated from all of them.

(8.46) Others’ bodies to which we are very attached
Are just collections of flesh and bone.
At any moment, they could be destroyed by the Lord of Death;
So why develop attachment to them?

(8.47) When we see a human corpse, which is a mere collection of flesh and bone,
We develop fear even though it does not move;
So why are we not fearful of living bodies, which are also just collections of flesh and bone
Moving here and there like zombies?

(8.48) Since both dead bodies and living bodies
Are mere collections of flesh and bone,
Why am I attracted to living bodies but not to dead ones?
Thinking in this way, I should stop attachment to others’ bodies.

It’s just bodies, just bodies, with holes and protrusions, here, there.  We need to remind ourselves of this, all day long, not just when we are tempted by objects of attachment.  We are all just collections of flesh and bone.  This is equally true when they’re living and when they’re dead.  So why do we prefer collections of flesh and bone when they’re living? From a physical perspective, there is no difference.  We are just collections of flesh and bone. Why do we prefer ones that move to ones that don’t? 

We need to check, what exactly is it that we are attracted to in other’s bodies.  We would happily have sex with a beautiful person when they are living; but if one minute later they died, would we still want to have sex with them?  It’s the same body.  Our engaging in sex with them is physically exactly the same.  Why the difference? 

And now on to the uncleanliness.

(8.49) Both saliva and urine come from the same source –
The intake of fluids into the body –
So why is it that we like saliva when kissing
But have no desire for urine?

Or anything else excreted from the body, for that matter.  Why do we like to one person’s excretions and not another’s.  Why do we like some types of excretions and not others?  If it is the saliva we like, then why not anybody’s. If it is the saliva we like, then why not the saliva we see on the ground?  Would we drink a cup of spit?  Would we even want to put our tongue to it, thinking it disgusting?  Yet we eagerly do so in somebody else’s mouth.  Why? 

(8.50) Although cotton is also soft to touch,
You find no sexual pleasure in a pillow.
Rather, you think the body does not emit foul smells –
O desirous mind, you are so confused about what is unclean!

(8.51) Just as we sometimes get angry at other people,
Why don’t we also get angry at pillows?
For, although they too are soft to touch,
We cannot copulate with them!

What is it about bodies? This is the question Shantideva is getting us to ask ourselves.  What is it precisely about bodies we are so attached to? What is it about the body? What is it? He’s pushing us, isn’t he, to actually acknowledge the absurdity of being attached to such an object. Is it the touch, the smell, what is it?  He is pushing us to recognize the absurdity of being attached to the body so we can drop our attachment. 

Here, he is helping us realize it is not the softness we are attached to.  There are many soft things, like pillows or flowers, but we don’t go around looking to have sex with them.