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Verse 105: The excellent action

Verse 105: The excellent action

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

  • Taking the goodness of the world into our own lives
  • Cultivating a strong mind for bodhicitta practice
  • Self-confidence rather than competition
  • Benefits of feeling happy at other people’s virtue and opportunity
  • How to consider karma

Gems of Wisdom: Verse 105 (download)

What is the excellent action that embraces every goodness?
Rejoicing from the depths of one’s heart in the goodness of self and others.

“What is the excellent action that embraces every goodness?” There are many excellent actions, but this one embraces every goodness. “Rejoicing from the depths of one’s heart in the goodness of self and others.”

It’s a way in which we take the goodness of the world into our own lives, by rejoicing. There’s a lot of good, there’s a lot of virtue, and we take it all into our lives by rejoicing that it exists, rejoicing that other people have this virtue and these good qualities, and so on.

It’s the antidote to jealousy and it also prevents jealousy. And jealousy’s very dangerous because it’s involved in hatred and revenge and all sorts of nasty emotions and nasty actions. Rejoicing protects our mind from jealousy.

It’s also a way to create an incredible amount of merit, just by feeling happy at what other people have done. So it’s really quite a wonderful practice.

Especially if we want to do the bodhisattva practice, we need to learn to rejoice. Because if you’re going to do the bodhisattva practice you have to have a strong mind, you have to have a lot of courage, you have to have an optimistic attitude, and so rejoicing at our own and others’ virtue gives us that inner strength, too, and it gives us that optimistic attitude.

Do you see how that works?

Because when you train the mind in rejoicing then you’re training the mind to see goodness everywhere. When we train our mind in picking faults then we see faults everywhere. When we train our mind in criticism we see criticism everywhere. Remember, pickpockets see the pockets. So to train our mind in rejoicing it’s like training the mind in kindness. Then our whole perspective on other people changes, because we’re seeing something good instead of seeing them as deficient or ourselves as deficient, or whatever.

And I think rejoicing (is) really very, very helpful for the mind. Uplifting for the mind and really freeing from envy and jealousy which is so poisonous. Because as soon as we’re jealous of somebody…. To become jealous it means you’re already competitive. So you’re competing with somebody and you’re seeing them as better than you, and not liking that at all. So the mind gets very unhappy. Then we say and do things to destroy the other person’s happiness…. Where does that leave us? If we get pleasure from destroying other people’s happiness. It doesn’t leave us in any kind of good space, and just makes the mind quite—and our whole life—very dark and ugly, with jealousy.

Whereas rejoicing, we see goodness all around. We see people’s virtue, and we’re happy that people create more virtue than we do. And we’re happy that people are better than we are. And so it pulls us out of that dynamic of always comparing ourselves with other people. Which is s deadly dynamic because if we come out better then we get arrogant, if we come out worse then we become jealous. If you come out equal then you’re still competing and self-centered. So no use spending our lives living like that. When we’re able to step back and have our own self-confidence just based on our own goodness and our own buddha nature, and then appreciate the goodness that other people have and appreciate their opportunities (even if we don’t have those opportunities).

I mean, we look at somebody and (cry), “It’s not fair! It’s not fair. They have an opportunity that I don’t have. It’s not fair.” These are the first three words that we learned as children. “It’s not fair.” After “mama” and “papa,” it was “it’s not fair.” But when we say “it’s not fair” it’s showing that at that moment we don’t really believe in karma and its effects. Because at that moment it’s like, “I should have a privilege or an opportunity that I didn’t create the cause for.” And somebody else created this cause but they shouldn’t have the privilege or opportunity. So I don’t really believe in karma at that time, that I created the cause for whatever is happening to me, and the other person did as well. So who are you going to go to complain to that it’s not fair?

Then the question may come up: well, what about systemic discrimination and systemic prejudice, is the remedy for that just to tell everybody who doesn’t have equal opportunity to just “go check on your karma?” Don’t complain to me, go check your karma. [laughter]

Clearly that’s not going to work at all. And that’s not the remedy to social injustice. We have to do something about social injustice. But in terms of our own selves and how we deal–even when we’re discriminated against unfairly–to really think “I created the cause to be discriminated against unfairly. And if I don’t like this result then I’ve got to treat other living beings better. And stop creating this kind of cause. And purify this cause. And rejoice at other people’s opportunities. And encourage everything that’s good in the world. Because karmically that’s going to purify the karma that’s interfering here much better than yelling and screaming and complaining will.

So then you go, well which? No, we need to do protest in society when things aren’t going well. We need to let things be known. But without anger. Without jealousy. And with accepting our own role in it. Our own karmic role for why we were born in the situation we’re born in.

Is this making some sense to people?

And then turn around and say, “Well, I don’t have that opportunity but some other people do. And even though it’s not fair, according to the constitution and my constitutional rights, still I created the cause to be in this situation. I’m glad somebody else has a good opportunity. I hope they use it well. And I can create the causes for the future. And I can treat other people fairly.”

Questions on that? Seeing both sides of the issue and how it can be a little touchy for people.

[In response to audience] If you have the guilt of having privilege, so you happen to be on the other side, and the discrimination is giving you privilege that normally—if everybody has equal opportunity in society, you shouldn’t have that privilege and that opportunity—and then feeling guilty about it…. And so instead of feeling guilty about that, and then instead of self-sabotaging ourselves, to again, treat everybody equally. Use whatever opportunity we have to make the world a better place

[In response to audience] When somebody says “oh there’s social injustice] that response isn’t “Well, that’s your karma.” Implication: shut up. That’s not how we use it. We use that for ourselves. But when in society there’s social injustice we step up and we do what we can to correct it.

[In response to audience] Yes, it’s very sobering and it takes the drama out of the situation. It takes the fire out of “But I Deserve…!” [laughter]

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.