Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Overcoming Attachment to Porn

(8.43) When we are very attached to someone,
We want to see their face again and again;
But, whether we see their face or not,|
The real face always remains covered with skin.

(8.44) If we were to remove that skin,
We would realize that they are not an object of desire
But an object of aversion;
So why do we develop attachment for others’ bodies?

Appearances!  Appearances are so deceptive, but we cannot ignore them, we are not prepared to ignore them because they can be so, so attractive.  Advertisers know we just cannot look away.  It does not matter what somebody is selling, put a near naked beautiful woman next to it, and we’re glued.  We cannot resist attractive forms.  Why else do they put naked women on billboards to sell anything and everything.  If we are honest, we do not want to turn our mind away.  We want to mix our mind even further with the object, feeling like there is happiness there.  We think, “what is the harm,” “it doesn’t matter.”

And it is not just billboards.  Pornography is huge business.  Porn addiction is a huge problem.  The two most popular porn sites get more monthly traffic than Amazon, Netflix, Twitter and Reddit.  It’s estimated that 5-8% of all Americans suffers from porn addiction.  That’s 15-24 million people.  This is not just people who watch porn, but are addicted to it.  That’s roughly the same number as those addicted to alcohol and drugs combined!  Yet nobody talks about it because there is so much shame.  And because it seems so harmless.  And because it seems so good.     

I wonder if we considered the suffering of the people we watch whether we would still want to look.  We frankly do not want to even consider that because it might ruin our fun.  Many of them are victims of trafficking.  Many more have other serious problems with money, drugs, self-esteem, broken families, abuse (prior and current), and so forth.  What drives somebody to become a porn model?  Sure, some of them might just really like sex.  But what percentage, really, do we think that is.  Maybe it started for them that way, just like drug and alcohol use seemly starts with just wanting to have a little fun.  But how does it proceed, how does it end? 

Many of them are victims of child abuse who feel unclean, and who perversely seek to recreate their experiences voluntarily to feel as if they are reclaiming what was taken from them.  Many of them are poor or on drugs and are exploited terribly by the people in this industry.  We may think that they do things voluntarily, but we have to ask how lost they are to voluntarily allow themselves to be treated like a piece of meat or an object of exploitation and often abuse.

We also need to think about their suffering from a karmic perspective.  They are provoking attachment in people, perhaps millions and millions of people.   Look how much you suffer from people provoking attachment in you.  They will suffer like that millions of times over in the future.

We also need to think about the karma that we create by being attracted to such things.  I had a dream once where I was the sex toy of powerful people who did not even know that I was a living being.  Certainly this is our future if we consume things like this.  What realm do you think this sort of activity ripens in for rebirth – there is a special hell called the swamp of excrement.  Is it worth a rebirth there just to get a few moments of contaminated pleasure.   It is also worth recalling the moment of our death.  Whatever attachments we have not resolved in life will flare up at the time of death, tempting us to come back into samsara.  I had a lucid dream once where I was at the time of my death and I was tempted by various things to see if I would abandon my practice.  I knew I was dreaming and I knew exactly what was going on.  First, I was tempted by money, but I did not budge.  Then, I was tempted by power.  I hesitated, but did not move.  Then, there were three beautiful women inviting me to their bed.  I dived right in.  If this was the time of my death, all the effort I had put into my Dharma practice to prepare for the moment of death would have been thrown away in an instant.  And I knew what I was doing, but did it anyways.  I woke up and thought, “for me, devaputra mara, no problem; tempting demonesses, big problem.”  We need to think about these things.  We need to force ourselves to consider their suffering and our own.  If we do, eventually we will not be able to do this anymore – at a minimum, we might be able to reduce our attachment and cut our addiction.  Compassion for their suffering will definitely put a dent in such bad habits. 

In the end, it’s just bodies. As Shantideva goes on to describe, just moving bodies, collections of flesh and bone, moving here and there.

I think it’s a perfect example of how stupid attachment makes us. Really. How stupid.  We are almost worse than an animal, so stupid.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Are We Willing to Let Go of Our Sexual Attachment?

As bodhisattva’s we need to be particularly careful, don’t we?  Attachment creates the causes to be separated from the objects of our attachment.  We are, in many ways, the connection between the living beings in our life and the Dharma.  They don’t really have other connections to the Dharma other than through us.  If we mess up our relationship with them by generating sexual attachment for them, and it then creeps them out or we destroy our special spiritual relationship with the person, we are – in effect – destroying their spiritual life.  If we allow attachment to arise within our mind, we are creating the causes for this person to be separated from us, and therefore separated from all the Buddhas.  It’s bad enough that we are willing to risk our own spiritual life for the sake of a few moments of sexual pleasure, but are we willing to throw away their spiritual life for the sake of our own selfish sexual purposes?  Dharma teachers need to be especially careful because if they are doing this sort of thing towards our students, then people will lose faith in us and lose faith in the Dharma.  Again, we have seen this story many times, even in our own tradition.

(8.41) Although we engage in harmful actions
And even sacrifice all our wealth for them,
What is the real nature of these bodies
That we like so much to embrace?

(8.42) They are nothing other than skeletons
That are neither autonomous nor inherently existent.
Rather than being so desirous and attached to them,
Why do I not strive to pass beyond sorrow instead?

At least in the beginning, and especially when we are young, we go through great lengths and terrible expense all with the goal of hopefully being able to engage in sexual embrace with the other person.  Think of how much mental anguish, how much time, how much money, and for what?  The pleasure of it hardly lasts long, and then there are many problems we encounter afterwards.  Even putting spiritual considerations aside, we have to ask ourselves the question:  is it really worth it?  Is the reward worth the cost?  When looked at objectively, it hardly seems to.

But as Dharma practitioners, we have to ask ourselves the question, are we willing to let go of our sexual attachment for the sake of liberation and enlightenment?  We immediately go to “we don’t have to, we have tantra!”  But that is wrong.  Even tantric bodhisattvas must overcome all of their sexual attachment.  We need to leave it all behind.  Are we willing for forever forswear sexual attachment?  Is that a prices we are willing to pay for spiritual progress?  For many people, the answer is no.  But think about just how insane that is.  We are willing to forsake the eternal bliss of liberation and enlightenment for a few moments of sexual pleasure.  It’s ridiculous! 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: “Maybe it is all about cocks…”

Now we come to a number of verses under the outline in Meaningful to Behold, “How to abandon the wild disturbances that pervert the mind.”

(8.38) Having given up all other desires
And being motivated solely by bodhichitta,
I will strive to attain single-pointed concentration
And control my mind by recollecting the meaning of emptiness.

(8.39) Deluded desires give rise to misfortune
In both this and future lives.
In this life they cause injury, incarceration, and death,
And in the next the sufferings of the lower realms.

We are such desirous beings, constantly hankering, as it says in Meaningful to Behold, hankering after the pleasures of samsara.  One of our main jobs is to reduce at least our ordinary desires so that we can actually concentrate on the path to liberation. Otherwise, it is impossible to make spiritual progress. 

But Shantideva knows us.  One of our strongest desires is sexual desire.  In many ways, sexual desire drives all of our other desires.  For Game of Thrones fans, there is a famous scene where Sir Jamie and Bronn are discussing the meaning of life as they prepare for the fateful battle with an army of “unsullied (eunuchs).”  When you look at the history of humanity, there is a certain amount of truth to their exchange.

Knowing how fundamental sexual attachment is to the structure of delusions within our mind, Shantideva spends the next thirty verses or so dismantling this delusion.  Before we dive in, please note, Shantideva is not saying there is anything wrong with sexual activity – the problem is sexual attachment.  Sexual attachment is a delusion that mistakenly thinks our happiness can be found in sexual activity – we think it is a cause of our happiness and that we can’t be happy without it.  Indeed, there is an entire community of incels, or involuntary celibates, that has grown out of this delusion believing they can’t be happy without sexual activity and all women are cruel who fail to give them what they need.  They have emerged as a misogynistic sub-culture that in some cases has even turned to terrorism.   

Shantideva explains all of this to reduce our sexual attachment.  All delusions exaggerate, and his analysis directly counters that exaggeration.  The goal is not to turn us all into ordained monks and nuns, but rather to significantly reduce this deluded poison in our mind and view things objectively.  Some people find Shantideva extreme in his descriptions, but in truth, he is being perfectly objective about what is going on.  It is we who are on an extreme of total exaggeration when it comes to sexual issues – he is just bringing us down to reality so we have a more balanced mind.

According to Tantra, there are methods for transforming sexual activity into the path, but we can only do these if we have first significantly reduced our sexual attachment to manageable levels.  There are countless courses available these days on “tantric sex,” but from a Kadampa perspective, all of these courses should spend the first several weeks teaching Shantideva.  The fact that they couldn’t and still have any students shows the true nature of such courses.

(8.40) For the sake of acquiring a sexual partner,
People send messages through go-betweens
And, disregarding any harm to their reputation,
Commit all manner of non-virtue.

We do not need go-betweens these days, we just send text messages, don’t we?  We long for a physical relationship with someone, and we wish to give and to receive physical affection. We wish to express our love for someone in a physical way and feel close to someone in this way, to be intimate with someone.   Of course, there is some sexual attachment in our mind. Urging us, urging us to make approaches.  Often it begins with a few text messages. So perhaps we flirt a little with someone, maybe even somebody we shouldn’t, maybe that person flirts back with us a little, which also is very nice, very appealing, and then we go a little bit further, don’t we, we begin to take one or two risks.  Our mind starts becoming increasingly agitated and obsessed.  We plan what we will say and try to manage the other person so that they think good things about us. 

We know that we are falling under the influence of attachment, but we do not care.  It feels so good.  We would be willing to throw away our practice for the sake of making it work.  Look at how many great leaders – in politics, business, or religion – who have been brought down by their sexual attachment.  Scandal after scandal – people lose it all.  How do they get to the point where they are willing to risk and lose everything for the sake of sexual intrigue?  Such is the power of sexual attachment.  Even in our own spiritual tradition, there have been many, many unfortunate stories of truly amazing holy beings who have been laid low by their sexual attachment.  Gen Thubten.  Gen-la Samden.  Gen Lodro.  The list goes on.  All these people who have been brought down by their sexual attachment are not stupid.  They knew what they were risking.  We perhaps do the same in subtle ways.  We know we’re stepping over the line, even endangering our position, our reputation – not to mention lower rebirth.  Sexual misconduct is just one step away. All for the sake of acquiring a sexual partner.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Being with All Living Beings in Solitude

(8.33) Just as people who travel have no attachment
To a guesthouse where they stay for just one night,
So should I not develop attachment to this body,
Which is the guesthouse for just one rebirth.

(8.34) Before such time as this body of mine
Is borne aloft by four pall bearers
And worldly beings grieve my passing,
I will withdraw to the solitude of the forest.

(8.35) Encountering neither friends nor enemies,
My body will remain in complete solitude.
If I am already counted among the dead,
There will be no one to mourn me when I die.

(8.36) Then, with no one around me
Grieving or planning harm,
Who will there be to distract me
From my recollection of holy Buddha?

(8.37) Therefore, I will dwell alone
In a quiet and peaceful place.
Happy, contented, and with no worries,
I will strive to pacify all distractions.

Ahhh, just imagine that.  As explained in previous posts, the purpose of these sorts of verses is not to make us view our family, friends, work, and so forth as obstacles to our practice of Dharma, but to generate a strong wish to – at least from time to time – withdraw into solitude and go on retreat.  In many ways, it is my greatest wish, but perhaps that is because I have five kids!!!  Ha ha 

When we have family or close friends, we can sometimes feel guilty fantasizing in this way about retreating to the forest or mountains to do retreat.  Is this somehow a betrayal of them?  If I think in this way, will I start to view them all as obstacles?  The answer to this worry is to realize we go on retreat for their benefit.  Our goal in mixing our mind with the Dharma is to attain enlightenment.  Then, we will be able to be with them every day for the rest of eternity.  If we stay with them now and fail to attain enlightenment, then at death, we will inevitably be separated from them.  Then, we will be useless to them.  It is because we want to always be with them that we need to withdraw now to make progress along the path.  Geshe-la uses the analogy of somebody who wants to help people medically.  They have to first go to medical school for many years before they will actually be able to help anybody, but it is time well spent because if they don’t go to medical school, they will never know how to help anybody.

Additionally, when we go on retreat we can bring them with us in our heart.  Physically, we may be alone on retreat, but we bring our family and indeed all living beings with us in our heart.  Every practice we engage in, we imagine they are with us, we send them blessings, we dedicate for their well-being.  We are not running away from them, we are drawing closer to them.  Indeed, when we eliminate our self-cherishing, we love them as we love ourselves.  When we remove our self-grasping ignorance, we leave behind the false duality between ourselves and them, and feel as if we are inseparably one in emptiness. 

But it might not be possible for us to go on retreat now.  As explained before, it doesn’t matter.  The joyful mind of being on retreat can be our experience now.  If we adopt the mind of retreat now, as explained before, our daily experience will be as if we are on retreat as we spend time with our family, do our work, and go out for dinner.  We can view everything that happens to us as emanated by Dorje Shugden as part of our retreat – some things give us opportunities to train in compassion, others give us opportunities to improve our patience, and others still allow us to let go of our attachments.  From the point of view of our mind, we will be on retreat and making rapid spiritual progress every day.  If we prepare like this throughout life, we will definitely create the causes to be able to go on long retreat later.  And when we arrive at our retreat, we will know exactly how to maintain a balanced, joyful mind throughout it. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Embracing Being Alone

To help us reduce our attachment to worldly concerns and to increase our wish to withdraw and go on retreat, Shantideva now gives us some verses about death and impermanence to reflect upon. If we reflect on death and impermanence, we can reduce our attachment and we can increase our wish to do retreat.

(8.29) I should withdraw to a burial ground
And meditate on the impermanence of my body
By thinking that it is really no different from a dead body,
For both are decaying moment by moment.

(8.30) It might happen that, when I die,
My body will decay quickly and emit an odour so foul
That not even foxes will want to come near it!
I should happily accept that such things could happen.

In truth, we should consider our body a walking corpse.  For all practical purposes, that is what it is.  We are convinced that we will not die today and we go about our day as if this is the reality of our situation.  But we don’t know.  Today could be our last day.  This may be the last sentence you ever read.  We should live our life as if we could die at any moment, then we will not waste a single second of our precious human life but use each to go for refuge and mix our mind with virtue.

We spend so much of our life trying to please our body.  Think of all of the things we do beyond what is necessary to keep it healthy, sheltered, and alive.  All that extra – completely unnecessary, simply wasted energy and merit.  If we start to view our body as already dead – already a corpse destined for the burial grounds – then we won’t be so preoccupied with it, and we certainly won’t engage in negativity for its sake.

Of course, out of consideration for others, we need to clean it.  We do not have to wait until we die for it to emit a foul odor.  We should likewise take good care to keep it healthy and fit so we have a long life because we need it to practice Dharma and help others.  But it is a tool, nothing more, and we need to reduce the exaggerated importance we place upon it. 

(8.31) If this body, which is one unit,
Will break into separate pieces
Of flesh and bone,
What can be said of my relationships?

(8.32) At birth I was born alone
And at death I shall have to die alone.
Since I cannot share these sufferings with others,
What use are friends who prevent me from practising virtue?

Many people take refuge in their relationships.  During the COVID pandemic, many people were in lockdown for a very long period of time, and this was hell for many people to be cut off from the rest of the world.  It forced hundreds of millions of people to come face to face with their attachment to relationships with other people, and millions fell into terrible depression and sadness. 

Even outside of pandemics, many old people and prisoners and so forth find themselves alone for extended periods of time.  Sarte said hell is other people; but for others hell is being alone.  Due to our attachment to others, we convince ourselves we can’t be happy without companionship or a shoulder to cry on.  When we are unable to change our circumstance, we fall into despair and think nothing can help us.

But the truth is whether we are with others or not makes absolutely no difference to whether we are happy or not.  Our happiness depends upon our inner peace and the state of our mind, not whether there are people around us.  It is perfectly possible to be in a giant crowd, but feel completely alone; or to be completely alone, but feel we are one with all living beings.  The feeling of aloneness fundamentally comes from our self-grasping – we grasp at ourselves as being separate from others.  This is a mistaken conception.  In truth, we are all equally empty and there is no separation between any of us and us and all of the Buddhas. 

But if we have attachment to others, we will suffer throughout life when we need to be alone, and we will suffer terribly at the time of death.  We will feel as if we are being ripped away from everything that sustains us.  When we are temporarily separated from those we love, we feel this great loss and we cry as they board the plane.  Imagine what we will feel at the time of our death when we realize we will never see these people ever again.  Is it any wonder why at the time of our death so many people develop grasping minds?

We need to think about these things now and decide whether it is wise to place our refuge in other people.  How can they help us at the time of our death?  They can’t.  And in truth, it is often our relationships with them that prevent us from fully dedicating our life and time to the practice of Dharma.  When we want to practice Dharma, they want to go do other things, or they come and bother us.

Of course, they are not inherently obstacles to our Dharam practice.  I used to think that, but then my teacher Gen Lekma told me, “your girlfriend (now wife) is not an obstacle to your practice, she is your practice.”  We can learn how to train in virtuous minds of love and how to overcome the many delusions that arise in our mind over the course of our relationship – some attachment, but mostly frustration.  So yes, we can transform our relationships into the path to enlightenment, but others can never be reliable objects of refuge, and frankly, they also make terrible objects of attachment too – never giving us the satisfaction and joy we were hoping for. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Assembling our Inner Retreat Conditions Now

If we can train in the mind of retreat now then the experience we have in our room doesn’t have to be so different from the experience we have around the city, nor that different from the experience we will have when we go on long retreat. We can maintain a peaceful mind.  But it does require, I think, being located in the heart in this way, being located at the heart and then directing our mind, trying to keep control of our mind in a disciplined way, rather than letting it go straight out.  We can certainly imagine if we were to walk into the city center with Venerable Geshe-la, this would be his experience.  Venerable Geshe-la would be just as aware or more aware of what was be happening around him as we would be, but he would nonetheless remain centered in his heart.  We should try do the same.

When it comes to preparing our internal conditions for treat, the most important is we need little desire. One of the most important internal conditions for retreat is little desire. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Venerable Geshe-la says one of the necessary conditions for tranquil abiding retreat is to reduce our attachment to objects of worldly concern such as wealth and reputation, which is exactly what Shantideva is helping us to do here.  We can be training right now in reducing our desire and reducing our attachment to objects of worldly concerns.  In this way, we can create for ourselves right now one of the most important conditions for retreat. 

Contentment is another important inner retreat condition. We can learn to enjoy what we have and learn how to relax in a virtuous way without having to run after stimulation.  Why do we need distracting activities?  Now is the time to wean ourselves off those activities we know to be distracting.  A distraction is anything that distracts you from generating virtuous minds.  If we are generating virtuous minds with respect to an activity, it is not a distraction.   We don’t need to stop these things straightaway, but we should apply effort to reduce such activities until finally we have no distracting activities at all. 

Finally the practice of pure moral discipline is an essential retreat condition. In Shantideva’s presentation, moral discipline primarily means conscientiousness.  The more conscientious we are, the more we can keep out the enemies of distraction.  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that moral discipline is a method for controlling our gross distractions and concentration is a method for controlling our subtle distractions.  We not only need pure moral discipline while we are in retreat, but during our preparation period as well (which is all the time before our retreat).  If we are familiar with keeping our vows and commitments before we enter into retreat, we will have no difficulty when we finally enter into retreat.  But if we do not keep our vows and commitments beforehand, we will find it extremely difficult to do so during our retreat.

If we have all these conditions – both internal and external – then it will be easy to turn our minds towards and remain on virtue – both now and when we eventually go on retreat.  If we cultivate these internal conditions now, it will be like we are in retreat right now. We do not have to wait until we do strict retreat later. There is a danger that if we do not train like this now, as our Dharma practice deepens, both our desire to go on retreat and our desire to abandon living beings will grow.  This is the opposite of a bodhisattva’s mind.  However, if we do practice like this now, then eventually the conditions for our retreat will just fall on our lap, even if right now it seems impossible. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to Start Preparing for your Long Retreat

When we decide that we will eventually do retreat, we can start organizing our life assembling all the causes and conditions where it can happen.  It is mistake to go into long retreat too quickly.  I have a friend who after only a few years practicing Dharma went into a long three-year retreat.  Because the Dharma understanding he had going in as not quite right, he wound up engaging in retreat on wrong understandings.  When he emerged from his retreat, he was more confused than he was going in, but he didn’t even realize it.  There is also a monk I know who pushed too hard in a Vajrasattva retreat and the blew a fuse and eventually disrobed.  One of my former teachers said he wants to either study or teach the entire TTP before he goes on retreat.  I find this to be very wise.  Then we will have a solid foundation when we go into our long three-year retreat.  Geshe-la explains the main preparatory practices for going on long retreat in the tantric texts.  We can do annual retreats with our TTP commitments to gradually assemble these causes and conditions, or we can spend a few months doing these at the beginning of our long retreat, or we cand o both.  The short of it is we should view our whole life as preparing for being able to go on retreat in a qualified way.

The supreme preparation for being able to go on long retreat is to adopt a special view of ourself as being on retreat right now.  We all understand the value of being in the Dharma center and how that helps us reconnect with our practice and the blessings.  We can view our whole life and everything that happens in it as a giant Dharma center emanated for us by Dorje Shugden.

When we are not in the Dharma center, we should establish retreat limits and boundaries of body, speech, and mind.  Anybody who has done retreat can attest to the importance of retreat boundaries.  They are like a protective fence surrounding the playground.  The main value of retreat limits is they cause us to focus our mind on virtue.  We mix ourselves more completely with the virtue of our choice.  The more time we spend within our retreat limits, the more the power of our retreat grows.  In particular, we need to establish mental boundaries of what we allow our mind to go to and what we won’t. We need to think about what sort of retreat limits we can establish right now and try to remain within them.  We try balance being not too loose and not too tight with our retreat boundaries.

Rather than allowing our mind to roam as it does, to move out to objects in a scattered and uncontrolled way, we try to keep our mind inside.   We try to keep our mind inside, to keep it withdrawn.  We don’t need to be on physical retreat to do this.  Mentally, we can remain inside our indestructible drop all day long, in this sense “physically” isolated from everyone.  We try to remain centered, we try to keep our mind located at our heart.  We feel ourselves to be centered, located at our heart, and feel our mind to be located at our heart, where our home is. Home is where the heart is.  No matter where we go, we stay at home.  During the COVID pandemic, people would post on Facebook “stay home, save lives.”  From a Dharma perspective, we can always be in lockdown or quarantine.  We will save lives – both our own future lives in samsara and saving others by attaining enlightenment and then leading them to freedom.  I

It is not enough to stay in our heart, we need to remember that is where our guru is.  Every day, every day we focus on our guru at our heart.  How many times in the books or in the teachings have we been encouraged to remind ourselves of the presence of our guru at our heart. We can and should do this all day, every day.

If we can, we can remember how everything, everything arises from the very subtle mind, residing at our heart.  We can remind ourselves of both various minds and various appearances of mind arise from the very subtle mind at our heart.  These appearances of mind are the very nature of mind itself.  They are not separate from the mind itself.  If we have this understanding, we will not need to go out. We do not need to go out – ever.  In reality, there is no reason why we ever need to leave the indestructible drop in our heart chakra. We can feel ourselves to be an inner being.  We do not need to go out.  We can view everything as an emanation of the Spiritual Guide as part of our retreat.  We can view others as emanated by our spiritual guide to develop virtuous minds towards and abandon non-virtuous minds with respect to.  It is as if we have been on retreat, absorbed in our very subtle mind, but we forgot.  Now we remember, and we see all things as the waves of our very subtle mind emanated by the guru as part of our retreat.

With such an awareness, we try then to control our mind.  We try to maintain control over our mind, directing our mind rather than allowing it to go out in an uncontrolled or scattered way.  Of course we can be aware, perfectly aware of what is happening around us, but our mind is focused and centered.  We feel focused … centered, and I think through this our mind will be still, it will be calm, it will be peaceful. Perfect. That is what we will experience in retreat.  It is what we hope to experience, isn’t it? Our mind very still, very calm, very peaceful. Turning to and abiding in virtue.  We can have that feeling right now in the context of our modern Kadampa life.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Leaving Worldly People Behind (While Remaining in the World)

Continuing with the verses:

(8.22) Living beings have so many different inclinations
That even Buddha is unable to satisfy them all;
So what chance do I, an ordinary confused being, have?
Therefore, I should give up the wish to associate with worldly beings.

(8.23) They look down on those who do not have wealth
And despise those who do.
How can people who are so hard to get along with
Ever see anything but faults in me?

(8.24) Whenever their wishes are not fulfilled,
The childish become unhappy.
This is why the Tathagatas have advised us
Not to associate with them.

Sometimes we generate the thought that we have had enough with others and we just want to get away from them.  Maybe go into retreat.  But this is the opposite of the mind of a Bodhisattva.  A Bodhisattva wants to be with everyone all the time.  She wants to be able to be there for each being all the time.  A Buddha seeks to become inseparable with each and every being.  The closest relationship possible. The goal of a spiritual being is to close all the gaps between the spiritual being and others.

What does it mean to not associate with the worldly?  Does it mean we need to run away from our family, work, and so forth and hide out in a monastery or cave?  No, it means we stop mentally relating to people in a worldly way.  If we do not have a worldly mind, we will not be associating with the worldly because such beings will simply not exist for us.  With a spiritual mind, every being in our life will be viewed as part of our spiritual practice and all of our relationships will be spiritual.

This also does not mean we don’t from time to time go on retreat.  Of course we should.  But when we do, we should bring all living beings with us on retreat.  We engage in our retreat for their benefit.  We imagine them around us.  We engage in our retreat with them, considering ourselves to be with them.  At a more profound level, we can also exchange self with others, and then “as all living beings,” go on retreat.  Then we are not just going on retreat with them, we are going on retreat as them.

(8.25) When shall I withdraw into the forest
And live among the trees
With birds and deer who say nothing unpleasant
But are a joy to live with?

(8.26) Or dwell in a cave or an empty shrine,
Or abide beneath the trees,
With a mind unfettered by attachment,
Which never turns to look back?

(8.27) When shall I live in a place that no one calls “mine” –
A place that is naturally open and spacious,
Where I can act freely and do as I wish,
Without any attachment to body or possessions?

(8.28) With just a few possessions, such as a begging bowl
And clothes that no one else wants,
I shall be free from any danger of thieves and robbers.
In this way, I should live without grasping onto “I” or “mine”.

These verses helping us to develop a wish, a strong wish to withdraw into solitude, to go on retreat. We can imagine just how wonderful this would be.  But we don’t have to wait until we go on long retreat before this is our experience.  But it can be like this for us, right now, actually.  Being on retreat is a state of mind.  If we adopt the mind of retreat, we can view everything that happens to us as part of our retreat emanated by Dorje Shugden. 

But we shouldn’t go to the extreme either of thinking we don’t need to also conventionally go on retreat just because we can transform our normal life into retreat.  We should decide right now that our future includes retreat, long retreat even.  When?  We don’t know for sure, but we can generate the clear wish and pray every day to be able to assemble all the causes and conditions necessary to be able to go on long retreat.  If our wish is pure and our reliance upon Dorje Shugden strong, eventually the conditions will star to come together.  We shouldn’t hold back thinking “it will never happen.”  We have no idea what will happen, but it is certain if we don’t generate the wish, it will never happen.  Perhaps it won’t happen in this life, but generating the pure wish now will create the causes for it to perhaps occur in our future lives. Eventually, it will happen if we decide to make it happen. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Making Our Relationships Immortal

(8.21) Why am I unhappy when someone criticizes me
And happy when I am praised?
Both criticism and praise are just empty words,
Like echoes in an empty cave.

Each one of the objects of worldly concern can either be beneficial or a mara.  It depends upon our mind.  In general, they are harmful if we become attached to these things, thinking that our happiness depends upon them.  They are also harmful if we think we have to avoid these things, thinking that they are necessarily obstacles. 

It is helpful to make a distinction between consume and invest.  If we consume or enjoy our worldly experiences as ends in themselves, then we burn up our merit and it is all meaningless.  But if we reinvest everything that comes our way into the accomplishment of our spiritual goals, then we actually accumulate more merit.  For example, if we offer our enjoyments or any praise we receive to our guru at our heart, we are accumulating merit, not burning it up. 

We also need to learn to appreciate the enormous value of having our worldly concerns frustrated.  Generally we don’t like it when that happens, but from a spiritual point of view, it is excellent.  We need to look at each of the worldly concerns and see how we can ‘use’ or transform not having our worldly concerns met.  If we do this, then we will develop a real equanimity with respect to what happens in our life, and everything will be perfect for us. 

For myself, it all comes down to my reliance upon Dorje Shugden.  His job is to arrange all the outer, inner, and secret conditions I need for my spiritual practice.  I long ago surrendered my life completely into his care and requested that everything that happens to me be perfect for my swiftest possible enlightenment and that of everyone I love.  With this faithful mind, I can then view whatever happens to me as exactly what I need for my practice.  Worldly concerns met or frustrated are equally perfect.  If they are met, I can use these things for my practice or the flourishing of Dharma.  If they are frustrated, I can use the absence of these things to train in Dharma minds and let go of my delusions.  Either way, perfect.

When somebody comes into our life, we have to make a strategic choice about the nature of our relationship with them.  We decide by our own actions and view whether our relationship with the other person is a worldly one, and thus meaningless; or a spiritual one, and thus mutually beneficial.  Of course, most of the people we meet in our life we will not be able to explain to them Dharma, but this does not prevent us from having a spiritual relationship with them.  If we adopt the view that this person is a Buddha appearing in the aspect of an ordinary being to give us an opportunity to practice, for us it will be spiritual relationship, even if the other person only gets worldly things out of the relationship.  At a deeper level, since the other person is empty, adopting this view will also karmically reconstruct them to appear to be a spiritual being in the future because there is no ‘other person’ other than emptiness.

A very beneficial view to adopt is ‘this person is my personal responsibility.’  We realize that we are spiritually responsible for the future of this person, and so we organize our relationship towards that end.  In the short run, we will primarily help people in ordinary ways, but through that we will draw closer to them and we will make dedications that we later be able to help them in a spiritual way.  We need to view our relationships from a very long term perspective, and we take people as far as we can in this life and pray to be able to continue helping them in their future lives.  A pure love for somebody can only be possessed by a spiritual being.  A pure love is wishing for the happiness of the other person in their future lives.  Pure love understands that all that matters are the causes they are creating, not what they are experiencing.  This view alone will transform all of our relationships with others into spiritual ones, even if on the outside everything still appears quite ordinary.

In particular, it is essential that we remove all attachment from our motivation of having relationships with others.  Our attachment tells us that it is thanks to our attachment that we can have any relationship with others at all, but in reality, it is the exact opposite.  Attachment functions to separate us from the object of our attachment, so the more attachment we generate towards others, the more we are accelerating our inevitable separation.  As Bodhisattvas, this should really scare us because it is through their relationship with us that they have access to the exit from samsara.  If their relationship with us is blown, they will wander in samsara for perhaps aeons before there is another such opportunity.  It is particularly important that we remove any attachment in our relationship with our sangha friends, teachers, and students (if we are a teacher ourselves).  As teachers, if we allow our relationships to be governed by attachment, it creates the cause to encounter false teachers who abuse our faith in the future; and as students, it creates the cause to lose our spiritual life.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Being in Love with Everybody

Gen Tharchin said that at Tharpaland, everybody is in love with everybody else.  You know that feeling of being totally in love with somebody.  We need to feel that for one another.  For everyone really, but of course in a non-sexual, non-creepy way!  We need to do the same with everybody in our life.  As we try to do this, we will make many mistakes and attachment will creep up, but that is OK.  Gen-la Dekyong said we don’t abandon our relationships with others because our motivation is mixed, rather we redouble our efforts to truly love them without attachment.

To develop a feeling of love for others, we should focus all of our mental energy on their good qualities.  When they are kind and nice, we should understand that this is the true person acting.  When people make mistakes, we need to realize that they do so because they are confused.  They just do not know any better.  They don’t realize that their actions are counter-productive.

We need to think of our relationships in terms of what we can give them, not what we can get from them.  We need to leave the people in our life completely free to do whatever they wish, without trying to control them in the slightest.  We do not need others to do or act in any particular way, but we wholeheartedly accept them regardless of what they do. 

We need to help people take charge of their own life and own mind, and help them gain the confidence that they can do so.  We need to make a commitment to others that we will always be there for them, no matter what they do and no matter how long it takes.  We commit we will never abandon them.  We try to take personal responsibility for the other person, saying we will keep working to help this person for as long as it takes.

Our love should be like the sun, which shines equally on everyone and everything.  Our love is not tied to certain objects of love, rather our love is centered in our heart and it touches everyone and everything.  We need to keep searching for the middle way between attachment and non-loving, accepting that we will make mistakes, but eventually we will get it right.

We also need to look at what do we do when others develop attachment for us.  As we become a loving person, people will naturally start drawing closer to us and develop attachment and dependence on us.  From one perspecitve, this is OK, because it is better that they be drawn towards us than samsaric things.  But ultimately, we need to help them abandon this because this attachment will cause them to be separated from us and the Dharma.  Our job is to empower those around us.  Our job is actually to become irrelevant.  In the beginning, people need us for everything; but if we do our job right, they will later need us for nothing.  We help people not need us anymore to make good decisions.

What should we do to not fall under the influence of the worldly ourselves?  Shantideva described all the disadvantages of relating to the worldly and we came to the conclusion that we need to sever all contact with them.  There are no people who are inherently worldly from their own side, they become worldly when we relate to them with a worldly mind.  The only way to sever all contact with the worldly is to stop relating to them with a worldly mind and instead do so with a spiritual mind.

How can we do this?  We need to adopt special views of others.  The view we adopt determines the qualities we draw out.  Whatever we relate to and pay attention to we draw out.  We see this process with children and with everybody.  View is a creative action, not a passive observation.  Karmically, because others do not exist from their own side, the view we adopt of others determines the karma we create.  People appear to us to be ordinary because we have assented to ordinary appearance in the past.  To reverse this, we need to make a distinction between the person’s Buddha nature and their delusions.  The real person is the Buddha nature, and the delusions are what is obscuring the Buddha nature.  By maintaining this view, it will draw out their pure potential.  Gen Tharchin views each person who walks into a Dharma center as the future holder of the lineage for all beings.  By relating to this reality, we will naturally treat others with respect and draw out these qualities.   We can and should view others as emanations of our spiritual guide in the aspect of worldly beings to teach us something.  We can learn from everything we perceive if we adopt such a view.  Others will appear in an ordinary aspect for us to relate to them in a normal way and to learn how to skillfully draw out their pure potential. 

Teachers in the Rudolph Steiner tradition view each new student they meet as an opportunity to work on overcoming one of their weaknesses as a teacher.  We can do the same with everyone we meet.  We can view them all as emanations of Buddhas sent into our life to help us improve our realizations and skillful means.  At a deep level, since beings are empty, viewing others in this way karmically reconstructs them until they actually begin to appear to engage themselves in enlightened actions and become Buddhas.  Eventually, through viewing people in this pure and perfect way we can come to inhabit the pure land.  Our world will seem to be more and more the pure land.

We can also help them by showing a good example.  Atisha’s Advice from the Heart explains the sort of example a Kadampa shows.  Through this example, we will naturally encourage and inspire others to adopt a spiritual way of life.  Why?  Because they will see it works better than their ordinary ways.