Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Taming the wild elephant mind

(5.2) A crazy, untamed elephant in this world
Cannot inflict such harm
As the sufferings of the deepest hell
Caused by the rampaging elephant of the mind;

(5.3) But if the elephant of our mind
Is bound tightly on all sides by the rope of mindfulness,
All fears will cease to exist
And all virtues will fall into our hands.

It is no exaggeration to describe our mind as crazy and untamed. It goes wherever it wants with no real direction, no beneficial purpose. It goes all over the place.  And wherever it goes it causes damage.  We have to acknowledge that.  Don’t we feel damaged all the time?  Every day, especially at the end of the day, don’t we feel damaged?   Sometimes we use the expression “wrecked”. “I feel mentally and physically wrecked.” it’s our mind that has wrecked us in this way. What else has the power to do so?

Sometimes we want to say “stop” to our delusions, and our mind won’t stop.  It doesn’t take any notice whatsoever. It is like saying to an actual rampaging elephant, “stop.”  Even when it does stop, the effects of the damage it’s caused carry on way into the future.  We normally only think about the consequences of our negativity and delusions in this life alone, but generally their long-term effects are much, much worse.  There’s only one way to stop it—through force – the force of mindfulness. Only then will suffering, fears, and dangers come to an end.

It was discussed earlier the need to understand clearly the inter-relationship between alertness, mindfulness and conscientiousness.  Alertness is the ability to distinguish between faults and non-faults.  Mindfulness is the ability to not forget this distinction.  Conscientiousness is a mental factor that, in dependence upon effort, cherishes what is virtuous and guards the mind from delusion and non-virtue.  We need all three.  Alertness identifies the enemy, mindfulness doesn’t lose the target, conscientiousness acts on this by protecting our virtues and being on guard against delusion and non-virtue.  The three together are what is meant by “guarding alertness.”

In many ways, lack of mindfulness is our biggest problem.  We have been around the Dharma long enough to be able to distinguish virtue from non-virtue, wisdom from delusion.  Our problem is we forget this knowledge as we go about our day.  Because we are not paying attention to what is going on in our mind (because we are so busy paying attention to what is going on in the world), delusions and non-virtue roam freely.  When we are reading Dharma books, meditating or attending teachings, it all makes sense, we see it all so clearly.  But then, as we go about our day, we forget to even think about the Dharma, must less practice it.  But if we can strengthen our mindfulness remembering our Dharma wisdom, then it is not hard to practice it.

So how do we strengthen our mindfulness?  One year I forgot my wedding anniversary.  I told my wife, “I’m sorry.  You know it is important to me, and you know I forget everything, even 10 million multiplying days.”  She incisively replied, “we remember what is important to us.”  There is no arguing with that.  Such logic is flawless.  I am terrible with names, and as a diplomat who meets a lot of people, that is a real occupational liability.  Why do I forget their names?  Because ultimately I don’t think they are that important.  I have no trouble remembering the names of the people who I think are important in some way for accomplishing my purposes.  Why do we forget the Dharma?  Why do we forget the wisdom realizing what is faulty and not-faulty in our mind?  Because we are not yet convinced of its importance.

The primary reason for this is, despite many years of receiving Dharma teachings, we still remain convinced that our outer circumstance is our problem; and if we want to solve our problem, we need to change our outer circumstance.  We think our mental reaction to our external circumstance is something that occurs passively, without us having any control or influence.  It rarely dawns on us that we can choose to think and respond differently.  And when we are told we do have choice, we dismiss it as being “artificial” and “fake,” not “natural.”  Gen-la Losang explains what is natural is simply what is familiar.  Delusions feel “natural” only because we are so familiar with them.  Virtues seem “artificial” only because we lack familiarity with them.  But with effort, we can reverse this.  We don’t force ourselves to reject our delusions and follow our virtues, rather we see our delusions are wrong and deceptive and that our virtues are right and reliable.  Seeing this, we choose to not be fooled.  If we keep recalling our Dharma wisdom, we will slowly break the spell delusions have cast on us until eventually they have no power at all.  We may need to repeat this exercise again and again, many times over long years, but eventually we will reach the point where it feels “artificial” to get angry, and entirely “natural” to be patient.  The same is true for all our other virtues.

Alertness, mindfulness and conscientiousness.  This is how we tame the wild elephant of our mind.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Time to guard the mind

CHAPTER 5:  Guarding Alertness

The emphasis in this chapter is on moral discipline.  Through introducing and following new codes of conduct, new disciplines, we will naturally change.  If in dependence upon our intention we adopt skillful behavior, and we try to think, speak, and act as a Bodhisattva, we will quickly become an actual Bodhisattva.

The very heart of moral discipline is mindfulness, which is why before describing the different types of moral discipline, Shantideva describes mindfulness and alertness.  The Chapter itself is called “Guarding Alertness”.   Our ability to maintain mindfulness depends upon alertness.  Without alertness we quickly forget.  Since there’s always a danger of losing our mindfulness, we must remain alert to that danger.  Therefore we must guard alertness, hold to it, guard it.  We need both mindfulness and alertness to practice conscientiousness.  By practicing all three, we will naturally develop pure moral discipline.  We should contemplate deeply the relationship between conscientiousness, mindfulness, alertness, and moral discipline.

(5.1) Those who wish to make progress in the trainings
Should be very attentive in guarding their minds,
For, if they do not practise guarding the mind,
They will not be able to complete the trainings.

Shantideva begins this chapter by explaining who he is talking to:  those who wish to make progress in the trainings.  We should ask ourselves, “is that me?”  If we were just told we had a terminal cancer, we would be very motivated to listen to the doctor when she describes the cure.  Do we feel an insatiable desire to learn more and make progress on the path, or do we view our Dharma life as a chore and a bore we continue to do simply because of inertia in our life.  When we first came into the Dharma, we eagerly went to teachings and were willing to do whatever it takes to make it to our first highest yoga Tantra empowerment.  Are we the same now?  How many of us go to the center just because we have always done so?  We go to the festivals because that is just what we do?  How many of us grow bored when we hear the same explanations again and again and can’t wait until the teaching is over?  Do we really see our delusions as the cause of all our problems?

We will never make progress along the path if we do not guard our mind.  Armies protect countries, police protect communities, guards protect buildings, cameras and safes protect precious possessions, but what guards and protects our mind?  When we are in an airport or crowded place, we take special care to watch our bag, especially if it has our iPad in it.  We know all it takes is a few seconds for somebody to run off with it and we will lose it forever.  Do we feel the same way about the priceless jewels of our virtues within our mind?  The thieves of our delusions stand ready to steal away our virtues as soon as we look the other way.  The enemies of our delusions are constantly posing as our friends trying to trick us into following their mistaken advice.  They never stop, they never rest.  If we are alone at night in a dangerous place, we naturally feel great fear and our alertness is sharp looking out for danger, but when we are safe at home we think nothing of allowing our delusions free rein.

Our mind needs as much protection as possible, considering its state.  Shantideva said earlier that our virtues are mostly weak, our non-virtues are strong and fearsome.  If we don’t make a point of guarding our mind from delusion, then virtue itself will never grow in our mind.  Then our virtues themselves will never become as strong as our delusions are, and we will be powerless to make progress on and complete the trainings of a Buddha.

Geshe-la explains in How to Understand the Mind that alertness is the mental factor that has the ability to distinguish faults from non-faults.  Quite simply it is the wisdom that knows what is good for us and what is not, and is aware of this distinction as things arise within our mind.  If we do not recognize something as a fault, there is no chance we will be able to avoid it.  This is why delusions are so harmful.  They convince us they are our friend.  If we cannot distinguish what is faulty and what is not within our own mind, there is no way we can make progress on, much less complete the trainings.

I think our fundamental problem is we do not realize the stakes at play.  We think it really doesn’t make much difference whether we are alert within our mind or not.  The wise enemy will wait until we drop our guard and strike when we least expect it.  If an army grows complacent while the enemy still has not been vanquished, it will just be a question of time before they are overrun and caught unaware.  Delusions will bide their time, laying low, luring us into a false sense of security and then they strike, sometimes a quick decisive mortal blow as we throw it all away in some sexual scandal, or slowly and serendipitously like being slowly poisoned every day when we take our morning tea.  If it was just this life at stake, it really makes no difference.  One life’s happiness is of no cosmic importance.  But even a small amount of importance multiplied by infinite lives is an issue of infinite importance.  Christians, in some ways, have it easier when they say what we do in this life determines our eternal fate.  They don’t then take false refuge in the belief that it does not matter if they practice in this life, thinking they can always do so in a future life.  If it was just our eternity at stake, then that too really wouldn’t be that important (to anybody but ourselves, at least).  But the welfare of countless living beings depends upon what we do.  Are we so cruel that we will allow them to remain trapped in samsara forever when we have been given the opportunity to set them free?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  A terrible reckoning awaits if we do not start to change

(4.48) Therefore, having considered this well,
I will strive sincerely to practise these precepts as they have been explained.
If a sick person does not listen to the doctor’s advice,
How can he expect to be cured? 

Shantideva’s advice in this chapter can be summarized into three things.  First, cherish virtue.  We cherish what virtue we have in our mind, such as Bodhichitta, our bodhisattva vows, etc.  We need to feel that they really do matter.  Second, to abandon non-virtue.  We realize that negative actions only harm us, and so we naturally want to stop engaging in them and to purify our old negativities.  And third, to abandon delusions.  The cause of all our negativities is our delusions.  They are our real enemy that needs to be destroyed.

My friend Taro who was in a psychiatric hospital for many years told me once, “I have turned my psychotic mind wishing to harm against my delusions.  As a result, I now have enormous power to overcome my delusions.”  We need to be like this.  We need to take sadistic glee in torturing our delusions and trying to destroy them and undermine them in every way possible.  Very often the best way to torture our delusions is to simply not believe them.  When we do, they lose all their power over us.  We don’t need to resist our delusions, we rather need to see through their lies.  Then, we will naturally not want to follow them, any more than we intentionally allow ourselves to be fooled.  The ultimate way to eliminate our delusions is to realize their emptiness.  Then, they dissolve back into the emptiness from which they came and we can purify completely the causes that give rise to them.

But at the end of the day, progress on the spiritual path comes down to one thing:  are we actually applying effort to go against the grain of our delusions?  If all the Dharma we have studied for so many years remains theoretical, and we don’t actually use it to think differently, then it is essentially useless.  As Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path, there are many Dharma scholars in hell.  Every moment of every day is an opportunity to train our mind because at present everything that appears to us gives rise to one delusion or another.  If we check our mind, every time we look at any person we generate some delusion, whether it be attachment for the hot babe, a judgmental attitude towards somebody, a feeling of superiority over somebody, frustration at how stupid everyone is, impatience that these people are getting in our way, friend, enemy, stranger, the list goes on and on.  Each time these delusions arise we have an opportunity to train our mind to think differently.

The opportunities exist, the question is whether we are seizing them or not.  Life passes very quickly.  Every old person you speak with says the same thing:  it all goes so quickly.  It will be no different for us.  Only the young delude themselves into thinking they have enough time.  I started practicing Dharma 22 years ago, and it has gone in a flash and I have very little to show for it for the simple reason that I remain complacent about the delusions in my mind.  I lazily allow them to remain, I arrogantly think I have no need to purify my negative karma, I fool myself into thinking because I “know” the Dharma that it is enough.  But delusions still maintain their dominion over me.  When will I finally rise up and say enough is enough?

Having a terrible sickness is not so bad if we know there is a cure.  Having a cure and not taking it is the peak of stupidity.  But if we are honest, we must admit to ourselves that we stand on this peak.  We have been given everything:  a flawless Dharma, a fully qualified Spiritual Guide, a worldwide network of Sangha friends, an all-powerful Dharma protector who can arrange all the outer and inner conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment and endless opportunities to practice.  Yet we do close to nothing.  We don’t like to hear this.  We like to think we do a lot, but do we really live our life as someone who stands on the precipice of the lower realms?  Are we filled with a heart-cracking fear of the negative karma that remains on our mind?  Do we view our life in this world as being like the lamb chewing grass oblivious to the fact that they are simply waiting their turn to enter the slaughterhouse?  If not, then we haven’t been listening and a terrible reckoning awaits us.

This concludes the fourth chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled Relying upon Conscientiousness”.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Strategy for how to overcome our delusions, part 2

We continue with our discussion for how to actually overcome our delusions.  The first three steps were explained in the previous post.

Step 4:  “Choose” our strategy for dealing with the delusion.  I say ‘choose’ because normally we just respond reflexively.  Here we make an intentional decision to not do the wrong thing and to do the right thing.  In confronting our delusions, we usually fall into one of two extremes.  The first is the extreme of repression.  This is when we pretend, or try to pretend, that we don’t have a delusion (in reality we are very upset or really attached, but we deny it, even sometimes to ourselves).  The other extreme is expression.  This is when we follow the direction or advice of the delusion (in short, we give in to it).  Popular psychology recognizes the extreme of repression as harmful because it just causes us to push our delusions under the surface where they grow in strength until eventually they blow in some dramatic fashion.  Popular psychology’s prescription is to express our feelings – to let it all out, to get it out of our system.  They say we need to be in touch with our feelings and they think if we feel or think something, it is somehow important and valid.  Temporarily, it seems as if expression works.  When we give in to our attachment, the pain associated with being deprived our objects of desire is pacified and we feel better.  When we give into our anger and rage against other people, we feel as if we are getting the anger out of us and that we are standing up for ourself, so we feel better.  But in the long-term, by following the delusion and assenting to its validity, we are just feeding the beast that will ultimately devour us.  Every time we give into our delusions, they come back stronger the next time and it is even harder to overcome them later.  It is no different than a heroin addict.  The withdraw is terrible, and giving in will make the pain go away.  But it also guarantees it will come back again stronger next time.  Because we gave in before, we now have the habit to give in again.  It eventually reaches the point where we no longer even try, we will have surrendered ourself completely to our delusions.  We become their willing slave.  The middle way between these two extremes is to “accept and overcome.”  We accept the fact that the delusion is present within our mind (we accept that we are indeed sick with the delusions), but we clearly realize it is a treacherous mind, and we decide to confront it head on.  Kadam Morten said, “we accept the existence of the delusion, but not its validity.”  Yes, delusion is present within my mind, but I know it is a lie trying to deceive me.

Step 5:  Cut our identification with the delusion.  Other people’s delusions are not a problem for us because we don’t identify with them.  Our delusions are a problem because we do identify with them.  If we want to eliminate the problems associated with our delusions, we need to stop identifying with them.  Geshe-la explains in Eight Steps to Happiness that we are not our delusions, rather they are like clouds passing through the sky of our mind.  We cut our identification with our delusions by saying ‘not me.’  We can see them as clouds but we are the sky.  We can feel like we take a step back into the clear light Dharmakaya or as our self-generated deity.  We are the Dharmakaya or the deity, not the delusion.  Kadam Bjorn said if we try oppose our delusions while we are still identifying with them, then our wisdom wishing to be free from our delusions turns into self-guilt, which is in fact self-hatred.  He said because we haven’t actually “let go” of the delusion, when we apply the opponents all we really do is repress them and they will pop up again later.

Step 6.  Increase our desire to be free from the delusion.  Kadam Bjorn also said that our ability to overcome our delusions is not so much how well we know the opponents, but rather how strong is our desire to be free from them.  When our desire to be free from the delusion is greater than our desire to have the object of our delusion, then we will have enough power.  Otherwise, we will eventually give in (because we are a desire realm being) or explode in a form of spiritual bulimia.  To increase our desire to be free, we can contemplate that Geshe-la said “all delusions are necessarily deceptive minds.”  They destroy our inner peace and so make us miserable.  A good friend of mine once said:  either we are going deeper into samsara or we are moving out, there is no third possibility.  Following our delusions moves us deeper into samsara.  We want to get out of samsara for ourself (renunciation) or for others (bodhichitta).

Step 7:  Apply opponents to decrease the delusion.  The first thing we need to realize is that delusions have as much power as we give them.  We give them power by believing them to be true.  When we identify that they are deceptive, we are no longer fooled by them, even though they continue to arise in our mind.  Then, they have no power over us.  Once we have reduced their power in this way, we can then apply the various opponents explained in the Dharma.  Really, any Dharma mind can be used to overcome virtually any delusion.  But every delusion has its own principal opponent.  The principal opponents of anger are love and patient acceptance.  The opponents to attachment are selfless love and non-attachment or renunciation.  The opponent to jealousy is rejoicing, being happy for the other person.  The opponent to doubt is faith and wisdom.  The opponent to ignorance is the wisdom realizing emptiness.  When we apply opponents it is important we do so without any expectation for results.  If the causes are created, eventually our delusions will be reduced.

Step 8:  We eradicate the delusion with the wisdom realizing emptiness.  We eliminate our delusions entirely by realizing that ourselves, the delusion and the object of our delusion do not exist from their own side.  But in particular, Shantideva focuses on realizing the emptiness of our delusions.  At the end of the day, a delusion is just a thought in your mind.  Just as you can forget a phone number, so too you can forget your delusions.  Why has Shantideva launched into the true nature of delusions here?  We can know they can be defeated because they don’t truly exist.  Geshe-la says in How to Understand the Mind that just as the child of a barren woman cannot have problems because the child does not exist at all, so too the self that we normally see cannot have problems because such a self does not exist at all!

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Strategy for how to overcome delusions, part 1

(4.45) An ordinary enemy who is expelled from a country
Will go to another and remain there,
Only to return when he has regained his strength;
But the enemy of the delusions is not like that.

(4.46) O delusions, delusions, where will you go
When banished by the eye of wisdom and expelled from my mind?
And from where will you return to harm me again?
But, being weak-minded, I am reduced to making no effort!

(4.47) The delusions are not in the objects, in the sense powers, between them, or elsewhere;
So from where can they cause harm to all living beings?
Because they are just like illusions, I should banish fear from my heart and strive to attain wisdom.
Why bring the sufferings of hell and so forth upon myself for no reason?

We need to have a comprehensive strategy for overcoming our delusions.  It is not enough to just know delusions are our mortal enemy.  Our wish to overcome them will never be strong enough if we do not think it is possible to do.  When we know such a method exists and we understand how to employ it our wish to overcome our delusions will be conjoined with a confidence knowing how to do it.

How the strategy works will be explained over the next two posts.  It all starts with having a problem of some kind.  We can take as an example an urge to smoke, but we can apply the same strategy to any other object of attachment, or indeed any delusion.

Step 1:  Analyze the nature and the cause of the problem.  We normally think our problem is something external, such as not having our object of attachment.  But the nature of the problem is not something external, rather our problem is the unpleasant feelings arising within our mind.  We identify clearly that the cause of our problem is not something external, rather it is the delusion of attachment within our own mind.  Just as identifying the object of negation is the most important step in meditating on emptiness, so too identifying the exact nature of our problem is the most important step in overcoming our delusions.  If we do not see clearly the difference between the outer problem and the inner problem of our mind, we will continue to grasp at the outer problem as being our problem.  When we think this, we will conclude it is the external circumstance that needs to change.  If instead, we realize clearly that our problem is our own deluded reaction to the external situation, then we will conclude it is our mind that needs to change.  This does not mean we don’t also try change the external situation, but we do so understanding external methods solve external problems; internal methods solve internal problems.

Step 2:  Ask ourself the question:  what kind of being am I?  If we are a worldly being, interested only in external happiness, then this strategy won’t work for us.  If we instead are a spiritual being, interested in gaining spiritual realizations, then everything works.  We can change what kind of being we are through the practice of Lamrim, whose main function is to change our desire.  The meditations on the initial scope change our desires from being worldly ones to spiritual ones concerned with the welfare of future lives, in particular avoiding lower rebirth.  The meditations on the intermediate scope change our desires to not being satisfied with avoiding a lower rebirth, but wishing to escape from any form of samsaric rebirth.  The meditations on the great scope change our desires to not be satisfied with merely saving ourselves, but we must also save all our kind mothers.  In general, the quickest way to change our desire is to recall death by asking ourself the question:  “Do I want to arrive at my death and realize that I could now be getting out of samsara but am not because I wasn’t motivated enough to overcome this attachment before?”

Step 3:  Make requests to Dorje Shugden.  Gen Togden explained this practice to me.  He said every time a delusion arises in our mind, we should request Dorje Shugden, “with respect to this delusion arising in my mind, please arrange whatever is best.”  After we make this request, there are two possibilities.  The first is Dorje Shugden blesses our mind with the wisdom to see through the lies of the delusion and it ceases to have a hold over us.  In this case, it is the end of the story.  If, however, the delusion persists in our mind, then it means that Dorje Shugden wants us to train in overcoming this delusion.  A wise and skilled teacher does not just make everything easy, rather they push their students to make progress.  Dorje Shugden knows our mind and knows exactly what we need to work on.  If the delusion remains, it is because we need to work on this particular aspect of our mind.  Either way, we accept with infinite faith that this is perfect for our practice, so you are happy.  We are happy because we are a spiritual being, and what we want is to practice.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Bear a strong grudge and do battle with your delusions

(4.43) This will be my main objective:
Bearing a strong grudge, to do battle with my delusions.
Although such a grudge appears to be a delusion,
Because it destroys delusions it is not.

(4.44) It would be better for me to be burned to death
Or to have my head cut off
Than to ever allow myself
To come under the influence of delusions.

I love Shantideva.  To not put too fine a point on it, he just kicks our ass.  Reading his words, you can just feel his vajra-like clarity and certainty of purpose.  He does not hold back, he does not coddle.  Why?  Because he is at war.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, the devil taunted him, “do you really want to take on the sins of all beings?  Are you really ready for what that means?”  After a moment’s hesitation, he came to a decision and said unequivocally yes, and he crushed the serpent’s head.  Then, quite literally, a world of suffering came crashing down on him.  He accepted it all because he knew his purpose, and just before death some of his last words were, “forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”  When we read Shantideva, we can’t help but feel he has come out of his own Garden of Gethsemane armed with clarity of purpose.  He has not simply declared war on his own delusions, he has declared war on all the delusions of all living beings – and he is fighting to win.  He is playing for keeps.  He is taking no prisoners.  He is showing no quarter.

We know the path to freedom and happiness involves removing all trace of delusions.  We will be unable to lead anyone along that path in its entirety unless we have travelled it ourselves—unless we have freed ourselves from delusions.  This does not mean we need to overcome all of our delusions before we can provide any help; rather it means we will only be able to actually help people up to the extent that we have actually overcome our delusions within ourselves.  Until we have overcome our own delusions, we will have no power to free even one person from their delusions.  We may have knowledge of this path, but we must travel along it if we are to free others from their delusions.

Therefore, our main job must be to abandon delusions.  This is very easy to forget.   We have a lot of jobs, and things we do.  But we have to ask what is our main objective?  All of our other activities provide us with an opportunity to change our mind and our way of life, finally into those of a Bodhisattva.  Bodhisattvas have incredible influence on the world around them, incredible power to lead others.   They do not go around telling everyone “I am bodhisattva, hear me roar.”  Simply their presence in any community radically reshapes it.  In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says that somebody who cherishes others is like a magic crystal the functions to heal any community.  What need is there to say of the power of a Bodhisattva, whose wish is to lead all beings to everlasting freedom.

We ourselves should want such influence and power.  But such power does not come from teaching or from working to flourish the Dharma, but rather from working on our own mind.  We need confidence that we can actively eliminate delusion from our mind, and confidence that once eliminated they will never return.  And we need this experience in the world of living beings.  For centuries, this was primarily a monastic tradition, but not any more.  Even monks and nuns in this tradition live in the world, even if their jobs are working for Dharma centers.  Venerable Tharchin said all it takes is a handful of true spiritual masters in a given country to make that country a source of peace in the world.  We need such Bodhisattvas in Dharma centers, but we also need them in our schools, in our corporations, in our hospitals, in the government, in the military, in the highest reaches of politics, and in the home.  Who will be these bodhisattvas for our country if not us?

We must do both – heal our mind and heal our world.  To do just the external or just the internal is an extreme.  In the past many practitioners have experienced many problems due to an unskillful approach, of either being extreme with their inner practice and no engagement with the world; or being extreme with their outer activities while neglecting inner transformation.  We must get it right with respect to our formal practices, informal practices, our work, our family life and our civic engagement.  We know there is no contradiction within the Dharma.  Our job is to realize there is no contradiction between practicing Dharma and living a modern life.  This is the task Geshe-la has given us.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  I must never turn back

(4.41) If I myself am not free from delusions
When I promise all living beings
Abiding in the ten directions throughout space
That I will liberate them from their delusions,

(4.42) Is it not foolish of me to say such things
While disregarding my own shortcomings?
This being so, I must never turn back
From destroying my own delusions.

We have made a promise to free all living beings from all of their delusions, in this and all their future lives.  This is simultaneously a task of cosmic proportions, yet at the same time fairly straight-forward.  In fact, it is quite simple:  if we eliminate completely delusions and their imprints from our own mind, we will then gain the ability to effortlessly do the rest.  By doing one thing – purifying completely our own mind – we accomplish everything else.

As long as we ourselves are weighed down by the heavy burden of our own delusions, we are, for all practical purposes, useless to others.  A perfect example of this is the subtle, but crucial, distinction between compassion wishing our loved ones were free from suffering and attachment wishing our loved ones were free from suffering.  I am married and have kids.  While intellectually I know the difference between these two, I am not there yet in my mind.  When my wife or kids are suffering, upset, heavily deluded, etc., then I too become upset and deluded.  Either I buy into their deluded view or reaction to things or because I am attached to them being happy (thinking my happiness depends on them being happy), so when they go down, I go down too.  I then get frustrated at them, thinking, “why can’t you be happy?” or I get tired of their negative view of things and bothered that what they do just makes the problems worse.  It is true, I can’t bear to see them suffer, but not because there is pure selfless compassion in my mind, but rather because I am sick of having to deal with their problems.  This makes me useless to them.  I fight with them about them being deluded, I don’t help them find a non-deluded solution to their problems.  I allow myself to get swept away by their negativity, I don’t stay centered in a positive, constructive frame of mind.

In Offering to the Spiritual Guide it says, “I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort by striving for complete enlightenment with unwavering compassion; even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell for many aeons for the sake of each being.”  Normally, we run away from our own problems, much less other people’s problems.  Normally, we have real aversion to negative, deluded people.  How can we possibly fulfill our bodhichitta wishes if we can’t stand to be around deluded people?  Venerable Tharchin said, “when I die I want to be reborn in hell because that is where all the people be.”  He said, “we need to design our own enlightenment, decide what kind of Buddha we want to be.”  He wants to be a Buddha that is specifically capable of helping people who have fallen into hell.  Amazing.

If we ourselves learn how to overcome our own attachment, anger, jealousy and so forth, then through the force of that experience we will naturally know how to help people do the same.  If we ourselves do not have this experience, then even if we give them a textbook perfect answer to their problems, our advice will lack any power because it is not coming from personal experience.  This is why Kadam Bjorn said the only Dharma we can effectively teach is that which we have personal experience of.  His advice to new teachers was not, “study hard,” his advice was “get out into life and apply the Dharma.  Then share what you’ve learned.”  He would require all of his teachers in his centers to at least have a part-time job on the logic of if we don’t know how to apply the Dharma in the life of our students, then how can we actually help them?

Venerable Tharchin said, “the way we grow our centers is easy.  Our job is to gain authentic realizations.  These realizations are like a beacon of light in the minds of the beings in our community.  Even though they can’t see it, they are naturally drawn to it.”  When I was teaching, time and again I would have the experience where I would make some mistake in life, learn some Dharma lesson, and then within a few months somebody would appear at the center who was making a similar mistake.  I would then just share my own story.  Our own realizations create the causes for those who need such wisdom to appear in our life, then we just share what we have learned.  We continue in this way until we are enlightened, and so is everyone else.

It is also vital that we not be attached to others following our advice or changing.  As paradoxical as it sounds, it makes no difference to the bodhisattva whether people follow her advice or not.  It is because she does not need others to listen that others take on board what she has to say.  They know she has no ulterior or selfish motive, they know the bodhisattva has no need for the other person to change at all, so they can trust the advice as being unconditionally offered.

The more we check, the more clear it becomes the best way we can help others is to quite simply work on overcoming our own delusions.  Kadam Lucy once told Geshe-la, “my main job now is to flourish the Dharma.”  Geshe-la interrupted her and said no, “your job is to practice Dharma.  Everything else flows naturally from that.”