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Meaning and benefits of fortitude

Part of a series of teachings on Essence of Refined Gold by the Third Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Sonam Gyatso. The text is a commentary on Songs of Experience by Lama Tsongkhapa.

Essence of Refined Gold 42 (download)

Let’s generate our motivation and really appreciate our life and appreciate having a human body with our human mind and human intelligence. Appreciate our opportunity to have met the Dharma, met teachers and supportive communities. Let’s really respect that part of ourself that has spiritual yearning and spiritual aspiration. It’s a part of ourself that’s very precious, and in our consumerist and materialistic society often we don’t get to express that side of ourselves as much as we would like, but it’s an important part of us that we have to respect and express and share and nurture.

So tonight we’re going to listen to the teachings, not only for our own benefit, not only for our own good rebirth or our own liberation, but recognizing the kindness we’ve received from others, being aware of how they are stuck in cyclic existence and so are we. Then let’s generate that altruistic intention that aims for full Buddhahood in order to be of the most effective benefit to all sentient beings. In other words, to ourselves and to all others, whether we like those other sentient beings, dislike them, feel neutral about them, let’s look beyond those superficial likes and dislikes into everybody’s heart and see that they all have the Buddha potential, they’re all stuck in samsara, and we all want happiness and freedom from suffering. Therefore, to make that determination, to bring that about for ourself and all others.

I hope you’ve all been well and have been practicing what we’ve been discussing in the previous tele-teachings, that it didn’t all get forgotten over all the big meals on Christmas, and all the jigsaw puzzles and movies and music and relatives and all that stuff. But that you’ve kept some of the Dharma in your heart through all of that because the Dharma in our heart is actually the meaning of the whole holiday season. It’s just our culture has forgotten that it’s actually a holy day, and it’s meant to inspire us to internal reflection, and we just use it as a time for sensual indulgence, which is the opposite of really what Christmas is about, isn’t it? Let’s get into our own spiritual calling and bring that to the forefront.

Before we took our little break in December, we were talking about the far-reaching practice of ethical conduct, and that we were saying that there’s three kinds, right? Ok, what are the three? First, abandoning non-virtues. Second, practicing virtue. Third, benefiting others. Hooray! And then we were talking particularly about the third one, the ethical conduct of benefiting others.

Eleven specific types of beings to benefit

There’s a list of 11 specific types of beings to be particularly alert about in benefiting others. This list comes in the bodhisattva vows. If you look in your auxiliary bodhisattva vows, the last 11 have to do with this. It comes under ethical conduct, it comes under the joyous effort. One type of joyous effort is to benefit sentient beings, in particular these 11 types, and one particular type of wisdom is knowing how to skillfully benefit these sentient beings. So it’s a very practical list that really kind of wakes us up to how to benefit. We got to the first seven last time. I’ll just read through them to review, and then we’ll go on.

  • In particular, to take care of those who are suffering or sick.
  • Those who are obscured or ignorant of means to help themselves. So, people who are reckless, who can’t tell what to practice and abandon, who don’t know how to earn a living, who don’t know how to balance a checkbook. Just different skills that people need to help them.
  • Then the third is to help sentient beings who need help to realize their desire. Somebody has some project or some task they need to do. The snow needs to be shoveled, the floor needs to be swept, the meditation hall needs to be set up, whatever it is, helping others.
  • The fourth is those who are afraid or in danger who are about to be physically injured or killed, those who are about to be mentally traumatized, those who are afraid or are in that danger. We offer protection by giving. It’s the practice of giving protection.
  • Then the fifth is those who are grieving. It could be that they lost their social position, they lost a dear family member, they lost their wealth, whatever it is. To console them, to help them see that their grief is impermanent and transient, that they still have many good things to live for.
  • The sixth are those who are poor and needy. We help them by giving material aid.
  • The seventh is those who need a place to stay, such as the poor, Dharma practitioners, and travelers.

It’s interesting in the seven because we can look outside and when do we meet other people who are like this that we can offer help to them. But in reading this list, sometimes we see ourselves and how others have offered help to us. That’s a good practice to remember: the kindness that we’ve received from others and that inspires us to give kindness. Because haven’t we all been sick and suffering? Haven’t we all been obscured or ignorant of means to help ourself? Haven’t we all needed help realizing our desires? Haven’t we all been afraid or in danger? Haven’t we all experienced grief? Haven’t we all needed material aid? Haven’t we all needed a place to stay? It’s interesting because sometimes when we just read through this list and we’re thinking of other sentient beings, then we think of ourselves, “Oh, I’m doing the bodhisattva practice, and here are all these other people who are so needy, and I’m being very great, helping them.” But you know, you just read through the list, and we’ve been every person on the list, haven’t we, at one time or another, and other sentient beings have been kind to us and helped us. So not to get puffed up when we benefit others, but to realize we’re just repaying the kindness that others have shown to us.

We’re trying to repay the kindness because it’s a bodhisattva practice to do it with, first of all, the bodhicitta motivation, so we’re not just helping one sentient being with their one particular problem right now, but we really have in mind that we want to help them as a representative of all sentient beings, and we want to help them to create merit that we will dedicate for the benefit of attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. So our motivation is different than just worldly people helping each other and also we want to, when we give this kind of help, seal it with the understanding of the emptiness of the circle of three. Seeing ourself as the agent who’s doing the action, the action itself of benefiting, the recipient of the action. To see all of these things exist dependent on each other and they’re not inherently existent. So that brings the whole wisdom aspect into the practice.

Let’s continue with the list here.

  • The eighth [group of] people to try and help, not just people but living beings, are those who want to be in harmony by helping them to reconcile and forgive each other.

This one takes a great deal of care to be able to do, because sometimes somebody may come to us with a problem and we just jump right in and side with them against somebody else, and then they say “Oh, you’re my friend, you’re on my side.” And then we join with them, and we say all sorts of negative things about the other person. Well, that’s the opposite of what this is saying here to do. Here what we’re trying to do is help people to reconcile when they’re not in harmony. So, somebody comes to us and they’re angry and they’re upset, to try and help them calm down, to try and listen to them and when they are receptive, then to help them, give them tools to deal with their own anger. And then after they’re able to deal with their own anger, then to help them reconcile with whoever it was that they were feeling upset with.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that if people have a really horrible relationship and by reconciling somebody’s going to get very hurt. I mean, if somebody’s being beaten, in the case of domestic violence, you don’t say “Well I’m going to help you reconcile with the person who’s beating you” and send them back into the dangerous situation. We’re not talking about that kind of thing because that’s not really helping them reconcile, is it? That’s just helping one person beat up on another, so if we’re able to help them actually reconcile so that it became a safe place for that person to go back to, whereby it became a good relationship that was helping them, then that would be reconciling. We have to understand what reconcile means. It doesn’t mean that we just put two people together and then the one whose more powerful beats up on the other one. That’s not reconciliation.

We want to really avoid, if people are estranged, taking sides and saying negative things about one to the other so that they become further and further apart. But this is sometimes what we do, isn’t it? We just take sides and go to it. You can see that this act of benefiting others also involves an act of restraint on our part, particularly restraining ourselves from disharmonious speech. And then really learning to think clearly, “How can I help others to reconcile?”

It doesn’t mean that we have to make them reconcile. In other words, we shouldn’t go into a situation with an agenda saying “I’m going to make you be friends whether you like it or not.” Because then we’re living out our agenda and that doesn’t help other people. We have to work with whatever the situation is and do what we can, but also know that we can’t control the situation. We can see in a community like we live in, or those of you who work in offices, or in your family life or social lives, sometimes people just don’t get along.

So first of all on our part, try not to get involved in their disagreements. Second of all, if we are involved, not to take sides and get dragged into it, and then to do our best to help the other people forgive and release their own anger and then reconcile in some way. A lot of times, people when they have difficulties with other people, they’ll come to me and they’ll say, “What do I do?” I’ve learned working with my own mind, it’s not a situation of what do I do. We’re always looking for what’s the external situation, what do I do to fix the external situation, and that’s not the correct question.

What we need to be asking is, “What’s going on in my mind? How can I make my mind peaceful and calm?” And then if somebody comes to us and says, “What do I do?” then we say, “Well, let’s first work with your mind and help you to become more peaceful and calmer,” and then show them that when their own mind is more peaceful and calm, then how to handle the situation becomes more apparent by itself. But if we skip over that step of calming our own mind and just try and figure out what to do because our own mind is so upset and frazzled, we’re never going to figure out a good answer of what to do, because we’re not asking the right question. What to do isn’t the question, it’s “What’s going on inside me and how do I resolve that?” And to help other people see that, too, when they’re having difficult situations and to help them forgive.

Forgiving, we know from our own experience, isn’t always easy. Forgiving basically means, I think, letting go of anger. So helping other people as much as we can to let go of their anger, and the way to really be effective in doing that is to practice letting go of our own anger. Because otherwise if we just hold onto our own anger and our own grudges, but we’re going around telling everybody else to be nice and forgive, it’s not going to work, is it?

And also, we know that by working on our own anger and seeing where we get stuck, and then having to overcome our own stuckness in these situations, then it helps us to really be much more compassionate in helping other people, and much more effective in helping others, because we’re more in touch with our own experience and know how our own mind works.

  • The ninth group of sentient beings to help are those who want to follow the path.

So, for example, those who want to make offerings, then we help them make offerings. Those who want to go on pilgrimage, we help them go on pilgrimage. Those who want to study the Dharma, we help them study the Dharma. Those who want to find a good Dharma book to read, we help them find a good Dharma book to read. This is actually one of the nicest ways to help others: when there is somebody who’s genuinely interested in the Dharma, and then you try and find a way to help them learn to practice the path and to create virtue.
That was like the question you asked me today, that your mom and your stepdad want to go on a retreat and they’re not so religious, what kind of retreat can you recommend them to go? So really thinking, “Ok, they’ve expressed some interest, they want to learn. How can I give them some direction about where to go on a retreat?” So that kind of thing, really helping or somebody wants to go to Dharmasala and you talk to them about are you going to take the train, are you going to take the bus, all these different kinds of things.

  • The tenth [group] is to help those who are acting negatively, or are about to do so, but preventing them from doing that action and explaining the drawbacks of that action.

We may be somewhere where somebody is about to create some great negative karma, and instead of just twiddling our thumbs and letting them do that and harming themself and others by doing the negative action, to see if we can intervene and stop them in some way. There are a variety of ways to intervene, and of course the best way here is if we can explain to them the disadvantages of doing that action. Of course, that gets a little difficult. You can’t just walk into a seafood restaurant and start teaching them all about disadvantages of killing all the seafood. The owner’s not going to be very happy with you, so it takes some tact in these kinds of things. Because also sometimes if we do this people see us as meddling. “Why are you meddling in my business? If I want to shout and scream at somebody, that’s my business. Leave me alone.” This can really take a great deal of skill in handling these situations.

Of course, if you’re close to somebody and there exists some trust between you, then it becomes much easier because if you say something to that person, they’re more likely to listen because there’s trust. Whereas if you are dealing with somebody who doesn’t trust you, or who sees themself as in a higher position than you, or situations like that, it becomes much more difficult to get through to them. We know this from our own experience, don’t we? When we consider ourself in a slightly higher position than somebody else if they come around and point out to us some negative action we’re about to do, we’re miffed! Our pride has been challenged. Who are you, young uppity somebody telling me that I’m lying? When I’m lying, you’re not supposed to notice that.

We can see from our own experience, sometimes listening to other people when they’re trying to help us is not so easy. So similarly, when we’re trying to help other people who are about to do some negative action, we have to figure out how to do it in a skillful way so that they’re able to listen to us. And really, so often, it takes so much skill because the moment somebody feels like their ego is being challenged, it’s like they shut down, and they’re not going to listen. So you have to figure out some way to get through to them, where you’re going to challenge their ego without them knowing it. [laughter]

There are also other ways if somebody’s about to do some negative action. Sometimes you can distract them from doing it. I mean distraction works wonders, doesn’t it? Or people are quarreling, we also know that if we’re in a family situation and people are quarreling, you just come and change the topic. Come in and do something different, people have to stop. I heard a story of one couple, disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, and you know how has the mindfulness bell, and you ring the mindfulness bell, and you stop and breathe three times, and so this couple, one time they were arguing and their little child came up and rang the mindfulness bell. [laughter]

Actually, I was staying with some people at one point a few years ago who were Thich’s disciples, and they were quarreling, and I went into the living room and I rang the mindfulness bell. So sometimes there’s situations like that where you can do that, it depends. I wasn’t sure if they were going to get upset with me interfering with their quarrel, but they stopped and breathed.

  • The eleventh is a special kind of situation where you help those who can only be helped by a demonstration of supernormal powers.

So, if you have supernormal powers, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have to worry about breaking this one. If you have supernormal powers and if all else fails to stop somebody’s harmful actions, or to prove the validity of the Dharma, then if you have supernormal powers, you can use them. The Buddha was actually quite strict. He didn’t permit his disciples to go around showing all of their supernormal powers, and he actually resisted it quite a bit himself. There were some situations where he had to do it.

And actually, Losar is in a few weeks in February, the Tibetan New Year and then the full moon of that first month is called the Day of Miracles because at the time when the Buddha lived, there were 500 matted hair ascetics, of all these different groups that were around, and they were practicing supernormal powers, and they challenged the Buddha to a demonstration of supernormal powers. And in ancient India, if you were challenged to a debate or a demonstration, if you lost you had to convert to the other’s religion. So, the Buddha kept saying, “No, no, no.” And he would leave, and they would run after him, and ask again, and he would say no, and then he would go to another place, and they kept on just following him around because they felt that they had fantastic supernormal powers and they wanted to humiliate the Buddha.

So eventually, I guess they just were bugging him so much that he said okay. And then, of course, the Buddha’s supernormal powers were much more magnificent than those of the matted hair ascetics, and so all 500 of them converted and became the Buddha’s disciples. This is celebrated on the full moon of the first month, the Day of Miracles. But other than that, the Buddha did not permit people, unless it was a situation really where you could prevent somebody from harming somebody else, or you could see that this was the only way to get through to somebody about the truth of the Dharma. In those kinds of situations, but other than that, people weren’t allowed to do these kinds of demonstrations.

Sometimes people come up to me and they say, “Well, why not? It’s like if this lama or that lama did some supernormal thing, then I’d really have faith that they were something.” A number of people have said this to me, but there are people in India, there are some people who do things, and make things appear and disappear and whatever, but then what happens? What are the disciples like? They just kind of tend to worship the teacher, “Oh my teacher can do magical things. They’re very special.” But they don’t really listen to the teachings with the motivation to change their own mind, and they aren’t so much interested in changing their own mind. The disciples become more interested just in worshiping somebody else who’s special. And worshiping somebody who’s special doesn’t get us out of samsara. The Buddha didn’t want us to get into that kind of dynamic. He wanted people to listen to the teachings for the sake of liberation.

Those are the eleven kinds of sentient beings to take special care of, and if we’re attentive we’ll see that they’re around us all the time, aren’t they, especially sentient beings who need help fulfilling their desires or completing a project. People need help washing the dishes, they need help crossing the street. There’s lots of things. There’s always some way that we can offer service.

Preciousness of ethical conduct

The third Dalai Lama concluded his section on the far-reaching ethical conduct with a quote from Je Rinpoche, which says

Ethical conduct is water to clean away the stains of evil,
Moonlight to cool the heat of afflictions,
Radiance towering like a mountain in the midst of sentient beings,
The peaceful force to unite humankind.
Knowing this, spiritual practitioners guard it
As they would their very eyes.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? That ethical conduct is like water to clear away the stains of evil. Just think of the garbage in your mind and how ethical conduct clears that away. It stops you from doing the negative actions. It’s like moonlight to cool the heat of the afflictions. You know how when there is a full moon everything is very peaceful and cool. When our mind is under the influence of afflictions, our mind is hot and burning like a wildfire. So, it’s like that cool gentle moonlight that settles down the craziness of the mind. It’s like radiance towering like a mountain in the midst of sentient beings. It’s like if you have a mountain that is just towering above everything else, so ethical conduct is like that. It’s something big and it’s sturdy, and it’s something that other sentient beings can look to as something solid and reliable.

When you think about it—because I know lots of times we all have trust issues: “Who do I trust?” “How can I trust people?”—ethical conduct is a big element of trust, isn’t it? If you look, what are the qualities that you look for in people if you’re going to trust them? If you really think about it, what makes me trust somebody? Well, somebody who’s not going to hurt me physically, who’s not going to take my stuff, who’s not going to use me sexually, who’s going to speak truthfully, who’s going to look out for my benefit and help me create good relationships, who’s going to speak kindly, who’s going to speak appropriately, who’s not going to crave my stuff, who’s not going to plot how to harm me, who’s not going to lead me astray with wrong ideas.

If you look at it, how do we create trust in human relationships? Ethical conduct is the basic foundation of trust in human relationships. You can see, if we just look even in our own relationships where there’s been something that’s gone funny, very often there’s some slip-up in ethical conduct. There were harsh words, there was disharmonious speech, there were lies, there was cheating. Somehow, we just got involved in the ten negative actions and it messed up relationships.

If you look between countries and governments trying to establish trust, or different groups of people, people of different races or religions or ethnicities or whatever, or even people in the same groups, trying to trust each other. What elements do they need to trust? They need to know that they feel safe with somebody. Well, what makes one person feel safe with another one? It’s that person keeping ethical conduct.

So ethical conduct acts as such an incredible stabilizing force in our world and something that just calms people down. It is like a mountain. It’s solid and it’s firm and it’s reliable and we can trust those kinds of people. So, if we want people to trust us, we have to work on our own ethical conduct and then naturally they’ll trust us. We won’t have to do any big display or any big propaganda.

It’s the peaceful force to unite humankind, isn’t it? Knowing this and knowing all the benefits of ethical conduct, then spiritual practitioners guard it as they would their very eyes. So, we always think of our eyes as like the most precious thing. We don’t want to lose our eyes. Our ethical conduct is as precious, actually more precious, than our eyes, so we protect it very, very well. We aren’t reckless in our ethical conduct. Similarly, you’re not going to do something that could endanger your eyes because you see how painful it is if you do.

How to train in far-reaching patience

Now we’ll go on to the third far-reaching practice: how to train in far-reaching patience. Just as a matter of introduction, what does patience mean? It means being calm in the presence of harm or suffering. Actually I’ve been thinking a lot about patience recently—well, I always think about patience. Not always, I still need to think about it more, but I try to practice it.

The translation of “patience,” I’ve never been totally happy with that, because when you look at the three different kinds of patience, and what patience usually means in English, it doesn’t always fit. There are three kinds of patience: the patience of not retaliating, the patience of being able to endure suffering, and the patience of practicing the Dharma. And, if you say to somebody in regular English, “Be patient,” what they think of is, just wait. Isn’t that one of our main things? You always hear parents say to their kids: “Be patient” means just wait. That isn’t the meaning of far-reaching patience: “Just wait.” It’s not the meaning. It has this meaning of being calm in the presence of harm or suffering.

Sometimes they translate it as endurance, because remember I said the second type of patience is enduring suffering. But then sometimes when we hear the word endurance, we think of either running a long race and it’s an endurance race, or you think of gritting your teeth and enduring something you don’t like. But that’s not it at all. This is not about gritting your teeth and not liking something but getting through it. That’s not the meaning, and it’s very important we understand that’s not the meaning, otherwise we practice it incorrectly. It really means about letting go so that you don’t feel like gritting your teeth at all. Endurance doesn’t really have the right connotation either.

Then sometimes it’s translated as tolerance. You can tolerate harm, you can tolerate different things, but then we think of tolerance, sometimes tolerance has a good thing, it signifies a very tolerant open-minded person. But that’s not quite the meaning that we’re getting across here. The Tibetan word is zöpa, and then sometimes we think of tolerance or tolerate as, “Yeah, I’ve got to tolerate this.” Kind of like the same thing as endure. I don’t like it and I’ve just got to tolerate it until it’s over, but that’s not the meaning because you don’t have a happy mind when you have that kind of tolerance, do you? You’re just waiting for something to be over, and that’s really not the meaning of this practice. I really emphasize that because sometimes we get stuck and we just think, “Okay, I’ve got to shove my anger down and just tolerate. I can’t stand this jerk.” And that’s not it.

What I’ve been thinking a bit about is that in these three kinds of what we’ve been calling patience, there’s an element of fortitude in all three. And I’ve been playing a little bit with translating it as fortitude instead of as patience. Because what is fortitude? What kind of connotation does that give? There’s some strength in there, isn’t it? There’s a feeling of not succumbing, not giving up, that you have some fortitude. You’re able to “endure,” but it doesn’t have that feeling of gritting your teeth. You have fortitude, you have some internal strength or stability so that you can get through the situation without being overwhelmed by it.

Audience: [Inaudible] That’s a word that has a great capacity, kind of like strength.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Having some kind of capacity, right, you can bear things. Actually, that’s the whole thing. Zöpa is also in other connotations translated as the ability to bear something, so having some kind of capacity. Just think of different words that might have a better context or connotation to you. I kind of like fortitude myself. To me fortitude means some kind of internal strength, you’re not going to be clobbered over the head and overwhelmed, but you have some ability to go through a situation and make it through. Patience doesn’t give me that feeling. So we’ll play around with it as we’re talking here. Patience, fortitude, tolerance, endurance, we’ll see what it’s like. Anyway, there are three kinds of it.

The third Dalai Lama starts off talking about the first one, and he says, “When someone harms you, anger is not a worthwhile response, for the harm that he does to you is just the karmic result of harm that you previously inflicted upon another. Also, as he has no mental control and is helplessly overpowered by anger, becoming angry and hurting him would be inappropriate. Because one moment of anger destroys the roots of the three bases of positive potential accumulated over many eons, do not allow thoughts of anger to arise. This is the practice of patience unmoved by harm.”

What I was calling the patience of non-retaliation, he is calling the patience unmoved by harm. In other words, you’re receiving harm from another person, you’re angry at the person and instead of retaliating, you’re practicing being unmoved by that harm so that you don’t strike back at the person. He’s talking here about the purposelessness, the uselessness of getting angry. Here we’re dealing with the mind of anger. Of course, that mind of anger can overflow into words of anger, and into actions of anger, and it’s easier to control the actions and the words, but we’ve eventually got to get to the mind of anger, upset, rage, belligerence, rebellion, all those kinds of nasty emotions that we’re all too familiar with. All of those, I put them broadly under the word anger.

I’ve been thinking of different translations instead of anger, like animosity, or hostility. Because sometimes we think of anger as a big flare-up, but here it can be a big flare-up, but it can actually be something that lasts a while too. There’s animosity, you’re holding some animosity towards somebody else. So, it’s the mind that has exaggerated the negative qualities of someone or something, finds that unendurable, and then wants to strike at it or run away from it. So, the mind’s quite upset and turbulent, and then usually in the case of anger, we want to strike back and destroy in some way or cause harm to whoever we see as being the cause of our upset. I’m upset, I’m unhappy, somebody’s interfered with my happiness, I’m going to strike back at them, get even, get them out of the way.

Here he’s talking about the disadvantages, so first he says, “When someone harms you, anger is not a worthwhile response, for the harm that he did to you is just the karmic result of harm that you previously inflicted upon another.” Well, that throws the water on the fire, doesn’t it? Because when we’re angry, the whole thing about being angry at the other person is: our suffering is their fault and they’re to blame for my suffering. I’m unhappy and I’m miserable. I have no responsibility for it. They made me feel this way.

That’s the whole propaganda line of anger, and here it is. It’s saying: “Sorry, when we experience pain it’s not somebody else’s fault, it’s the karmic result of our own negative actions.” The moment we realize that, it’s like “can’t blame anybody else, because whoever I was in a previous time did some mistaken action and it’s coming around to me.” So getting mad at somebody else is totally useless because they aren’t the cause of it.

This is a big, huge, enormous step in Dharma practice, and it’s something that’s very difficult because our whole habitual tendency is when we’re unhappy, it’s somebody else’s fault, not my responsibility, has nothing to do with the way I think, it’s all to do with the external situation that’s caused by this other person or group of people. That worldview is such a dead end because we’re giving away our power. If our misery is due to somebody else, then it means there’s nothing we can do.

Well, the only thing we can do is complain. We complain, we whine, we talk badly about the other person. That’s all we can do as long as we make my happiness is somebody else’s problem, then that’s the only thing that’s left for me to do. Whine, complain, feel sorry for myself, say nasty things about that person behind their back. What does doing that get me? We’ve done that plenty of times, haven’t we? I have my PhD in complaining. Ever need somebody to complain, let me know.

But what does it get us? I think that a real big thing in our Dharma practice is realizing whenever I’m unhappy, and things aren’t happening the way I like, this is due to my own negative actions. Then the thing is, “What kind of negative actions must I have done to get this result that I don’t like?” So then we go back to the chapter about karma in the lamrim, or we read a book like Wheel of Sharp Weapons and we start to think about karma and the kinds of actions if you experience a certain result, what kind of action did you create. You get some idea of the kinds of actions you must have done, and then you have to say, “Have I stopped doing those actions?”

Then it gets really embarrassing because very often we’re still doing the same kind of actions that create the causes for the same kind of results that we don’t like. Then we have to go back and say, “Look, I’m experiencing a result that I don’t like, it’s due to this kind of action. If I really want myself to be happy, I have to stop doing this action because whenever I do this action I’m just putting more seeds in my midstream to experience more pain.”

That means that we start taking responsibility for our experiences, and what’s good about it is that then it means that we can change and we can do something. Whereas if we constantly make our unhappiness somebody else’s fault, then we make ourselves into a victim, and we feel hopeless and helpless, and then that doesn’t get us anywhere at all, does it? We take away our own power when we make ourselves into a victim. Whereas when we see that this is a result of our own karma, then there is something we can do and it wakes us up to cause and effect.
So, I think this is a very, very helpful thing. When somebody criticizes us, instead of: “Who do they think they are talking to me like that?” Just think, “Have I spoken disrespectfully to others? Have I criticized other people?” What do you think, have you? Yep! Is it any wonder then that that’s coming back to us?

When you consider the amount of times that you’ve criticized other people and you compare that to the amount of times you’ve been criticized, which is greater? Think about it. Which has happened more, you criticizing somebody else or somebody else criticizing you? The former, isn’t it? It’s like we criticize people every day. Do we get criticized every day? No, but if we watch our mouth we criticize people every day, say something nasty about somebody every day, like taking our vitamins. It’s not just one a day, many a day.

When we’re honest about that, then why am I so surprised when somebody criticizes me? Look at the way I talk about other people. Why am I so surprised? It becomes very clear, and so then it’s, “Well, I’ve got to change how I speak about other people.” “How can I expect everybody else to talk nicely to me if my mouth is criticizing them all the time?”

So whatever it is that’s happening that we don’t like in our lives, if somebody’s blaming us or criticizing us, if they got the credit on a project that we didn’t get and we’re jealous of them, or they have something nice that we don’t, or who knows what it is. If we just ask ourselves, “Have I done something similar to make somebody else unhappy?” Yeah? So this is a very good way, even if we’re in a bad mood, instead of just being in a bad mood and being depressed, and I’m in such a cruddy mood, a uhhhhhhhh, you know how we get.

Then to think, “Well, have I ever caused other people to be in crummy moods? Have I ever propagated my doctrine of crummy moods to other people, and inflicted them with my bad moods and stuff like that?” Well, no wonder I’m feeling this. So, I find this way very, very effective because it stops me from making myself into a victim and it gives me something constructive to do because you begin to see, “Ok, I have to act differently, and I have to think differently if I don’t want to keep creating the cause for this situation.” So, I think that’s a very helpful way.

So, there are a few minutes left,. Why don’t I open it up to questions now. We got through one sentence on fortitude and patience. Maybe you have some questions? Everybody has their eyes down now. Ok then, we’ll go onto the second sentence, and don’t you complain I didn’t give you a chance to ask questions. [laughter]

The second sentence is “Also, as he has no mental control and is helplessly overpowered by anger, becoming angry and hurting him would be inappropriate.” So somebody who is harming us, they don’t have any mental control. I mean, we know when we’re doing something off the wall, we have no mental control and it’s clear. If somebody’s really upset, whether they’re angry or grieving or full of frustrated attachment, or who knows what, they’re overpowered by their mental afflictions at that moment, and so they don’t really have control. They’re kind of like a crazy person in a way. If we were to get angry at them, then we would be a crazy person, too.

They have no mental control, and they’re helplessly overpowered by anger. So, I think that’s very helpful to think, instead of when somebody blames us, “Who do they think they are?” and “They’re always doing da-da-da-da-da”, it’s like, “Wow, this person’s unhappy, this person’s suffering.” They have no control over their mind, because we know that when there’s an unhappy feeling in the mind, that anger usually is the reaction to an unhappy feeling. So we look at our mind. Whenever there’s physical unhappiness or mental suffering, the mind usually goes to anger.

Here’s this person who’s harming me. They’re suffering about something because they’re getting so upset themselves, or even if that what they’re doing, they’re doing out of greed, why isn’t doing something cheating me out of greed, it’s because their minds are uncontrolled, and they think that getting this thing is really going to make them happy when it doesn’t. Somebody who’s out of control like that, who’s overpowered by emotion, becoming angry at them and hurting them, what purpose is that? It’s like if somebody is sick, what good does hurting them do? They’re already sick, they’re already hurting, they’re already miserable. Are you getting what I mean?

If we see the person who’s harming us as somebody who’s suffering, whose mind is out of control, how can we harm somebody whose mind is out of control? I mean shouldn’t we be helping them? Aren’t they an object to be helped, not an object to be harmed? If they’re overpowered by their own mental suffering right now, if it’s physical suffering, and that’s why they’re doing what they’re doing, aren’t they an object of compassion, not an object for me to beat up on?

So that’s why he’s saying that getting angry and retaliating is completely inappropriate. It’s like if somebody is already on the ground moaning in pain, why step on them? It doesn’t make any sense. To see the people that we might have some difficulty with, and see their own pain and their turmoil and how their minds are uncontrolled, and then we don’t feel angry at them and we realize that doing something back to them has no sense, no rhyme or reason at all.

If we stop ourselves from retaliating, we stop ourselves from having a lot of problems afterwards, because what happens when we retaliate? Do they just say, “Ok, thank you very much, you’re right?” [laughter] No, they don’t say, “Oh, you’re right, I’m going to do it your way. I love you now.” They say, “How dare you do that to me? I’m going to harm you more!” So, when we retaliate because we’re upset, we’re just making things worse for ourselves.

I remember when I was little, I don’t know if you ever had it happen with your siblings, picking fights? No, you never did that. I remember my parents saying, “Stop picking a fight.” At the time I said, “Well, I’m not picking a fight, he did something. He’s picking the fight!” But you can see that when we’re retaliating to somebody whose mind is uncontrolled, we’re kind of picking the fight. So why are we so surprised afterwards when they do something to us again? Because we’re just upping the hostility. Which, unfortunately, is what’s going on in the Middle East, this thing between countries, just everybody retaliating to everybody else, and it just creates more and more animosity.

We’ve done two sentences, but I think they’re very practical in daily life, don’t you? So really think about them well. I think it’s very helpful to not just wait until there are situations in which we’re upset to think about these, but to pull out of our mind situations that have occurred in the past, that still sometimes when we think about, we don’t feel at ease about them. We still feel some animosity toward somebody else. To pull these situations out, and in a nice, quiet, peaceful place think about them, but think about them in this way.

So to work with situations that happened in the past and practice resolving them in our meditation, and that helps us to release grudges from the past, and it also trains us in thinking in a different way so that when similar things happen in the future, we’ll think in a different way instead of just going into our old behavior patterns of “it’s somebody else’s fault, so therefore, I’m entitled to complain, and to whine, and to tell them off, and to retaliate and blah, blah, blah,” but we practice thinking in another way. So, let’s practice that this week. No complaints. [laughter] Only me, I’m allowed to complain.

Let’s dedicate.

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.