Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Becoming a spiritual MacGyver

(5.99) Whatever I do in any situation,
Whether for myself or for the benefit of others,
I should strive to practise
Whatever training has been taught for that occasion.

Any handyman will tell you the same thing:  “right tool for the right job.”  There are a wide variety of things that need to be fixed in the world, and so a wide variety of tools have been developed to fix them.  Perhaps a more modern analogy is “there’s an app for that.”  In the same way, when we encounter inner problems that need fixing, we need to use the right tool for the right job.

Every delusion has its opponent, which is essentially the opposite mind.  For example, the opposite of anger is patience, the opposite of jealousy is rejoicing and so forth.  Just as virtuous actions can neutralize negative karma, so too different virtuous minds can serve as opponents to different delusions.  A doctor has at their disposal countless different medications which can help treat the countless different diseases of the body.  In the same way, as Buddhists we have countless different internal medicines (Dharma practices) we can use to treat the different diseases of our mind.  Our job is to become skilled at using these different inner tools, apps or medicines to heal our own or other’s minds.

Some people, though, find this rather daunting.  There are so many different delusions and it is hard enough to even know what their opponents are, much less have sufficient experience of them to actually have the power to oppose any delusions with them.  From a practical point of view, these people are right.  Ultimately, our ability to oppose our delusions depends upon (1) our wish to be free from our delusions, and (2) our experience and skill of employing the opponents.  Our delusions have aeons of practice, it seems quite likely – in the beginning at least – that our delusions will be more skilled than our virtues.

I know this will date me, but there was a show in the 1980s called MacGyver, and with a Swiss Army knife and a little bit of duct tape, he was able to improvise solutions to all sorts of different life threatening situations.  In the same way, I generally find it helpful to pick a couple of key practices that really work to move my mind, and then I use them against any and all delusions that arise.

It is said the Lamrim directly or indirectly opposes all delusions.  So while the Lamrim itself has only 21 (or 14 depending on the presentation) different meditations, it nonetheless functions to oppose all delusions in their myriad different permutations.  It is also said that the mind of bodhichitta is the “quintessential butter” that comes from churning the milk of the Lamrim, so in effect the mind of bodhichitta has the power to oppose all delusions single-handedly.  All delusions have ignorance as their root, so the wisdom realizing emptiness is also a universal panacea.

But for me, I resolve almost all of my delusions with my faith in Dorje Shugden.  Dorje Shugden’s job is to arrange all of the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  When attachment for something arises in my mind, I request Dorje Shugden, “if I am supposed to get this, please arrange it; if I am not supposed to get this, please sabotage it.”  Then, whatever happens, I know Dorje Shugden will arrange what is “best.”  So I no longer need to worry if I get it or not, I know the best will happen.  If aversion arises in my mind, I request Dorje Shugden, “with respect to X, please arrange whatever is best.”  If the external problem goes away, then I know it was an obstacle.  If the external problem remains (or even intensifies), then I know this challenge is exactly what I need to take the next step on my spiritual journey.  So I can accept it patiently.  If ignorance arises in my mind about something, I request the Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden, “please bless my mind with the wisdom that understands this situation correctly and knows how to respond.”  If my request is made with faith and a good heart, it is certain blessings will eventually come (perhaps after a little purification and a sufficient amount of time for the situation to ripen enough that the lesson is ready to be learned).  I would say I resolve about 95% of my delusions with my reliance on Dorje Shugden.  But each practitioner is different, so they need to find what works for them.

Once we gain deep experience of a couple of all-purpose Dharma tools, we can then begin to deepen our experience of the more specialized tools.  Eventually, we will become a skilled spiritual doctor with the power to heal our own and others mental continuum with the medicine of Dharma.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t neglect to purify your negative karma

(5.97) Within the limitless practices
Taught as the Bodhisattva’s way of life,
I should start by emphasizing
These practices that train the mind.

Examining and improving our behavior, learning new skills and so on, are very important if we are to follow the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, but the most important practice is training the mind.  Success in all of our Bodhisattva activities depends so much on the moral discipline that we keep in our heart, which is essentially an intention, a virtuous determination to become a Bodhisattva by abandoning all faults.

Shantideva finishes this chapter with 10 final verses on the most important things we should focus on with our practice of guarding alertness.

(5.98) I should practise the Sutra of the Three Heaps
Three times each day and three times each night,
And, with reliance on the Three Jewels and bodhichitta,
Purify non-virtues and downfalls.

It is not enough to simply from this time forth renounce non-virtue and embark upon a path of virtue.  We have made a terrible karmic mess and we can’t exactly leave it behind hoping that it will somehow clean itself up.  We wouldn’t go into somebody’s house or a public park and make a big mess and then just leave all our trash lying around.  We need to clean up the mess we have made, and we accomplish this through purification.

The hard truth is this:  either we purify our negative karma or we will have to experience its effects.  There is no third possibility.  It’s better to purify.  The reason why we don’t is either we can’t admit we have engaged in countless non-virtuous actions or we don’t really believe in the laws of karma.  Those who suffer from pride, and especially those who suffer from good external conditions such as great wealth and so forth, have tremendous difficulty admitting their mistakes and wrong actions.  Somehow everything they do is always justified and it is everybody else who is wrong.  They are literally incapable of seeing their faults, so it is impossible for them to generate regret.  To overcome this, we should recall emptiness.  Every person we see and every situation they are experiencing is both autobiography and prophecy.  It is autobiography in that we have all experienced the exact same troubles in the past and we reacted exactly as they are – with more delusion and negativity.  It is also prophecy in that if it is appearing to our mind it is arising from our own karma.  Their suffering is essentially a warning to us of what is to come if we do not purify – it is just a question of time.

Likewise, it is essentially a given that whatever faults we see in others are actually those within ourselves that we have repressed and are blind to.  When we repress our delusions and faults, they don’t disappear, rather we begin to start “seeing them” in all those around us.  They basically become re-directed and wrongly projected onto others.  Understanding this, every time we see the faults of somebody else we should remind ourselves we are looking in the mirror.  We should then apply effort to identify how we have these same faults within ourselves.  We can request special blessings that it be revealed to us how we ourselves are making the same mistakes we see in others.

To overcome our lack of faith in the laws of karma we can consider three things.  First, there is not a single thing in this universe that does not have a cause.  The laws of physics, for example, are absolute.  It seems highly unlikely (indeed logically impossible) that everything would have a cause except our own experiences.   Second, we can consider emptiness.  Imagine a bowl of completely still water.  Now imagine you begin repeatedly tapping your finger in the water.  What will happen?  Pretty soon, the entire bowl will be filled with all sorts of intersecting waves bouncing off of one another in a variety of different waves.  Eventually, mathematically, all of those waves must pass at some point back through their point or origin.  In the same way, emptiness explains that every object is like a wave arising on the ocean of our mind.  If we begin disturbing the waters of our mind with the tapping of our contaminated actions, it will generate all sorts of different karmic waves bouncing off of one another in a variety of different ways (samsara and the beings within it).  Not only will eventually all of these waves pass back through their point of origin, they all have never been outside of the bowl of our mind.  Third, we can rely upon faith.  Every other subject of Dharma can be verified through logical reasoning and our own experience.  When we put all of the other instructions into practice, they are found to be true and reliable.  If the Buddhas are right about everything else, and everything else they teach itself depends upon the workings of karma, then it stands to reason that they are also right about karma.  I don’t know how the engine in my car works, but when I see my car move I know that the engine does indeed work.

Our motivation for engaging in purification determines the extent of the negative karma we purify.  If we engage in purification to avoid experiencing misfortune in this life, then we will purify only the most shallow layers of the negative karma we have accumulated in this life.  If we engage in purification simply in order to avoid lower rebirth ourselves in the future, it will be slow going but we will eventually accomplish our goal.  If we engage in purification practice so that we may become a Buddha with the power to free all beings, we will quickly purify all of our negative karma because the power of our purification practices will be multiplied by the number of beings upon whose behalf we engage in the practice.

To actually engage in purification, it suffices to generate regret understanding what misery awaits us if we do not purify, and then engage in any virtuous action as an opponent to our past non-virtue.  The reason why this works is the same reason as why -1 + 1 = 0.  A negative action is neutralized by a positive action aimed at it (which regret accomplishes for us)The practice of the Three Superior Heaps is a special practice of purification conjoined with reliance upon the 35 Confession Buddhas.  By prostrating to the 35 Confession Buddhas with faith, we open our mind to receive their special blessings which function to purify, our neutralize, the negative karma on our mind.  Each of the Confession Buddhas “specializes” in the purification of a particular type of negative karma, but taken as group their special blessings function to purify all of our negative karma.  A commentary to this practice can be found in the book, The Bodhisattva Vow.

Finally, we need to employ the power of promise to avoid non-virtue in the future.  Each day we must on one hand renew or strengthen our vows by renewing them before the field of merit, and also purify.  It is helpful to read every day the little booklet Geshe-la has given us of the vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism.  Over about a 2 year period, I did an extensive series of posts going through each of the vows and commitments and how we can practice them in our modern daily lives.  You can find these by clicking on the link to the series, “Vows, commitments and modern life.”  At least we can remind ourselves of them and generate a strong intention to keep them as well as we can.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The Yogas of Sleeping and Rising according to Sutra

(5.96) To sleep, I should lie in the appropriate position –
Just as Protector Buddha lay when he entered paranirvana –
And before falling asleep, with alertness,
Make a definite decision to rise quickly.

I tend to think of sleep as nourishment for the subtle mind.  We all know our body needs nourishment to remain healthy.  If we have been meditating for some time, we also realize that our gross mind also needs a healthy diet of virtue to maintain its vitality.  In the same way, sleep is how we nourish our subtle mind.  When we fall asleep, our gross winds and minds dissolve and our subtle mind becomes manifest.  Sometimes we have awareness of this, remembering our dream, but most of the time we have little to no memory of what happened while we slept.  Unless we are an accomplished completion stage meditator, the only time our gross winds and minds dissolve in this way is when we sleep (or when we die).

If we fail to get adequate sleep, everything quickly unravels.  We become more irritable and our body is more likely to become sick.  Why is this?  Because our gross minds arise out of our subtle mind, and our body arises out of our gross minds.  If our subtle body is not given a chance to rejuvenate itself, the gross minds and gross body which emerge will likewise reflect the underlying imbalance within our subtle mind.  So the first and most important thing to know about sleep is we need to get enough of it!  For most people, this will be between 6-9 hours of sleep, with most people being fully functional with an average of 7-8 hours of sleep.  We all know the stories of the great yogis who can get by with little or not sleep, but then again we are not great yogis so that is certainly no reason for us to not making getting adequate sleep a priority.  But we shouldn’t go to the other extreme and get too much sleep, because then we become groggy and lethargic.

When we go to sleep, we are advised to sleep on our right side, with our right hand underneath our pillow under our head.  Our left hand should be resting comfortably along the side of our body.  Our legs are generally together, but it is normal to have some slight displacement so the knees and ankles aren’t hurting one another.  There are many reasons for falling asleep this way.  First, it is a stable position that doesn’t strain any part of our body.  Second, the acids in our stomach will stay there since the opening of our stomach to our esophagus will be facing up.  Third, our inner winds circulate much easier compared to having our face buried in our pillow or snoring like a mad man on our back.  Fourth, sleeping in this way is conducive to better mindfulness both as we fall asleep and during sleep itself, enabling us to better bring our practices into our sleep.

Before we fall asleep, we should do two things.  First, we should resolve to get up when it is time to wake up.  For those who have to work, this seems an obvious necessity but the point is much deeper.  When we normally wake up, our only desire is usually to go back to bed.  Once we start giving into this tendency, it quickly becomes a habit.  Then, to avoid being late for work, we need to set the alarm even earlier.  But this means we are getting less quality sleep.  Additionally, wanting to fall back asleep when it is time to wake up quite simple makes us suffer more.  Our suffering, quite simply, comes from not accepting reality as it is.  The reality is it is time to wake up.  Not wanting to wake up doesn’t change that fact, it just makes us suffer more when we have to force ourselves out of bed.  If instead, we resolve the night before, that we will quickly rise we blast through this daily pain and get to the other side of it.  We might even become one of those people who doesn’t need to become addicted to coffee to get up in the morning.  Finally, there is a close relationship between disciplining ourselves to come out of the sleep minds and maintaining good concentration during meditation.  When we meditate, our mind naturally becomes more subtle.  Normally, the only time our subtle minds become manifest is when we sleep, which is why we are so prone to falling asleep while meditating.  If we develop the strength of mind to arise from the mind of sleep every morning, then we will have greater ability to do so while we are meditating.

The second thing we need to do as we fall asleep is choose to mix our mind with some object of virtue.  The reason for this is both simple and instructive.  The last mind we have as we fall asleep determines the general trajectory of the minds we will have as we sleep and dream.  If we fall asleep with an agitated mind, our sleep will be fitful and our dreams troubled.  If we fall asleep with a calm and peaceful mind, we will sleep well and our dreams will generally be pleasant.  Tantric practitioners are taught to fall asleep in the lap of their guru, or as the self-generation or even while remaining absorbed in clear light emptiness.  We can also fall asleep meditating on love, compassion, or even mounting taking and giving upon the breath.  We can fall asleep believing that we are going to die in the night and generate a strong wish to wake up in the pure land so that we may complete our training.

Most of all, I would say we should try fall asleep with a mind of faith, strongly believing you are in the living presence of your guru.  In all the great religions, it is said if we remember holy beings at the time of our death with a mind of faith, they will bless our minds taking us to a fortunate rebirth.  Faith is a naturally virtuous mind, and wherever faith meets a good heart, blessings spontaneously flow.  All of our Dharma training has, in the final analysis, one purpose:  preparing our mind for the time of death.  If we practice training how to die every night, when the actual time of our death comes we will know what to do.  Because we have spent every night for the last 20, 30, or even 60 years with our holy Spiritual Guide, we will have a very close and personal relationship with him and it is certain we will feel his presence when we need it most at the time of death.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Observe cultural norms, be respectful

(5.93) I should not sit alone with another’s partner
In a vehicle, on a bed, or in the same room.
I should observe and enquire about what offends people
And then avoid such actions.

Of course in and of itself, sitting alone with another’s partner is not problematic.  It all depends upon the context, the nexus of relationships and frankly the degree of attachment present in the minds of the people involved.  We basically need to be honest about the situations we find ourselves in.  Is there attachment in our mind towards the other person?  Is there attachment in their mind towards us?  If so, be careful.

In modern society, men and woman can sit alone in a wide variety of contexts and it means nothing more than two men or two women sitting in that room.  The point is we need to be cognizant of cultural norms and personal sensitivities and we should make sure our actions don’t fall outside of acceptable norms.  If our actions are likely to offend or provoke delusions in others, we should not engage in them unless we have a good overriding reason for doing so.

With that being said, there are overriding reasons for sometimes offending people’s sensitivities, namely if doing so challenges deluded prejudice.  Interracial marriage was a big deal before, now no one gives it a second thought.  Soon it will be the same will be with marriage between same-sex couples.  Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ghandi and the other civil right leaders of our time all made those who clinged to their privilege as some intrinsic right quite uncomfortable – indeed they were offended – but this was the right thing to do.  We see the same thing in religious institutions, such as female priests or lay, western Spiritual Guides.  In short, it is perfectly appropriate to push against the norms of society if those norms themselves are grounded only in delusion.

(5.94) To show someone the way,
I should not point with just one finger
But respectfully use my right hand
With all the fingers extended.

Perhaps this was a thing in Shantideva’s time, nowadays I don’t think people really care.  Even now, I think we can say it does come across as bit rude when we point and less so when we use our whole hand.  But the point is this:  society has certain norms of proper and improper etiquette.  As a general rule, unless we have a good reason, we should err on the side of being too respectful and proper instead of too casual and potentially rude.

(5.95) I should not wave my arms around in an uncontrolled manner,
But communicate with slight movements
And appropriate gestures;
Otherwise, I shall lose my composure.

Of course there are many societies where it is perfectly normal for people to wave their arms around all they want – think Italy!  Most other places, not so much.

Gen-la Losang tells a funny story of one time he took a plane with Geshe-la from the UK to America.  Up until that time, Losang had only really seen Geshe-la in the UK, and in the UK, Geshe-la is always the perfect English gentlemen – calm, reserved, composed, keeping a proper distance and sipping his tea.  This is who Losang thought Geshe-la was.  When they were seen off at the airport, there were many people around, and Geshe-la acted entirely properly.  When they got off the plane in America, once again there were of course a lot of people there to greet him, and much to Losang’s surprise Geshe-la became all gregarious and went around hugging everybody like they were best friends.  This was the American Geshe-la!  There is likewise a video of Geshe-la touring the Brazilian temple, and if one thought the American Geshe-la was affectionate and vivacious, you should see the Brazilian Geshe-la!

The point, again, is we need to act in ways that are culturally acceptable and we should remain in control of our actions.  This doesn’t mean we need to be reserved and hold ourselves back, rather it means we should be mindful that our behavior makes people happy.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being mindful of your impact on the world around you

(5.91) I should keep places clean and not throw litter
But dispose of it correctly.
Moreover, I should not defile
Water or land used by others.

“Out of sight, out of mind, right?”  Well, no.  Nothing is out of mind.  Most of the inconsiderate acts of others stem from not thinking (or not caring) about the impact our actions have on the world around us.  This can take many forms, but here Shantideva focuses on the rather obvious “don’t make a mess that others have to clean up or suffer from.”

At its most basic form, this means we need to always make a point of cleaning up after ourselves.  At home, we shouldn’t leave our mess around for the simple reason that other people live with us and don’t want to have to see and/or climb over our mess.  Sometimes we just forget to clean up our mess, but then we also tend to forget to thank those who cleaned up our mess for us.  Other times we cynically leave our mess, knowing that others will come along and do the job for us.  When we are at other people’s houses, we should take our own plate to the kitchen and clean up whatever mess we might make.  If we damage the property of others, we should replace it not try childishly hide or deny our responsibility.

At work, we need to clean up our desk and our surroundings.  Nobody wants to see our mess and it erodes the professionalism of the entire office.  If we leave for another office, please clean up the food and coffee stains left on the keyboard so the next person doesn’t have to break out the sanitizer.  We should put our trash in the bin, not leave the photocopy machine or printer jammed and broken without doing what it takes to get it fixed, and of course we should keep ourselves and our clothes clean so others don’t have to smell us.

In our Dharma centers, we should make a point of cleaning the gompa, shrine and common areas.  These places don’t belong to us, they belong to all living beings.  Leaving our mess in these places creates the karma of leaving our mess in the living room of all living beings.  Some people think the most important job in the Dharma center is the Resident Teacher, Admin Director or Education Program Coordinator.  I would say it is the person who quietly cleans the toilets.  If we live in a Dharma center, we should keep our own room clean as well.  We might think it is not a public area, but our own private quarters.  Sorry, the Buddhas are our roommates and occasionally people will walk by our open door shocked at what they see within.

It goes without saying we shouldn’t be the person who throws their cigarettes or trash out their car window, or spit our gum out where someone might step on it.  If we have a dog, please use a doggie bag.  If we have young children, don’t leave poop diapers lying around on top of trash bins for all to see – no one wants to see that.  Don’t change your children on top of public tables where people eat.

At a broader level, Shantideva is encouraging us to be environmentally conscious.  All forms of pollution are us imposing the negative consequences of our choices on others.  Global warming is the inevitable result of our collective inconsideration of others.  Our industrial and consumer society that can’t accept anything warmer or colder than room temperature has a cost to it:  sea level rise, species destruction, drought, famine, environmental refugees and civil war.  Most of the developed world doesn’t see much pollution anymore, but that is only because production has shifted to China where 1.3 billion people live in an omni-present cloud of smoke, affectionately called, “living under the dome.”  Chinese children are choking on the smoke of our consumerism.  Hundreds of millions of some of the world’s most vulnerable people live on coastal areas that, if we don’t start thinking about others, will be flooded.  What do we care, not our problem, right?

In the end, it is not enough to just clean up after ourselves, we should also make a point of cleaning up after those who fail to clean up after themselves.  Yeah, they should be doing it and if our doing it will obstruct them from assuming responsibility for themselves, then, yes, we should leave their mess.  But most of the time that is not the case.  Just clean it up, even if you aren’t the one who made the mess.

(5.92) I should not eat with my mouth full,
Noisily, or with my mouth open.
I should not sit with my legs outstretched,
Nor rub my hands together meaninglessly.

I don’t think this requires any commentary.  The point is don’t act in disruptive, inconsiderate or culturally inappropriate ways.  With moral discipline, we are trying to create beauty.  Not just a beautiful mind, but behavior that others find beautiful.  A lot of our actions are still quite rough. We should try to become more graceful, elegant, noble even with our actions.  This doesn’t mean we should become uptight, but it does mean we should generally try be the most considerate person in every room we enter.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to teach Dharma

(5.89) I should teach the vast and profound Dharma with a pure intention,
Free from any wish to acquire wealth or reputation;
And I should always maintain a pure motivation of bodhichitta
And make great effort to put Dharma into practice.

The Dharma we teach is the vast and profound Dharma.  The vast path principally teaches how to strengthen the mind with which we meditate, such as developing a motivation of bodhichitta, tranquil abiding or the mind of great bliss.  The profound path principally teaches which objects of mind we should meditate on, such as the existence of past and future lives, the laws of karma, the twelve dependent-related links, and most importantly the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Our motivation for teaching should be pure, free from worldly concerns.  Pure in this context means primarily concerned with the interests of future lives.  Impure means primarily concerned with interests of this life.  It is very easy to have impure motivations for teaching, such as pride thinking we are better than our students, attachment to our own views trying to convince others to adopt them, craving praise and respect from those listening, a power rush thinking your actions are echoing in eternity.  We might be attached to our students coming back next week, or we might be trying to subtly manipulate them into doing more work for the center to fulfill our wish for the center to flourish.  Some pursue the celebrity of it all, others feel the correct place for others is bowing down at our feet.  Some quest for higher position, others struggle for acceptance.  Some are out to prove others wrong, others teach to uphold an inner fiction of being better than we are.  There is not a single delusion that cannot find its way into our motivation for teaching, and we need to be on the lookout for all of them.

The correct motivation for teaching should be bodhichitta.  Bodhichitta is the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of others.  As with all things, Shantideva points the way.  At the beginning of his Guide, he stated his motivation for writing it was to clarify his own thinking and to familiarize his own mind with the Dharma, and if others receive benefit as well, all the better.  We should adopt a similar attitude while teaching.  We do not presume to think we are anybody special, nor that what we are explaining is definitive or correct.  When we have to put something into writing, we are forced to clarify our thoughts.  The same is true when we prepare a teaching.  Every teacher of any subject agrees, they only really start to understand the subject matter once they begin to teach it.  We consolidate our own thinking on the subject and then we share our understanding in the hopes it might be helpful to others.  We try give the best teachings we can because we want to create the causes to receive qualified teachings ourselves in future lives.  We know ultimately that we are responsible for all the people in the room, but we are keenly aware we are vastly unprepared for the task, so we view all things through the long-term perspective of becoming a Buddha so that then we might be of some assistance.  We are grateful to our students for showing up and giving us the opportunity to share what we have learned, but we have no expectation or need whatsoever that those listening take on board what we have to say.  We set out the best buffet of Dharma we can, but we leave others free to take or leave whatever they wish.

Above all, we should make effort to put the Dharma into practice.  Kadam Lucy once told me a story where she was meeting with Geshe-la and said, “I know that my main job is to help the center and teach Dharma, but …” she was leading up to asking him about doing retreat; and he then interrupted to say “No, your main job is to practice Dharma.  Everything else flows naturally from this.”  Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that it is the personal experience of the teacher that make the teachings powerful for the students.  When somebody is speaking from personal experience, it naturally moves the minds of the listeners far more than if the person if speaking purely from intellectual understanding – even if the exact same words are used.  The inner explanation of this is lineage blessings only flow through personal experience, the outer explanation for this is people are not stupid – they can tell if somebody knows what they are talking about.

(5.90) I should explain Dharma to release those who are listening
From samsara, the cycle of suffering,
And to lead them to the ultimate goal –
The attainment of full enlightenment.

This is our main intention in teaching Dharma – to lead others out of samsara.  So we need a lot of skill in introducing them and leading them to nirvana. Dharma must be presented in a way that the people of our area will find appealing. They need to be able to connect with it.  We need great confidence in the Dharma as it is presented by Geshe-la, but also we need confidence in presenting that Dharma ourselves.  Geshe-la is empowering us to do this.  He receives a lot of criticism from other traditions for putting inexperienced people on the throne and giving them license to teach.  But such criticism misses the point entirely – modern people learn by doing.  We are not pretending to be great yogis, just simple practitioners bumbling along like everyone else, sharing our experience in the hopes others might learn from our mistakes.  Geshe-la says it is very important we have teachers from many different backgrounds so that we can appropriately present the Dharma to many different types of people.  Asking us fools to teach Dharma is one of Geshe-la’s great deeds. One of the most beneficial actions he has performed in this world.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to listen to Dharma

(5.88) I should listen to Dharma
With respect and a good heart,
Recognizing it as the supreme medicine
For curing the pains of anger and attachment.

The best way of helping others is by teaching them Dharma. The best teacher is the best listener.  Knowing how to listen to the Dharma not only helps us gain the most from the teachings we attend, but it also creates the causes for our students to listen correctly to us, thereby making our teachings more beneficial.

Listening to Dharma is different than listening to music on our iPod.  Reading Dharma is different than reading the newspaper.  From our side, we need to create certain causes and conditions within our mind to be able to receive the teachings in a way that moves our mind the most.  Listening with a mind of faith is clearly different than listening with a skeptical mind.  If we listen correctly, even if our teacher is teaching to a vast audience of thousands, it will feel as if the teaching was personalized just for us.

First we should have a mind of respect for the teacher.  To have respect means “we look up to” somebody with admiration and we naturally seek to “fulfill their wishes.”  At a minimum, this means we should abandon any inappropriate attention on any perceived faults.  Sometimes we have had a bad experience with our teacher in the past, and subsequently we receive no benefit from their teachings because all we can see is their past mistake.  Our teachers don’t have to be perfect to give us useful teachings.  We can realize our teacher has many good qualities and their giving Dharma teachings is coming from a good place in their heart.  When we respect somebody, we naturally seek to fulfill their wishes.  What does our teacher wish for us?  That we learn how to be happy all of the time, and then help others do the same.  A good teacher has no wish other than this.  To help cultivate our respect, we should imagine that the living Lama Tsongkhapa enters into the heart of our teacher, and through the conduit of our teacher gives the teachings.  We may not have full respect for our teacher, but there is no reason why we can’t have full respect for Lama Tsongkhapa.

To listen with a good heart means our motivation for receiving the teaching is spiritual.  People attend Dharma teachings for all sorts of strange reasons, but if we want to get the most out of them we should strive to cultivate a spiritual motivation.  At a minimum, we can recall that we have two types of problems, outer and inner.  Dharma teachings can’t explain to us how to solve our outer problems, our normal studies in school and life teach us that; rather Dharma teachings explain to us how to resolve our inner problem of delusions and negative karma.  If we are confused about the distinction between these two types of problems, thinking our inner problem is our outer problem, then Dharma teachings will seem to have little value.  But if are clear on this distinction, we will grasp their purpose.  Ideally, we should have a “pure” motivation.  A pure motivation is one that transcends the concerns of this life alone.  This life is short and its duration is uncertain, but our future lives are long and their duration is endless.  The real purpose of Dharma is to provide us protection in all our future lives – protection from falling into the lower realms, protection from another rebirth in samsara and protection from becoming stuck in solitary peace and not pushing through to full enlightenment.  A sincere and sustained practice of Lamrim will help us improve our motivation, making it increasingly spiritual and increasingly pure.

Finally, we should regard the Dharma teaching as personal advice for curing our inner sickness of delusions.  If we are not aware we have cancer, explanations of cancer treatments are of little interest.  But when we realize our life depends on the explanations because we do have cancer, we listen with a clear intention to put into practice whatever is explained.  When we come to a Dharma teaching, we should “bring our problem with us.”  On any given day, something is bothering us one way or another.  We should bring that problem, no matter how big nor how small, to the teaching, and view the teaching as exactly the personal instructions we need for overcoming this particular problem.

How can it be that our teacher can be giving instructions to many yet it still be personal advice?  The answer is blessings.  When we have respect, a good motivation and view the instructions as personal advice for the sickness within our mind, we will receive special blessings that enable us to understand the teachings we are receiving as they relate to our inner problem.  If others are doing the same with respect to their inner problems, they too will receive their special blessings and the teachings will likewise be personal advice for them – just in a different way.  Ultimately, we have no problems other than the ones our delusions mentally create for us.  All Dharma functions to oppose delusions, and every instruction of Dharma understood correctly has the power to oppose any delusion.