Verse 4: Lessening Flightiness of Mind by Having Few Desires
Let me rid myself of (desire for) material gain and honor and always rid myself of (desire for) profit and fame. So, let me have few desires, be content, and show appreciation for the kind acts that have been done.
Being Unconcerned about Material Gain, Honor, Profit or Fame
One of the biggest obstacles in meditation is flightiness of mind, which is due not only to being attached to desirable sense objects but also to seeking material gain and honor and profit and fame. It’s very important, just in general, to rid ourselves of these strong desires, but it is particularly important to do so when we’re doing meditation. We will never be able to go off into seclusion and meditate single-pointedly if we’re still thinking about these types of things.
Generally speaking, when we are thinking about what to study and what to put our efforts into, what’s emphasized is the importance of giving top priority to studying and practicing what’s going to benefit our minds, not what’s going to benefit our bank accounts. The bank account is something we can’t take with us into future lives; the beneficial habits that we build up in our minds will, however, continue on into future lives. So, the priorities we give to things is very important.
The Peace of Mind That Comes from Being Content
Of course we need to be able to live; we need to be able to support ourselves. But to that point, the next line reads, Let me have few desires and be content; otherwise, what we have will never be enough – we will not be content. On the other hand, if we have material wealth, we can do a lot of positive things in the world. If money is something that comes to us easily, or if we’ve been born into it, we can use it to benefit others; however, acquiring wealth and possessions is not our main goal.
For instance, as one of my friends pointed out, when Tsongkhapa wrote his great works, he wasn’t thinking about how many copies were going to be sold, what kind of royalties he would receive, or how many people would read his books. Only history can judge whether the works are of benefit or not. So, one writes simply to benefit others. If others come to it and find it beneficial – so much the better.
It’s like when you put out feed for the birds in your garden. If birds come and partake of it – very good. You don’t put up a big sign advertising your bird feed. This I find very helpful advice. You make an offering to the world of your positive things. If people partake of it – very nice. If they don’t – at least you tried. Buddha didn’t put advertisements of his lectures in the newspaper.
Things like having money and a lot of material possessions can be great, great obstacles. Often, the more we own, the more possessive and stingy we are. We worry about our things getting stolen. Plus, it becomes very difficult to move anywhere because we have too many possessions. As is emphasized in the monks’ vows, it’s important to have very few things. We don’t have to go to the extreme of the monks; nevertheless, it is as Milarepa said: “There’s nothing in my cave to steal. I don’t have anything, so I’m not worried about thieves.”
It’s the same thing with fame and honor. The more famous we are, the more bothered we are by people. We can’t walk anywhere without people asking us for our autograph; we have to go in disguise. People are constantly sending us e-mails, asking us questions or requesting that we do this and that. Then we are in the very awkward position of having to say “no.” That’s very difficult for someone who’s striving to be Avalokiteshvara and to help everybody. You have to hire a secretary to say “no” for you.
Being Grateful for the Kindness We’ve Received as a Way to Lighten and Open Our Hearts
The last line of this verse is, And show appreciation for the kind acts that have been done. If we’ve been able to practice the Dharma – and here we’re talking about doing meditation on bodhichitta, both conventional and deepest bodhichitta – it is very important to have an appreciation for the kindnesses that we’ve received. We’ve received a great deal of kindness to be able to receive instructions and to have the conditions we need to meditate and practice. There might be people who are supporting us financially, providing us with food, or whatever.
If we have those kinds of opportunities, we don’t reject them. In other words, we need to make the best use of them without exploiting them. The way that we can make best use without exploiting is to show our appreciation for all the kindness that we’ve received – to be grateful. Also, if we’re able to help others in return, we do so without feeling indebted or obligated – “Now I’m duty-bound to pay it back. If I don’t do it, I’m guilty,” and so on. Rather, we do it out of a sense of great joy, appreciation and respect for those who have helped us so much.
Also, feeling very positive about all the kindness we’ve received makes our hearts much lighter when we’re trying to meditate. In fact, if we didn’t feel that way, we couldn’t possibly have the circumstances we have to meditate and practice. So, we appreciate the kindness, and we don’t feel guilty or conflicted about it. And if we can, we repay it in some way, even if all we can do to repay it is to meditate and practice really well. As Milarepa said to Marpa, “I have nothing to pay you back with except my practice. I have no material possessions.”
This also is very helpful for being able to meditate with a light heart and an unburdened, joyful state of mind. It’s very important for bodhichitta and compassion meditation to feel joy toward others. When thinking of those who have helped us, we feel joy and appreciation, not guilt or indebtedness. When it comes to those who are suffering, we imagine them as becoming happy – after all, we’re trying to bring them happiness. So, we always do the meditation with a happy state of mind.
How can we meditate on love – wishing others to be happy – if we’re miserable? The meditation has to be on the basis of a happy state of mind, one that we want to share. That’s the whole basis for tonglen, the giving and taking meditation. To give, we have to have something to give. To give happiness to others, we need to be able to call to mind the basic blissful nature of the mind – looking at it on the deepest level, that is. This connects with the next verse, of which the first half is:
Verse 5: Stabilizing Our Bodhichitta Aim
Stabilizing Our Bodhichitta Aim with Love, Compassion and Not Becoming Discouraged
Let me meditate on love and compassion and stabilize my bodhichitta aim.
As I was saying, how can we have love for others and wish them to be happy if we ourselves don’t have happy states of mind? Even looking at it from a selfish point of view – how can we expect others to love us if we don’t love them?
Then we need to stabilize my bodhichitta aim – what stabilizes that aim is having very strong love, which is the wish for others to be happy and have the causes for happiness, and compassion, which is the wish for others to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. We meditate to have both of them on the same level as with great compassion. They are both aimed on all limited beings.
Then there is the exceptional resolve, which is not merely wanting to bring everyone happiness and help them to rid themselves of suffering and lead them to enlightenment, but is the unwavering decision definitely to do this. We take full responsibility and resolve to do it all by ourselves if necessary. This is what’s going to stabilize our bodhichitta aim.
It’s also important to reaffirm and strengthen that bodhichitta aim all the time, because it’s very easy to get discouraged. There’s the example of Buddha’s disciple Shariputra: Somebody, some sort of Mara, came and asked Shariputra to give him his right hand. So he cut off his right hand and offered it with his left hand, which is considered dirty and impolite in Indian culture. The person refused it because he had offered it with his left hand. This caused Shariputra to become very discouraged about bodhichitta and about trying to help others. To avoid this type of discouragement, we need to constantly reaffirm our motivation, this love and compassion.
Another wonderful example is an account from Dignaga’s life. Dignaga was the great Buddhist master who wrote about logic. He had gone to live in a cave to write his text, A Compendium of Validly Cognizing Minds (Skt. Pramana-samuccaya). While he had gone out from the cave, for who knows what reason – gathering food or whatever – somebody came in and erased what he had written. This happened twice. So, he had to write the same thing again and again.
That happened to Marpa as well. He had done all of these translations in India. When he was crossing the Ganges River on his way back to Tibet, the boat overturned, and he lost all his translations in the river. He then had to go back to India and do them all over again. So when we have our files deleted by mistake or whatever, we need to not get discouraged.
What happened with Dignaga was that he left a note to the person who had erased everything, saying, “Please, if you don’t like what I’m writing and you want to debate me, come and face me in person.” So, the person came and debated. But he was the type of person who refused to accept logic: no matter what logical argument Dignaga gave, he wouldn’t accept it. Instead, because had the power to breathe fire from his mouth, he breathed fire into Dignaga’s cave and destroyed everything. Dignaga got very discouraged and threw the slate that he had been writing on up in the air. He said, “If it falls to the ground, I’m going to give up bodhichitta.” As he threw the slate up, Manjushri caught it so that it wouldn’t fall to the earth. Then he said, “Dignaga, you’re making a big mistake. Don’t ever give up bodhichitta, and don’t ever give up writing these things for the benefit of others.” So, Dignaga wrote this great text.
They say that, in Tibet, they have the slate that Dignaga used for writing this text. It was kept in a place outside of Lhasa, and every year the monks from the major Gelug monasteries went to this place for two months in the winter to study this text, A Compendium of Validly Cognizing Minds, and to debate it.
It is very important, then, that we don’t get discouraged when, for instance, we lose our files or when we spend a tremendous amount of time doing something someone has asked us to do because we really want to help them, and then, in the end, they say, “I don’t want that. I don’t like what you did.” The main thing is the wish to help others. Whether or not what we do actually helps others very much depends on their karma. Even Buddha couldn’t help everybody, even though he had the wish and intention to help all beings.
It’s very easy to get discouraged on the bodhisattva path. That’s why we need to stabilize our bodhichitta aim by always reaffirming our motivation. I remember one piece of advice. I think it was Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey who said that when we ask a lama to say prayers for us, we don’t ask them to pray, “Please, may my student be able to get a job,” or to get this or that worldly thing. We ask the lama to pray that we might be able to develop bodhichitta. That’s the best request we can make.
Stabilizing Our Aim by Building Up Positive Force
So, let me rid myself of the ten destructive actions and make myself stable, always, with belief in fact.
This has to do with the fact that we need to build up a tremendous amount of positive force by actually helping others if we’re going to be stable in our bodhichitta aim to help all beings. In order to do that, we need to refrain from acting negatively, from acting destructively. So, to make sure that our bodhichitta aim stays stable and that we have more and more positive force, we rid ourselves of the ten destructive actions.
Without going into tremendous detail, these are:
- The three destructive actions of body
- Taking a life
- Taking what has not been given to us
- Engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior.
- The four destructive actions of speech
- Speaking divisively – saying bad things about others in order to cause them to part from each other
- Speaking harshly – saying things that hurt others’ feelings
- Chattering meaninglessly – wasting our own and other people’s time with meaningless chatter and interrupting others with our meaningless talk when they’re doing something positive.
- The three destructive ways of thinking
- Thinking covetously – “covetous” means to desire very strongly, because of jealousy, what other people have. It’s not only desiring to get something similar to what the other person has; it’s wanting to get something even better than what they have. So, there’s competition there as well. The destructive action is thinking about it all the time: we’re constantly thinking about getting some thing or some quality and plotting how to do it.
- Thinking with malice – thinking and planning how to hurt somebody else or how to get back at them for something they’ve done
- Thinking distortedly with antagonism – not just thinking something that is contrary to what is true and correct, like saying, “There’s no use in following a spiritual path. There’s no use in trying to help others,” and so on, but being contentious about it. In other words, arguing with others and putting them down in a very aggressive way. That’s why I call it distorted, antagonistic thinking.
All of these destructive acts of mind are talking about ways of thinking. It’s an act that we’re talking about – sitting and plotting: “How can I get a better car than the other person has,” or, “This person hurt me. What am I going to say the next time that I see them that will really hurt them?” Or, “This other person is going to Dharma teachings when I want them to be home with me. What am I going to say that will really let them know that what they’re doing is so ridiculous and that they should stay with me instead?” We just sit there, dwelling on what the other person is doing, thinking how terrible it is, and getting very angry – so much so that if the person were to come back, we’d feel like punching them for having abandoned me to go to the Dharma teachings.
These are the ten types of destructive actions, then, that we need to rid ourselves of so that we can build up more and more positive force. That positive force will help us not only to gain liberation, but to achieve enlightenment as well.
In order to refrain from acting destructively, we need to make ourselves stable, always, with belief in fact, namely the belief that the laws of karmic cause and effect are true, so that we keep our ethical discipline.
Verse 6: Avoiding Pushing Others Away When Wishing to Be Helpful
Avoiding Turning Off Others by Becoming Angry or Being Arrogant
Let me overcome rage and pride and come to have an attitude of humility.
In order to be able to actually help others on the basis of bodhichitta, we need to avoid pushing others away. If we are always getting angry, always getting into a rage, then others are going to be afraid to be with us; they’ll be afraid that we will make a big scene and get angry with them. Also, if we’re very proud and arrogant, people won’t want to be with us. If we’re always insulting others, because we’re angry, and treating them badly, why would they want to be with us?
Also, how would we be able to help others if we’re always acting out of anger and pride? It’s important to overcome these things if we want to be able to help others – never mind the suffering that these negative states of mind cause us – and, as we have discussed already, to have an attitude of humility, which basically is involved with showing respect for others and treating them nicely. It’s the same thing with complaining all the time – who would want to be with us? It’s unpleasant, isn’t it? For instance, as we get older, we of course have aches and pains and are unable to do what we did before. However, if we stay humble about that and don’t complain all the time, we won’t chase people away.
The whole aspect of sensitivity training also comes up here. For instance, if we’re overly sensitive, and our feelings are very easily hurt by anything that anybody says, again, nobody will want to be with us. They’ll be afraid that we’ll get upset and cry, make a scene and so on. So when we’re really thinking in terms of bodhichitta, wanting to help others, it’s important to be aware of how our behavior and attitudes might repel others and make them unreceptive to our wanting to help them.
That kind of sensitivity has to do with our appearance as well. We try to avoid being dirty, unkempt or whatever that would repel the people around us or with whom we are associating. There are other instructions – which are not set here, but which are part of the secondary bodhisattva vows – that say that as long as a custom is not destructive or negative, we need to go along with it. We go along with the customs that the people from that society follow. So, if women in India don’t walk around in miniskirts, when we’re in India, we don’t walk around in miniskirts; otherwise, nobody will want to come near us – and the ones who would want to come near us wouldn’t necessarily be coming to get Dharma teachings.
Avoiding Giving Impractical Advice or Being Dishonest
So, let me rid myself of dishonest ways of living and make my living with a livelihood that accords with the Dharma.
That’s sometimes translated as “wrong livelihood.” This has two aspects to it.
The first is using some dishonest means for making a livelihood. It was very interesting – I was translating for a great lama, Ugyen Tseten Rinpoche, who sometimes comes here to Berlin. He’s the former abbot of the Lower Tantric College and one of the main teachers of my teacher Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. I was translating for him in Australia, and one person there asked him about this point concerning ridding ourselves of wrong livelihoods. He explained, “I live in the countryside in Australia where the only industry is raising sheep for meat. What can I do: there is no other work available. Is this a wrong livelihood? Is this a dishonest livelihood?”
Ugyen Tseten Rinpoche then explained that the main point was not to cheat others. We can’t say per se that raising sheep is a totally negative type of thing. If we’re slaughtering them – that’s something else. However, if we’re just raising them, then the thing is to be kind to the sheep, make their lives as comfortable as possible, and not to cheat the people who buy the sheep by making false advertising claims and things like that. Of course it’s best to try to find some other means of livelihood, but if that’s absolutely impossible, then the main thing is to have a good motivation and to be honest. This, he said, was the main point of avoiding these so-called wrong livelihoods – which is why I translate that term as a dishonest way of making a living.
I found that incredibly open-minded of him. Also, it was a skillful means – that you don’t propose the most extreme alternatives that people can’t possibly follow and that would just make them feel guilty. In this case, they’d think that what they were doing was wrong and that everybody should move, which would of course make everybody who raises sheep feel very badly and probably cause them to become very unreceptive to the Dharma. As a skillful means also, then, one starts by saying, “Well, the main point is not to be dishonest.”
This also comes back to the point about not causing other people to totally reject us. If we’re going to help others to live in accord with the Dharma teachings, we need to suggest ways that they can actually follow. If we present something that is almost impossible for them to follow, they’re not even going to try. They’ll just think we’re idealists and totally out of touch with reality. That’s a very important piece of advice to remember, especially when we’re young in the Dharma. When we’re young in the Dharma, we tend to be self-righteous and to give people advice as if we were holy beings and to give them the loftiest rules of ethical behavior to follow. Again, it all comes back to being humble and practical.
Dishonest Ways of Getting Something from Others
The other aspect of inappropriate or dishonest ways of making a living is in terms of a list of five dishonest ways:
- Flattery – The example that is usually used is monks or nuns begging for alms, but we can also use the example of seeking donations from others to give to the monasteries to feed the monks and nuns. You say, “Oh, you’re so wonderful and so kind,” in order to get them to give you something.
- Pressuring – being pushy and constantly bothering others, “Why don’t you give? Why don’t you give?”
- Extortion – getting something through force or threats or by making others feel guilty: “Well, you gave last time. Just look at all the monks who are still starving.”
- Bribery – “If you give a certain amount of money, then we’ll give you a toaster oven,” or something like that. You give them something little in order to get something big in return.
- Pretense – pretending that you’re so holy and trying to impress others with how wonderful you are so that they’ll give you something.
It’s said that if we live on incomes and offerings that are obtained in any of these ways, any insights we’ve had in our Dharma practice will deteriorate.
It’s very interesting that, in the Buddhist discussion of inappropriate or dishonest ways of making a living, nowhere are killing others, making weapons, hunting and so on mentioned or listed. Although one could think of them as examples of inappropriate livelihood, they don’t have to do with the main point that’s being discussed here. The main point is not to be dishonest. So, if we grow or make some sort of product – whether we’re farmers, sculptors or whatever – the point is not to sell it in these dishonest ways, pressuring somebody to buy it, pretending that we’re so great, using false advertising or flattery, and so on. “If you want to be really smart, you’ll buy my product,” or, “If you want to attract all the women or all the men, you’ll buy my product” – most advertising is like this. And, as I said, elections in the West are often based on, “I’m so wonderful, and the other person is so bad, so vote for me!”
Three Types of Belief in Karma
All of this is based on having belief in fact in terms of behavioral cause and effect, in other words karmic cause and effect. Belief in fact is to believe in something that is existent and validly knowable or to consider a fact about such a thing to be true. Belief in fact is of three kinds:
- Clear-headed belief in a fact – we consider the fact of karmic cause and effect to be true and, in doing so, it clears our heads and hearts of disturbing emotions such as feeling guilty, greedy, and so on. Such disturbing emotions would cause us to commit one of the ten destructive actions or to engage in an inappropriate way of making a living. Thinking about cause and effect clears away this type of greed that “I’ve got to make more and more, even if it means making a living in a dishonest way.”
- Belief in fact based on reason – if we believe behavioral cause and effect to be true, does it make sense to cheat others in order to make more money if our motivation is to help them? Obviously, it doesn’t make any sense.
- Belief in fact with an aspiration – on the basis of belief in the fact of behavioral cause and effect, we then have the aspiration always to act in constructive ways and to avoid inappropriate ways of making a living.