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Verse 76: The most powerful army

Verse 76: The most powerful army

Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.

  • Fighting our external enemies only creates new ones
  • By cultivating an army of positive qualities, we can vanquish our afflictions and be truly free of enemies
  • Excellent spiritual qualities arise due to causes and conditions and take time to develop

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 76 (download)

What is the great army able to defeat any enemy?
The power within oneself of one’s own excellent spiritual qualities.

It’s interesting that they use these analogies of army and enemies, because the society we live in the army is always outside and so you have to have troops, and train your troops, and have lots of equipment, and go and defeat this enemy. But of course, as many of the enemy as you kill, the more people are upset and so become your enemy, and so the whole thing continues on.

It was very interesting. Venerable Jigme and I, a couple of days ago, watched this video about a healing retreat for veterans. And one of the men who was speaking—he was a Vietnam war veteran, although many of the people in the film were vets from the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war. Anyway, this guy said, “What I learned from being there was that I’m the enemy. Not that they’re the enemy. I’m the enemy.” Another person who was there got really upset when he said this, and said, “No, we were going there to fight, to defend our country. My job was to bring my unit home safely. I did that.”

One of the inmates I write to was commenting that so often religious leaders bless the troops so that they are victorious when they go off to battle. But then, what does that mean for the other people that are getting killed, who are also supposedly “children of God” according to those preachers. And you’re favoring some and you’re against others? That’s a little bit difficult.

Then I was also reading about one Japanese veteran from World War II, and his one conclusion that he wanted to share with the younger generation is once you know what war is the foremost thing you learn is you never want to do it again.

But we keep on, don’t we, when we’re fighting external enemies. Because external enemies never cease as long as we have anger self-centeredness in our heart. It’s only when we give up our own anger and our own self-centeredness and actually begin to genuinely care for others and take their feelings and needs into consideration that we stop making them into enemies.

What enables us to be a great army that defeats the internal enemy and stops the escalation of making other people into external enemies is the power within oneself of one’s own excellent spiritual qualities. So to have the power of our own excellent qualities.

These are qualities that we have to develop—that we are developing on the path. They’re qualities that arise due to causes and conditions. Because of that, if we create the causes and bring together the conditions these qualities will definitely arise.

In the push-button culture, of course, we want things to arise immediately. But things don’t work like. It takes time. And especially when we’re looking at reducing so many old, habitual, entrenched garbage mental habits that we have to overcome. And then really to nourish the fledgling good qualities that we have and give them the chance to grow and blossom.

It can definitely be done. And it takes some time. And the thing is to enjoy the process of doing it and not always be fixated on the result, looking at how far away we are from the result and making ourselves depressed. Because that’s not going to do any good. In fact, one of the excellent spiritual qualities is not discouragement and depression. And discouragement and depression actually prevent those excellent spiritual qualities from arising. So we really have to be quite attentive about that self-judgmental mind and stop it when it starts to arise because it’s part of what is to be abandoned on the path. So remember, don’t believe everything you think. Especially when these kind of thoughts come up. And instead, really believe—because it is true—that we can generate the excellent spiritual qualities limitlessly.

So let’s do it.

[In response to audience] Going back to the war analogy: the afflictions are this huge opponent enemy force coming at you and your army seems a little bit small in terms of excellent qualities. [laughter] But just as one individual can make a big difference in the course of the world, one instance of trying to reverse those habitual tendencies can be very, very powerful. And like I was saying the other day how we have a choice every moment about what we do, and taking this choice rather than that choice can really lead us in a good direction. So don’t negate the power of the small army against the huge hordes, because the huge hordes lack any reasonable foundation. They’re based on unreality. On falsity. Whereas the excellent good qualities are based on reality and benefit, so they definitely can overpower the others.

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.