Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t worry, be happy (with your vows)!

I don’t know why it is, but when people think about vows and commitments, misunderstandings about their meaning usually prevail.

One of my favorite analogies for understanding our vows is they are like road signs, or a more modern analogy, they are like our own internal GPS.  If we decide that we want to go to a given destination, such as the airport, we highly appreciate the road signs which point us in the right direction.  The street signs are helpful reminders that appear when we need them most to make sure we stay on course to reach our desired destination.  When we make a wrong turn, the signs do not judge us, we are simply going the wrong way and they point the way back.  We do not need to beat ourselves up about taking a wrong turn, we just need to accept the situation as it is and get back on the right road.  Yes, we may lose some time in the process as we double back, but if we remain committed to reaching our destination and we diligently follow the signs we are given, we will definitely eventually reach our destination – the only question is when.

In exactly the same way, our vows and commitments are like internal spiritual road signs or GPS system, which direct us how to get to our desired spiritual destinations.  They are helpful reminders of which internal roads we should take and which ones we should not.  When we take a wrong turn, they don’t judge us, rather they just continue to point us in the right direction.  If we listen to our GPS and follow its instructions, we will definitely eventually reach our final spiritual destination, the only question is how long it will take us.  Instead of cursing our vows or viewing them as some inner critic constantly judging us, we can welcome them as helpful reminders of where we should be going with our mind.

It is important that we understand the vows not as results we are supposed to artificially impose, but rather directions we are supposed to train in.  Vows function to direct the flow of our mind towards enlightenment, like water rides at an amusement park.  If you train to keep your behavior within the context of your vows, your mind will naturally be directed towards your desired destination.

The different levels of vows are more like a zeroing in on the spiritual target of our choice for the destination of the flow of our mental continuum.  When we take refuge vows, it directs our mind towards Dharma goals in general, but it is not very precise.  When we take pratimoksha vows, it directs our mind towards liberation, and the power becomes more intense like water being directed through a narrower tube.  When we take bodhisattva vows, it directs our mind towards enlightenment, and the power becomes even more intense.  When we take tantric vows in general, it directs you towards enlightenment as a tantric deity, and the water becomes even more intense.  When you take mother tantric vows, it directs you towards enlightenment as either Heruka or Vajrayogini, and the water becomes the most intense directed at a very specific target.

Of course there will be some water that spills over, and sometimes we will fly out of the chute yourself.  That’s OK, we just train.  Every time we fall out of the guidelines and we train to put ourself back in, we strengthen and reinforce that part of the course.  Eventually it becomes like concrete, and the water is directed surely.  If a little water spills over, we can restore it by doing 35 confession Buddhas or Vajrasattva.  When we fall out completely, we can renew it by retaking the vows.  The only way we fall out completely is if we intentionally decide to go back on our aspirational promise to one day keep all the vows purely, which is something we rarely do.

It is generally a good idea to retake the vows every day.  In most of our tantric sadhanas, we do precisely that.  Geshe-la said that fresh vows are the perfect mental environment to die with. Since we don’t know when we are going to die, it is a good idea to always have fresh vows on our mental continuum.

We need to build these pathways in our mind through training in the vows consistently over a long period of time.  We need to construct these pathways within our mind.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The different levels at which we can take the vows

There are many levels at which you can take the bodhisattva vows.

We can take them as a special blessing.  This is the level usually given when we receive lower tantric empowerments.  Usually people aren’t even aware that they were given.  This is because it is just a special blessing which creates a favorable environment for receiving the empowerment.  We should never worry that somehow vows were put in our mind against our will or without our knowledge.  Vows only become our vows when we take them from our own side.  If we are not ready to take the vows, we can receive them as a special blessing or even just rejoice in those around us taking them at higher levels.  Of course it is possible to take at a higher level at such times if we wish.  Taking vows is something that shouldn’t be rushed.  The choice of what we are going to do with our life is a big decision, but the choice of what we are going to do with the rest of eternity is an even bigger decision, so we need to take our time and not feel any pressure whatsoever.  By receiving the bodhisattva vows as a special blessing, it will help inspire us to one day take up the Bodhisattva’s path.

Second, we can take them at a provisional level.  This can be done in one of two ways.  First, we can think, given all the information I have available, I promise that I will eventually become a Buddha and liberate all beings.  If new information comes along, that justifies changing this decision, I leave the door open.  Or second, we can ‘try on’ the vows for a limited period of time to see how they fit.  For example, when people are considering ordination, they are advised to take the ordination vows provisionally for one year to see how it works for them.  In a similar way, in the Lamrim texts we are given the example of the butcher who vowed to not kill animals at night time.  While not the “full” bodhisttva vows, it is nonetheless immensely beneficial to take the vows for only a limited amount of time to get a feel for what it is like.  When we do this with the bodhisattva vows, we provisionally take on the aspiration.

Third, we can take them at the aspirational level – we promise to maintain the intention to one day keep all your vows perfectly.  Essentially you are making one vow:  to eventually take all the vows later.  When we take highest yoga Tantra empowerments, for example, this is usually the level at which we are encouraged to take the vows.  Oftentimes people ask the question, “how do I know if I am ready to take the tantric empowerments?  Different people have different answers to this question, but my answer is if we feel like we are ready to make this sort of aspirational promise, then we are ready; if we are not ready to make this sort of aspirational promise, then we are not.

Finally, we can take them at an engaging level – we actually promise to do these things.  Only very advanced practitioners are able to do this and keep the vows.  However, we might find that some vows we can promise to keep perfectly for the rest of our life, while others we aren’t ready yet.  There is no reason why we can’t mentally specify all of these variants when we take the vows.  Those who have been around the Dharma for many years wind up receiving quite a few empowerments, sometimes two or three a year.  Each time we do is another occasion to revisit how we are doing with our vows.  We should take the time before each empowerment to review our progress, make plans for which vows we will take at which level, each time trying to do slightly better than we did last time.  In this way, we gradually and skillfully work with all of the vows until one day we can keep them all perfectly.  It is important to make a clear distinction between “picking and choosing which vows to take” and “picking and choosing at which level we take all of the vows.”  We can take individual bodhisattva vows, but doing so is not taking “the” bodhisattva vows, rather it is an example of a specific moral discipline.  When we take the bodhisattva vows, we take all of them and promise to work with all of them, but we are skillful in understanding the level at which we take each one, and we commit to work gradually with all of the vows until we are able to keep them all perfectly.

We need to consciously choose the promise and level that we can keep and that want to keep.   We should not feel forced in any level.

This has to be a personal decision.  Regardless of what level we take the vows at, what matters most is that we make the promise our own, and in this way it becomes sincere.  This qualified mental intention is what brings about the benefits, not just reciting the words.  To return to our redirecting water analogy, if the redirection is to actually work, the promise must actually be real and strong, otherwise the deluded currents in our mind overpower or erode our attempts at redirection.  The more real and personal we make the promise, the more power it will have to actually redirect the flow of our mental continuum.  It is more important to have whatever promise we make be ‘real’ than it is that you take the promise at a high level.  So I generally encourage people to take their vows at a lower level, but to make it a meaningful, genuine and personal promise we intend to keep.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The Actual Bodhisattva Vows

The ritual verse we use to actually take the bodhisattva vows is as follows:

(3.23) Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas,
Generated the mind of enlightenment
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,

(3.24) So will I too, for the sake of all beings,
Generate the mind of enlightenment
And accomplish all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training.

What exactly are we promising when we take the Bodhisattva Vow?

We are essentially promising that we will spend the rest of eternity leading living beings to enlightenment.  We have decided that this is what we want to do with the rest of our eternity.  We can sometimes feel overwhelmed by such a prospect, but at this stage we are merely saying we can’t think of anything better to do with the rest of our eternity.  It is a choice of direction and final destination.  We are not committing to already do this, but that we will work in this direction for as long as it takes until it becomes a reality.

Sometimes we think it is not possible, we can never become a high bodhisattva, so we don’t really ‘go for it.’  But it is perfectly possible, the methods are there, the only thing lacking is our wish.  Sometimes we are afraid of committing to such a prospect because we fear that it will mean we will have to give up so much.  We think this because we still believe the deception of samsara.  In reality it is the opposite, we only give up that which prevents us from having everything.

Sometimes we have reluctance because we want to hedge our bets between samsara and our practice, but eventually this becomes impossible and just leads to inner tension.  We will eventually have to let go of one or the other.  If we let go of our practice, all of the problems of samsara come right back.  If we let go of samsara, we go from joy to joy until we attain enlightenment and beyond.  But for now, we should continue to do what we want, but change what we want.  We will talk more about that in later posts.

All of the practices of the Bodhisattva are included in the Six Perfections and the practice of the Bodhisattva vows. For the remainder of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva explains how to prevent our vows from degenerating and how to complete the practice.

In its most general sense, the bodhisattva vow is a promise to eventually become a Buddha for the benefit of all living beings.  It is a choice of what we want to do with the rest of eternity.

You can read in the book ‘The Bodhisattva Vow’ the various downfalls of the Bodhisattva vows and how to purify them.  You can also read the previous series I did on “Vows, commitments and modern life” where I went through each vow in considerable detail, focusing on how to integrate them into our modern life.  Each vow has many different levels, and it is always a question of degree.  We should study each of these vows and make plans to avoid transgressing them.

After we have received the vows formally from a preceptor, which we can do at any Kadampa center around the world, we will no doubt transgress them almost instantaneously.  This is normal.  We are not expected to keep them all perfectly from the very beginning, but instead we work gradually with them over a long period of time until we can eventually keep them all purely and without fault.  When we do break the root downfalls, we can retake the vows on our own and thereby restore them.  When we break the secondary downfalls, we can engage in the 35 confession Buddhas or Vajrasattva meditation.  But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking, “it’s OK for me to break my vows, because I can always retake them later.”  If we think like this, our promise to keep the vows will lack any weight or meaning in our mind and our regret will be artificial.  Not only will we not purify the transgressions, our subsequent taking of the vows will not produce the fruits of sincere practice.

To make things simple, we can reduce our practice of the Bodhisattva vow to two things:  First, practice cherishing others more than yourself.  Geshe-la said that we can most simply keep our bodhisattva vows by practicing cherishing others more than ourselves.  If we do this, we will naturally be keeping our vows.  Second, actively work to transform other living beings into fully qualified Kadampa Spiritual Guides.

The “business plan” (if I can call it that) Je Tsongkhapa gives us for actually accomplishing and fulfilling our bodhisattva promise is to form others into fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  Behind each person are countless others who that person will eventually lead to enlightenment when they become a Buddha, and with a desire to free all those countless others we should seek to form others into fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  This is our main job at this center.  We form Spiritual Guides who can form other Spiritual Guides, and in this way we can send out an army of fully qualified Spiritual Guides out into samsara to lead all living beings to freedom.  The first thing we need to do is transform ourself into a fully qualified Spiritual Guide who has the ability to train others to do the same.

All of our activities we do to support our local Dharma centers, such as working for the center, cleaning, distributing publicity, handling administrative matters, filling statues, etc., are all the very means by which we actually put into practice and fulfil our bodhisattva promise.  Geshe-la has placed at our feet a means by which we can learn how to be bodhisattvas and fully qualified Spiritual Guides.  He said if we really understood the karmic value of working for our local centers, we should even be willing to pay to have the opportunity to do so!  If one has really decided that they want to actually embark on the bodhisattva path they treasure the opportunity to do work for the center to make it flourish.  They see this as the most precious opportunity they have in their life.  Without it, our Mahayana practice is quite abstract.

Geshe-la started with nothing but the bodhichitta in his heart and a copy of Shantideva’s Guide.  From there, he established Manjushri center as the mother center of the New Kadampa Tradition.  He then formed teachers, who themselves established yet more centers, teachers and so on, until Kadampa centers can now be found worldwide.  He has given us the books, the study programs, the practices, the internal rules, the structures, everything.  We lack nothing.  There is no reason why we can’t pick up what he has given us and do for our local area what he has done for the world.  This is our good fortune.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Why should we want to take the Bodhisattva vows?

The next two verses of Shantideva’s Guide are the actual ritual verses we use to take the bodhisattva vows.  Before we discuss what are the vows and how to skillfully practice them, I thought it would be useful to review once again why we should want to take the bodhisattva vows.

We can say that the book Guide to the Bodhsiattva’s Way of Life is divided into three parts:  preparation for taking the bodhisattva vows, taking the bodhisattva vows, and how we put into practice our Bodhisattva vow.

At the beginning of this series, we looked at length at the benefits of bodhichitta in general, and of taking the vows in particular.  In my previous series on “Vows, commitments and modern life,” I went through each vow, outlining the benefits and how to practice them.  But for me, there are a few benefits that stand out and really move my mind.

First, by taking the bodhisattva vows we continuously create non-contaminated karma.  A vow is a special type of promise on our mental continuum.  In this sense, it is a practice of moral discipline.  Even when we are not thinking about this promise, as long as we are not going against it, it continues to accumulate merit of refraining from engaging in the proscribed negativities.  The karma we create is non-contaminated because the moral discipline is aimed at a non-contaminated goal – enlightenment.  Song Rinpoche said that for a lay person in these degenerate times to keep just one vow purely creates the same amount of virtuous karma as a fully ordained monk purely observing all 250+ vows at the time of Buddha.  The best analogy is it is like redirecting the flow of water.  When we place the vows on our mental continuum, we permanently redirect the flow of our mental continuum towards enlightenment.  Once something that redirects water is put in place, it continues to accomplish its function as long as it is not removed.

Second, we maintain the continuum of our bodhisttva practice in all our future lives.  Keeping our vows functions to create the karma which enables us to find the path again and again, in life after life without interruption until we attain enlightenment.  If we lose the path, we lose everything.  Then we have all of samsara to fear.   To pick up once again the water analogy, every time the water gets redirected, we spew forth merit and causes for precious human rebirths on the bodhisattva path.   If we can maintain the continuum of our practice, then it will just be a matter of time before we attain enlightenment.

Third, it continuously functions to purify all our negative karma.  The intention of bodhichitta is the exact opposite of every negative action we have ever committed towards other living beings in all of our countless previous lives.  Taking vows is like introducing a special organism into the mud of our mind that functions to clean up all of this negative karma, like what they do to clean up algea.  It also helps protect against the ripening of negative karma that is on our mind.  It functions like a shield or a protection circle which prevents negative karma from ripening.

Fourth, it puts ourselves in total alignment with the Spiritual Guide.  By taking the bodhisattva vows, our motivation is put into total alignment with his, and as a result of this his blessings and inspiration naturally flow in and through us.  It is like aligning our sails with his perfectly pure winds.  Eventually we can get to the point where we receive perfect inner guidance every moment every step of the way and even be able to become an extension of his body, speech and mind.

The point is this:  all of our problems come from the fact that we are in samsara.  If we escape from samsara, we will know eternal, pure happiness.  The same is true for everybody else.  The bodhisattva’s path functions to transform ourselves into a fully enlightened Buddha, a being capable of leading each and every living being without exception to the same supreme state.  The practice of the bodhisattva vows is the inner essence of the bodhisattva path.  By practicing the vows directly, we are indirectly practicing the entire bodhisattva path.  Our mental continuum is kept “on track” and within the bounds of the bodhisattva path, and we permanently redirect the final destination of our mental continuum to the supreme city of enlightenment.  Practicing these vows, therefore, is the most important thing any of us will do with our life.  They hold the keys to solve all the problems of all living beings for all of their lives.  What could be more important than that?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Becoming the living, loving Dharmakaya

(3.21) Just like the great elements such as earth,
And like eternal space,
May I become the basis from which everything arises
For sustaining the life of countless living beings;

(3.22) And, until they have passed beyond sorrow,
May I sustain all forms of life
Throughout the realms of living beings
That reach to the ends of space.

If we’re practicing giving like Shantideva then we have a wish to be whatever others need, not simply to do what others want.  We want to be what they need.  We think, “if others want me to be someone other, I’ll be that person for them.”  With total faith in Dorje Shugden and a loving heart like Shantideva, we offer ourself to others pledging to become whatever we need to become for them to be able to provide them both temporary and ultimate benefit.  We have an attitude that is ready to endure whatever we need to endure.  We are ready to go through whatever we need to go through.

For me, the easiest way to do this is to view my ordinary self as like a karmic reflection or echo or synthesis of all the delusions and negative karma of those I love that I have taken upon myself through my previous practice of taking.  When suffering arises within our body, delusions emerge within our mind or negative karma ripens in our life, we strongly believe that this is the suffering, delusions and negative karma of all living beings that we have previously taken upon ourselves.  We then believe that – like Jesus – we work through these things for living beings so that they don’t have to.  What do living beings need?  They need somebody to do this for them.  This is why Jesus is so powerful in this world – he meets this need.  But so can we, if we train diligently in correct methods for long enough.

With these verses, Shantideva reveals how the truth body Dharmakaya of a Buddha is of the same nature as his emanation body.  Normally we speak of a Buddha’s emanations, as if they are a multitude of individual emanations.  But in truth, all of conventional reality is a fully integrated blanket of emanations functioning as a whole to liberate living beings.  It is only due to our ignorance that we see conventional reality as a samsara instead of as the unfolding of Buddha’s emanations in this world.  The pure conventional nature of all things is a Buddha’s form body, and the pure ultimate nature is a Buddha’s truth body.  These two are inseparable, like gold from its coin.

To become someone else, to become the person that others need, means we need to change our behavior.  We know what we’re currently like when someone has a problem with our behavior.  Normally, we think “it’s their problem, not mine.”  And sometimes that is true.  Offering ourself to living beings does not mean we offer ourself to their delusions and it is now incumbent upon us to satisfy their every deluded wish.  “Helping” others in this way doesn’t help them at all.  But to offer ourself to others does mean it is incumbent upon us to try meet their legitimate needs and help them in wise and compassionate ways.  This requires extraordinary flexibility of mind and of behavior.  We become whatever the other person is looking for, whatever others want us to be.

Gen-la Losang once told the story of his utter surprise when he took a flight with Geshe-la from the U.K. to America.  When he boarded the plane in the UK and was saying goodbye to those who saw him off at the airport, he was a perfect English gentleman, humble, reserved, composed in his behavior, etc.  When he got off the plane in America, he started hugging everyone and being all light and playful.  Geshe-la simply spontaneously became “American Geshe-la!”  A senior teacher once told the story once of how he had a dream about Gen-la Losang.  There was somebody stuck in some thorn bush, and in the dream the teacher was looking upon the person wishing strongly that they be free.  Then, Gen-la Losang came into the dream and, without a moment’s hesitation or concern about the effects on himself, dived into the bush and pulled the person out.  Then this senior teacher woke up and realized he had work to do.

Are we to cultivate such an approach to life?  If we don’t, the results of enlightenment won’t come.  Such is the power of Shantideva’s love that he wants to be whatever living beings want.  If we have this wish, then in the future we will actually be able to manifest all things wished for by living beings.  This thought to give, to be whatever is needed by others, acts as a cause for such results in the future.   Such a joyful, expansive mind is the perfect mental space for taking the Bodhisattva vow.  Imagine all day long having this mind.  What would you feel like? You’d feel like you were in heaven, wouldn’t you?  You actually would be.  Geshe-la once famously said, “the mind of Lamrim is the pure land.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Compassionate emanations bursting forth from our burning desire to help

(3.18) May I become a protector for the protectorless,
A guide for those who travel on the road,
And, for those who wish to cross the water,
May I become a boat, a ship, or a bridge.

(3.19) May I become an island for those seeking dry land,
A lamp for those needing light,
A place of rest for those who desire one,
And a servant for those needing service.

(3.20) To benefit all living beings,
May I become a treasury of wealth,
Powerful mantras, potent medicine,
A wish-fulfilling tree, and a wish-granting cow.

There is no denying the spiritual poetry of Shantideva.  Who cannot help but be inspired to become whatever living beings need by such words.  As was explained before, a Buddha’s form body has the power to appear in any form beneficial to living beings, from something as simple as a toothbrush to something as divine as the form of a holy spiritual guide.  Mothers describe there is no feeling of love greater than breastfeeding one’s newborn baby, imagine the loving bliss of a Buddha whose body nourishes all beings.

But it is important to move beyond the feelings of inspiration by such imagery to taking practical action to have such ability ourself.  How can we do so?

As with all things in the Dharma, such abilities begin with a pure motivation.  Normally, when we are very busy and people are placing many demands upon us, we become frustrated when people ask even more of us, piling further burdens upon us.  At such times, we develop the thoughts, “I wish people didn’t ask so much of me.”  Or perhaps we pass by somebody in need of something and we think, “I am too busy to help this person,” or maybe it doesn’t even dawn on us that we could be helpful because we see no way in which we could, so we don’t think anything of it.  At all such times, instead of feeling frustrated, too busy or indifferent, we should generate the thought, “at present, there is nothing I can do for this person, but I wish there was.  I wish I could spontaneously become whatever they need.”  We pass by people in need all of the time, indeed everyone we cross is in need of something.  Each situation, therefore, gives us an opportunity to train in generating this altruistic wish.

When we engage in the meditation on generating bodhichitta, we first generate compassion for living beings, then we generate the superior intention wishing to be able to help them ourselves.  Then we think we currently lack the ability to do so, but a Buddha does, therefore we generate the wish to become a Buddha.  Every time we see somebody, we should stop and take the time to ask ourselves, “what does this person need?”  “What does this person need of me?”  If we can provide them what they need, we should provide it unless we have a good reason not to.  If we can’t provide them what they need, we should nonetheless generate the wish thinking, “even though I can’t provide them with or become whatever it is they need, I sure wish I could.  Wouldn’t it be great if I was a Buddha, then I could do so.”  If we think like this every time we encounter somebody in need – which is all the time – we will find the day is filled with opportunities to train in Bodhichitta.

I find it useful to consider the example of 1,000-armed Avalokiteshvara.  One explanation for his thousand arms was he was contemplating the suffering of living beings, and his wish to help them all in every way was so strong 1,000 arms spontaneously sprouted forth from his body enabling him to do so.  This is how we should feel – our wish to help is so strong, the ability to help others spontaneously bursts forth out of us.  I personally believe the ability of bodhisattvas and Buddhas to emanate forms, of things as well as emanations of themselves, is of the nature of their compassion bursting forth spontaneously to help others.  Instead of wishing people weren’t coming to you for help, wish that you had two, three or even 1,000 copies, or emanations, of you with which you can help people.  We see how much we can get done with one of us, imagine having many.  Wouldn’t that be great!  The more we compassionately fantasize in this way, the more karmic causes we create to one day actually be able to emanate forms for the benefit of living beings.

Venerable Tharchin said, “the more we generate the wish to help others, the more opportunities to actually do so will arise.”  In other words, the wish to help others creates the karmic causes to actually have the ability to do so, both in terms of ourselves having the ability to help as well as activating the karma where others arise who need and want our help.  From a conventional point of view, we can understand this in terms of the activation and ripening of special karma; from a faith in Dorje Shugden point of view, we can understand this as him arranging all of the conditions necessary for our own and others swiftest possible enlightenment; and from an ultimate point of view, when we look at the world through the lens of “how can I help?” our mental factor discrimination re-imputes the world we see into a plethora of such opportunities.  Even if we find ourselves alone in our apartment, opportunities to cherish and love living beings will – like magic – simply fall into our lap.  Who could not be happy living a life full of love such as this?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Avoiding the pitfalls of a “happy life.”

We continue with our discussion of our relationship with our Spiritual Guide and life after we have entered the second phase of our practice, namely after we know how to more or less be happy all of the time in this life.  In the first post, we talked about the two phases of our spiritual; in the second post we looked at how teachers can be effective with students in the second phase.  And in this final post, we will look at what we need to do as students to avoid some of the common pitfalls a “happy life.”

From our side as students, what do we need to do?  Three things:

First, we need to take the lamrim as our main practice.  We need to have a daily, formal lamrim practice where month after month we cycle through the lamrim.  This helps us come to a definite decision as to what it is we want out of our practice.  Are we interested in simply having a happy life in this life alone or do we want something more?  If we are interested in just this life, we will fall into the trap of the crisis Dharma practitioner – where we practice earnestly when there is some crisis in our life, but then slide back into non-spiritual life when the crisis passes.   If we break the ‘this life’ barrier, we will naturally become much more motivated AND we will have an even happier life.

We should recall the dream I mentioned in an earlier post.  I was on a floating disk surrounded on all sides by the hell realms.  The disk represents our precious human life.  The disk was crumbling, but there is a life line of our Dharma practice which can take us to the pure land.  We don’t realize that we are on this disk, and agents from the hell realms come up to distract us and keep us preoccupied with this life.  They will give you everything you ask for in this life to keep you distracted and prevent you from completing your path.  Until the very end when it is too late and they say ‘gotcha’ and then you fall.  The conclusion is it is either hell realm or pure land at the end of this life, with essentially no in between.  We need to feel this as our reality and live our life accordingly.

Second, we need to accept ourselves without judgment.  We project expectations onto ourself that we should already be at a certain level, and then when we confront that we are not, we think that it is a problem.  We don’t look at our faults because we feel bad about ourselves.  The key here is to make a distinction between ourself and our contaminated aggregates.  Our contaminated aggregates are faulty and we are trapped within them, so we use this to increase our renunciation.  We take manifestation of a fault as a sign from Dorje Shugden that he wants us to practice a specific thing so we can create the causes we need to create.

Third, we need to overcome defensiveness when our teacher points out our faults.  I want to talk about a specific instance of when we feel our Spiritual Guide thinks badly about us.  We need to identify the attachment/aversion in our minds, where we think our happiness and suffering depends upon what others think.  This is a mistaken mind, our happiness depends only upon whether we respond to the situation with virtue.  When our teacher criticizes us there are three possibilities:  If we are doing something wrong, we admit it without guilt and change.  If we are doing something correct, we continue to do it.

The third possibility is we think we are doing something right, but the teacher thinks we are doing something wrong.  We need to make sure we are not going to the other extreme of exaggerating the bad of what our teacher supposedly thinks.  We often exaggerate thinking the teacher thinks only bad about us, and doesn’t see our good qualities.  We then become defensive and try to justify why we are right and the teacher is wrong.  This shuts down the learning process.  We need to stop projecting that the spiritual guide is viewing us the way we are viewing ourselves.  We think they are judging us and thinking bad about us and not liking us because of our faults because that is how we are relating to ourselves.

Instead, we need to seek clarification until we have clarity about what is correct.  We need to be more concerned with doing what is right than in being right.  Motivated by this, we seek clarification through external and internal methods until all doubts are resolved.  If after clarification we conclude that we are right and teacher is wrong, then we keep an open mind that our view could change later and  we might discover that we were wrong all along.