My journey so far…

I have spent the last two days writing basically the story of my Dharma life, from my childhood through to today. A shorter version of this appeared before on my blog, but here I try tell the full story with all of the pivotal moments in my spiritual journey. It is long, but I hope you enjoy it and can learn from my many mistakes.

You can read it here:

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Free will wills freedom

We continue with the discussion of the patience of not retaliating.

We get angry at others because they fail to fulfill our wishes.  Our attachment then seeks to control others so that they act in the ways we want them to.  Hegel’s categorical imperative, interestingly, points to a Buddhist answer to this problem.  For him, the categorical moral imperative of living beings is “free will must will freedom,” in other words, we use whatever free will we have to will the freedom of others, which is quite similar to bodhichitta – we use our own liberation to liberate others.  Practically, though, this primarily means learning to let go of controlling others and to instead respect their freedom to make their own choices.

Sometimes, if we are in a position of responsibility, we may think that we have to control people to get things that need to get done done.  But there is a big difference between being responsible and being controlling.  If we are responsible and somebody is helping us out in some way, and we need them to do certain things, we can present to them choices that are reasonable.  For example, it is entirely appropriate for an employer to say certain responsibilities need to be carried out if the other person wants to remain an employee.  Since they know the consequences of their decisions, after we leave it up to them to decide.

In the context of relationships, we generally try to control the other person to do what we want them to do to fulfil our wishes.  But we need to make a distinction between helping people and having attachment that they change. We usually have a very good Dharma excuse why the other person needs to change their behavior so we feel justified in controlling them or manipulating them.  But in reality, we are trying to change them to conform with our needs and wishes, not theirs. A Dharma practitioner has no personal need that others change, including no need for them to practice Dharma.  It suits us just fine that other people are all screwed up.  We help people when they seek out our help, but we have no need to change them. We genuinely give people freedom without emotional penalty if they make choices that don’t correspond with our wishes.

Very often we will see people acting in strange of silly ways that we know are wrong.  Sometimes when somebody has a silly idea, Geshe-la will go along with it even though he knows it is a bad idea.  Why does he do this?  First of all, because he sees there is no real harm, and what is most important is that he maintain a very good relationship with the person.  Second, he gives the person a chance to learn from their mistakes.  Allowing the person to continue, later they will see that they have made a mistake and learn from it.  He has such a sense of responsibility for each and every individual that he gives us total freedom.  It seems like it should be the opposite, but because he wants us to grow, he gives us freedom.  We can only grow in freedom.  We still need to guide those who seek our advice, but we never control them.  They come to us for help, we guide them as to what THEY need to do for them.  Then we leave it up to them to decide what to do, and we accept them whatever their choice is. 

We also need to learn skillful means to help people realize their mistakes from their own side.  We need the skillful means to get people to think that the idea they now have was their own. When people come to a conclusion on their own, it is their conclusion, and then they never lose it.  When it is our conclusion that they follow, it doesn’t penetrate deeply enough into their mind.  When we disempower people by controlling them, we don’t give them a chance to learn to think for themselves and develop their own wisdom.  We think we are helping them by controlling them, but actually we are stifling them. 

One of the most important skills we need to learn is to just listen to others, fully and completely.  Even if we feel what they’re saying is wrong, our job is to listen. Listen to what they have to say. Listening is a training in and of itself.  We have to learn how to listen fully, and I think especially we must be able to listen to those who are turning to us for help.  Normally we think they need to listen to us, but it is actually the opposite.  We need to help people feel like we genuinely appreciate discussing things with them, and we benefit from the exchange of views.  The way we can do this is for it to be true, we genuinely do appreciate discussing things with them.  How can we develop such appreciation – just actually listen to them and their point of view? It depends upon humility and faith that they are emanations.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Forgive them, they know not what they do

(Several years ago, I started a blog series on my thoughts on how to apply the wisdom found in Shantideva’s Bodhisattva’s Way of Life to our modern lives.  In April 2019, I had to stop because – funnily enough – I became swept away by my own modern life, and since then haven’t had the time to properly keep up with this series.  You can find the previous 188 posts in this series here. However, for at least the next two years, I should be able to post regularly).

We continue with our discussion on the perfection of patience, a commentary on Chapter 6 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I am going verse by verse. When it says 6.35, for example, it refers to Chapter 6, verse 35 and so forth.

Over the next several posts, Shantideva will be discussing meditating on the patience of not retaliating.  People harm us all of the time, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.  We need to transform this experience into an opportunity to train in Dharma.  Then, even when people are harming us, we are able to receive lasting benefit.

The core of not retaliating is to have compassion for the person who is harming us.  For me, the best example of this is when Jesus was on the cross and he said, “forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”  When people harm us, they are driven by their delusions.  Delusions function to make our mind uncontrolled, so others are quite literally like puppets on the strings of their delusions.  They have somehow been led to believe that harming us (or somebody we love) is good for them, when in reality they are just creating negative karma for themselves.  They know not what they do.

(6.35) Some misguided people inflict harm upon themselves
By lying on thorns and the like;
While others, obsessed with finding a partner,
Deprive themselves of food.

(6.36) Then there are those who inflict harm on themselves
Through non-meritorious actions,
Such as hanging themselves, leaping from cliffs,
Swallowing poison, or eating bad food.

(6.37) Although they cherish themselves more than anything else,
If, under the influence of delusions, people are capable even of killing themselves,
Why should I be surprised when they inflict harm
On other living beings such as me?

(6.38) When those who, under the influence of delusions,
Set out to harm or even to kill me,
If I cannot develop compassion for them,
At the very least I should refrain from getting angry.

What people are doing to themselves out of ignorance and other delusions brings so much harm and suffering upon themselves. Since when they fall under the influence of delusion they harm themselves whom they cherish, then we can only expect that they will harm others too, such as ourselves.  It’s bad enough for them already. Why do we make matters worse by retaliating and becoming angry with them? At best we should have compassion for them since they are so lost and confused that they make their situation worse. 

We need to make the distinction between the person who is under the influence of their delusions and a person who is in control of themselves.  When we are under the influence of strong attachment or anger we do things without choice or control.  Even though we don’t want to be attached or angry, it comes nonetheless and we are not in control.  At other times, when we are calm and collected, we act differently.  When we do something nice for somebody, we never do so ‘uncontrolledly’.  This is the real us. The same is true with others.  When they harm us, they do so under the control of their delusions, but when they are nice with us, they do so from their own wishes.  The real person is the kind one. We should generate compassion for this kind person who gets hijacked by their delusions and engages in harmful actions without control.

We need to respect the freedom of others to do as they think is best for them.  If we check carefully, most of our frustration with others comes from them not acting in ways that correspond with our wishes.  For example, in a center there is a lot of work to do, and it is very easy for the people who have some degree of responsibility in the center to ‘want/expect’ others to help out.  Then, when they don’t, we get upset or frustrated and then there are problems in our relationship.  But if we check, it is our wish that they do something, not necessarily their wish. 

Sometimes it is not a case of them acting under the influence of delusion and harming us, rather it is an issue of us projecting the fulfillment of our wishes onto others and then feeling like they are harming us when they don’t fulfil them.  The solution to this is to provide people 100% freedom to do what they wish.  We can adopt as a life principle to give people freedom and to not control them.  We accept their choices, as just that – their choices.  It is our job to then adapt around their choices.  Yes, less things that we want to get done will get done, but this is only a problem for our mind of attachment. 

It’s not our responsibility to make others happy, nor our fault if they are not happy

Intellectually understanding the Bodhisattva path is relatively easy. Practicing it skillfully in our daily life is much harder. For me at least, nowhere is this more true than when it comes to understanding our personal responsibility towards others’ happiness and freedom from suffering.

Attaining enlightenment depends upon Bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all. Bodhichitta depends upon great compassion, the wish to free all living beings from all of their suffering. Hinayanists develop universal love and great compassion, but what differentiates the Hinayana from the Mahayana path is the mind of “superior intention,” or the mind that assumes personal responsibility for the eventual enlightenment of others. As Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path, a bystander might wish a child not drown, but the child’s mother will dive in to save the child herself. As would-be bodhisattvas, it is not enough for us to merely wish others are free from all suffering, we must assume personal responsibility to make that happen. The entire Bodhisattva path is the practical expression of our superior intention. If we get superior intention wrong, then our entire bodhisattva path will likewise be wrong and unsustainable. But if we get superior intention correct, the rest of the bodhisattva path will be nearly effortless and always joyful.

Because we are still deluded beings, it is very easy to inadvertently develop all sorts of deluded interpretations of what it means to have “superior intention.” Personally, as a husband, father, and Dharma teacher, I have tumbled into quite a number of these deluded interpretations, and also led others down similar wrong paths. I am writing this to try hopefully spare others from making the same mistakes I have. There are three mistakes in particular I would like to highlight: viewing others’ suffering as our problem, misplaced responsibility arising from misdiagnosing what their problem is, and misplaced guilt causing us to push ourselves beyond our capacity.

Others’ suffering is ‘not my problem.’

Normally, when somebody says something like this, it is an incredibly heartless thing to say. It’s hard to think of a thought that seems more non-Buddhist! The entire point of the Buddhist path is to free others from their suffering. So how can we possibly look at others’ suffering and correctly think, “not my problem?”

We need to make a crystal clear distinction between great compassion and attachment to those we love not suffering. Great compassion is developed by first generating cherishing love for others – considering their happiness and well being to be important – and then contemplating all of the different ways that they suffer. Doing so naturally gives rise to a mind that “cannot bear” the suffering of others. Great compassion strongly wishes others were free from all of their suffering. Now let’s look at the mind of attachment to those we love not suffering. It too cannot bear the suffering of those we love and strongly wishes they were free from all of their suffering. Compassion is said to be a joyful, empowered mind; whereas attachment to those we love not suffering is a miserable, depressed mind. What exactly is the difference between the two?

The difference is attachment to those we love not suffering thinks others’ suffering is our problem whereas great compassion realizes clearly their suffering is not our problem. Attachment means to think our happiness depends upon some external thing, in this case others’ happiness. If we are attached to others being happy, then when they are not happy, we become unhappy. When they suffer, we go down with them.

But to say their suffering is not our problem sounds like we don’t care. Quite the opposite, actually. It is because we care and want to be of use to them that we cannot allow ourselves to become mentally attached to their well-being. Think of doctors trying to help their patients in the age of the Coronavirus or parents trying to raise their kids in a world of suffering. We are in the midst of an ocean of suffering, and if we do not free our mind from our attachment to others being happy, we will simply drown with the rest of them. Many doctors wind up committing suicide when confronted with the wave of suffering and their inability to stop it; many parents fall into depression as they powerlessly watch their kids make one wrong choice after another.

Our actual “problem” when we see others suffering is our deluded attachment to them not suffering. Paradoxically, we need to create the space within our mind for those we love to suffer to actually be able to help guide them out of their suffering. The mind of patient acceptance is a pre-requisite for developing the mind of renunciation. We need to accept that samsara is the nature of suffering and always will be. We need to give up hope of ever “fixing” samsara before we can once and for all make the decision to leave it behind. If we still think happiness can be found in samsara, we will invest our energies into securing a better position within it, rather than waking up from it. Thinking happiness can be found within samsara is a “non-acceptance” of samara’s true nature. By fully accepting samsara for what it is, we create the space in our mind for samsara to be – for ourselves to experience suffering. Once we accept suffering, we can begin to transform it into the path and use it for spiritual purposes. Then, unpleasant experiences cease to be a “problem” for us.

In exactly the same way, we need to accept as long as others remain in samsara, they too will suffer – sometimes terribly. Just as acceptance of our own suffering is the foundation of renunciation, so too acceptance of others’ suffering is the foundation of great compassion. We need to create the space in our mind for others to suffer. When we free our mind of attachment to others not suffering, we ourselves no longer have a “problem” with them suffering. This doesn’t mean we don’t care, rather it frees us up to actually be able to help because we are not preoccupied about our own welfare in the face of their suffering. Their suffering “is our great concern, but not our problem.”

Others’ suffering is ‘not our responsibility’ either

This is a tough one for parents. But also for someone in a couple, for anyone in a position of responsibility for others, and for Dharma teachers. When we see our kids suffer, like the mother in Geshe-la’s example for superior intention, we naturally want to dive in and save our child – often from themselves. Our children also expect this of us. They believe it is our responsibility to solve their problems for them – and why wouldn’t they think that, we have been doing so for their entire lives.

Just as great compassion and attachment to those we love not suffering are easily confused, so too are superior intention and feelings of misplaced responsibility towards others. Superior intention is the mind that takes personal responsibility for the welfare and eventual enlightenment of others. Misplaced responsibility – thinking it is our job to solve other people’s problems for them – also has a sense of personal responsibility in the face of others’ suffering. On the surface, they are very similar. Superior intention is the powerful mind of a bodhisattva, whereas misplaced responsibility is the heavy mind of a confused caregiver.

To differentiate clearly superior intention from misplaced responsibility we need to realize two key distinctions. First, conventionally speaking we can’t solve others’ problems for them, they need to resolve their own problems for themselves. Buddhas cannot bestow enlightenment upon us, they can only guide us on what we ourselves need to do to attain enlightenment. We can influence the external conditions around others, but only they can control their own mind. It is our responsibility to do what we can to help, but it is their responsibility to control their own mind. We can’t do that for them.

When others think it is our responsibility to solve their problems for them, it disempowers them to solve their own problems. So we need to be very clear in handing over responsibility to others for their own well-being, while being mindful of their capacity to assume responsibility for themselves. Eventually, we want to lead everyone into assuming personal responsibility for all living beings, but this begins with them assuming personal responsibility for themselves. In the beginning, a lot of the responsibility will fall on us because they are not yet capable of assuming responsibility for themselves, but the direction of our relationship should be to equip them with the skills and opportunities to be able to care for themselves. This will almost invariably create all sorts of conflict in our relationship with those we normally care for as they expect us to solve their problems for them and might resist us giving that responsibility back to them. At such times, we should clarify that our intention is to help them more by teaching them and giving them the opportunities to help themselves. It’s no different than a child learning to walk on their own – we should celebrate each transition of responsibility in the same way.

The second key distinction is correctly identifying what their problem is. If our mind is still pervaded by ignorance, we might think the reason why they are unhappy has something to do with their external circumstance, and so if they are to be happy, their external circumstance must change. Likewise, if their mind is still pervaded by ignorance, they will think it is their external circumstance that needs to change for them to be happy. But if their mind remains the same, they will be equally unhappy in their new circumstance as their old one, so nothing will really change. We need to be repeatedly clear with them that whether they are happy or not in a situation depends upon their own mind, not their external circumstance. Their problem is their delusions. They have no problem other than their delusions. This does not mean we don’t make external improvements where possible, but it does mean what really needs to change is their mind. It also means we are not responsible for how their mind reacts to things. Even if they insist it is their external circumstance that needs to change and we may be the only one who can change their external circumstance, we need wisdom knowing this won’t work and the only way they can be happy is if they change their own mind – which only they can do. If we assume it is our responsibility to change their mind, then once again, we disempower them to find their own happiness and we transform ourselves into something they need to emotionally manipulate to get us to do something so that they can change their mind. Endless misery for all.

It’s not our fault if they are unhappy

A close cousin of misplaced responsibility is misplaced guilt. We think it is our fault if others are unhappy. We think it is our fault if they suffer. We think it is our fault if they are deluded. We then blame ourselves whenever they suffer, and then this guilt drives us to do more for them. It can almost seem like our guilt is virtuous because it is propelling us to engage in virtuous actions for others. But this is wrong. Virtuous actions depend upon our intention, and guilt is delusion of self-hatred, not a virtuous intention of cherishing others. Motivated by guilt, we help others to avoid beating ourselves up (which hurts), not out of any caring for others.

When we are driven by guilt, we tend to push ourselves way beyond our capacity to help, and this then leads to burnout of ourselves and even greater dependency of others upon us to be happy. In other words, we destroy our own capacity to help others by burning out and we actually harm others by reinforcing their wrong belief that they cannot be happy unless we do something for them. We think we are being the kind bodhisattva, cherishing others no matter the cost to ourselves, but actually we are allowing our guilt to destroy ourselves. What makes this particularly hard is others are convinced it is up to us to solve their problems for them, and they will tap into our guilt to emotionally manipulate us into doing something for them to be happy. This can even reach the point where others threaten self-harm or even suicide if we don’t step up. Because of our misplaced responsibility and misplaced guilt, we then give in to their manipulations – or even actively participate in them – and just cause the cycle of suffering to continue further.

We need wisdom in such situations. If others are unhappy, it is the product of their karma and their own delusions, neither of which are our fault. They are responsible for their own karma and their own delusions. We cannot manage their karma for them and we cannot manage their delusions for them. Only they can do it for themselves. We also need to be aware of our current capacity. If we push ourselves so hard that we burn out, then we are useless to others and can help them less in the long-run. We need to be very targeted in what help we provide to make sure it is help that will actually make a difference knowing they are responsible for their own karma and mental reactions. Sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do is “not help.” Sometimes the wisest thing to do is to say no. But we need to do so without guilt. Wisdom is the antidote to misplaced guilt.

Don’t be like me

In my own life, I have made these three mistakes many times, and they have been the source of almost all of the suffering I have experienced by being a husband, a father, and a Dharma teacher. I have also, ignorantly, wound up transmitting these same mistaken trains of thought onto others, inadvertently causing them to generate attachment to others’ not suffering, developing misplaced responsibility, and pushing themselves to burnout out of misplaced guilt.

The first step to recovery is recognizing how I have been making these mistakes. Then, it is an issue of reminding myself again and again of the wisdom that counters the mistakes. Largely, it is an issue of training myself in new habits of how I relate to others, and accepting the relationship tensions that will naturally arise as I change my ways. In the short run, it may lead to more conflict with others, but in the long-run it will lead to more healthy and sustainable relationships with others. It will also enable us to enjoy our bodhisattva path instead of feel this enormous heavy pressure we put on ourselves to solve everyone’s problems for them in ignorant ways, or the emotional strain of fearing emotional blackmail from others if we don’t conform to their wishes.

In writing all of this, I hope others can learn from my mistakes and thereby be of much greater benefit to others, not only now, but for lifetimes to come. We need superior intention, but it needs to be informed by wisdom.

Sticking our nose in others’ conflicts

Pretty much ever since I first started practicing Dharma, I’ve felt it was my responsibility to try help those I love get along with each other. I would often stick myself in the middle of every conflict and try resolve their differences for them. While I thought I was being the good bodhisattva, I’m increasingly realizing my motivation has largely been attachment to outer harmony and aversion to those I love being hurt by one other.

My efforts at peace making just caused them to start to expect me to solve their problems for them and use me as a weapon against the other person. This made all of our relationships dysfunctional to a degree and deprived them of the opportunity to learn how to work through things themselves. The truth is we cannot manage other people’s karma and relationships for them, and if there is delusion in our motivation, our efforts to do so will just make things worse.

Now, I’m working to resist the temptation to re-insert myself in the middle and to let go of my attachment to those I love being happy and getting along with one another. I need to focus on overcoming the delusions in my own mind and try maintain healthy relationships with everyone in my life while accepting others might not get along all the time, and that’s okay. Of course, I can encourage others to get along, but I don’t need to put myself in the middle. I can offer good advice if asked, but I should refrain from doing so if not asked. I can pray for others to heal their differences, but I need to let go of attachment to them doing so.

Understanding the Dharma is easy. Actually practicing it skillfully in daily life is hard.

The Power of Correct Belief

Every stage of the path of both Sutra and Tantra is, in the final analysis, a meditation on correct belief. Understanding what are correct beliefs and how they function is therefore of fundamental importance. For some, this post may seem very technical. But if we understand correct beliefs, I believe we can gain great confidence in our spiritual path. Gen Tharchin said, “when we understand clearly how the Dharma works to produce its effects, effort becomes effortless.”

What is a correct belief?

In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe-la says, “the definition of correct belief is a non-valid cognizer that realizes its conceived object.” In short, a correct belief is the mental action of believing in something that exists and is true. Meditation on correct beliefs transforms them into valid cognizers which know (as opposed to merely believe) the truth of the object. Meditation is the process of familiarizing ourselves with a virtuous object. We do so through study and practice. Study and practice give us the valid reasons and personal experience which establish irrefutably the truth of the objects of our correct belief. Knowledge held by correct beliefs is correct, but vulnerable to doubts. Knowledge held by valid cognizers is also correct, but invulnerable to doubts – it knows the truth.

Before we can appreciate the power of correct beliefs, we must answer a fundamental question of how they are established. In other words, how do we know if a belief is correct or not? Ordinary beings attempt to establish truth by demonstrating something is objectively true. To be objectively true means it is true on the side of the object, and not dependent upon any subjective perception or opinion. But clearly this doesn’t work for Prasangika Buddhists who reject that anything exists on the side of the object. If nothing exists on the side of the object, then nothing can be objectively true. Understanding this can lead many people into an existential crisis – if things can’t be objectively established, then they can’t be established at all, and there is no basis for establishing anything as true. Every subjective opinion becomes equally valid, including genocidal mentalities like Hitler’s, which is a disturbing conclusion to say the least. For this reason, many people wind up rejecting the teachings on emptiness altogether because to accept them leads to terrible consequences – namely the extreme of relativism that all subjective opinions are equally valid to those who hold them.

So how do we escape this conundrum? Dharmakirti’s Commentary to Valid Cognition provides the answer. Lorig is the teachings on how to understand the mind. Lorig can be taught at many different levels depending upon one’s understanding of emptiness. Dharmakirti presents Lorig from the perspective of the Madhyamika Prasangika, or the highest view of emptiness. For modern Kadampas, the book How to Understand the Mind is our commentary to valid cognition from the Prasangika perspective.

Epistemology is the study of how truth is established. All the lower schools of Lorig establish truth on the side of the object – or objectively. The Prasangika presentation of Lorig is a philosophical Copernican Revolution in Buddhist epistemology. Prior to Copernicus, everyone thought the sun revolved around the earth. Copernicus turned all of this on its head by showing the earth revolved around the sun. In the same way, all of the lower schools attempt to establish truth on the side of the object. Prasangikas establish truth on the side of the mind. If the mind knowing an object is valid, then the object known to that mind is valid. If an object is known to be true to a Superior Being (a being who has a direct realization of ultimate truth or emptiness), then that object is established to be true. In other words, an object is true if it is known to be true by a Superior being.

But since we ourselves are not a Superior being, how are we to know what is true to them and how are we to establish what is true? In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe-la provides us with a compass pointing us in the direction of knowing what are valid minds (which in turn know valid objects). A valid mind is one that “leads us in the direction of purity and happiness.” In other words, truth is established by looking at the function of believing something. If believing that thing leads us in the direction of purity and happiness, then it is true. If believing that thing leads us in the direction of impurity and suffering, then it is false. Virtuous minds, by definition, are those that function to make our mind pure and peaceful. Deluded minds, by definition, are those that make make our mind impure and unpeaceful. We distinguish what is a virtuous and what is a deluded mind by looking at the function believing that mind has on our mind. If believing something makes our mind pure and peaceful, we call that something “virtuous.” If believing something makes our mind impure and unpeaceful, we call that something “deluded.” As both Gen Losang and Gen Tharchin often say, “what is true is simply what is beneficial to believe.” If believing something makes our mind pure and peaceful, it is beneficial to believe, and thus established as “true” from a Prasangika point of view. This enables us to escape from the extremes of both objectivism and relativism. Truth can be established on the side of the mind and we can say without a doubt that Hitler is wrong.

In this way, all objects of Dharma – of both Sutra and Tantra – can be established as true. They are known and taught by valid minds, and believing them moves our mind in the direction of purity and happiness.

This then begs the question “how” does believing in correct objects move our mind in the direction of purity and happiness? If we understand this, we will see the power of correct beliefs. In fact, we will see the power of the entire spiritual path since the entire path is a series of meditations on correct beliefs.

The Karma of Correct Beliefs

To understand the power of correct beliefs, we need to understand the karma we create through them. All mental actions create karma, and correct beliefs are mental actions – they are verbs, not nouns. All actions have four karmic effects: the effect similar to the cause, the tendency similar to the cause, the environmental effect, and the ripened effect.

The effect similar to the cause of a correct belief can be understood as follows. The mental action of a correct belief functions to purify the mind of the obstructions that prevent us from realizing directly the truth of that object. Because the object is in fact true and exists, when we engage in the mental action of believing it, it functions to purify our mind of everything preventing us from knowing it to be true. The analogy of the toy snake is very helpful here. If in fact a toy snake exists, the more we investigate our assumption that it is just a toy snake, the more vividly and accurately it will appear to our mind to be a toy snake until eventually we see directly and without a doubt that it is a toy snake. In contrast, the more we investigate carefully our assumption that it is a real snake, the less a real snake will appear and we will discover that despite thinking it was a real snake, we were mistaken – in fact, it is just a toy snake. The same is true for all correct beliefs. The more we investigate them with study and practice, the more they are established in our mind to be true. We transform what was a correct belief into a valid cognizer. In this way, all realizations of Sutra and Tantra are gained.

The tendency similar to the cause of correct belief is a future tendency to more naturally believe correct things. Gen Losang says, “what is natural is simply what is familiar.” When we have familiarity believing something to be true, it becomes more natural for us to believe that thing. Tendencies similar to the cause of correct beliefs are extremely helpful because we build up spiritual momentum within our mind until eventually it becomes like a locomotive barreling down the spiritual track. In space there is no friction, so if force is applied, an object moving through space will gain momentum; and once set in motion, it will keep going forever because there is no friction to ever slow it down. In the same way, the effect similar to the cause removes the karmic friction within our mind preventing us from realizing directly something is true, and the tendency similar to the cause creates self-reinforcing momentum in our mind to realize directly the correct object.

The environmental effect of a correct belief is to abide in an environment which is conducive to believing in correct things. We see this all the time in society. When we are surrounded by people who think in similar ways, we naturally start to think in the same ways – almost through osmosis. Sometimes this socialization effect can be negative – such as hanging out with gangsters – or it can be positive – such as surrounding ourselves with Sangha friends. Milarepa once said he does not need Dharma books because everything confirms the truth of Dharma for him. Why? Because he had ample environmental effects similar to the cause of correct belief ripening. His mind was positioned in such a way through the tendencies and effects similar to the cause to believe correct things that every object in his environment was conducive to him realizing directly the truth of his correct views.

The ripened effect of a correct belief is being born already validly knowing the truth of our correct view. The teachings on karma explain that the only things we take with us into our future lives are our mind and the karma we have planted on it. When highly realized beings die they are able to carry their prior Dharma understandings with them from life to life – they are simply born already having Dharma realizations. Of course there are many degrees of having a Dharma realization, from the initial understandings to yogic direct perceivers. A Buddha has realized directly the truth of all objects of Dharma, and when they are reborn, they retain their enlightened mind forever. This is the final goal of correct beliefs – to gain their ripened effects. The effects similar to the cause, the tendencies similar to the case, and the environmental effects of correct beliefs all eventually lead to the ripened effect of correct beliefs.

Seen in this way, we can understand how fundamentally the entire path is nothing more than meditations on correct beliefs. The mental action of meditation – familiarizing ourselves with the virtuous object – creates the karma that transforms our correct beliefs into valid cognizers.

The Path as Meditations on Correct Beliefs

All our Sutra Lamrim meditations, for example, are meditations on correct beliefs. Each object of the Lamrim is a correct belief. When we contemplate, meditate on, and practice in our daily life the different Lamrim teachings, we add valid reasons and personal experience which transform correct beliefs into valid cognizers. In science, we talk about necessary and sufficient causes. In Buddhism, we talk about substantial and circumstantial causes. The substantial cause of an oak tree is an acorn; and the circumstantial causes are the water, sunlight, and rich soil. In the same way, the substantial causes of valid cognizers are correct beliefs; and our study, meditation, and daily practice of the Lamrim teachings are the circumstantial causes which transform the acorn of our correct beliefs into the oak tree of valid cognizers. Just as you can never have an oak tree without an acorn, no matter how much water, sunlight, and rich soil you add; so too we can never have valid cognizers without correct beliefs, no matter how much study, meditation, and daily practice we add. They are fundamental and foundational.

In Tantra, it is said that all we need to attain enlightenment is faith and imagination. In other words, all we need is correct belief in our pure imaginations. In Tantra, we generate ourselves, our environment, our enjoyments, and our activities into ourselves as the deity, abiding in the pure land, enjoying all things as the dance of bliss and emptiness, and engaging in the enlightened deeds of a Buddha. This is a meditation on a correct belief.

At this point, an objection can arise – how can this be a correct belief if I am not, in fact, a Buddha? Rather, it seems like this is make believe. There are two main answers to this objection. First, this objection is grasping at ourselves inherently being one thing or another from the side of ourselves. But there is nothing about us that exists from the side of ourselves – we are empty of “objective” existence, or existence on the side of the object of ourself. Second, wherever we imagine a Buddha a Buddha actually goes. So if we imagine that our body and mind (and our subtle body and mind) transform into the body and mind of the deity (and our subtle body transforms into the body mandala of the deity), then actual Buddhas enter into our imagination. They are actually there. Wherever a Buddha goes, they perform their function, which is to bestow blessings. A blessing functions to move our mind in the direction of enlightenment, gradually transforming it from an ordinary state into an enlightened state. By imagining ourself, our body, our mind, and our subtle body and mind are all Buddhas, actual Buddhas enter into us and perform their function, which is to bless our mind moving it in the direction of enlightenment. Believing ourself, our environment, our enjoyments and our deeds are completely pure is a mental action. The effect similar to the cause is to purify the obstructions on our mind to seeing ourself directly in this way. The tendency similar to the cause is to build up spiritual momentum or familiarity with seeing ourselves in this way until it becomes entirely natural. The environmental effect will be to come to see our environment as a pure land. And the ripened effect will be to be reborn as the deity in the pure land (or as a Tantric bodhisattva reborn in a pure land so as to complete one’s training). What could possibly be more important than this?

The more we read all of our Dharma books – be they of Sutra or Tantra – the more we realize in the end all of the spiritual path is nothing more than meditations on correct beliefs. Meditating on correct beliefs is the sine qua non of spiritual practice. Or, put more poetically, it is the very heart of the spiritual path from which a thousand million blissful flowers of Dharma realizations may bloom.

Catastrophe averted

I had a dream last night after the empowerment where I was just going about my way, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this giant rat came lunging out towards my head. To evade it, I jerked my head fast and then accidentally banged it hard against a wall. My non-dreaming body also lunged and I woke up, and I could feel pain on my waking head briefly before I realized it was a dream and then it went away. The message that then came into my mind from this was, “significant negative karma can ripen quickly and out of nowhere, and even if we succeed in evading it, the quick rection of doing so often comes with its own pain. Karma that ripens at the subtle level can spill over into our waking state, even though it was never anything more than mere appearance to mind. But realizing it is all a dream makes the pain of what appeared go away. This is true for all of samsara.” Then I fell back asleep. When I awoke again this morning, I remembered the dream again and the thought that came was, “even when we purify our negative karma, we sometimes don’t get it all. We avoid the main consequence, but a residual of the negative karma nonetheless ripens (me banging my head). We should accept this residual as ‘catastrophe averted,’ and be happy.” I then thought this whole dream is a metaphor for the pandemic and our individual experience within it.

The deep inner hurt that drives me

I just had a very strange, but notable dream. I suspect it is due to the Vajrapani empowerment tomorrow kicking things up. When this happens, I try always write them down before I forget.

The dream started out with me feeling very strong, teenager style love for this beautiful, very kind girl. She wasn’t particularly interested in me, but there did seem to be something between us. We were then in this bed in a hotel room engaging in foreplay, and then it mentally shifted where she had some sort of boyfriend and I was somehow related to her, like a cousin or something. I knew that was really messed up, but I was still attracted to her and we were still in bed. But now her boyfriend was also in bed with us, and she was interested in him, but still allowing me there, but I felt unloved or not worthy of wonderful people being attracted to me. I then stuck my finger in her, but it hurt her, and I was like, “oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” (sorry for the graphic nature, I’m trying to record the dream). Then, her father came into the hotel room with a gun having caught us all into the act. The boyfriend ran away, and for some reason the father went into the bathroom to prepare to come after me. I then got up and started to head towards where I had a gun myself, but then I thought, “no, I need to try resolve this peacefully and assume the consequences of my bad choices that got me into that situation.” I then put my hands up and surrendered myself to him. I believe the meaning is I need to accept the consequences of and seek to purify all sorts of negative karma that I have on my mind that moves in the direction of wanting girls to like me and sexual misconduct.

The dream then shifted to me at a big party in a very wealthy area. If I’m honest, I have never really fit in or had a lot of friends. Even among Kadampas, I have always felt on the outside. This huge party was filled with young, beautiful people, all of whom were having a good time together but nobody had any interest whatsoever in talking to me. I then started to make my way out to escape from the party, and as I got close to the exit, I ran into my old debate partner – who himself is quite the social outsider – who was similarly trying to escape. I then started crying from deep within my heart from a profound hurt associated with a lifetime of feeling socially excluded. Intellectually, and even to a certain degree practically, in the dream, I recalled all of the different Dharma wisdoms I normally use to just repress my hurt, such as this is coming from my mind and how to transform it, etc. But I saw and felt just how much hurt I have inside over this and that, to a large extent, my total investment in debate and even Dharma in my life has been driven by this hurt of being excluded from normal social life.

Once I had gotten out of the party, some much larger power started tearing everything down with bulldozers and people started scrambling. I was like, “why are they doing that, destroying everything?” When all of the walls were finally down, the party complex was in this desert like area outside of some Hunger Games style capital city and I understood the entire party was just one temporary distraction put on by the authorities, and it was all basically an illusion of social control to prevent us from resisting, but they were demonstrating they are in change and can take it away at a moment’s notice. In the dream, I then somewhat realized I was dreaming and that this was a metaphor for China’s social control mechanisms over their population. I will be going to China for my next posting. Then, I woke up and realized it was a metaphor for samsara.

Pure View as Compassionate Action

Abiding in a world without suffering right now

There is no doubt the world is hurting right now. Many of us very much want to do something to help, but are at a loss for what to do besides stay at home and perhaps say a few Tara or Medicine Buddha mantras. I would say our job right now is to quite literally construct and abide in a new world, free from all suffering. We can do this through our correct imagination. We can do this through our Tantric practice – not as some future attainment, but right here and right now. If we want to end the virus, we must end samsara.

Believing is Seeing

Sometimes people object, “yeah, it’s nice to dance with the Dakinis for a while in my mind, but when I come out of meditation, I’m right back in it. It was all a nice imagination, but the world continues to suffer and the virus continues to rage. Nothing has really changed, it’s not that much different from me watching some internal Netflix show.” This objection is completely wrong.

To understand why we first need to understand – precisely – how correct imagination works at the karmic level. Everything we perceive is a mere karmic appearance to mind. There is no samsara and there is no pure land, both are just different karmic appearances – one mistaken, one pure. But both arise from karma.

We create the karma for samsara by grasping at things existing from their own side, independently of our mind, and then living and acting as if that was true. When we do this, ALL of the karma we create is contaminated, and when that karma ripens in the future, it will manifest in the form of things that appear vividly to be existing from their own side. Then, through the force of mental habit, we will assent to these appearances believing they do in fact exist from their own side, and the cycle starts all over.

We create the karma for the pure land through believing our correct imagination. All of us are capable of generating correct imagination. We can go through the visualizations of the sadhana, and imagine all sorts of beautiful things, but we don’t really believe what we are doing, so it lacks any power. We think it is just a mental light show, and not real, and that nothing is really changing. We imagine, but we don’t believe our imagination. And we are right, if we don’t believe our imagination, then it is true, nothing is really changing.

But, if we do believe our imagination, then everything not only comes alive in our meditation, it actually works to karmically create pure worlds right here and right now. The key point is understanding that believing our correct imaginations is how we complete the karma of our mental action. If we accidentally squashed a bug, we did not complete the karma of killing because we didn’t have the intention to kill it. Our deluded intention is necessary to complete the karmic action. In the same way, believing our imaginations to be true (not inherently true, but union of the two truths true) functions to complete the karma. The same is true for the practice of taking and giving, which is really Sutra’s version of Tantra.

Creating Temporary Pure Lands

Now we might object, “OK, believing our imagination to be true functions to complete the karma, but the fruit of that karma won’t ripen until the future (otherwise effect and cause would be simultaneous) so I still haven’t actually transformed the world – everyone is still suffering.” There are three answers to this objection. First, if we have this doubt, we are not actually believing our imaginations – we are still hanging on to our doubts, so we are still not completing the karma. Second, this is still grasping at there being a world out there that exists independently of our mind. And third – and this point is subtle – if we are fully believing our correct imaginations, from the point of view of our experience, we quite literally abide in a world without suffering. Geshe-la sometimes talks about temporary emanations, such as when Lama Tsongkhapa enters into our teachers during teachings. In the same way, believing this correct imagination creates a temporary pure land.

Next, we might object, “OK, for me it creates a temporary pure land, but for everybody else, they remain stuck in samsara and the virus is still infecting people. So it is no different than you creating some happy place for yourself inside your mind, like being in a glass box while the war still ravages around us.” While it is true each one of us creates our own karma, and if others are not creating similar karma they will remain in their own karmically created samsara, this objection misses the point. First, it doesn’t matter if its “objectively true” (because nothing is), the point is the only way we can complete the karma is by fully believing it to be true without doubts. Holding onto the doubts means the karma is not completed, and so it produces few good results. Second, this objection still grasps at others’ minds as existing independently of our own. If we dreamt of somebody in a wheel chair, who put them there? Our mind. In the same way, if in our waking state, we “dream” of a world filled with disease and suffering, who put everyone there? Our mind. Others’ minds are also empty of inherent existence. The others that we normally see are the beings of our contaminated karmic dream. We can intentionally dream a different world, one in which there is quite literally zero suffering, we are the deity, and everyone else are Dakas and Dakinis.

Pulling our Head out of the Sand of Samsara

To this, we might object, “yeah, but isn’t this just burying my head in the sand, pretending there is no suffering? I will then do nothing to compassionately help those experiencing mental and physical pain.” Answering this objection is where we get to the punch line: from the point of view of tantra, pure view is compassionate action and our compassionate action is maintaining pure view. Wherever we imagine a Buddha, a Buddha actually goes. Wherever a Buddha goes, they accomplish their function, which is to bless the minds of others. When we believe our pure view, fully and completely believe it, all of the Buddhas enter into the other person (who is just a being of our karmic dream) and transform them into a temporary pure being. We should not doubt that they are not experiencing themselves in this way because doing so is still grasping on to some part of them existing from their own side independently of our mind and depriving them of receiving Buddhas into that part of them. We should also believe that they are experiencing themselves in that way. This is the most compassionate thing we can do because through this correct imagination, the Buddhas enter into every aspect of them without residual, thus maximizing the blessings we can bestow upon them and thus the benefit they receive from our pure view.

In truth, we currently are burying our head in the sand of samsara, and Buddha is trying to pull our head out into the pure lands.

But what if they still appear to our mind to be suffering? Shouldn’t we tend to that? Yes, of course we should. This appearance of them still suffering is our residual ordinary appearance which has not yet exhausted itself. With our residual ordinary appearance of ourself we compassionately tend to the residual ordinary appearance of the other person, exactly as normal; while at the same time, with our believing ourselves to be the deity, we believe our correct imagination of them being a Daka or a Dakini. We practice the union of sutra and tantra. When we are in the meditation session, we have dissolved everything we normally see into emptiness, and every appearance is a pure one – there is no residual ordinary appearance. In the meditation break, when residual ordinary appearances arise again, we practice this layered approach of sutra and tantra simultaneously. Doing so creates the experience that we are quite literally purifying all of samsara in real time, gradually dissolving it into our pure world.

Gaining Experience in the Meditation Session

To help us gain some experience with this, it is vital that we infuse emptiness into every aspect of our Tantric sadhana practice. Sometimes we can feel like, “I never seem to practice emptiness in my tantric practice, I’m so busy with all these complex visualizations that I don’t get any deep experience of emptiness.”

We should think of the sadhana like a spiritual buffet. Different people will take different items in different portion sizes at a buffet depending upon what they hunger for and what their body needs. In the same way, different practitioners will emphasize different parts of the sadhana depending upon their needs and desires. Each time, we do all of the sadhana, but we can pause wherever we’d like for as long as we’d like to emphasize those parts that move our mind the most. Our problem is usually just an issue of not having the time to pause for long because we have to get to work, but with the present lockdowns from the virus, this is not our problem.

It seems there are two places within the sadhana where we can do a nice, long emptiness meditation to get a good feel for it: In the very beginning before we start, we can dissolve everything into emptiness, bathe in the clear light for a while, and then out of emptiness generate the appearances of the sadhana. The second, of course, is bringing death into the path to the truth body where the final object of meditation is emptiness.

We need to be careful to not confuse nothingness with emptiness. It should not feel as if nothing is arising in our mind, rather it should feel like a shocking reminder that everything we thought existed – the virus in all its horrible glory – in fact does not. As Geshe-la says all the time, “the things we normally see do not exist.” We are so convinced there is an actual reality around us, when in fact, there is nothing actually there. It has always been nothing more than mistaken appearance. This awareness protects us once again from thinking our generation stage practice is like retreating into a “safe space” within our mind like a glass box while the war ravages around us. Instead, we bring about a deep transformation of reality itself, creating a world quite literally free from all suffering.

We should view the non-emptiness meditation parts of the sadhana as training in the union of the two truths. We should see each appearance of the visualization as the dance of bliss and emptiness – never losing that feeling of emptiness we got at the beginning and at the death meditation. The union of conventional and ultimate truth is actually deeper than emptiness itself. I sometimes think of it as I looked so deep into emptiness, I found mere appearance. Each appearance is a mere karmic appearance of mind, generated through the force of my compassion, to liberate all beings.

Faith is Emptiness in Action

From my perspective, “faith is emptiness in action.” Faith, actually, makes no sense without emptiness. How could we take refuge in something that is independent of us and exists outside of us? When children blow air into soap, it creates beautiful bubbles that they take great delight in. In the same way, when we blow the pure winds of our faith into the space of emptiness, we get the pure appearances of the sadhana visualizations. When we experience it this way, every word of the sadhana comes alive as an expression of our faith.

Yes, the world we normally see is currently hurting. The question is what can we do about it? Through believing our correct imagination in this way, we can quite literally karmically reconstruct this world of sickness and suffering into a pure land in real time. Because we fully believe our pure imagination, we experience the world right now as a pure land; and through the karma we create engaging in this practice, eventually everything will directly appear to us and everyone else as completely pure. But if we are doing the practice correctly, we won’t even notice that happening because, from our perspective, we will already have been abiding in the pure lands for some time, the same as everybody else.

The Lamrim of the Coronavirus

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has the potential to be the most devastating event since World War II. The toll in human life and economic and social collapse risks being beyond a scale of anything we have seen in our lifetimes. This quite naturally gives rise to a host of delusions within our mind. The outbreak is hard enough to deal with; adding uncontrolled, unpeaceful minds into the mix will only make coping with it that much harder.

The Lamrim, directly or indirectly, is the antidote to all delusions. If we can learn how to respond to the outbreak with Lamrim minds, then instead of generating delusions, we will gain Dharma wisdom. Then, instead of it just being suffering, the outbreak will become a powerful cause of our enlightenment. Only by attaining enlightenment can we free both ourselves and others permanently from all sickness. There is no lasting solution to the sufferings of sickness and disease other than Dharma.

What follows are my thoughts on how we can use the Lamrim to overcome the delusions that arise due to the outbreak, and how the outbreak teaches us the truth of Dharma. The goal here is simple: when we think of the outbreak, we want it to lead us to some conclusion of Lamrim. Then, instead of generating delusions, the outbreak causes us to generate Lamrim minds. These are simply my personal reflections. If you have your own thoughts, please share them so we can all learn from each other.

Precious Human Life: Throughout the entire world, others are terrified of this virus, many will become extremely sick or die. They have nowhere to turn and no means to transform this into something useful. I, however, through unbelievable good fortune, have found the Kadam Dharma. I have a precious opportunity to find permanent freedom from all sickness and disease, and be able to lead others to similar freedom. I must seize this precious opportunity while I still have the chance. I may never get such an opportunity again for aeons.

Death: This outbreak came out of nowhere, and in a few short months will change the world forever. Millions may die, and I could be one of them. And even if I am not, I could die from one of countless other diseases, or even in a car accident on the way to the hospital. There is no certainty in life, and we could lose this precious opportunity to escape from samsara at any moment. I must practice Dharma right now and not waste a single moment.

Lower realms: The outbreak is giving us a glimpse of the infinite sufferings of the lower realms. The world is about to descend into a resembling hell for potentially 6 months or longer. We are being shown, first hand, what samara is really all about. If I die today, I would quite likely fall into the lower realms and experience far worse sufferings than this. I am on the precipice, and could fall at any point. I must seek refuge and purify my negative karma while I still can.

Refuge: I have infinite negative karma on my mind, any of which could cause me to get the coronavirus and fall into the lower realms. The only lasting solution to this problem is to purify my negative karma and to attain liberation and enlightenment. If I don’t, it is just a question of time before the suffering I read about becomes my own. The Dharma of Lamrim is my ultimate refuge. Only it can provide lasting protection. To prevent my mind from becoming negative, thus activating my negative karma, I need a continuous stream of Buddha’s blessings. During these dark times, it is easy to grow despondent or fearful. But my spiritual family, my Sangha friends, can help show a good example and lift me up. I must make effort to transform this outbreak into powerful lessons of Lamrim, to receive Buddha’s blessings to stay positive, and to turn to my spiritual friends for inspiration. Through reliance on the three jewels, we will not only make it through this outbreak, we will spiritually grow from it.

Karma: All suffering arises from negative karma. In my countless previous lives – and in this life – I have engaged in terrible actions which have hurt others, deceived them, and sacrificed them for my own selfish purposes. In particular, being surrounded by disease is the environmental effect of sexual misconduct. Because I have killed, I may die. Because I have stolen from others, I may not have what I need if I get sick. Because I have neglected others, I may not get proper access to medical care. I have the karma to experience all of this and more. This karma is like millions of time bombs which could explode at any point. I am careful to wash my hands, but am I even more careful about not engaging in negativity? If I don’t purify my negative karma, it is 100% guaranteed I will get the coronavirus, and far worse, in this or my future lives. It is just a question of time. If I continue to engage in negative actions, I guarantee endless future misery. Once my negative karma ripens, not even Buddha can reverse it – I’ll have no choice but to ride it out. Therefore, I must purify my negative karma before it ripens while I still can. I must stop engaging in negative actions, but instead engage in virtuous ones that will lead to happiness in this and all my future lives. Karma makes exceptions for no one.

Renunciation: Samsara is the nature of sickness. For as long as I remain in it, it is inevitable I will get the coronavirus and much worse, again and again and again. For as long as I impute my “I” onto a samsaric body, I will be subject to its sufferings, including terrible sickness. I am very afraid of getting the Coronavirus, but I should be much more afraid of remaining in contaminated aggregates, the foundation of all sickness. Even if I avoid getting the coronavirus now, it is just a question of time before I get some other sickness, which might be far worse. The only way I will find lasting freedom from all sickness is to once and for all escape from samsara. There is no other way.

Equanimity: The Coronavirus is showing me just how biased my mind is. When I think of my own family getting the virus, I become very concerned and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect them. Yet, when I read about others getting the virus, it is just a statistic I am tracking on the Johns Hopkins map. When I read about people within the Trump administration or certain political leaders I dislike possibly getting the virus, there is this ugly part of my mind that thinks they are getting what they deserve. How horrible! Yet, that is the honest truth of how unbalanced and biased my mind is. We are all equal in not wanting to suffer. These biased minds disturb my inner balance and prevent me from truly being of service to others by transforming this outbreak into a cause of enlightenment. I must develop a balanced mind, caring equally for all without partiality.

Mothers: Every single person in lockdown is my mother. So is every person who gets sick, loses their job, is working the medical front lines, is stocking my grocery store or delivering my food. So too is every person who is dying.

Remembering the kindesss of others: These people have cared for me countless times in the past when I have been sick. They have stayed up to take care of me, blown my nose, cleaned up my vomit, and exposed themselves to my illness all to take care of me. If those still working would stop, I would starve, society would collapse into roving gangs, and quite literally all hell would break loose. They are risking their lives so this does not happen. I must repay everyone’s kindness by caring for them in every way I can.

Equalizing self with others. I am extremely concerned about myself getting the virus. Because I have diabetes, I am particularly at risk of having a severe reaction. Apparently also, if there was some sort of triage where they couldn’t care for everybody, I would likely be left to die. This scares me. I am doing everything I reasonably can to avoid that happening. Yet, there is nothing about me that makes me any more important than anybody else. If there were limited hospital capacity, I would want it to go to me. Why? I’m no more important than anybody else. I should cherish each and every living being as I do for myself. We are all different cells in the body of life, and the entire body of life is being attacked by this virus. What affects one of us, impacts us all.

Dangers of self-cherishing. The only reason why I am in danger of the outbreak is because in the past, motivated by selfishness, I engaged in the negative karma that would give rise to such suffering. If medical supplies or food or other basic necessities become scarce, I feel the need to hoard what I’ve got so I don’t run out, even though it is hoarding behavior that will trigger exactly the sort of shortages I fear. But because everybody else is hoarding, if I don’t, I will have nothing. If society breaks down, it will be because everyone resorted to an “every one fend for themselves” mentality. If this gets really ugly, that is exactly what might happen. The true root cause of this outbreak and all of the negative economic, social, and political consequences the flow from it, is selfishness. Thinking only of themselves, there are people going out and risking spreading the disease to others. I must abandon completely this evil mind.

Advantages of cherishing others. As a planet, as a nation, as a community, and as a family, the only way we are going to get through all of this is if we cherish each other. This outbreak could unleash the worst of humanity, or it could give rise to the best of it. I suspect it will do a lot of both. The common denominator of the worst will be selfishness, but the common denominator of the best will be those people, families, communities, and nations that cherished others, cared for others, and protected others. In these crazy times, the best way we can cherish others is to stay in our homes and place no demands on the system unless we absolutely have to. If somebody is there for me when I need them, it will be because I cherished others in the past. If others care for me, it will be because I cared for others. All the good there is in the world today struggling to pierce through the clouds of suffering come from cherishing others. When they write the history of my mental continuum, let them say at this moment of great peril, I stood on the side of cherishing others. Even if doing so costs me my life.

Exchanging self with others. It’s simple really: I need to impute my “I” onto all others, and impute “others” onto myself. Only then will my actions become correct, only then will I stop my selfish attitudes and walk through this crisis as the enlightened beings would. Look at me, then look at them. I remain trapped in samsara, fearing for my life and perhaps that of my family, preoccupied with what is happening in this world and in different countries. I’ve been getting mad at my family, at my colleagues at work, at political leaders, looking for somebody to blame for my struggles. Yet the Buddhas remain like the sun, shining the light of their blessings into the minds of each and every living being, emanating whatever they need, encouraging us to pray, and guiding us on how to transform this pandemic into the spiritual path. What is the core difference between them and me? I am seized by selfishness and they are driven by selflessness. I must become like them and cherish only others.

Great compassion. When I think of my own suffering, I naturally generate the wish to free myself, both temporarily and permanently from all sickness and suffering. Why? Because I love and cherish myself (even my true self, my Buddha nature), I wish to free my pure potential from all suffering. On the basis of exchanging self with others, wishing all beings could enjoy everlasting freedom from all sickness, I merely need look at the world today, and compassion will naturally arise. Everyone is gripped by fear, people are struggling to breathe, many are dying. Doctors and nurses are putting their own lives on the line to save others. They are being put in impossible situations of having to decide who will live and who will die. Millions are losing their jobs, companies are going bankrupt, people’s life savings are being wiped out. And this is just the beginning of what potentially could last months or a year or more if we are unable to get this under control. In all my life, I have never felt so close to the apocalypse. Perhaps it won’t come to that, perhaps it will all blow over. But perhaps it won’t, and we stand on the brink of a truly global calamity. The truth of the matter is this is only a taste of samsara’s sufferings. Everyone we see will suffer from this and far more for as long as they remain in samsara. Doctors can help us in this life, but they cannot protect us from having to experience the sicknesses of samsara again and again and again, for time without end. I wish everyone were free from their fears, sicknesses, and sufferings. The suffering of samsara is simply too great to even imagine, and we are seeing only a glimpse of its horrors.

Taking. It is not enough for me to merely wish others were free from the sufferings of the coronavirus outbreak (and all of the other sufferings of samsara), I must do something about it. I look around me, and many people simply don’t know how to mentally process all of this, and they become gripped by fear and paralyzed by worry, feeling there is no escape. It is up to me to assume personal responsibility to be the emotional anchor for those around me. If they can’t handle it, then I need to handle it because somebody has to. This is too serious. I look out into the world and see it becoming terribly sick. Most people don’t have the experience with Dharma that I have been blessed to have. I have been given Dharma tools that enable me to transform whatever arises into the path. I might struggle at first, but I know through blessings, I will be able to do so. I’m in a much better position to take on suffering and sickness than others are, so it only makes sense that all sickness ripen on me and not them. Please, I pray from the depths of my heart, may everyone’s Coronavirus ripen on me so that no one else need suffer from it ever again. May I alone suffer all of the economic and social consequences of this outbreak so others may live in freedom and community. May all of the fear and sickness of countless beings throughout samsara ripen upon me right now so that they may know respite. May I make this prayer in all sincerity.

Wishing love. It is not enough for others to be free from sickness and suffering, they need to enjoy good health, a sense of community, and an abundance of resources and care. They need to feel that their governments and their communities will come together, protect them during the storm, and then help them rebuild afterwards. They need to find the spiritual path that leads to everlasting freedom and joy. They need to know a life free from even the name sickness. They need to experience the bliss of wisdom bodies that have the power to emanate whatever living beings require. I wish all beings could enjoy such things.

Giving. Once again, it is not enough for me to simply wish others enjoyed this sort of happiness. I can’t just wait around for somebody else to help others, I need to assume personal responsibility for the welfare of all. I have been blessed with abundance, so it is up to me to give these things to others. May whatever resources I have flow to others. May whatever love I receive fall upon others. May whatever wisdom I have gained ripen in others’ minds. May whatever opportunities I have to practice Dharma manifest in the life of others. May whatever fearlessness I experience wash over others like a refreshing wind. May I send out countless emanations into the world, spontaneously manifesting for others whatever they require. May all of their food become medicine nectars, bestowing upon them immortal vajra bodies. May the light of my love shine like an eternal sun bringing joy to all.

Bodhichitta. As much as I would want to, I currently lack the ability to take on the suffering of the outbreak and give others back eternal good health. In truth, I can barely make it through my day without getting upset at somebody because I too am worried about what is to come. My diabetes makes me extremely limited in what I can do without exposing myself and potentially risking my precious human life. In truth, for as long as I remain in samsara, I am basically useless to others. If I want to help others, take on their suffering, give them back enlightenment, then I myself need to do whatever it takes to become a Buddha. I need to dedicate my life sincerely to the spiritual path because only it provides a lasting solution for those I love. Otherwise, I will just be swept away like everyone else, and they will have no hope. But if I become a Buddha, I will become untouchable by sickness. Even if my emanations appear to die from such sicknesses, in truth, I will never have left the pure land and can emanate some more. By becoming a Buddha, I can emanate pure lands where beings can take rebirth in safety, receive Dharma instructions, purify their subtle bodies, and themselves become Buddhas. Slowly but surely, we can empty samsara. I must do this. What other choice do I have?

Tranquil Abiding. My mind is completely distracted by the outbreak. Throughout the day, I am reading articles, checking up on the statistics, going through my facebook feed, and other things. If I am not careful, the more I consume information about the impending suffering of the world, the more distraught I may become, and the more irritable and useless I will become. Something is a distraction only if it is not thinking about Dharma. If every time I think about the outbreak it gives rise to a Dharma mind, then learning about the outbreak won’t be a distraction, instead it will be a fuel for my practice. While fantastic, even that is not good enough. If I am to realize my bodhichitta wish, I need to bring my mind completely under control. When I sit down to meditate, I need to fully absorb myself in my prayers and self-generation practice. If I don’t, I will never make the progress I need to make; but if I do, I can swiftly move along the path and put myself in a position to help others. They say time is of the essence in addressing the pandemic, that actions now have huge implications down the road by cutting down the exponential rate of growth. The same is true with us attaining enlightenment. The longer we take, the more living beings will suffer. The more distracted we allow ourselves to become, the longer it will take for us to accomplish our spiritual goals. We owe it to others to concentrate fully, without any distractions.

Superior seeing. Ultimately, this outbreak and the world in which it is happening is just a contaminated appearance to mind. It is a bad dream, but one we are trapped in. There is no permanent escape from the virus in the dream, the only lasting solution is to wake up from it. None of this is real, but we nonetheless suffer from it because we believe it is. When we connect with the emptiness of a phenomena, we purify the contaminated karma giving rise to its appearance. In ultimate truth, there is no coronavirus, there is no pandemic, there is no economic collapse, there is no political upheaval, none of it. Just emptiness – all of one equal taste in great bliss. We may not be doctors or nurses on the front lines, but all of us can meditate on the emptiness of all of this for the sake of the whole world, and thereby help purify the contaminated karma giving rise to it all. By realizing emptiness, we will be able to ourselves escape from samsara, build our pure land, and then be in a position to provide lasting refuge for all living beings. With emptiness, everything is possible.

Reliance upon the Spiritual Guide. If it were not for my spiritual guide, I would not even know of these Lamrim minds, much less have the opportunity to realize them. I, like everyone else, would be a leaf blown around from one suffering to another by the winds of karma. But with my guru’s blessings, I can accomplish anything. I can transform the arising of the coronavirus into a powerful cause of my enlightenment. Through his blessings, even if I get the virus myself and ultimately die from it, I will be able to transform that experience into the path. All around me, people are scared and suffering in different ways. I am completely incapable of helping them, I don’t know what to say to help, and am sometimes barely able to hold things together myself. Yet, by bringing my guru into my heart, he can act through me. His words and become my words. His thoughts can become my thoughts. I can completely get out of the way and let him work through me in this world. Geshe-la is in all of us, and he wants to help this world in its hour of need. How can he do so? Through all of us. We can become an extension of his body, speech, and mind in this world. Through practicing his Dharma, we can move our mind into his pure land from where we can help all being forever. Geshe-la, I beg you, please remain in my heart forever. Guide me through this. Help me know how I can be of service. Reveal to me the paths I should follow. Bestow upon me the wisdom I need. Touch my heart with your love for all beings.

Dedication. May all those who read this become free form all fear, sickness, suffering, and death. May all of the suffering in the world ripen solely on me, and may all others enjoy the bliss of Keajra. May every time we think of the outbreak and its aftermath remind us all of the truth of Dharma and the wisdom of the Lamrim. In this way, may all beings find eternal health.