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.


Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Being an effective teacher with Phase 2 students.

In the last post we explored how our relationship with the Spiritual Guide generally has two phases.  The first is we go from our life being a total mess when we first come into the Dharma to reaching the point where we know how to be happy most of the time in this life, regardless of what curve balls life throws at us.  While good, that is not good enough.  Once we reach the stage where we are more or less happy all of the time in this life, we quickly become complacent, lazy or full of pride.  So how does our relationship with the Spiritual Guide change when we enter into this second phase?

Phase 1 is easy – we feel terrible, we call up the teacher, receive some Dharma and go away laughing and feeling better.  Phase 2 is very difficult.  We feel really good, we call up the teacher get the bubble of our pride or complacency popped, we feel attacked and then go away feeling unhappy and deluded.  Then we get all upset at the teacher and lose our faith in them.  Then we lose everything, because when we think the teacher is bad, we question everything the teacher has to say.  Even when we receive pure instructions all we think about is how the teacher is not following their own advice.

So what is the teacher to do when we respond in this way?  There are two extremes.  The first is the extreme of controlling.  Here the teacher guilt-trips the students or manipulates or controls them into doing the right thing.   The fundamental assumption of this method is people are lazy and just need to be cajoled into doing what they want to do anyway but their delusions are getting in the way.  The main strategy here is – Marpa-style – to to do things which provoke delusions in the students to give the students things to work on and overcome.  The problem with this method is the students do virtue for all the wrong reasons, namely driven by guilt or wishing to make the teacher like them (and so the karma created is worldly, even when doing spiritual things) and gradually they build up all sorts of resentment and go away.

The other extreme is doing nothing.  Here the teacher just leaves people to do as they wish and as they feel motivated to do, and works with that motivation helping in the way the students want the teacher to help.  The fundamental assumption of this method is people are only going to do what they want anyway, so if you push them it will yield short term results but at a long term cost.  The long term is more important.  The main strategy here is it is better to keep people connected to the Dharma than push it and lose them, so just work with motivated people and keep everybody else happy.  Take people as far as they want to go.  The problem with this method is without the system being jolted, people easily fall into low level equilibriums.  They have a happy relationship with their teacher, but that’s all they have got.  At some point our compassion doesn’t let us do this anymore.

The middle way here is to not be afraid to ruffle feathers, but do so in a laughing and transparent way.  Here the teacher points out the faults and mistakes of the student, but does so in a laughing way.  The teacher points out our delusions at the point of absurdity and so puts them on the table but in a humorous, rather than an accusatory way.  So we all have a good laugh about ourselves.  It is totally transparent with respect to what they are doing and why they are doing it.  For example, the teacher warns the student in advance, “I am going to destabilize you because I want you to work through it so that you can overcome X problem.”

The fundamental assumption of this strategy is people are ignorant and take themselves too seriously.  We are not aware of what mistakes we are making, and so we don’t know.  We take ourselves too seriously and so get guilty or defensive when we find out about our mistakes as opposed to laugh at ourselves and learn.  The main strategy here is to believe in the student that once they become aware of a problem without the baggage of guilt and defensiveness they will eventually come around to wanting to get rid of it.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The two phases of our spiritual practice

When we take the Bodhisattva vows, we do so in the presence of our Spiritual Guide, whether in the form of a Kadampa teacher or with the Guru visualized before us in the context of our meditations.  Either way, we should feel like we are actually in the living presence of our Spiritual Guide and we are making these commitments and promises before him.  We should be careful to avoid the habit of just saying the words, without realizing we are giving our Spiritual Guide our word that we will do our best to work with these vows to put them into practice.

For this reason, I thought it would be beneficial if I spoke a bit about our relationship with our Spiritual Guide and how it evolves over time.  I will do so over the next three posts.

When we first come into the Dharma, our life is usually a mess.  But it doesn’t take long before we feel we have enough Dharma experience that we know that no matter what happens to us in this life, we will be able to deal with it.  It may still be challenging, but we know we will work through it in the end.  Some people may have already reached that point, and some others are fast approaching it.  In my view, reaching this point is potentially the most dangerous point of our spiritual practice.  Let me explain.

First of all, what got us to where we are today?  It was our ‘practice of Dharma.’  What does it mean to practice Dharma ?  It means to use the Dharma as the solution to whatever we consider to be our biggest problem, understanding that our problem is our mind and not the external situation.  We have been doing this very well.

But there are two different ways we can do this:  as a ‘crisis Dharma practitioner’ or as a ‘Kadampa practitioner.’  A ‘crisis’ Dharma practitioner is one who uses the Dharma to overcome whatever crisis they are in.  Their primary concern is getting out of the crisis, and they use whatever Dharma they have to get out.  The danger here is when there is no crisis, there is no motivation to practice and they can get trapped in a low level equilibrium.  During tough times, they use their practice to solve it (which is great); but then during normal times they see no need to practice, and they return to samsara (which is not so great).  I have seen this happen to many people.

A Kadampa practitioner will specifically use the lamrim to overcome their problems.  What makes a Kadampa a Kadampa is they take the lamrim as their main practice.  We view our problem within the context of the lamrim and thereby use the objects of lamrim meditation to change our mind towards our situation.  By doing this, our orientation naturally expands to move beyond being interested in simply happiness in this lifetime, which is all the crisis Dharma practitioner is trying to do.

I have seen the spiritual birth and death of hundreds of Dharma practitioners and the difference between those who get trapped in a low level equilibrium and those who continue on is whether they have a consistent practice of lamrim.  Some people find themselves thinking they are drifting a bit in their practice, others feel like they have already left their Dharma life behind as an old chapter in their life.  We need to investigate why this is happening.  A big reason for this is related to whether our motivation is genuinely concerned with happiness beyond this life or not.  Lamrim is all about changing our motivation beyond this life.  So we need to check.

So what are the two phases of our practice?  Phase 1 is when our main task is getting our life under control where we are able to deal with our life and have a happy life.  In this phase our main problems are gross delusions such as attachment, anger, etc.

Phase 2 starts when we have enough Dharma to have a happy life.  In this phase our main problems are complacency, laziness and pride.  With complacency, we are satisfied with what we have accomplished.  We know we can go the rest of our life and be happy combining our external and internal methods.

With laziness, we lose the joy in our practice.  We see the value of practicing when things are difficult and we appreciate it when it gets us out, but when things are going well we want to enjoy the happiness we have worked so hard for and we let our practice linger on.  We derive our happiness from something other than creating good causes.  We ‘do’ a lot of Dharma stuff, but we don’t ‘actively change/heal our mind’ with the Dharma.  We don’t ‘seek out and destroy’ our delusions on increasingly subtle levels.

Pride comes in many forms.  We become like an adolescent child who knows a bit about the world and is convinced he knows everything and certainly more than his parents.  We become unteachable because we are seeking only confirmation that we are right, and become very defensive when we are told we are wrong or that we have certain delusions or things to work on.  Finally, it can take the form of us thinking only our own happiness matters.  We become attached to our happiness we are enjoying, and when a teacher comes a long and pops our bubble we get really upset at them.  We are only concerned with ourselves and don’t really care about the fact that countless others are still suffering and depending on us.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Living our life as if we have offered it to others.

(3.15) Therefore, in whatever I do,
I will never cause harm to others;
And whenever anyone encounters me,
May it never be meaningless for them.

(3.16) Whether those who encounter me
Generate faith or anger,
May it always be the cause
Of their fulfilling all their wishes.

(3.17) May all those who harm me –
Whether verbally or by other means –
And those who otherwise insult me
Thereby create the cause to attain enlightenment.

Such altruism!  It is concern only for the welfare of others, only the happiness of others. We want only what is best for others.   We do whatever others want us to do.  We stop doing whatever others want us to stop doing.  Maybe that feels extreme.  There’s a mind that says “you need to be sensible.” Generally such a mind is self-cherishing.  Because we’re not willing to make such sacrifices as merely part of our training.

We all feel that such a practice is perhaps one we’ll be able to carry when we’re actual Bodhisattvas.  Can we develop this attitude now?  Giving all?  Even this body? Are we prepared to do whatever it is that people want from us?  If I’m doing something that may harm someone, even give rise to an unpleasant feeling in their mind, I have to stop, don’t I?  Should we do whatever we can to make others happy, to free them from unhappiness?  At whatever cost to ourselves.  We generally think there’s some danger.  What about my spiritual practice, my spiritual life?

We’re nervous, aren’t we?  What Shantideva is describing seems extreme. We’d probably feel comfortable with having the attitude without having to act on it.  If that’s the case we haven’t even got the attitude.  What Shantideva is concerned about is not what we’re concerned about.  We want to be the condition for their enlightenment.  We should be concerned about being the object that makes others’ lives meaningful.  What a lead-up to the Bodhisattva Vow!

We need to learn to thrive and love difficulties.  Normally we are very attached to things going well and we quickly become despondent every time things are difficult.  We have an extreme sensitivity to anything going wrong, either externally or internally.  We are reluctant to engage in our practices because we know that will entail some difficulties, and we don’t want to undergo any difficulty.  We have an extreme attachment to our happiness right now.

This attitude is a huge obstacle to our spiritual development.  If we are too attached to the short term happiness, we never get to the long term ultimate happiness.  We have to be willing to endure difficulties now to have less problems in the future.  We do this all the time with our studies, with our work, etc.  If our alternative were to experience the difficulties of the path or to experience no difficulties at all, it could make sense to not bother with the path.  But in reality, our choice is between experience the difficulties of the path and thereby avoid all the difficulties of samsara or avoid all the difficulties of the path but experience all the difficulties of all of samsara.  No matter how hard it is to attain enlightenment, it is infinitely harder to remain in samsara.  We have already fallen into the hole, to get out will be difficult, but it is less difficult than remaining in the hole forever.  Once we fully accept this reality, we will naturally find the energy necessary to endure the difficulties on the path.

We need to learn to accept our difficulties.  Difficulties are going to come no matter what, the difference is whether these difficulties drag us down or push us out.  If we are attached to worldly concerns of experiencing happiness now, then when things go up and down, we will become a yo-yo and we will suffer.  If we can learn to wholeheartedly accept everything, then everything will instead function to push us out of samsara.

Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs.  It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things.  It means welcoming wholeheartedly whatever arises and giving up on the idea that things should be other than they are.  The main idea here is we change our perception of what is pleasant:  with our wisdom minds we make what our samsaric minds thinks is unpleasant circumstances into pleasant ones.  Then the unpleasantness of the situation goes away, and with it the anger.

To accept wholeheartedly means to welcome.  Right now we have a problem with everything.  There are certain people or situations which we would rather avoid and we push them away or resist them.  We live in samsara.  We resist these things because we think they cause us suffering.  If we can instead learn to use all of these situations, then we wouldn’t need to resist them but we could accept them wholeheartedly.  As our ability to use difficult people to accomplish our spiritual goals increases, so too does our confidence because difficult situations no longer pose a problem for us.  We will fear nothing.

How does this mind of acceptance enable us to be in a pure land right now?  A pure land is a place where there is no manifest suffering and everything leads us to enlightenment.  Through the mind of acceptance, we can use everything, so nothing is a problem for us – just an opportunity to grow.  In this way there is no manifest suffering.  Everything functions to push us out of samsara.  Everything confirms the Dharma and propels us further on our path, so all energy put into the system gets channeled into pushing us out.  So it is just like a pure land.  We can then be like the Buddhas who are able to remain in samsara and joyfully use everything to help beings get out.

New Year’s for a Kadampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Giving away our body to others

Slowly, we are inching closer to having our mind ready to take the bodhisattva vows.  First we will discuss what it means and how we can offer ourself to all living beings and talk about how we can generate the mind that wholeheartedly accepts the difficulties involved with the path.  Then we will talk about what exactly is the Bodhisattva’s promise and how to overcome being a neurotic in our Dharma practice. Later, we will talk about the role of the Spiritual Guide for a Bodhisattva and how to take our relationship with him from first having him help us get out of the mess that was our life to the next phase of him knocking us out of our pride and complacency.  Then, we will also talk about how we should think about our vows.  Then finally we will be ready to discuss the actually Bodhisattva Vow ceremony.

Every once in a while it is worth it to compare our present state of mind to how we felt when we were at our last festival.  When we are at the festivals, it all seems really clear.  We see our incredible good fortune to have found the path and we are extremely motivated to dedicate our life to following it.  But then life gradually creeps back in and our good intentions fade until they are little more than a distant memory of how we once thought.  It’s useful, then to check and see how far has our mind slipped back into samsara?  It’s scary isn’t it how far and how fast we can fall back in?

(3.13) Since I have given up this body
For the happiness of living beings,
It will always be theirs to beat, to revile,
Or even to kill if they please.

(3.14) Even if they play with it,
Mock it, or humiliate it,
Since I have given this body to others,
What is the point of holding it dear?

Our body is not just for Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, our spiritual guide, it is for everyone. We have a great deal of attachment to our body.  We are so concerned with its appearance, its health and we identify with it so strongly. We need to drop attachment to and grasping at it by giving it to others.  Giving away our body is an ‘attitude’ of mind, we don’t need to go around telling everybody we are offering them our body!

We should be prepared to sacrifice this body for the sake of others.  This attitude is what is important.  Even in the animal realm there are many beings who possess such an attitude.  Soldiers are ready to give their lives to protect others and go through difficult training and situations to be able to do this.  We are the same, except we are seeking to protect them from samsara.  We are ready to work through their obstacles for them so that they do not have to.  In actual practice, of course, we shouldn’t go around putting our body in unnecessary danger.  We have a precious human life with which we can accomplish limitless spiritual goals, and out of compassion for others, we should guard and protect our body to be able to fulfill these aims.  But mentally, we should be willing to sacrifice even our body if we needed to.  We should be like the soldier who is spontaneously prepared to throw himself on the grenade to protect his squad and its ability to complete the mission.  Do we have such a mental attitude?  If not, why not?  At the very least, it is an ideal we can strive towards.

How can we offer our body to others right now?  Normally we say that we are not ready to offer our body to others because we still need it, but mentally we can offer our bodies right now.  We can view ourselves as the ‘asset manager’ of our body, and the real owner is all living beings (or even better, the spiritual Guide).  We have a ‘fiduciary duty’ to manage the asset of our body and mind for the maximum benefit of all living beings.  The best thing we can do with it is transform it into a Buddha.  Doing so yields the highest returning investment on their asset, it is the most useful thing for them, even if they don’t realize it.  To use it for ourselves is to steal from all living beings because we are no longer the owner of it.

One powerful way we can offer ourselves to others is to adopt the view that our every experience is actually what we have taken on ourselves from those we love.  We take on their suffering so that they don’t have to, we allow ourselves to become karmic ‘echo chamber’ for others – we take all their difficulties and give them all the good.  All the delusions that arise in our mind are theirs.  They reflect into our own mind, and we overcome them for them.  We imagine that by doing so, the delusions are overcome in their mind.

If we make requests to Dorje Shugden that this be the case, it will be.  He can organize where the delusions that arise in our mind and the problems we have are those that our loved ones suffer from.  He can also organize where by overcoming them in our mind we gain the realizations necessary to be able to help them overcome the same problems.  Technically speaking, we can’t actually take on the substantial causes of others suffering, but we can take on the circumstantial causes.  We have within our mind the seeds to have delusions similar to what they are experiencing.  By them ripening in our mind, we are able to better understand what they are going through and are better able to help them.