Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: What is wisdom anger?

Jealousy, in particular of towards those we dislike, is a common cause of our anger.  Now Shantideva suggests how we can rejoice in their good fortune instead.

(6.84) People become angry when someone benefits their enemy,
But, whether their enemy receives benefit or not,
It is the enemy’s own anger that urges him to attack;
So it is that anger which is to blame, not the benefactor.

We become angry when somebody helps our enemy, even if it is not helping them to harm us.  If somebody is engaging in a virtuous action towards another, we need to rejoice in that person’s action, not become angry at them!  If we see somebody enjoying themselves with our enemy, we become angry at them.  When we see people happy, we need to rejoice in that happiness, not become angry with them.  In any case, the friend of the enemy has done nothing wrong, so there is no reason to have any bad feelings towards him.  And why is the other person viewed as our enemy in the first place?  The person him/herself is our kind mother, it is their present or past delusions which propelled them to harm us at some point.  To get angry with somebody who has helped our kind mother surely makes no sense.  If we are going to direct our frustration towards anything, it should be the anger in our “enemy’s” mind.  Our objective should be to dispel their anger through healing the relationship.

(6.85) Why, by getting angry, do we throw away our merit,
The faith others have in us, and our other good qualities?
Would it not be better to get angry with anger itself,
For it brings no benefit to us or to others?

We hear this a lot in the Dharma teachings – it’s OK to get angry at the delusion of anger.  But what exactly does that mean and how do we practically put it into practice.  Anger views something as a cause of our suffering and then seeks to harm that cause.  Deluded anger views something external (and inherently existent) as a cause of our suffering, exaggerates the harm we have received, and then seeks to harm the object of our anger in some way.  Wisdom anger (anger directed against delusions) views delusions as the cause of our suffering and seeks to harm them as much as possible.  These are very different things.

The first main difference is the object of blame – an inherently existent external object or a delusion.  The second main difference is the method of harming.  Deluded anger typically retaliates through either mentally “hating/greatly disliking” the other person, grasping at them as a real cause of our suffering; verbally, by saying hurtful or divisive words; or even physically, by harming or even killing the other person.  Wisdom anger harms delusions by identifying them clearly, reducing them through applying Dharma opponents, and finally eliminating them altogether with the wisdom realizing emptiness. 

Wisdom anger can be directed at our own delusions or against the delusions of others.  The process is basically the same.  When we direct it against others, we first identify clearly that the reason why our so-called “enemy” harms us is because they are under the influence of their delusions, and thereby we make a distinction between the person (for whom we have compassion) and the sickness of delusion within their mind (which we want to heal).  To apply opponents to others delusions can take many forms.  The most common form is simply setting a good example.  This we can always do regardless of whether the other person is seeking our advice or not.  When we set a good example, we should do so completely free from any attachment to the other person changing and we should avoid making a point of “showing a good example” as some obvious attempt to shame the other person or show them that what they are doing is wrong.  Additionally, we can pray that those who suffer from delusions receive powerful blessings to pacify the delusions in their mind.  Our prayers will be effective in proportion to the closeness of our karmic connection with the other person, the purity of our motivation in praying for them, and the degree of our faith in the Buddha we are praying to. 

Sometimes we are able to apply the opponents to other’s delusions by offering Dharma advice or Dharma teachings.  But we must be careful here.  Giving unsolicited advice almost always backfires.  If the other person is not genuinely asking us for our advice or we are not highly certain that they have sufficient faith that they will be open to receiving our advice, then we should probably refrain from offering it.  When we offer correct advice to somebody who doesn’t want it, all we do is create the conditions for them to engage in the negative action of rejecting wisdom and grasping even more tightly to their wrong views.  We may feel self-righteous for the great advice we have offered, but in truth we have done harm to the other person by doing so. 

In terms of applying the antidote of the wisdom realizing emptiness to other’s delusions, we can again do so through giving wisdom advice that shows people it is how they mentally relate to things that is the problem, or even give teachings on emptiness itself (again, assuming they are open to receiving our advice).  We can likewise meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena ourself.  The other person’s mind is also empty of inherent existence, which means the delusions that appear to us to be arising in their mind are also empty and mere appearances to our mind.  Anytime we meditate on the emptiness of any phenomena, we purify the contaminated karma giving rise to that appearance.  When we meditate on the emptiness of other’s delusions, we purify the contaminated karma for such delusions to appear.  This is a very profound point. 

In my very first meeting with Gen Tharchin, more than 20 years ago, I was explaining all of the different delusions I saw in my then girlfriend (now wife).  He looked me straight in the eye, and then said, “the faults she appears to have are actually mirror-like reflections of the faults within your own mind.  If you purge these faults from your own mind they will, like magic, gradually disappear from her.”  He then leaned closer and said, “and never forget, she is an emanation of Vajrayogini (followed by a knowing wink of the eye).”  This is ultimately how Buddhas ripen and liberate us.  They have realized directly the emptiness of all our faults, this realization functions to gradually bless our mind to reduce and finally eliminate all of our faults.  By seeing us as already enlightened beings, they ripen our pure potential and draw out our own good qualities.  By mixing our mind with their minds, we come to adopt their view of us, first seeing the emptiness of our faults and eventually seeing ourselves as fully enlightened beings.  This very brief encounter with the uncomparable Gen Tharchin reveals the very essence of a wisdom Bodhisattva’s way of life.  

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Be happy for others

(6.78) Those who are not concerned with others’ happiness
And do not want them to be happy,
Are like someone who stops paying wages to those who work for him,
Who then experiences many problems.

One thing’s for sure – if we’re not concerned with the happiness of others, then we won’t get anything from them other than problems. Sooner or later, problems will come for us.  We may feel, we may say, “I am concerned. I am concerned for others’ happiness. Why else would I be practicing Dharma and doing all that I do.”  Ours is not yet a perfectly altruistic, selfless motivation. It is still to a large extent it is a selfish one. We have a problem of self-cherishing.  This is not an attack, it is a diagnosis, but one that we each individually need to make about ourselves.  The truth is we often help others for our own selfish reasons.

Seeing this can sometimes lead to a degree of paralysis.  We see that our motivation is mixed, and we then think it is wrong for us to cherish the other person with a mixed motivation, so we hold ourselves back from engaging in virtue!  Clearly that is wrong.  We should still engage in the cherishing action, even if our motivation is mixed, because our motivation is still partly good and the action is still partly virtuous.  Some virtue is better than none.  If we wait until we can do things completely purely, we would have to wait until we attain enlightenment.  But how are we supposed to attain enlightenment if we never start engaging in virtuous actions in the first place because our motivation is mixed?  Clearly that is absurd.  Instead, we can engage in the virtue, but become aware where our motivation is mixed.  Then, we gradually try to purify our motivation so that it is becomes increasingly pure.  As Geshe Chekawa says, we should “remain natural while changing our aspiration.”

(6.79) When my own good qualities are praised,
I want others to rejoice in me;
So why, when others’ good qualities are praised,
Should I not want to rejoice in them?

If I want others to rejoice, then I should join them in rejoicing.

(6.80) Having generated the bodhichitta motivation
Wishing for all living beings to be happy,
Why on Earth do we not rejoice
When others find some happiness for themselves?

(6.81) If I really wish for living beings to become Buddhas,
Who are worshipped throughout all worlds,
Why do I dislike it so
When others receive a little mundane respect now?

(6.82) If someone I was looking after
And providing for in different ways
Were to find his own source of livelihood,
Surely I would be happy, not upset.

(6.83) If I begrudge living beings even this,
How can I wish for them to attain enlightenment?
Where is the bodhichitta in one who is not happy
When others receive something good?

Good question. So when someone experiences some happiness in their generally miserable life, why can’t we be happy about that?  Every day we wish, don’t we, every day we wish for all living beings, all living beings without exception to experience the perfect happiness of enlightenment.  So why can’t we be happy when they find some happiness now?  Perhaps we do not rejoice when we see others’ happiness coming from non-Dharma activities.  But where does the happiness come from? What is the main cause of happiness? Their past virtue.

Rejoicing when other people are happy is one of the best opportunities we have to make a connection with them at such times.  If they sense that we’re unhappy when they’re experiencing happiness, they won’t want to draw very close to us. We can come across as disapproving.  We must be extremely careful. Even if someone has done a negative action, we mustn’t be disapproving. It is very important that we don’t come across as disapproving, judgmental, critical. For a long time people engage in worldly enjoyments for their happiness. We still do. So who are we to judge?

If we really love someone and we see that they’re happy, doesn’t that make us happy?  If we’re not happy, perhaps that’s a sign indicating we need to love them more.  We need to love them as they are, not who we want them to be. Just love them as they are.  We shouldn’t have the attitude of, “if you were a real spiritual practitioner and stopped engaging in worldly enjoyments and so forth, then I’ll really love you.”  We should really love them now! We need to accept and love everyone wherever they are at. We do this with people we are not close to reasonably well, but for those who are closest to us – our families, our work colleagues, our Sangha friends – we expect more, and we get mad at them when they fail to be less than perfect.

It is especially important to be happy for people when they have worked hard at something and accomplished something, even if for us it is something little. For example, when somebody is working hard at something, it is important to really praise them.  If they are really happy about what they have accomplished, and we belittle it, it is devastating for them and it results in discouragement and they don’t try anything.  If we are happy for them, genuinely happy, this will give them encouragement to keep trying.  The only thing we have to do to attain enlightenment is never give up trying.  If people are taking a long time, we need to be patient.  A Bodhisattva works with people over lifetimes and lifetimes.  We go as far with people as we can, and be happy with whatever they have accomplished.  

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Rejoice!

Now Shantideva explains how jealousy and envy can also lead to anger. 

(6.76) If someone else develops a mind of joy
Through praising another’s good qualities,
Why, mind, do you not praise him too
And experience the same kind of joy?

Our normal reaction when others experience some sort of good fortune is jealousy or envy.  We think about how the other person doesn’t deserve that good fortune, or we simply wish we were experiencing it but are frustrated that we are not.  It is quite common for some people to work very hard and they never seem to catch a break, whereas others hardly work at all, yet good things just naturally fall into their lap.  This usually leaves us feeling jealous and discouraged, and then we go looking for others to blame for our plight, leading to anger.

We all wish to experience joy, happiness in our lives and whenever there is an opportunity to do so, we take it.  So why not rejoice in others’ good qualities, happiness, and so forth, rejoice when others are being praised?  The only reason for a difference in our reaction is because we are still influenced by the wrong view that our happiness is somehow more important than theirs, or their happiness is somehow not important.  The key to developing a robust practice of rejoicing, therefore, is the meditation on equalizing self and others.  Once we have some experience of considering the happiness of each and every living being as being equally important, then rejoicing will come easily.  Once rejoicing comes easily, we will be able to accumulate merit all of the time – we merely need think of those who are experiencing some good fortune, and we can rejoice.

We should also take an opportunity to share in the happiness experienced by the one who is giving praise.  As we go through our daily life, we will sometimes hear one person praising another.  Our normal reaction when this happens is externally we may nod in apparent agreement, but internally we then quickly going on to point out some fault that we have noticed in the person who is being praised.  There is always a ‘yeah, but’ in our mind.  We see only faults.  But when we see somebody praising another it is a particularly good time to practice rejoicing, because we can rejoice both in the person receiving the praise and the person giving the praise. 

As Dharma practitioners we must rejoice in one another’s good qualities, we must rejoice in one another’s activities, virtuous activities. We need to not just observe, but also admire them and rejoice in them.  We need to admire and rejoice in their skillful means. And then we will be inspired to follow the example others are setting for us.  And as well we must rejoice in the joyful effort of others. Whenever they try, we must make a point of rejoicing in their efforts, and talk to others of the good qualities that we see in them.  And we should also rejoice when others understand things that we don’t.  

The benefits of rejoicing are almost limitless.  First, rejoicing creates the cause to acquire the qualities you rejoice in.

(6.77) I should always rejoice in others’ happiness and virtue.
This joy causes my virtues to increase.
Moreover, it is the cause of delighting the holy beings
And the supreme method for benefiting others.

Rejoicing I think is one of the best ways of accomplishing results.  We’re so concerned with results! If we really want results, rejoice. It is the best way of accomplishing both internal and external results.  Rejoicing creates the causes to acquire what we are rejoicing in.  If a teacher and students are rejoicing a lot, then even if mistakes are being made at their Center, progress is being made, both internal and external.  No doubt that holy beings easily, powerfully can help progress in such a joyful, harmonious environment.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We can’t afford to not practice

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kadam Lucy once said we shouldn’t be too concerned about other’s relationships with us, but rather their relationships with each other.  We work out of the wish that all living beings have love for one another.  Our goal is not that everyone have good relationships with us, rather that they have good relationships with each other. 

Very often we criticize one to move closer to the other.  We see this all the time, and not just with teenagers.  Most political speech these days is of this nature, we signal our judgment of some other group so that we feel accepted by a group we wish to be a part of.

We need to do the opposite.  We need to say only good things about each person to all the others.  We need to praise people for being kind and good with others.  It is also good to praise the people in our world for being friendly and happy with others.  This draws these characteristics out.  We need to make people feel like they are a light in other’s lives, then they become such a light.  It starts with us individually and then it broadens to the whole world.  Individually we strive to do this for the Sangha to be happy and harmonious and learn how it works.  Then our Dharma community does the same for those outside of the community and in our daily lives.  Our role in the world is to help others love one another.   In this way, we can gradually transform our society and world into an enlightened society and an enlightened world. 

(6.73) If we cannot bear the relatively slight suffering
That we have to experience now,
Why do we not refrain from anger,
Which causes the far greater sufferings of hell?

(6.74) In the past, because of my attachment to non-virtuous actions,
I have endured aeons of torment in the hells and elsewhere,
And yet none of that has brought any benefit
Either to myself or to others;

(6.75) But now, through enduring comparatively little discomfort,
I can accomplish the greatest purpose of all –
To free all living beings from their suffering –
So I should feel only joy at having to endure such hardships.

If we genuinely felt that we could attain perfect freedom and help others do the same by enduring the difficulties on the spiritual path, we would feel only joy, wouldn’t we?  The problem is the benefits of the path seem very far off in the future, if they ever come at all; whereas the inconveniences of following the path are experienced now.  Our delusions all have a similar function – to fool us into thinking happiness is found by following them.  Because we still have strong faith in our delusions and weak faith in the Dharma, to go against the grain of our delusions is hard – it takes effort.  It’s very easy to conclude it is not worth it and settle into our spiritual life being a temporary fad, or a part-time hobby.

But if we can gain conviction in the 100% certainty of the sufferings of samsara and we can come to understand clearly how Dharma works to provide a solution, then this calculus reverses.  We realize if we really want to be free from inconvenience, we must practice – not practicing is worse.  When we have this long-term outlook, then we view working through the temporary difficulties on the path as the very substance of our spiritual practice – we are digging ourselves out of samsara.

Sometimes we can become very frustrated with Dharma teachings, either thinking they are asking the impossible of us or they are so difficult (such as the teachings on emptiness) that they seem meaningless.  Shantideva has a tendency in particular to provoke these sorts of reactions.  When we first start practicing Dharma we are like a baby that eats only mashed food, but now we are learning how to chew.  We need to train in the patience of definitely thinking about Dharma, accepting that we don’t understand, but joyfully working with it like a spiritual puzzel, knowing that when we get it all figured out it will be well worth it.  So we should be willing to gladly accept the difficulties because we understand it is completely worth it.

Celebrating Thanksgiving as a Kadampa

Getting together with family

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  Thanksgiving is part of modern life and one of the most important days on the American calendar. Therefore, it is our job to figure out how to celebrate it in a Kadampa way.

Traditionally on Thanksgiving, extended families get together and have a big feast and give thanks for the things and people in their life.  Even if people live far away, they travel to reunite with their family.  It is really only at Thanksgiving and Christmas that most Americans make a point of coming together as a family.  But that is often where the trouble starts!  We all have our uncle Bob or Grandpa John who just can’t help themselves saying offensive things.  Because it is supposed to be a “special day,” Mom and others get all stressed out that everything has to be “perfect,” but it is their anxiety about perfection that ruins it for everybody else.  Then of course, there is always the cynic – the person who is “too good” for Thanksgiving and feels the need to lambaste everyone else for their hypocrisy, fake friendliness, and consumerism come tomorrow.  Or perhaps we are Uncle Bob, the Nervous Nellie, or the cynic ruining the holiday for everyone else.  So the first things a Kadampa needs to do on Thanksgiving is to (1) fully accept and love our obnoxious relatives for who they are without feeling the need to change them in any way, and (2) make sure we are not the one ruining the holiday for everyone else.  As a cultural tradition, getting together with your family to give thanks is something to be rejoiced in, so we should throw ourselves into it and do what we can to make it good for everybody else.

Next, of course, comes the question about being vegetarian – or even more difficult, a vegan – on Thanksgiving.  What’s a good Kadampa to do with a giant Turkey carcass on the table, butter on the bread and mashed potatoes, and a hungry hoard ready to dig in?  Here, it entirely depends upon circumstance.  If your family is accepting of your vegetarianism, then make a vegetarian dish that you can share with everybody, and you eat what you can.  If your family does not understand and will feel offended or judged by your dietary choices, then I would advise to not make a stink out of it.  Take a small piece, eat a few bites without commentary to be polite and not hurt the cook’s feelings who prepared this big elaborate meal, and get on with your day.  But under no circumstances should you get on your soap box and make everybody else feel judged or guilty about their choices.  It is not our place to tell other people what dietary choices they should make.  Say some prayers for all the turkeys slaughtered on Thanksgiving, then transform everything into a giant Tsog offering and imagine you are offering up completely purified nectar to all the heroes and dakinis gathered around the table.

Giving Thanks

Usually during Thanksgiving, often during the meal, there comes a time where everyone explains what they are grateful for.  If your family is not accepting of your Buddhist path, now is not the time to profess your gratitude for your guru and the three precious jewels!  Internally, you should of course generate such gratitude.  But externally, you should express gratitude for things everyone else at the table can likewise generate gratitude for.  Why is this important?  If you express gratitude for something others are not grateful for, they may politely smile while you say your thanks, but in their heart they will be generating a critical mind towards your object of thanks.  You may feel like you have made your point, but they will have accumulated negative karma of holding on tightly to wrong views.  If you focus your thanks on things that everyone can be grateful for, then it is like you are leading a guided meditation in gratitude for all our kind mothers.

One of the hardest parts about Thanksgiving is, if we are honest, we don’t necessarily like our family very much.  Of course this isn’t true for everybody, but it is true for many people.  We are all just so different – different views and different priorities in life.  The members of our family have unique abilities to say all the wrong things which upset us in so many different ways, whether it is the irresponsible brother, controlling mother, judging father, obnoxious uncle, or embarrassing aunt, we find something we don’t like in all those closest to us.  One thing I have seen quite frequently among Kadampas is a very pure love for all the living beings they have never met, but general aversion for those closest to them in their life.  It’s easy to love all living beings in the abstract, loving actual deluded and annoying people is a different thing altogether.  Geshe-la tells us in all of his books we should start by learning how to love our family and those closest to us, and then gradually expand the scope of our love outwards until it encompasses all living beings.  Thanksgiving is a good day to start doing it right.  Love them, accept them, stop judging them.

Some people, though, find themselves alone on Thanksgiving. Perhaps there is so much conflict in their family that they just don’t get together anymore. Perhaps they would like to be with their family, but they lack the financial resources to join them. Perhaps there is a pandemic, preventing people from gathering. Perhaps their whole family has already passed away. Depression and suicide rates are often highest during the holidays. We attach so much importance to these holidays, and then when people find themselves alone or unloved, they fall into despair. When we were little, my mom was a single mother and the holidays were very important to her. Fortunately, some kind person always found a place at their table for us. It was annoying for me and my brother because we had to spend Thanksgiving with people we didn’t know nor particularly get along with, but it made a big difference for my emotionally fragile mother. If we know somebody who is alone on Thanksgiving, we should invite them to join us. There are so many people hurting out there, and most people just want to feel loved. So create a space at your table for them as my mother’s friends did for her. Don’t underestimate the difference such a gesture can make.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Dharma Centers

I also think it would be wonderful if every Dharma center in America had a Thanksgiving party in which everyone was welcome.  Geshe-la often talks about Dharma centers as belonging to the community.  Why can’t a Dharma center have a Thanksgiving celebration?  This could be a private affair for the people of the center, or it could even be an open house community celebration for anybody to come.  In addition to a great meal and quality friends, discussions can be had about the kindness of all our mothers.  It doesn’t matter if the people who come never come back, or perhaps they only come on Thanksgiving because they have nowhere else to go.  We are grateful for all living beings, so Thanksgiving is our chance to give some love and kindness back.  Gen-la Losang once asked who is more important, the people who come to the center and stay or the people who come and never come back?  If we look at how most centers are run, it seems our answer is the people who come and stay.  But he said the correct answer is those who never come back for the simple reason they are more numerous.  If somebody comes once, but walks away thinking, “hey, those Buddhists ain’t bad,” then they have just created the karma to find the path again in the future.  If our centers belong to the community, there is no reason why our centers can’t start doing community service.  Perhaps this isn’t currently the tradition at our center, but there is no reason why it can’t become a tradition next year.

Internally, for me, Thanksgiving is a reminder that for the most part I am an extremely ungrateful individual and I take for granted the kindness of everyone around me.  As those who have been following my blog for a long time know, I have had lots of difficulties with my father over the years.  At the core of it, he simply finds me ungrateful for all that he has done for me.  Historically, I have disagreed and protested, but if I’m honest, he is right. I take for granted all of the kindness others have shown me, and I feel as if I am entitled to him showing me kindness. No matter how much kindness he or my mother have ever showed me, my general view has been “not good enough.” I might even conventionally have been right that he should have done more, but what good does such an attitude do. If others find me ungrateful, then instead of becoming defensive, I should use that as a reminder that I need to be more grateful.  How could that be a bad thing?  

Gratitude as the Foundation of the Mahayana Path

If we think about it, a feeling of gratitude is really the foundation of the entire Mahayana path. It is not enough to just generate a feeling of gratitude once a year on Thanksgiving, nor is it enough to generate such a feeling once every 21 days when we come around to it on our Lamrim cycle. Rather, gratitude should be our way of life. Venerable Tharchin says that the definition of a realization of Dharma is when all of our actions are consistent with that realization and none of our actions are in contradiction with it. A feeling of gratitude towards everyone is a stage of the path, and one we should carry with us every day of the year.

But Thanksgiving is about more than just feeling grateful, it is also about “giving” back. Giving is one of our basic virtues, and one of our perfections which will take us to enlightenment. Venerable Tharchin says the thought “mine” is the opposite of the mind of giving, so the way to perfect our giving is to stop imputing “mine” on anything. Instead we should mentally give everything we have to others. We mentally think everything, including our very body and mind, belong to others. We give them to others. Of course we may still retain control over certain things, but we should have no sense of ownership over anything. We are custodians of things for others, but our intention is to use them all for their benefit. We offer our body, our mind, our money, our time, our family, our careers, everything, to others. We commit that we will use everything we have for their sake. At the very least, we can offer a good meal and a warm heart. In the end, what most people want is to feel loved. This is something we can give if we put a little effort into it.

Most of all, on Thanksgiving, I try give thanks to those closest to me. Before I got married, I had a vision where Tara came to me and handed to me a child. As she did so, she said, “this is where you will find your love.” My children may be a lot of work, insanely expensive, and they may be maddening at times, but I love them with all my heart. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. If they were not in my life, I wouldn’t know what it means to really love another person and put their interests first. The path would remain quite abstract. I am also extremely grateful for my wife. I have to work all the time, but she takes care of our kids and she takes care of our home. She is my best friend. Before I received highest yoga tantra empowerments for the first time, I met with Venerable Tharchin for the first time. I explained to him all of the troubles I was having with my then girlfriend, and he told me two things. First, view all of her apparent faults as reflections of the faults within my own mind, and then purge those faults like bad blood. When I do, he said, they will “magically” disappear from her because they aren’t coming from her side anyways. Second, he said, “never forget she is an emanation of Vajrayogini sent to bring you in this life to the pure land.” Of course, at the time, I didn’t understand emptiness enough to understand that my now wife is or isn’t anything from her own side, but thinking she was an emanation saved our relationship and enabled me to transform my relationship with her into the path. Later, when I came to understand emptiness a bit more, I realized it didn’t matter what she was, it was beneficial for me to believe she is an emanation. Now, after more than 20 years of marriage, I’m starting to come back to Venerable Tharchin’s words – she is an emanation, not in an inherently existent sense, but in the same sense that any emanation is an emanation. Every day, her every action and her every word, functions to ripen me on the path. Externally, she appears to act entirely normally, gets angry or sad like everybody else, but her normal is now my blessing. All of us can get to the same point with our partners no matter how they act or what they might do. Our partners have come to get us and take us to pure Dakini land, even if they don’t know it! Be grateful for them entering into your life in this way.

I think it is very important that we also learn to be genuinely grateful for our suffering. If we are honest about our spiritual practice, we usually only really get serious when we are experiencing some type of suffering. Then, when the difficult period in our life has passed, we go back to enjoying samsara and going through the motions with our practice. The solution to this problem is to “know suffering,” not just intellectually, but with our heart. We need to actually see our samsaric happiness as nothing more than a temporary reprieve from the endless slaughterhouse of samsara. We need to know our ordinary body and mind – our contaminated aggregates – as a cage that will torment us until the day we die, only to be thrown into a new prison cell which is likely to be far worse. We need to know our delusions are like devils duping us to follow paths that all end only in the fires of the deepest hell. We need to know all of the negative karma on our mind that we have not yet purified are like time bombs that can explode at any moment, shattering our lives and everything we hold dear. Such suffering is inevitable unless we end it as a possibility. It will never end on its own. When we actually “know” our suffering in our heart, then we will be motivated to practice sincerely, day and night, from this day until we are finally out. When we are grateful for our suffering, we are able to “accept” it. When we accept our suffering, it is no longer a “problem” for us. It may still be unpleasant, but it is not a problem, and so in many ways, we no longer “suffer” from it. Suffering comes primarily from non-acceptance of unpleasant feelings. But if we can develop an attitude of gratitude towards our difficulties, we will be able to accept them and realize that they are actually our most important fuel for our spiritual life.

Most of all, I am thankful for Geshe-la entering into my life.  He found me at my darkest hour, pulled me up, gave me a purpose, taught me what my real problem was (my own deluded, unpeaceful mind), gave me methods that work to heal my mind, provided me with perfectly reliable outer and inner advice, opened up my heart, revealed to me the magic of faith, provided teachers and centers who could help me bring the Dharma into my life, gave me the opportunity to teach the Dharma, and has been with me when I have felt otherwise alone.  He has created for me a vajra family of Sangha Brothers and Sisters who are some of the dearest people in my life, even though I rarely am able to see them.  He has shown me the root of my suffering and a doorway out.  He has provided me with everything I need to enter, progress along, and complete the path.  He has blessed my mind with countless empowerments, and has promised to remain in my heart helping me along until I attain the final goal.  Most of all, he has introduced me to Dorje Shugden and defended him when anybody and everybody else would have abandoned him.  Dorje Shugden is my guru, yidam and protector who helps me in this life and will be with me when I need him most – at the time of my death.

On Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of this.  And I offer myself as a servant to my guru and to all living beings.  Please keep me in your service for as long as space exists.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Attachment enables anger to spread like wildfire

(6.70) If, for example, a house caught fire
And there was a danger of the fire spreading to an adjacent house,
It would be advisable to remove anything, such as dry grass,
That might enable the fire to spread.

(6.71) In the same way, when those to whom I cling are harmed,
My attachment to them enables the fire of anger to spread to me.
Fearing that this will consume all my merit,
I should definitely abandon such attachment.

(6.72) How fortunate is a person condemned to death
Who is spared with having just his hand cut off;
And how fortunate are we if, instead of the agonies of hell,
We have to experience only the sufferings of the human realm.

It is surprising, but not surprising, how easily we become angry and retaliate when those we are attached to are harmed in any way.  This is especially true for parents.  When our kids are harmed in some way, we leap into action and are ready to go to war on their behalf.  I have too many stories to tell where this has happened to me, but the point is because we are attached to those we love being happy, when they are harmed in some way, we quickly become angry.

Why do we do this?  Because we have attachment to others being happy.  This seems like a just and normal reaction.  But we need to make the distinction between attachment to others being happy and compassion and love.  On the surface, they seem like the same in that they both wish others are happy and free from suffering.  What is different is for whose sake we want them to be happy and free from suffering.  Attachment to others being happy is concerned about ourselves, and becomes unhappy when others are not happy. We think our happiness depends on them being happy, so when they become unhappy we become unhappy, so anything that causes them to be unhappy, we also get angry with. 

When we have attachment to others being happy, we are not able to help them when they are down because we fall with them, so we become useless to them.  When we have attachment to others being happy, we can’t do what we need to do to actually help them.  Sometimes we have to do things that will make people unhappy when we don’t go along with their dysfunction, but we do it for their own benefit, even if they don’t realize this.  Parents have to do this all the time.  Unconditional love and compassion is concerned about others, and when they are unhappy we just love them more and so are still happy.

But it seems almost wrong to abandon our attachment to those we love being happy.  Won’t that make us indifferent to their plight and a cold and heartless person?  The opposite is actually the case.  It is our attachment to them being happy which actually gets in the way of us loving them purely, especially when they need us the most. 

We think instead of give up our attachment to our friends and family and children, can we just try hard not to get angry? We can even make promises to do so.  But is it possible if we have attachment to others being happy for us to not to get angry when they are harmed? If we have attachment, then is it definite that at some time we will get angry?  Of course it is. 

Our attachment to others being happy also can turn us into emotional tyrants.  We so can’t bear them being unhappy that when they are, we become angry with them and get upset at them for not being happy.  We then think we know what they need to be happy, and we will use our anger to try manipulate them into doing what we think they need to do to become happy.  Of course, this never works, but it doesn’t stop us from trying. 

We also, frankly, like our attachment to others.  Society fails to make the distinction between love and attachment, which is why there are so many poems and songs about how painful love is.  If we find ourselves getting angry often at those we have the most attachment to, is there a connection between the two?  We need to look at these things.  We don’t want to lose our object of attachment.  Do we have to?  When we abandon the mind of attachment, what happens to its object?  Does it cease altogether? Does part of it remain?  In truth, when we abandon our attachment, the object of our attachment disappears.  This doesn’t mean the person disappears, rather they turn into an object of love.  Objects of love are so much more pleasant than objects of attachment, so we can abandon our attachment without fear.

Of course we don’t want to experience hardship of abandoning the objects of our attachment.  But as Shantideva indicates, abandoning our attachment is nothing compared to the suffering we’ll experience if we keep our attachment, especially if we continue to get angry in dependence upon that attachment.  If we are not willing to pay the short-term price of abandoning our attachment we will never know the long-term rewards of permanent freedom.  A Dharma practitioner is somebody who is willing to do this because they know it is worth it.  The difficulty we experience does not come from the fact that we are now making the right decision, rather it comes from having repeatedly made the wrong decision in the past.  When we see this clearly, the more difficult it is, the more determined we will be to get free from it. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Becoming magic crystals

(6.67) If one person causes harm out of ignorance
And another gets angry with him, also out of ignorance,
Which person is at fault
And which one is not?

We read all of the teachings on the faults of anger, and how angry people are just so awful, so we tend to think it is justifiable to get angry with angry people, or at least we find it easy to do so.  In reality, the person who gets angry and the person who gets angry back are the same – they’re both as bad as one another.  No one can be right in getting angry.  It is wrong, always wrong, to get angry.  In many ways, you can say that we are more wrong for getting angry at people for getting angry, because we know better. 

(6.68) Out of ignorance, previously I committed actions
That now result in others causing me harm.
Thus, all the harm I receive is related to my own actions,
So why get angry with others?

(6.69) Seeing this to be the case,
I should practise what is meritorious,
Impelled by the wish that all living beings
Will develop love for one another.

It is important that our Dharma communities and our families show the example in this world of living with one another, being with one another, in harmony – or at least trying to.  We need to show the example of accepting and loving one another. Being able to accept one another and to love one another, regardless of differences, regardless of difficulties that we may experience.

Kadam Lucy once said we shouldn’t be too concerned about other’s relationships with us, but rather about their relationships with each other.  We work out of the wish that all living beings have love for one another.  Very often we criticize one person as a means of getting closer to the other.  I did this with my parents, teenagers do it all the time.  We need to do the opposite.  We need to say only good things about each person to all the others.  It starts with us, we need to do this for our Sangha and within our families.  We need to show patience, and we need to show love for them.  They will then be a bit kinder with those around them, and outward it spreads like the magic crystal (see Eight Steps to Happiness).  Within our centers, our families, and our places of work, we create mutually loving communities.  Then gradually the much larger community, society, will be influenced by the example of our micro communities.  In this way we transform our world into an enlightened society.  It is also good to praise the people in our world for being friendly and happy with others.  This draws these characteristics out.  We need to make people feel like they are a light in other’s lives, then they become such a light.

Happy International Temples Day: The Embassies of the Pure Land in this World

The first Saturday of every November is International Temples Day where we celebrate the creation and maintenance of Kadampa temples around the world.  On this day we principally try to recall why temples matter.  On this basis, we become inspired to do what we can to become part of the International Temple’s Project – and don’t worry, there are many other ways we can help besides just donating money.

What is the International Temples Project?

One of the central legacies of Geshe-la in this world is the International Temples Project.  Launched in the mid-1990s, it is Geshe-la’s vision for there to eventually be a qualified Kadampa temple in every major city of the world.  Geshe-la’s wish is for the Kadam Dharma to pervade everywhere, and these temples are like iron frames upon which buildings are built.  They provide the basic structure sustaining and supporting the development of Kadam Dharma in the minds of the beings of this world.

The very first temple was opened in 1997 at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Center in Ulverston, England.  It is the mother center of the NKT, and this temple is the mother temple for all the others.  Later, another temple was opened in Glen Spey, New York.  I was fortunate enough to be at the opening of both temples.  Since then, temples have sprung up in Brazil, Arizona, Spain, and more are planned until eventually, they will be everywhere.

Gen Losang once told me, “temples are like Embassies of the Pure Land in this world, and our Dharma teachers are like the Ambassadors of all the Buddhas.”  An Embassy is like a portal through which another country can express its culture and share its experience in a foreign land.  The goal is to improve relations between the two countries and their peoples.  By coming into contact with temples, the beings of this world are introduced to the pure worlds of the Buddhas.  Through temples, the wisdom of all the Buddhas is brought into this world.  Those who are interested can enter into these spiritual Embassies and be transported to new worlds.

Geshe-la explained that each temple is by nature Heruka’s celestial mansion in this world.  One of our refuge commitments is to regard any statue of a Buddha as an actual Buddha.  We are supposed to see past the craftmanship, no matter how beautiful it may be, and with our eyes of faith see a living Buddha.  In exactly the same way, when we see or enter into a temple, we should recognize it as an in essence Heruka’s celestial palace in this world, where we are transported to the pure land, can receive the blessings of all the Buddhas, and can learn all of the stages of the path.  Without a portal, we cannot enter.  Temples are an outer portal that leads us to the inner portal to lands of eternal peace.

Geshe-la has said that our Kadampa temples are our places of pilgrimage.  We are not always able to make it to every Kadampa festival or Dharma celebration, but we should make an effort to go at least once in our life.  One of the commitments of Muslims is to make a pilgrimage to the Haaj at least once in their lifetime.  Personally, I think this would also make a wonderful commitment for all Kadampas.  One cannot help but be moved by the experience, and karmically speaking the experience quite literally stays with us our whole life.

Geshe-la explains that the karma we create by helping a Dharma center continues to accumulate for as long as that center exists, and it continues to expand as the center expands.  In the early days, there was no center in Los Angeles, just a small, rented house in Santa Barbara.  There was a woman who lived in the center named Lea, who helped keep the center afloat financially with her rent payments and who dedicated her time to organize classes and other center activities.  In the beginning, it was basically just her, and without her, the center would have never gotten off the ground.  Later, a branch was opened in Los Angeles, which grew and grew until eventually now there is a vibrant spiritual community.  Eventually, I have no doubt, there will be a Manjushri-style temple there.  I don’t know whatever happened to Lea, she was likely just an emanation of Tara sent to help, but the karma she accumulated from that initial help continues to multiply today.  The temples we build are built to last.  There are churches in Rome that are over a thousand years old.  We are at the very beginning of the International Temples Project, and the help we provide now will be like Lea’s, and the karma we accumulate will serve us in all our future lives.

Why do temples matter?

Everyone appreciates a beautiful temple, even non-religious people.  All over the world, tourists flock to churches, temples, mosques, and other sites of worship.  They are living testaments to the faith of the practitioners who built them and serve as a point of focus for practitioners.  Normally we might think it is a sign of degeneration that these places of worship become tourist attractions, but Geshe-la explains this is one of their greatest advantages.  Why?  Every time we see a Buddha image, it creates a non-contaminated karmic potentiality on our mind which can never be destroyed and will eventually become a seed of our future enlightenment.  Angulamala had killed hundreds of people and when he went to ordain, seers said he could not because they could find no virtue on his mind.  Buddha, however, looked into his mind and saw that in a previous life he was a fly who landed on some dung next to a stupa (a representation of Buddha’s mind).  This seed could not be destroyed, even by all his evil deeds, and later became the foundation for his spiritual life.  When busloads of children and tourists come and visit our temples, they behold hundreds of images of Buddhas, each time planting the seeds of their future enlightenment on their minds. 

Gen Losang once famously asked who is more important, those who come to the center and stay or those who come to the center and leave?  If we look at how centers are organized, it seems our implicit answer is those who come and stay.  But Gen Losang said it was those who come and leave who are more important because they are more numerous.  Some practitioners might think they don’t need temples and they wonder why so much emphasis is placed on creating them, but this is because they are thinking primarily about their own needs and not the larger function temples serve in the world.

Kadam Lucy said the most important thing people discover when they come to a temple or Dharma center is not the building, but the people.  Everyone is looking for happiness but rarely do we find genuinely happy people.  If when people come to visit our Dharma centers they find happy people, others will naturally want to stay and find out what the secret to their happiness is.  Everyone is looking for unconditional love and lightness, and we can provide that.  Seen in this way, we – the practitioners of this tradition – are equally part of the Temple’s project simply through the force of our example and our welcoming attitude.  The essence of the Kadampa Way of life is “everybody welcome.”  This does not just mean nobody is excluded, it means everyone is made to feel welcome as if they are coming home.

My teacher in Paris said when we work to flourish the Dharma, we need to avoid the extremes of external and of internal flourishing.  The external extreme is when we focus exclusively on external developments, like buildings, temples, ritual objects, and other external manifestations of being a “Dharma practitioner.”  The internal extreme is when we completely neglect these things and only focus on gaining inner realizations, thinking the external manifestations are unnecessary or even anti-spiritual.

Venerable Tharchin said the real temple is the inner realizations and interpersonal connections of the practitioners who practice there.  While of course, outer temples are important, inner temples are their main cause.  He explains that since our minds are not separate from others, our inner realizations are like a beacon of light in the darkness of the minds of the beings of our community.  All living things are naturally drawn towards the light, and the more realizations we gain and the closer the karmic connections we create with our fellow sangha, the brighter our light shines.  The spiritual light in each one of us is like a single candle flame, but when we put our lights together, it creates a blazing spiritual sun in our communities.  Venerable Tharchin explains that when the inner temple is right, the outer temple will spontaneously appear, almost like magic.

Venerable Tharchin also explains that every time we do a spiritual practice with others we create the causes to do the same spiritual practice with the same people again in the future.  When we do a puja in a temple, for example, we create not only karmic connections with the Buddha of the given practice, but we create karma with all of the other practitioners engaging in the practice with us.  This karma will ripen in the future in the form of us reuniting with these same people engaging in the same practice.  It is in Temples that our international Kadampa family gathers together as a global sangha to engage in teachings and practices together.  Without the temples, we could not gather together and create this karma.  Seen in this way, temples are also like an insurance policy for finding the Dharma and our spiritual family again and again in all our future lives. 

How Can We Celebrate International Temples Day?

The main way we celebrate this day is by contemplating why temples are so important to generate an appreciation for them.  Sometimes we might hold ourselves back from doing so because we are afraid if we do so, we might then have to give some of our money, and we are extremely reluctant to do that.  We wonder whether all of this talk about temples and the International Temples Project is really just a clever scam to get our money!

There are many ways we can contribute to the flourishing of Kadampa temples in this world without having to part with any of our money.  Many people volunteer their lives and their skills to building temples.  They travel the world offering their labor and their time to help build the temples the rest of us enjoy.  How wonderful it would be to let go of our worldly concerns and live the life of an international temple builder!  But even if that is not possible for us, we might be able to offer a Saturday afternoon using whatever skills – be they building skills or office skills – we might have to help advance the project.

All of us can rejoice in those who can donate their money or their time to the project.  Rejoicing costs us nothing, but in doing so we create very powerful karma similar to that of those who are actually doing it.  This karma will ripen in many ways.  The ripened effect will be to be reborn either as a temple benefactor or a temple builder.  The environmental effect will be to have temples appear in our lives in all our future lives.  The effect similar to the cause will be to have the means in the future to be able to more easily give to the project.  And the tendency similar to the cause will be to always appreciate the good qualities of Kadampa temples and those who make them happen.

We can additionally dedicate the merit we accumulate from our spiritual practices to the realization of Geshe-la’s vision for a Kadampa temple to appear in every major city of this world.  One of the uncommon characteristics of pure wishes is the karma we dedicate towards them can never be destroyed and never ceases to work until our pure wish is fulfilled.  This does not mean one prayer alone is enough, but each dedication we make adds energy towards the realization of this wish, and this energy can never be destroyed.  When enough energy has been created, the result will spontaneously arise.  All of us engage in spiritual practices every day, but how often do we decide to dedicate that merit to the fulfillment of Geshe-la’s vision for international temples?  At a minimum, International Temple Day gives us an opportunity to make such dedications; and even better, to decide to start making such dedications every day.

Perhaps our city doesn’t yet have a temple.  We might even become jealous of those cities that do have one or think we can’t advance in our practice unless we too have a temple, transforming them from an object of refuge into an object of attachment.  Or perhaps we think our city is far away from having a temple because our Sangha is so small, so why should we help support the development of temples somewhere else where we won’t receive any benefit from it ourselves?  None of us would admit to having any of these minds, but they do arise and they are as ridiculous as they sound.  So what should we do?  First, we can recall that by helping others have temples, we create the causes for ourselves to have one.  That’s how karma works.  Second, we can imagine that, even though our center might currently be a classroom we rent out one night a week in a local massage school, our actual center is Heruka’s celestial palace, a fully qualified temple.  While our physical eyes might see plastic chairs in a room, our eyes of faith can imagine we have gone to the pure land and are receiving teachings in a temple.  This imagination is very similar to generation stage of highest yoga tantra and creates the causes for our correct imagination to eventually become a reality.

One of the best ways we can contribute to the International Temples Project is to build within ourselves the inner temple of realizations Venerable Tharchin refers to.  We can become the kind-hearted happy Kadampa who makes everyone feel welcome that Kadam Lucy extols.  We can build close karmic connections with our Sangha friends so we can unite our candles together into a blazing spiritual sun.  We can make a point of attending classes and putting our guru’s teachings we have received in temples or centers into practice.  All of these actions create the deep substantial causes for temples to appear in this world.  Without them, we fall into the extreme of the external flourishing of Dharma. 

And yes, some of us can donate money. 

The reality is temples cannot appear in this world without financial resources.  It is not a scam or a cult, this is simply a fact about how the world works.  Yes, the Dharma should be made freely available to all, but how is that to happen if nobody gives to them?  There is a very special offering called a torma offering.  The meaning of a torma offering is we are mentally willing to give everything we have for the sake of Dharma realizations because we recognize them as that valuable.  Geshe-la’s books are filled with examples of practitioners willing to cut off their flesh or undergo incredible hardship for the sake of gaining access to teachings.  He tells us these stories not to encourage us to do the same but to realize that it would be worth it even if we had to do so.  Such practitioners, from their own side, value the Dharma more than they do their material belongings, including their own bodies. 

Perhaps we don’t have any money now to give.  No problem, we can give in all the other ways described above, or at a minimum, we can rejoice in those who do have such ability.  We can also think about including the International Temples Project in our last will and testament so that when we die, whatever resources we have accumulated go towards spiritual purposes.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la tells the story of somebody who was extremely attached to their money when they died and was later reborn as a snake inside their money jar.  He encourages us to give everything away before we die so that we are not attached to anything.  Of course, we need to provide for our families, but we can also use some resources we have for spiritual purposes.  Universities around the world accumulate vast endowments from such giving, which continues to support opportunities for students for generations to come.  Why can we not do the same?  Similarly, if our parents or relatives pass away, instead of keeping the money for ourselves, we can give some or all of it away to the Temples’ Project.  Why keep it for ourselves when we can create so much better karma by giving it away?  Such giving also helps our deceased relative because they get a fraction of the good karma of our giving away their money to spiritual causes.

My teacher in Paris once said, “We should give until it hurts.”  Wow!  What a statement.  While it is perhaps unskillful to say, she makes a valid point.  It is easy to give away things we don’t need or don’t use anymore, but it cuts into our self-cherishing to give more than that.  What is bad for our self-cherishing is good for us.  Geshe-la explains in the teachings on emptiness that an effective way to identify the self that we normally see is to think of it in a situation where it is particularly manifest, such as imagining we are standing on a high precipice.  At such times, we clearly see our I.  In the same way, sometimes we are forced to confront our demon of self-cherishing straight in the face, and others asking for donations is usually one of the most manifest examples.  Our self-cherishing roars in protest and comes up with a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t give or feels like we are being spiritually manipulated out of our money, so we reject doing so as a matter of principle. 

But are we being manipulated here?  Is that the motivation and goal?  Or are we merely being given an opportunity to accumulate amazing merit while benefiting countless future generations?  Is our resistance to giving a matter of principle, or is it our self-cherishing rationalizing our miserliness?  We need to be honest with ourselves.  We talk all the time about the evils of our self-cherishing mind, but when we are presented with an opportunity to go against its wishes, how do we feel about that?  Venerable Tharchin says it is better to give one penny a day for 100 days than $1 on one day.  Why?  Because the point is not the money, it is training in the mind of giving.  There is something we can give, so why not do so?  If we can’t part with our money, then no problem, there are still so many other things we can do that cost us nothing.  We shouldn’t feel guilty or beat ourselves up for not being able to give money, it is just where we are at.  No problem.  We can recognize that and do what we can.  When we do, we will find helping in greater and greater ways becomes easier over time. 

In any case, we can meditate on the many good qualities of international temples and rejoice in their arising in this world.  This is the essence of International Temples Day.  The rest flows naturally from this.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why do we get most angry at those we love?

(6.66) Embodied beings are harmed
By both animate and inanimate objects;
So why become angry only with animate ones?
We should be patient with both types of harm.

When there is bad weather, or some device isn’t working properly, we don’t get angry at the weather or the device.  We might be frustrated, but we realize the futility of getting angry at inanimate things.  It’s not the weather’s fault it is bad, it just is.  We don’t get mad at our device because we know it will make no difference, though we might get mad at whoever made the device.  The point is we can see in our life that we don’t get angry – or at least not as angry – at inanimate things as we do animate ones. 

Yet, generally we find it more difficult to be patient with people. I believe we are particularly impatient with people who are closest to us, especially our family.  On the surface it is odd that we usually get more angry at those we love the most.  I believe this comes from three factors.  First, we expect more from our family, so they fail to meet our expectations more easily.  Second, we tend to take out our frustrations on those we know are more likely to forgive us or who are kindest to us.  And third, because we spend more time with our family, so their behavior is a slight irritant at first and absolutely intolerable after the 37th time! 😊

We also tend to get most angry at our family during the holiday season.  During the holidays, we have this unrealistic expectation that everything go perfectly, and so life’s minor annoyances are seen as a much bigger deal.  We also have higher expectations of others, thinking because it is the holidays they should be on better behavior, but delusions know no calendar.  In particular, it is very easy to expect gratitude around the holidays.  We work so hard to create a good experience for everyone, and they inevitably complain or focus on what is wrong.  The truth is all of this is normal.  As a general rule, we should expect problems, difficulties, and inconveniences.  That is the norm.  If we are at peace with this fact – it is the nature of samsara, after all – then when these things happen it won’t be a problem because we don’t expect it to be any different.

We make great effort to gather family and friends around us and then we become angry with them when they don’t act according to our wishes.  That’s terrible.  A bodhisattva doesn’t need others to change at all.  He accepts others as completely perfect just the way they are.  Because he doesn’t need people to change for his own purposes, he is able to accept others and help them according to their wishes.  Others will be unhappy, deluded, and grumpy.  So why should that be a problem for us?  It is just another opportunity for us to practice Dharma.  Somebody with the mind of patient acceptance doesn’t need others to act in any particular way – we can accept them as they are.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respond normally or stop them from harming others if we can.  The point is we don’t get angry with them because we don’t expect it to be any different and because we view their behavior as an opportunity for us to train. 

As well we need to take into account, seriously take into account, the capacity of the people around us.  We shouldn’t take into account only what needs to be done, but also the karma and capacity of the people around.  If we don’t accept the karma in play, we can easily expect more than is possible and become angry when it doesn’t happen.  By listening to others, we can come to know where they are coming from, and in this way find the balance between encouraging them and expecting too much from them.  We have the Dharma and have been practicing for many years, yet we still get upset and deluded.  How much harder is it for somebody who doesn’t have the Dharma and hasn’t been training?  We don’t expect a baby to be able to lift up a couch, yet we expect others to be able to emotionally lift up their mind when life gets difficult for them.  That’s not fair. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Talking with Christians about God

Another potential source of anger about what others say is when we discuss religion with our Christian friends and family.

This can also come up in our daily lives, especially if we are practicing Buddhism in predominantly Christian societies or families.  Geshe-la once gave some advice about engaging with our Christian friends.  He said, there will appear to others, including Christians, to be differences between their teachings and the Kadampa teachings.  And they will possibly want our opinion on those differences. He said we must be very skillful in what we say and what we teach in such circumstances.  Some people may feel threatened thinking we disbelieve the existence of God, and we could be asked our view on the existence of God.  He said of course we shouldn’t answer “God doesn’t exist.” We can answer that different people have different conceptions of God, even Christian scholars have different thoughts.

But the Kadampa teachings are very clear in saying “there is no creator other than mind,” and many Christians and others say God is the creator of the world.  What should we say when somebody asks this?  Geshe-la was very clear, he said we should say, “in reality, I believe there’s no contradiction.”  How can we understand this?

Many years ago at a festival, Geshe-la talked about the Dharmakaya being creator of all – God.  Usually the objection to the conception of God is there is a contradiction between all powerful and perfectly good.  If God is all powerful, then why is there suffering?  It is true for an inherently existent God, this is an impossible contradiction.  But when you understand the emptiness of God – his actual mode of existence – this contradiction falls away.  The Dharmakaya is all knowing, perfectly good and all powerful in that the mind is the creator of all. When our own mind is fully purified it will be all knowing, all powerful and perfectly good.  The Dharmakaya does not exist from its own side, but is our own mind fully purified.  It is something we need to make manifest within our mind.  We need to bring God to everything by viewing everything as inseparable from the Dharmakaya.  The kingdom of heaven is not something that exists from its own side, but something each one of us has to create.

When we understand the emptiness of the creator, Buddhism and Christianity merge perfectly.  In Buddhism, because we understand emptiness, we understand that we are uniquely responsible for everything that happens because our mind is its creator.  Our job is to become a good God for our karmic creation.

If Kadam Dharma is to flourish within predominantly Christian societies, we must now be very skillful in what we teach, especially in relation to Christian principles.  We need to try to show people that in reality there is no contradiction so that their interest in Buddhist teachings grows. Over time they may become more influenced by Buddha’s teachings, or maybe not.  Either way, the choice is theirs. Geshe-la is encouraging us a little to think about what we say and what we teach in the future if the Kadam Dharma is to grow in Western society. We need to think carefully about the answers that we will give.  There are many many different levels to this, and it is worth considering and discussing.  If individually we practice in this way, seeing the non-contradiction between Dharma and Christianity, then the obstacles coming from Christian corners or our families will gradually fade away and this will become a society in which Kadampas are a natural part of the fabric.  This is quite a special way of practicing.

There are three things I find useful to contemplate when thinking about the relationship between the Kadam dharma and Christianity.  First, Mike Garside said that Christ prepared the west perfectly for the arrival of Kadampa Buddhism.  It is as if Christ took the people of the West up a certain distance of the mountain, and then from there Kadampa Buddhism can take them the rest of the way.  Perhaps we can say that Kadampa Buddhism is like ‘enhanced Christianity.’  Christian principles are part of our common path, we just move beyond these principles to a deeper level without being contradictory.  Kadampa Buddhism explains many of the deep inner mechanisms as to how Christianity works, such as blessings, taking and giving, etc.  Kadampa Buddhism introduces a Mahayana element, we seek to become God ourselves so that we can care for our creation.  Kadampa Buddhism eliminates all remaining obstacles to uniting with God by realizing his lack of inherent existence.  Then there is no separation between him and us.  We become inseparably one with him.  We become one and the same.

Second, there is a parallel between when the Dharma came to Tibet and when the Dharma came to the West.  When the Dharma came to Tibet, the local culture and religion was Bon.  Spiritually things were degenerate, but culturally people were Bon.  Out of culturally Bon and spiritually Buddhist emerged ‘Tibetan Buddhism.’  When the Dharma came to the West, the local culture and religion is largely Christian.  Spiritually things are degenerating, but culturally people are primarily Christian.  Out of a culturally Christian and spiritually Buddhist context emerged ‘Modern Kadampa Buddhism’.  One of my teachers once said that one of the uncommon characteristics of Kadampa Buddhism that separates us from Tibetan Buddhism is we do not reject our Christian background, but we take it as a starting point.  Just as Tibetan Buddhism took ‘Bon’ as its starting point, Kadampa Buddhism in many ways takes Christianity as its starting point.

Third, I believe that Kadampa Buddhism has an important role to play in the revival of Christianity as well.  It seems to me that Christianity fell on the rocks for two principal reasons:  First, most people have difficulties with Christianity because it comes down to ‘believe me because God said so.’  This just doesn’t work in modern times with highly educated people.  Second, it got mixed with politics – especially anti-LGBT politics.  There is considerable evidence that Jesus taught a Mahayana path, but when the state hijacked the church, such teachings were removed or reinterpreted for political ends.  Mixing religion and politics destroys the religion as it gets coopted for worldly aims.  My experience has been that the more I study Dharma, the more I understand how Christianity works, and I can explain to my Christian friends our understanding and this helps them improve their faith in their Christianity.  As Kadampa thought infiltrates into Christian culture, effectively becoming a Kadampa society, it will provide Christians with powerful reasons demonstrating why their religion is valid, and this will help them increase their faith in it.  So we have an important role to play not just in the flourishing of Dharma but also the revival of Christianity.