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Home > Daily Practice > Vows and Commitments > Introduction to the Pledged Bodhicitta Actions for Training and the Root Bodhisattva Vows > Session Six: Vows Eleven to Eighteen. Transgression of Vows

Introduction to the Pledged Bodhicitta Actions for Training and the Root Bodhisattva Vows

Alexander Berzin
Moscow, Russia, October 2009

Session Six: Vows Eleven to Eighteen. Transgression of Vows

Unedited Transcript
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We’ve been going through the bodhisattva vows. We have covered ten of the eighteen and we’re up to number eleven. And what we want to avoid with this one is teaching voidness to those whose minds are untrained. And this is talking about teaching the deepest level of voidness specifically to somebody with a bodhichitta motivation who’s not ready to understand this teaching, who would become confused and frightened by it, and consequently would abandon the bodhisattva path and pursue merely their own personal liberation. So this is quite specific. In the explanation it says such a person might think that voidness means that nobody exists. And so they would think: if nobody exists why bother to try to benefit anybody else? So they would just pursue their own liberation.

We can understand this explanation in terms of not only Madhyamaka, but also with Chittamatra. Because with Chittamatra, people might – let’s say somebody who’d get confused by this – so somebody might get confused about the Chittamatra teachings on voidness, and think that everything exists in your head, there’s no reality at all except in your head, in your mind. And so other people just exist in my mind, so they really don’t exist, so why should I bother trying to help them? And of course with Madhyamaka they might think that nothing exists at all. But this action also can include teaching voidness to anybody who would misunderstand it and therefore would forsake the Dharma completely. For example, they might think that because Buddhism teaches that nothing exists at all, it’s complete nonsense. So it’s important to try to give certain background to the teachings, lead people gradually, and if we’re going to teach about voidness, teach it in very simple terms that would not cause people to get confused or get the wrong idea. This is really very difficult because, unless we have extrasensory perception, then it’s very difficult to know whether or not somebody is going to understand what we explain or if they’re ready to understand.

But if we look at various texts that have been written, the great Indian masters (Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, etc.) wrote many various texts on voidness and they were certainly following the Mahayana path; and His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches about voidness all the time to very large audiences. So are they violating this bodhisattva vow is the question. Are they teaching voidness to somebody whose mind is untrained? And that’s a difficult question, but one thing that is perhaps helpful here is to realize that the way that they are teaching it is so complicated and difficult to understand that those who are not ready to be able to understand it won’t understand anything. So it’s not that they will get a wrong idea, they will just get the idea that “I can’t understand this.” So if we’re teaching to somebody individually then of course we can always check and see what their understanding is. But when we’re teaching in larger groups, that’s much more difficult. But you can see from the way that the major explanation of this is given, that the point of this is that we’re talking about somebody with bodhichitta motivation already, that the teaching of voidness would cause them to give that up.

Then number twelve is turning others away from full enlightenment. And again the object for this action are people who have already developed a bodhichitta motivation and are already working toward enlightenment. And we tell them that they are incapable of acting all the time with generosity and patience and so on. And we discourage them and say you can never become a Buddha, that it’s much too difficult, and it would be better for you to work merely for your own liberation. But unless they actually turn away from working toward enlightenment, this action is not complete. As a bodhisattva we are trying to help everybody reach enlightenment, so we don’t want to cause others to turn away from that.

Then number thirteen is to turn others away from their pratimoksha vows. And this is referring to any level of pratimoksha vows for individual liberation, whether they’re a layperson or monk or a nun. So the object here is somebody who is keeping one of these sets of pratimoksha vows and we tell them there’s no use as a bodhisattva to do that, because for bodhisattvas all actions are pure, anything is okay. And for this downfall to be complete, they actually have to give up their vows. Obviously the foundation for being able to reach either liberation or enlightenment is keeping some level of pratimoksha vow. There’s a similar secondary vow which is called forsaking the shravaka or Hinayana Vehicle.” And here we think or we tell a bodhisattva that there is no need to listen to teachings from the Hinayana vehicle, and that’s referring specifically to the teachings on pratimoksha vows from the Hinayana vehicle, or we tell them there’s no need to uphold this or to train in it. And that’s enough for this secondary vow; there’s no need that they actually give up the vows. It’s the root vow that is if they actually do give up their vows.

Some people think that bodhisattva vows are enough, or they might even think that tantric vows are enough – you don’t need bodhisattva vows or pratimoksha vows. And on this, Tsongkhapa is very strongly against that. And Tsongkhapa always finds various sutras and so on to support the position that the pratimoksha vows are essential for achieving liberation or enlightenment for any practitioner, some level of them, and pointing out that Buddha emphasized this very much. So, in general, avoiding various types of, at minimum, avoiding the various strongest types of destructive behavior, like lying and stealing etc., is very important.

Then the next one, fourteen, is belittling the shravaka vehicle. Shravaka vehicle is another name for the Hinayana vehicle. So with the sixth root downfall bodhisattva vow, we repudiated that the text of the Hinayana vehicles are the authentic words of a Buddha. Here we accept that they are the words of a Buddha, but we deny the effectiveness of practicing the teachings that are in them. We maintain that it’s impossible to rid ourselves of disturbing emotions by means of their instructions. So this is something that could easily happen. We have nowadays available in so many different places vipassana courses, which are basically coming from the Theravada tradition, and as a Mahayana practitioner we might say that these are ineffective, and make fun of them, and say this is ridiculous to practice them. They’re not going to help you to overcome your disturbing emotions – what use is it just sitting and watching your breath? But I think the problem here is that we don’t usually go more deeply into these teachings. We just look at them very superficially and dismiss them, and we don’t look at the whole context in which they are practiced and the whole series of meditations that they lead to. So one has to be really very careful about having these negative attitudes towards other practices, particularly about the practices taught in the Hinayana vehicle. The Mahayana vehicle builds on all the teachings of Hinayana. It just adds some more. So there’s always a big emphasis on showing respect for the Hinayana teachings, and so on, although among the secondary vows we find that we also are not going to spend all our time on these Hinayana methods when we have Mahayana methods for the same thing.

And when we have injunctions like not to spend more than seven nights among Hinayana practitioners, again we have to understand that correctly. We’re talking about those who are working for their own enlightenment only, not caring about working for others, and who would make fun of our Mahayana practices or tantra practices, and try to discourage us and tell us how stupid it is what we’re practicing: “This is not Buddhism.” And if we spend a lot of time with them they might cause us to give up our practice. But of course there are many Theravada and other type of – well Theravada’s the only Hinayana tradition that’s present today. There are many Theravada practitioners who certainly do not have that type of attitude toward Mahayana practices. And so that guideline is not referring to such practitioners, such Theravada practitioners.

So we can see a general theme here that if we as a bodhisattva, or potential bodhisattva, are working toward our own enlightenment and the enlightenment of everybody else, we don’t want to get into a situation in which we might be influenced to turn away from that, and we don’t want to cause others to turn away from that goal – either by specifically telling them to turn away, or teaching them something that might cause them to turn away from working for enlightenment.

Number fifteen is proclaiming a false realization of voidness. This is referring to a situation in which we have not fully realized voidness; nevertheless, we teach it pretending as if we had, because of being jealous of the great masters. The great masters are teaching it and probably teaching it correctly and we’re jealous of that. So although we don’t understand it, we act like a great master and pretend that we understand it. And the people to whom we give this false impression, that we understand voidness, when we’re teaching them they have to understand what we explain, and whether they are fooled by our pretense or they realize that we’re bluffing makes no difference. So they might think, oh, we’re really great, we really understand it. Or they might think this person is an idiot just pretending to understand. It doesn’t make any difference here. If they don’t understand or they can’t hear our explanation, then our action is incomplete.

So this refers specifically to saying false realizations of voidness. It’s clear that we need to avoid the same thing regarding bodhichitta or other points of the Dharma. Don’t pretend that we actually have full realization of it and teach it as if we did when we don’t, because we’re trying to help everybody to enlightenment so we’re giving them incomplete or false information. But there’s no fault in teaching voidness when we haven’t fully realized it, as long as we admit that and say. “I don’t really understand it fully – but from the level which I understand it now, this is what I think it means.” And that is perfectly fine as long as we’re not pretending something that’s not true.

So even His Holiness the Dalai Lama will say, “Well, I don’t really fully understand this, and so on, but this is what I understand now.” It’s really very wonderful to witness His Holiness teaching some of the most difficult texts on voidness. Sometimes he will reach a certain verse and he’ll say, “I don’t really understand this.” And he’ll say this commentary says this and that commentary says that, but it doesn’t really make sense, and then he will ask the most learned Geshes or Khenpos in the audience around him what they think it means (Khenpo is the title equivalent to Geshe in the non-Gelugpa systems). And those who are brave enough to speak up say something. Sometimes His Holiness will call upon them individually, by name, and then they have to say something, even if there are twenty thousand people in the audience, and then His Holiness will usually start debating with them and say, “Well, but that can’t really be what it means because of this, that, and that.” And then he’ll ask somebody else, because often what happens is that the various textbooks that are used in the different divisions of the monasteries have different interpretations.

I remember that there was one discussion that occurred like that in the teaching His Holiness gave about Buddha-nature, about what things are included in which type of Buddha-nature and the way that certain terms were used; this was very unclear. And after this big discussion with the most learned lamas there, they actually didn’t come to any conclusion. But what is very clear from this example is that His Holiness never pretends to understand something when he doesn’t, and it gives you a great deal of confidence that everything else, he actually does understand. This is quite amazing when he gives an oral transmission of a text in which he reads it at super-fast speed, and going through the thing, be going super speed, and then all of a sudden he’ll stop because he’s gotten to a point of something he didn’t understand and then he will ask these questions to the people around him. And it’s unbelievable that they can even follow the place in the text where he is because His Holiness is reading it so quickly, but amazingly enough they are able to answer. So even though His Holiness is reading at super-fast speed, he’s obviously also reading with understanding. This is very, very impressive, I must say.

Number sixteen is accepting what has been stolen from the Triple Gem. And here – remember we had the root vow of not stealing or causing somebody else to steal anything that’s offered to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – but here we’re accepting as a gift or an offering, or accepting as our salary or reward, and we have to do this either personally or through somebody else. And here it includes if it belongs not only to, as in the other root vow, it belonged to four or more members of the monastic community, here it could belong to only one, two, or three monks or nuns, as well.

Now I haven’t seen an explanation for this, as to whether or not we need to know that it was stolen from the Triple Gem, but I would imagine that we would need to know that. And obviously if later on we find out, we would certainly try to give it back. So again we could ask why is there so much emphasis on this point of not stealing from the Triple Gem; but, if we think about it, money, the things that are given to further the Dharma, say printing, translating texts or to making monastery statues, feeding the monks and nuns – all of this is intended to help provide the circumstances for others to attain enlightenment. And so we certainly don’t want to – as an aspiring bodhisattva practicing the bodhisattva vows – to do anything that would take away the opportunity for others to reach enlightenment.

Then number seventeen is establishing unfair policies. And this is referring to acting with a certain type of bias or prejudice. There are some very serious practitioners and we don’t like them, or we’re angry with them, and we take something away from them, or treat them unfairly in favor of those with lesser attainments because we are attached to them.

So the example that I’ve cited is that we feel threatened by meditators at our Buddhist center, and we look at the Dharma center primarily as a place for social events; we go there to be with our friends who have similar interests. And somebody makes a donation to the center, and instead of using it to build a meditation retreat facility we use it to make a tea lounge, a coffee lounge, for people to relax after the teachings and meet socially. So this is what this is referring to: establishing an unfair policy. In other words, we should certainly try to cater to and emphasize those who are really serious students and practitioners, and put our efforts to helping them rather than not helping them and helping instead those who are not serious at all: they just come for social purposes. They just turn to Dharma because it’s so nice, and so on, as opposed to really working hard to achieve liberation and enlightenment.

But notice that motivation is indicated here, that we don’t like, or we feel threatened, or we’re angry with these more serious students, because maybe we feel uncomfortable that they’re trying and doing so much and we’re not doing very much at all in our study and practice. And we’re more attached to the casual students, they’re more our friends, they are nice to be with and drink coffee and tea together with, so we put all our efforts into them at the expense of the more serious students. Okay? If we think about this, we can find many examples like that in the monasteries as well: putting more emphasis on using the money to build a guest house for visitors in the monastery rather than using it to improve the education, for example.

And then last one is giving up bodhichitta. And this means to give up the wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all. And remember we had two levels of bodhichitta: aspiring and engaged bodhichitta. The wishing or aspiring state was to wish to achieve enlightenment for benefiting others; and the engaged state was taking the bodhisattva vows and actually engaging in the practices. And this is referring to giving up the first of these, the aspiring or wishing state of bodhichitta, because if we give up the wish to achieve enlightenment to benefit others then of course we would also be giving up the latter, of keeping the bodhisattva vows, etc.

Okay, so that’s the list of the bodhisattva vows of the various things that we’re going to avoid. Some people might complain and say, “Oh, there are so many rules, so many things to follow, it’s too much.” But a clear example that we are capable of keeping a whole set of regulations in our mind is driving a car. There’s a whole set of laws that we need to follow in driving a car; and how to actually drive the car is actually extremely complicated. And in most countries you have to study the rules of the road and pass an exam in that before you can get a license to drive; although obviously in some countries you can just pay a bribe and get the license. We won’t mention names. But once we’ve learned them, you do keep them in mind while you’re driving, hopefully, and we are capable of watching our behavior and stopping at a red light or a stop sign, and turning into the correct lane, and all sorts of things. Obviously there are some people that don’t do that.

I notice something here in Moscow with the tremendous traffic jams that made me laugh. It was very similar to what we see in India when there’s traffic jams, which is when one lane that you are in is completely full and it’s stopped and not moving at all, I noticed one or two cars going over into the wrong lane that’s going in the other direction and driving in that lane because there was less traffic. But most people in most countries follow the rules of the road. I go quite often to Mexico and there they have a very funny saying. They say a red light is only a suggestion.

But the point of all this is that there’s no reason to complain that there are all these various vows and so on. They’re extremely helpful. And in the Gelug tradition, at least, there is something called the Six-Session Yoga, which if you receive an empowerment, an initiation in the highest class of tantra, one of the practice commitments is to recite this each day six times, and as part of it you recite these vows, so it helps us to remember them – unless of course you do it so quickly that it just becomes “blah-blah.” But, in any case, if we have not actually memorized these, which is what a Tibetan would do, we need to remind ourselves over and over again what they are, so that we remember them. Okay?

So before we go onto our discussion of how we might weaken or lose these vows, do you have any questions about any of the vows?

Question: If someone has stolen money from the Triple Gem and then this person gives offering, how is it possible to know that the money that he’s offering is the same money that he’s stolen, especially if it is not cash, if the payment is made through a bank account? It is impossible to say that it is exactly the same money that he has stolen, because this person also has his own money in addition to the stolen money.

Alex: So we’re not talking here about stealing an object and giving that object away, but money when the money is put into our bank account and included among other monies. As I said, it’s not specified in the texts that I’ve seen whether or not we have to know that it was stolen. So obviously from our side it would be very difficult to know.

When it’s an object, when it’s a physical object, it’s quite clear that, in terms of his specific question, that if it’s a specific object – somebody steals a statue or a thangka… This is a good example. Many people during the Cultural Revolution stole paintings and statues and so on from the monasteries in Tibet and then sold them to Westerners in Hong Kong and so on. So if we know that it was one of these things which were stolen from the monasteries, then it’s very clear that if we buy that, we are breaking this vow. So any of these old thangkas and so on that might be on the market, we might not know exactly that it was confiscated during the Cultural Revolution, but probably it was undoubtedly taken from a monastery. A monastery wouldn’t sell these.

Now there are certainly monasteries and great teachers who give as gifts a thangka or a statue, but in the monasteries it’s very, very strict what belongs to the monastery in general and what is a private possession. And when you give a donation to a household, let’s say a household of a Rinpoche in a Tibetan monastery – or they might not be living in the monastery, now in exile – you have to be very, very specific when you give that donation. Is it for the household – it’s called a “labrang” in Tibetan – and is it for the household in general, or are you giving it specifically to someone in the household for their own personal use. “Household” means the whole house. My house – let’s say the Rinpoche’s house with the various attendants and students who live in the house, all of that is the labrang in Tibetan. I’m trying to translate that with some words, so we call it a “household.” A householder is somebody else; that’s a layperson. So if you were giving that money for the labrang, for the household itself, it can only be used for the general kitchen to feed everybody, or for improving the house, improving the building; and it would not be used for any particular member of the household, including the Rinpoche, to buy new robes or to do something just simply for themselves for their private use. Or they would use it for the household to sponsor certain rituals, certain pujas or so on, to make offerings on the altar, etc. So there it’s practiced very strictly in these labrangs.

But your question is much more difficult. When somebody steals money from the Triple Gem, let’s say somebody gives money to a Buddhist center – although, literally, Buddhist centers are not specifically included here; we’re talking about monasteries, in terms of the Sangha. I’m saying that the situation that arises most commonly in the West is we talk about Dharma centers; we don’t have so many monasteries in the West. And in the West we use the word “Sangha” extremely loosely in a way that no traditional Tibetan or Buddhist person would ever use it – to just refer to a Dharma center in a lay community, that’s certainly not the Sangha. So now we’re asking does this vow apply to stealing money that’s given to the Dharma center for our own purposes? Well, technically, according to the commentaries, when we talk about stealing from the Sangha, we’re referring to four monks or nuns or more. And then there’s a separate vow for stealing from one, two, or three monks or nuns. And so strictly speaking, when these vows were formulated there certainly were no lay Dharma centers. So whether stealing offerings given to a Dharma center constitutes a transgression of this bodhisattva vow or not, it’s certainly something that we would want to avoid.

So what would be more common in the West is that somebody makes an offering to the Dharma center, of money, and the director or the treasurer or somebody like that just puts that money into their own private bank account. We’re not talking, as I’ve said before, about somebody being paid from this money who is actually working. Okay, so now this money is in a bank account together with a lot of other money, and this person makes a gift to us, gives us something, some money. That’s very hard to say, whether or not this person even consciously is saying, “I’m using the money that I stole to give to you” or just now includes it in their money and doesn’t make any differentiation. So, basically, it would be better to avoid taking anything from someone that we know is stealing or embezzling funds from a Dharma center or a monastery or any sort of Dharma project.

Any other questions?

Question: Would it be the same if someone stole some statue or thangkas, then sold them and gave the money to somebody, or bought something with this money to give to somebody? Is it the same?

Alex: By extension, yes.

Question: What if one has stolen for instance a statue but then he confessed or regretted it. And now since he doesn’t want the statue anymore, he should take it to someone or to some center?

Alex: Well, in theory, such a person should give it back to where it was stolen from. Remember, in terms of stealing from the Triple Gem, it said that it needs to be complete with the feeling that “now this belongs to me.” So if one regrets stealing it and no longer considers it “mine,” then certainly one tries to give it back. But you wouldn’t sell it to somebody else.

Participant: But we don’t always have this opportunity. For instance, if we go to some other country and we stole there, and then we come back home and many years pass. So my point is the two different types of motivation. In the first case, you stole something especially for offering it to someone else; and the other case is when you change your mind, change yourself, and then do it. The motivation is different.

Alex: Yes, the motivation is different. I would think that in the case that you state, let’s say you have a thangka or a statue in your house and many, many years later you find out that it was stolen during the Cultural Revolution from a monastery. And we have no opportunity to give it back to that monastery where it was stolen from; perhaps that monastery doesn’t even exist anymore. But I think if we are then in a dilemma about what to do with this statue or thangka, I would think, this is just my own personal guess, that probably we would go to some sort of Dharma center and offer it as a gift, certainly not to sell it, but explaining the circumstances. Or give it to a monastery, but explain the situation, so we are in a sense giving it back to the Triple Gem. That’s the only possibility that I can think of.

Now there are situations in which monasteries are very, very poor and they sell their treasures to art dealers who then make a profit and sell them. Now is that ethical or not? I don’t really know. They’re not stealing, but they are using it to make a profit. If they are making an unreasonable profit from it then, in general, whether it’s a Dharma material that they’re selling or not, it’s acting out of greed. Not so good.

Obviously one could approach the study of Vinaya and all these things like a lawyer and try to find all sorts of tiny little details and exceptions and stuff like that, and there certainly are scholars who have done that and will continue to do that. But as I explained in the beginning of our discussions about Buddhist ethics, what we want to do is to develop our discriminating awareness and try to understand what actually is the situation and what would be the best way of handling it – like in your case of realizing that something I had in my house was stolen from a monastery – and try to minimize the heaviness of transgressing the vow.

The point is that these vows are these very subtle forms, remember we spoke of nonrevealing forms on our mental continuum, and they function to shape our behavior – that’s what ripens from them, or at least that’s my analysis of it. And the strength of that subtle form can be completely intact and strong or it could be weak. I think that depends, initially on taking these vows, on the strength of our motivation. If we take vows simply because our friends are doing it and we don’t want to be left out, then obviously the strength of that vow would be much weaker than if we really, really have renunciation or we really, really have bodhichitta. That’s why in our daily practice in terms of the bodhisattva vows, we renew them, we restrengthen them every day to try to make it stronger by reaffirming our motivation. And if we transgress these vows, which inevitably we all do, in most cases we just weaken the strength of the vow. There’s quite a specific number of things that have to be complete in order to actually lose the vows from our mental continuum – besides just saying, “I give them up. I don’t want them anymore”; obviously you lose it that way.

First of all there are in various texts listed the factors that can cause us to transgress our vows. One would be not knowing the vow. We just don’t know it. And the second would be not caring; in other words, being careless. “I don’t care about my behavior, I don’t care about the vows; that’s unimportant.” Another reason could be being overwhelmed by some disturbing emotion, so that we are so angry or so lustful that we forget the vow, we transgress it. Another reason would be because of lack of respect. We don’t respect the vows or respect those who keep them. Another reason would be forgetting them, forgetfulness. And another one would be weak mindfulness. So we have weak memory and we’re weak in paying attention to our behavior.

Now among these eighteen vows, all of them except “holding a distorted antagonistic outlook” and “giving up bodhichitta,” all the others require – to completely lose the vows – they require four binding factors to be complete. If we have this distorted antagonistic thinking, “This is all stupid!” and so on, “I’m going to argue with anybody who thinks that bodhisattva behavior is of any value”. As soon as we think that, or as soon as we give up this aspiring bodhichitta, we lose the vows.

For the others, for the other sixteen, these four binding factors have to be held and maintained from the moment immediately after developing the motivation to transgress the vow – from that moment, all the way up to the moment right after completing the act of the transgression. So if in the middle of transgressing it, we regret what we’re doing, then it’s not complete. We have to hold all four of them throughout the actual act of transgressing.

So the first of these is: not regarding what we’re doing as detrimental. In other words we see nothing wrong with what we’re doing, only advantages, and we undertake the action with no regrets. The second one is: having committed the transgression before, we have no wish or intention to stop ourselves now or in the future from repeating it. The third one is: we delight in what we’re doing and we undertake it with joy. We’re happy about what we’re doing that’s transgressing the vow. And the fourth one is: we have no sense of moral self-dignity and no concern for how our behavior reflects on others. So I don’t care about my reputation. I don’t care about the consequences on myself – that’s having no sense of moral self-dignity. And the other part is, I don’t care how my acting in this way reflects on my teachers or on Buddhism or on anyone else. If all four attitudes are present, then we lose the vow, all the bodhisattva vows. If all four attitudes are not complete, then the vow just becomes weaker.

So let’s take an example. We don’t loan somebody one of our Buddhist books, because we are attached to it and miserly. We see nothing wrong with that because the other person might spill coffee on it or not give it back. We’ve never loaned our books before, our Dharma books, and we have no intention to change this policy now or in the future. And when we refuse, we’re happy in our decision. We are shameless about saying no, in spite of the fact that we’re supposed to be helping everybody toward enlightenment – so how could we not want to share a Dharma book? And we’re not embarrassed in the slightest about this and we don’t care how this reflects on our Buddhist teachers. And we have no intention of doing anything to counterbalance our selfish act. That was part of this fourth factor, I failed to mention it – that we have no intention to counterbalance what we’ve done. So if all of these attitudes are complete when we refuse to loan somebody our book, then we’ve lost the bodhisattva vows. But if we lack some of these attitudes then we’ve only weakened the vow, depending on how many of these attitudes are present.

But suppose that we transgress one of the vows, but without these four binding factors present. In this situation we don’t actually weaken the vow. So, for instance, we don’t loan somebody a book when they ask us to borrow our Dharma book or our notes. Okay? This is not sharing the Dharma. But we know that it’s basically wrong, and we don’t intend to do this as a policy. We’re unhappy about saying no, and we are concerned about our own honor and how this reflects on our teachers, but we have a valid reason for refusing the loan. For instance we have a strong need to use the book ourselves, let’s say we’re doing a Dharma translation and somebody asks to borrow our dictionary for a few days. Well, I need the dictionary to translate, so I have a pressing need myself for it, or maybe we’ve already promised to loan it somebody else. So our motivation here is not attachment to the book or miserliness, and we try to counterbalance this, so we apologize for not being able to loan it now and we explain why, and we assure the person that I’ll loan it to you as soon as possible. And to make up the loss we can offer to share our notes on the book, or to explain something from the book, or let them use it in our house when we’re not using it, etc. So in that way we fully maintain our bodhisattva vows, even though technically it looks as though we are transgressing it because we’re not loaning the Dharma book.

And of course there’s a whole list of how the strength is going to vary, of how strong the vow still is, how much we weaken it, depending on which of these four are present, what combinations, and so on. There’s no need to go into all that detail. So, as in the case of all vows, or even destructive behavior that we haven’t vowed to avoid, it’s important to try to weaken as much as possible the strength of the negative karma, the negative force. We try to make it not so bad, to put it in simple language. Because the strength of a karmic consequence is going to depend on many, many factors, not just these four. How strong is the disturbing emotion that’s involved? How often we do this. Also in terms of the status, the spiritual status, in the sense of the person that is involved (the object) and ourselves.

If we refuse to loan the Dharma book to, let’s say, a Dharma teacher who needs to look up something in order to explain it to their students, that’s much heavier than not loaning it to just somebody that is curious to take a look at it for no particular good reason. And also the heaviness will depend on our own spiritual status. Have I taken a vow not to do this, or not taken a vow? That’s why if we are not able to keep the vows, don’t take them. And why it’s very helpful in the five lay vows that we have the option to take as many as we are able to keep. So if it’s not possible to avoid alcohol or to avoid certain forms of sexual behavior, inappropriate sexual behavior, don’t take the vow. All of these things that are involved in making the effect of a karmic action strong, we can find in the detailed teachings about karma; there’s a whole long list. So we try to weaken as much as possible the negative force from transgressing a vow.

And we try to do the opposite of these binding factors. So rather than thinking that there’s nothing wrong with it, we openly acknowledge that this was incorrect, this was a mistake; and we regret our action, rather than rejoicing in it and feeling happy about it. Regret doesn’t mean to feel guilty, it just means I wish I didn’t do this, or didn’t have to do this – like I regret that I can’t loan you my book. And we decide not to repeat this transgression – I’m going to try my best not to repeat it – rather than having no intention of stopping. And we reaffirm our basis, our spiritual basis, which is safe direction or refuge and bodhichitta, as opposed to having no sense of moral self-dignity or concern for how our actions reflect on others, our teachers. In other words, now I care about my future and what I will experience, I care about my teachers and so on, and so I’m going to put this safe direction and bodhichitta back as the central thing in my life. And we take some opponent or remedial action to counterbalance this transgression, as opposed to no intention to repair the damage we have done to ourselves. So, like this, we apply the standard four opponent forces as the opposite of the four binding factors.

Okay, so these are the basic teachings about the bodhisattva vows. And we see that in order to take it we need to have the proper motivation, the proper preparation, and we can strengthen them by taking them again and again, either by ourselves or with a spiritual teacher. It’s very important to remember what they are – and so if we don’t remind ourselves every day, at least sometimes to read through the list and remind ourselves of both the root vows and the secondary vows. And if we find that we need to transgress them for some reason or another, try not to have these four binding factors be complete. Try to make the transgression as weak as possible and then try to strengthen again our vows.

So, are there any final questions?

Question: I have a question about copyrights.

Alex: About copyright?

Question: Copyright, yes. You have copyright on Dharma books, and you cannot actually copy it. So if you copy it for some personal usage, this means that you’re stealing from the Triple Gem or not? And also about websites, or whatever pages you have on the Internet – when you sell those.

Alex: Okay, so now the question is copyright. Copyright in Dharma books that are published and copyright on the Internet. In a sense we have to consult a lawyer on this, because in terms of the Internet, as far as I understand, it’s in the public domain and so anybody can cut and paste. And so if somebody on the Internet doesn’t want you to access material, then they will make you pay, and if you don’t pay you can’t access that material. Well obviously there are Internet pirates that are able to get around that, and that obviously is stealing the Dharma if the intention is that you have to pay.

But with copyrighted books that’s, as I say, a legal issue. There’s a big legal argument going on at present with Google. That they want to put all books up for availability. I’m not quite sure if they want it free or if they’re going to charge, but to put things on the Internet – it’s usually things that are out of print, but either the publisher or the author still has the copyright. And there’s a lot of legal argument about that, and Google is willing to pay a little bit to the authors, and it’s not at all clear what will happen with that.

Now the whole issue of making money off of the Dharma and making profit off of the Dharma, that’s a whole different ethical issue that we really don’t have time to go into. But Shantideva does say that if a servant does good work, then it is important to pay the servant what the servant needs. But if the servant doesn’t work well, or doesn’t work at all, then it’s not proper to pay that servant. Obviously we can use the same example for somebody who works for us, our employee. What this is analogous for is if we are a bodhisattva and offer ourselves as a servant to serve all sentient beings. So, for example, we are dedicating our life to making translations of Dharma books or making them available and so on, and if we are actually doing that work, it’s okay to pay ourselves, to “pay the servant”; and if we’re not doing the work, not pay. Not to become rich off of it, but to just maintain ourselves. That seems to fit with Shantideva’s advice. So if people are charging for Dharma books in order to pay themselves, to pay the other people who are working on it, pay the author etc., well, not to pay them – to just copy the book – obviously is a problem.

But this thing becomes very difficult. Are we scanning the book or photocopying the book from the library? Well, universities have copy machines right there in the library for students to make copies. They tell you you’re not supposed to copy the whole thing. Well, how much can you copy? So the whole thing starts to become a legalistic argument. I think a lot depends on our motivation. If we have the money to be able to buy it ourselves and we don’t, just because we think how clever we are to be able to cheat the publishing company, or we’re cheap or miserly, this is very different from being a very, very sincere Dharma practitioner and we need the material in this book for our practice, and we just don’t have the money to buy it ourselves. I think that’s very different. So everything, I think, is dependent on the motivation. And whether there actually is a transgression of the vow or not, the point is to make whatever negative karma might come from it as weak as possible.

So again the practice of ethical self-discipline in Buddhism is very, very much connected with discriminating awareness and motivation and all these other factors. It’s not just “Follow the law. Be obedient.”

Okay, so let’s end here with the dedication. Whatever positive force, whatever understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause to reach enlightenment for everybody to reach enlightenment for the benefit of us all.

Okay. Thank you.