Being a modern-day Bodhisattva

This is the 3rd of 4 articles on our precious human life.

In Breathing for Peace Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

six perfections

Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

We could do something truly radical by using our life to become a friend of the world, a modern-day Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by universal compassion, wants to help everyone without exception find lasting freedom and happiness. Compassion fuels their entire spiritual progress. They understand that the most far-reaching and satisfying way to help others is to keep increasing their own good qualities of generosity, moral discipline, patience, joyful effort, concentration, and wisdom – the so-called six perfections – until they become an enlightened Buddha able to help everyone all the time. This motivation is called bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment.

A Bodhisattva is a rare being, a special person, an actual hero or heroine who gains victory over our real enemies of anger, greed, despair, discouragement and so on. Someone who wants to become enlightened for all living beings is uncommon, but just because it is rare doesn’t mean we can’t become one. There are people throughout the world working selflessly for others, in ways obvious or hidden. Sometimes we stumble across their stories and are inspired.  

Rick Chaboudy modernday Bodhisattva
Rick Chaboudy, modern-day Bodhisattva, savior of too many animals to count

If we decided we wanted to help others with surgical procedures, we would understand the need to train as a surgeon. We wouldn’t march around with a carving knife announcing, “Anyone care for some heart surgery? Or perhaps a little amputation?” Wanting to help everyone, a Bodhisattva knows they first need to improve their own motivation, skills and capacity. They have a way to make every single day meaningful and are a great role model for how to live in the world.

How can we live a meaningful life?

How does someone become a Bodhisattva? Simply through daily practice, one step at a time. You may be thinking, “Well this is a bit fanciful isn’t it?! I started reading this article just out of curiosity, and possibly to help me get through this stressful day without killing someone, and now you’re suggesting that I aspire to become a fully enlightened Buddha!” But it is far closer than we may think. We can tell that we already have the seed of bodhichitta because we already want to help others at least a bit more than we can right now, and we already want to improve ourselves at least a bit. Take both of these to their logical conclusion and we have bodhichitta – the wish to help everyone without exception by improving ourselves until there is no further room for improvement.

Modern Buddhism free book

We want our life to have some meaning, don’t we? Pleasure alone is not enough, it feels hollow, because it has no lasting value. True happiness and meaning go hand in hand. If we use our life to travel the spiritual path, we can be in the position of helping not just ourselves but infinite living beings. We can become real heroes.

Spreading a little happiness everyday

A friend of mine sent me this anecdote:

“Straight after university I spent a year working in television in London as a production runner for the Channel 4 comedy series The National Theatre of Brent. As a lot of my time was spent in gridlock, “driving” the company car on errands in London traffic, I had plenty of time to examine road rage. So frustrated by their lack of movement, drivers in front of me would honk their horns continuously, forcing their way into whatever gaps presented themselves. Yet an hour down the road, despite all their aggressive heart-attack—inducing attempts, I would see them again – a whole five cars further ahead!road rage

I decided to conduct an experiment. Whenever possible, I would allow a trapped car into the space ahead of me. When I did this, I was greeted by a smile and wave from the surprised driver, and that car would often play it forward, repeating the gesture of kindness to another car ahead of it. Traffic seemed to flow more easily as a result. My journeys did not take any longer, and they were a great deal more restful and entertaining. This is just a simple illustration. We have these kinds of opportunities to practice loving-kindness every day.”

By improving our love and compassion and the wish to improve ourselves for the sake of others, and by gradually engaging in the Bodhisattva’s way of life, our life approximates that of a Bodhisattva and we become more and more like one. With this good and big heart, even if we improve ourselves only a little bit each day by, for example, patiently resisting the temptation to get angry with someone, and even if we only slightly help one or two people each day, by, for example, helping a little old lady cross the street, every little bit counts a lot because right here and right now we are already making strides on a cosmic spiritual journey.

Martin Luther King and the power of love

This short article below appeared on Kadampa Life in 2011, but the blog was in its infancy so not many of you have seen it. Here it is again, to celebrate Martin Luther King Day today.

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A Kadampa nun gave the annual Martin Luther King lecture at Montana State University last Monday, speaking to about 400 students, professors and community members.

King proved power of love, nonviolence, speaker says

Martin Luther King Jr. achieved incredible changes in American law and society, yet it all sprang from what was within his mind, a philosophy based on love, compassion and wisdom, a Buddhist nun told a Bozeman crowd Wednesday.

Gen Varahi spoke in Washington DC, a breath of fresh air in a city known at the moment mainly for its partisan bickering.

Democrat or Republican, the only way to make a lasting difference in our world is to have a good intention — beginning, middle and end. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says in Mahamudra Tantra (page 9):

Wherever we go and whatever we do depends upon our intention. No matter how powerful our body and speech may be, we shall never be able to do anything if we lack the intention to do it. If our intention is incorrect we shall naturally perform incorrect actions, which give rise to unpleasant results, but if our intention is correct the opposite will be true.

As Gen Varahi, a former medical doctor, points out:

King was a hero, who led a movement that took America out of a “very shameful” position to one we can be proud of”… “We can be like Martin Luther King if we train our minds to react with compassion and wisdom…. King’s use of the practical philosophy of nonviolent worked. It showed us the power of love.”

I read last Sunday’s papers yesterday and came to my usual conclusion that the world is a mess.

Africa — disaster
Arab world — disaster
Afghanistan — disaster
American job situation — disaster

And that is just the A’s.

And why? We can point the finger at any number of external causes and conditions, and usually do. In politics different people point fingers at different causes, and then spend most of the time arguing about what they’re pointing at.

But the real causes are the delusions — i.e. unpeaceful, uncontrolled minds — of everyone involved. Anger, greed, ignorance, pride, hubris, hypocrisy, selfishness, the eight worldly concerns… These are all states of mind, nothing external.

Imagine if  they were replaced by love, generosity, wisdom, humility, straightforwardness, honesty, unselfishness, equanimity…?

“King realized that you cannot separate the ends and means”, Varahi said. “Over time, violent methods do not result in peace.”

(See the article for her reply on the efficacy non-violence in the face of violent dictators).

As my teacher Geshe Kelsang is fond of saying:

“Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.”

Atisha, the original Kadampa Teacher, said:

“Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.”

It might sound obvious when we see it, so why do we keep pointing the finger elsewhere when things go wrong? After all, whenever we point a finger, there are four fingers pointing back at us.

Wanted Dead or Alive!! (Our anger and other delusions…)

I wrote this some time ago, but it still seems particularly relevant in today’s climate.

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At 11.30pm last night I had just brought some friends home from the airport when we heard the news from President Obama that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Rejoicing broke out in streets all over the US.

I found myself starting to do a high five with one of my friends, but caught myself with hand in mid-air, wondering: “What am I actually high-fiving about?” Am I rejoicing here because a living being has been violently killed, and is that ever ok, even if a person is very deluded and has engaged in evil actions? Or am I relieved because I think the world is now a safer place? Or am I feeling satisfied because I think justice has been done? And are any of these points of view valid or not, and, if they are, are they still perhaps missing the point a bit? (Amazing what can go through your mind in just the few seconds it takes for an aborted high five!)

The brother of a 9.11 victim epressed this dilemma quite well when he thoughtfully said:

“Scenes of jubilation across the US should not be seen as people celebrating someone’s death but as a recognition that everyone feels that capturing or killing Bin Laden was something that needed to be done.”

Do you think killing is ever “needed to be done”? In Buddhism, if we take another’s life out of a deluded motivation such as anger, pride or attachment, then we create very bad karma. But there are times when killing can be done with a skillful motivation. For example, a story is told of Buddha Shakyamuni in one of his previous lifetimes as a Bodhisattva when he was the captain of a ship with 500 people onboard. With his clairvoyance he saw that one of the passengers planned on killing everyone, and to prevent this happening Buddha killed that terrorist – thus preventing the death of 499 people and saving the terrorist from creating some very terrible karma.

So, I hope that this is people’s motivation, to avert a threat to others and not to seek vengeance out of anger. Because, truthfully, the only real enemy of living beings is their delusions, especially their anger, of which vengeance is a part. At times like this it becomes clear to me whether I actually believe this or not. What happened on 9.11 was despicable and evil, and the suffering people experienced upon losing their loved ones all too terrible. Since then, others also have suffered grievously due to acts of terror and other violence. It is very easy to feel very angry about all of this. I can’t even imagine how hard it has been for those who have been directly affected and I will not pretend to speak for them. They have all my respect and deep sympathy. But from a Buddhist point of view, I want to know what is the best way to view all this, to deal with all this, so as to restore sanity and peace of mind?

Bin Laden’s body has been shot through the head, but have we killed his delusions, or ours? Have we destroyed his negative karma, or ours? If we have not, any respite will be temporary.

So what about the feeling of justice or closure, is that real? Also, what is the line here between justice and vengeance? Some people are saying they are experiencing some closure and healing today, and I am glad that they are experiencing any degree of relief from a painful ten years, they deserve it. But do the causes of complete and lasting closure and freedom lie deeper?

If the closure is based on vengeance, is that really closure? If it works, fine… but if it doesn’t? After people have been put to death in the electric chair, for example, you often read reports of the victims’ families saying it didn’t help as much as they thought it would and that they are still disappointed and angry. This is perhaps not surprising if we understand how anger functions — vengeance is part of anger and therefore can never bring peace of mind. Those who report having found peace and genuine closure, who are able to move on with their lives, are usually those who have managed to find forgiveness in their hearts for the killer of their loved ones, thinking for example “they know not what they do”. (This Christian teaching seems similar to me to Buddha’s teaching that people being victimized by their inner enemies of delusions and we cannot blame the victim for the fault of their enemy.) Forgiveness is part of love, and love is always a peaceful mind.

Buddhas never lose their love for anyone as they understand a very important thing about us: we are not our delusions. Geshe Kelsang says in Eight Steps to Happiness:

“Buddhas see that delusions have many faults but they never see people as faulty, because they distinguish between people and their delusions. If someone is angry we think, ‘He is a bad and angry person’, whereas Buddhas think, ‘He is a suffering being afflicted with the inner disease of anger.’….

It is because they distinguish between delusions and persons that Buddhas are able to see the faults of delusions without ever seeing a single fault in any sentient being. Consequently their love and compassion for sentient beings never diminish. Failing to make this distinction, we, on the other hand, are constantly finding fault with other people but do not recognize the faults of delusions, even those within our own mind.”

If I am ever in the incredibly difficult situation of having lost my loved ones to random, evil violence, I hope I will be able to remember this and forgive. I guess you don’t know until you experience it yourself.

As for “justice”, leaving aside the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have died since 9.11 in this pursuit of “justice”, how is justice actually served here, what is justice in fact? Is it eye for an eye, or turn the other cheek and love thy neighbor? The President of the Federal Law Enforcement, understandably upset, has drawn a line in the sand: “I would say ‘May God have mercy on his hideous soul’, but I don’t think he has one.” And, judging by news reports, even church leaders are conflicted about their reactions. One justified the killing:

“He who sheds man’s blood, by man his blood be shed.” (Genesis 9.6).

I have a question about this though: could this not be just as much talking about the law of karma rather than an injunction to kill?

Another said, “‘Turn the other cheek’ doesn’t apply here as it is to do with insult rather than self-defense.’ But isn’t there rather a blurry line between insult and self-defense when you’re being slapped on the cheek?!

Another said “terror attacks are not even in the category of forgiveness”; in which case what is?

To me, Buddha’s teachings on the delusions and karma make all this so much clearer. It doesn’t mean that choosing the right course of action is not agonizing (and who would want to be a politician in times like this?), but it seems to give some signposts such that we at least make sure we are motivated in the best possible way while we eliminate threats, and try not to be angrily blaming others for all our suffering.

I suppose what I’m thinking is that while it is of course a good idea to eliminate the threat of Bin Laden out of a desire to protect, we still should not be deceived into thinking that Bin Laden is the source of all our suffering and problems. Our actual enemies are the delusions. They are what I really want to capture dead or alive. Dead, ideally, but even if I capture them alive by recognizing them for what they are, I am also quarantining them.

As the famous Buddhist teacher Shantideva (AD 687-763) says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

“The inner enemies of hatred, attachment and so forth
Do not have arms and legs,
Nor do they have courage or skill;
So how have they made me their slave?

No other type of enemy
Can remain for as long a time
As can the enduring foes of my delusions,
For they have no beginning and no apparent end.”

I think its worth remembering that Osama Bin Laden may be temporarily incapacitated, but his mental continuum still exists and in future lives his negative karma and ours will continue to play out.

And in the meantime, while we all have uncontrolled minds and negative karma, how can we ever confidently say that we are safe from the horrors of terrorism? Al Qaeda may be weakened for now (though Bin Laden’s deputy Al-Zawahiri is ready to take over), but news reports say that “retaliation is expected” (wait for sad reports of more devastated families) and this is an “opportunity for other Islamic organizations to step up.”

I’m not trying to rain on everyone’s parade! But I have to say that I would prefer a more cosmic parade. Imagine if those scenes of rejoicing were celebrating the death of the real enemy of living beings, our delusions?! And the sense of  the country coming together – imagine if we understood that our real collective enemy was anger, attachment and ignorance, and we cheered every time someone somewhere succeeded in destroying these enemies?!

One 9.11 widow said: “My 12-year-old daughter will wake tomorrow to a safer world, hopefully a more peaceful world.” I hear her. This is what we all want for her child,  for everyone’s children. How wonderful it would be if we were moving faster in that direction by making effort to destroy the actual causes of danger and terror? As my teacher Geshe Kelsang says, anger is the real cause of the wars in which so many people have died.

If we don’t recognize the real enemies of living beings — the unpeaceful, uncontrolled states of mind that we call “delusions” — then we will make no effort to eliminate them. So by all means we should protect each other in practical ways as much as we can, with a good motivation, as Buddha did when he killed that terrorist; but not at the expense of ignoring the real enemies of all living beings. That is, if we are interested in a genuine or lasting peace and freedom, which we are.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The death of Osama Bin Laden has actually increased my resolve to help everyone, including all the victims of violence, by overcoming my delusions and becoming a powerful Bodhisattva ASAP. Shantideva can have the last word:

“Out of anger, worldly people who are filled with pride will not sleep
Until they have destroyed those who cause them even the slightest temporary harm.
In the same way, I will not abandon my efforts
Until this inner foe of mine is directly and definitely destroyed.”

Martin Luther King Showed the Power of Love

A Kadampa nun gave the annual Martin Luther King lecture at Montana State University last Monday, speaking to about 400 students, professors and community members.

King proved power of love, nonviolence, speaker says

Martin Luther King Jr. achieved incredible changes in American law and society, yet it all sprang from what was within his mind, a philosophy based on love, compassion and wisdom, a Buddhist nun told a Bozeman crowd Wednesday.

Gen Varahi spoke in Washington DC, a breath of fresh air in a city known at the moment mainly for its partisan bickering.

Democrat or Republican, the only way to make a lasting difference in our world is to have a good intention — beginning, middle and end. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says in Mahamudra Tantra (page 9):

Wherever we go and whatever we do depends upon our intention. No matter how powerful our body and speech may be, we shall never be able to do anything if we lack the intention to do it. If our intention is incorrect we shall naturally perform incorrect actions, which give rise to unpleasant results, but if our intention is correct the opposite will be true.

As Gen Varahi, a former medical doctor, points out:

King was a hero, who led a movement that took America out of a “very shameful” position to one we can be proud of”… “We can be like Martin Luther King if we train our minds to react with compassion and wisdom…. King’s use of the practical philosophy of nonviolent worked. It showed us the power of love.”

(Great article, hope you can read it all).

I read last Sunday’s papers yesterday and came to my usual conclusion that the world is a mess.

Africa — disaster
Arab world — disaster
Afghanistan — disaster
American job situation — disaster

And that is just the A’s.

And why? We can point the finger at any number of external causes and conditions, and usually do. In politics different people point fingers at different causes, and then spend most of the time arguing about what they’re pointing at.

But the real causes are the delusions — i.e. unpeaceful, uncontrolled minds — of everyone involved. Anger, greed, ignorance, pride, hubris, hypocrisy, selfishness, the eight worldly concerns… These are all states of mind, nothing external.

Imagine if  they were replaced by love, generosity, wisdom, humility, straightforwardness, honesty, unselfishness,  equanimity…?

“King realized that you cannot separate the ends and means”, Varahi said. “Over time, violent methods do not result in peace.”

(See the article for her reply on the efficacy non-violence in the face of violent dictators).

As my teacher Geshe Kelsang is fond of saying:

“Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.”

Atisha, the original Kadampa Teacher, said:

“Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.”

It might sound obvious when we see it, so why do we keep pointing the finger elsewhere when things go wrong?After all, whenever we point a finger, there are four fingers pointing back at us.