Part of a series of talks on Gems of Wisdom, a poem by the Seventh Dalai Lama.
- Recognizing that the enemy is not outside ourselves
- Importance of learning the antidotes to the afflictions
- Applying the antidotes
Gems of Wisdom: Verse 76 (download)
What is the great army able to defeat any enemy?
The power within oneself of one’s spiritual integrity and character.
What they’re translating as “spiritual integrity and character” is a Tibetan word (yun ten) that means excellent qualities, good qualities, realizations. the kind of things that you develop on the path.
“The great army able to defeat any enemy. The power within oneself of our own good qualities.” This is coming from recognizing that the enemy is never outside. We don’t need an external army to fight with anybody else. And that’s why Shantideva in Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra said instead of covering the earth with leather (or nowadays with asphalt) put on a pair of shoes. In other words, if you protect your own mind then wherever you go you can be happy and it doesn’t matter what’s going on around you. That really comes from this whole worldview that our problems are not external. And that problem solving doesn’t involve being Mr. or Ms. Fix it of all the external problems, and rearranging the world. But that this is a psychological, or a spiritual thing that’s going on that involves needing to change what’s inside here [the heart]. Because the thing is, as long as we have anger in here we will find enemies to get angry at. As long as we have craving [in the heart] we will find objects of attachment that we glue ourselves to. So the real solution for the problem is changing what’s [inside], not rearranging the rest of the world. Because the thing is, wherever we go our mind comes with us.
It would be kind of nice if when you arrive at US Immigration if they said, “Sorry, your attachment cannot enter. Your anger and your jealousy and your pride, we’re putting them on a plane back to wherever you came from. They can’t enter the country.” These are the things you really need visa stamps on. [laughter] “Refuse! Refuse!”
But the problem is that these things come with us everywhere we go. And so the only real way to deal with them is to deal with them inside of ourselves. Because no matter where we go they’re coming with. If we don’t really deal with the root of the problem…. It’s like out there in the garden with the knapweed. If you don’t get the roots of the knapweed it’s just going to grow again. So same thing here.
I think it’s quite interesting “an army that defeats every enemy.” It’s not that there’s still something left to be destroyed outside after you’ve attained liberation, because once we’ve realized emptiness then we can eliminate all the enemies once and for all, and they can no longer arise.
In the meantime, because realizing emptiness can take a little bit of time, it’s not so quick, cheap and easy, then we have to learn the other antidotes for all the other afflictions. So for there, there are individual antidotes for each affliction.
In addition to learning what the antidotes are we also have to learn how to identify the afflictions when they’re in our mind. And this is a tricky thing because we’re so habituated, when our mind is unsettled, with thinking it’s outside, that we don’t recognize our own mind is under the influence of afflictions. So there might be a whole lot of emotional turmoil inside, we don’t recognize it at all. In the meantime afflictions are bubbling up, and then they’re turning into actions, and we’re elbowing everybody and yelling at them and doing our usual circus routines. Which is what we do when we’re unhappy.
We have to learn to identify these afflictions when they’re in our mind. Then also remember the antidotes. Then apply the antidotes. Because I also see what happens…. You know, some people have trouble, they can’t identify the afflictions in their mind. Somehow when they grew up they never learned the words to describe their own internal experience, so it’s hard for them to identify what’s going on inside. So they have trouble recognizing the afflictions. Other people don’t have that trouble, they recognize their afflictions. “Yes, I’m angry. You’re wrong, I’m right. Change!” But they don’t apply the antidotes. So it’s not just a question of knowing the antidotes and having a lot of notebooks full of antidotes, but then when you have a problem you’re left standing there going “Ahh, what do I do? I don’t know what to do! I’ve been going to Buddhist teachings for how long and now I have a problem and I’m like ‘AHH.'” That comes from really on a daily basis not practicing the lamrim and becoming familiar with the antidotes. Because if we become familiar with the antidotes, and then when we recognize the afflictions, then we pull out the antidotes and apply them, then after some time they will work. The antidotes don’t always work immediately because our old ways of thinking are very deeply implanted in our minds. So we need a lot of familiarity again and again and again with the antidotes. But if we do that then definitely our mind starts to change. Why? Because causes produce effects. And when you create the causes of remembering a realistic perspective, then over time that becomes more ingrained in you, and that realistic perspective comes more naturally. And even in the times when you might forget it, you can renew it very quickly, so your mind settles down.
Instead of building tanks and all this kind of stuff…. Anti-aircraft things and submarines…. I think we need to build our own inner strength.
I remember one of my Dharma friends was saying, “Dharma is really about character building.” And I think it is. It’s about building our character. Building our inner strength. So let’s get on with it.