Dealing with Harms

Verses 12 through 16

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Dealing with Harms

We want to attain Buddhahood so that we can benefit all sentient beings. It’s quite a heavy thing to digest. We are reading through Gyalse Togme Zangpo’s text, called 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas. We’ve reached verse 12, and although we discussed it quite a lot in the last session, I’d like to carry on a little further with verse 12 today.  

(12) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if someone under the power of great desire steals or causes others to steal all our wealth, to dedicate to him our bodies, resources, and constructive actions of the three times.

As I said before, these are very beautiful words but they’re also very difficult to put into practice. The question that automatically arises is, “Why on earth should I give my body, my status, my merits to someone else?” We might feel that it is OK to give these things to our family or to someone we love dearly, but to strangers whom we don’t know? Why should we? The question will certainly come to us, and this is totally normal. But for bodhisattvas, if they don’t give everything away, they will feel very strange. It’s totally the opposite of us. For them, it is normal to give away their bodies and merits. For us, it is not normal. 

It’s a different way of thinking and there is logic behind both. If you love someone dearly, then you have no regrets in giving them your body or wealth – no questions asked. That’s normal. Bodhisattvas do this practice with everyone equally, even their enemies and even total strangers. Bodhisattvas, through their practice, see the immense benefit of giving their body, merits, and possessions away. It gives them so much pleasure and happiness. And it gives them such energy. A living example of this is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He travels so much and, even at the age of 85, his strength is still there. His doctors always tell him not to travel so much, but it is normal for him. He says it is very tiring but, at the end of the day it makes him happy. It is worth putting energy into this practice. 

So, when can we be like him? The answer is when we get bodhichitta. Here, right now, we are researching bodhichitta. We are not doing so simply because the Buddha or His Holiness the Dalai Lama say it is very important. We are here to research bodhichitta because we are interested in developing this kind of thinking ourselves. Up to now, we have only focused on me, mine, my family, my friends. We have put all others at a distance. Enemies and strangers – we don’t care about them. But all this is ignorance. If an enemy insults us, we feel totally ready to fight them. But if our family does the same, we try to understand. For bodhisattvas, every sentient being is their family. 

Whatever sentient beings say, bodhisattvas accept it. If sentient beings want to beat bodhisattvas, they accept it. They are not stupid. Not at all. Really, if someone wants to beat them, they let them. Maybe we feel that’s stupid, but bodhisattvas don’t. They will try to avoid it if possible, but if there is no way to avoid it, bodhisattvas will accept the beating and generate as much patience as possible.

Mahatma Gandhi was a very good Hindu practitioner. He wrote in his book about patience, that if somebody wants to hit you, you try to stop them, but if they really want to hit you, you let them. It’s like what Jesus says in the Bible, if someone hits you on the right cheek, you offer them the left cheek too. Once the sentient being is satisfied, there will be no more cheeks left to hit. This is just an example. I’m not saying we should welcome others to hit us. But, if something like this does happen to us, there is a different way of thinking we can develop. 

Showing Others Love

If we cannot generate a huge amount of love toward others, then this practice is impossible. Once we’re able to see all sentient beings as our family, then if they harm us, if they encourage others to take our wealth – whatever the negative action it is that they do to us, we won’t respond with violence. We will understand that this person is accumulating so much negative karmic potential, and by us not reacting badly, they automatically get a discount! Isn’t that fun? This being has so much aversion toward us and says so many bad things about us, but we’re not taking it seriously. We just have love for them. There is no winning and losing. If we were to go against them and fight back, together we would accumulate a lot of negative karmic potential. We are not participating in this. We are contributing less toward the negative karmic potential of the other person. This is a great benefit to give to others. 

The question now is, what is the best way to show them our love? Remember, love is when you want others to be happy. What is happiness? Is it wealth? Imagine you’re the richest person on earth, and you have a machine that prints dollars and every day you print and give money away. You could make everyone rich. We’d have so many billionaires with incredible amounts of money. You would think that everyone would be happy. But everyone would still have problems. There is one’s reputation, expectations of others, and continuing mental unhappiness. Money and name truly aren’t everything. We can easily learn this from celebrities. We like to follow them, so we should at least learn something from them. We think being rich and famous must surely bring happiness, but we hear of cases of celebrities even committing suicide. So, name and fame are not enough to provide happiness. 

So, what is real happiness? Well, the Buddha taught how to achieve genuine happiness. He taught the four noble truths and said he’d found the best, lasting happiness. He said that in order to get this happiness, there is a path you have to follow. Firstly, you have to understand suffering and its causes, and then understand how a stopping of suffering is possible, and how to follow the path that will stop suffering. 

Seeing and Understanding Suffering

Actually, one of the most difficult things is to know suffering. Of course, we all know headaches and stomach aches are suffering. Even animals know that. But it’s hard, even for educated people, to see that, beyond this, change is real suffering. With us humans, it is change that is suffering. We are happy but slowly, slowly, it turns into suffering. 

Luckily, we humans are clever enough to follow these steps of a path. This path is something that we call a religion. And there are many religions. All these religions arose because there is suffering and sadness in the world. Religion gives us hope. We don’t need to worry because God made this world and if you do good, you will end up in heaven, and if you do bad, you go to hell. All these kinds of ideas and concepts arose because there is suffering in the world. But even beyond the suffering of headaches and the suffering of change, Buddhism is more focused on a third type of suffering. In other religions, they don’t talk about it. It is all-pervasive suffering. All-pervasive suffering is the base of the other two sufferings, the suffering of suffering and the suffering of change. 

It doesn’t matter if we are born in the lower realms or the higher realms, we are just traveling around and around. And wherever we go, we have to “come back home.” This home is actually our real suffering. Wherever we are in samsara, even at the highest level, it is still suffering. In Hinduism they also talk about these levels and the heavenly realms. Actually, they feel no suffering at all in the highest realm. This is not in this world. They talk about this in Hinduism. Christians and Muslims don’t talk about it. 

In this highest realm of samsara, the mind is very subtle. There is no grasping, mind only, like a small meditation, very calm. They recognize that this is the peak of samsara. Above that, there is nothing. But even if we reach this level, we still have to come back again. Even at this level, we die and take rebirth. Sometimes it’s not easy to see the suffering of heavens with the gods and goddesses, because during their lives there seems to be unlimited happiness and pleasure. But, at the end of their lives when they’re about to die, suddenly they smell of rotting flowers and feel weak. Now, due to their clairvoyance, they can see where they will be reborn. That’s the worst suffering. Because they have used up so much positive potential in the god realm, they foresee rebirth in the lower realms, and there’s nothing they’re able to do about it. Maybe we humans are luckier because we don’t know where we are going to be reborn. 

Great practitioners and masters pray not to be reborn in a heaven. That’s because they know that once born there, they will enjoy their lives too much, there will be no Dharma to practice, and they won’t make any preparations for the next life. Our human life is truly a precious human life, because we can practice. We have a sweet and sour life and this helps us to practice the Dharma. 

So, there is a method to end the cause of our suffering, which is the ignorant mind we have. We can eliminate this. But what is this ignorance? When we talk about ignorance, it is this unawareness of how we exist and of how everything exists. We feel like a solid “I” who is the most important person in the universe. Actually, this is a deluded way of thinking. It’s like in the Heart Sutra, where it talks about analyzing where the “I” is. When you meditate on the head, nose, ear, tongue, you cannot find “I.” You also cannot find the “I” in the physical body or in the mind. The Buddha’s response is that there is no such thing as a solid “I.” But still, we feel, talk, go and eat. This is the relative truth of existence. But it’s just like an appearance. It’s like a beautiful rainbow, with beautiful colors. But even if we can see it clearly, we cannot hold a rainbow, there is nothing to hold onto. Everything that we feel and see and enjoy, we have to see it as being similar to this rainbow. We have to enjoy it as though it is an illusion. This is the Buddha’s teaching. 

Sometimes, we get angry and, after our mind calms down, if we think of why we got angry, we aren’t really sure why. The big enemy we felt existed when we were enraged doesn’t seem to be as we originally thought. We realize how stupid we are. I’m not saying that there is no enemy. But there is nothing to feel hatred for.

If we get to know and practice voidness, the ultimate truth, and see that it reduces anger and attachment in our life, we will feel that we have found an amazing medicine. It can cure us of all our problems and suffering. It can cure all other sentient beings too. So, the next question is, we have this precious medicine, why should we give it to others? This is what bodhisattvas do. Other sentient beings have been so kind to us, so we need to work for their benefit. Their suffering and our suffering are the same. Bodhisattvas believe that all sentient beings are their own family. Until enlightenment, there is no separation. For bodhisattvas, whether they are reborn in the lower or higher realms, there’s no worry at all. They want to be reborn wherever they can benefit sentient beings. That is what they have dedicated themselves – their mind, body and time – to doing. 

Why can’t we do this now ourselves? It’s quite easy to see. Let’s say we have just bought a new iPhone. We take such good care of it. We show our family because we trust them, saying, “Just make sure you don’t drop it!” If a beggar came and said, “Give it to me!” No way. We can’t give everything to others. Even mentally we cannot give. Physically, forget about it. 

Bodhisattvas don’t care. Even if they have the latest phone, they will give it to whoever wants it. If someone drops it, they are OK with it. Even if we can’t practice in this way, at least mentally we should be open to it. Physically, let’s forget about it for the moment, because we cling too much. And let’s include our enemies too. His Holiness includes all of the Chinese officials in his prayers. If Mao Zedong were alive today and met His Holiness,  Mao would be infinitely more stressed and nervous. Mao would be thinking that the Dalai Lama is a separatist and so he needs to be very careful. But His Holiness would be calm because he would just think he is meeting another human being. Mao would not have this kind of method. Due to bodhichitta, His Holiness includes Mao in his practice. It is very healthy. It’s good for the mind and body. 

Taking On Suffering as Part of the Bodhisattva Path

(13) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if, while we haven’t the slightest fault ourselves, someone were to chop off our heads, to accept on ourselves his negative consequences, through the power of compassion.

For sure, I wouldn’t let people cut my head off! I have not done them any wrong, so I will sue them! This is the way we practice right now. But bodhisattvas are different. 

Bodhisattvas are in it for the long run, not just for this life. They will practice until they reach full enlightenment. What is their job until enlightenment? To benefit others. Cutting off my head is just one small thing. For us, that makes us feel shocked and angry. But bodhisattvas think, “If it gives them pleasure, I will let them cut my head off.”

There a great story from the Buddha’s previous lives about a king called Sanjaya and his son, Prince Vishvantara. This prince is the Buddha Shakyamuni’s previous life, and he was a great practitioner. King Sanjaya gave all his wealth to his child and even gave him the kingdom. Prince Vishvantara himself was a great practitioner of generosity. Whenever anyone needed anything, he would happily give it to them. But there was one important piece of wealth, which was a very precious gemstone. This precious stone brought good crops, good rain, and stability to the kingdom. So, King Sanjaya didn’t give his son this gemstone because he knew that his son’s compassionate nature would make him give it away. 

But one time, the neighboring country of Kalinga was facing drought and thought to somehow get this gemstone. The king and ministers of Kalinga hatched a plan to take advantage of the compassionate prince. They sent a very poor beggar to the prince, and he cried, “I need wealth, shelter, and clothes.” The prince gave this beggar money, a house, and beautiful clothes. But the beggar stayed and said, “It’s not enough!” The prince asked him what he wanted. The beggar replied that he needed the precious stone. The prince told the beggar that he didn’t have the authority to give away this precious gemstone. The beggar cried and cried, manipulating him. 

The prince’s compassion toward this beggar grew even stronger, and he thought, “What good is this gemstone if I keep it? This person really needs it. His life is more important than this wealth. I can give it to this beggar even if my father punishes me.” He felt such compassion for this beggar that he went and stole the father’s gemstone to give to the beggar. He really had a good motivation, thinking of the happiness of all sentient beings. “With this offering, may I complete the practice of generosity and attain full enlightenment,” he prayed. With this, he gave away the precious stone. Soon after, his father found out that he had given this precious gemstone to the neighboring kingdom. All the ministers demanded that the throne be taken away from the prince and that he be banished from the kingdom along with his wife and children. 

The prince readily gave the kingdom back to his father and, before leaving, also gave away all his wealth. In fact, as a punishment, they wanted to take his eyes out. And at this stage of practice, Vishvantara had no hesitation or regrets about taking out his own eyes. The story continues and, eventually, the father and son are reunited once the king realized that wealth is just wealth. The king actually felt very touched by his son’s practice, saying, “You are not an ordinary person. Please make your eyes come back again, this would bring me the greatest happiness.” In this way, the prince’s eyes grew back. It is hard to believe, but the moral of the story is that when we give, we give without any expectation. 

There’s no need to be surprised. If we love someone very much, we can give our life to them. We’ve seen such stories in the news. The French, for their nation, were ready to give their lives in their revolution. Bodhisattvas are willing to give their lives, even for people who have harmed and tortured them. This is a sign of how much bodhisattvas love sentient beings. All they think is, “Even if they chop off my head, I will love them equally and I will repay the kindness they have done to me in past lives.”

Dealing with Gossip and Hatred

(14) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if someone were to publicize throughout the thousand, million, billion worlds all kinds of unpleasant things about us, to speak in return about his good qualities, with an attitude of love.

This is a good practice if we have people gossiping about us and we get upset. When people say bad things about us, it usually makes us feel bad. In these kinds of situations, bodhisattvas in return only give love. They only praise the person who talks badly about them. This takes a lot of patience. But it changes everything. 

Let’s talk about Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin. Devadatta was always fighting against the Buddha. He even tried to kill the Buddha on several occasions. He was actually very intelligent. The sutras talk often about his qualities. Devadatta could memorize everything and was so good at so many things. So was the Buddha, and Devadatta was constantly trying to compete with him. But the Buddha always won. 

One time, the Buddha was taking some medicines and, upon hearing this, Devadatta thought, “I can take even more medicine than the Buddha!” He took the medicines but got very sick and almost died. Devadatta asked the Buddha to cure him. The Buddha looked at Devadatta, this person who had tried so many times to harm him, with so much compassion. He laid his hand on Devadatta’s forehead and said, “My love and compassion toward Rahula [the Buddha’s son] and my love and compassion toward Devadatta are equal. By this truth, may you recover.” He said this and Devadatta recovered. 

Whatever others do to us, we can always focus on giving love and compassion to others. Tibetans don’t have freedom but look at what His Holiness has been able to give the rest of world. We can say this is thanks to the Chinese invading Tibet. It’s like, either Tibetans have their own land or His Holiness has captured people’s hearts all over the world. There are so many Chinese who are students of His Holiness and want him to come to China. So even if China invaded Tibet, who wins actually? Mao Zedong or His Holiness the Dalai Lama? It takes time to see, but for sure, in the end, the bodhisattva wins. 

This shouldn’t only be the practice of bodhisattvas but all human beings. We especially make enemies more from our speech. That is for sure. Not from the body. From the body, we can’t tell that much. What is inside the mind, nobody can understand well. It’s when we speak that things really happen. Of the ten destructive actions, there are four related to speech. Atisha and the great Kadampa masters say that when you are out with a crowd, place awareness on your mouth. And when you are alone, place awareness on your mind. So, we should be careful with words and how we use them.

Seeing Our Enemies as Our Teachers

(15) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if someone exposes our faults or says foul words (about us) in the midst of a gathering of many wandering beings, to bow to him respectfully, distinguishing that (he’s our) spiritual teacher.

This verse is talking about patience. Let other people say bad things to you or about you. Let them. When we talk about developing patience, this is what we need. We can’t practice patience with people who are always wonderful and nice to us. We can only practice patience with people who drive us crazy. So, we have to be grateful for the source of our patience. What is the source? Our enemies. There are two ways of thinking when someone does something to us that we don’t like. We either fight the person or we fight the action. Normally, we like to fight the person. Bodhisattvas love the person but fight the action. When they’re harmed, bodhisattvas feel so grateful for the lesson for their practice, the practice of patience. 

It is kind of funny to call your enemy your guru. When Atisha came to Tibet from India, he brought with him one student who was always debating with him. Quite an ignorant person. But Atisha always took this person with him everywhere and gave him so much respect. Tibetans were wondering, “Is he your student? He is so ignorant; he is always debating with you and he has no respect for you! You could have brought much better students. You have thousands and thousands of students in Nalanda, why did you bring him with you?” With folded hands, Atisha said, “Don’t say this. He is very kind to me. Without him, my practice will go down. With him, my practice goes up.”

Every day, we encounter people. If we shut ourselves indoors, that’s not fun. We need to go out and do things and face the people all the time. We have to learn and build a strong practice inside of us, so that whatever happens, we’re ready to face it with patience. 

Seeing All Beings as Our Only Child

(16) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if a person whom we’ve taken care of, cherishing him like our own child, were to regard us as his enemy, to have special affection for him, like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.

When bodhisattvas face problems, they do so with equanimity. For us, if someone accuses us of doing something wrong, it brings great pain. And even more so when that person is someone that we’ve only been kind to. Parents give so much love and attention to their children, constantly worrying about whether they’re safe or not. Then the child grows up and says, “You didn’t do this right and now I have this problem, and it’s all your fault.” I’ve heard of children suing their parents. This must bring great sadness. 

One of the worst feelings is, “How can they do this to me?” This feeling comes automatically. But not for bodhisattvas. Whatever someone does to them, bodhisattvas will love them. If someone tries to harm a bodhisattva, the bodhisattvas will treat the being like they are their own sick child. 

If we have a child who is sick or has mental problems, we will try our best to understand. If they scream and shout and insult us, we don’t take it personally. We accept it, because we know that they are ill. In the same way, sentient beings who attack us are influenced by their ignorant mind. They are deluded. 

Parents give so much love to their children, without any expectations. Well, actually, there are a lot of expectations that the parents have, and the children have too. Nowadays, parents have big expectations from their children. In India, if the child gets low marks at school, the parents really scold them. Many kids even take their own lives because they don’t get good marks. In China too. The pressure is the expectation. 

In the West, as I experienced it, people sort of follow their own talent. What you feel good about and what you like, you follow it. But in India, the pressure to get good grades is there. Not because they love their child so much but because they love their reputation so much. With less expectations, there is not much of a problem. For us, though, when we don’t have any expectations, automatically we feel that we are cutting the bond. As though we don’t care anymore. But bodhisattvas don’t cut the bond. The connection is there because real compassion is there. The source of bodhichitta is compassion. 


Let’s dedicate all the positive potential we’ve created together now. 

Whenever you have a problem in your life, remember that it is within your power to use this problem to develop so many amazing qualities. If we think like this, we will see that training in this is worth the effort. When you go to the shop and start bargaining and wonder why you are bargaining and why the other person also wants to get so much money from you, it is quite fun, actually. It’s fun to analyze the situations we find ourselves in. And in India, you can practice so much patience. There are so many opportunities here to practice patience. Starting with the taxi driver when you arrive at the airport! In the West, you are quite polite. 

One of my friends said that, in America, he went to a wild forest area and there was one washroom with many people lined up outside. He also lined up. Maybe ten people were waiting. He asked why they were waiting. They said there was one person inside the washroom who still hadn’t come out. Then they started to get angry. There was a sign saying, “Wait your turn.” The door was locked but, actually, there was nobody inside! They were blinded by the rules. So, do your best to practice in whatever daily life and whenever you encounter problems.