Understanding being LGBT+ through a Dharma Lens

In many ways, the civil rights question of our time is LGBT+ rights. The recent push for recognition of gay marriage, for example, has been a proxy for this larger debate. While thinking in much of the world in the last 10 years has changed radically, this is still a relatively new field of acceptance for many people, especially in more traditional and conservative countries (or pockets of communities). This is a topic that is rife with emotional and physical suffering. As my small contribution to this on-going discussion, I thought I would offer my thoughts on how I see all of this through the lens of Dharma.

Before I begin, it is first worth noting I do not pretend to say my views are in any way the definitive Dharma view of all of this, rather, this is just my understanding. Also, I think it is always a bit dangerous to discuss politically charged topics from a religious perspective. The first danger is if people politically disagree with our position, there is a risk they could wind up rejecting the Dharma entirely because they think that then requires them to think in a particular way which politically they don’t want to. The second danger is mixing Dharma with politics.

If I’m careful, I believe in writing this I can avoid both dangers. I can avoid the first by saying feel free to ignore everything I am saying, I’m simply sharing my thoughts. I welcome any other thoughts and am happy to discuss with anybody who has an open-mind. If you disagree with me, perhaps you are right. I don’t know. The problems of mixing Dharma with politics primarily come from using the power of the state to enforce one person’s religious views on another. I am clearly not doing that here. Dharma practitioners are allowed to have political opinions. Political life is part of modern life, and our job is to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life. Politics is also necessarily worldly, so it is important that Dharma does not become worldly as we try to make it fit our political predispositions.

With these caveats in mind, I think the Dharma teachings provide a very useful lens for compassionately and wisely understanding the experience and life of LGBT+ individuals. I would in particular like to explore three dimensions – emptiness, karma, and compassion.

According to the teachings on emptiness, a “name” is appropriate if the aspect and function of the basis of imputation are appropriate for that name. It is clearly inappropriate to call my iPad a toothbrush, for example. The teachings on emptiness also say objects come into existence when we name them and that naming is appropriate with the aspect and function. In thinking about gender issues, I find it helpful to think of things along three axes – biological sex, socially constructed gender, and sexual attraction. Biological sex refers to the physical make up of our body, including, but not limited to, our genitalia. Socially constructed gender refers to societal conventional conceptions of male and female personality and interests. Sexual attraction refers to who somebody is naturally sexually attracted to. For example, somebody could biologically have male genitalia, conventionally be a manly man, and be attracted to women. This would be a heterosexual male. Somebody could be biologically male, conventionally a manly man, and be attracted to men. This would be a gay man. Somebody could also be biologically female, conventionally manly, but attracted to men. In the past, this was called a “tom boy,” but now we might call this person a trans man. In total, there are 8 combinations of these three binaries, or 27 combinations of we include the point in the middle of each binary, and queer theorists have come up with “names” for each one. These are observable facts we see in the world. We can find examples of all 27 in the world, people who have a biological sex, who conventionally are more masculine or feminine, and who are attracted to men or women. Having names for each one of these combinations of basis of imputation seems entirely descriptive. So no problem here.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of suffering related to gender questions. The sufferings of sexism arise when we place value judgments saying that which is male is somehow more valuable than that which is female. The sufferings of heterosexism arise when we place value judgements saying two of these 27 combinations (heterosexual male and heterosexual female) are somehow more valuable than the other 25.

Understanding karma enables us to break out of these binaries and realize that each of the three axes are actually spectrums. Somebody might have a penis, but physically more feminine than Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example. Somebody might be attracted to both men and women, but mostly women. Somebody’s personality might be very masculine, feminine or anywhere in between. So there are not just 27 combinations, there are as many combinations as there are people. And one’s position on this matrix is not fixed. In one life, you might be a gay man, in another life a trans woman. Even within one life, one’s positionality is not fixed. I know people whose sexual attraction has changed over time, and I know people whose physical gender has changed. Impermanence teaches nothing is fixed and unchanging. An infinite diversity of past karmic actions will quite naturally give rise to an infinite diversity of possibilities.

The different types of karma also helps us understand the nature of these three axes. One’s biological sex is the ripened effect – born with certain physical characteristics. One’s sexual attraction is largely a product of tendencies similar to the cause of having been attracted to men or women in the past. One’s socially constructed gender is a combination of tendencies similar to the cause and environmental effects of the culture/society we are raised in. Whether one is discriminated against or accepted arises from the karmic effects similar to the cause of how we treated others in the past.

The teachings on compassion are also very helpful in thinking about LGBT+ experience. It is basically undeniable that we live in a heterosexist society, but we seem to be moving in a direction of greater acceptance of the diversity. In the past, LGBT persons suffered from very powerful negative societal value judgments. This caused many to suffer from bullying, guilt, beatings, and sometimes suicide – not to mention the “repression” of being in the closet – pretending to conform to societal value judgments when that didn’t conform with what they felt inside.

Even today, this still occurs. My son, for example, is biologically male, but there is zero doubt that inside he feels more like a girl and personality wise acts more like a socially constructed girl. And he has gotten a tremendous amount of ridicule for it – from his cousins and from his classmates at school. This ridicule made him suffer inside, doubt himself, pretend to be different just to fit in, and become very angry at the frustration of dealing with it all. My daughter is biologically female, but has almost no sexual desire at all, and feels judged or guilty for not ever having had (or really wanted) a boyfriend, like something is wrong with her. When I was growing up, I never got along with “the boys” because I just wasn’t into the same things and I felt socially excluded for a long time until high school when it became OK for a boy to have mostly friends who were girls. My wife was a total tom boy, but in a sexist society that is more acceptable. These are just four examples within one family. I would guess nearly everyone has some experience where their positionality on the three axes gave rise to some degree of suffering due to the value judgments society places on certain positionalities. There are many people who spend their whole life in the closet, there are many who commit suicide, there are many who come out of the closet who lose their family’s love as a result. The examples are endless.

From a Dharma perspective, it seems to me there is no basis for these value judgments, favoring one positionality over another. A diverse ecosystem is a more adaptive and creative one, so too a diverse humanity is a more adaptive and creative one. Who are we to judge one person’s positionality as being somehow better or worse than another? From the point of view of emptiness, all are equally valuable, just in different ways. There is also no denying people suffer from these value judgments, so as compassionate individuals, it seems to me we should accept everyone as they are and as they define themselves to be. They are not hurting anybody, so what is the problem? If somebody is hurt by another’s gender identity (for example, a parent who can’t accept their child is a lesbian), the parent might need to learn acceptance and the child might need to learn how to be skillful in how she expresses herself in front of her parents to give the parent time and space to adapt.

Grasping at gender identity can even become an obstacle to our tantric practice. Some men, for example, really struggle with being a Vajrayogini practitioner because they think it might make them gay or they grasp so tightly onto their current gender construction that they can’t realize the infinite possibilities – creating an obstruction to their tantric practice.

None of this is easy – for LGBT individuals, their families, or society – but learning how to think about these things in a way that leads to less suffering seems to me to be part of the bodhisattva’s way of life. I might be wrong. If you think I am and you have an open mind, let’s discuss. If you don’t have an open mind about it, feel free to ignore me. I’m OK with that. 😉

Strange Dream: Purifying the obstructions to being able to teach again

I had a very strange dream. I was supposed to teach a meditation class to a group of total beginners. I have not taught a class in a long time. Much happened before the class was to begin. At first, I was completely naked and had no clothes. I was in front of them for a while, but nobody seemed to mind. Eventually, I went to a bathroom to try find clothes, but couldn’t find anything that made sense, so I went back out naked. Then I thought that seems strange, so I went back to find some clothes and found something imperfect, but good enough.

Then, my mouth suddenly filled up with a bunch of gunk, like phlegm, but much thicker, and I couldn’t speak at all. It was so sticky, I couldn’t just spit it out because it was stuck in my mouth. So I went to a different bathroom and tried to pull it all out of my mouth, which was not easy, but eventually I managed to do so for most of it.

Then, I went into the room to begin the class. Everyone was very loud and mentally scattered. I tried to encourage everyone to calm down and eventually sit to do meditation. I then started guiding the meditation, and while I was talking saying things like “let go of your thoughts, etc.” in my mind I saw a demon who was circling around me. Eventually, he latched onto my neck and was trying to strangle me while I was trying to guide the meditation. I thought about how refuge was the only protection. I kept talking guiding the meditation encouraging everyone to let go. I then recalled emptiness, and explained that emptiness provided the best protection because it was impossible for negativity and delusions to latch on to nothing. The hold of the demon on my neck then broke and he started circulating in front of me again and I was mostly free from it.

I then ended the guided meditation and opened my eyes, and some people in the audience had been busy doing Christmas decorations. I then felt I needed to get to know the people around in the audience to know where they were coming from. Most were total beginners, they all seemed to enjoy the meditation.

Then I came to this one woman who had regular clothes on. She then said something about Je Tsongkhapa, which made no sense how she would know him. I then looked at her clothes under her arm, and saw that there were ordained robes underneath. I then asked her how she knew about Je Tsongkhapa, and she started mumbling as if her cover was blown, and then I woke up.

What does this dream mean? I haven’t taught in a long time, but eventually I need to start doing so again. I have a lot of negative karma obstructing my ability to do so – physically, represented by the episode with the clothes; verbally, represented by the episode with the phlegm; and mentally, represented by the episode with the demon. The solution is refuge in the three jewels and in particular realizing emptiness so that there is nothing there for the negativity to latch onto. Each solution to these three levels was imperfect, but good enough for me to continue, meaning for now I should accept good enough to be able to proceed. When teaching Dharma, it is important to know personally the people you are teaching and to accept them where they are at, as represented in the situation with their rowdiness and then doing Christmas decorations. But because people are hurting, they find the meditations meaningful, as represented by the positive reception despite people seeming to be distracted. Finally, we can be certain that some (or all) of the people will be emanations of Je Tsongkhapa in disguise, as represented by the woman who was an undercover emanation.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How do we find release?

(4.30) If all living beings, including the gods and demi-gods,
Were to rise up against me as one enemy,
They could not lead me to the fires of the deepest hell
And throw me in;

(4.31) But this powerful enemy of the delusions
In an instant can cast me into that fiery place
Where even the ashes of Mount Meru
Would be consumed without a trace.

How do delusions harm us?  This is what we need to contemplate deeply.  I think we need to dig deep and understand why it is delusions are able to deceive us?

Generally people need to find some release or relief from their suffering.  Because we want things to go in a particular way, when they don’t tension builds within us.  Our situation is very difficult and we don’t accept it as it is, so tension builds up within us until it becomes unbearable.  We need to find some form of release.  Why do people take drugs, intoxicants?  For that time there’s some relief.  Because they cannot bear it.  Why do people distract themselves beyond belief, with TV, movies, anything?  Because they can’t bear it.

We then turn to samsaric objects to find our release, and to a certain extent they work in temporarily releasing the tension we feel.  We then think that these external objects have the power to relieve our tension, and so we relate to them as causes of happiness.  This is the origin of attachment.  But because we do not challenge the fundamental assumptions of our delusions – namely believing it is our external circumstance which needs to change – the tension builds up again, and so we need to once again find release.  And the cycle continues forever.

The need for release from tension is normal, the question is what do we turn to for our release?  An ordinary being turns to samsaric objects and the cycle continues indefinitely.  A Dharma practitioner turns to renunciation, compassion and the wisdom realizing emptiness.  This leads to a permanent release.  The Sanskrit translation of “moksha” (of Pratimoksha) is “release.”  We need release, we just need to find spiritual means of accomplishing release.

Renunciation.  Quite often renunciation is completely misunderstood as denying oneself what one wants.  We want samsaric objects, but out of some feeling of we “ought” not because we have received Dharma teachings, we refrain.  But if we still want it but hold back, all we really do is suppress our delusions.  Renunciation is not suppression, it is seeing through the lies of our delusions to the point where we don’t want their objects anymore.  There is a big difference between “shouldn’t” and “don’t want.”  One is suppression, the other is renunciation.   The mind of renunciation is a mind that lets go, seeing that there is nothing there that can give us any happiness.  We release the tension by letting go of the assumption that there is something to be had.  In fact, we realize that it is because we are turning to external objects that the cyle of build up and release is perpetuated, so we realize that it is just a cause of great suffering.  This doesn’t mean we abandon all objects, it means we stop wanting “objects of attachment.”  We can still want “objects of love” or “means to help living beings.”  Objects, such as our family or money, in and of themselves are not inherently objects of attachment, they only become so when we relate to them with a mind of attachment.  These are important distinctions.

Compassion.  Normally we think I have enough problems, how can I think about others?  But it is because we think we are important that we think what happens to us is important.  If we realize that we don’t matter (at all) then what happens to us doesn’t matter (at all).  We are just one person, but others are countless.  And they are all trapped within this same cycle of build up and release.  Realizing we are not important, we are able to let go and find release.

Wisdom realizing emptiness.  This goes further than renunciation.  Renunciation realizes that external objects have no power to give us any happiness – everything depends upon our mind – so we let go of turning to them for happiness.  The wisdom realizing emptiness understands that there is no external object to begin with – these are all just appearances to mind.  There is nothing there to be attached to and nothing to be upset about.  This doesn’t mean that nothing matters, it means that nothing external matters because it doesn’t even exist (technically external objects do exist as object conditions, but I leave that technicality aside for purposes of making the point).  The only things that matter are the minds that we generate.  When we realize everything is created by our mind, we then realize what needs to change is our mind.  If we change our mind, we change our world.

These three will bring us a permanent release, one that doesn’t build up again.  We are released from this cycle and experience permanent release.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How have they made me their slave?

In the first part of this chapter, Shantideva is encouraging us to observe the law of karma by abandoning non-virtue and practicing virtue.  Otherwise we will remain for a long time in the lower realms.  Now he encourages us to abandon delusion (the cause of negative actions), otherwise we will remain for a long time in samsara. Our suffering will never come to an end otherwise.  Shantideva includes all the stages of the path before we go on to the six perfections.

First of all Shantideva goes on to describe the faults of delusion.

(4.28) The inner enemies of hatred, attachment, and so forth
Do not have arms and legs,
Nor do they have courage or skill;
So how have they made me their slave?

There’s only one enemy that has the power to harm us—delusion. There is no enemy that possesses arms, legs, weapons.  Only the enemy of delusion gives the objects of delusion the power to harm us.

We are under the control of delusion.  We think, speak, act as delusion wishes.  We are its servant, its slave.  Delusions give us no choice.  If we check, delusions simply, without obstruction, move into our mind and take over, even if we don’t want them to.  We don’t ever wish to get angry, yet when an object of anger appears to our mind, it moves in and takes over, forcing us to say things and do things.  We become its slave or victim.  Anger uses us.  It uses our body and mind to do whatever it wants.  Geshe-la said it is like an evil spirit abiding in our heart, controlling us.

We need to become more aware of what delusion makes us do.  We need to become precisely aware of what attachment of uncontrolled desire makes us do, what pride makes us do, what anger, ignorance, etc. make us do.  Until we really do feel like we’re under their control, we won’t be motivated to abandon them.  We must feel like—“I have no choice but to obey,” “my delusions actually are in charge, in control; I’m not.”  We also need to see how there’s no resistance.  We wouldn’t let anybody take over, tell us what to do.  Not at all, quite the opposite, we would fight back.  We rebel.   Yet we don’t fight those delusions, even though they have “no arms or legs, no courage or skill” we don’t fight back.  Why?

(4.29) While they remain within my mind,
They harm me at their pleasure,
And yet, without anger, I patiently endure them.
How shameful! This is no occasion for patience.

We are taught we need to be patient with our external enemies.  Geshe-la said, “love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  By loving our external enemies, they can become our friends.  We are taught we need to be patient with our suffering, accepting it as purification for our past wrong deeds, and using it as a reminder to avoid negative actions, engage in virtuous actions, generate compassion for those whose suffering is far worse than ours and generate bodhichitta.

But we should never be patient with our delusions.  They are not an enemy who can be pacified by giving them what they want, instead they come back stronger asking for even more.  They are the schoolyard bully who will only stop when they are stopped.  Being kind with delusions will not make them any kinder to us, rather they will abuse our kindness and betray us at the first opportunity.  We don’t negotiate with terrorists because to do so is to encourage more terrorism; in the same way, we don’t compromise with our delusions because the more we give them the more they attack us.  Venerable Tharchin says giving delusions what they want is like feeding the dinosaur that will eventually devour us, the more we feed them the bigger they get.  When somebody is just trying to provoke us into overreacting to them, we don’t do them that service, instead we keep calm.  When somebody is out to deceive us, we don’t go along with their lies as if they were true.  All delusions are deceptive lies.

Just because we should not be patient with our delusions does not mean we should not be patient with ourself.  We cannot expect just because we have received a few teachings on the faults of delusions that we can somehow turn off like a switch deluded habits we have been forming for aeons.  Kadam Morten says, “we need to accept the existence of delusions, not their validity.”  Geshe-la explains in Eight Steps to Happiness that pretending we are not deluded when we are just leads to repression.  They then come back stronger.  So when a deluded tendency arises in our mind, no point pretending otherwise – we need to accept the reality of the situation as it is.  But it doesn’t mean we accept the validity of what the delusion says as being true.  The arising of a deluded tendency is a karmic effect of a past delusion, our assenting to the truth of the deluded tendency is the new mental action of generating a delusion.  If the tendency arises but we see it as a lie, we have not actually generated a delusion, in fact we have generated wisdom and the karma of the moral discipline of restraint.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  What is it that dwells within me?

(4.26) Having found, by some very slight chance,
This beneficial state, so rare to find,
If, while I am endowed with such good fortune,
I am once again led to the hells, 

(4.27) It is as if I am confused by a spell
And my mind has been reduced to nothing!
Even I do not know what causes this confusion –
What is it that dwells within me?

What dwells within me?  A spiritually lazy bum.  I understand, yet I remain indolent.  If we die this way, our mind will be full of regret.  At the time of our death, we will see our whole life flash before us and all the times we could have practiced but didn’t.  We will realize that we did not use the chance we had to practice and now it is too late and we will fall.  We will realize that our doubts have deceived us.  Our doubts told us to not fully engage in the practice in case they are not true, but at the time of death we will realize they are true and it will be too late.  We will realize where we are headed and we will panic.  This will activate negative seeds on our mind, and we will fall.  We need to realize that this is our future.  This will happen if we don’t practice right now.  It is better to be freaked out about this now while there is something we can do about it than at the time of death when it is too late.

What dwells within me?  An inner coward that causes me to look the other way when hard questions are asked.  What’s going on in my mind?  Why can’t I see what lies ahead?  Am I afraid to look?  Am I stupid?  What is it?   Is it merely that we distract ourselves with samsaric life and its endless possibilities of enjoyment because we cannot face the truth?

What dwells within me?  The “devil” of delusion.  It has almost total power over us.  One of the most interesting experiences one can have is to listen to the sermon of a good Baptist preacher when they talk about the temptations of the devil.  Every time you hear devil, think delusion, and you’re there.  The devil’s principal means of ensnaring us is through his deceptions.  Geshe-la says, “all delusions are deceptive.”  They trick us into following their mistaken advice, and lead us onto the road of hell.  It is only by choosing to not listen to our delusions, but instead to rely upon the wisdom of the holy beings that we can find our way.  Before we found the Dharma, we were complete slaves to our delusion’s every word.  Even with the Dharma, again and again we are deceived into giving into our attachment, lashing out at our loved ones with anger, becoming jealous of those who enjoy a few crumbs of happiness.  The Baptist preacher is completely correct that the devil of delusion’s only purpose is to cast us into hell where we can never escape.  He is correct that only faith and the word of holy beings can guide us to light.  He is correct that we at war with this devil, and only one of us can emerge victorious.  He is simply wrong about who the enemy is.  The enemy is not gays, government, Facebook, the liberal educational establishment, there is only one enemy:  delusions themselves.  Geshe-la says there are no external enemies, but Shantideva is clear there are internal ones.  So take the passion of a Baptist preacher and direct it against the inner enemy of delusions and you have found Shantideva.

What dwells within me?  An inner demon that we must exorcise from our mind.  It is not an actual being tormenting us, but delusions are so clever at adapting and manipulating us into following their wrong advice that it is as if our delusions were actual demons dwelling within.  What has the power to cast out delusion?  The sword of wisdom.  Wisdom cuts through the lies of delusions and lays them bear so that they have no power over us and we are no longer fooled.  Only wisdom can do this.  On our own, we are weak and unskilled at wielding the sword of wisdom.  But the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri in the aspect of Dorje Shugden is a master swordsman, who, activated with our faith, can cut down all of our inner foes.  He is not just our Protector, he is also our Spiritual Champion we can send into battle against our delusions.  To enlist his support, all we need is faith and a good motivation and he will do the rest.

What dwells within me?  An inner cancer of delusion that if left unchecked will gradually devour us.  Cancer left untreated grows, mutates, and metastasizes.  But cancer can only kill us in this life, the inner cancer of delusions will follow us in life after life, eating away at our good heart.  If even one cell of cancer goes untreated, it will reassert itself until eventually it has taken over our body.  It takes just one seed of delusion to gradually take over the rest of our mind.  Only the truth of Dharma can destroy this cancer.

The question is not, therefore, what dwells within me.  The question is what am I going to do to get it out?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t be choked with unimaginable terror

(4.24) Having understood this,
If out of ignorance I remain indolent,
Then, when the time comes for me to die,
I shall be choked with unimaginable terror.

(4.25) If my body will burn for a very long time
In the unbearable fires of hell,
Then, without doubt, my mind will be consumed
By the raging fires of regret.

In Buddhism, the time of our death is the most important moment of our lives.  In many ways, we can say that all of our trainings in life are really preparations for the moment of death.  The reason why the moment of death is so important is the quality of mind we have at the time of our death determines the quality of our next rebirth.  The reason for this is simple:  each mind we generate activates a karmic seed which ripens in the next moment.  The karma activated at the time of death ripens in the first moment of our next life, indeed it determines what that next life will be.  Due to the total absorption of the inner winds during the death process, the mind of death activates what is called “throwing karma.”  This is also known as the “ripened effect” of our actions.  If we die with a negative mind, it will activate negative throwing karma throwing us into a lower rebirth.  We can say that throwing karma is the substantial cause of our life, and the other types of karmic effects are the circumstances we will experience in a given life.

We have received Dharma teachings.  We have received sacred spiritual vows on our mental continuum.  We have received many empowerments into the precious tantric teachings.  We have been given everything we need to enter, progress along and complete the spiritual path.  Those who choose to take full advantage of this spiritual opportunity will approach death in the same way we do when embarking upon a long vacation.  We are excited about the adventure that awaits and we know we have prepared everything well.  Those who waste their life following their delusions and squandering the spiritual opportunities they have been given will realize – too late – that their time is now up and they have little to nothing to show from their time here on earth.  Such people die full of regrets.

When Dharma teachings refer to “dying full of regrets” the meaning here is not the regret we generate in  purification practice, but rather a deluded form of self-guilt of having completely wasted our precious spiritual opportunity and now we realize, too late, that we are bound for the lower realms and there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Our mind is seized by self-hatred and panic, activating negative throwing karma, casting us down into the lower realms.

In popular culture and movies, we are told when we die our “life flashes before our eyes.”  This is actually true, from a certain point of view.  The teachings on the 12 dependent related links explain that at the time of our death we will experience two death-specific delusions, namely dependent-related craving and dependent-related grasping.  Practically speaking, dependent-related craving is at the time of death we will feel a sudden surge of craving for all of our strongest objects of attachment in life.  Essentially all of our unresolved attachments – be it or chocolate, sex, a good reputation, whatever – will come flaring up in a sudden blast.  If we have not worked to let go of our attachments in life, we will develop a strong desire for these things combined with a knowledge that we will never have them again.  If in life we respond to our frustrated attachments with delusion and negativity, odds are we will do the same at the time of death. Deluded, negative minds activate deluded, negative karma.

Practically speaking, dependent-related grasping is a strong grasping at our self and body at the time of death.  We realize our life and body are about to be ripped away from us permanently, and we grasp desperately trying to hold on to them.  Think of the panic people feel when they have trouble breathing.  Now imagine it really is the end and you can no longer breathe.  Think of the grasping we feel when we fear our life is in danger from some criminal or terrorist.  Now imagine it is the actual time of death and you know there is no turning back.  If in life we respond with delusions and negativity when things are taken away from us, odds are we will do the same at the time of death.  Deluded, negative minds activate deluded negative karma.

In many ways, I think the regret experienced by Dharma practitioners at having wasted their life must be far worse than that of non-practitioners.  Most people are completely ignorant of what is spiritually achievable in this life, but we know exactly what is possible.  Most people know nothing about the lower realms, but we know they are waiting for us.  We might then wrongly conclude, “well maybe it is better to not know then,” but being an ostrich is no strategy for avoiding lower rebirth.  It is not easy to confront the horror of samsaric existence.  It all seems so exaggerated or so far removed from our daily experience, that we kid ourselves into thinking it’s all just a bunch of superstition, or in any case it is too depressing to think about so better to change the subject.  But we’ve done the contemplations, we know it’s all a karmic dream, we know it is all empty, we know how karma works, we know the arguments establishing past and future lives.  In short, we know better.

So we have a choice:  face the horror now, and do what it takes to avoid it.  Or face the horror at the time of death and fall in utter panic.  Time to choose.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There can be no greater folly

(4.23) If, having found the freedom and endowment of a human life,
I do not strive to practise Dharma,
There can be no greater self-deception,
There can be no greater folly.

This is definitely worth memorizing.  We have much work to do, purifying and transforming our mind.  Yet we do nothing.  We have fallen into a hole, and it is only by digging ourselves out that we will be able to get out.  We have to stop fooling ourselves that everything is going to be alright.  Then we will stop taking this human rebirth like a holiday.  We will actually work to progress.  It’s not fair to say we do nothing.  We do try, we do some.  But the question is “do we do enough?”  We say, “don’t worry, be happy, just try” to counter our discouragement not as an excuse to do even less when we are already being lazy doing little.  Sometimes we need to be knocked out of our comfort zone.  Sometimes we need to be told, “it’s time to step it up.”

Our usual excuse for why we don’t is we are just too busy.  We have too many other commitments and engagements.  Besides the fact that these commitments and engagements will amount to little or nothing on our death bed, this excuse completely misses the point.  All situations are equally empty, so all situations are equally transformable into the path.  Whether we spend all of our time on retreat, working for a Dharma center or changing diapers while working full time, it’s all the same.  There is absolutely nothing about our busy, modern lives that prevents us from dedicating every second of every day to training our mind, purifying our negative karma, cherishing others and striving to attain enlightenment.  We actually hide behind our busy lives as an excuse for our mental laziness.

The truly ridiculous thing about such laziness is it is self-defeating.  Going through life enslaved by our delusions is exhausting, stressful, and miserable.  We worry, fight, grasp and then collapse at the end of the day.  Even when we try enjoy ourselves, we find it difficult to let go of our worries without the assistance of some form of intoxicant.  Because we listen faithfully to the bad advice of our delusions, our every action only serves to make our problems even worse.  The bottom line is wisdom works not just to escape from samsara but also to navigate through it.  The bottom line is virtuous, peaceful minds are happy minds, so if we want a happy life we should constantly strive to mix our mind with virtue.  It is not like we need to choose between happiness in this life and happiness in our future lives.  Our actual choice is between being miserable in this life and worse in the next versus being happy in this life and happier in the next.  Why choose the former?

Are we intentionally deceiving ourselves?  It’s a big step to take to admit to ourselves that we’re deceiving ourselves.  We have heard the instructions, but why are we not checking them out to see if they are in fact true?  Certainly it would be good to know, in case they are true.  Why do we not look?  There is a step we have to take from knowledge to acceptance.  Even once we have intellectual knowledge, we still haven’t accepted it as truth.  So it is not moving our mind.  We need to meditate on this information again and again until our mind moves and we realize we need to act.  If we are not acting now, we need to do this.  If we are acting now, we still need to do this so that we never stop.

Venerable Tharchin says, “if you do not seize the opportunities you have, the karma creating them will gradually exhaust itself and it will be nearly impossible for find such opportunities again.  But if you seize the opportunities you have, you will create the causes to have even better opportunities in the future.”  It is time we stopped making excuses.  It is time we stop fooling ourselves that our spiritual training is just some hobby.  Normally we take something seriously when our life depends on it.  All of our future lives depend upon whether we seize our spiritual opportunity.  What are we waiting for?

Perhaps we think it is all too hard.  The Dharma just asks too much of us.  But what is the alternative?  Do we honestly think remaining in samsara forever will be any easier?  It is far harder to remain in samsara than it is to get out of it once and for all.  And once again, what is harder, constantly dealing with all of the problems our delusions create for us or enjoying the good fortune that our wisdom and virtue creates for us?  Even in this life, wisdom and virtue are simply easier because they work whereas delusions never do.

If security came to us and said, “terrorists have put a bomb in the building, we have to get out now,” would we hesitate?  Would we say we can’t be bothered, or maybe later?  The Buddhas are telling us there are countless karmic bombs in our mind, and we have to get them out right now.  Why do we hesitate?  A bomb can only kill us in this one life, but our negative karma will kill us again and again until we say “enough is enough.”