Part of a series of teachings on Chapter 3: “Adopting the Spirit of Awakening,” from Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, organized by Tai Pei Buddhist Center and Pureland Marketing, Singapore.
- Setting a positive motivation for listening to the teaching
- Brief introduction to the book
- How to develop love and compassion
- What suffering is
- The causes of suffering
- Developing the mind of equanimity
A Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Introduction (download)
- Brief recap of the previous two chapters
- Chapter 3: Verses 1-3
- Rejoicing in others’ virtue
- Seeing the kindness of others
- The benefits and importance of rejoicing
A Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Chapter 3, Verses 1-3 (download)
Questions and answers
- Importance of wisdom and compassion
- The difference between a buddha and a beggar
- Turning prayer wheels
- The relationship with a teacher
- Mental illness and depression
A Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Q&A (download)
Cultivating a positive motivation for listening to teachings
Let’s generate our motivation before we actually begin. Think that we will listen and share the Dharma together this evening so that we can make our life meaningful; so that we can learn the path to enlightenment and put it into practice in our daily life; so that we can eliminate our ignorance, anger and attachment and develop our love, compassion and wisdom. And let’s do this for the long-term goal and purpose of attaining full enlightenment so that we can benefit all living beings most effectively.
Please generate that really long-term, beautiful bodhicitta motivation. Then open your eyes and slowly come out of your meditation.
About the book
This book, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, was written by Shantideva, a great Indian sage of the eighth century. He wrote it as a guide for people who wanted to practice the path to full enlightenment. In other words, he wrote it for people who wanted to develop their love and compassion and their altruistic intention so that they could be of the greatest benefit to all living beings. He wrote this book with those people in mind. So the book is based on having love and compassion, and an altruistic intention for living beings.
How to develop love and compassion
I want to spend a little bit of time describing how to develop love and compassion. We can’t just say, “I am going to love everybody,” or “I am going to have compassion for people,” and then all of a sudden, our mind has love and compassion. It’s just like when you are angry, you can’t just say, “Well, I’m going to stop being angry” and then the anger goes away. Instead what we have to do is to learn the methods. If we are angry, we have to learn methods of how to think so that we can let go of the anger. If we want to develop love and compassion we have to learn the methods of how to think so that we can develop love and compassion. It’s not just telling ourselves what we want to feel.
To develop love and compassion, we have to first of all understand what they are. The definition of love from the Buddhist perspective is wishing somebody to have happiness and the causes of happiness. Compassion is wishing them to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.
Love and being happy
Now, it sounds easy but when we say we want others to be happy, what is this happiness we want them to have? When we say that we want ourselves to be happy, what is the happiness that we want to have? When I look around, we all want happiness and we all want to be free of suffering. But we don’t understand very well what happiness and misery are, because sometimes in our efforts to be happy we actually do the things that make us miserable. Can you see that happening sometimes in your life?
For example, you might have a very good friend and there was a misunderstanding between you and your friend. What you really want is to be close to that person but the way you act is you get angry, you don’t talk to them and you accuse them of being inconsiderate. What you actually want is to be close to them but the way you’re acting is pushing them away. Can you see that happening sometimes?
Another example is we want to be happy and we want people to trust us but we don’t act in a trustworthy way. We may lie or deceive others or something like that. We want others to trust us and yet we lie to them or act in a deceptive way because we’re being quite greedy. So again, the way we are acting is not giving other people the chance to trust us. It’s actually making them think that we are not trustworthy.
So that’s what I mean when I say we want happiness but we don’t always know what the causes of happiness are.
We’re also not very clear what exactly happiness is. There are many layers of happiness, many types of happiness. There is the happiness that comes from eating a good meal. How long does that happiness last? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? As long as the meal lasts? Until you begin to get really full? After which the more you eat, instead of getting happier and happier, you begin to have a stomachache. What was supposed to bring you happiness—eating—now, all of a sudden brings you a stomachache because you ate too much.
There’s the happiness of having friends and having close relationships with others. But then sometimes we don’t get along with the people we’re very close to. Or, sometimes we separate from them. Eventually, either they’re going to die or we’re going to die. If we think that all of our happiness in life comes from our relationships, we’re going to have a rough time with it. Relationships are always changing. There’s separation that happens very naturally.
So what we discover is that there is a certain kind of happiness that comes from external people and thing but that happiness tends to be rather short-lived and it is not very stable. We can’t have power over it because it depends on external things that we don’t have control over. We’re always trying to control everyone and everything in our environment. But it is absolutely impossible to do that. That’s why the kind of happiness that depends on external things is unstable and doesn’t bring any lasting happiness. It is quite an insecure kind of happiness because we’re always afraid that we’re going to lose what we have. Or that the external thing we have is going to end or it’s going to leave us or something like that.
So getting happiness from external sense objects—it’s ok, but it is not so reliable. What tends to be more reliable is the happiness that comes from inside. In other words, when we have a kind heart; when we have a clear conscience; because we’ve acted with ethical integrity. When our mind is very calm because it’s free of anger, that kind of happiness lasts longer. That’s the kind of happiness that we actually can have some power over because we can learn how to subdue our mind, how to manage our mind, how to change our emotions and moods so that we don’t have to be at the whim of whatever emotion or thought that happens to pop into our mind at any particular time. So when we wish for beings to have happiness, let’s think not only of the happiness that comes from external things but also and especially the happiness that comes from inside.
The happiness that comes from inside, from having a kind heart, a free conscience, mental stability, concentration and so on—that happiness can be developed infinitely. That kind of happiness can lead us to the state of liberation which is freedom from the cycle of constantly recurring problems that we call samsara. That happiness can be developed to its utmost in the state of the full enlightenment of a Buddha.
When we are saying that we want happiness, don’t just think, “Oh! I want to have nice noodles to eat everyday,” because that’s low grade happiness. We want high grade happiness, don’t we? Who wants low grade happiness! Everybody in Singapore wants the best! You are a developed country. You want to be the best and have the best brand! So you aim for the best brand of happiness. But you can’t buy that happiness. That kind of happiness is something cultivated in your own heart. It’s the happiness that comes through following the Buddha’s teachings. That’s why we come here to learn what the Buddha’s teachings are, and learn how to practice them and integrate them in our mind.
In Buddhism we wish for happiness for ourselves and others. We love ourselves and others. Loving ourselves is quite important. Do people here read self-help books? Are they popular here? In the States, they are quite popular. And every year there will be people coming up with some new method. Many of these modern self-help books talk about loving ourselves, but I am not sure that they understand properly what loving ourselves means. Like some of them say, “Love yourself—go out to the shopping center and buy yourself a treat. Buy yourself a present.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of people, if they go to the shopping center and buy themselves a present, they get into more credit card debts. And that’s not happiness; that’s suffering! How is finding yourself a present loving yourself if you are just making yourself feel more pressured because you don’t have enough money to pay for all these things that you got that the next day you forgot you got, and they don’t bring you any happiness the next day?
I think when we really love ourselves and want ourselves to be happy, we’ll want ourselves to have a kind heart, because when we have a kind heart, then we are happy and other people are happy. Don’t you think so? Think back in your life—when were you the happiest? Doesn’t it usually have to do with having a kind heart? And having affectionate feelings and kind feelings towards other people? Doesn’t it usually have something to do with that? Doesn’t it also have to do with feeling your own sense of self-respect, your own sense of integrity because you have done the right thing to do? So, if we really look and think what happiness is, we want to cultivate that inner happiness for ourselves and we want to be able to aid other living beings in cultivating that inner happiness as well.
Compassion is wishing living beings to be free from suffering and its causes. Again, I am not so sure if we really understand what suffering is.
There are some sufferings that we understand, like when we are physically hurt, when we are sick, or when we are hurt by what somebody said! There is that kind of pain that even animals recognize as pain. If you scold the dog, they feel hurt. Or if they get hit by a rock, they feel hurt.
Everybody can identify with that level of pain and misery. But there are other levels of what we call suffering that isn’t the “ouch!” kind of suffering. It isn’t like you got hit so, “ouch!” It is a different kind of unsatisfactory experience. An example is what I mentioned before about eating something you like. When you start eating your favorite food you feel happiness, but if you continue eating it you will eventually get a stomachache. That whole situation of eating—starting with happiness and changing into pain—is unsatisfactory, isn’t it? You can’t rely on eating to give you constant pleasure. At some point it’s going to give you pain. So if we look in our life, there are many activities like that. We initially get happiness from doing them, but if we keep doing them, we wind up experiencing pain.
For example, when you first get a new job … you went to the job interview and they called you and said you were hired. You felt, “Oh! I am so happy! I got hired, I can work for this company.” You started working for the company and it’s kind of okay. But then after a while, you realize that there is all these politics in the office, and people are jealous of each other. People compete with each other. This job that you used to have a lot of fondness and satisfaction for, all of a sudden becomes not so interesting anymore. Then you think, “Well, all I need is a promotion! If I get a promotion then I will be happy because then I won’t have all these office politics and stuff that are going on now. So I’ll just get a promotion.”
You got the promotion and you’re so happy to have the promotion. But then what you realize is although you make more money, you have to work longer hours. So now you have the total “pleasure” of working ten-hour days or twelve-hour days. All of a sudden, this promotion that you thought was going to bring you happiness, you realize it brings you more troubles in your life.
So we begin to see that some of the things that we are quite attached to, that we think if we have we will be happy, actually when we have them, we aren’t so happy. That’s what I meant when I say that sometimes we don’t really understand what unsatisfactory circumstances are.
There’s another kind of unsatisfactory circumstance that the Buddha spoke of, and that is just having a body and mind—like we do at present—that are under the control of ignorance and tainted karma. You’re going to say, “Huh? What does that mean?”
We have a body and a mind. Is our body under our control? Can you make your body not get sick? Can you make your body not age? Has anybody been able to make it so that their body didn’t die?
Here we are with this body that we have been born into, that we’re never separated from. But we can’t control it in some very important aspects and eventually our consciousness is going to separate from the body.
We also have a mind but we can’t control our mind very well either. When we did the meditation on the breath [at the beginning of this session], how many of you didn’t have a distraction? Is there anybody who wasn’t distracted during the meditation? I think maybe the only way you won’t get distracted is if you fell asleep. But that’s not meditating, that’s sleeping!
So even our mind … it is hard for us to manage our mind. We are born in what’s called cyclic existence—taking one body and mind after another; taking one life after another. But we are not born out of our own free will. We are born under the impetus, propelled by our ignorance, propelled by our craving and clinging, pushed by our previous actions, our previous karma.
That’s another level of suffering or unsatisfactory experience that we want to be free of. Very often we aren’t even aware of that, we don’t even question it. “Oh! I have a body and mind, so what?” And we just think, “Well, what else is there?” But if we really examine and think, “Wow! From beginningless time, I’ve been taking rebirth. I’ve been born, gotten sick, gotten old and died and then again getting born and sick and old and dying. And doing it again! And doing it again!” We have been doing this, under the force of ignorance, from beginningless time. It doesn’t seem like a very good situation, does it?
When we have very strong compassion for ourselves and others, the misery we want ourselves to be free of is not just the misery of getting sick or the misery of our friend being upset with us, but it is also being in this situation of having a body and mind that we can’t control; that are operated by ignorance and karma.
When we have the compassion and love for ourselves that understand what happiness and suffering are on a deeper level, then what we really want for ourselves or our highest aim in life becomes liberation from cyclic existence. It becomes having a kind heart and a clear conscience. In other words, attaining liberation, attaining enlightenment.
This is just something to think about. We are stretching our mind and our understanding of what our life is about here.
The mind of equanimity
We begin by wanting ourselves to have happiness and to be free of suffering. But we look around in the world and see that there’s everybody else. All these other living beings want to be happy just like we do. They want to be free of suffering just like we do. There’s not anything special about us that makes our happiness more important or our suffering more painful. When we really look at it—ourselves and others—we are totally equal, aren’t we?
Examine our attitude towards our friends, enemies and strangers. We might be more attached to our friends, have a lot of resentment towards our enemies and be indifferent towards strangers, but actually do these emotions make sense? Isn’t everybody basically the same on one level—everybody wanting happiness and nobody wanting pain? We are all exactly the same in that way. Whether somebody likes us or whether we like them, we’re still equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering.
When we look at things this way, we realize that we have to do something about those mental states of attachment, hatred and apathy because they are very unrealistic and they are very damaging. Don’t you agree? Having a lot of partiality: “Oh! This person is so wonderful!,” “That person is so terrible!,” “The third person—who cares!”
Most people have those three emotions. We go up and down in our daily life according to what emotion we happen to be feeling at any particular moment. Somebody gives us a present and we think, “Oh! I love them.” The next day they criticize us and we go, “Urgh! I can’t stand them!” The third day, we don’t even think of them, “Who cares!”
Emotionally we are like yo-yos, aren’t we? Like yo-yos, the children’s toy—up and down, up and down. “Oh! Somebody is nice to me, I love them!” “Somebody is not nice to me, I hate them!” “Somebody doesn’t do anything to me [don’t care].” Somebody’s nice to me, they gave me a present, I got very happy. They praise me, I think they are my best friend. The next day, they criticize me, or they take something that’s mine without asking, then I go, “I can’t stand that person! I want my revenge!”
We’re like that, aren’t we? Really, we are quite stupid! Don’t you think? We’re totally fickle. People usually say women are fickle. I disagree! Men are just as fickle as women. You [men] are just as much emotional yo-yos, aren’t you?
When we look at things through this perspective, we realize that getting attached to people, having aversion, being apathetic—our mind is really not being very realistic. We realize that we have to lessen these three emotions and see that everybody’s equal instead. Friends, enemies and strangers are equal. And we are also equal with them.
Now, how do we develop that? How do we do that? I think one way of doing it, is just by seeing how much of a yo-yo our mind is. When our mind starts to go up and get involved with attachment, then to say, “But that’s just another sentient being and at some other time they’re going to do something I don’t like. So there is no sense in getting attached to them.” And we let go of the attachment.
Or, there is somebody that we don’t like because they harmed us. We need to remember that at another time that very same person helped me, if not in this life then in a previous life. Or they will help me in a future life. So why be angry at them? It doesn’t make much sense.
Towards the person that we’re apathetic towards; all the people that we push aside when we are getting on a bus—”Me first! I want to get on!”—to realize, “Well, at some time in our previous lives, these people have been kind to me, and sometimes they have harmed me. It doesn’t make any sense to be indifferent because they also have feelings. They want to be happy. They don’t want to suffer.”
So we train our mind like this. It takes a lot of habituation, a lot of effort on our part to re-train our mind so that our approach towards other living beings is different, is more stable, and more of a mind of equanimity.
The mind of equanimity isn’t a mind that’s detached, like, “Well, I don’t love you and I don’t hate you, so I just keep you at a distance.” It’s not like that. The mind of equanimity still has open-hearted concern for others, but we don’t play favorites towards people. We see everybody as equal and we want everybody to be happy. We want everybody—ourselves and others, people we like and people we don’t like—to be free of suffering.
We have to deliberately and conscientiously cultivate these kinds of emotions and attitudes. This is a very good meditation to do when you are in public places. How many of you ride on the bus everyday? Or take the MRT? Or stop at red lights in your car? We have this experience everyday of being amidst many other living beings. Rather than just spacing out when we are traveling and ignoring other people and ignoring the circumstance or day-dreaming or whatever, how about looking at all the other people who are around us and thinking, “Oh! That person wants to be happy just like me. That person wants to be free of suffering just like me.”
It’s an excellent opportunity to think like this. When you’re sitting on the bus, look at all the people around you. When you’re sitting in the MRT, look at everybody. Instead of having a mind that’s very judgmental with all your opinions about them, look at them and think, “Oh! They want to be happy just like me. They want to be free of suffering just like me.”
It is a very, very powerful way to think. When you’re standing in line somewhere—we probably spend time each day standing in line—look at the people ahead of you in the line and think, “They want to be happy and be free of suffering just like me.” It’s very powerful. This is a very, very good way to bring your spiritual practice into your daily life.
So that’s a little bit of introduction. Each evening, I’ll give some kind of explanation like this, as a way of giving you some background on the text. And now, I’ll start on Chapter 3.
Chapter 3: Adopting the spirit of awakening (bodhicitta)
In Chapter 1, we learned about the benefits of bodhicitta. The benefits of the mind aspiring for full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
In Chapter 2, we started the process of preparing our mind to generate this bodhicitta, this spirit of awakening or this altruistic intention. Chapter 2 talked about the practices of making offerings to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as a way of creating merit. Merit enriches our mind. Merit is like fertilizer in a field. If you put fertilizer in your field and then you plant seeds, the seeds are going to grow better. Similarly, when we make offerings and do other activities that create merit, when we then plant the seeds in our mind by listening to the Dharma, it’s easier for those seeds to grow and become realizations, spiritual realizations.
Chapter 2 talked about making offerings. It also talked about confessing our misdeeds and our mistaken actions. All of us have made mistakes. We’ve all done things that we regret having done. It’s very important to clear our conscience of these things so that we don’t walk around our whole lifetime carrying a lot of guilt, regret and remorse with us. So in Chapter 2 we learned the practice of revealing our mistakes, admitting that we have them, making a determination to try and avoid them, generating positive feelings towards whoever it was that we acted in a harmful way, and engaging in some kind of remedial behavior as a way of making up for what we did. These four points are called the four opponent powers:
- Determination not to do it
- Transforming our attitude towards the ones that we harmed. This would be taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha if we harm the holy beings, or generating love and compassion if we harmed ordinary beings
- Some kind of remedial action. This could be prostrations, making offerings, printing Dharma books for free distribution, meditating, volunteering, doing service work at a charity, at a hospice, at an old folks home, doing some kind of virtuous activity
So Chapter 2 talked about those kinds of preliminary practices that help to fertilize our mind and clear away some of the obstacles.
The beginning of Chapter 3 continues with this process of creating merit and purifying the mind. As Chapter 3 goes on, we begin to cultivate love and compassion more and eventually the fully awakened mind, the full bodhicitta. But the initial verses of this chapter are helping us to create merit and purify our mind.
I believe some of you have heard about the 10 vows of the bodhisattva called Samantabhadra? Samantabhadra is Pu Xian Pu Sa in Chinese. Pu Xian Pu Sa has 10 vows and many of these practices that are described here are part of the 10 vows. Bowing or prostrating, paying homage to the Buddha, making offering, revealing our mistaken actions—those are the first four of that bodhisattva’s 10 vows.
So now we are going to continue with some of the other vows of Pu Xian Pu Sa.
I happily rejoice in the virtue of all sentient beings, which relieves the suffering of the miserable states of existence. May those who suffer dwell in happiness.
This verse is the start of a number of verses that come under the practice of rejoicing, the fifth of the 10 vows of Pu Xian Pu Sa. Here, at the beginning, at the first verse, we’re rejoicing in the virtue of all sentient beings. A sentient being is any being who has consciousness or mind who is not yet a fully enlightened Buddha. Sentient beings include ordinary beings like us. Sentient beings also include arhats and bodhisattvas. We are rejoicing at all the virtue, all the positive deeds created in the past, in the present and in the future created by all these sentient beings. All of that virtue, all those positive deeds function to relieve our suffering and in particular, to relieve the suffering of unfortunate rebirths.
Right now we are born in the human realm. This is considered a fortunate rebirth. There are lower rebirths in other realms. There’s the realm of the animals, the realm of the hungry ghosts and the realm of the hell beings. Those are considered lower rebirths. Different beings are born there, pushed by the power of the negative karma of their mistaken actions and harmful deeds. What we are doing here is we are rejoicing at all the virtuous actions of ourselves and others, and we are rejoicing at the virtuous actions which specifically prevent ourselves and others from being born in these miserable states of existence—as a hell being, a hungry ghost or as an animal.
That’s something to rejoice at, isn’t it? When people do virtuous activities that are going to bring them a fortunate rebirth, we should rejoice at that. Like when we send each other new year cards, Chinese new year cards, everybody’s saying: “Have a happy new year,” “May you always have happiness,” “May everything good happen to you”—that’s a practice of rejoicing!
Here, we’re particularly rejoicing in people’s virtuous activities—when they are having a kind heart, doing kind deeds, restraining themselves from doing harmful deeds. We are rejoicing in all these virtuous activities.
We are also saying, “May those who suffer dwell in happiness.” So any living beings who are suffering, who have these unfortunate rebirths, may they quickly be freed from them and may their previously created good karma now ripen so that they can have good rebirths.
This practice of rejoicing is a very nice practice because if you do it, it makes your mind happy. You know how sometimes we feel kind of depressed. Whenever you feel depressed, rejoicing is a very good meditation to do because it makes your mind happy. How does it make your mind happy? You start thinking of all the goodness there is in the world.
Just think of today. Just take our planet. Planet earth is just one tiny place in this whole universe. But even in our planet, think of how many beings have been kind to each other today.
Have you experienced kindness from other people today? We’ve all received kindness today, haven’t we? We ate food that was grown by other people. We have friends and family who are kind to us. You probably have a boss who pays you. That’s kindness. So we do receive kindness. If you are working in the office, you work in a team and you help each other. In the family, you work together, you help each other. In the neighborhood you work together and you help the neighbors. So during our life, we receive so much kindness and we also give kindness.
This is something very important to realize because so often in our life, we focus on the lack of kindness. Or we focus on the harmful things. Looking at life that way is not very realistic because there is not only harm in life, there is also a lot of goodness.
I remember one time, the Dalai Lama was teaching in Seattle where I lived at that time. He was talking to the journalists in particular, to the media people. He said to them, “You people do a lot of good work because if somebody is cheating somebody else or if there is corruption or dishonesty, you sniff it out and you let other people know and then that person has to stop their bad behavior. You are very good with that.” And he went on, “But you also always report all the negative things that happen in the day.” If we look at the headlines of the newspaper, usually they are about harmful actions, aren’t they? And usually it is about tragedies: somebody killed somebody else, somebody lied, some businessman did a bad deal—there are all sorts of bad things they put on the front page of the newspaper.
When we listen to the news, there is also a lot of negative news. I think that can adversely affect us and make us have a feeling of great despair and even depression, because when all we hear about are negative things then that’s all we think exist in the world. But that’s not all that exist in the world; there is also an incredible amount of goodness. This practice of rejoicing is training our mind to look at the goodness that there is.
Somebody might have gotten hurt in a traffic accident. But how many people at the hospital worked to save their life? So many people in the hospital—the doctors, the nurses, common citizens who donated blood—so many people worked to help save that person’s life. When we look at a negative situation, we have to also think about the goodness there is.
You may have had a hard day at your job. Maybe somebody said something mean in the office. But look at all the other colleagues who try to help each other and who spoke kindly about or to each other. We have to train our mind to see the goodness that there is and not just focus on the negative. It’s very important. That’s what this practice of rejoicing is doing.
The practice of rejoicing is also an antidote to jealousy. When we are jealous, we don’t want people to have happiness. It’s like, “May you have suffering. You got the promotion; I didn’t. May you suffer!” Actually you should say, “You got the promotion. I am so happy. You get to work overtime. I get to go home and relax!” [laughter]
The practice of rejoicing can be a very good way of overcoming jealousy.
I rejoice in sentient beings’ liberation from the suffering of the cycle of existence, and I rejoice in the Protectors’ Bodhisattvahood and Buddhahood.
When it says, “I rejoice in sentient beings’ liberation from the suffering of cyclic existence,” what we’re rejoicing at is that all the sentient beings who were once ordinary confused beings have attained liberation, have become arhats, have eliminated the mental afflictions from their mindstream. They are no longer pushed by karma and afflictions to take one rebirth after another. They are free from the ocean of cyclic existence.
So we rejoice, “How wonderful it is that they are free!” It is wonderful, isn’t it? We may not have freed our own mind yet because we were too busy sleeping to practice the Dharma. But some beings stayed awake to practice the Dharma and they are liberated and isn’t that wonderful, so we rejoice at that!
It also says, “I rejoice in the Protectors’ Bodhisattvahood and Buddhahood.” By “Protectors” we are talking here specifically about the Buddhas. But we could also include the bodhisattvas. They are called protectors because they protect us by giving us Dharma teachings.
We usually think of a protector as somebody big and strong with a stick who’s going to beat up anybody who tries to hurt us. But that kind of protector can’t protect us for very long because that protector also has a body and somebody can hurt them.
The real beings who protect us are the Buddhas because they teach us the Dharma. They’re giving us the tools by which to liberate our own mind. The kindness of the Buddhas in giving us the teachings is actually the greatest kindness we can ever receive from anybody. Our parents were kind to us but our parents don’t know how to attain liberation. They can’t teach us the way to enlightenment. But the Buddhas can and they do. That’s why they are called protectors. They protect us from the suffering of cyclic existence.
We rejoice at their being bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are those beings who have the intention to attain full enlightenment so that they can help others and themselves most effectively. Bodhisattvas are those who are training to be Buddhas. Buddhas are the graduates. Everybody else is taking their ‘O’ levels or something.
So we rejoice at their spiritual realizations. We rejoice at their kind actions and how they reach out to benefit other living beings. It makes our heart very happy to think of the great deeds of the holy beings. When we do that, we remember that we are in a universe where there are many holy beings. We are not stuck in a universe that’s only filled with negativity. There are holy beings who we can contact and who will lead us on the path to enlightenment.
I rejoice in the teachers’ oceanic expressions of the Spirit of Awakening, which delight and benefit all sentient beings.
“The spirit of awakening” is how the translator of this book translates the Sanskrit word “bodhicitta.” I usually translate “bodhicitta” as the altruistic intention. Some people call it “the spirit of awakening” or “the awakening mind.” There are many different translations. Sometimes it is easier just to use the Sanskrit word bodhicitta.
Here, we are saying that we rejoice at their altruistic intention. Their most fervent wish is to be of benefit to all living beings and to lead all of us to full enlightenment. That’s such an incredibly noble intention, isn’t it, when we consider that we usually only think about how we can be happy ourselves. That there’re beings who have such compassion for all living beings and wish us to have the great happiness of enlightenment and not just the little happiness of some good food. So we’re really rejoicing in their compassion, in their altruistic intention because that altruistic intention delights and benefits all sentient beings, because we all derive some benefit from the works of the holy beings.
So the above three verses are the practice of rejoicing.
Questions and answers
I want to pause here for today and open it to questions and comments. Tomorrow I will start on Verse 4 which goes on to some of the other practices of Pu Xian Pu Sa.
Audience: Venerable, can “oceanic expressions” in Verse 3 be referring to wisdom?
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): So you’re asking whether “oceanic expressions” include wisdom? I think so, Why not? Virtue usually refers to the method aspect of the path which are the compassionate deeds but I think you can include wisdom in virtue too because wisdom is definitely a virtuous mental state.
Audience: If somebody has an abortion, what should they do to ensure that the unborn child has a good rebirth?
VTC: I think the best thing to do is to make prayers for that child and wish them well. Also do virtuous activities—make offerings, cultivate love and compassion and so on—and dedicate the merit from those virtuous activities towards the child. Of course the best way to ensure that the unborn child has a good rebirth is not to have the abortion, to let it be born and have the precious human life now. But if somebody does make that decision to have an abortion, then it is good if they do some purification practice afterwards because abortion is considered taking life and it’s good that they do some virtuous activities and dedicate it for the good rebirth of the child. I think it’s also good to pray that in future lives when you encounter the future continuum of that being, you are able to meet in different circumstances and have a good relationship so that no harm occurs between you. And really wish that person to have a good rebirth, meet teachers and have conducive circumstances for practicing the Dharma so that they can attain the realizations of the path.
Audience: Venerable, thank you very much for your presentation. It was very good. Inspiring. Touch my heart. I just want to know, which one is more important—wisdom or compassion, the heart and the mind? Also a fellow Buddhist brother was saying, “Both the Buddha and the beggar have no possessions and both are homeless.” What is the difference between a beggar and the wonderful Buddha? Thank you.
VTC: Which is more important—wisdom or compassion? They are both important.
To attain the full enlightenment of a Buddha, we need both. We need compassion because it’s the root of the virtuous intention. The virtuous intention of bodhicitta is what’s going to give us the energy and the oomph to create the merit and develop the wisdom that will eventually lead us to full enlightenment. Compassion is important as a motivation and wisdom is important because it is the wisdom that realizes emptiness that enables us to purify both the afflictive obscurations and the cognitive obscurations from our mind.
The afflictive obscurations are the ones that keep us stuck in cyclic existence, so they are mental afflictions and the tainted karma. The cognitive obscurations are the subtle stains on our mind that are like the imprints of the ignorance, craving and so on, and they prevent us from seeing both conventional truths and ultimate truths simultaneously and clearly.
It is the wisdom that realizes thusness or things as they are that is the actual thing that purifies the defilements from our mind. So you see, we need both the wisdom and compassion. The analogy of a bird is often used. A bird can’t fly with just one wing; it needs both. Similarly we need both wisdom and compassion to attain the full enlightenment of a Buddha.
Your second question is that both a Buddha and a beggar are homeless and don’t have possessions. So what’s the difference between them?
Well, if the beggar is somebody who is an ordinary sentient being—a beggar could also be a Buddha—then the difference between them is that the beggar doesn’t have the spiritual realizations and the Buddha does. A beggar, because they lack realizations, is usually unhappy about being homeless or poor. Whereas a Buddha is perfectly happy even without possessions. Their own sense of inner wellbeing isn’t adversely affected by the poverty.
Audience: How does turning a praying wheel help us reach enlightenment faster?
VTC: There are many ways of creating virtue and one way is through the turning of prayer wheels that the Tibetans use. Turning the prayer wheel itself is not particularly virtuous. It’s what you’re thinking about while you turn the prayer wheel that is important. If you just sit there and turn this wheel and you are thinking, “How can I make more money? How can I take revenge on the person who insulted me? I am really better than everybody else … I want to make sure that they know how good I am…” Then what use is there turning the prayer wheel? There is no virtue in your mind.
The idea of turning the prayer wheel is that you imagine that there is light radiating from the syllables of the mantras and prayers in the wheel and that light carries your virtuous intentions out into the world and it touches other living beings. By the power of what you are thinking, your mind becomes virtuous and that becomes a cause for a happy rebirth, liberation and enlightenment.
Audience: What happens if a person who is learning Dharma develops misunderstandings towards their Dharma teacher and does negative actions towards that Dharma teacher? As a result they create a lot of negativity. How can they get out of the lower realm that they are in now?
VTC: I’m not sure if this person is referring to somebody who died and is in a lower realm—but you don’t know for sure that they are in a lower realm—or if they are just referring figuratively to the mental state that is very filled with anger.
In general, like I was saying, those beings who teach us the Dharma are showing us a kindness that is very special and very rare that others don’t show us. It is important for us to appreciate that and to cultivate positive feelings and thoughts towards those who teach us the Dharma.
But we are sentient beings and we are filled with negativities. So sometimes we misunderstand our teachers or we project faults on them that they don’t have. Or we see things that they do that we don’t like and we get angry and upset about it. All of these actually harm our own practice because our mind is filled with negativity. When our mind is filled with negativity it is clearly not filled with virtue.
Also when we have this kind of negativity towards our Dharma teachers, we tend to push away the teachings that they gave us. That’s especially detrimental because then instead of practicing the teachings of virtue, we begin to have a lot of doubts in the Dharma. We lose faith in the Dharma and we stop practicing. That kind of behavior is very damaging to us.
If we have negative feelings towards our Dharma teachers it’s important that we look in our own mind and say, “Why do I have these feelings? Where are they coming from?”
Not all Dharma teachers are perfect. Sometimes a Dharma teacher may have unethical behavior. It’s a horrible thing when that happens but sometimes it does happen. If a Dharma teacher has unethical behavior, you can still respect that person for having helped you in the Dharma but you keep a distance from them. You don’t have to be angry at them but you keep a distance. Even though you appreciate that they taught you in the past, now you’re going to go study with other people.
But sometimes when we look, we see that our bad feelings towards our Dharma teachers aren’t because they did something unethical but because they are not what we want them to be. We want our Dharma teachers to always love us, praise us and tell us that we’re the best student that they’ve ever had, don’t we? Wouldn’t it be nice if your Dharma teacher always said, “You’re so good. You are the best student I have. You are the model for everybody. You’re so kind. You’re so good at this and so good at that.” We want to hear that kind of praise from our Dharma teacher.
But sometimes, our Dharma teacher says, “You made a mistake!” And we got angry. We acted rude and we grumbled, “You are a Dharma teacher. You are only supposed to see people’s good qualities and praise them. Why are you pointing out my mistakes?!” We get defensive and angry. When we see our bad feelings in situations like that then we know it is our problem. When our Dharma teacher points out our mistaken actions, they’re usually doing so out of a kind motivation, so that we can see that we are doing something inappropriate and correct our behavior. If our Dharma teachers just ignore our bad behavior and let us continue creating negative karma, are they showing kindness? That’s not kindness, is that? It’s much kinder if they point out our bad behavior so that we can change it and stop creating that negative karma.
When we understand this, then when our Dharma teachers point out our faults, we say, “Thank you very much!” because we realize that what they are doing is benefiting us.
Audience: A high lama once said, “This body is not mine. I’m not caught by this body. I have not been born and I will never die.” What does this lama mean?
VTC: When they say, “This body is not mine,” is your body you? Your body is not you. Is there a solid concrete you that possesses your body and says, “This is mine”? Is there a solid person, a “soul’? Is there a truly existent person that exists independent of everything else, that says, “This is my body”? There is no such person.
A person exists by being merely labeled in dependence upon a body and mind. But there is no independent person there to possess a body and say, “This body is me” or “This body is mine.”
When they say, “I am not caught by this body,” it is similar to the above—and we will come to it a bit later in the chapter—that we don’t have to be trapped by our body. When beings have very high spiritual realizations they are not trapped by their body. Their body might get old and sick and die but their mind is not unhappy about it. That’s different from us ordinary beings. We get sick and we complain. We get old and we go, “I don’t want to get old. I had better dye my hair and have a facelift, do something different.” But a highly realized being is not caught by their body in that way.
When they say, “I have not been born and I will never die,” well actually, if there is no inherently existent self, then there is no independent self that is born and there is no independent self that dies. That’s actually true for us too, it is not just referring to realized beings. But the difference is that we ordinary beings think that there really is something that is us. We think there is a real me inside of here. That’s due to our own ignorance. But when we are able to realize that there is no independent self then there is so much freedom because then there is nobody we need to protect, there is nobody to get offended, there is nobody that gets afraid, there is nobody that is born, there is nobody that dies. There’s simply a conventional self that exists by being merely labeled. But there is no findable self at all.
Audience: I read that schizophrenia is the experience of a shattered soul. What do you have to say about schizophrenia and depression? Is it possible to become well? What can we do to heal our soul?
VTC: Well, before I answer the question directly, I want to mention that from the Buddhist viewpoint we don’t use the word “soul.” “Soul” is more a term and a conception that applies to Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism—religions that assert there is an independent person there, that there is a soul, something that is separate from the body and mind. That there is no independent soul or self is one of the revolutionary teachings of the Buddha.
Now, getting to the question of schizophrenia and depression in particular. I think that those mental states can be the result of negative karma created in a previous life. Sometimes they say that there could be some spirit harm, particularly in the case of schizophrenia. But sometimes it could also be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and if the person takes the proper medicine prescribed by a doctor, then they can live fairly regular lives. That’s particularly true for people with schizophrenia.
I think it is possible to heal from these things, especially if we do purification practices. In the case of depression I think one way to heal it is by doing purification practice and by doing the practice of rejoicing, by contemplating our precious human life, by thinking of our Buddha nature, by thinking of the kindness we received from others, by thinking of the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. All those meditations can be very helpful for uplifting the mind and helping us to see that there’s a lot of goodness in life and that there’s also a lot of goodness in ourselves.
Audience: How can I advice someone who is not Buddhist to stop having jealous feelings for her loved one? Although I already advised her to battle jealousy by feeling happy for her friend, she can’t do it.
VTC: Well, there are many times and situations where we can see somebody else’s difficulties very clearly and we can give advice but that person is not yet ready to change. This can be very frustrating because we care a lot for our friend and they are suffering from jealousy. Maybe they’re being very possessive of their loved one. The jealousy and the possessiveness are causing difficulty in their relationship. Often if one person is possessive and jealous, the other person doesn’t like it very much.
Sometimes we may see a friend falling into this kind of mental state and give advice but that person is very stuck in their negative emotion. In such situations, we just have to be patient. We can still continue to give advice and talk to them about the disadvantages of jealousy. You can talk about the disadvantages of jealousy and the benefits of rejoicing. Somebody doesn’t have to be Buddhist to understand that. That’s just basic common sense. You can just talk in ordinary language and encourage them to rejoice or to let go of the jealousy for their own good so they are not that miserable because jealousy makes one pretty miserable. But if that person can’t seem to do it at that moment, if their mind is really stuck, then we just have to be patient with them. But we keep the door open and make prayers and send them love and compassion and hope that one day they’ll be able to realize the disadvantages of their way of thinking and their behavior so that they can let go of it.
In other words, we can’t fix everybody’s problems. And the thing is, what’s more important is to fix our own. Because it is very easy to see everybody else’s problems, but the real problems we have to fix are the ones inside here [our own mind].
Dedication of merit
We’re going to conclude for this evening. I just want to have a little dedication before we actually end. Since we are doing this chapter in a series of four nights, please think about what you heard today and try and put it into practice. Think about developing equanimity towards everybody. Think about how everybody wants happiness and doesn’t want to suffer. Spend a little time practicing rejoicing at others’ virtue and fortune. Do that tonight and tomorrow and that will be a great help for you when you come to teachings tomorrow night because you already have some familiarity with what was covered. If you want to invite any of your friends to join in, that’s fine, they’ll be able to catch on.
Let’s just sit for a moment quietly. Let’s rejoice that we got to share the Dharma tonight.
Let’s dedicate all the virtue that we created as individuals and all the virtue that everybody here created as a group. Let’s dedicate all that virtue so that every living being can understand what happiness is and what the causes of happiness are so that they can create them.
Let’s dedicate all that virtue so that everybody can understand what suffering is and what the causes of suffering are so that they can abandon them.
Let’s dedicate so that all beings can be happy within themselves and live happily with each other. And that everybody meet fully qualified Mahayana spiritual masters and practice wisely according to their instructions and have good relationships with them.
And let’s dedicate so that all living beings can generate the altruistic intention of bodhicitta, develop wisdom, perfect their compassion and become fully enlightened Buddhas.