Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Practice without doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Assuming full responsibility for ourself and others

We first need to take personal responsibility for ourself – seriously, fully, and completely.  We like to blame others for our experience of life, the ripening of our karma, or the delusions arising in our mind.  We think it is other’s responsibility to make us happy or care for us, and their fault if they do not.  We need to assume responsibility not just for our experience in this life, but for all of our future lives.  Because our past self did not purify our negative karma, we inherited a limitless supply of suffering.  Likewise, because our past self made no effort to overcome all our delusions, we remain a puppet on their strings.  Are we going to do the same to our future self?  If we neglect to purify now or neglect to overcome our delusions, we guarantee we will have to experience endless suffering in the future.  Nobody can purify our negative karma for us.  Nobody can overcome our delusions for us.  We either do it or we don’t, and we will have nobody to blame but ourselves if we don’t.  A good friend of mine said we need to stop trusting our self-cherishing.  We need to try now to stop trusting our self-cherishing. We stop following its wishes.  We need to decide ourselves to attain enlightenment.  Nobody can do it for us.  We need to decide ourselves to solve our problems.  Nobody can do it for us.  The responsibility is 100% on us.

Once we have taken personal responsibility for ourselves, then we can take personal responsibility for others.  At the end of the day, it is a question of what do we trust:  our spiritual guide’s wishes for us or the wishes of our self-cherishing for us?  What does my spiritual guide what for me?  What does he want for those around me?  Why don’t I want that as well?  It is not enough for us to assume personal responsibility for others because that is Geshe-la’s wish for us, we need to make this our own wish.  Others are depending on us.  Without us, what do they have?  Just samsara, just endless suffering.  It is not enough to hear this, we need to look around us and see that it is true, and realize that it is up to us.  I find the easiest way to think about it is of course it is up to me, after all it is my karmic dream!

We can start by taking more responsibility for one another.  Sangha is our real family. We spend the rest of eternity with them.  We need to support one another, because nobody else will encourage us to do what we are doing.  Take the time for each other.  Doing so creates the cause for others to support your practice.

And we need to really start loving our family and close friends.  We need to become somebody special in their lives, somebody who they can count on, and somebody who just loves them unconditionally.  It actually doesn’t take much because somebody who genuinely loves is so rare that they naturally stand out and have a huge influence on other’s lives.  It all starts by accepting people as they are.  Quit judging them and realize that they can’t help the way they are.  When we see others who we find difficult, we can recall that Geshe-la loves this person.  This person is an object of love and care for all the Buddhas.  Then, we will naturally love accordingly.

But assuming personal responsibility for other’s welfare does not mean it is then up to us to solve all their problems for them, nor does it mean it is our fault if they suffer.  Each person is responsible for their own experience in life.  The only way others can overcome their suffering is if they too purify their negative karma and overcome their delusions.  This is work only they can do.  We can’t do it for them.  We can encourage them to do so, we can set a good example, and we can pray for them, but they have to do the work.  In other words, it is not enough to just cherish others unconditionally, we need to do so with wisdom.  If we just go around and solve everybody’s problems for them, we will only create dependency of them on us.  They will come to think the way to solve their problems is to manipulate us into doing so for them.  They will come to think they can’t solve their own problems, they need us to do it for them.  This disempowers them to assume responsibility for their own problems for themselves.  We all know the saying “give somebody a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them to fish and you feed them for life.”  This is true, but sometimes we go to the extreme of thinking we shouldn’t also give them a fish.  It is hard to learn how to fish if you are starving.  We can do both – give them a fish and teach them to fish, but we do the former in support of the latter.  Again, it is not enough to have compassion, we also need to have wisdom.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why are we holding back?

(7.33) In the past, I have accumulated
Countless non-virtuous actions,
Even just one of which can cause me
To experience many aeons of suffering,

(7.34) But, because of my laziness,
I have not purified any of these evils
And so I remain as an abode of infinite suffering.
Why does my heart not crack open with fear?

(7.35) I need to attain the good qualities of a Bodhisattva
For the sake of myself and others,
But it might take me many aeons
To accomplish just one of these.

(7.36) Up to now, I have not familiarized myself
With even a fraction of these good qualities.
How tragic it would be if I were now to waste
This rare and precious rebirth on meaningless pursuits!

Let us make this life one that is different from the rest, different from the ones that we have had until now.  Let us make a heartfelt decision to actually follow now the spiritual path of a Bodhisattva.  Why are we holding back?  What do we have to fear?  We have so many bad seeds in our mind just waiting to ripen and we could lose this opportunity.  We do not know what karma we have created.  Anything can happen.  We could get caught by some doubt, it carries us away and we lose everything.  We do know that we right now have an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the Dharma, virtue, and creating new habits. 

If we check, rather than familiarizing ourself with virtue, we tend to give in to our selfish wishes, don’t we?  Every day, we give in to our selfish wishes. We are often more concerned with fulfilling our selfish wishes than we are with making spiritual progress. Our self-cherishing is an evil spirit, really, such an evil spirit.  We need to check and see what kind of being we are:  are we an ordinary small being, a special small being, a middling being, or a great being. 

I believe Venerable Geshe-la is empowering us to achieve quite extraordinary results, for ourselves and for others. We can accomplish internal results as well as external results. He is empowering us.  He has given us everything, indeed made it easier for us than any other generation that came before us.  The question we have to ask ourselves is what do we do with it?  We have everything we need, except one thing – the aspiration to do it.  If we cultivate the aspiration, we will then have everything and it is guaranteed we will accomplish great results.  Let us not look back later on in our life and ask ourselves, what could we have done? What could I have done in my life?  Rather, let us look back and see all that we did.  Our spiritual guide knows what we can achieve. How sad, how tragic really, it would be if we show up at the end of our life and realized all that we could have done, but didn’t.  Imagine the regret to realize we had the potential to achieve all of these things, but we never generated a strong enough wish or aspiration.  How tragic that would be.

(7.37) Do I have faith and respect in Buddha?
Have I practised his teachings, the Dharma?
Do I rely upon the supreme spiritual friends, the Sangha?
Have I fulfilled the wishes of the poor and needy?

(7.38) Do I give help to those in danger
Or relief to those who are suffering?
No! All I have done is experience the discomforts
Of being in my mother’s womb, and all the subsequent sufferings.

What distinguishes the Hinayana from the Mahayana path is the mind if superior intention.  Superior intention says it is not enough to just wish living beings were free from suffering, we need to assume personal responsibility to free them from their suffering.  There are two fundamental reasons why we need to assume personal responsibility.  First, according to the method teachings, because we have equalized and exchanged self with others, and so there is nothing about our suffering that makes it any more important than their suffering and there is nothing about their suffering that makes it any less important than our own.  Indeed, when we have completed the exchange of self with others, we cherish only others as if they were ourself.  Second, according to the wisdom teachings, since everything is equally empty, all living beings are equally mere projections or creations of our mind.  The beings we see are part of our karma dream – we created them.  Surely we are responsible for everything we create and everything taking place in our own dream.  We should care for all of creation, not because it is God’s creation, but because it is our own.  We should cherish all living beings and assume personal responsibility for their welfare in the same way a good God would.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Is there something you want more than enlightenment?

Now we can look at the four powers that help us to increase our joyful effort:

(7.31) The four powers that assist us in working for the benefit of others
Are the powers of aspiration, self-confidence, joy, and rejection.
The power of aspiration is generated by contemplating the benefits of virtuous actions
And developing fear of the cycle of suffering.

(7.32) Having overcome all three types of laziness,
I should continuously strive to increase my effort
Through aspiration, self-confidence, joy, and rejection,
And through the force of familiarity and mental suppleness.

We will look at each of these four powers in turn now, but first we need to return to a very basic fundamental:  why am I here in the Kadampa tradition?  Why do I practice?  If we do not have a good answer to this question, then it is guaranteed we will not be able to sustain our effort and make it all the way.  We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to work for whatever we want.  This is unchangeable for as long as we are in the desire realm.  Even if we intellectually know better, if in our heart we want something, that is what we will work for.  The trick, therefore, is to change what we desire.  We need to want to make spiritual progress more than we want to indulge our worldly concerns.

What is a good answer to this question of why am I here?  First, we should look at what are not good answers.  It is not a good answer to say, “I don’t know why.”  If we do not know why, when the karma for us being here exhausts itself we will be blown to the next place.  It is also not a good answer to say, “because I know I should be.”  I “should” be is a thought of the head, and one typically motivated by guilt.  When our “shoulds” come in conflict with our samsaric wishes in the heart, coming to class, doing our practice, etc., will be torture, and eventually we will not come anymore and we will stop practicing.  It is also not a good answer to say, “because I want others to think good of me.”  If this is our answer, then our motivation will be worldly, and even if we “do” a lot of Dharma actions, they won’t be spiritual actions.  There is only one good answer:  Because “I want to be.  I need this.”  We need to realize that we have freedom and nobody is putting any pressure on us.  I shouldn’t do our practice, go to the center, attend festivals, etc., for any other reason than we want to.  We realize we need it.  If we don’t have this reason in our heart, we need to engage in sincere lamrim practice until our desires change.  Lamrim functions to change our desires into spiritual ones.  With spiritual desires, everything else will naturally fall into place.

If I asked you “do you want to attain enlightenment,” I am sure everyone reading this would say yes.  But that is not the right question.  The right question is, “is there something you want more than enlightenment?”  If there is, I guarantee you that you won’t make it all the way.  If there is not something you want more than enlightenment, I guarantee that you will make it.

Some teachers or Dharma administrators mistakenly think, “people are lazy, so we need to oblige them to do things to get them to do them.  Otherwise, they will do nothing (or less).  We are doing them a favor by making things obligatory.”  My answer to them is this:  The middle way between freedom and laziness is personal responsibility while being fully informed of our situation.  It is up to us to attain enlightenment.  We need to realize that this is something we need to do from our own side.  We can not be convinced, pressured or manipulated into doing traveling the path to enlightenment.  If we do not enlighten yourself, it won’t happen.  Nobody can do it for us.  We need to take personal responsibility for our own enlightenment.   Geshe-la’s teachings explain to us our samsaric situation and they explain to us how all the various Dharma tools work.  But it is up to us to pick them up and decide to use them. 

Geshe-la understands clearly that we must improve our motivation. We need to change now, seriously change our intention.  We need to familiarize ourselves with Buddhist intention, a beneficial intention, a good heart.  A good intention will help us to take responsibility, full responsibility, and enjoy that responsibility.  We will enjoy engaging in our practices because we are doing them for heartfelt spiritual reasons.  We will enjoy our work in developing the Center and  we will enjoy our work helping other people, especially our work helping other people to meet and practice Buddhadharma.

It seems without that beneficial intention and good heart, it is not going to work for us.  Our enjoyment and enthusiasm will decrease until finally there is none. We start to not look forward to going to the center and doing our practice.  We start to see these things as work, as a job.  We start living up to other people’s wishes, instead of our own.  This eventually collapses and we come to resent these other people.  We can free ourselves from this danger by trying to improve our motivation.  We need to seriously try to change our intention from a selfish one to a beneficial one.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: If you want to be given everything, give everything up

(7.25) To begin with, Buddha, the Guide, encourages us
To practise giving such things as food.
Later, when we become used to this,
We can gradually learn to give our own flesh.

(7.26) When eventually we develop a mind
That regards our body as being just like food,
What discomfort shall we feel
From giving away our flesh?

Sometimes we become discouraged thinking about all that has to be done, and everything that we will have to give up.  Let us be clear, we will have to give everything up.  There is nothing in samsara we do not have to give up.  We have to be willing to leave it all behind.  We need to get to the point where we realize, “there is nothing for me here.”

A pure practitioner I know wrote me once: “Recently I made this request – ‘I’m ready to take anything (lose job, money, reputation. go to prison, die) if you could give me enlightenment in this very life. So please help me’. I could not do this before. I was scared. When I was able to say this prayer, though, it was such a sense of freedom and joy.” 

Are we ready to make a request like that?  Would we feel a sense of freedom and joy in making such a request?  It is worth exploring what types of resistance we might have to honestly requesting such a thing.  Most of us are not yet ready to make such a request, and that is normal.  But what are we willing to give up and lose for our enlightenment?  These are important things to consider – what is our price – I am willing to give up this for enlightenment, but not that.  What makes it hard is our selfish wishes.  We still want to hang on to some things for ourself.  We aren’t willing to let go of these things because our selfish wishes are so strong.  This holds us back.  Eventually we will have to give up everything.  The mind of renunciation is one where if somebody offered us all of samsara for all the three times, we would not even be tempted.  We are single-pointedly interested in one thing:  waking everyone up from the dream of samsara.

The interesting thing, though, is the more we are ready to give up, the more we are given.  Giving is the cause of receiving.  We are so confused about karma that we think keeping is the cause of having things.  If we are willing to give up everything, what will we be given?

For example, how can we practice giving away our body right now?  We can take the example of a mother breast-feeding.  This is how we should view our practice of offering our body.  We put our body at the disposal of others.  We can do this at work, when we are with our family, anytime.  We view our body as belonging to others and we use it for their benefit.  We give them the ownership of our body, even though we retain control over its actions.  The supreme way of offering our body to all living beings is to offer ourself fully and completely, in this and all our future lives, to the spiritual guide.  We think, “Do with me what you wish.”  We can do this because we have confidence that he will transform us into a Buddha and use us to benefit countless beings.  We wish this very much and gladly surrender ourself in this way.  We can start small, by offering ourself to a few beings for a limited amount of time, such as playing with our kids or listening to a friend in need.  Then, gradually we can expand the scope until we can offer everything.  This is the supreme practice of a Bodhisattva. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The struggles of the path are a small price to pay

Our spiritual guide is creating for each one of us a perfect teacher out of his supremely skillful means and he is encouraging us to follow the Bodhisattva’s way of life leading to enlightenment.  We are being forged right now into the Buddhas we need to become.  We can view all of the problems we have now as those of our future students that we have taken on.  We have been given the problems of our future students now so we can learn how to overcome them.  By learning how to overcome our problems with Dharma wisdom, we gain the realizations we will need to help our future students be able to do the same.  We should view our difficulties as emanated by Dorje Shugden to forge us into the Buddha we need to become. 

We have everything we need.  If we do the math on the analogy of the blind turtle from the teachings on our precious human life, we see that the opportunity we have now comes only once every 475 trillion lives.  We have it all, the only thing we lack is the decision to do it.  Geshe-la has said this on many occasions.  To attain enlightenment, we only need one thing:  a stubborn refusal to ever give up trying, no matter what.  If we have this, since we have perfect methods, we will definitely get there.  It is guaranteed.  If we never give up, we will definitely succeed.  This is worth meditating on.  As Shantideva asks, “why should I, who am human and who understands the meaning of spiritual paths not attain enlightenment by following the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life?”

(7.20) Some people might be discouraged out of fear
Of having to sacrifice their flesh,
But this is due to not understanding
What we should give, or when.

(7.21) In our previous lives, over countless aeons,
We have been cut, stabbed, burned,
And flayed alive innumerable times;
But we have not achieved anything from these hardships.

(7.22) Yet the hardships we must forbear to attain enlightenment
Are insignificant compared to these.
It is like enduring the lesser suffering of surgery
So as to stop much greater pain.

(7.23) If doctors have to use unpleasant medical treatments
To cure people of their illnesses,
I should be able to forbear a few discomforts
To destroy the many sufferings of samsara.

(7.24) But Buddha, the Supreme Physician, does not use
Ordinary treatments such as these;
Rather, he uses extremely gentle methods
To eliminate all the great diseases of the delusions.

So perhaps we may become discouraged because we may feel that the hardships that we have to undergo to make progress along the path are too great. When we think of the sacrifices a Bodhisattva makes, even those we have to make right now, we can become discouraged thinking it is too much.  It’s too much work to do.  And a lot of things we feel we just cannot give up. We cannot give them up now, we cannot even see ourselves giving them up in the future. Many we do not even want to give up. We may think, “I can’t do it, I just can’t do it.  The Dharma is asking too much of me. It’s just overwhelming.” If we begin to feel like this or even if we feel overwhelmed right now, overwhlemed, then there is a danger that we turn to other things.  We give up on the idea of trying to follow purely the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life for a more modest goal.  Or maybe we give up on spiritual pursuits entirely.  We turn to other things that we feel perhaps could be more fulfilling with more immediate and seemingly attainable results.  Since Dharma seems so unrealistic, we turn to things that we feel will be just as beneficial to ourselves and to others – perhaps even more so. And importantly, we feel the need to turn to other things that we might find a lot easier.

We do not like to experience hardship. We like things to be easy and comfortable for us. There are many things perhaps we could do that are fulfilling for us, they are beneficial for ourselves and others, and that are a lot easier.  Seeing this, there is some danger we have to be aware of.  Perhaps such thoughts are lurking in our mind and we are tempted to give in to them and abandon our bodhisattva path.

We do exaggerate. Compared to what people in this world have to endure, let alone what people have to experience in other worlds such as the world of hell beings, it is nothing.  In comparison, it is nothing.  Even in this world we can think of – even in this country, in this town – we can think of the mental and physical suffering people experience every day of their life. Every day. And then we think of the suffering we have to experience every day of our life. Really, really, what do we suffer from? Compared to most people what do we suffer either mentally or physically by putting in effort to travel the path? It is insignificant, really. Almost laughable to even complain about.  And the medicine of Dharma, is it really that hard to swallow?  Venerable Geshe-la said that compared to the hardships yogis like Milarepa had to experience to purify their mind, we follow a much more comfortable path. The meditations that we are given are quite easy to swallow, really. Geshe-la has indicated many times we travel a comfortable path.  As Shantideva says, “But Buddha, the Supreme Physician, does not use ordinary treatments such as these; rather, he uses extremely gentle methods to eliminate all the great diseases of the delusions.”