Overview of the Six Far-Reaching Attitudes (Six Perfections)
Session Three: Far-Reaching Generosity (continued) and Far-Reaching Ethical Self-Discipline
Riga, Latvia, July 2004
We were discussing generosity this morning. And with the practice of each of these far-reaching attitudes, we try to incorporate the practice of all of them. So in practicing generosity:
- The ethical discipline of generosity is to rid ourselves of all wrong or improper ulterior motives.
- With patience, we don’t mind any difficulties that are involved; we can tolerate the difficulties.
- And taking joy in giving, not doing it out of duty or out of obligation. That’s the practice of joyful perseverance with giving, with generosity.
- Mental stability is having concentration on the dedication of positive force that’s built up from giving.
And with the discriminating awareness we realize that the giver (that’s ourselves), the recipient (the person who receives what we give), and the object that’s given in the act of giving—all of these lack any true inherent existence from their own side; they all depend on each other. There can’t be a giver without somebody that receives.
So there are many situations in which the practice of actually giving something is not done correctly or properly. So we need to avoid these. The first would be to give with the hope that others are going to being impressed with us, or think that we’re so pious and religious, that we’re so wonderful. When we give, it’s improper to expect anything in return, not even a thank you, let alone great success in actually improving the other party’s situation, the other person’s situation. Whether or not it improves is really due to their own karma. We can help, but we shouldn’t expect success, let alone a thank you.
I remember once in Dharamsala, in India, during the rainy season, there was a mouse that was drowning in a drain of water, and I took it out and put it on the ground to dry. And while it was lying there, drying out, a big hawk came down and took it away. So everything depends on the karma of the individual, even if we try to help them. We can give somebody all the opportunities and help to try to succeed, but they can be terrible failures anyway. I’ve had that experience. And it’s important never to gloat over the other person and remind them later about all we’ve done for them, or all that we’ve given them, or expecting them to do anything in return.
And also it’s improper motivation to give out of obligation, feeling that since somebody else has made a donation, we have to do likewise, or even outdo the person and give more or do more. Giving out of guilt or competition or these sorts to things.
So our sole thought needs to be just to benefit the recipient, both temporarily and ultimately. And we try to do our best; whether it succeeds or not, at least we try.
And it’s important not to just think on an abstract level—“Yes, I want to help all sentient beings,” but we don’t help wash the dishes. Also it’s important not to belittle the people that we give to, give something to, feeling that we’re doing them a great favor. They’re doing us a favor by accepting and allowing us to build up the positive force that will bring us to enlightenment and enable us to help others. So they’re doing us the great favor of accepting.
It’s also very important when other people do something for us. A lot of people are very proud and don’t want to accept any help or don’t want to accept an invitation, or anything like that—if somebody offers to pay for something for us. We’re depriving them of building up some positive force. That’s in the bodhisattva vows, by the way, to accept invitations, to accept when people offer to help us, unless of course it’s damaging for them.
I remember Serkong Rinpoche once, when I was traveling with him—it was in Italy—and somebody came to his room and asked him some questions and so on, and when they left, they just left an envelope with an offering on the table by the door. And he said to me afterwards, “This is the proper way to give. Not these people who come in and make this big, big show of handing it personally to the lama so that the lama knows who gave it and really will appreciate and think better of this person.” Better to do it quietly, anonymously, not make a big show, and to do it happily, in a pleasant and respectful manner.
Also don’t make the other person wait. “I’ll give you, but you wait for later on. I’ll help you, but tomorrow,” and then you make them wait and wait and wait. It’s the same thing. He used to say that he really found it very inconsiderate when… He was one of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachers, and many people used to come to see him; they would wait outside the room. And he said this is ridiculous, because what they would do is they would wait until they got directly in front of him and then they would do this elaborate prostration in front of him. He said, “All it’s doing is wasting my time. The proper way is… I don’t have to see them prostrate; it’s not for my benefit that they’re offering prostration. They should all prostrate before they come into the room, so they just come and do directly whatever they want to do.” I mean, it’s usually Tibetans just giving katas (ceremonial scarves) or something like that. But don’t make a show. You’re not trying to impress the other person by giving them something, even a show of respect, like prostration. That’s important when lamas come to visit. The prostrations is for our benefit; it’s not for the teacher’s benefit.
Also, whatever we decide to give, it’s important to give it ourselves, personally. Atisha had an attendant, and the attendant wanted to make all the offerings for the teacher—fill the water bowls and do all of that—and the teacher said, “This is very important, for me to do it myself. Are you going to eat for me as well?” So we need to do it… if you’re going to give, if it’s possible, give ourselves, personally. And don’t change our minds or feel regret. Once we’ve made the decision to give something, it’s important not to change our minds or feel regret or take something back. Or insist that, when we’ve given something already, that they use it the way that we want them to use it, especially when you give someone money and then you insist that they use it this way or that way. Or you give them something, then we get… if you give them a picture or something, and then they don’t have it on the wall when we get there, and we feel very hurt. Once we’ve given it away, it’s theirs; it’s not ours.
I remember once in Dharamsala there was this monastery and the quality of food was very bad and the monks weren’t doing very well. And so, among us Westerners, we got together some money and gave it to them to buy better food so that they would eat better. And of course once we gave them the money, they just used it for buying more bricks and building a bigger, better temple. This really annoyed a lot of the Westerners and they started to make a big scene about it: “You’ve got to buy better food,” and stuff like that. Well, the solution was: if we want them to eat better, buy the food and give it to them. Give them the food, then they have to eat it. You don’t just give them the money. And so you have to be a little bit clever. And then also buy them what they like to eat. And for Tibetans that means meat, even though some of the Westerners might think that’s not very nice. But to buy them soybeans or tofu or something like that, which they’re never going to eat and they don’t like, that’s not proper, that’s not appropriate.
It’s like… I used to always bring something when I used to see Serkong Rinpoche, and I saw him almost every day, but I always used to bring a little something. And after a while he scolded me and he said, “Why are you bringing me all these katas and incense? I don’t need this junk.” He called it junk. “It’s terrible. Everybody brings all this junk. What am I going to do with a thousand katas, these scarves?” And he said, “If you’re going to bring me something, bring me something that I like and that I can use.” And so I knew that he liked bananas, so bring him a banana. Bring something that he likes, if we want to make an offering.
Also it’s important to bring good quality things, and not something that: “Well, I don’t like this so, here, you take it.” Although sometimes you have to be skillful with people who don’t want to accept anything, and we say, “Somebody gave me this and I’m never going to use it. Please, I don’t want to throw it out. If you would like it….” So you have to use skillful means in terms of giving things to someone. But believe me, these lamas have enough incense; they don’t need two hundred boxes of incense.
There’s also certain things that are inappropriate to give. Like if somebody is following a certain diet, dietary laws, you don’t give them the food that they don’t consider proper to eat. You don’t give a hamburger to a vegetarian; and if somebody is on a diet, you don’t bring them a cake.
And if someone wishes to debate with us motivated by anger or attachment or pride, or just idle curiosity, it’s inappropriate to debate or give them the Buddhist text and so on. We only teach and discuss Dharma and so on with people who are receptive. If they’re not receptive and just want to argue with us and try to put us down, it’s inappropriate to teach them or discuss with them. It’s a waste of time, and all it does is contribute to their negative state of mind, their hostility. You teach those who are open-minded, who want to learn.
And also, if we teach, it’s important to teach at the level of the other person; we don’t dump the whole ocean of our learning and knowledge on them just to prove how clever we are. So it’s important not to give too advanced teachings, although sometimes it is helpful to give a little bit more advanced teachings than the people are at, in the sense to inspire them to work harder—make a little bit accessible to try to see it. And also if people are a little bit arrogant. Sometimes His Holiness will teach in a very complicated way, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for university professors and so on, to demonstrate how sophisticated the Buddhist teachings, because they think, “Oh, this is primitive,” or something like that.
Also I remember once I went with Serkong Rinpoche to a Western center, and the people wanted Rinpoche to teach the chapter on voidness from Shantideva’s text in two days. And this is absolutely preposterous; it’s something that really takes a year or so to go through it thoroughly. Rinpoche taught for a portion of the time, in the beginning, on such an advanced level that nobody could understand it, what he was saying, just to point out how arrogant they were to think that this was something so simple that in two days we’ll do the whole thing. They didn’t ask for an introduction or an overview of it. “Teach us the chapter.”
So sometimes it’s necessary, in order to teach the people some sort of lesson, to teach in a more advanced way. But in general, unless we want to inspire them or so on, it’s important to teach at the level in which other people can understand. But in a large crowd, especially… I mean, you see when His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches, he teaches a little bit to each level of people who are there. And what’s most important… Most of the time, he teaches on a very advanced level. Well, he’s teaching on a very advanced level because he’s actually teaching the great lamas and geshes and khenpos who are there. Because he’s the only one who is more advanced than everybody, who can teach them, and then they can teach and explain to their students. So you don’t teach to the lowest common denominator, because others can teach them. In that type of situation, you teach to the highest level, so that it goes down through the ranks, as it were.
This story of Serkong Rinpoche—he explained on such an advanced and complicated level, just the first couple of words of the chapter (it wasn’t like the whole thing), just to show, each word, how complicated it was.
Also, obviously, it is inappropriate to give people poison and weapons, and these sorts of things, that they might use to hurt themselves or to hurt others. Also it’s important to give only those things to others who require them. If somebody doesn’t need it and just wants it out of greed and attachment, like our children wanting chocolate all day long, it’s not appropriate to give it to them. And they don’t watch TV all day long. So, like this, we need to have this discriminating awareness—what’s appropriate, what’s inappropriate, when isn’t it appropriate to give, when is it appropriate, who is it appropriate to give it to, and so on. Not practice what… Trungpa Rinpoche coined this wonderful word idiot compassion—you don’t think “Waah! I’ve got to help everybody do everything” when sometimes it’s rather inappropriate or stupid.
The second far-reaching attitude is ethical self-discipline. We’re not talking about discipline to play a musical instrument or kick a ball, but it has to do with our ethical behavior. And it’s not that we are the policeman trying to discipline somebody else, train the dog or people in the army, but we’re talking about our own discipline.
There are three kinds of ethical self-discipline. The first is the ethical self-discipline to refrain from doing destructive actions. This is referring to either the way we act, we speak, or we think. So this would be in terms of keeping various vows that we’ve taken to avoid certain types of destructive behavior. And even if we haven’t taken vows, to refrain from acting generally in terms of the ten destructive types of actions—killing, stealing, lying, etc.
And when we speak about things to avoid, there are naturally destructive types of behavior, like killing or stealing, and then there are those which are not destructive in themselves but Buddha said that for certain people, or at certain times, this is something to avoid. For example: for monks and nuns, then, what they need to avoid is eating at night. That doesn’t apply to everybody, but if we want to be able to have a clear mind at night to be able to meditate, and a clear mind in the morning, then it’s better not to eat at night. And so for those specific persons Buddha recommended to avoid such things. Or shave your head as a monk or a nun; not everybody has to do that, obviously. So these are, again… the ethical discipline to refrain from doing these things is this first kind.
The second type of ethical self-discipline is the discipline to engage in positive, constructive actions, which are going to build up positive force and so on to achieve enlightenment. So this is referring to the ethical discipline to study, to think about the teachings, to meditate, to do the ngondro (sngon-’gro, preliminary practices)—make prostrations, make offerings—go to the teachings, these types of things, the discipline that’s involved in doing them.
So you see, ethical self-discipline here is again a state of mind. We are not referring to the actual behavior. It’s that state of mind that is going to refrain from doing something that would be inappropriate, like doing these destructive things in terms of the vows, but also in terms of engaging in positive things, when we refrain from not doing it. So it’s the discipline. It sort of shapes, coming from our minds, how we’re going to behave. So it’s a state of mind. Without it, we’re completely out of control and we just come under the influence of the disturbing emotions: “I don’t want to do it. I don’t feel like doing it,” etc.
And this ethical self-discipline is based on a discrimination and discriminating awareness. With the ethical self-discipline to refrain from acting destructively, we discriminate the disadvantages of acting destructively. We see what that is—we’re very decisive—the disadvantages to this, and so we refrain from it. Or with the second one (to engage in positive things), we discriminate the benefits of meditating, the benefits of doing the preliminary practices, and so on, and so we engage in them.
The third type of ethical self-discipline is the discipline to actually work to benefit others, to actually help others. And here we have the discrimination of the benefit of helping others. And we refrain from not helping them because: “I don’t feel like it or I don’t like you, so I don’t want to help you.”
For helping others—there are many aspects of that. If we speak in general, then there is the discipline to engage in the four ways… it’s actually called literally the [four] ways to gather disciples (bsdu-ba rnam-pa bzhi);. In other words, to act in such a way with others that it makes them receptive for us to be able to teach them further, deeper things.
And the first of these is being generous with them. Somebody comes to visit us—you offer them a cup of tea. Just very simple things.
Then the second one is to speak in a very kind and pleasant way with them. Of course that requires discipline to do that. And this means to speak to them in a way that they can understand, using the type of language that they can understand, and speaking in terms of their interests—not in a trivial way, but in a way that helps them. And teach them in a way that… Like if somebody’s interested in the football games, you don’t just say, “Oh, this is stupid. This is a waste of time.” You can speak in a way that is going to make them feel comfortable and relaxed with us. This is very important; otherwise they are not going to be receptive and think we’re talking down to them. We don’t have to go into detail, like: “Oh, who won the game today?” We don’t care who won the game, but it makes the other person feel accepted.
If we’re aspiring to be a bodhisattva, it’s important to take interest in everybody and in what they’re interested in, and to know at least a little bit about as much as possible, so that we can actually relate to others. And to speak pleasantly and kindly also means, when it’s appropriate, with humor.
Once—actually, I know the person—His Holiness the Dalai Lama was visiting at this very prestigious university in the United States, and this person left, in His Holiness’s room, a mask of an American comedian called Groucho Marx, and it had big eyebrows and glasses and a big nose, and so on, and big mustache. And the big professors and so on, these very self-important people, came to His Holiness’s room at the hotel to have a very intellectual discussion with His Holiness. And they’re sitting there in their suits and looking very serious and very proper, and His Holiness walks into the room wearing the Groucho Marx mask. It was brilliant, because these people were so uptight and so serious, and they couldn’t help themselves except to laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing, and His Holiness was just hysterical with laughter. And then after that they were able to have a much more relaxed discussion; before, they were just so uptight that it would have been too terrible for them. It really is wonderful in terms of somebody like His Holiness. It’s hard to imagine the president of a country doing that. His Holiness isn’t concerned about what they think about him or things like that, but he saw this as a very skillful way to make the people more comfortable and at ease.
Then the third method here is to act in a meaningful way. Acting in a meaningful way. A meaningful way means to… not just wasting time, but to try to encourage others and to… His Holiness wasn’t just playing a joke to show how clever he was, but, in a meaningful way, to help to relax the people who were there and not take themselves so terribly seriously. It doesn’t mean that every minute you have to be deep and intense and: “Let’s have a deep and meaningful conversation.” That’s too much.
And then the fourth one is living accordingly. In other words, if we’re going to teach, the discipline to be a good example of it ourselves—not just teach something but we’re the opposite way. This is the way in which people will be receptive to learning from us, for us to be able to help them on a deeper level. So this requires discipline to be like that. Not just act stupidly all the time or waste time with people.
Then also the ethical self-discipline of helping others is the discipline to work to benefit… there’s a list that is going to appear over and over again on the teachings on the six far-reaching attitudes: the eleven types of persons that we need especially to work on trying to help them and benefit them.
The first is those who are suffering, those who are in pain. (This is a very helpful list, by the way. You shouldn’t just think of this as a list, but it gives us an idea that when we meet people like this, especially don’t ignore them.)
The second is people who are muddled about the means to help them. So they don’t really know what to do, how to help themselves, how to deal with some difficult situation. These people that need help. They need some advice, or at least they need some understanding if we don’t know what to do—someone to listen to them.
And then working to help those who have previously helped us. It’s important to appreciate the kindness that other people have shown us and not just neglect our parents or anybody who’s been kind to us. Not out of a feeling of obligation, but just having the feeling of appreciation.
And then working to help those who are filled with fear overcome the fear. Trying to comfort them.
Helping those who are overcome with mental grief. Somebody who has lost a loved one—they died or divorced or something like that—and they’re really depressed.
Helping those who are very poor and needy. Because sometimes we need the discipline to actually do that, especially if the people are dirty and they’re not very attractive looking or we don’t like to be in their presence or go where they are. We need the discipline not to withdraw but actually help them.
Working to help those who are attached to us and who want to be with us all the time. You don’t want to make them dependent on us, but if they have such a strong connection and attachment to us—well, try to help them by teaching them Dharma and things like that if they’re interested. In other words, make it meaningful. And it doesn’t have to be in a heavy, missionary way, but just general. There’s obviously some karma there that is bringing you together.
And working to benefit those in accordance with their preferences and wishes. Somebody asks to be taught a certain type… say if we’re a teacher, if we’ve been studying the Dharma, if they ask us to teach them a certain practice—well, it might not be our practice or our favorite, but if this is something which could be quite appropriate for them, teach them according to what they want. It’s like if we’re going out to a restaurant with somebody—we don’t have to insist that we always go to have the kind of food that we like; we go along with what they would like. Obviously in a relationship one has to compromise and not always do what the other person wants, but it’s important not to insist that it always be my way.
And then working to benefit those who lead upright lives—that’s the expression—those who are following a really positive path and doing a good job at things. To help them by encouraging them, praising them, and so on. But again, when it is appropriate and helpful: if it’s only going to increase their pride and arrogance, then it’s better not to.
For instance, I was very proud and arrogant when I was much younger, and I worked and helped my teacher Serkong Rinpoche for nine years, doing so much for him—translating, and arranging all his tours, and doing all the correspondence, and running around for all the visas, and things like that. And in nine years he only thanked me and said, “You did a good job” twice—in nine years. And for me that was very appropriate. For other people, let’s say if they have very low self-esteem, that would be most inappropriate. But for somebody that is very arrogant, this is extremely helpful. And it was. As some of my teachers said—Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey—“What are you doing? Standing around like a dog and waiting to be patted on the head after you’ve done a good job so that you wag your tail?”
So actually Serkong Rinpoche was helping me very much. I was doing very positive things, and he helped me by not thanking me—that’s how he benefited me—so that I would help simply because I wanted to help other people to benefit from his teachings and from his travels. It was like he never taught me anything [privately] until the very end of our time together. He never taught me anything by myself; I always had to translate it for somebody else. He would only teach me if I was translating it for somebody. Very, very helpful.
And he helped me by… I was doing a lot of positive things, and he helped me by never failing to call me an idiot when I was acting like an idiot. It was very helpful. For other people it might not be very helpful. He was very tough on me.
Now, as a teacher or as somebody who’s helping others, this is very, very difficult to do. It requires a tremendous discipline. Why? Because when we’re in that position, we want the other person to like us. And you don’t want to give them a hard time, because maybe they won’t like us and maybe they’ll go away. So this really requires a tremendous discipline, to act in a way that really will benefit the other person and not just what we think is going to benefit us.
Sometimes we might not want to punish our children for acting improperly, for misbehaving, but we need that discipline to be very strict with them, because it’s for their benefit. “I’m not going to give everything to you. You have to work yourself and earn it so you appreciate it.” That requires a lot of discipline on the side of the parent, especially when they have the means to be able to give everything to the child.
Then the next one is to work to benefit those who are leading very destructive and negative type of lives. In other words, we don’t just dismiss them and reject them or condemn them, or things like that, but if there’s any way to help them to overcome this type of behavior, then we try to do that. There are some Dharma teachers who go and teach in prisons, for example, or help people who are heroin addicts. Obviously they need to be receptive and not reject them because: “Ooh, a junkie. You’re a bad person.”
Then the last one is working to benefit others by using our—if we have—extraphysical powers or extrasensory abilities. To help others by using them when all other methods fail—only when it’s absolutely necessary.
My teacher Serkong Rinpoche certainly had extrasensory abilities. I saw it several times. Once I was with him in a jeep. We were driving up to the Tushita Meditation Center in Dharamsala. We had almost reached there, and Serkong Rinpoche said, “Hurry up. Drive faster, drive faster. There’s a fire starting in the gompa, in the altar room.” So we went there and we ran there, and sure enough, a candle had fallen over and a curtain had caught on fire. So there it was a situation in which he didn’t feel bashful to hide his, or shy, to hide his extrasensory abilities, but used it to benefit others. He was very impressive. He was the one that most other lamas would say, “If you want to see the real thing, not just somebody with a name, he’s the example of the real thing.” He was.
Just a few more points about ethical self-discipline before we take our break.
Shantideva discusses it in two chapters in his text on Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. The first chapter is called “The Caring Attitude,” and this is the basis for ethical self-discipline. In other words, we care about the effect of our behavior and we take it seriously. We care about not coming under the influence of our disturbing emotions. We care about and take seriously that other people are human beings and have feelings, and if we act in a destructive way, it’s going to hurt them. And we care about the consequences of our behavior on ourselves in the future. We take it seriously. This is the basis for ethical self-discipline. If we don’t care—“Well, it’s equal to me. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care if you’re hurt by my being late”—then we don’t act in any sort of ethical way.
In many languages, that caring attitude (bag-yod, Skt. apramada) is a very difficult word to translate. The German or Spanish is very difficult, for example. Russian as well? It doesn’t mean to be… I mean, being careful is a little bit part of it, but it doesn’t mean to be worried or only to be careful. It’s to take seriously the effect of our behavior.
And the second chapter that Shantideva devotes to the topic deals with mindfulness (dran-pa, Skt. smrti) and alertness (shes-bzhin, Skt. samprajanya). And mindfulness means to keep a mental hold on the discipline, on the type of behavior, and not come under the influence of a disturbing emotion. So it’s like a mental glue, to hold on. It’s like we are on a diet, and we walk past the bakery shop and we see this delicious cake, our favorite cake, in the window, and we just hold on—not let go of our diet—“I am not going to go in there and buy this piece of cake, and not come under the influence of my greed and attachment.” This is very important for ethical discipline. And then alertness to watch out when we start to waver from that and say, “Well, maybe just a little piece,” or something like that. Or as my sister says when she’s on a diet: she won’t take a piece of cake; but the crumbs, they don’t count. The crumbs, the little pieces that are left on the plate—that doesn’t count; that you can take. So we have to watch out for these things. So these are the supports for ethical discipline, the tools with which we are able to keep our discipline, and then we can use it later on for concentration.
And finally Shantideva points out three factors that will help us to develop and keep this mindfulness.
- The first, he says, is to stay in the company of our spiritual teachers or always think that we’re in their presence. If we were in their presence, we wouldn’t act stupidly or destructively, because of our respect for them. That’s very helpful. “Would I act like this or speak like this in the presence of my teacher?” And if we wouldn’t, then Shantideva says, “Remain like a block of wood”—don’t do it. That helps us to keep mindful. Stuff myself with all the cake or yell at somebody: obviously we wouldn’t do that if we were having dinner with our teacher.
- And the second is to follow the instructions and advice of our teacher, remember what they said. That keeps us mindful.
- Then the third one is dread of the consequences of not being mindful. It doesn’t mean fear but “I really dread… I don’t want to experience what are the effects of not being mindful.” This is based on a sense of self-dignity, self-worth. I think enough of myself, in a positive way, that I don’t want to just go downhill, downhill, downhill by always acting under the influence of anger, greed, and so on.
And what goes together with that is, he says, awe of our spiritual teachers. That’s a difficult word. It doesn’t mean that we’re afraid of our spiritual teachers, that they’re going to scold us or anything like that, but awe means that I respect my spiritual teachers and I respect Buddhism so much that it would make me feel terrible how my negative behavior would reflect what other people would think of—“This is how the students of such and such a teacher act?” Or they would think very negatively of Buddhism and spiritual training—“You’re supposed to be a Buddhist? You’re carrying on and getting drunk and destroying things, getting so angry, and so on.” So it’s out of this sense of awe and respect that we would keep our mindfulness and ethical discipline.
So let’s take a five minute break.
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