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37 Practices: Verses 16-21

37 Practices: Verses 16-21

Part of a series of teachings on the 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas given during the Winter Retreat from December 2005 to March 2006 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • How to read Dharma books
  • Thinking of the kindness of others

Vajrasattva 2005-2006: 37 Practices: Verses 16-21 (download)

This teaching was followed by a discussion session with the retreatants.

Reading Dharma books slowly

A couple of things I was thinking about: One is the break time and how you spend the break time. When you’re reading, what are you reading? How are you reading it? I’m not in the house very much, but when I am, there seems to be a steady group of people who are reading quite a bit. Is that right?

Reading Dharma books is quite excellent. It’s a very good thing to do in your break times. It’s very important to read the Dharma books properly, especially when you’re on retreat. If you’re sitting down just reading a book and reading and reading; you finish that one and go to the bookshelf and get another one, and read that, and finish that one and go get another one…. Maybe by this time in the retreat you’ve been through a book a week. But if you do that, you’re just filling your mind with a lot of information and it’s going to fatigue your mind.

If you’re going to read a Dharma book during retreat, you need to read it very, very slowly. Read a few paragraphs and then sit and think about it. Then read another few paragraphs and sit and think about it. Your reading a book becomes kind of checking meditation. You’re getting the ideas from the book, and then you’re contemplating them and relating them to your life. So if you do that, you read something and then the book just sits in your lap for a while. You sit and think about the few paragraphs or the section or however much you read. Then you read a little bit more. When you’ve gotten done thinking about that, then you read a little more and think about that.

If you don’t do that, then you’re just reading for information and you’re just going to clog your mind. It’s not going to benefit you at all, because Dharma is not about getting information, it’s about changing our heart. To really change our heart, we have to really stop and read very slowly and think about what we’ve read. Then bring what you’ve read into the meditation hall. So that it helps you when you’re cultivating your motivation, or so that it helps you be more aware of things that you want to purify. Or so it helps you when you dedicate, to know how to dedicate properly.

It’s easy on a retreat like this where you have a lot of time to just devour books. Then books, reading, becomes a distraction actually. We think, “oh, I’m doing really well: look how many books I’ve read.” But actually, it’s a distraction from looking at our mind, because we’re just sitting there reading, reading, reading…. But how much is going in and how much are we checking up what’s happening? So don’t use the Dharma to distract you from the Dharma. It’s very easy to do, very tempting. That was one point I was thinking about.

Ongoing meditation on the kindness of others

Another one was how it’s very easy here to do a kind of ongoing meditation on the kindness of others. Especially since Bodhicitta is one of the main things we want to focus on in the retreat. To develop Bodhicitta you need to have compassion for others. There are two things you want to principally meditate on to develop compassion for others: one is the disadvantages of cyclic existence. So you understand what suffering is; the three kinds of unsatisfactory conditions in relationship to yourself, so then you can apply them to others.

Then, second, is to see the kindness of others. So those two things are quite important for developing Bodhicitta. Without being able to see your own suffering, it’s impossible to see the suffering of others. Your own dukkha…. When I say suffering don’t think, “oh, my stomach hurts and I can get a heart attack.” Think of the unsatisfactory condition of just being in samsara. That’s the real dukkha. So without that, wishing ourselves to be free (which is renunciation), we can’t have compassion, which is wishing others to be free. So we have to think of these unsavory parts of cyclic existence that we even call “happiness” in order to generate real compassion. Then to be able to focus the compassion of others, not just on ourselves, we have to really see the kindness of others so we can see others as lovable.

So when you’re on a retreat like this, even though there aren’t a lot of people around, still everything you look at is a manifestation of the kindness of others. Especially people who have been here, have lived here or have visited here on and off over the years. If you had any idea what your downstairs rooms looked like when we moved in—just concrete and wood framing. And how people came here, and out of the kindness of their hearts worked REALLY hard to put in the sheetrock and the insulation, the electrical wiring and the floor, and the whole thing. So there are rooms downstairs for people to sleep in.

Or, coming up here and remembering what it used to look like when we first moved in with our “beautiful curtains,” and the kindness of the people who took those down! [laughter] All the repairs we had to do in the bathrooms and different things. If you’re living out in the community room, last year that had a dirt floor and was filled with wood—no walls, nothing in it! So think about the kindness of all the people who worked to build that room.

Those of you who remember before, the garage, with the kerosene heater…. Remember in the garage: the two metal garage doors and all the rafters and stuff up on top, and the mice, and how filthy it was inside! What it took, how many people put their energy into making it into a meditation hall. Building the altar and painting, getting all the Dharma materials…. All the people who offered the Buddha statues and thangkas and texts, and all these kinds of things.

So everywhere you look, everything you touch, everything you use is an embodiment of the kindness of sentient beings. Just coming in [from outside], and you have food! You don’t even need to think about food. Of course you do, but you don’t need to. [laughter] All these people in Coeur d’Alene who are driving in the snow over an hour to come up here to do your laundry! Would you do that? Drive two hours in a day to do somebody else’s dirty underwear? I think you’d find a way to get out of it. Look at what these people are doing for us. Going into town and buying food: you need this and that and this and that. And they’re buying all these things. And just coming here and dropping it off … not even being able to come in have a cup of tea and relax a bit.

So when we think of the kindness of the people who are making this retreat happen: all the benefactors who gave money so this retreat could happen. It’s just amazing. Everywhere you look, everything around you, is the kindness of mother sentient beings. This should be something you are thinking about during the retreat because you’re starting off every session with the Bodhicitta motivations.

To have bodhicitta you need to feel connected with others and the best way is to see their kindness like this. When we really see sentient beings’ kindness and it makes an imprint on us, then automatically, without any extra effort, the mind arises that wants to repay that kindness. This is just kind of how we are as human beings. When people are nice to us, we want to do nice things back. So how we repay their kindness comes out in two ways: one is through our Dharma practice. So when you go into the meditation hall really feeling, “wow, all these people are believing in me and that’s why they’re supporting this retreat and making the buildings at the Abbey happen and making the retreat happen. All these people believe in me, so I’m going to repay them by practicing well and practicing diligently.”

Another way that you repay the kindness is when you see that things need to be done or somebody needs help, then automatically the mind comes that wants to help them. So without this mind that says, “oh, I should do it, but I’m so comfortable sitting here on the sofa and that’s their job.” Do you see how the eight worldly concerns come in?

Or we think of repaying others kindness with, “I should do it.” That’s not a mind of bodhichitta, the mind that says “should.” If we’re having that then we’re not really contemplating the kindness of others. Because if we really, deeply take any object or any event or anything and really think of how many people’s effort lay behind it, then automatically the wish comes, this feeling of being the recipient of kindness, then automatically we want to give back. So if you’re having a “should” reaction then you’re not meditating in the proper way, so come back to the meditation instructions.

If you find you’re taking things for granted and that you can watch the same people every week carry the laundry back and forth and every week carry the garbage back and forth and every week carry the food back and forth, and if you see that you’re kind of spacing out and seeing some people here working—because it’s kind of the same people, at least from what I see, doing a lot of the things—and you find you’re not noticing how much work other people are doing to support the retreat…. If you’re seeing that you’re spacing out, then you need to open your eyes a little bit. Really do this contemplation about the kindness of others and everything so many people are doing to make this [retreat] happen. So that we don’t just take stuff for granted and think “yeah, I’m on retreat and I’m comfortable here reading my fifteenth book, page after page after page, and nothings going in. [laughter] But it’s so comfortable to sit here where it’s warm and anyway that’s their job….” No, that’s not the way to think.

When you think of the kindness of others, then automatically we want to give back. So everybody has their own way of giving back, if you’re in the middle of thinking of something really important, you’re having an “ah ha” moment, that’s you’re way of giving back. Or if you’re transcribing or shoveling snow or whatever, that’s your way of giving back. To really see, while you’re here, not only the kindness of the people you don’t see who contributed to the retreat but the people who are working very hard who you’re looking at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day who are making this happen and really feeling grateful to them and help them out. So especially the people who are doing a lot of the maintenance work, they’re not even getting a break after lunch or after dinner. They’re bending over my stinky composting toilet with a happy mind not complaining one single ounce that they don’t get a break all day and they’re smelling this toilet! They’re really practicing with a happy mind, but it would be nice if other people were aware of the maintenance work that has to be done around here and automatically feel privileged to be able to serve the community.

I was thinking about it because I received more letters from some of the inmates and some of these guys would be so delighted to come here and just work! Just think of how much good karma you have to create just to be able to come here and offer service to a Dharma community. So instead of seeing it as “work” and therefore something I don’t want to do (and how can I get out of it?)—because this is the way we’re taught, since we’re very little—let’s be honest, this is what we’re taught! Instead, see it as, “Wow! What an incredible opportunity to do some small, piddly thing for fifteen minutes that sustains this retreat and repays the kindness of all the people who are helping to make it happen!” Then your mind is totally different. That’s why we call it “offering service”; we don’t call it work. We are offering service, and it’s part of our practice. What this does is it also cuts out this very dualistic mind that we have, which says, “Dharma practice is sitting on my cushion, and reading a book, and all this other stuff is wasted time.” It’s not.

In a Zen monastery—if you ever go to a Zen monastery, at Shasta Abbey it’s like this—the person who is the chief cook has to be one of the best practitioners in the whole place. It’s an incredible honor to be the cook in a Zen monastery. It’s an incredible honor to be able to chop the vegetables and wash the dishes. So when you see things like this, then you bring your compassionate motivation into what you’re doing in your daily life, and what you’re doing becomes a mindfulness practice, because you’re aware and your actively transforming your mind while you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing. It breaks this dualistic mind that says, “Dharma practice is just sitting there on the cushion.” Are you getting what I’m saying?

You want to have an integrated practice, because when you leave here, you’re not going to be able to sit as much as you’re sitting here, and you’re going to have to be able to practice when your body is moving, and when your senses are functioning. This is a good place to be able to start practicing doing that right now, and being mindful, and being aware. How are you pushing the vacuum cleaner? What’s your mind doing? Is it, “I’m pushing the vacuum cleaner and doing it as fast as I can to get done, so I can go and relax,” and it’s the same old city energy that you have? Or are you vacuuming with the mind that says, “I’m sucking up all the defilements and sufferings of sentient beings,” and you’re gracefully pushing this vacuum cleaner around, and really enjoying vacuuming!?

This is all practice. Can we enjoy what we do moment-by-moment, or as soon as we start doing normal daily-life things, does our mind go into complaining gear? “Why do I have to do this? Somebody else should do this. This isn’t any fun. I want to go sit on the cushion so I can really practice Dharma. How come I have to do this? I signed up, but I’m doing more than everybody else is. They should help me.” What kind of mind is that? That’s not a Dharma mind, is it? Really take advantage of this possibility, and start training your mind so that you keep a good motivation and a happy mind, being mindful of how you’re acting and moving and doing things when your senses are functioning and your body is moving.

When I heard that our cooks were keeping silence, I thought it was fantastic, because you two are being so mindful and aware, and that’s putting so much good energy into the food. It makes a very big difference than when the kitchen is just this source of shrieking, or whatever. [laughter] Just chopping the vegetables with care….

I heard that you all have one slip of paper or something—I don’t know if I got it right—something that says, “It’s your turn to wash the dishes, but if you don’t want to, pass it on.” Is there something like that?

Audience: I wrote that.

Audience (other):: [It says:] “It’s your lucky day!”

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): To really feel that it really is your lucky day. Why wouldn’t you want to wash the dishes? Okay, if you don’t feel well or something like that, that’s fine, but if you have the chance to serve—washing the dishes is so nice and relaxing. Think of all the other stuff that needs to be done to keep this place up that is much more challenging … to be nice and relaxed while washing dishes, you just wash your dishes! It’s done; it’s fun. Try really, while you’re here, to change your mind, because you can take that back out with you afterwards.

The 37 Practices of a Boddhisattva

Let’s do The 37 Practices of a Boddhisattva; we didn’t get to it last week. All these thought training verses that we’ve been doing, have you noticed that it sets out a situation in the first two lines that is very painful, that you don’t like, and then the last two lines, it tells you what to do—and it’s always the exact opposite of what you want to do in the situation! [laughter] Have you noticed that? That’s telling us something….

When someone hurts you, love them especially

16. Even if a person for whom you’ve cared like your own child
Regards you as an enemy,
Cherish him specially, like a mother does
Her child who is stricken by illness—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

This one, for people who are very sensitive and get hurt very easily, and you’re easily offended, and your feelings are hurt, and you feel like people betray your trust—this one is almost impossible. Somebody who you’ve cared for like your own child, who you’ve done so much for, who you’ve given sooo much to with soooo much love, and you haven’t asked anything back, you’re just completely benevolent and self-sacrificing…. [laughter] And what does this person do? They turn around, and they criticize you, and they beat you, and they steal your stuff, and they lie to you, and they denounce you—they do all sorts of horrible things. And you’re sitting there feeling, “Oh my goodness! What did I do to deserve this?” [laughter] Have you ever said that one? “What did I do to deserve this? I was so kind. Look at how they treated me so rotten!”

Here, what is the verse telling us to do? And what do we usually feel like doing? “I’m going to go beat that person up. Or, I’m going to go sit in my room and cry, and use up three boxes of tissue. I’m either going to cry and get on the phone and tell them off, or I’m going to go beat them up. They have no right to treat me like this, after all the kind wonderful things I did, and how much I trusted them, how much I loved them—I loved them with my whole heart, and then they turn and they betray me and do this!” We’re really upset, aren’t we?

What’s Thogmey Zangmo doing? He’s saying, cherish that person especially, like a mother whose child is stricken by illness. When you have a little kid who’s sick, and they have a fever, they’re totally out of control, aren’t they? Little kids who are sick are out of control: they’re shrieking, they’re crying, they’re scared, they wake up in the middle of the night and they need something. And what do you do if you’re a parent? Go take care of them, don’t you? Do you resent it? No. You love that kid to bits. It doesn’t matter that they’re waking you up in the middle of the night, or if they’re hitting you because they’re having a nightmare, because they’re sick with the fever. None of this stuff matters—how they’re treating you.

All you see is this kid who is sick who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and you love them. That’s exactly the situation with the person who betrays out trust. What’s making them betray our trust? They’re sick with ignorance, anger, and attachment. They’re sick with arrogance and jealousy and resentment. Can we see them as we would a sick child? They’re sick with the afflictions, and so to love them especially like that. They don’t know what they’re doing.

This is quite powerful, especially when somebody has hurt us very badly, to really be able to transform our mind like this. It’s always very helpful to think of your own family situation. When we were growing up, when we were a sick child with the fever, and we were screaming and waking up in the middle of the night, and hitting our parents because we had a nightmare, did we ever think of the kindness of our parents taking care of us?

Did we? No. Not a thought. Not a thought that here they are waking up in the middle of the night, and they’re sleep-deprived. Not a thought that they go to work and work very hard and work overtime to get us our toys. Not a thought of how many meals they’ve cooked for us—even when we were well. We just took it for granted: mom and dad are there to serve me. Isn’t it? They’re there to serve me. I cry; they come. As adults, have we ever written our parents a letter to thank them for bringing us up? Have we ever really, in our heart, thanked our parents for what they did, and for putting up with us?

Sometimes when we think back about our own lives, and what people did for us very selflessly, in spite of how terribly sometimes we treated them, and then think that people put up with me—it’s the least I can do in this situation to try and be kind to somebody who’s not treating me properly.

When we think like this, it’s not to feel guilty. It’s to really recognize that we’ve been the recipient of a tremendous amount of kindness that we’ve never stopped to realize. And then, when we see that, thinking, “Wow! I’ve received that. I can extend that to others.” Think about when you were sick. How many of you had chicken pox, measles, mumps, flu, the whole thing? Sitting there whining, crying, and people took care of us, didn’t they? We never once said “thank you.” I didn’t, anyway. I just cried for more.

Then it really makes you feel, “Wow. I’ve been the recipient of so much kindness. I have the capacity to give some of that to others, and to extend to others the same kind of selfless care that I’ve been the recipient of.”

Learning not to be so ego-sensitive

17. If an equal or inferior person disparages you out of pride,
Place him, as you would your spiritual teacher,
With respect on the crown of your head—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

If an equal or inferior person—that means everybody except maybe one or two people, right? [laughter]—disparages us out of pride…. So they’re having an ego problem and they put us down, what do we feel like doing? “Who do you think you are, talking to me like that? You’re not listening to what I’m saying! You’re just saying ‘no, no, no,’ and not making an effort to understand me! You’re acting like you know so much, and I know more than you. You’re acting like such a big know-it-all! Why don’t you listen to me?” This is what’s going on in our mind, right? We want to put us on top of their heads like we’re their gurus! But to put them on top of our head like we would our spiritual teacher—because when you’re doing the guru yoga practice, Vajarasattva is on your head. Vajarasattvas’ the same nature as your spiritual mentor. So then you put this person, this obnoxious person, who doesn’t know how wonderful you are and how much they should respect you, and is deprecating you instead. Put that person on your head like they are you’re spiritual teacher? Why? What are they teaching you? They’re teaching us humility; they’re teaching us to be okay with however other people treat us, they’re teaching us not to be so ego sensitive. And we are treating them with respect. So difficult, isn’t it? But so beneficial.

Crush self-centered mind

18. Though you lack what you need and are constantly disparaged,
Afflicted by dangerous sickness and spirits,
Without discouragement take on the misdeeds
And the pain of all living beings—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

So how do we usually feel when we lack what we need and are constantly disparaged? “Oh, poor me!” We throw ourselves a pity party with ourselves as the star! “Poor me, I’m sick, I’m afflicted, I don’t feel well, oh, poor me, poor me….” Then what do we usually do? We get discouraged don’t we? “Poor me, I’m trying to do this and I’m sick and I can’t do it right and there are all these interferences. I’m just going to give up, it’s useless….” That’s what we want to do, isn’t it, give up and go to bed? Take our teddy bear and go to bed, suck our thumb and feel sorry for ourselves! [laughter] What is Tongmey Zangmo telling us to do? Without discouragement take all the misdeeds and pain of all living beings…. So do the Taking and Giving meditation. Right on top of all the self-pity, we take all the pain and suffering of all the other sentient beings; take it all on and use it to strike at that lump of our own self-centeredness and blow it to bits! Then radiate out love from our heart and give our body, possessions, and three-times virtues to all sentient beings.

One of the letters I got this week from one of the inmates, he was saying, “How’s my retreat going? Horribly wonderful! I sit down, my back hurts, my knees hurts, I have cold sores in my mouth almost every day. My stomach is continually upset and there is another inmate who is on my case and threatening me!” Prison is quite a dangerous place, you know. And he’s saying, “now my retreat, is that horrible or is that wonderful? Who could ever wish for a better opportunity to easily purify negative karma?” This guy has an amazing attitude! If somebody’s stalking you, are you going to say, “yippee, this is the ripening of my karma!” Are you going to sit and have your mantra be, “why am I afraid and what am I afraid of?” and really look at your fear? Or are you just going to slide into all the self-grasping the fear brings, and all the self-pity of not feeling well?

So it’s the same kind of thing—transforming the situation. He writes in his letters, “well, it beats the hell realm!” If you look at it, it’s true. Your stomach hurts, you have cold sores, your back hurts…. But “it beats the hell realm!” Some other inmate might jump you and stab you…. Beats the hell realm! You can still have a happy mind. Incredible, isn’t it? So we need to take this as an example of how we should practice. That’s why it says, “take all, without discouragement….” Take all the misdeeds, all the negative karma—all this from all these sentient beings onto yourself, and use it to crush the self-centered mind that’s the source of our own misery.

Wealth and fame don’t mean sh*t

19. Though you become famous and many bow to you,
And you gain riches equal to Vaishravana’s,
See that worldly fortune is without essence, and be unconceited—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

Vaishravana is one of gods, the god of wealth. So he’s quite wealthy. So here’s an opposite situation. Everything’s going great. You become famous; many people bow to you. Forget about whether you have any good qualities, never mind that. People are bowing to you and showing you respect and giving you stuff and you have a lot of wealth and everybody thinks you’re very important because you’re rich and famous and blah, blah, blah. So how do we tend to do when those situations happen? We stick our nose in the air, don’t we? Kind of make sure everybody SEES how rich and famous we are. So what’s it saying? To see that worldly fortune is without essence. That wealth and fame doesn’t mean sh–. It doesn’t, does it? It doesn’t mean anything. You can have all the wealth in the world: are you happy? No. You can have all the wealth in the world: do you feel good about yourself? No. Do wealth and fame help you to have a good rebirth? No. Do they help you to have a happy mind now? No. Do they get you closer to enlightenment? No. They’re totally without any kind of essence, totally nothing. ‘Come, come; go, go’ [as Lama Yeshe used to say]. And its true, isn’t it? Wealth—come, come, go, go. Bye-bye. Fame, good reputation, praise—come, come, go, go. Very quickly. The more famous you are, the more they’ll trash you in the newspaper! These things are totally without any kind of meaning from a Dharma perspective, no meaning at all. So seeing that even though you have these worldly things and other people think you must be terrifically important or wonderful because you have them, then seeing that they don’t mean anything…. Be unconceited. Be simple.

Anger creates the enemy

20. While the enemy of your own anger is unsubdued,
Though you conquer external foes, they will only increase.
Therefore, with the militia of love and compassion, subdue your own mind—
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

So that’s really true, isn’t it? As long as our own anger isn’t subdued, we’re going to have lots of enemies, lots and lots of enemies. It doesn’t matter how many enemies we’ve vanquished: as long as we have anger, we’re going to have a new enemy. Because what is it that creates enemies? The angry mind, isn’t it? It’s not the other people lying to us that creates an enemy. It’s our getting mad at their lying to us. It’s not their telling us off that makes them the enemy. It’s our getting angry at them for telling us off that we make them the enemy. So we’re making our own enemies and the key player is our own anger. We create an enemy. Then we get angry; we want to destroy the enemy; we want to beat the person; we want to kill them. We wish that a truck would hit them. We wish that all their stocks go down and they have to file for bankruptcy. We hope their marriage breaks up. We talk about them behind their back. We make little cliques at work, in the dharma center or wherever it is. “Oh, that person … yak, yak, yak.” Talk about our enemy. We might get rid of all these enemies: the person leaves, dies, or who knows what. But another one comes because our anger creates another enemy.

Anger creates the enemy. Instead of having anger be our old friend—actually one of the inmates wrote that to me—he wrote about a problem he’s having and he said, “I find myself going back to my old friend, anger, and I don’t want to do this. But how else can I see the situation?” Sometimes when we’re angry we can’t even see there’s another choice in how to see the situation. We’re so completely stuck in our view that we don’t even realize the situation. But somehow, this is the value if you’re heard Dharma teachings and thought about them even a little bit, then when you get angry there’s always this voice in the back of your head saying [in a sing-songy voice]: “This is a distorted state of mind. This emotion doesn’t have any benefit. Think about how you’re seeing things.” [laughter] It’s kind of there, and the angry mind goes, “Shut up! I don’t want to listen to you! I’m too busy being angry!” It just keeps on. But if we can stop and see that there is a choice, with anything that happens, about how to see it clearly. Sometimes at the beginning we don’t see that there’s a choice, and it’s only halfway through that we see there’s a choice. Well, that’s good! Because at least we realized at some point that there’s a choice. Then we practice, and we tame our mind, and we calm down, and we let go.

What helps us? We call out “the militia of love and compassion.” Isn’t that a great image? The militia of love and compassion. The National Guard of love and compassion. [laughter] Or the Marines of love and compassion, the Green Berets of love and compassion. [laughter] You call them out, and you let them get rid of the enemy of the anger. And you just generate love and compassion for the people. It is possible. It is possible. If we can, even for a moment, see that the person we think is harming us is suffering—if we can for a moment see that—there’s the possibility of compassion.

I think it’s kind of a human reaction that if we see someone suffering, we want to help. If we can see that that person isn’t so solid, how they’re appearing to us in that moment, that they’re a suffering sentient being who is afflicted by ignorance, anger, and attachment, and under the sway of their karma and headed for aging, sickness, death, and rebirth—if we can see them like that, then automatically compassion comes.

Indulging increases craving

21. Sensual pleasures are like saltwater:
The more you indulge, the more thirst increases.
Abandon at once those things which breed Clinging attachment
This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

This verse is for our mind that is an addict. All of us are addicts, aren’t we? All of us are addicts, and -oholics of something, whether it’s alcoholics, or drugoholics, or workoholics, or sexoholics, who knows what it is, but we’re all -oholics of one kind or another. Food, if you sit and stuff your face—whatever it is. “Sensual pleasures are like saltwater.” The more you drink saltwater, you think it’s going to quench your thirst, you think you’re going to feel better, what happens? You feel worse. This is the mind that takes drugs, isn’t it? This is the mind that drinks. This is the mind that whatever –oholic thing that we have is functioning.

We think, “If I do this, it will temporarily soothe the anxiety or the restlessness that I’m feeling inside.” But what happens afterwards? You feel worse. Don’t you? You drink, and then you have a hangover, and then you feel crummy about yourself. You take drugs and then you feel crummy about yourself because you see what it’s doing to your family and everybody else. Or you sit and overeat and feel crummy about yourself. You go on a shopping binge—whatever our thing is. Some are legal, some aren’t. But it’s the same mind, isn’t it? So we shouldn’t hold our nose up in the air [as if we’re better than others e.g. who are doing something illegal].

Really see that the more we indulge, the more the craving increases. It just increases and increases and increases. Of course, we don’t want to squeeze ourselves, and clamp down: “I. Can’t Have. That. Oh! I have so much craving and desire! That’s saltwater! I’m not going near the saltwater! I’m staying away! AAAHHHHH!” [laughter] Meanwhile, what are you doing? It’s self-torture, isn’t it? There’s this drama in our mind, isn’t there? Lama Yeshe used to say, “Don’t squeeze yourself, dear.” Because we do do that. We squeeze ourself: “AAHHH, One piece of chocolate! It’s saltwater! I’m going to go to the hell realms if I eat that piece of chocolate! Get it away from me!! AAAHHHHH!!! I’m soooo self-centered!!!!” [laughter]

We drive ourselves nuts, don’t we? This verse is not saying to be like that. That’s not the antidote, to squeeze ourselves, and clobber ourselves, and feel so guilty: “I’m letting the Universe dooown!” [laughter] Rather, to try and apply our wisdom here, and say, “Ok, I have a problem with this. I’m working on it. I’m working on it in a reasonable way, chipping away at it slowly, because if I squeeze myself, I know my mind just gets worse. I’m working at it slowly, but I have a plan, and I have some discipline around this, and I’m really following that.”

And then you bring your wisdom to see that the thing is like saltwater. That’s very different than having the intellectual mind that says, “oh, I have so much attachment! That’s bad for me!” That’s just intellectual, isn’t it? Because inside, it’s like, “I want it!!” So just sitting there having this intellectual mind—“Oh, I have so much attachment. I’m bad.”—that’s not Dharma practice. We have to really work with our mind in a slow and gentle but very persistent way with whatever our –oholic thing is. Whether we’re email-oholics, computer- oholilcs, whatever it is—learning to have some discipline around it. Something to think about.

This teaching was followed by a discussion session with the retreatants.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.