Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Becoming a servant of all

(6.124) Therefore, since I have caused harm to living beings,
Which has displeased the compassionate Buddhas,
Today I confess individually all these non-virtues –
Please, O Compassionate Ones, forgive me for offending you so.

(6.125) From now on, to delight the Tathagatas,
I will definitely become like a servant to all living beings.
Even if people kick me and humiliate me,
I will please the Buddhas by not retaliating.

On the one hand we must have regret for having caused harm to other living beings previously. On the other hand we must try and promise not to cause harm to them in the future. It’s a refuge commitment, isn’t it?  No matter what others may say, no matter what they may do, we must not retaliate. Rather, we try, try to accept any harm, patiently accept any harm, and try to fulfill their wishes, just like a servant.

We need to make a commitment to others to be their servant.  I think with respect to other living beings we should have this attitude of mind.  We think, “I would like to give you whatever you want, whatever you feel you need.”  We can think, “you can have me any time you want. … all of the time, I am your servant, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”  But of course at present there are many factors preventing us from giving each and every being in our life all of my time.  Often, when people place demands on our time that we can’t fulfill, we quickly become frustrated with them for being so demanding and needy, and how inconsiderate they are to keep asking when they know how busy we are. 

This is exactly opposite of the correct attitude.  Yes, there are many living beings and we have lots of responsibilities, but in our heart we should have the thought, “I would want to give you all my time, be with you all the time, helping you in every way that I can.  I feel myself to be your servant.”  We can explain to others who place demands on us we cannot fulfill, “I would want to help you, but unfortunately I can’t right now.”  We then use these times when we confront our limitations in being able to be there for everyone all of the time to strengthen our bodhichitta wishing to become a Buddha where we will have the ability to be with each and every living being every day, 24/7.  In the future when I am a Buddha I will be able to give you all of my time. That attitude of mind is what is important, and is the essence of the spontaneous bodhichitta of a Bodhisattva.  We want to help everyone in every way, but we keep bumping up into our limitations.  Each time we confront these limitations, we are reminded why we must become a Buddha.

(6.126) There is no doubt that the compassionate Buddhas
Have completed exchanging self with all living beings.
Thus, the nature of living beings is the very nature of the Buddhas,
So we should afford them the same respect.

This is quite profound. We can look in detail at the practice of exchanging self with others when we get to Chapter 8. But for the moment with respect to the advice here in this verse, we can believe simply where there is any living being, even one who has a harmful intention towards us, there is Buddha. Or where there is any living being there is my spiritual guide, the essence of all Buddhas.  Since they have exchanged self with others perfectly, completely, Buddhas are not separate from any living being, therefore the very nature of any living being is the nature of all the Buddhas. For this reason we can respect other living beings like we respect Buddhas.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Would you harm somebody in front of Geshe-la?

(6.119) Moreover, besides pleasing living beings,
What other way is there for us to repay
Those supreme, unchanging friends
Who bestow immeasurable benefit?

(6.120) By benefiting these living beings, I can repay Buddha,
Who many times gave up his life and entered the deepest hell for their sake.
Therefore, even if they inflict great harm on me,
I will always treat them respectfully and with a good heart.

(6.121) If Buddhas, who are far superior to me,
Disregard their own bodies for the sake of living beings,
Why do I act out of foolish pride
And not behave as if I were a servant of others?

We can consider the kindness of our own spiritual guide.  How much have we already benefited from his dedication to us? How much have we benefited from that, let alone anyone else?   We can ask ourselves, what kind of life would I have had if he had never appeared in my world? What would this world become like if he had not appeared in it?  We are indebted to him, naturally we feel indebted to him. He has given us so much, he has given this world already so, so much.

What then is the best way of repaying his kindness?  Shantideva says it is to please living beings.  The best way to repay his kindness is to help him fulfill his wish to bring freedom, to bring happiness to the people of this world.  Everyone we meet then, they are an object of our spiritual guide’s love, they are an object of our spiritual guide’s compassion.  He’s given us the opportunity to help them. We can repay his kindness by doing so. We can take that opportunity and help them, we help them in whatever way we can, try to benefit them, try to please them.

Regardless of what they say to us, regardless of what they do. We make it our commitment to serve them.  Our spiritual guide is totally dedicated to this person.  So we can think, I will serve this person as my spiritual guide would.  We try make this a commitment.  I will be of service to each and every being I meet.  We start with the people around us, in our families, in the center, in our daily life, and then gradually we expand it to include the people of our town and region and country and finally all beings.  We consider ourselves a servant to these people. 

Continuing with Shantideva’s advice on respecting other living beings

(6.122) Buddhas are delighted when living beings are happy
And displeased when they are harmed;
So it follows that, when I please or harm living beings,
It is the same as pleasing or harming all the Buddhas.

(6.123) If we harm a child,
There is no way to please its mother.
In the same way, if we harm any living being,
There is no way to please the compassionate Buddhas.

One reason we need to remind ourself throughout the day of the presence of enlightened beings is because we will naturally try our best to refrain from such harmful thoughts and actions.  Would we harm somebody in front of our spiritual guide?  Would we yell at somebody, saying hurtful or divisive words?  Of course not.  We respect him too much.  We would feel shame for doing so.  In exactly the same way, we can recall that all of the Buddhas are with us right now, we are always in their presence.  They see and are aware of everything we do.  It is perfectly correct to say anytime we harm somebody else we are doing so in the presence of our Spiritual Guide. 

How does our spiritual guide feel, for example, when we behave badly towards the people in our life? Of course he is aware. How does he feel when we behave badly towards those people whom he wants us to help, he has given us the opportunity to help.  There is a big contradiction, isn’t there? Behaving well before Buddhas, for example being humble, being considerate and so forth when we’re in the presence of our spiritual guide, and behaving badly before others. Being arrogant, inconsiderate, when we’re with others. It’s like we’re trying to fool our spiritual guide.  Perhaps we feel we cannot displease Buddhas. How can we displease an enlightened being?  We cannot make them unhappy, but they can certainly be displeased with what we are doing.  They are sad for us because they know the karma we are creating. 

In the same way, would we hurt a child in front of their mother?  We know how much the mother loves her child, and we couldn’t possibly harm the child with her watching unless we had an iron or spiteful heart.  Likewise, everyone we meet has a mother (indeed, everyone has been our mother).  It is correct to say if ever is at least one other person present, we are in front of that person’s mother.  Would you harm her child?  This doesn’t mean it’s OK to harm others if nobody else is a witness, but there are plenty of times in which others are around when we get angry or engage in harmful actions.  Remembering we are in the presence of their mother can at least protect us from engaging in harmful actions at such times.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Respecting everyone as we would Buddhas

(6.114) They are not equal with regard to their realizations;
But, because living beings have the good quality
Of helping to produce the same result, Buddhahood,
They are equal in the sense of also being a field of merit.

We know our spiritual guide, Je Tsongkhapa for example can be a field of merit.  In just the same way, one living being, the living being whom we find most difficult in our life, can be for us a field of merit.  But we do not want to recognize that person as a field of merit in the same way we happily recognize our our spiritual guide Je Tsongkhapa as a field of merit.  Why not?  Why do we not want to regard such a person as a field of merit, yet quite happily regard our spiritual guide as a field of merit?   The only reason why not is worldly concerns.  If we were more interested in gaining spiritual realizations than we were worldly concerns, we would naturally think like this.

Certainly to hold in our mind those we find to be difficult to be a field of merit will bring enormous benefit.  We look at this person and we think, “You are my field of merit.”  That recognition itself brings about such change in our mental environment. “You are my field of merit.” Just that thought. We need to train in this until it becomes habit and natural.  Think about what changes this will bring about.  It is quite a practice!

(6.115) Whatever merit there is in venerating one with limitless love
Is due to the greatness of all living beings,
And whatever merit there is in having faith in the Buddhas
Is due to the greatness of the Buddhas.

(6.116) Thus, they are said to be equal because being respectful to both
Leads to the attainment of the state of Buddhahood;
But because living beings do not possess limitless good qualities,
They are not actually equal to Buddhas.

(6.117) The unique qualities of a Buddha are so extensive
That any being in whom even a small fraction of them appears
Is worthy of veneration that would not be adequately expressed
Even by offering them everything in the three worlds.

(6.118) Therefore, because they share in giving rise
To the supreme state of Buddhahood,
At least from this point of view
It is suitable to venerate living beings.

The idea here is very simple:  when we respect people, we generally don’t get angry with them.  If we can come to respect all living beings, then we are must less likely to get angry at any of them.  If we can respect them in the same way we respect all the Buddhas, then it is almost impossible for anger to arise in our mind towards them. 

Obviously the qualities of a Buddha are vastly superior to those of an ordinary being, otherwise why bother attaining enlightenment.  It is helpful to contemplate the good qualities of Buddhas so that we know all of the different ways they can help us.  In many of our practices, there are praises and requests, such as the praises to the 21 Taras or the prostrations in Offering to the Spiritual Guide.  We don’t contemplate the good qualities of Buddhas just to think how awesome they are or how much better than us they are, but rather because when we know their function, we can request their specific blessings to help us in these ways.  Further, when we contemplate the good qualities of Buddhas, we develop admiring and believing faith thinking, “how amazing.”  This then leads to wishing faith, wishing to gain these good qualities ourselves.  This wishing faith is the main force behind our bodhichitta, wishing to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others.  If we don’t think Buddhas are amazing and worth becoming like, then we won’t be sufficiently motivated to travel the path.

Fundamentally, though, the one common characteristic of all of the good qualities of the Buddhas is they are helpful, indeed indispensable for our attainment of enlightenment.  Without them, we couldn’t do it; with them, we can.  By attaining enlightenment, we can accomplish all of our own and other’s wishes.  Enlightenment is the real wishfulfilling jewel.  Many Sutras begin with a homage to compassion because compassion is the cause of enlightenment, and it is better to pay homage to the cause than merely the effect.  When we genuinely appreciate the essential nature of Buddhas, we naturally generate deep respect for them, and we naturally treat them accordingly.  It would almost be impossible to get angry at a Buddha when we appreciate how truly valuable their helping us attain enlightenment is.

In exactly the same way, all living beings are equally indispensable for our attainment of enlightenment.  Without others, we would not be able to practice compassion, giving, patience, and so forth.  Without others, we could never generate bodhichitta, and thus have sufficient power in our mind to overcome our obstructions to omniscience.  Other living beings are an essential prerequisite to our attaining enlightenment, just like Buddhas are.  Without them, we couldn’t do it.  So just as we respect Buddhas seeing them as being indispensable for our attainment of enlightenment, so too we respect all living beings as being equally indispensable.  With this appreciation of their preciousness, it is almost impossible for anger to arise in our mind towards them.  No matter what they may do, it pales into petty insignificance compared to their indispensable help for our becoming enlightened.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Venerating our enemies

(6.109) “But your enemy has no intention to help you practice patience,
So why should you venerate him?”
Then why venerate the holy Dharma
As a way of practising virtue?

(6.110) “Surely you should not venerate an enemy
Who harbours the intention to cause you harm.”
But if everyone was like a doctor striving to help me,
When would I ever practise patience?

(6.111) Thus, because the practice of patience occurs
In dependence upon those with hateful minds,
Such people should be venerated just like the holy Dharma
Because they are causes of the practice of patience.

Outrageous! Shantideva is so outrageous.  If we appreciate or value the Buddhadharma, then we should appreciate or value those who bring us problems and suffering because in dependence upon them, Dharma realizations develop in our mind.  We should appreciate and value those with hateful minds towards us. We should venerate them in the same way that we venerate the holy Dharma.  It does not matter that they have no intention to help. After all, neither does the Dharma. That doesn’t matter. Because we still benefit.  What matters, actually, is that they have the intention to harm. That’s important! Because it is then that I must really train in patience.  Those people I must venerate, just like I venerate the holy Dharma, because the practice of patience occurs in dependence upon those with hateful minds.

Now some verses encouraging us to venerate living beings just as we venerate holy beings:

(6.112) Buddha says that the field of living beings
Is like the field of enlightened beings,
For there are many practitioners who, through pleasing living beings,
Have attained the state of perfection, Buddhahood.

(6.113) Since living beings and enlightened beings are alike
In that the qualities of a Buddha arise in dependence upon them,
Why do we not show the same respect to living beings
As we do to the enlightened beings?

How can we understand this?  Enlightened beings give us the opportunity to engage in spiritual practice, spiritual practice leading to liberation, to enlightenment. How kind. Enlightened beings such as our spiritual guide are kind in giving us such an opportunity to follow the spiritual path leading to freedom, to happiness.  How are living beings any different in this sense? They also give us the opportunity, in just the same way they give us the opportunity to follow the path, spiritual path, to liberation and enlightenment. They give us freedom and happiness.  Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to respect them exactly as we would the enlightened beings.

Additionally, even from a worldly point of view, it makes sense to respond to harm with respect.  If we retaliate against others, then the cycle of retaliation will continue without end and the other person will continue to bother us in the future.  Even if we don’t externally retaliate and neither do they, we will wind up having ill feelings in our heart every time we think of or see the other person.  We are just torturing ourself.  Even from a worldly perspective of wanting pleasant relationships, it is better to heal our negative, dysfunctional relationships.  Treating the other person with respect, and trying to understand things from their perspective is the best way of doing so.

Ghandi showed how it is possible to use peaceful non-violent, non-cooperation and a willingness to accept suffering to not only gain independence, but earn the respect of the colonizer in the process.  If such methods can be used to defeat the most powerful empire in history, then surely it will be enough to heal our relationship with our loved ones or difficult work colleagues.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Loving those who harm us

(6.107) Just as if some treasure were suddenly to appear in my house
Without my making any effort to obtain it,
I should be delighted to have found an enemy
Who can help me practise the conduct that leads to enlightenment.

(6.108) Along with myself, my enemy is the cause of my practising patience.
Therefore, I should first dedicate
Whatever fruits arise from this practice
To the person who was a cause of it.

As Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness, others can be a treasure or a mara.  Either. It depends upon us.  He says if we practice Dharma in a skillful way, they can be priceless jewels.  Geshe-la says, “for a sincere Mahayana practitioner, just seeing other living beings, speaking with them, or even thinking about them is like finding buried treasure.” If someone criticizes us, then they can be a treasure, a precious treasure, increasing our inner wealth of patience, in this way helping us to make progress along a spiritual path.  So, when such a person turns up, we should be happy, not unhappy. I should be delighted to have found an enemy who can help me practice the conduct that leads to enlightenment.

But if our practice is mixed with the eight worldly concerns, they can become like maras. If someone praises us, they can be a mara, act and function like a mara because we allow them, the fault is within our own mind, we allow them to stimulate attachment or pride. We have created a mara for ourselves, obstructing spiritual development.

Shantideva really pushes us by saying we should in particular dedicate our merit from our practice of patience to the one who provokes our anger.  This is the opposite of how we normally think.  Normally, we want to retaliate and harm the other person back to teach them a lesson to not mess with us again.  Perhaps at best we don’t wish to harm them, but to actually be happy to reward them for harming us with our dedications seems quite radical.

Paulo Friere says “the oppressor is unfree when he oppresses.”  This is the mind of a bodhisattva.  From the point of view of the karma ripening, it is the oppressed who is being harmed.  But from the point of view of the karma being created, the oppressed is purifying their karma and the oppressor is creating the causes of future suffering.  Who is truly harmed and who is benefiting?  The mind of universal love wishes for all beings to enjoy happiness, including those who inflict the most harm.  In many ways, Hitler, Stalin and so forth are worse off than their victims because they now must spend aeons in hell working through their negative karma.  Who is in greater need of dedications if we truly love all beings equally?  Surely it is the person who does the most harm.  This is especially true when we consider the only reason why the person created the negative karma of harming us is because we still have not purified the negative karma on our mind which triggers others to harm us! 

Shantideva is encouraging us to not only practice patience, but as an act of love give away our merit we accumulated from practicing patience to the one who harmed us.  Not only is the person who harmed us more in need of our dedications, but our responding to harm with love is how we purify our toxic relationship with the other person.  Geshe-la famously said, “love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  Not only conventionally does a loving response change the dynamic in our relationship with the person who is harming us, it also fundamentally purifies the karma between us and the other person.  Gen Tharchin says we should view each person as our future disciple who it is our responsibility to lead to enlightenment.  We have a close karmic connection to the person who is harming us and it is our responsibility to eventually lead them to enlightenment.  Why make that task  harder by poisoning our relationship with them by retaliating when instead we can begin a relationship of love with them?

An objection may arise that if we reward the person who harms us with love, then aren’t we encouraging – indeed enabling – them to harm us again in the future?  This is why we need to love with wisdom.  We don’t give the person who harmed us what they wanted to obtain by harming us, because yes, that would encourage them to harm us again (unless of course we were unjustly depriving them of whatever they wanted, at which point giving it to them would be entirely appropriate).  There is nothing about loving others that means we need to become objects of abuse.  Quite the opposite, actually.  If we do love them, we will cease cooperating with their abuse because we want to protect them from creating negative karma.  So externally, making them stop if we can or separating ourself from them if we can’t is an act of love.  But internally, we need not hold back at all.  We can wholeheartedly give all our merit and all our prayers to the person.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The mind of patience is the pure land

A pure land and its residents are created by mind. It’s subjective. That creation of a pure land and pure beings must be taking place in our lives.  Where else?  We spend most of our time in our daily life, where else are we going to be creating a pure land with pure residents?  That creation must be taking place with a patient mind. Otherwise we will never be able to create it, it will never be a pure land for us.

There is no objectively existent pure land, with pure beings inhabiting it.  We push away a deluded being, they remain a deluded being.  If we push away deluded beings, which is what we do if anger comes up, they remain for us a deluded being. They remain a deluded being. Where is the Bodhichitta in that?  We will never transform that person into an enlightened being, never. A pure being can never appear in their place. So where is the Bodhichitta?  There can be no Bodhichitta without patient acceptance, pushing no one away, welcoming wholeheartedly everyone without exception. Everyone.

What is a pure land like? In a pure land, everything appears as a Dharma lesson, every moment is an opportunity to practice Dharma, and we have no problems. What is the mind of patient acceptance like? Because we are able to accept everything, everything teaches us some lesson of Dharma. Indeed, it is our ability to transform everything into a lesson of Dharma that enables us to accept everything. Further, with a mind of patience acceptance, no matter what happens, no matter how difficult the circumstance, everything is viewed as an opportunity to train our mind. We don’t need to push away anything or anyone because they are all viewed by the mind of patience as an opportunity to practice Dharma. With a mind of patient acceptance, we may still experience all sorts of unpleasant and indeed painful situations, but for us, none of it will be a problem because we can wholeheartedly welcome everything as an opportunity to train or purify our mind. So from a practical, experiential point of view, there is essentially no difference between being in a pure land and the mind of patience. With both, everything is a Dharma lesson, every moment is an opportunity to practice Dharma, and nothing is a problem.

In Transform your Life, Geshe-la says, “We underestimate the value of patience. It is possible that people might sometimes interrupt our meditation sessions or Dharma study, but they can never take away our opportunity to train in inner virtues such as patience. It is this mental training rather than outer virtuous activities that is the essence of Dharma practice. If we truly understand the value of patience, we shall never resent an opportunity to practise it. Even if we never found the opportunity to sit down to study and meditate throughout our entire life, but we truly learnt to practise patient acceptance every moment of the day, we would make vast progress on the path to enlightenment. On the other hand, if we spent our whole life studying and meditating, but we never practised patience, our spiritual practice would remain superficial and inauthentic.”

Speechless. There is no virtue greater than patience. So if we really want to make progress ourselves and help others, we must take every opportunity to practice patience. Who gives us those opportunities? We need to start seeing the difficult people in our life as the most precious.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Becoming fearless

Here, in the chapter on patience, Shantideva is highlighting the connection between the worldly concerns and our anger.  We need to abandon the worldly concerns as triggers of our anger.  Who helps us to overcome our attachment to worldly concerns?  Of course, we can say our spiritual guide, holy beings, enlightened beings, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas. True. True.  But what about those who obstruct our worldly happiness? Those who obstruct our worldly happiness, those who damage our good reputation, those who do not acknowledge us in any way, or when they do speak to us they criticize us: these are the people we need in our lives. They help us as spiritual practitioners to overcome our attachment to worldly concerns.  So we should develop deep appreciation for them.   

Please read the section in 8SH where Geshe-la gives the commentary to the verse “Even if someone I have helped, and of whom I had great hopes, nevertheless harms me without any reason, may I see him as my holy spiritual guide.”  These people are like Buddhas teaching us the spiritual path.  We should see them as such.  They are emanations of my Spiritual Guide.  Geshe-la gives several examples of people acting like Buddha, supreme spiritual guide, blessing our mind to purify our negative karma, blessing our mind to develop renunciation, blessing our mind to increase our patience, yeah, and in this way leading us along liberating paths.  It is mainly the difficult people in our life that will help us to become holy beings.  The people who are kind to us, who are always happy and never make problems are actually generally only helpful for feeding our worldly concerns; it is the difficult people in our life who are our real spiritual benefactors.  They basically force us to practice, and if we are honest, without them pushing us as they do, we would quickly become lazy and practice much, much less.  They will help us become the perfect teachers that our spiritual guide wants us to be.   Rather than getting angry with them, why cannot we learn to appreciate them? Why cannot we learn to appreciate how important, how necessary they are for our spiritual development.

(6.102) “Don’t they obstruct your virtuous practice?”
No! There is no virtuous practice greater than patience;
Therefore, I will never get angry
With those who cause me suffering.

I think it’s good to imagine actually what transformation would take place in our mind if we stopped pushing things away out of anger or hatred, if we stopped pushing things out of our mind.  Imagine what transformation would take place if we stopped distancing ourselves, separating ourselves from objects of anger, objects of hatred.  What transformation would take place if we were to accept wholeheartedly everything we presently find difficult. Welcoming into our heart not just the good but the bad too. Equally. We can imagine and then we could ask ourselves, what do I need to protect myself from? I think now we can understand how it really does function to weaken our self-cherishing, to weaken our self-grasping. What would we need to protect ourselves from? Self-cherishing serves to protect our I.

Can you imagine if we were to welcome wholeheartedly, welcome into our heart without any hesitation, without any resistance, all things that we presently find difficult? So how can there be any virtuous practice greater than patience?  “Therefore I will never get angry with those who cause me suffering but I will welcome them.”

When people are worried about something bad happening, the normal reaction is for people to say, “that is unlikely to happen” as a way of consoling ourselves or others.  It is true, all worry and all anger tend to exaggerate the so-called bad, and part of that often involves exaggerating the probability of something bad happening.  Different people process risk in different ways, and for some, even a 1% chance of something happening is experienced as if it is a 100% certainty to happen.  To helping reduce the perceived likelihood of something bad happening does indeed lessen our worry.  There is nothing wrong with that.

But is that good enough?  No, because we still think, “but it might happen,” and worry.  Why do we still worry?  Because we are still grasping at the thing we are worried about as being inherently bad – if this happens, it would be “bad.”  Patient acceptance is the opposite way of thinking.  It stares straight into the abyss saying, “even if XYZ happened, it is not only not bad, it is something I would welcome wholeheartedly.”  We can welcome it wholeheartedly, we feel no need to push it away, because we know we will be able to transform its arising into a cause of our own or others’ enlightenment.  It is not a bad thing, it is rocket fuel for our spiritual progress.  So we don’t fear it happening, we can accept it wholeheartedly without feeling any need to push it away.  If we have this mind, then all worry disappears.  Yes, it might happen, but that is OK too.  No problem.  We fear nothing. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to develop equanimity with respect to worldly concerns

(6.98) Praise and so forth distract me from virtue,
Weaken my disillusionment with samsara,
Cause me to envy others’ good qualities,
And undermine everything that is beneficial.

(6.99) Therefore, those who conspire
To prevent me from being praised
Are really acting to prevent me
From falling into the lower realms!

(6.100) I, who seek liberation, have no need for wealth or a good reputation
For they only keep me bound in samsara;
So why should I get angry
With those who free me from this bondage?

(6.101) Those who cause me suffering
Are like Buddhas bestowing their blessings.
Since they lead me to liberating paths,
Why should I get angry with them?

At present, we do not yet have equanimity about the eight worldly concerns (or at least I don’t).  We know we prefer happiness to suffering. We prefer wealth to poverty. We prefer praise to criticism. We prefer a good reputation to a bad reputation. Who doesn’t?  What is the result of this preference in our mind? We remain worldly. As was mentioned in an earlier post, as long as we’re concerned with such things our Dharma practice will not be a pure Dharma practice. We will be distracted from spiritual paths, pure spiritual paths. We won’t really be interested in liberation.  Rather, we will continue to make or try to make our daily samsaric life work better.  We’ll invest the majority (if not all) of our energy trying to make it enjoyable and comfortable, to get on the right side of the worldly concerns, and continue to push away and reject our suffering.  As long as we have preference for worldly concerns, we are not going to get out of samsara, instead we will seek to make ourselves more comfortable in it.  A Bodhisattva doesn’t need to do this because they can transform and embrace their suffering.  They have no preference for a happy day, because they realize that happy days are deceptive and difficult days are blessings.

We need to train gradually over a long period of time to develop genuine equanimity with respect to each of the eight worldly concerns.  But we need to be clear what this means.  At present, we prefer happiness, wealth, praise, and a good reputation, viewing all of these as causes of our happiness.  We then hear we need to have equanimity towards the eight worldly concerns, and we think about how we can transform suffering, poverty, criticism, and a bad reputation into the spiritual path.  Assuming we can do so, have we actually developed genuine equanimity with respect to the eight worldly concerns at that point?  Shantideva with these verses clearly tells us no.  Equanimity doesn’t mean we still have attachment towards the “good” stuff, and transform into the spiritual path the “bad” stuff, we need to equally transform both the “good” and the “bad” stuff into the spiritual path to have genuine equanimity towards the eight worldly concerns. 

To do that, we need to transform happiness, wealth, praise, and a good reputation from being objects of attachment into objects of lamrim.  In many ways, this is harder than transforming the unpleasant side of the worldly concerns into the path because we want to transform suffering into the path to make it tolerable, we don’t want to transform pleasant things into the path because we are worried we will then lose our enjoyment of these things in the process – and we don’t want to do that.  With these verses, Shantideva helps us shatter our attachment to these things by showing how each one of them – if related to as an object of attachment – is actually a cause of lower rebirth, not happiness.  In many ways, as long as our mind is controlled by attachment, these things are actually dangerous!

We need to be crystal clear, pleasant feelings, wealth, praise, and a good reputation in and of themselves are neutral (technically, they are nothing in and of themselves).  They are not intrinsically good, bad, objects of attachment, or objects of lamrim.  What they are for us depends entirely upon our mind.  Geshe-la explains in Heart Jewel that Great Wisdom is understanding clearly and unmistakenly what are the objects to be abandoned and what are the objects to be attained.  Such wisdom can distinguish between wealth as an object of attachment and wealth as an object of lamrim.  Wealth is not an object of abandonment, but wealth as an object of attachment is.

So how do we transform each of these “good” things into objects of lamrim?  We can view each thing through the lens of initial scope, intermediate scope, great scope, and tantric practice.  If we use wealth as an example, attachment to wealth can cause us to engage in all sorts of negative actions, which propel us into lower rebirth.  Attachment to wealth can prevent us from becoming disillusioned with samsaric existence, and thus apply no effort to get out.  Attachment to our wealth can make us miserly and selfish, thus interfering with developing the mind of giving – one of the six perfections.  Attachment to wealth makes us grasp at inherently existent causes of happiness, thus strengthening our ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions (the main objects of abandonment on the tantric path).  All of these show the disadvantages of attachment to wealth.  But how can we view wealth in a virtuous way? Wealth can however also be very helpful because with it we feel less need to steal.  We can use our wealth to fund engaging in our Dharma practice or retreats to escape ourselves from samsara.  Wealth can be used to engage in the practice of giving, including to spiritual causes, such as funding Dharma centers.  Wealth can also be viewed as an offering to ourselves or others generated as the deity.  We can use the same way of reasoning to understand how happiness, praise, and a good reputation can be transformed from being objects of attachment to objects of lamrim.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: It doesn’t matter what others think

(6.92) For the sake of fame and reputation,
People give away their wealth and even sacrifice their lives;
But what good can a few dry words do when we die?
To whom can they bring any pleasure?

(6.93) When people lose their reputation,
They become despondent, like a child
Who cries when the sandcastle he has built
Is washed away by the tide.

Who cares if we have a good reputation or not? We do.  We’re very concerned, aren’t we, about what others think of us. It matters, a good reputation matters to us.  Why?  We need to check what our reasons are to see if they are good reasons.  There are two extremes when it comes to what others think of us:  We are attached to what they think of us.  We think our happiness depends on others liking us and thinking/feeling good about us.  Then, we become obsessed with what they think, etc.  There is so much suffering with this.  The other extreme is not caring at all what others think.  Whatever they think is their problem.  This also leads to many problems, because then we may act in all sorts of unpleasant ways, say things others aren’t ready to hear, cause others to lose faith in us, etc.  The middle way is care what others think for valid Dharma reasons, but not be attached to what anybody thinks.  There are many valid reasons for wanting others to think good of us, so we need to be careful to manage our reputation.  We want others to be pleasantly disposed towards us so that they respect what we have to say and seek out our advice.  We want people to rely upon us to escape from samsara, and they won’t do so if think poorly of us.  But ultimately, our own personal happiness, should not depend in any way on what others think of us.  We know how to transform whatever others appear to be thinking about us into the path.  The best way to ensure that others think well of us is for ourselves to always think well of others.

There are valid reasons for being ‘interested’ in having a good reputation, namely our ability to help people.  So we should make an effort to be on good terms with everybody and try to be understood as a good person. 

It is worth considering ultimately what are others thinking about us?  The answer is ‘nothing.’  There is no other person there thinking anything.  It is just our dream arising from our karma.  There is a mere appearance of others thinking something about us, but ultimately there is no one there thinking anything.  Conventionally speaking, though, yes, there is an appearance of what others think and this does have an effect on our conventional existence.  So what are others conventionally thinking about us?  What they are karmically determined to do.  What they think of us is a karmic echo of how we have thought about others in the past.  If we are surrounded by people who think poorly of us it is because in the past we have thought poorly of everyone else.  If we want to change what they think about us, we need to change our karma.  We can think only good things about others, and gradually others will think only good things about us.  We can imagine that when others see us they think Buddha, in this way we can provide real benefit to them. 

We should be concerned simply with improving ourself by practicing Dharma purely, and thereby helping others to improve themselves by practicing Dharma.  Then we will become a holy being who is naturally respected. We know such people have some power, but we will be using that power in such beneficial ways.  We will be helping ourselves. We can improve the quality of our spiritual life, we can improve the quality of others’ lives, spiritual lives, and we can help to further our tradition, this pure tradition that flourishes throughout the world.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Enjoying ourselves without guilt

(6.91) Transient pleasures, such as drinking and playing meaningless games,
Are deceptive.
If I understand the real meaning of a human life,
Such things will have no value for me.

We need to personally look at our worldly concerns for happiness, wealth, reputation, praise and so forth and think about how we can reduce, finally destroy such concerns.  Our attachment to worldly pleasure prevents us from striving for the happiness of future lives, happiness of liberation, happiness of enlightenment. We’re more concerned for temporary, immediate happiness. And so we waste our human life. We waste our precious human life. We are no different from animals.  It matters to us, doesn’t it, that we are able to experience pleasure daily. It’s important to us.  A pure Dharma practitioner is only concerned about what causes they are creating.  What effects they are experiencing is just the context in which they can create causes. 

We distract ourselves with worldly enjoyments. Sometimes Dharma practitioners feel they can’t enjoy themselves as much as they used to or we feel guilty when we do worldly things. We must be skillful – we cannot drop immediately all worldly concerns so that tomorrow we find ourselves with none.  That is unrealistic. We must be skillful with how we approach worldly concerns.  The correct model should be a child outgrowing their toys.  Because we have found better things within our mind, we gradually lose interest in our old things.  They don’t work for us because we have seen through their illusion.  The trick to abandoning any attachment is to realize how it is in fact harmful to us.  How it pretends to be beneficial, but with Dharma wisdom we understand it is harmful.  Then we will naturally not be as interested in it anymore until eventually we abandon it. 

But at the same time, if we’re ever going to stop we have to make effort and try find our happiness from a different source, our enjoyment from a different source – from our pure mind.  If we can do this, then we can enjoy everything.  The more we build up the alternative, the more it becomes effortless to become a spiritual being and to abandon our attachments.  But to get to this point, we need to make an effort.  If we don’t, we will never get there and we will always be struggling with ourselves.  The main point of renunciation is we realize that there is nothing for us in the non-existent dream, and we don’t look for it because we know it is not there.  Rather we look in a different source, the development of pure minds.  This doesn’t mean we don’t still go out to dinner or movies, or play games with our friends or on the computer, it means we try do so emphasizing our pure reasons for doing so and minimizing our worldly reasons for doing so.  Eventually, some activities will fall by the wayside, others will continue.  No problem, very natural.  Again, as Geshe Checkhawa ways, “remain natural while changing your aspiration.