Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Without guarding the mind, no virtue is possible

(5.24) Just as people who are troubled by sickness
Have no strength for any kind of physical work,
So those whose minds are disturbed by confusion
Have no strength for any kind of virtuous action.

Geshe-la says in Joyful Path that when sickness strikes, even a champion boxer is knocked out and sapped of all strength.  We know ourselves when we are sick we are incapable of doing much, if anything.  In the same way, when our mind becomes seized by delusion, it is nearly impossible to generate any kind of virtue.

I think the best analogy is cancer.  When people get cancer, it is quite literally all consuming.  If radical steps are not taken to stop its spread, it is just a question of time before the cancer will literally eat us alive.  People who get cancer must struggle to survive and use all of their remaining strength to fight it.  There is rarely any strength of energy left over for them to do anything else.  But cancer can at most harm us in this life, the cancer of our delusions harm us in this and all our future lives.  If we do not take radical steps to remove every last trace of the cancer of delusions from our mind, it will spread until eventually it completely kills our spiritual life.  If just one cell of cancer remains in our body, if left unchecked, it can and will mutate and eventually spread throughout our body.  In the same way, if we allow even one cell of delusion to remain in our mind, it will mutate and eventually spread throughout our mind.

Delusions are like weeds which if not stopped will gradually grow in strength and crowd out and destroy any good crops.  Just as nothing good can grow in a field of weeds, so too no virtues can grow in a mind overrun by delusions.

(5.25) Moreover, for those whose minds lack alertness,
The wisdoms from listening, contemplating, and meditating
Will not be retained by their memory
Any more than water will remain in a leaky pot.

If we check, it is quite rare that we ever do much to mix our mind with Dharma.  But if our mind lacks alertness, the little we do is quickly lost so our effort is almost for naught.

As time goes on, I am increasingly of the view if it weren’t for the fact that samsara gives us one problem after another, we would never really practice Dharma.  I know for myself that when everything is going well in my life, it is very easy to become lazy and just coast and enjoy the ripening of good karma.  It is only when life smacks me down in one way or another that I am forced to actually use the Dharma to change the way my mind thinks in a more positive way.

It’s so easy to just take the Dharma at the level of interesting philosophical ideas.  Of course there is benefit in merely understanding what the Dharma says, but the fruit of Dharma is only realized when we actually transform our mind with it.  Meditation is defined as “familiarizing our mind with virtue.”  There are three different levels at which we do this, listening, contemplating and meditating.  Listening to Dharma is not just hearing the sounds of Dharma, but it is a special way of paying attention to Dhama instructions.  Practically speaking, to listen in a qualified way means to have the sickness of our delusions in mind, and then we listen to the Dharma instructions we are receiving as if they were personal advice on the cure coming from our Spiritual Doctor.  Contemplating is not just thinking about the Dharma we have heard, it is a rigorous process of testing its validity against the experience of our own lives until we see, yes, the Dharma is truth.  My happiness does depend on whether my mind is at peace, not my external circumstances.  Delusions destroy my inner peace and virtuous states of mind increase it.  Selfishness ruins everything, selflessness is the key to everything.  Everything does depend entirely upon how I view things, and I have complete freedom to change my view into something more positive, indeed pure.  And when I do so, everything gets better.  If I change my mind, I quite literally can change the world.  Meditating is not just sitting cross-legged for a period of time in the morning before we begin our day, it is the actual process of changing ourselves with the Dharma truths we have realized.  Meditation is not just remembering the ideas of Dharma, it is the inner work of bringing about a deep transformation of who we are.  With listening, for example, we come to understand what pure compassion is.  With contemplation, we generate the feeling of compassion in our heart.  With meditation, we become a compassionate person.  Venerable Tharchin said, “meditation makes Dharma an acquisition of your personality.”

Alertness does not just distinguish fault from non-fault, it distinguishes faults from non-faults within our own mind.  We are quite skilled at distinguishing faults from non-faults in others, but this is not alertness, rather it is ignorance.  Others have no faults, rather they appear that way only because we look at them in a faulty way.  Geshe-la says, “a pure mind experiences a pure world and an impure mind experiences an impure world.”  Our ignorance, however, grasps at the appearance of faults in others as being objectively true.  We then “find fault” in others, become upset about their shortcomings, generate anger and resentment when they fail to live up to our expectations, and then find ourselves in conflict with all those around us.  Alertness looks inward and is able to distinguish fault from non-fault within our own mind.  Only this can keep us on track.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Never let your guard down

(5.22) I can accept losing my wealth and reputation,
Or even my livelihood or my body,
And I can even accept my other virtues degenerating;
But I can never allow my practice of guarding the mind to decline.

Normally we think our wealth and reputation are the most important things in our life.  We know this because we spend most of our time thinking about these things and seeking to protect them.  We feel our happiness and well-being depend upon them.  Some people are willing to sacrifice anything to secure these two.  There is of course nothing wrong with wealth and a good reputation if we use these things for virtuous purposes.  But we should not be attached to them, thinking that our happiness depends on them.

Our livelihood and our body are often, quite rightly, considered even more important than our wealth and reputation.  Our livelihood is the means by which we acquire wealth, and certainly the cause of generating new wealth is more important than wealth itself.  If we lose all our wealth but not our livelihood, we can gain our wealth back.  Our body is even more important than all of these.  Without our body, we can have no livelihood, wealth or reputation.  Without our body, we would lose everything we have in this life.  All of these things are important, and we are correct to try protect them, but Shantideva is telling us they are trivial in importance compared to guarding our mind.

In other words, whatever happens, I mustn’t leave my mind unprotected. If I do, I stand to lose everything from my spiritual life.  My spiritual life will end.  If we lose anything else we can get them again, but we will never regain anything of value if we lose our practice of guarding the mind.  All good fortune comes from merit, and all merit comes from virtue.  All virtue depends upon the practice of guarding the mind.  The cause of wealth is giving.  The cause of a good reputation is rejoicing in other’s good qualities.  The cause of a livelihood is the intention to help others.  The cause of a human body is the practice of moral discipline.  All of the things we cherish in fact come from our virtues, which in turn depend upon our practice of guarding the mind.

Our wealth, reputation, livelihood and even our body at most can help us in this life alone, but our practice of guarding the mind can help us in this and all our future lives.  Which is more important to protect?  Of course we should protect them all, but Shantideva is highlighting for us what really matters, the thing we should protect at all costs.  Do we live our life this way?  If not, why not?

Geshe-la has said we make prayers, prostrations, recite sadhanas, and so forth, but we never guard our mind.  He once said guarding the mind is our most important practice, and then quoted Shantideva with verse 22, indicating that it has to be the most important of our practices.  If so, one could argue this is the most important verse in Shantideva’s guide.  We should regularly meditate on this verse in order to strengthen our determination.

(5.23) With my palms pressed together,
I beseech those who wish to guard their minds:
Always put effort into guarding
Both mindfulness and alertness.

Mindfulness, quite simply, is remembering our Dharma conclusions.  We engage in all sorts of contemplation of Dharma, and in dependence upon receiving blessings, we are occasionally led to clear virtuous conclusions, such as the need to be grateful for what our parents have provided us, not resentful about what they haven’t; or the need to forgive others for the harm they have caused; or even realizing nothing is more important than guarding our mind.  It is not enough to have a flash of wisdom insight, we need to maintain the continuum of these understandings for longer and longer periods of time so that they can bring about a deep transformation of who we are.  Mindfulness does it.  It functions to keep our mind on an object that has not been forgotten, preventing us from losing it, and it also functions to bring back to mind our object after we have forgotten it.  Without mindfulness, our virtues will merely be like a flash of lightening at night, providing a temporary glimpse of how things are.  With mindfulness, our virtues become like the sun on a clear day illuminating without interruption our path.

Alertness, quite simply, is a wisdom mind that can distinguish fault from non-fault.  It is like a Secret Service agent always on the look out for the slightest danger or threat to the virtue within our mind.  Alertness functions as a spy.  It is a wisdom alerting us to a fault, so that we can take appropriate action such as strengthening our mindfulness. In particular it watches out for inappropriate attention.  All delusion arises from inappropriate attention.  Inappropriate attention is an exaggeration of the good or bad qualities of an object or situation.  Inappropriate attention is then the main cause of delusion.  Alertness constantly keeps a watch out for inappropriate attention arising in our mind.  When we are driving on a busy road, with cars, bikes and pedestrians moving in every direction, it is alertness that protects us from getting in an accident.  In exactly the same way, when internally travelling the path, with delusions, negativities and distractions moving in every direction, it is alertness that protects our spiritual journey.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Guarding the wound of our mind

(5.19) Just as I would be careful of a wound
When in a jostling and unruly crowd,
So should I always guard the wound of my mind
When among those who might provoke delusions.

(5.20) If I am careful of a physical wound
Out of fear of even the slightest pain,
Why do I not protect the wound of my mind
Out of fear of being crushed by the mountains of hell?

(5.21) If I always practise in this way,
Then, whether I am among harmful beings
Or with people I find attractive,
Neither my steadfastness nor my vows will decline.

This is a very special piece of advice that is so relevant to our living and working in the land of the jostling and unruly.  This advice we have to take to heart.  If we do we will succeed.  We will accomplish so much in the society in which we’re working.  What is the advice?

There are many people or situations that might provoke our delusions.  There are many people already in our lives who provoke attachment.  How many car accidents happen due to some guy looking at an attractive woman on the street?  And not all attachment is sexual.  Attachment to people is thinking that they are causes of our happiness.  If we check, no matter who we engage with our first thought is “how can this person help me accomplish my objectives.”  In actual fact, we are constantly on the look out for how to use people for our own purposes, and we view everyone through this lens.  When we find people who can help us fulfill our proposes, almost instantly attachment develops within our mind.

There are also many people who might provoke impatience, anger, and so on.  When we lived in Geneva, my wife worked at the local international school which gave our kids free tuition.  They sold the school and the new owner has the bright idea of getting rid of free tuition for the kids of teachers.  The end result was this was the primary reason why we had to leave Europe and move back to the U.S.  I remember walking on campus once behind the new manager who was spearheading this effort, and for the first time in my life I actually had to physically restrain myself from strangling the guy!  There was this sudden surge of aggression in my mind.  There are not only extreme cases like this, we can be bothered by the person who sits next to us at work who just never stops talking, preventing us from working; or the little old lady who drives really slowly blocking traffic.  Some people we just find terribly arrogant, others very presumptuous.  Pretty much everybody bothers us in one way or the other.

We need to identify where we are weak to the attacks of the delusions, and at such times be particularly mindful.  We need to examine our life and try identify those situation where we are particularly susceptible to generating delusions.  If we were to walk in a dangerous neighborhood at night, we would be on high alert.  Yet we think nothing of walking into a shopping mall or into a conference room at work.  We need to become alert to dangerous situations for our mind, not just our body.

Shantideva says we should regard our mind as an open wound.  It’s exposed—therefore I cannot, dare not, leave it unprotected.   If we feel this way about our mind then we’ll be concerned for it. We’ll take care so that no harm will come to us.  If I don’t protect my mind I will be hurt, seriously hurt.  We need to think not only about short term hurt, but the long term hurt in the future which is far greater.

When people hurt themselves, such as breaking a bone, they put casts or special braces on so as to protect their injury from becoming worse.  We need to do the same with our delusions.  For example, I have long suffered from jealousy about how I perceive my father loving my brother more.  This is a sore and sensitive point for me.  Likewise, I often worry about how he judges me and the decisions I make in life.  It does not take much for me to become heavily deluded about these things.  My mind is already badly injured in this way and the “break” hasn’t fully healed yet (not even close, actually).  I need to put on the mental cast of alertness to be mindful of when my mind starts going down the roads of inappropriate attention which lead quickly to delusions.

People who have bad backs know if they twist just wrong or lift something too heavy, they can quickly hurt their back, and back pain can sometimes last for days.  As a result, they are very careful.  We need to be the same with our mind.  At our current state of spiritual development, there are some things we can handle easily without generating delusions, there are some things which are currently way beyond our capacity and then there are those things in the middle which could go either way.  For these things in particular, we need to guard our alertness.  They are the things which might just be too heavy for us, so we need to be careful.

When we have been sick a long time, our body is weak and we have not yet regained all of our strength.  If we push it too hard, too quickly, we could quickly relapse into our illness or set back our recovery by days or even weeks.  Instead, we move slowly, gradually regaining our strength and capacity.  In the same way, when we are coming off of a long period in which our mind was heavily under the influence of delusions, we should be mindful to not push things too hard or too quickly.  Our mind is weak and fragile, and it might not take much to reactivate our delusions quite strongly.  We see this in particular with people who suffer from depression.  When we are depressed, we think “nothing goes our way, everything is hard.”  When just the slightest thing goes wrong, even though in and of itself it is of no great significance, it nonetheless deflates our spirits and we become down and despondent.

Next time you are sick or injured, look and see how your mind naturally has great wisdom of self-preservation guiding you in your recovery.  Then take that as an analogy for how you should be with respect to your delusions.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Stop exaggerating!

Now Shantideva enters into an explanation of skillful means, and how a Bodhisattva should behave.

Each one of us has a great responsibility now for helping Buddhadharma to flourish.  To do so we know we have to go out into the world and be very much part of society, giving people the opportunity to meet the Buddhadharma, the Kadam Dharma.  To do this, no doubt that we need strength of mind, stability of practice, a lot of courage.  In one sense what we’re doing is very unusual.  If we look throughout history, what we’re doing now is quite extraordinary.  We are taking a set of spiritual instructions that has been in India and Tibet for thousands of years, and we are trying to bring it into the modern world and integrate it into our modern lives.  This has never been done before, and we have been tasked with doing it!

If we are to succeed, then there’s no duobt we need to be able to protect our mind, guard our practice.  In particular, we need many different types of skillful behavior; we need to maintain strength of mind, stability, courage, etc.  With this chapter in particular, there is a lot of advice that is of particular relevance.  If we are to succeed in our work, we must follow this advice.  It is absolutely essential.  Please take this advice right to heart.  It is important for us all—if we are to succeed, it’s quite necessary to take this advice to heart.  Otherwise we’ll blow it!

(5.18) Therefore, I will guard my mind well
And protect it from what is inappropriate.
Without the discipline of guarding the mind,
What is the use of many other disciplines?

What is inappropriate?  Shantideva is primarily referring to protecting our mind from inappropriate attention.  Inappropriate attention is synonymous with exaggeration in a way that produces delusion.

With inappropriate attention, we exaggerate the apparent qualities of an object.  This is something we do all the time.  First we exaggerate the objects attractiveness or repulsiveness.  We think the object is actually attractive or unattractive from its own side.  Then we exaggerate its ability to be a source of happiness or suffering.  We project all sorts of hopes or fears onto the object and relate to the object as if it actually had these powers.  On this basis we generate attachment or aversion.  And we always exaggerate how much it exists.  We think the object actually exists as an independent thing.  On this basis we generate ignorance.

Shantideva is encouraging us to guard our mind well.  We do this by binding our mind to the pillar of virtue.  If we are to protect our mind from all that is inappropriate, all exaggeration, then we won’t allow our mind to go out to an object of attachment to pull it in. We won’t allow our mind to go out to an object of attachment or be pushed away from an object of aversion.  We will stay within and recognize that an object being attractive or unattractive is an appearance of mind.  In other words, there’s nothing to go out to.  We feel it is just a pleasant or attractive appearance.  Just an unpleasant our unattractive appearance.  Just a karmic appearance to mind.  In this way we can protect our mind, guard our mind, keep control over our mind, and thereby keep a very peaceful mind.

As soon as we go out to an object, there’s naturally an exaggeration taking place.  We know in dependence upon that delusion will naturally arise.  All stemming from that inappropriate attention.  Even though we may know intellectually about inappropriate attention, we need to look deeply within our own mind to discriminate the different types and levels of inappropriate attention in order to protect our mind from it.  If we don’t, we will fail in all other disciplines.

In particular, we need to do this with strong attachment and strong anger.  There might be certain objects we have particularly strong attachment towards or certain people we have particularly strong aversion towards.  It is certain there is strong exaggeration present in our mind.  If we are not reacting to situations as they actually are, we are certain to make mistakes and make things worse.  Bringing things down a notch always helps.

To keep it simple:  there is no delusion without exaggeration.  So if you find your mind is unpeaceful or disturbed about something, your first task is to identify how you are exaggerating things.  This alone will help bring you under control and give you the space to then apply other opponents.  Ultimately, if there is no exaggeration in our mind, there is no delusion.  Our mother was right, “stop exaggerating!”


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Beginning the process of healing

(5.17) Even those who wish to find happiness and avoid suffering
Will wander without meaning or purpose
If they do not practise training the mind,
The supreme and principal Dharma.

To find the happiness that we seek, the freedom that we seek, we have to train our mind in wisdom.  If we wish for true happiness, real freedom, then we have to train our mind in wisdom.   There is actually no other way.  Our mind is unhappy because it is unpeaceful.  It is unpeaceful because delusions have taken over.  Wisdom opposes all delusions, making our mind peaceful and calm.

Delusions take control of our mind and then cause us to say or do things which we later regret.  It only takes a few moments of anger, for example, to destroy even a lifetime’s worth of our closest relationships.  It is only by learning to gain control of our mind, even in the most difficult and provocative of situations, that we can have any hope of being happy just in this life, much less in lifetimes to come.

This is hard too, because it is difficult enough to accept that our freedom and happiness depend upon our mind.  We may know this, but have we yet accepted it?  We still grasp at our freedom and happiness depending upon our bank account, whether we are getting along with our family, how we are advancing in our career.  We are convinced these things determine our happiness and work unquestioningly towards their accomplishment.  But no matter how much money we have in the bank, no matter how many people love us, and no matter how successful we are in our career, we still remain ill at ease.  Yet, even when we are staring into the abyss of poverty, in the middle of huge conflicts with our loved ones and we have lost our job, if our mind is calm and peaceful, free from delusions, we are happy.  This doesn’t mean we don’t try improve our external circumstance, it just means we don’t look to it to make us happier.

Here Shantideva is saying that my freedom and happiness does not just depend totally on my mind, but real freedom, real happiness, depends upon realizing ultimate truth.  Do we realize this?  Have we accepted this?  The whole world, and all of our lives, are filled with all sorts of drama.  Why?  Because we think this is all real.  We think all of this matters.  In reality, it is just the dance of karmic appearances with nothing behind them.  Nothing is actually happening.  Nobody is actually there thinking anything about us.  We have never gone anywhere.  Yet it all seems so real, it all seems so important.  As a result, we overreact to what appears and make everything worse.  We are like somebody drowning, panicking, and flailing about, but in actual fact we are in 3 feet of water and if we could just calm down we would realize we could stand without trouble.  Nothing is as bad as it seems, because in reality the things that seem to exist don’t.  We of course still need to respond conventionally to what appears, but the sting of everything falls away.  Knowing nothing is wrong (because nothing is happening) we are able to calm down, look at the situation in a peaceful way, and then respond with wisdom and compassion instead of ignorance and anger.

The test for whether we really understand the importance of ultimate truth is how often each day are we training in ultimate truth?  If we are honest, we are still turning to other things as the source of our happiness.

That’s our responsibility then as bodhisattvas: with a deeply compassionate mind of Bodhichitta, we need to train in wisdom.  To make spiritual progress we have to oppose at deeper and deeper levels the obstructions in our mind.  We do this by training in the spiritual paths that are the opponents to our delusions.  When delusions arise, we need to make an active effort to recall our virtues and recall our wisdom and use them to bring our mind back to a clear, peaceful, constructive, happy space.  Hanging on to our anger, going over again and again all of the perceived faults against us and plotting our revenge are all minds that destroy our peace now and will take us to the lower realms later.

We need to know clearly what we need to abandon and what in our mind we need to cultivate.  If we don’t clearly know these things, how can we heal our own mind?  Once we have this knowledge we can actually set about the process of transforming our mind.  We can begin the process of healing.

New Year’s for a Kadampa

New Year’s Day is of course preceded by New Year’s Eve.  The evening before is usually when friends get together to celebrate the coming of the new year.  Sometimes Kadampas become a social cynic, looking down on parties like this, finding them meaningless and inherently samsaric.  They mistakenly think it is somehow a fault to enjoy life and enjoy cultural traditions.  This is wrong.

If we are invited to a New Year’s party, we should go without thinking it is inherently meaningless.  Geshe-la wants us to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  New Year’s Eve parties are part of modern life, so our job is to bring the Dharma into them.  Venerable Tharchin said that our ability to help others depends upon two things:  the depth of our Dharma realizations and the strength of our karmic connections with living beings.  Doing things with friends as friends helps build those karmic bonds.  Even if we are unable to discuss any Dharma, at the very least, we can view such evenings as the time to cultivate our close karmic bonds with people.  Later, in dependence upon these bonds, we will be able to help them.

One question that often comes up is at most New Year’s Eve parties is what to do about the fact that everyone is drinking or consuming other intoxicants.  Most of us have Pratimoksha vows, so this can create a problem or some awkward moments for ourself or for the person who is throwing the party.  Best, of course, is if you have an open and accepting relationship with your friends where you can say, “you can do whatever you want, but I am not going to.”  It’s important that we don’t adopt a judgmental attitude towards others who might drink, etc.  We each make our own choices and it is not up to us to judge anyone else.  We might even make ourselves the annual “designated driver.”  Somebody has to be, might as well be the Buddhist!

If we are at a party where we can’t be open about being a Buddhist, which can happen depending upon our karmic circumstance, what I usually do is drink orange juice or coke for most of the night, but then at midnight when they pass around the glasses of Champagne I just take one, and without a fuss when it comes time, I just put it to my lips like I am drinking but I am not actually doing so.  If we don’t make an issue out of it, nobody will notice.  Why is this important?  Because when we say we don’t drink, they will ask why.  Then we say because we are a Buddhist.  Implicitly, others can take our answer to mean we are saying we think it is immoral to drink, so others might feel judged. When they do, they then reject Buddhism, and create the karma of doing so. We may feel “right,” but we have in fact harmed those around us. What is the most moral thing to do depends largely upon our circumstance. It goes without saying that others are far more likely to feel judged by us if in fact we are judging everyone around us! We all need to get off our high horse and just love others with an accepting attitude.

Fortunately, most Kadampa centers now host a New Year’s Eve party.  This is ideal.  If our center doesn’t, then ask to host one yourself at the center.  This gives our Sangha friends an alternative to the usual New Year’s parties.  We can get together at the center, have a meal together, do a puja together and just hang out together as friends.  We are people too, not just Dharma practitioners, so it is important to be “exactly as normal.”  If our New Year’s party is a lot of fun, then people will want to come again and again; and perhaps even invite their friends along.  It is not uncommon to do either a Tara practice or an Amitayus practice.   Sometimes centers organize a retreat weekend course over New Year’s weekend.  For several years in Geneva, we would do Tara practice in six sessions at the house of a Sangha member.  The point is, try make it time together with your Sangha family.  Christmas is often with our regular family, New Year’s can be with our spiritual family.

What I used to do (and really should start doing again), is around New Years I would take the time to go through all the 250+ vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism and reflect upon how I was doing.  I would try look back on the past year and identify the different ways I broke each vow, and I would try make plans for doing better next year.  If you are really enthusiastic about this, you can make a chart in Excel where you rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how well you did on each vow, and then keep track of this over the years.  Geshe-la advises that we work gradually with our vows over a long period of time, slowly improving the quality with which we keep them.  Keeping track with a self-graded score is a very effective way of doing this.  New Years is a perfect time for reflecting on this.

Ultimately, New Year’s Day itself is no different than any other.  It is very easy to see how its meaning is merely imputed by mind.  But that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful, ultimately everything is imputed by mind.  The good thing about New Year’s Day is everyone agrees it marks the possibility for a new beginning.  It is customary for people to make New Year’s Resolutions, things they plan on doing differently in the coming year.  Unfortunately, it is also quite common for people’s New Year’s Resolutions to not last very long.

But at Kadampas, we can be different.  The teachings on impermanence remind us that “nothing remains for even a moment” and that the entire world is completely recreated anew every moment.  New Year’s Day is a good day for recalling impermanence.  Everything that happened in the previous year, we can just let it go and realize we are moving into a new year and a new beginning.  We should make New Year’s resolutions spiritual ones.  It is best, though, to make small changes that you make a real effort to keep than large ones that you know won’t last long.  Pick one or two things you are going to do differently this year.  Make it concrete and make sure it is doable.  A former student of mine would pick one thing that she said she was going to make her priority for the coming year, and then throughout the year she would focus on that practice. I think this is perfect. Another Sangha friend of mine would every year ask for special advice about what they should work on in the coming year. This is also perfect.

When you make a determination, make sure you know why you are doing it and the wisdom reasons in favor of the change are solid in your mind.  On that basis, you will be able to keep them.  Making promises that you later break creates terrible karma for ourselves which makes it harder and harder to make promises in the future. We create the habit of never following through, and that makes the practice of moral discipline harder and harder.

Just because we are a Kadampa does not mean we can’t have fun like everyone else on New Year’s Eve.  It is an opportunity to build close karmic bonds with others, especially our spiritual family.  We can reflect upon our behavior over the previous year and make determinations about how we will do better in the year to come.

I pray that all of your pure wishes in the coming year be fulfilled, and that all of the suffering you experience become a powerful cause of your enlightenment.  I pray that all beings may find a qualified spiritual path and thereby find meaning in their life.  I also pray that nobody die tonight from drunk driving, but everyone makes it home safe.  Since that is unlikely to come true, I pray that Avalokiteshvara swiftly take all those who die to the pure land where they may enjoy everlasting joy.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Distraction destroys our spiritual life

(5.15) Rebirth as a first form realm god and so on,
Which results from the mental action of clear concentration,
Does not come from actions of body or speech
But from actions of mind.

(5.16) Buddha, the All Knowing One, has said
That reciting mantras and prayers, and enduring spiritual hardships,
Even for a long time,
Are to no avail if the mind is distracted elsewhere.

Geshe-la has often warned us about the distracted mind during pujas or while we are engaging in our practice.  When Geshe-la first opened the temple at Manjushri he gave teachings on Lamrim, but in reality he spent three days talking about distraction, calling it the thief which is robbing us of our spiritual life.  He said the sadhanas we have been given have everything we need to attain enlightenment.  The only thing we have to do is apply ourselves fully to doing them with single-pointed concentration.  If we do this one thing, we will attain enlightenment.

One of the many bad habits we have gotten into is distraction.  When we engage in sadhanas, because we are familiar with them, we do them without paying much attention to what we are doing.  Perhaps the feeling arises that we need a new practice because this one has grown boring or dry.  This feeling arises because we relate to our sadhanas as things that do something to us as opposed to things we are supposed to do.  We relate to them as we do any samsaric object.

The key to practicing sadhanas with constant freshness is we should try to generate the minds indicated by the words, not just recite them.  Because the minds indicated by the words have multiple levels, we can engage in the sadhana at multiple levels.  Doing sadhanas is an art form to be perfected.  We need to continuously strive to perfect the quality with which we do our practices.  This is how we advance.  It is not complicated, we just need to be mindful about what we are supposed to be doing, and then we do it.

For me, the most effective way of keeping our sadhana practice alive is to view each recitation of each line of the sadhana as an implicit request to the Spiritual Guide that he generate within our mind the correct mind indicated by the words.  When we rely upon the Spiritual Guide in this way we need to avoid two extremes.  The first is the extreme of relying upon our ordinary mind – we try do the sadhana with our ordinary mind.  This doesn’t work any more than it is possible to clean a dirty room with a dirty rag.  The other extreme is the extreme of doing nothing.  Here we just request the Spiritual Guide to do it all, but then we do nothing from our own side.  We just wait passively with lots of attachment to results that he does something.  The middle way here is to make the requests, but then try from our own side to generate in our hearts the minds indicated by the words to the best of our ability.  Effectively, what we try do is align ourselves with what he is doing/generating within our mind.  With our effort and his blessings, we will definitely move our mind.  Not every meditation will be filled with mind-blowing revelation, but we will feel with every meditation, even the ones where we struggle to simply stay awake, we are moving the ball forward.

Training in virtuous habits requires concentration, because concentration allows us to familiarize ourself with virtue.  To achieve such extraordinary results from a virtue such as conscientiousness requires extraordinary effort.  Effort is not a lot of visible external work.  We can be doing a whole lot of external work, but be doing it with an unhappy mind, and there is no effort.  Effort is enjoying engaging in virtuous actions.  We enjoy engaging in virtuous actions themselves.  Geshe-la said whether we see good results from our activities is not important.  Sometimes we will, sometimes we won’t.  What is meaningful is our joyful effort, because good results will always come in time from such effort.