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Working with difficult situations

Shantideva’s “Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds,” Chapter 6, Verses 35-51

A series of teachings given at various venues in Mexico in April 2015. The teachings are in English with Spanish translation. This talk took place at Yeshe Gyaltsen Center in Cozumel.

  • The fortitude of being indifferent to harm
    • If someone will harm himself to attain worldly success, he will be willing to harm others
    • How those who harm themselves are worthy of compassion
    • Why we should be angry with the affliction and not the person under its control
  • Contemplating our own misdeeds when undesirable events happen
    • Banishing blame by being clear about what we are responsible for
    • Interceding with compassion to stop harm
    • How to meditate on the teachings
  • Questions and answers
    • The importance of our motivation
    • Separating family life from attachment

We will continue with verse 35. We finished the sections about the fortitude of enduring suffering and the fortitude of practicing the Dharma, and now we’re going to talk about the third kind of fortitude: the fortitude of being indifferent to harm. Because when we’re harmed that’s often when we get really angry. It could be someone harming us physically or mentally.

Verse 35 says:

Through lacking conscientiousness, people even harm themselves with thorns and other things. And for the sake of obtaining spouses and the like, they become obsessed and starve themselves.

What this is talking about is how people often do things that harm themselves to get the things they want. So, the point we’ll come to in a few verses is that if people do that, if they’re willing to harm themselves to get what they want, then of course they will harm us, too. In other words, people’s confusion is that deep, and that happens. The examples here are about people harming themselves with thorns and things like that, but here are some modern examples.

I was just reading an article about the number of young people in the workforce who are taking adderall and other stimulants. They’ll take it when they’re in college so they can study more, and they’ll take it when they start working so they can work harder, but what happens is that it’s addictive, and by taking so much stimulant, they become quite anxious and can’t sleep. It wrecks their health. This is a good example of people harming themselves in order to get what they want, which is success in their career and money.

You can probably think of some other examples of people that you know who do harmful things to themselves to get what they want. This verse also gave the example of people trying to make themselves desirable to another person in order to gain a spouse. It says people will get obsessed and even starve themselves for this purpose. So, you don’t eat so that you can look thinner and more attractive; you do all sorts of crazy things to your body to make it more attractive. You might siphon fat off here and inject silicone in other places, and for what? 

Clinging to identity

We are what we are, and do we want people to like us for how we look or for how we are? Sometimes I’m invited to high schools to talk about Buddhism, so the kids always want to know why I have this marvelous hairdo. [laughter] And they want to know about my latest, stylish clothes that I wear every day. Can you imagine wearing the same clothes every day? Who does that anymore? And can you imagine having this hairdo? 

I tell the students that our robes are like a uniform so other people know the kind of work I do and how to treat me. And I tell them that cutting off our hair symbolizes our desire to cut off ignorance, anger and attachment. And we do this especially because our hair is one of the things we use to try to make ourselves attractive. If you’re a guy and you don’t have any hair, you try to get some. You want something to make that baldness go away! [laughter]

I tell the teens that I want in my life for people to like me for who I am inside, not who I am outside. So, I try and develop my inner beauty and if people like me for that then I know that it’s a firm friendship. Whereas if they like me for my external beauty, that’s going to stop because I’m getting older and uglier. What kind of friends do we want to have? And these kids are looking at me in shock: “Can you imagine someone who thinks like that?” They’re just shocked.

Having this hairdo has certain advantages as does wearing the robes because people can always find me in airports. [laughter] And I have to tell you, on the flight coming here, a woman came up to me and said, “I really love your hair!” She told me she was a hairdresser and that if she could wear her hair like this, she would. So, sometimes I get complimented on my hairdo, and sometimes I get complimented on my outfit, and sometimes when I go in the lady’s bathroom, people will gasp, thinking I’m a man. Or a flight attendant might say, “What would you like to drink, sir?” Or once in a while, someone will come up to me and say, “I understand, dear. When the chemo finishes, your hair will grow back.”

None of this bothers me anymore. [laughter] But let’s get back to our point here: instead of damaging ourselves in an attempt to be attractive, popular or successful, let’s develop a sense of inner contentment and make ourselves beautiful inside. Let’s also remember that if other people are willing to damage themselves for worldly success, then they will harm us, too. So, it’s not a big deal. 

The next verse says:

And there are some who harm themselves by hanging themselves, leaping from cliffs, eating posion and incompatible food and unmeritorious deeds.

This is just another example of how people, in their confusion, even harm themselves who they cherish more than anybody else. And then the next verse really emphasizes the point, and it says:

If, when under the influence of afflictions, people will even kill their treasured selves, how can they not cause harm to the bodies of others? 

So, if in their confusion they hurt themselves, then it’s not going to be a big deal for them to hurt us, too. People like that are definitely worth our compassion, aren’t they? Because somebody who harms themselves is really in dire straits.

Compassion for those who harm us

The next verse says:

Even if I cannot develop compassion for such people, who through the arising of afflictions set out to kill me and so forth, the last thing I should do is become angry with them.

It’s saying for people who are willing to harm themselves in this ignorant way, we should have compassion. But if we really can’t bring ourselves to have compassion for them, then at least we shouldn’t be angry at them. Because they’re totally overwhelmed by ignorance and afflictions as evidenced by their willingness to even destroy their own bodies. This is a good way to think sometimes when people harm us physically. 

Then the next few verses are about stopping the cause of these. That doesn’t mean stopping the other person; it means stopping our incorrect way of viewing the situation. The next verse is one of the very famous ones. It says:

Even if it were the nature fo the childish to cause harm to other beings, it would be inappropriate to be angry at them because this would be like begruding fire for having the nature to burn.

When it talks about the “childish,” it’s talking about us even though we’re adults. Because when compared to the highly realized beings whose minds have wisdom knowing the ultimate mode of existence, we are like foolish, childish beings. We don’t understand correctly what is the cause of suffering and what is the cause of happiness, and we think that happiness and suffering come from outside when in fact they come due to our own mental states and due to the karma that we create motivated by those mental states.

We’re like ignorant children in that way. This verse says, “Even if it were the nature of childish beings, like us, to cause harm to other beings.” It’s not our nature to cause harm to other beings, but even if it were our nature, it wouldn’t be correct to get angry at childish beings because that would be like getting mad at fire because it’s hot. Whereas if it’s something’s nature, it’s foolish to get angry with it because you can’t stop fire from burning. That’s what fire is. So, if it were our nature to be harmful, it wouldn’t be appropriate to get mad at other living beings who harm us. Does that make some sense to you?

Then the next verse says:

And even if the fault were incidental [even if it weren’t that person’s nature], in sentient beings of definite nature, it would be inappropriate to be angry because this would be like begrudging space for allowing smoke to arise in it.

So, this tendency to harm is not the nature of the person who is harming us, because that person has the buddha nature; their anger and bad behavior are temporary, and they can free themselves of those. So, if that is the case then it’s also inappropriate to be mad at them because it’s not their nature. And it would be like getting mad at empty space when smoke come in it. Smoke is not the nature of space, so why get angry at space for something that is not its nature?

These two arguments are quite astute because one part of our mind says, “Well, it’s just that person: that’s their nature, and they’re just a disgusting, despicable person.” But Shantideva says, “Well, if that’s the case there’s no need to get angry at them because that’s their nature, and you don’t get mad at fire for having its nature.” Then someone else says, “But it’s not their nature, so therefore I’m justified in getting mad.” And Shantideva says to that: “If it’s not their nature, again there’s no reason to get angry at them because you don’t get mad at space for smoke being in it when smoke is not the nature of space.”

You can see how our mind tries to find some justification for why our anger is needed. But either way we look at it, Shantideva refutes our reasoning. So, we’re sitting there stuck, holding our anger and not benign able to justify it at all. [laughter] But it’s actually good, isn’t? Because if we can’t justify it, we have to put it down. So, it’s very good to put that anger down.

Refuting justifications for anger

Verse 41 says:

If I become angry with the wielder though I am directly harmed by the stick and so forth, then since he, too, is incited by hatred, I should be angry with the two or with the hatred.

This is looking at another one of our justifications for getting angry. If I come along and whack you with something, do you get mad at the stick? No. Who do you get mad at? Me! Why? Because I’m the one who controls the stick. However, I am being controlled by my anger, by my hatred, by my belligerence, so actually, rather than being angry at me, you should be angry at my anger, hatred and belligerence. Just as you’re angry at me because I control the stick, you should be angry at my negative mental state that controls me.

Are you mad at my mental state? No. Then it doesn’t make any sense to be mad at me. So, if someone harms you physically, with some kind of tool or weapons, instead of getting mad at them because they control the weapon, you should get mad at the mental state that controls the person. If you’re not going to get mad at that mental state then it’s useless to get mad at the person because the person is being controlled by that mental state. It’s a good argument, isn’t it? Shantideva is quite sharp, and he can so easily see all our little ego rationalizations, excuses, qualifications. And he shoots them down one-by-one. So, we’re left with, “Okay, I’ve got to put the anger down.”

Taking responsibility 

In verse 42, we’re moving into a section where we’re contemplating our own misdeeds when undesirable things happen. This is what we’re talking about before: seeing that unpleasant situations arise due to our own negative karma.

Verse 42 says:

Previously, I caused similar harm to sentient beings; therefore it is right for this harm to occur to me who is the agent of harm caused to sentient beings.

It’s like I was saying before that I find this way of counteracting anger very, very helpful. Because why am I experiencing this? It’s because of the actions I did in the past. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I’m not a little angel. Even if it’s due to actions I did in a previous life that I don’t remember, I still have to accept responsibility for having done them. Because it was an earlier moment in the continuity of my mind that motivated that negative action. It doesn’t mean that we deserve to suffer, and it doesn’t mean that we blame ourselves, but it does mean that we can no longer blame others.

Actually, I think that the whole idea of blame should be banished altogether, because blame is too simplistic. It’s like attributing a very complex event to one cause. And nothing is due to just one single thing. We can be quite the extremist when it comes to that: “I did something so wrong that I made the marriage fall apart. It’s all my fault!” Really? That’s as bad as saying, “I had nothing to do with it. I was so sweet and innocent; it’s all his fault!” Things like marriages are complicated situations, aren’t they? And the thing is that in any situation we have to own what is our responsibility but not own what is not our responsibility. We childish sentient beings often do the opposite. 

You tell your child to eat well and dress properly so that they don’t get sick. But as soon as they’re out of the house, they eat junk food and dress however they want. And then you blame yourself if they get sick. Is that right? Is that justified? Can you control every single thing your child does? No. You did what was your responsibility in giving the correct instructions and making sure they left the house in good shape, but you can’t follow them everywhere they go to make sure they do this and not that, so they don’t get sick.

Taking the blame for that is not correct. That’s not our responsibility. But let’s say you don’t instruct your child properly because you’re too distracted wanting to have your own pleasure, and you’re running around doing all those things you like and not paying attention to the child. Then when the child gets sick you blame the other parent: “You should have told him to put on his jacket and stop eating junk food. It’s all your fault!” That’s an example of not taking responsibility for what is our responsibility, and the first one is an example of taking responsibility for what is not our responsibility.

It’s very important that we really sit down in situations and think clearly, “What is my responsibility in this situation. And what is something that I have no control over?” Because I can’t be responsible for things I can’t control. When we think like this it helps to clarify things in our mind because if we have responsibility and we didn’t take it, that is something we can change and improve. So, we do need to recognize that and change it. Whereas if something is not our responsibility, there’s no sense in blaming ourselves and getting very low self-esteem because that self-hatred actually impedes us from progressing on the path.

So, rather than blaming ourselves or blaming others, it’s better to talk about responsibility. Because blame is just thinking, “It’s all your fault,” but very seldom is a difficulty all the fault of one party. 

Then verse 43 says:

Both a weapon and my body are a cause of my suffering. Since he gave rise to the weapon and I to my body, with whom should I be angry? If in blind attachment I cling to this suffering abscess of a human form but cannot bear to be touched, with whom should I be angry when it is hurt?

Let’s say that somebody beats us. My pain when somebody beats me is due in part to the weapon they use to beat me, and it’s due in part to the fact that I have a body. That person has the weapon, but I have the body, and they’re both factors in my experiencing pain. So, who should I blame? What Shantideva’s getting at here is to question why we have a body that is so sensitive to touch and so receptive to pain. We took rebirth in this kind of body. What made us take rebirth in this kind of body? It was our ignorance. So, because we misunderstand the actual nature of reality, we crave existence in samsara, in this cycle of rebirth. At the end of our previous life, as we were approaching death, our mind said, “Ahhh! I’m separating from my body. Who am I going to be if I don’t have a body?” So then we started clinging and craving and grasping to have a body.

That made the karma that we created in a past life ripen. The karma ripening made this body appear very attractive to us, and so we headed for it and took rebirth in it. I know many of you haven’t heard this idea before; it really requires some thought and understanding. But Shantideva’s point is, why should we get mad at someone else for harming our body when it’s our fault that we took it in the first place? It’s kind of like if somebody damages your car. Part of it is due to the other person; they banged into your car. But you have the car to start with, and if you didn’t have a car, nobody could bang into it. [laughter]

When you think of it, the more we have, the more problems we have. When you have a car then you sometimes experience “car hell.” [laughter] Your car breaks down. And if you have a computer, you experience “computer hell,” and if you have a smartphone, you experience “smartphone hell.” I don’t have a smartphone. Can you imagine? [laughter] And you know what, I don’t want one. So, I am free from “smartphone hell.” [laughter] 

It’s really true that the more you have, the more problems you’re going to have with that stuff. I don’t have any children, so no “children hell.” I don’t have to deal with teenagers. [laughter] My mother used to say to me, “Just wait until you have children; then you’ll see what I went through with you.” So, I don’t have children. [laughter]

Shantideva, in another way, is saying that if we had practiced the Dharma in a really diligent way in another life, then we would have attained liberation in a previous life instead of getting born in this body. He’s kind of subtly saying, “If you want to avoid getting angry at people who harm your body in a future life, practice hard and attain liberation in this life.” He’s also saying, “If I’m so dumb that I cling to this body, if I’m so attached to this body that I can’t bear for it to be touched, who should I be mad at when somebody hits this body or causes it pain? I’m responsible for being so attached to this thing.”

Accepting versus complaining

Now, I’m not saying that we should hate our body. Because on one side it’s the basis of our having a precious human life, and we need this life to practice the Dharma. So, we need to take care of our body, keep it healthy, keep it clean, but going to the extreme of indulging in sense pleasure just makes us more attached to this body and then makes any pain we experience all the more intense. Have you met some people who when they’re sick they don’t complain and then other people when the smallest little sniffle comes, they just freak out about being so sick? Or there are some people who might break a leg and not complain about it and other people when their finger touches a thorn, they break down about how painful it is. They make everybody’s life miserable by complaining. 

I had one friend who when she didn’t feel well or something happened it was big drama. Even one time we were taking teachings from one of our teachers, and outside there was a room where we hung our coats and put our shoes. One day, I looked in there, and she was lying on the floor of the room with all the shoes and everything. I asked her what was wrong, whether she fainted or if something had happened, but she said, “No, I’m tired. I’m exhausted.” [laughter] She would pull these kind of things on people to get attention, or at least that’s my imputing a motivation on her. I’m not a mind reader. But she didn’t do that around me because I just ignored it when she did.

It’s a matter of having a healthy relationship to our body and taking care of it so that we can continue to practice the Dharma, but not being so attached to it that our preoccupation with our health and good looks and all these things becomes a hinderance to our practice. You meet some people that if they have to go one day without any protein then it’s like, “Oh, I went a day without protein! I feel so weak! I’m going to get sick!” And then I know people in India who very seldom have protein, and they never comment on it, and they’re not sick. So, we want to make sure that we have a proper relationship with our bodies. 

The people who are always complaining about their body, that’s where I need to practice patience—to endure their complaining. [laughter] Because I hate complainers. Why do I hate complainers? Because I am very astute in detecting complaints. [laughter] Because I make a lot of complaints. [laughter] You know how they say “sometimes you don’t like in other people a quality that you have?” This is one I have to own. And because I know the whole psychology of making complaints so well because I do it, I know what a bunch of nonsense it is,and I don’t want to put up with it in other people. [laughter] So, don’t complain to me. [laughter] But when I complain, you should listen and sympathize. [laughter] 

Creating the causes of suffering

Verse 45 says:

The childish do not want to suffer and are greatly attached to its causes, thus they are harmed by their own misdeeds. Why should they begrudge others?

So, childish beings, like us or the person who is harming us, don’t want to suffer, but we love creating the causes for suffering. What are causes of suffering? It’s greed and attachment, anger and belligerece. Do we let ourselves be overcome by those mental states, running around grabbing everything good for ourselves, being miserly and not wanting to share it, getting furious when people get in the way of our happiness? Yeah. So, we want happiness, but we just create so much negative karma. We’re like that and the people who are harming us are like that, too.  Because we sentient beings are harmed by our own misdeeds, our own destructive karma, then if somebody is hurting me and in the process creating a lot of negative karma—because they are extremely angry—then aren’t they harming themselves?

Here’s somebody who wants happiness who is harming themselves by getting angry and harming me. So, why should I get mad at them? It doesn’t make sense to get mad at somebody who wants to be happy and in their confusion creates the cause of suffering. That’s like getting mad at a child when they don’t know any better. Or it’s like getting mad at a child when they are overtired. When your kid’s overtired, what’s the use of screaming at them? Put them down and let them sleep. 

It’s the same kind of thing when other people harm us. In actual fact, that person, when they harm us, they’re actually creating the cause for their own suffering, and they’re making my negative karma that I created in the past get consumed. So, in one way of looking at it, I’m getting the good deal out of this. The negative karma that obscures my mind is getting used up, and if I don’t get angry then I don’t create any new negative karma. But this person who is harming me is creating a lot of negative karma, so if you look at it from the perspective of karma, that person is the one who is getting a bad deal. I’m getting a good deal. 

It’s an interesting perspective, isn’t it? But when you can think this way, you save yourself a lot of anguish. Whereas when we don’t think this way, then we just get so upset. And then when we’re upset, we do negative deeds to pay the other person back. And then in doing so, we create more negative karma to experience more suffering in the future. So, being able to abandon anger and keep a calm mind, even when people are harming us, cuts the cause of our own suffering.

Now, having said that, it doesn’t mean that we can’t defend ourselves. We can certainly try and stop somebody who is harming us, but we try and stop them without having anger as our motivation. Rather, we try to have compassion as our motivation. That is not easy to do, but if we practice diligently, eventually we’ll be able to be like that. For example, I’ve seen with my teachers, especially Lama Yeshe, how people love him. He was funny, he was loving, he was always smiling. But those of us who were his disciples and were around for awhile, also saw Lama’s other way of teaching us. I remember one time in particular when the Gompa was filled with newer students and a lot of us old students, and Lama Yeshe started talking about how foolish some of his students are. All the new people were just laughing because he had this way of making fun of us, but those of us who were his older students, we were not laughing. [laughter] We knew exactly who he was talking to and exactly what he was talking about. And he was scolding us quite severely.

But you can see that he was motivated by compassion. It wasn’t that he was angry with us. But in that particular situation, to get through to us, he had to speak quite directly. So, the point here is that you can have compassion and still intercede when somebody is harming you or somebody else. 

Verse 46 says:

For example, just like the guardians of hell and the forest of sword leaves, so this is produced by my actions. At what should I be angry?

So, there is one hell realm where you’re tortured by other beings and another hell realm where there are trees with leaves that are swords. Your loved ones are at the top of the tree saying, “Please come here,” but as you climb up, you get all cut up by the swords. So, what the verse is saying is that these horrible situations, even in other realms, are caused by our own destructive karma. So, why should we be angry at others? Whether it’s in another realm or this human realm, it all comes down to our having some kind of negative karma. So, rather than getting angry at the other person, we should reduce our own self-centeredness and apply the antidotes to our own afflictions so that we stop doing so many actions that damage others.

Verse 47 says:

Having been instigated by my own actions, those who cause me harm come into being. If due to this they should proceed to sentient beings’ hell, how am I not destroying them?

And I’m going to read the next two verses and explain them together. So, Verses 48 and 49 say:

By taking them as objects, I purify much negativity through fortitude. But in dependence on me, they will proceed to hellish suffering for a long time. I’m causing harm to them and they are benefitting me. Why, unruly mind, do you become angry erroneously?

So, what he’s saying is that because we created some negative karma in the past, that’s creating the situation where I can be harmed by another person. When somebody else harms me, and they create negativity, aren’t I in one way causing them harm? Because they are going to have a negative rebirth due to harming me. Now, this needs to be clarified. It does not mean that we blame ourselves for somebody else’s negative actions. Repeat that to yourself: it does not mean that we blame ourselves for somebody else’s negative act.

But, when we look at the situation from a certain perspective, because I created the negative karma in the past to be harmed now, that is in some way creating the external circumstance in which somebody else can harm me. So, since they are going to experience the result of their negative action they are doing with a bad motivation, then on account of me, they will experience a bad rebirth. When I say “on account of me,” it just means that I happen to be the object; it doesn’t mean that I am responsible for their bad rebirth. And then like we were saying before, them harming me is allowing me to purify a lot of my negative karma, but by harming me they are creating a ton of harmful karma that’s going to make them have a negative rebirth. So, that person is going to suffer, and we can’t just wipe our hands and say, “Well, they deserve it. That’s what you get for harming me; go to hell!”

It doesn’t mean that. But, from a karmic perspective, they’re benefitting me by helping me purify my karma, and they are creating negative karma. When you’re getting a good deal and they are getting a bad deal, it doesn’t make any sense to be angry at them. You don’t want to rejoice at the suffering they will experince later on either because what kind of person does that make use if we rejoice in others’ suffering? So, these verses that I’m explaining, these are things you should really think about. So, think about the logic, the reasoning, that Shantideva is using to come to these certain conclusions. Make sure you really understand correctly what he’s saying. Then remember a situation from the past where somebody harmed you and think like these verses describe. See if you can use them to calm your mind. Lot of times situations may have happened a long time ago, and we don’t think about them every day, but whenever we do think about them, we get really angry. Have you noticed that sometimes in your meditation?

You’re sitting in the room and it’s quiet and peaceful, you’re with people you trust and like, then all of a sudden you remember what your brother or sister said to you many years ago, and suddenly there’s anger. And you spend the rest of the meditation session ruminating on the situation with your judge, jury and prosecutor, trying your brother or sister, giving them the capital punishment. And then at the end of the meditation session you hear the bell and you go, “Oh, they’re not here. My brother and sister aren’t even here. Who am I so furious at? They aren’t even here! They aren’t even saying those things to me right now.”

It’s incredible, isn’t it, how mad we can get over things that aren’t happening? So, instead of ruminating, take out one of these methods that Shantideva is teaching us and think according to that so that you can let go of the anger that you have for something that happened in the past. Makes sense, huh? Because if we don’t do that, and we spend the whole meditation being angry, and then somebody says, “Let’s now dedicate the merit,” what are you going to dedicate? [laughter]

How to use Shantideva’s methods

When you apply the antidotes to your own unruly mind, that is real, genuine Dharma practice. All this other stuff we do—prostrations, mandala offerings, saying mantra, visualizing this and that—the purpose of all those things is to help us subdue our afflictions. When you’re actually involved in subduing your afflictions, by applying these methods that Shantideva’s teaching, that is genuine Dharma practice. And it’s much better than just chanting mantra when you don’t have any particular motivation and your mind is wandering throughout the universe.

You’re not taming your mind when you’re chanting mantra but really just falling asleep or thinking about other things. [laughter] That’s not Dharma practice. When you’re really identifying and combatting your own mental state, that is when you’re really practicing. And you don’t need a mala, and you don’t need to advertise to everybody else: “I am practicing the Dharma by applying Shantideva’s method, so I don’t get so angry at you!” [laughter]

We do our practice internally but really change our mind. In the next two verses somebody is making some objections to what we just said, and then Shantideva is counteracting them. So, the objections may be raised by our negative mind.

The power of fortitude

Verse 50 and 51 say:

If I have the excellent quality of thought, I will not go to hell. If I am protecting myself, how will they accrue merit here? Nevertheless, should I return the harm it will not protect them either. By doing so, my conduct will deteriorate and hence this fortitude will be destroyed.

So, in response to what we just talked about—being sent to hell—somebody says, “With others’ negativities acting as conditions, I will also go to hell.” In other words, “This person is harming me, so I’m going to go to hell because they are harming me.” The implication here is that it’s because I’m getting angry. So, Shantideva says that if I have fortitude and think that this person harming me is actually benefitting me, then I will not create any new negative karma and thus will not be reborn in the hells. 

Before we said they will go to hell because of the condition of harming us, and here we’re saying, “Also, I’m going to go to hell because they’re harming me, so I’m going to get angry.” So, you see, it really is their fault that I’m going to go to hell. Shantideva is saying that is not the case; you can’t blame the other person. Because if you practice fortitude right now, you’re not going to create negative karma and be born in the hell realms.

 Then, somebody raises the objection: “Well, if that’s the case, then the other person’s not experiencing the result of my negativity and he’s benefitting me. He helps because he’s benefitting me. He’s doing something good by beating me, kicking me, insulting me. He’s helping me purify my karma, so he’s not going to go to hell because of that.” And Shantideva responds, “If I am protecting myself from negativity by cultivating fortitude towards the person who is harming me, that person is not creating any merit from that.” Because without creating any virtue they are only creating harm from what they are doing. So, in the end, they will be the one who suffers the most. 

Otherwise, we could make up the excuse of, “I’m going to irritate and bug you so that you will get angry, but because you’re getting angry is helping me to purify my negative karma, then you are creating virtue. So then, it’s okay for me to bug you and irritate you.” Do you see our crazy kind of logic? Shantideva is cutting it. In addition, if I retaliate against the person who is harming me, it doesn’t protect them from a lower rebirth. In fact, I create the cause for a lower rebirth myself because my practice of fortitude has deteriorated. In the fact of somebody harming me, I just harm them back. 

There’s a little bit more to this verse, but I’m not going to tell you the rest now because then you have to listen to future teachings. [laughter] And if you don’t watch, I’m going to be so mad. [laughter] 

Questions & Answers

Audience: [Inaudible]

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): I think it has a lot to do with our motivation. One action can be done with very different motivations. So, you can design something beautiful with the motivation of attachment, thinking, “I will be famous,” or “I will look beautiful and then people will look at me. I will get some ego gratification from that because I’m going to be more beautiful than her.” Or you can do something that is artistic and beautiful with the motivation to bring happiness and delight to other people’s minds. It hinges around whether we’re looking for ego gratification or not.

Audience: Is there an idea of family in Buddhism?

VTC: Yeah, of course. Most Buddhists are people with families. Even those of us who become monastics still came from families. [laughter]

Audience: How do you separate family from attachment?

VTC: It’s challenging! [laughter] Lots of times we confuse love and attachment. The more you love your family, the happier family life you’ll have. The more you’re attached to your family, the more you will have unrealistic expectations and when your family members don’t meet your expectations, then you’ll have unhappiness. So, the more you can shift your mind towards loving them—meaning just wanting them to be happy—without putting so much “Me, I, My, and Mine” on them, the happier you’ll all be. Because as soon as we put that one them, it becomes a problem.

Audience: I’m a lawyer, and I deal with divorce a lot. What kind of advice can you give me for clients who are going through divorce, espeically when children are involved.

VTC: I think it’s very important to affirm to both parents that they really love their children, and their kids are really important to them in their lives. So, since they really care about their kids and want what’s best for them, then even in the case of divorce, it’s important to be as harmonious as possible. Because when the parents quarrel, the children pick up on it. And especially if one parent holds a grudge against another parent and they use the child like a weapon to hurt the other parent, that is so horrible and confusing for the children. So, I think you need to say this directly and really affirm to the parents: “You love your kids, and you want the best for them. So, as much as possible, don’t hold grudges against each other and really try and communicate well so you have common values as you raise the kids.”

Audience: Are we all born with buddha nature? And you talked earlier about people who as children are raised in negative environments that influences their behavior, but some children without those negative environments still seem to have a lot of negativity. What would you say about that? 

VTC: They’re carrying on habits from previous lives. Because all of you who are parents know that your children do not come in as blank slates. They come in with personalities and habits, don’t they? So, they are bringing certain things from previous lives. 

Audience: Dos everybody have buddha nature?

VTC: Yes, everybody does.

Audience: You spoke before about things not having their own essence, their own nature, but for example, we talked about fire having the nature of burning. So, we have this human nature. Is that something transitory or permanent?

VTC: There are two different kinds of nature. One is the conventional nature and one is the ultimate nature. On the conventional level, fire is hot. The conventional nature for humans beings is that we have a mind that can progress and be transformed into a buddha’s mind. In terms of the ultimate nature, nothing exists independently as a self-enclosed entity. Everything exists dependent on other things.

Audience: So, everything changes?

VTC: Yes, in terms of functioning things, yes; they change. 

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.