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.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are all going to hell (unless we reverse course)

(7.8) With some things not yet started
And others half-finished,
The Lord of Death will suddenly strike
And I shall think, “Oh no, this is the end for me!”

(7.9) When I become a victim of the Lord of Death,
My relatives – their eyes red and swollen with sorrow
And their faces flushed with tears –
Will finally give up hope.

(7.10) Tormented by memories of my previous non-virtues
And hearing the sounds of impending hell,
Out of terror I shall cover myself in excrement!
What shall I be able to do in such a pathetic state?

(7.11) If even in this human life I shall experience terror
Like that felt by a fish being cooked alive,
What can be said of the unbearable sufferings of hell
That I shall experience as a consequence of my non-virtuous actions?

(7.12) As a result of the non-virtues I have committed,
I shall be reborn in the hot hells
Where my tender, young flesh will be scalded by hot, molten metals;
So how can I remain at ease under the control of laziness?

(7.13) I wish for higher attainments without having to make any effort,
Permanent freedom without having patiently to endure any pain,
And to remain like a long-life god while living in the jaws of death.
How foolish I am! When death comes, I shall be overwhelmed by suffering!

(7.14) By depending upon this boat-like human form,
We can cross the great ocean of suffering.
Since such a vessel will be hard to find again,
This is no time to sleep, you fool!

When we read such verses, we need to make them personal.  These things will happen to me.  It is guaranteed I will experience such suffering if I don’t purify and I don’t get out of samsara.  Such immense suffering inevitably and inescapably awaits us, yet we’re not prepared to give up our attachment to pleasure and to a comfortable life.  We agree that spiritual attainments, freedom, long life, and so forth would be great, wonderful! But in reality, we want these things as long as we do not have to put any effort in to get them. 

This is primarily due to our attachment to worldly concerns.  Why can we not even be bothered to even try to abandon this laziness of indolence?  When we think of the suffering that lies ahead of us. And if we think of the extraordinary happiness that could lie ahead of us, why do we not want to abandon this laziness of indolence?  We need to ask ourselves these questions and actually come up with answers – why exactly do we still do almost nothing?

The truth of our spiritual life is it is now or never. With the conditions we have now, we can achieve all the higher attainments, we can achieve permanent freedom, we can make it to the pure land.  We can achieve all these things with the conditions that we have.  We lack nothing.  Wo why do we allow this reluctance or resistance to practice to remain in our mind?  Why instead can we not see our laziness as one of our very worst enemies? This inner demon is preventing me from applying myself.  It is obstructing my joyful effort that would otherwise naturally give rise to such great results.

In this next verse, Shantideva addresses the laziness of being attracted to meaningless and non-virtuous actions.  There are many actions born of attachment that we would consider to be harmless, but they actually are by nature non-virtuous. For example, covetousness is a non-virtuous action. Idle chatter is a non-virtuous action.  Perhaps we feel these non-virtuous actions are harmless, but actually they are quite harmful because of the alternative we have.  They cause us to do nothing when we could be using our precious human life to do something.  Such meaningless and non-virtuous activities cause us to develop the habit of wasting our precious human life.  There are so many meaningless activities we distract ourselves with.  Why do we do it?

(7.15) Why do I forsake the joy of holy Dharma,
Which is a boundless source of happiness,
Just to seek pleasure in distractions and meaningless pursuits
That are only causes of suffering?

This is worth memorizing.  We have to think carefully about this.  Perhaps we feel many of our distractions or meaningless pursuits are not causes of suffering.  There are so many things that we do to distract ourselves, and we are not hurting anybody by doing them, are we?  Rather than focusing on virtue, we turn to other things for our pleasure.  We turn to the same things again and again, habitually.  This becomes a form of idle chatter.  We do not really enjoy those activities, but we also do not want to do anything virtuous, so we turn to these distractions instead. We are not actually getting much pleasure from them, but we would rather do such things than focus upon any virtuous activity.  It seems our biggest distractions are our mobile phones, the internet, and television.  How much time do we waste with these things?  This is our precious human life slipping away.  We should try spend a week without these things and we will see how much attachment we have for them.  We will also discover how much time letting go of these things frees us up to engage in virtuous activities.

This is not to say our phones, the internet, or television are inherently meaningless.  They only become meaningless if we do them with a meaningless mind.  But just because in theory they can be transformed into our spiritual practice does not mean we ourselves actually do so.  We have to be honest with ourselves.  This also does not mean we don’t sometimes need to rest.  Of course we need to rest to recharge our batteries, and sometimes doing these things is a good form of rest.  The fault lies when we do them beyond resting enough to be able to return to our spiritual practices refreshed. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Viewing our pets as our actual Yidam

The laziness in our mind is no doubt one of our biggest obstacles. It is also extremely dangerous.  Right now our Dharma karma is ripening, but if we don’t learn how to enjoy creating new good causes for ourselves, then we will eventually burn it all up and lose everything.  Usually what happens is we enter into a slow-motion drift.  We start doing less and less because we do not enjoy it anymore.  If we notice this pattern in our mind, we need to be careful.  It will not be long before we lose everything.  We will start to do the Dharma because we think ‘we should’ as opposed to ‘we want to’, and then this will lead to resentment towards the Dharma, our teaches, the center, our practices, etc., and eventually we will have the worst of both worlds – no enjoyment in samsara because we know none can be found there and no enjoyment of Dharma because we don’t pour ourself into it – we simply don’t want to do it.

(7.4) Why do we not realize that while we are caught
In the snare of delusions such as laziness,
We are trapped in the net of samsara
And held within the jaws of the Lord of Death?

(7.5) If I check carefully, I can see that the Lord of Death
Is systematically slaughtering everyone;
Yet still I am not concerned about my death,
Just like an animal unconcerned about being butchered.

(7.6) The Lord of Death is looking for his next victim
So that he can prevent him from travelling the path to liberation,
And that victim might well be me;
So how can I just indulge in worldly pleasures?

We do not realize our predicament. We are, frankly, not that different from animals.  Cats and dogs are attracted to the life of ease, aren’t they? Look at cats and dogs, they sleep so much of the time. Occasionally they get up to drink or to eat, or to go for a walk.  Once they have done so, they stretch themselves once again and go back to sleep. Such is a cat’s life – sub-consciously, there is part of us that thinks this is our ideal life.  Dogs are just the same. There is an attraction to it – an easy life. It is what we want.  We want a comfortable life. At no time does a cat or dog turn its mind to virtue.  If they had their choice, they would just relax throughout their life, oblivious to the fact that death is coming.  When they die, they then take another samsaric rebirth, probably a worse one.  How are we any different?  Of course, there is part of us that is different, but there is still part of our mind that wishes to live like our pets.  We are attached to a life of ease, unconcerned about our future.

(7.7) The time of death will come quickly,
So accumulate wisdom and merit while you can.
Do not wait until the time of death to abandon laziness,
For then it will be too late!

If we suffer from this laziness and make no effort to abandon it, then we will waste one opportunity after another.  How many opportunities do we have in one day to create virtue, to create the cause for liberation and enlightenment?  We can fill the whole of our day and make every moment of our day meaningful.  But due to laziness, we don’t.  There are so many things we can do in one day, turn to the field of merit, apply our understanding of lamrim in the circumstances we find ourselves in, recite mantras, send out emanations, accept things joyfully as purification.  All of these things we can do comfortably, joyfully. But we do not, due primarily to our laziness.  We know the methods, we just choose not to do them.

We can spend an hour, two hours, the whole morning, doing many different things, but none of them particularly meaningful. None of them leading to our attainment of liberation and enlightenment.  We can even be ‘doing’ Dharma things all day – working for the center, listening to teachings, etc. – but we are not actually practicing because we are not trying to change our mind and overcome our delusions and cultivate virtuous thoughts.  We just go through the motions out of some past momentum, but there is no new joyful effort in our mind.

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

With the mind of patience, it is as if we are in a pure land right now, while remaining in samsara.  I would say the mind if patience is a pure land.  In a pure land, there is no manifest suffering and everything functions to lead us to enlightenment.  With the mind of patience, there is no manifest suffering because we wholeheartedly welcome everything as useful.  Things may still be painful and difficult, but we do not experience these feelings as “suffering.”  These experiences are helping us attain enlightenment.  With the mind of patience, we create the pure land right here right now.

(7.2) Effort is a mind that delights in virtue.
Its opponents are the laziness of indolence,
The laziness of being attracted to non-virtuous actions,
And the laziness of discouragement.

We need to learn to distinguish clearly these three types of laziness.  We need to distinguish them clearly in our own mind. We need to know our own laziness of indolence, our own laziness of being attracted to non-virtuous actions, and our own laziness of discouragement.  We also need to identify how these forms of laziness prevent us from enjoying virtuous activity. 

(7.3) The laziness of indolence develops
When, through being attracted to worldly pleasures,
And particularly to the pleasures of sleep,
We fail to become disillusioned with the sufferings of samsara.

If we check we are all attracted to a greater or lesser extent to a life of ease.  If it requires any hardship and effort, then we’d rather not do it.  In fact, we’d rather not even think about it.  For example, setting our alarm – do we enjoy setting our alarm so we can rise early in the morning?  When we do wake up, whether it be naturally or unnaturally, are we eager to get out of bed and start our day?  It seems this is a metaphor for our samsaric life.  Just as we’d rather stay in bed, so too it seems we’d rather not bother doing what it takes to get out of samsara.

We have to be careful that we don’t simply enjoy our present conditions and use up our merit.  There was a teacher once who was simply enjoying his conditions, Ven Geshe-la said he used up his merit and lost everything.  It seems as if the goal of worldly life is to burn up as much merit as we can – to get as much worldly enjoyment out of this life as we can.  In personal finance, there is a rule ‘never consume your capital’.  If you do, then you have nothing at the end.  Instead, you invest it and then can consume the interest that is kicked off.  As Bodhisattva’s, we never consume, we always invest.  When our merit ripens, we reinvest it in the accomplishment of our spiritual goals.  In this way, we always increase our merit.

We live our life constantly with the thought, ‘I really must do …, but …’  This thought is all pervasive in our mind.  We say we really must do or Heart Jewel and Lamrim, we really must do our Dakini Yoga, we really must study for FP, we really must do some task for the center, we really must deal with the things that have been dragging on in our life.  But we always give in to the ‘but.’  We do other things, and never do what we have to do.  These things drag on, pile up, and overwhelm us.  The problem with this strategy is we have limited time.  In our ordinary activities, there are generally deadlines by which we have to get things done.  But for our spiritual practice, there is a real ‘dead’line that we can’t be late for – our death.  If we allow this habit of ‘I really must, but’ to remain in our mind, it is guaranteed that we will waste our precious human life and when we arrive at our death, we will be filled with regret. 

Why do we do this?  There is a very simple reason – we don’t want to do what is spiritually required of us.  There is resistance in our mind.  There is no real enjoyment at the prospect of engaging in our spiritual practice, there is no enthusiasm.  When we do engage in that virtuous action, we are often not delighting in it.  There is often no joyful effort in our mind.  Sometimes we feel we simply cannot be bothered, don’t we?  We can’t be bothered to pick up a book and study or do our practice.  Because we are too attached to doing nothing or to indulging in our worldly enjoyments.  At other times, we can even feel more strongly that we actually don’t want to engage in virtue.  We think and arrive at a conclusion, “In fact, I’m not going to. I’m not going to.” Such is the strength of our resistance, the strength of our laziness, actually.  We need to know the various types of resistance or reluctance that comes up in our mind and how to overcome it.  If we do not do this, it is guaranteed we will never make progress on the spiritual path, and we will never get out of our samsara. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: If you’re not enjoying yourself, you have no effort

The success of our spiritual training depends upon effort. Effort is not, as we will see, just engaging in the training itself but the enjoyment of it, delighting in it, even.  If we are delighting in it then we will maintain an enthusiasm for it, and we will always look forward then to opportunities to train in formal and informal ways.  We will come to enjoy formal training, such as studying, meditating, teaching, doing puja, and so forth. We look forward to such opportunities.  But we will also appreciate too any opportunities that arise during our daily activities to train. For example, we can appreciate the opportunity to train in being of service to others, showing a good example to others, and so forth. In general, our main job is to bring lamrim into our daily life. With effort, we’ll happily take every opportunity to do so.

We know too well that when we go to practice – whether it is our daily meditations, attending classes or pujas, going to festivals, or even just looking at our daily life through a lens of Dharma – we sometimes meet with resistance in our mind.  Sometimes we have obstacles and sometimes we just don’t want to do Dharma things.  Over these next verses, we will be looking at the obstacle of laziness that prevents us from joyfully putting effort into our training.  

The old Kadampas used to say that our main job is to help others as much as possible and harm our delusions as much as possible.  Shantideva’s Guide is our primary manual for how to do so.  He is ruthless with our delusions.  If we are not careful to differentiate between ourselves and our delusions, we can feel like Shantideva is attacking us or judging us.  In reality, he is trying to free us from the tyranny of our delusions.  In the last chapter, he trashed our anger.  In this chapter, he eviscerates our laziness.  Just wait until Chapter 8, when he takes on our attachment – especially our sexual attachment!  It is important that it feels like our delusions are being bashed, not us.   It is hard to feel joy in our practice if it is an exercise in self-flagellation.  Over the next several posts we will discuss this obstacle of laziness that we have in our mind that is opposing our efforts. And we will as well discuss the four powers that we can use to strengthen and increase our effort.

(7.1) With the practice of patience I should train in effort
Because the fruit of enlightenment depends upon it.
Just as a candle flame cannot move without wind,
So the collections of wisdom and merit cannot grow without effort.

It is important to further explore the link between patience and effort.  Patience gives us freedom to enjoy ourselves.  We will see through our practice of patience that we can enjoy ourselves even whilst in samsara. How does patience then give us such freedom?  At present there is an imbalance in our mind. Mainly our attachment on one hand, and aversion, anger, hatred on the other. A severe imbalance. We know the stronger the one, the stronger the other.  If we weaken our aversion, anger, hatred, and so forth, through the practice of patient acceptance, it will weaken our self-cherishing and self-grasping.   Without a doubt, this will make our mind a lot more peaceful.  And the more peaceful we are feeling, the more we are able to enjoy what we are doing.  In this way, patient acceptance gives us freedom to enjoy.

When things are difficult for us, we generally cannot enjoy ourselves.  All day long, we face one difficult situation after another.   We must be careful because we can be pushing things away all day long. From when the alarm goes off in the morning until we go to bed at night, we are pushing away things that we don’t like.  This prevents our enjoyment.  We end our day feeling that we haven’t enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole of that day. We feel difficulties come along and they end our enjoyment. They bring our enjoyment to an end. There are difficulties. Why?

We can ask ourselves now. Why is our enjoyment either prevented or stopped?  It is because we are not accepting difficulties with a patient mind.  What is definite is without acceptance, there can be no enjoyment. Without such acceptance, how can there be any enjoyment? It is only when we accept, when we have a patient acceptance that we can then enjoy or continue to enjoy.

With acceptance we can enjoy whatever happens or comes our way.  Normally if we are enjoying ourselves doing what we wish and somebody comes to us with a problem or with something for us to do, we think, “oh no.”  There is a mind of rejection.  Now, if we were to welcome the person with a problem, without any resistance, then we can maintain the peaceful, happy mind that we had whilst we were enjoying ourself. Now we can enjoy being with and helping others.  That is patience.  What we need to understand is patience gives us the freedom to enjoy ourselves, whatever we may be doing.

We reject things because we don’t know how to use them to accomplish our goals.  We easily accept things that we do know how to use to accomplish our goals.  Because our goals are presently largely worldly, there are some things we can use and some things we need to push away.  If our goals our primarily spiritual, where we genuinely want to train our mind to become a Buddha, then we can use everything.  Because we can use everything, we can accept everything with a peaceful mind.  Because we can accept everything with a peaceful mind, we can enjoy everything, all day long, without break. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Without patience, there is no effort

Before we dive in to the actual verses on the perfection of effort, I want to first say a few words about the relationship between the perfection of patience and the perfection of effort.  All of the six perfections mutually reinforce one another – strengthening our experience and realization of one makes all of the others easier.  Likewise, we can say that the earlier perfections are the foundation for the later perfections, for example giving is the foundation of moral discipline because giving counters our attachment, the principle cause of our non-virtue.  In the same way, patience is the foundation of effort. 

How can we understand this?  Patience is a mind that is able to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, including adverse conditions or unpleasant feelings.  It can do this because it knows how to transform whatever arises – the good, the bad, and the ugly – into spiritual fuel.  Effort is taking delight in engaging in virtue.  It does not mean working hard, gritting our teeth and grinding on, it means genuinely enjoying ourselves as we travel the spiritual path.  The Kadampa path is called the “Joyful” path, and the joyful here comes from our joyful effort.  We cannot “enjoy” things we are pushing away with aversion, we are pushing them away precisely because we don’t enjoy them.  Since we encounter unpleasant things all of the time, if we are encountering them with an unhappy mind, we necessarily do not have joyful effort, even if it seems we are “practicing” Dharma in response to what is arising.  So at least half of our time is not “joyful.” 

But as we saw in our discussion of the last chapter, we need the mind of patience acceptance to also spiritually transform so-called pleasant experiences, such as wealth, happiness, praise, and a good reputation.  Normally, our attachment hijacks these experiences and transforms them into “enjoying samsara” not “enjoying our spiritual practice.”  There are many people who think the mind of renunciation is a tight, unhappy mind that deprives itself of joy.  After all, aren’t we renouncing samsara’s pleasures?  Without the mind of patient acceptance, we do not know how to wholeheartedly welcome pleasant conditions with a spiritual mind.  We just welcome them with our ordinary mind of attachment.  Further, when good things happen, we normally show no interest in spiritual practice.  We are happy to enjoy our pleasant life, and only feel the need to practice when samsara shows its ugly head.  

But effort is not just joyful, it is also energy that powers our practice forward – in other words, it is fuel.  The wisdom of the perfection of patience knows how to transform everything into spiritual fuel, and this fuel in turn powers our practice forward with effort.  We need to differentiate effort in our Dharma practice into two types:  impure and pure.  Impure effort is effort we put into our Dharma practice for the sake of this life and pure effort is for the sake of our own or other’s future lives.  Pure effort and spiritual effort are synonymous, because they concern things beyond this life.  Pure effort itself has three levels – effort aimed at escaping lower rebirth, effort aimed at escaping samsara, and effort aimed at becoming a Buddha to liberate all beings from samsara. 

All three of these types of pure effort depend upon patience.  Many people deny the existence of lower realms and many people live in denial about all of the unpurified negative karma that remains on our mind.  To patiently accept also means to mentally be at peace with the truth of Dharma.  When we don’t know how to process facts such as lower rebirth, we tend to push such teachings away.  But we need to embrace the horror of what they imply before we will feel a burning energy to do something about it.  Likewise, patience is the foundation of renunciation.  As long as we push away samara’s sufferings and chase after its pleasures, our real motivation is to find a comfortable place within samsara, not escape it.  The wisdom of patient acceptance accepts the truth of samsaric existence and it is able to transform all of its experiences into spiritual fuel propelling our practice.  Others still become very attached to those they love not suffering, and when they go down, we go down with them.  We alternate between the extremes of indifference to others suffering or being crushed and discouraged by it.  Just as we need to accept the truth of our own suffering before we will generate renunciation, so too we need to accept the truth of others’ suffering before we will be compelled to seek to become a Buddha to do something about it. 

For all of these reasons, we can see clearly without patience, then, we have no effort.