Cultivating a true self-confidence: Adopting a winning strategy for overcoming our faults, continued

In the last post we outlined the first three steps of the strategy for overcoming our faults.  In this post, I will explain the last five steps:

Step 4:  Avoid the extremes of repression and expression by learning to accept and overcome.  One extreme is repressing our delusions.  This is when you pretend, or try to pretend, that you don’t have a delusion (you are really mad or really attached, but deny it).  This just pushes delusion into the more subtle levels of mind, where is still functions but is now hidden, so it is actually worse.  It will later resurface in some dramatic way.  The most dangerous delusions you can suppress are those with respect to your Dharma practice, such as doubts about a particular subject, problems with somebody in the Sangha or with a teacher, and so forth.  These are the most dangerous because if left unchecked they will rob you of everything.  If uncontrolledly you do this, then afterwards make the request:  “please help me to identify my delusions in a way that I can overcome them.”  Realize that suppressing itself is the delusion of running away.

The other extreme is expressing the delusion.  This is when you follow the direction or advice of the delusion (you give in to it).  Normally we do this because we think this ‘gets it out of our system.’  But the relief we feel when we give in is just changing suffering – the reduction of the pain of your uncontrolled desire – you have the object so the desire temporarily subsides.  But the reality is it just plants new tendencies to do the same thing, so it will only be harder next time.

The middle way between these two is to accept and overcome.  This is when you accept that you have the delusion, and clearly realizing it is a treacherous mind, you decide to confront it head on.  We cannot run away from our karma – no matter where we go, our karma goes with us.  So there is no getting around our karma, the only way is through it.  To accept that we have the delusion in your mind, we need to do two things:  accept its existence but not its validity.  We accept the fact that a cloud of delusion exists within our mind.  Our mind is sick with this delusion.  Acceptance primarily prevents repression.  We accept that yes, we have a delusion.  Just as it is the nature of the body to fart, it is the nature of a contaminated mind to have delusions.  We shouldn’t expect it to be any different.  On this basis, we accept the existence of our delusions in our mind without judgement.  We don’t, however, accept the validity of the delusion itself.  Not accepting the validity primarily prevents expression.  We recognize delusions for what they are:  necessarily deceptive minds.  The promise us happiness but only give us problems.  It is like spam in our email inbox.  We accept that there is spam in our inbox, but we are not fooled by its message.  By not accepting the validity of spam messages, we no longer believe what they have to say, and so we cannot be fooled.  The power of the spam over us is cut.  Just as this is true of spam, it is equally true of delusions.  The delusions may be present in our mind, but we know with certainty that they are wrong, so they have no power over us.

Step 5:  Cut your identification with the delusion.  Other people’s delusions are not a problem for us because we don’t identify with them.  Our delusions are a problem because we do identify with them.  If you want to eliminate the problems associated with your delusions, stop identifying with them.  We are not our delusions, they are simply the cancer in our mind.  We are our pure potential (we will talk more about this in the next post).   When we cut our identification with our delusions, we do so by saying ‘not me’ with respect to our delusions, and backing up into either our pure potential or our self-generated deity.  Kadam Bjorn clearly explained that if you try fight your delusions while you are still identifying with them, the only thing you will do is develop self-hatred and suppress them.  If you cut your identification with the delusions and then fight them, you will actually get rid of them.

Step 6:  Increase your desire to be free from the delusion.  Kadam Bjorn also explained that our ability to overcome our delusions is not so much how well we know the opponents, but rather how strong is our desire to be free from the delusions.  Normally we think to not express is to suppress.  But this is true only when we our ‘on-net’ desire is to indulge in the delusion.  When your desire to be free from the delusion is greater than your desire to have the object of your delusion, then you will have enough power.  Otherwise, you will eventually give in (desire realm being) or explode. To increase our desire to be free, we can contemplate how delusions are necessarily deceptive minds.  They destroy our inner peace and so make us miserable.  Following our delusions moves us deeper into samsara:  either we are going deeper into samsara or we are moving out.  We want to get out of samsara for ourself (renunciation) or for others (bodhichitta).

Step 7:  Apply opponents to decrease the delusion.  Every delusion has its own specific opponent, but the following work in all cases.  It is better to get deep experience of a couple tools than superficial experience of countless tools.  (1) Breathing meditation – imagine you breathe out the delusion and you breathe in your guru’s realization of the opponent.  (2) Mantra recitation – you recite the most appropriate mantra making the request that the particular Buddha heal your mind of the particular delusion.  (3) Change objects.  For example, with anger we want to be free from suffering and we think external condition is the source of our suffering, so we wish to harm it/destroy it.  With wisdom, we try recognize that the problem is our own anger and attachment, so we try direct the same energy against our delusions wishing to harm/destroy them instead.  With attachment we want to experience happiness and we think that the external condition is the source of our happiness, so we wish to acquire it.  Here, with wisdom we try recognize that happiness comes from virtue, so we direct that same desire towards mixing our mind with virtue instead.  (4) Use the Lamrim.  We directly use the Lamrim as an opponent to our specific delusions.  Directly or indirectly the Lamrim is the opponent to all delusions, so just a regular and consistent practice of Lamrim will wear away at all of our delusions simultaneously.  But when we have a very strong delusion, we can directly use each of the Lamrim meditations as an opponent (how can meditation 1 help me overcome my attachment, etc.)

Step 8:  Eradicate the delusion with the wisdom realizing emptiness.  Emptiness essentially explains that none of this is real, it is all a dream, so there is nothing to be attached to and no us for that matter!  Ultimately, the wisdom realizing emptiness eradicates all our delusions.


Cultivating true self-confidence: Adopting a winning strategy for overcoming our faults

We continue with our discussion of how to generate a reliable basis for self-confidence.  In the last post, we talked about how to generate the basis of virtuous actions through enjoying engaging in virtue.  In this post, I will talk about how to generate the basis of our ability to overcome our faults.  In the next post we will talk about generating the basis of our pure potential.

Most of the reason why we lack self-confidence has to do with the fact that we have so many faults and make so many mistakes.  We have so many delusions that our mind is out of control and we do things that make the situation worse and we can’t stop ourselves from doing it.  When we try overcome our faults, they defeat us everytime, so we just give in to them everytime they arise.  This reinforces our feeling of being helpless against our delusions and this destroys our self-confidence even further. Because we have even less self-confidence, we have no power to fight our delusions, and the vicious cycle continues downward.

In this post, I will try explain how to reverse this situation by adopting a winning strategy against our delusions.  When we gain familiarity of using this method, we will be able to start winning battles against our delusions, and little by little we will be able to have confidence that we will be able to overcome all our faults.  Then we will have nothing to fear.

So what is a strategy for overcoming our delusions?  I will take as my example for illustrating how the method works strong desirous attachment.  Attachment quite simply is a mind that thinks some external condition is a cause of our happiness, and is usually thinks without this external condition I can’t be happy.  This is a delusion because happiness is a state of mind, and so comes from the mind.  The real cause of happiness is inner peace, whose cause is virtuous states of mind.  Desirous attachment can take many forms, such as alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, for a partner, for being with somebody (not being alone), sex, attractive forms, etc.  Just for simplicity, I will us the example of cigarettes, but it is equally applicable to any other type of attachment, such as sexual attachment.

The strategy consists of eight steps.  The first three I will explain in this post and the final five I will explain in the next post.  Before any of the steps, we recall the problem.  For example, we see or think about a cigarette and generate an urge to smoke.  Then:

Step 1:  Analyze the nature and the cause of the problem.  The nature of the problem is not something external, the fact that you saw a cigarette; it is the unpleasant feelings in your mind.  The cause of the problem is not something external, it is the delusion of attachment within your own mind.

Step 2:  Ask yourself the question:  what kind of being am I?  If you are a worldly being, namely you are interested in external happiness, then this strategy won’t work for you.  If you are a spiritual being, in other words you are interested in gaining spiriutal realizations, then everything works.  We can change what kind of being we are through the practice of Lamrim – whose main function is to change our desire.  Again, we are so lucky to have access to Kadampa centers where we can receive introductory and advanced teachings on the Lamrim.  Within the Lamrim, the quickest way to change our desire is to recall death by asking ourself the question:  “Do I want to arrive at my death and realize what I could have accomplished spiritually but didn’t because I wasn’t motivated enough to overcome this attachment?”

Step 3:  Make requests to Dorje Shugden:  “Whatever is best with respect to this delusion, please arrange.”  If it ceases, then end of story.  For example, there is a very pure monk named Gen Togden.  He told me the story of once when he had really strong anger, he requested Dorje Shugden to arrange what is best with respect to this delusion being present in his mind.  Through the faith of his request, his anger subsided immediately.  This is not some miracle.  When we know whatever is happening is for the best, all worry, anxiety, attachment or fear vanish.  Even if it doesn’t completely vanish, it will be reduced considerably.  Any residual of the delusion that persists means that Dorje Shugen wants you to train in overcoming this delusion.  Either way, you accept with infinite faith that this is perfect for your practice, so you are happy (because what you want is to practice).

In the next post I will explain the remaining steps.

Cultivating true self-confidence: The joy of pure actions

As explained in the previous post, there are three different reliable bases upon which we can build a true self-confidence, the first of which is our own virtuous actions.  Virtuous actions are actions that are consistent with the way things actually are – they are in harmony with the reality that we are all interconnected at a very profound level.  They are generally speaking actions that seek to help others find happiness or become free from suffering.  Because they are in harmony with the way things actually are, they work and are therefore reliable. The key to cultivating this basis for self-confidence is to learn how to enjoy engaging in such actions.  Normally we think virtuous actions are things we ‘should’ do, but don’t really want to.  We do them reluctantly, or motivated by guilt, and so are unhappy about it.  To reverse this, we need to learn how to enjoy engaging in virtuous actions.  Since we naturally do what we enjoy, if we can enjoy engaging in virtue, we will effortless cultivate this basis for self-confidence.

So the question then becomes how can we come to enjoy engaging in virtuous actions?  Virtuous actions are actually naturally joyful to engage in.  Why?  Because virtue, by definition, functions to produce the experience of inner peace within our mind – and inner peace is the main cause of our happiness.  When we mix our mind with virtue, it naturally becomes more peaceful, and so we become more happy and joyful.  So really our task is simply to remove the obstructions to our joy.  When we remove the obstructions, joy will naturally arise.

So how do we do this?  By learning how to enjoy practicing itself – to enjoy creating good causes.  There are four main points which enable us to do this:

Change what you desire to be to create good causes.  If what you desire is pleasant external or internal conditions, then attachment to results is inevitable, and we will be like a yo-yo.  If what we want is to create good causes, then whether things go pleasantly or unpleasantly, either externally or internally, it is all good, because all such circumstances equally give us an opportunity to practice – to create good causes.  What enables us to make this change in our desire?  The practice of Lamrim.  This is the main function of the Lamrim.  Because of the importance of the Lamrim, we are so lucky to have the opportunity to attend classes at Kadampa centers on the Lamrim.  Where else can we learn this?

Accepting where you are at without guilt or judgement.  This is what it means to be a sincere practitioner.  There are generally two extremes when it comes to where we are at:  guilt and complacency.  Guilt is anger directed towards our self.  Because our self is a bodhisattva, guilt is actually anger directed towards a bodhisattva which is hugely negative karma.  We feel that guilt is good because we think it motivates us to abandon negativity.  But this is the tricky mind of self-cherishing that encourages us to abandon a small negativity by cultivating a bigger one (anger towards ourselves).  So on-net, we are worse off.  Guilt leads to high expectations of our self, and when we fail to meet them, we feel guilty, so it is a vicious cycle.  The other extreme is complacency.  This allows delusions and negativity to remain in our mind like they are no problem.  Normally when we let go of guilt we go to the other extreme and become more negative because we have principally been using guilt to keep us in check.  We then go to the other extreme of admitting we are negative and deluded and saying we don’t care.  It allows delusions to run unchecked in our mind and we are gradually swept away (down) by them.  The middle way between these two extremes is regret.  Regret differs from guilt and complacency in three ways:  (1) Regret accepts ourselves without judgement.  It accepts the existence of the delusions in our mind, but not their validity.  We will talk more about this in a later post.  (2) Regret blames our delusions, not ourselves.  It makes the distinction between ourselves, which are completely pure; and our delusions, which are like the cancer of our mind.  It directs the energy against the delusions, not ourself, in the form of a strong wish to be free from our delusions.  When we have guilt it turns into the wish to harm or punish ourselves, even leading up to suicide (a case I dealt with a few times).  (3) Regret is forward looking, not backward looking.  We accept our past mistakes by using them to learn what to do differently next time.  It considers the horrific future we will have if we allow delusions and negativity to remain in our mind.  It makes plans for what to do to avoid this future.  The best analogy of regret is imagining you just drank poison.  We wouldn’t waste our time beating ourselves up over making a mistake, but would actively seek an antidote and take it.

Having faith in the law of karma:  if you create the causes, the results will definitely come (so the results are assured).  Just as the laws of physics and science explain how the external world works, the laws of karma explain how the internal world works.  These are inviolable laws of nature.  If we have conviction in the law of karma that good results necessarily come from good causes and bad results necessarily come from bad causes, we will joyfully engage in virtuous actions.   It is likewise useful to cultivate faith in Dorje Shugden.  If we have faith in the law of karma, the only remaining question is when will the results ripen?  If you rely upon Dorje Shugden, they will ripen when it is best for your practice.  He is like a karma manager.  If the results haven’t yet ripened, it is because he wants you to continue creating particular causes. So if we haven’t yet experienced results we will be happy because we realize that we are saving our spiritual pennies for something bigger and better.

Some people really struggle when it comes to the question of faith, so it is worthwhile to say a few words about faith.  Faith in the Dharma is very different than faith in other contexts.  Faith is more like confidence born from scientific experimentation.  Geshe-la calls Dharma the ‘supreme scientific method.’  How can we understand this?  Through understanding the relationship between faith and wisdom.  It is actually a cycle.  (1)  Believing faith – this is faith based on a valid reason.  We have some valid reason for believing that good results come from good causes.  (2) Admiring faith – this admires the good qualities of whatever we believe in.  We believe that good results come from good causes, and admire good causes, thinking, ‘wow.’  (3) Wishing faith – this wishes to have these good qualities for ourselves.  Our admiring faith naturally transforms into a wish to have these good qualities for ourselves.  (4) joyful effort.  We joyfully put the instructions into practice.  Having faith in good causes, we joyfully engage in them knowing that good results will come.  (5) Personal experience/wisdom.  From this practice, we gain personal experience of the truth of the instructions.  This is wisdom – when we know something from our own side.  (6) A deeper believing faith.  This wisdom then serves as a new valid reason, which enables us to generate an even deeper believing faith, and so the cycle continues.

Cultivating a true self-confidence: Motivation for doing the series

The purpose of this series of blog postings is to explain everything I think you need to generate a true self-confidence.  It can be summed up as one thing:  Being born in the vajra family.

Without self-confidence you can accomplish nothing.  When you accomplish nothing, you feel like you are incapable of doing anything which reinforces your lack of self-confidence, so it is a vicious cycle.  The main point of being able to generate true self-confidence is to do so with respect to a reliable basis that is within your control.  If you base your self-confidence on something unreliable or outside your control, then your confidence will be unreliable and outside your control.  For example, my mother was a beauty queen when she was younger.  She basically accomplished most things in her life through her good looks.  But this proved unreliable for her because eventually our looks fail us and because we become dependent upon the opinion of others.  In contrast, if it is based on something reliable and within your control, then it becomes indestructible and is a true self-confidence.  This series of posts will explain how we can learn how to distinguish between these two, and how to cultivate this reliable basis.

This series of posts will organized as follows:  The first part will explore how to meditate on self-confidence.  This consists of generating within our mind the three reliable bases for self-confidence:  our virtuous actions, our overcoming of our delusions and our pure potential or true self. The second part will be on how to actually practice self-confidence through the mind of acceptance, through taking personal responsibility for others’ enlightenment and through learning how to become part of something bigger than ourselves, namely the Bodhisattva family.  The last part will be an exhortation to seize the precious opportunity we have before us and thereby fulfill our spiritual destiny – in short, we will learn how to become the bodhisattvas we were born to be!

My motivation for doing this series of posts is simple:  Venerable Tharchin once explained to me that if we know how the Dharma works, we will become incredible confident and effort will come easily.  We stand at a pivotal moment in the history of our tradition where we make the double transition from Eastern to Western but also Ancient to Modern.  This is why the book Modern Buddhism, and the tradition’s subsequent completely reorganizing of itself around the presentation in this book, is so important.  It provides us the frame of reference.  Our tradition has been reborn, so so must be.  For this to happen, we need great confidence.  Venerable Geshe-la knows these methods best and he is supremely confident.  If we understand why, we will be just as confident as he.