Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Looking squarely at our karma

Now Shantideva describes another method for overcoming our wish to retaliate – seeing how undesirable situations are a result of our karma.

(6.42) In such situations, we should think,
“In the past, I harmed others in a similar manner.
Therefore, it is fitting that I, who caused harm to others,
Should now be experiencing such harm myself.”

(6.43) The physical suffering I experience
Is caused by both the stick and my body;
But, since the stick comes from my assailant and the body from me,
With which of these should I get angry?

(6.44) Blinded by craving and ignorance,
I have taken this form, the basis of human suffering,
Which can hardly bear to be touched;
So with whom should I get angry when it is hurt?

(6.45) Although we childish beings have no wish for suffering,
We are greatly attached to its causes.
Thus, the harm we receive is entirely our fault;
What reason is there to blame it on others?

(6.46) Just as with the guardians of hell,
The forest of razor-sharp leaves, and so forth,
My sufferings in this life result from my actions –
So with whom should I be angry?

Generally we blame other people for the harm, any harm, we receive, directly or indirectly. We are convinced it’s always others’ fault. But any harm we receive we have to say is just karma ripening, our karma ripening. And we can either accept that happily or not.  It’s our choice. Some karma is ripening for us, bringing suffering upon us – we can either accept that happily or not. The second is usually the case.

We’re not prepared generally to happily accept our suffering. Even though we may recognize what is happening as a ripening of our karma, we still try to get some different karma ripening for us. How?  By changing conditions. If we change conditions, different karma will ripen, of course. There is nothing wrong with trying to do so, but when we are not successful, we must accept our suffering patiently.

Why do we experience any harm, mental or physical?  The harm we receive is entirely our fault.  When we receive harm we should identify this so that we stop blaming others.  What reason is there to blame it on others?  We can see this by considering the four different main karmic effects.

The harm we receive is a result of the ripened effect of karma. The ripened effect of our action is rebirth, rebirth in the human realm with contaminated aggregates – a body and mind that naturally give rise to suffering. Our present basis, our human body and mind, is the basis of all our human problems. It is the basis of all our suffering, mental and physical. Without such a basis, how could we be harmed? We could not be harmed by anyone or anything.  Whose fault is it that we have a body and mind that can be hurt so easily?  We are easily hurt mentally and physically. Why is it that we have a body and a mind that can be hurt so easily? We created the cause for such aggregates by engaging in deluded actions.

It is the result of our environmental effects.  If we live in a place where people are unfriendly or even hostile to us, like guardians of hell, it’s because we created the causes for such an environment.

It is the result of an effect similar to the cause.  We did similar things to others, and now it has simply come back to us.  When we harm others, we are actually harming ourselves in the future.  The harm we receive now comes from our past actions of having harmed somebody else – we are the future self of our past self.

It is the result of our tendencies similar to the cause.  Because we had tendencies similar to the cause, we created all of this karma and so the tendency is the deep cause of the other effects.  Also, when we are harmed now and we react negatively due to tendencies, this negative mind activates new negative karma which makes our situation worse because negative minds activate negative karma. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We don’t get mad at fire when it burns

We need to create an atmosphere around ourselves that invites people to offer suggestions on how we can do better, especially if we are in a position of responsibility.  If people feel like they can’t tell us when we are making mistakes, then they will sit with their faulty views like a cancer in their mind and eventually it will fester and grow.  Geshe-la said at a Spring Festival one year that Buddha Vajradhara is appearing in this world in an ordinary aspect because he wants us to act normally with him.  When we are with somebody and they are making a mistake, the normal thing to do is respectfully call it to their attention.  Geshe-la often said, ‘tell me if I am making a mistake.’  We need to do that with others, let them feel free to discuss with us how we can do better.  Then either we learn something or the other person learns something, but either way there is growth.  No open communication, no growth.  The key to this is a humility that accepts that we don’t know what we are doing or saying and so therefore we have a lot to learn from everybody. 

Now Shantideva turns to how to overcome the causes of anger

(6.39) If it were the very nature of a childish person
To inflict harm on others,
It would be no more reasonable to get angry with him
Than it would be to resent fire for burning us.

(6.40) On the other hand, if that harmfulness were a temporary fault
And that person were otherwise good-natured,
It would be just as unreasonable to get angry with him
As it would be to resent space for filling with smoke.

This is a very powerful logic:  There are two possibilities, either the person is by nature harmful or it is a temporary fault.  If it really is the nature of the person to harm, there is no point in getting angry. They are behaving exactly as what we would expect.  Fire burns.  That is its very nature.  We know that.  We accept that. There is no point in getting angry with fire for burning. What do we expect?  On the other hand, if it is not the nature of the person to harm, why then do we get angry with the person when we perceive harmfulness within them? They’re not by nature harmful. Harmfulness is not part of their essential nature, so why get angry with the person? 

(6.41) If someone were to harm us with a stick or other weapon,
We would normally become angry with the person;
But, since his intent is governed by anger,
It is really towards that anger that we should direct our wrath.

This is another classic analogy.  Why do we not get angry with the stick?  Because it is controlled by the person, it has no choice in the matter.  In the same way, we shouldn’t get angry with the person because they are controlled by their anger, they have no choice in the matter.  The conclusion is we should wish to destroy the other person’s anger.   

We naturally wish to be free from the causes of suffering and to free others from the causes of suffering.  But we have just been mistaken as to what are the real causes.  With this analysis, we can identify the causes of suffering are delusions, so they are what needs to be destroyed.  You can’t destroy delusion with delusion, only wisdom can do that.  We help others overcome their anger primarily through love, compassion, the practice of patience, setting a good example, requesting blessings for the other person, etc.  Geshe-la said love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Free will wills freedom

We continue with the discussion of the patience of not retaliating.

We get angry at others because they fail to fulfill our wishes.  Our attachment then seeks to control others so that they act in the ways we want them to.  Hegel’s categorical imperative, interestingly, points to a Buddhist answer to this problem.  For him, the categorical moral imperative of living beings is “free will must will freedom,” in other words, we use whatever free will we have to will the freedom of others, which is quite similar to bodhichitta – we use our own liberation to liberate others.  Practically, though, this primarily means learning to let go of controlling others and to instead respect their freedom to make their own choices.

Sometimes, if we are in a position of responsibility, we may think that we have to control people to get things that need to get done done.  But there is a big difference between being responsible and being controlling.  If we are responsible and somebody is helping us out in some way, and we need them to do certain things, we can present to them choices that are reasonable.  For example, it is entirely appropriate for an employer to say certain responsibilities need to be carried out if the other person wants to remain an employee.  Since they know the consequences of their decisions, after we leave it up to them to decide.

In the context of relationships, we generally try to control the other person to do what we want them to do to fulfil our wishes.  But we need to make a distinction between helping people and having attachment that they change. We usually have a very good Dharma excuse why the other person needs to change their behavior so we feel justified in controlling them or manipulating them.  But in reality, we are trying to change them to conform with our needs and wishes, not theirs. A Dharma practitioner has no personal need that others change, including no need for them to practice Dharma.  It suits us just fine that other people are all screwed up.  We help people when they seek out our help, but we have no need to change them. We genuinely give people freedom without emotional penalty if they make choices that don’t correspond with our wishes.

Very often we will see people acting in strange of silly ways that we know are wrong.  Sometimes when somebody has a silly idea, Geshe-la will go along with it even though he knows it is a bad idea.  Why does he do this?  First of all, because he sees there is no real harm, and what is most important is that he maintain a very good relationship with the person.  Second, he gives the person a chance to learn from their mistakes.  Allowing the person to continue, later they will see that they have made a mistake and learn from it.  He has such a sense of responsibility for each and every individual that he gives us total freedom.  It seems like it should be the opposite, but because he wants us to grow, he gives us freedom.  We can only grow in freedom.  We still need to guide those who seek our advice, but we never control them.  They come to us for help, we guide them as to what THEY need to do for them.  Then we leave it up to them to decide what to do, and we accept them whatever their choice is. 

We also need to learn skillful means to help people realize their mistakes from their own side.  We need the skillful means to get people to think that the idea they now have was their own. When people come to a conclusion on their own, it is their conclusion, and then they never lose it.  When it is our conclusion that they follow, it doesn’t penetrate deeply enough into their mind.  When we disempower people by controlling them, we don’t give them a chance to learn to think for themselves and develop their own wisdom.  We think we are helping them by controlling them, but actually we are stifling them. 

One of the most important skills we need to learn is to just listen to others, fully and completely.  Even if we feel what they’re saying is wrong, our job is to listen. Listen to what they have to say. Listening is a training in and of itself.  We have to learn how to listen fully, and I think especially we must be able to listen to those who are turning to us for help.  Normally we think they need to listen to us, but it is actually the opposite.  We need to help people feel like we genuinely appreciate discussing things with them, and we benefit from the exchange of views.  The way we can do this is for it to be true, we genuinely do appreciate discussing things with them.  How can we develop such appreciation – just actually listen to them and their point of view? It depends upon humility and faith that they are emanations.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Forgive them, they know not what they do

(Several years ago, I started a blog series on my thoughts on how to apply the wisdom found in Shantideva’s Bodhisattva’s Way of Life to our modern lives.  In April 2019, I had to stop because – funnily enough – I became swept away by my own modern life, and since then haven’t had the time to properly keep up with this series.  You can find the previous 188 posts in this series here. However, for at least the next two years, I should be able to post regularly).

We continue with our discussion on the perfection of patience, a commentary on Chapter 6 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I am going verse by verse. When it says 6.35, for example, it refers to Chapter 6, verse 35 and so forth.

Over the next several posts, Shantideva will be discussing meditating on the patience of not retaliating.  People harm us all of the time, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.  We need to transform this experience into an opportunity to train in Dharma.  Then, even when people are harming us, we are able to receive lasting benefit.

The core of not retaliating is to have compassion for the person who is harming us.  For me, the best example of this is when Jesus was on the cross and he said, “forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”  When people harm us, they are driven by their delusions.  Delusions function to make our mind uncontrolled, so others are quite literally like puppets on the strings of their delusions.  They have somehow been led to believe that harming us (or somebody we love) is good for them, when in reality they are just creating negative karma for themselves.  They know not what they do.

(6.35) Some misguided people inflict harm upon themselves
By lying on thorns and the like;
While others, obsessed with finding a partner,
Deprive themselves of food.

(6.36) Then there are those who inflict harm on themselves
Through non-meritorious actions,
Such as hanging themselves, leaping from cliffs,
Swallowing poison, or eating bad food.

(6.37) Although they cherish themselves more than anything else,
If, under the influence of delusions, people are capable even of killing themselves,
Why should I be surprised when they inflict harm
On other living beings such as me?

(6.38) When those who, under the influence of delusions,
Set out to harm or even to kill me,
If I cannot develop compassion for them,
At the very least I should refrain from getting angry.

What people are doing to themselves out of ignorance and other delusions brings so much harm and suffering upon themselves. Since when they fall under the influence of delusion they harm themselves whom they cherish, then we can only expect that they will harm others too, such as ourselves.  It’s bad enough for them already. Why do we make matters worse by retaliating and becoming angry with them? At best we should have compassion for them since they are so lost and confused that they make their situation worse. 

We need to make the distinction between the person who is under the influence of their delusions and a person who is in control of themselves.  When we are under the influence of strong attachment or anger we do things without choice or control.  Even though we don’t want to be attached or angry, it comes nonetheless and we are not in control.  At other times, when we are calm and collected, we act differently.  When we do something nice for somebody, we never do so ‘uncontrolledly’.  This is the real us. The same is true with others.  When they harm us, they do so under the control of their delusions, but when they are nice with us, they do so from their own wishes.  The real person is the kind one. We should generate compassion for this kind person who gets hijacked by their delusions and engages in harmful actions without control.

We need to respect the freedom of others to do as they think is best for them.  If we check carefully, most of our frustration with others comes from them not acting in ways that correspond with our wishes.  For example, in a center there is a lot of work to do, and it is very easy for the people who have some degree of responsibility in the center to ‘want/expect’ others to help out.  Then, when they don’t, we get upset or frustrated and then there are problems in our relationship.  But if we check, it is our wish that they do something, not necessarily their wish. 

Sometimes it is not a case of them acting under the influence of delusion and harming us, rather it is an issue of us projecting the fulfillment of our wishes onto others and then feeling like they are harming us when they don’t fulfil them.  The solution to this is to provide people 100% freedom to do what they wish.  We can adopt as a life principle to give people freedom and to not control them.  We accept their choices, as just that – their choices.  It is our job to then adapt around their choices.  Yes, less things that we want to get done will get done, but this is only a problem for our mind of attachment. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There is nobody to get angry at

(6.32) “If all things were like illusions, who would restrain what?
Surely, any restraint would be inappropriate.
On the contrary, it is precisely because things lack inherent existence
That it is possible to assert the continuum of suffering can be cut.

Sometimes the objection may arise in our mind that if things lack inherent existence then there is no “us” who can practice Dharma and there is nothing for our Dharma practice to oppose, so what is the point?  Both of these objections arise from grasping at the extreme of non-existence – in other words, going too far with our understanding of emptiness to wrongly assert that things don’t exist at all.

Who is practicing Dharma?  A self that is imputed on a mind that has received Dharma instructions and gained a certain degree of control over one’s mind.  We have received Dharma instructions, we have practiced them in the past, this has given us a certain degree of control over our mind.  With that control, we then choose to practice Dharma.  What are we resisting when we practice Dharma?  In practice, we are disassembling the causes and conditions which cause delusions to appear.  If a rainbow is appearing, but suddenly the sunlight is blocked out, the rainbow simply disappears because the causes and conditions which give rise to it are no longer present.  The same is true with our delusions.  Another way of looking at it is with our choice of mind we create new conditions of the opponent to the delusion which then functions to neutralize the delusion within our mind.

Suffering can come to an end because its causes can be ended.  If you end the cause, the effect cannot arise.

 (6.33) Thus, whenever an enemy, or even a friend,
Commits an inappropriate action,
Such behaviour arises from other conditions.
Realizing this, I should remain with a happy mind.

Once again, this is reminding us how we can use emptiness to oppose our anger.  Normally we hear the teaching on emptiness and quickly become lost in the contemplations and lose the point.  This is why we need to make a point of directly connecting our understanding of emptiness to specific delusions that arise within our mind.

When we become angry with somebody, we should take the time to ask ourselves, “who precisely am I angry at?”  When we look, we find nobody.  We can ask, “what exactly am I angry about?”  When we check, we find nothing.  It’s all just a variety of causes and conditions coming together with nothing behind any of it.  Conventionally, we can’t blame the other person because it is not their fault these causes and conditions have come together.  Ultimately, we can’t blame the other person because there is nobody there to blame.  Realizing this, there is no longer an object of our anger and the anger disappears.  The same sort of reasoning can be used against any delusion.

(6.34) If things occurred independently, out of choice,
Then, since no one wishes to suffer,
How would suffering ever arise
For any living being?

This is actually an important point.  Nobody wishes to suffer.  We all wish to be happy all of the time.  Yet we suffer without choice and find it difficult to secure even a modicum of happiness.  We are all in the same boat.  When somebody harms us, they too are a victim of their delusions.  They do so without freedom or control.  As a result, they accumulate negative karma for themselves, which will ripen later in the form of suffering for them.  We may view ourselves as a victim of their harmful actions, but in reality they are equally a victim because in the future they will have to experience the suffering consequences of their actions.  Why are we experiencing this suffering now?  Because we had the karma to do so arising from our own negative past actions.  So what really is the difference between our attacker and us?  Nothing.  We are both victims, separated only by time.

We want to be happy and so do they.  Unfortunately, they are confused about the causes of happiness.  They are lost.  Instead of getting angry with them, we should generate compassion for them.  We are all the same, therefore there is no basis for loving some and being angry at others.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We don’t blame the stick for hurting us

(6.29) Clearly, if the self were permanent,
Then, just like space, it could not perform any actions;
And, even if it could meet with other conditions,
It would still be unable to do anything.

(6.30) Since, even when acted upon, it would remain as it was,
What effect could an action have on it?
If you say that something else affects the self,
What relationship could the self have with that?

(6.31) Thus, all effects arise from other conditions,
Which in turn depend upon previous conditions.
Therefore, all things are like illusions – they are not independent.
If we realize this, we shall not become angry with anything.

The main point of all of this is anger needs an object – there has to be someone or something to get angry at.  Anger depends on some external thing to be angry with that we consider to be the cause of our suffering.  Everything that arises in dependence upon various causes and conditions, so there is never anything that we can point to that we can get angry at.  If we try get angry at the thing, we realize we can’t because it just arises in dependence upon causes and conditions.  If we try get angry at the causes and conditions, we realize we can’t because they too just arise from different causes and conditions.  So we never find anything that we can get upset at and our anger subsides because anger needs an object.  When we look, we find no such object that we can point to.  Finding none, our anger has nothing to latch on to and it falls away.

In one sense it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of anger within their mind.  But if anger were able to speak up for itself, would it not say the same thing?  “I’m sorry, I have no choice. It is due to inappropriate attention in this person’s mind that I’m here.”  Just as the person can’t help it, the anger can’t help it either.  There is a classic analogy given of somebody hitting us with a stick.  Do we get angry with the stick?  No, youwe get angry with the person because the stick was controlled by the person.  In the same way, if youwe don’t get angry with the stick, we should also not get angry with the person because they too are controlled by their anger.  If we get angry with something, we should get angry with their anger.  But their anger is controlled by their inappropriate attention.  So we should get angry with their inappropriate attention, and so on.

On an easier to understand level, the situations that give rise to our anger do not exist from their own side.  They can be viewed in any way we choose.  Right now our anger is casting this elaborate story about how all these things are the causes of our suffering, and so to be happy we need to destroy these things.  With emptiness we realize that this is just a fictional story projected by my mind that has no truth.  I can view the situation in any way – it is not fixedly any one thing.

So instead of viewing this as samsara, we can view everything as the charnel grounds.  What appears is horrific, but we understand these things to be completely pure teachings arising from the Dharmakaya that are perfect for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  We do can do this with external situations, including anything that normally gives rise to our anger.  We accept it fully as a pure teaching arising from the Dharmakaya.  We can do this internally, where we find even the arising of suffering and delusions as perfect for us because it gives an opportunity to create certain causes, namely practicing their opponents.  In this way, we can have a real equanimity towards all effects that happen, either externally or internally.  We can accept everything as perfect.  When everything is perfect, there is no basis for anger.

We very often blame others and situations for why we get angry, but this is not fair.  Nobody or nothing has the power to make us angry, other than our own deluded mental processes.  It is not fair to others to blame them for what is the fault of our own mind.  This is actually a very liberating thought, because it means that no situation has any power over us.  By accepting responsibility for the problem, the solution falls into our hands.  Nobody or nothing needs to change for us to get better, we just need to change our mind.  Yes, it is a long training, but what is the alternative?  Remain angry forever and fall into terrible states of suffering?


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Nothing creates itself

(6.27) Neither that which is asserted as the “independent creator of all”
Nor that which is asserted as the “independent permanent self”
Can come into being through intentionally thinking,
“Now I will arise.”

There tends to be two extremes when thinking about God, either he inherently exists or he doesn’t exist at all.  Those who assert he inherently exists say he is the creator of all.  But then the question arises, “what created God?”  If something else created God, then that thing is the creator of all.  Some say God created himself, but that denies the fundamental tenet that all causes must precede their effect (how can the effect exist before its cause?).  Some say God is permanent, but if that were the case how could he create anything since to create something is necessarily to change?  Clearly all of these conceptions of God are illogical.  People then wrongly conclude God does not exist at all.

Geshe-la himself refuted this at a festival many years back.  He said Kadampas do not deny that God exist, they simply have a different understanding of what that means.  We say mind is the creator of all, and the contemplations on emptiness prove why this is so.  Quantum physics is gradually catching up to what Buddha explained 2,500 years ago when it says objects come into existence when the mind engages them.  If we understand God to be the Dharmakaya, which is itself inseparable from our own mind of bliss and emptiness, then we can easily believe in God, understand the mind is the creator of all and appreciate the religious teachings of other traditions.  Many people come into the Dharma by rejecting Christianity or the like, but if our understanding of the Kadampa teachings is correct we will later come to appreciate their beauty.

Just as there is no independent creator of all, so too there is no independent creator of ourself.  We did not bring ourselves into existence, rather we emerged from a variety of causes and conditions.  Some people think that our very subtle mind which goes from life to life is our independent self, but that too arises in dependence upon causes and conditions, namely the substantial cause of the previous moment of mind and the circumstantial causes bring about change in that mind.  While the very subtle mind changes continuously, it always remains equally empty.  But this emptiness does not exist independent of the very subtle mind, rather it is the very nature of that mind.  Emptiness itself cannot exist in a vacuum, it is always the emptiness of something.  Without an object, you cannot have its emptiness.

 (6.28) If the independent creator itself is not produced,
Then how can it produce anything?
If the self were permanent, then it would follow
That experiences cannot be changed from unpleasant to pleasant.

Permanent in a Dharma context means unchanging.  If something is unchanging, how can it produce anything?  To produce something is to act in some way upon something else, which necessarily implies some change of the thing acting.  If the thing doing the acting doesn’t change, then how does it go from a state of not creating to something to a state of creating that thing?  It would have to either eternally be creating it or eternally not creating it.  The same is true with all things:  nothing creates itself.

Likewise, if the self were indeed permanent then how could it possibly experiencing anything different?  How could it go from not experiencing an object to experiencing it?  Wouldn’t that imply a change of state?  But a permanent object never changes.  If the self were permanent, it couldn’t experience anything, or if it did, it would have to experience the same thing in the same way forever.  Since clearly that is not our experience of the self, a permanent self cannot exist.

Why does any of this matter?  The point is two-fold.  First, all anger requires an object.  The object of anger we grasp at is permanent others, the harmed object is a permanent self, or maybe we blame a permanent God.  But none of these things exist.  By removing the object of anger, the mind of anger has nothing to hold on to and leaves our mind.

The second point is these sorts of contemplations quite often give rise to all sorts of feelings of discouragement and misunderstanding.  Shantideva uses these verses to help us identify within our own mind our impatience associated with thinking about Dharma.  We don’t understand, and this makes us unhappy.  Or we read the words, but fail to grasp their meaning and conclude it is a bunch of intellectual masturbation.  Or perhaps we just fall asleep because it seems so boring.  All of these reactions are examples of the impatience of thinking about Dharma.  By bringing this impatience to the surface, we can then work on generating a mind of patience towards profound topics.  It takes time, and that is OK.  If we contemplate them again and again with a positive mind, and we do so in the context of applying this sort of reasoning against the delusions that arise in our mind, then we will train in the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Everything is like a rainbow

(6.25) All the shortcomings there are,
And all the various non-virtues,
Arise through the force of other conditions –
They do not govern themselves.

(6.26) The assembled conditions have no thought
To produce a suffering result;
Nor does the resultant suffering think,
“I was produced from conditions.”

At the core, anger is a response to unpleasant feelings within the mind.  It seeks to blame something outside the mind for what is taking place inside the mind.  Here, Shantideva seeks to pull the rug out from underneath that anger by showing, in fact, there is no object of blame outside the mind.

Every phenomena, internal and external, arises like a rainbow in response to causes and conditions.  I remember once I was in the area that used to be the Creperie at Manjushri.  The Mexican sangha came in with a bunch of bags of groceries.  They proceeded to unpack them and being chopping up all sorts of things, like carrots, cheese, apples and the like.  Other people were washing the lettuce, others making dressing.  Everybody was at their own table doing their own thing.  Then, they started putting it all in a common bowl.  When they were done, a “salad” appeared clearly to everyone’s mind.  But where did the salad itself come from?  What was it?  The lettuce, cheese, carrots and dressing are not the salad, yet when you take them all away there is no salad to be found anywhere.  A “salad” simply appears to everyone’s mind when the causes and conditions come together to see it.  The same is true for all other phenomena.  Nothing is actually there.

When the mind of anger arises, it necessarily has an object it is blaming.  But if we perform a salad-like analysis of this object of blame, we will realize nothing is actually there.  The thing we blame is just an appearance that arises when various causes and conditions come together.  Do we blame the carrots?  No, they too come from various causes and conditions.  There is nothing we can point to and blame for our anger.  When we do this, our anger loses its object to hold on to; without an object, it is impossible for the corresponding mind to arise.

The things that supposedly cause us suffering have no intention to do so; rather it is just a series of causes and conditions that come together.  This is easy to understand when we are talking about inanimate objects of harm, but it is likewise true for animate ones.  The person who harmed us isn’t actually there, the delusions which control him aren’t really there either, all are just the coming together of causes and conditions.  And we shouldn’t forget the most important causes and condition of all – ourself!  If we did not have a body, could it be harmed?  If we did not have delusions, would anything be a problem for us.  So if we blame the other person, then we likewise have to blame our body and our delusions.  To blame our body is to blame our parents, and their parents before them.  To blame our delusions is to blame the entire cultural environment we live in and all our previous lives and everyone we ever encountered.  But if we check these things, they are not there either.  We can search to the end of the universe and never find anything to blame – and if we blame one thing, we have to blame everything equally, so what sense is there is being angry at the person who harmed us?

Nothing governs itself.  Everything is like one giant ocean, with various currents flowing in all directions.  Everything affects everything else.  But if nothing governs itself, how can we say we have free will?  Free will itself arises from causes and conditions.  Delusions render our mind uncontrolled, free will emerges from a mind free from delusions.  We don’t intrinsically have free will, we need to create it within our mind through abandoning our delusions and gaining control over our mind.  Somebody whose mind is wholly consumed with delusions (which is pretty much everyone) has no free will at all.

Fundamentally, though, our “problems” come from our delusions.  Delusions come from the meeting of deluded tendencies similar to the cause with inappropriate attention.  Our inappropriate attention grasps at an object as being inherently pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, then exaggerates these qualities and then ignorantly grasps at these objects actually existing in this way.  If we want to free our mind from all “problems” we have to remove from our mind the causes and conditions which create this appearance.  To do so, we need to purify our deluded karma and abandon inappropriate attention.  Just as a rainbow will not appear without sunlight and rain, so too delusions cannot arise without deluded karma and inappropriate attention.  By removing the causes, the effect never arises.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Without choice, delusions take over

(6.23) Although it is not wished for in the least,
Sickness nevertheless occurs.
In the same way, even though they are not wanted,
Delusions such as anger forcibly arise.

(6.24) People do not think, “I will get angry”,
They just get angry;
And anger does not think, “I will arise”,
It just arises.

Delusions are the sicknesses of our mind.  When we become physically sick it it not desired, but it just arises due to the assembling of certain causes and conditions.  In the same way, delusions arise in dependence upon certain causes and conditions coming together.  When somebody gets angry with us or harms us as a result of their delusions it is not because they want to get deluded, the delusions just arise.

Anybody who has dealt first hand with depression or been with a loved one who is suffering through it knows the truth of these verses.  No depressed person wants to be depressed.  People tell them to “snap out of it” or “focus on the good.”  And try they do, but the force of the dark minds within them is (temporarily) much, much stronger.  Even though they want to have a good attitude, they can’t; but since they think they are supposed to be able to just flip a switch and be better, they feel like a failure when they are unable to.  Then their lack of self-confidence makes them feel powerless to get better.  There are many physiological reasons for this, namely depression affects the hormonal balances in the brain.  This shows the power of our mind.  Our mental actions are so powerful they can literally alter the wiring and chemical balance of our brain.   Just as an accident can cause great injury to our body, so too delusions can cause physical injury to our brain which can take months, or even years to heal.

Even though we have heard the teachings that delusions are like a sickness, Buddha is like a doctor, Sangha is like a nurse and Dharma is like medicine, we still don’t have the same attitude towards mental sickness as we do physical sickness.  We think it is a metaphor, not a definitive fact.  When somebody breaks their leg, we naturally generate compassion and we understand that it will take time to heal.  But when somebody becomes sick with delusion, such as jealousy, anger and so forth, we blame the other and person and view them as a failure.  We think that just because delusions are mental people can just turn them off, and the fact that they don’t means the continuation of their delusions is their fault.  We blame them and view them as a failure.  Why the difference in attitude between these two types of sickness?  The real reason why we have this attitude is we have not yet – even after so many years in the Dharma – actually begun the work of trying to root out our delusions.  We attend many festivals, we can recite our book outlines, we begin every sentence with “Geshe-la says,…” but we haven’t actually really begun the work of changing our mental habits.  Anybody who has sincerely tried to do so knows how hard it really is, and they don’t have such judgmental attitudes towards those struggling with their delusions.

A Bodhisattva is somebody who has promised to remain in this world for as long as it takes to gradually lead each and every being out.  This necessarily means we will have to spend a lot of time with highly deluded people.  Yet if we check our present attitude, we try avoid deluded people.  We try justify it with “we don’t want to come under their influence,” but our real motivation more often than not is an aversion to spending time with deluded people.  We have simply replaced our ordinary aversion to people we don’t like to an aversion to deluded people.  Mother Theresa actively sought out to spend time with the poorest and the sickest because that is where she could do the most good.  A Bodhisattva does the same those sick with delusions.  It is a real balance to spend time with the sick while accepting them fully as they are.  Normally, we try to change them.  Our job is to accept them.

This attitude of judging the deluded is particularly common among Dharma practitioners, but it takes a particularly destructive form when the judgment gets directed at oneself.  When delusions flare up in our mind and we know we should not be deluded, we usually respond in one of two ways:  either we pretend that delusions are not arising in our mind or we acknowledge that they are but feel guilty about it, and start beating ourselves up for it.  Kadam Lucy says we will never really overcome our anger until we first overcome our self-guilt.  Guilt is anger directed against ourselves.  We blame ourselves and become angry with ourselves because we are deluded and we feel like a failure because despite our best efforts we can’t stop it.  Such attitudes are completely wrong and are easily removed if we correctly understand delusions as a sickness, no different than any physical one, that arises when certain causes and conditions come together.  The teachings on karma explain that once negative karma has ripened, there is nothing that can be done but ride it out until it exhausts itself.  The arising of delusions within our mind is simply the ripening of a particular karma.  Every karmic seed has a certain duration to it, and we don’t know what the duration is.  Sometimes these delusions can last days, months, years or even lifetimes.  This is not our fault and there is no reason for us to feel guilty about it.  We need to accept that we have simply fallen ill with a particular delusion and we should take special care of ourself, nurturing ourself back to good health.  It is not selfish to do so.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being patient with our Dharma practice

In How to Solve our Human Problems, Geshe-la explains there are three times we need to practice patience.  When we encounter unavoidable suffering, we practice the patience of acceptance.  When we are practicing Dharma, we practice the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  And when we are harmed, we practice the patience of non-retaliation.

Now Shantideva turns to the practice of the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  He does so in particular with respect to our study and practice of the teachings on emptiness.  Why?  Because we usually find these the hardest.  The most important thing to keep in mind is the harder any given topic of Dharma is, the more important it will be for our eventual liberation.  Why?  Because it is hard only because our mind is currently far away from the wisdom realizing this particular aspect of Dharma.  Things that are easy to grasp will not move our mind very much because our mind is already quite close to this wisdom; but the things that are hard will require massive restructuring of our way of thinking before this new Dharma wisdom will dawn in our mind.  I remember when I first started practicing Dharma, I really enjoyed and connected with all of the teachings except those related to faith.  For me, faith was only for those who cannot think for themselves and I rejected it.  Now faith is the lifeblood of my practice, and this change has changed everything for me.

This section is on the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma.  Shantideva is very clever in the way he teaches it.  The basic idea of this patience is we need to practice patience when studying Dharma subjects.  When we study Dharma, very often we have difficulty understanding what is being said, especially when it is very difficult subjects, like emptiness.

At such times, we should practice joyful acceptance of the fact that we don’t yet understand, but continue to apply ourselves fully understanding the importance of one day gaining a realization.  When we don’t understand things, we often get impatient and our mind blocks and we become discouraged or incapable of understanding anything.  This actually comes from an impatience in our mind that expects to understand very profound subjects easily.  This patience encourages us to accept where we are at, even when we don’t understand, and to joyfully keep trying.

So why is Shantideva clever in the way he teaches this subject?  He goes into a very complicated explanation of emptiness, and a debate between various philosophical schools, which we generally don’t understand at all.  This gives rise to the very impatience Shantideva is trying to encourage us to overcome!!

(6.22) I do not become angry when the cause of suffering
Is something inanimate, such as sickness;
So why become angry with animate causes,
For they too are all controlled by other conditions?

We think there is a difference between animate and inanimate causes of our suffering.  We realize there is no point in getting angry at a storm because it is just arising from causes and conditions.  In the same way, there is no reason for getting angry with others when they harm us because that too is just arising from causes and conditions.  There is actually no difference.

The key to understanding this is to realize that delusions function to make the mind uncontrolled.  So when animate objects (in other words, living beings) harm us in some way it is no different than the storm thundering in the sky.  It is just a situation of certain causes and conditions coming together and the person who gets angry is nothing more than a puppet on the string of their delusions.  They are the victim of their delusions.  Their delusions are propelling them to engage in wrong actions, but they will be the ones who have to suffer the karmic consequences.  We think they have free will and they can choose to not be deluded.  Only those who have not actually tried to overcome their delusions would make such a statement.  I, for example, don’t ever want to get angry, but anger arises in my mind without choice.  I try generate the Dharma opponents to my anger, but the anger remains despite my best efforts to remove it.  A few years ago I was filled with an uncontrollable rage towards my father.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake it until eventually I was very fortunate to receive some powerful blessings which enabled me to let go.  We have the Dharma and we find it hard to let go, what need is there to say of somebody who knows nothing of the Dharma and whose mind is completely seized by delusions?  It’s not their fault.  If anything, it is the fault of our own negative karma which is impelling them to harm us.