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Explanation of Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices

Alexander Berzin
Xalapa, Mexico, May 2006

Session Three: Bodhicitta and Bodhisattva Behavior

Unedited Transcript
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Review

This evening is our third session on the Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices by Togmey-zangpo. After beginning with the homage and the promise to compose, Togmey-zangpo goes through the graded stages of motivation, the lam-rim, starting with the precious human life and then the circumstances that would be most conducive for taking advantage of that precious human life, namely to leave our homelands and stay in seclusion.

Then, remembering death and impermanence – that this precious human life is not going to last forever – we have no time to lose in terms of taking advantage of it. Of course that doesn’t mean to be a fanatic – one of my favorite Zen koans is, “Death can come at any time, relax.” If you think about it, that makes a great deal of sense.

Then, in order to properly take advantage of this precious human life, we need to make some distance from misleading friends, or bad friends, and rely on spiritual friends and fully qualified spiritual mentors. Then, in general, the basis for the entire Buddhist path is taking safe direction, or refuge. In other words, we are putting a direction in our lives, a direction that is indicated by the Dharma: the true stoppings and true pathway minds on the mental continuums of aryas and above, as the Buddhas have achieved in full and the arya Sangha – the community of those who have nonconceptual cognition of voidness – have in part. This is the direction that we want to go in.

In terms of this initial level of motivation, which is to try to gain one of the better states of rebirth in our next lives, and particularly a precious human rebirth in our next lives, that is as a stepping stone for the direction indicated by the Three Jewels, in other words liberation and enlightenment. Then, specifically in order to ensure that we don’t have a worse rebirth in our future lives, we need to refrain from destructive behavior. That’s the initial scope.

The intermediate scope of motivation is to work for liberation – this means liberation from uncontrollably recurring rebirth – because no matter what type of rebirth we have, if it is under the control of karma and disturbing emotions, and if it just is filled every moment with disturbing emotions, unawareness, and compulsive karmic actions, then this produces one or another form of suffering. That’s as much as we have covered so far.

Developing a Bodhicitta Aim

Now we continue with the advanced level of motivation, which is to aim with bodhichitta for enlightenment.

(10) A bodhisattva’s practice is to develop a bodhichitta aim
to liberate limitless beings,
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?

If we ask what is bodhichitta, bodhichitta is a state of mind that, first of all, is brought on by love, and compassion, and an exceptional resolve. Love is the wish for everybody to be happy and have the causes for happiness; and this means absolutely everybody. Compassion is the wish for everybody to be free from suffering and not just trivial suffering, but the all-pervasive suffering of samsara and the causes of it. Compassion includes taking some responsibility to actually help others overcome their suffering, but we need the next step, which is the exceptional resolve, which is to take full responsibility not just help to them on some temporary basis, but full responsibility to try to help them all the way to enlightenment. Then we have bodhichitta based on this.

In the first moment, the first phase of bodhichitta, we are focusing on all beings with the intention to reach enlightenment to help them reach enlightenment as well, and then the main phase of bodhichitta is focused on our own future individual enlightenments, which have not yet happened. Now that not-yet-happening state of our individual enlightenments, we can impute that, or infer that, on the basis of the causes for that, which would be our Buddha-natures on our own mental continuums, like we can impute the not-yet-happening of the flower on the basis of the seed. If all the causes and conditions to develop it are there, the flower will be presently happening. We’ll have a presently-happening flower, not a not-yet-happening flower. Similarly, if we put in all the unbelievable amount of work, and effort, and conditions for reaching enlightenment, then we won’t have a not-yet-happening of that future enlightenment; we’ll have a presently-happening of that enlightenment.

Now, of course what I just explained is rather complicated and very, very subtle, and one has to be a hundred percent precise with the terminology, otherwise you get an incorrect idea, but it’s very difficult to actually know what in the world are we doing when we’re sitting and focusing on bodhichitta. What are we focusing on? What appears in our mind? Well, it’s our own, individual, future enlightenment – but that doesn’t exist yet, so are we focusing on something that is nonexistent, or what? This becomes a very difficult question and unless we know what to focus on, then it’s very difficult to actually generate bodhichitta. So it hasn’t happened yet, but it can happen. Why can it happen? Because we have Buddha-nature.

There’s this big, long discussion of what we mean by Buddha-nature, but let’s leave that aside. We are not aiming for the enlightenment of Buddha Shakyamuni – that was his enlightenment. And we’re not aiming for enlightenment in general, like some big balloon up in the sky that we’re all aiming for, the same thing. It’s not like that. It’s our own individual enlightenment. So we focus on our Buddha-natures and, on that basis, we can impute that not-yet-happening of our own individual enlightenment. It has not yet happened.

We can represent that by a Buddha-figure, an image of a Buddha, but we have to know what that image of a Buddha represents – we have to work a lot with that to understand it. That focus on that not-yet-happening of our future enlightenment, of our own individual enlightenment, that’s accompanied by two intentions, the intention to achieve it and the intention to help everybody else to achieve it by means of achieving it ourselves. So I translate it these days as a “bodhichitta aim,” because that’s what we’re always aiming for. That is our aim in life, to reach that enlightenment to be able to benefit everybody the most, which would be to help them reach enlightenment.

When we have it in its fullest sense, in other words what’s called “uncontrived” – we don’t have to work through all the steps to achieve it, uncontrived means that you don’t have to go through all the steps to build it up, in other words, just like that, you have it – then we really have bodhichitta, that means that we have it day and night. It doesn’t matter whether we’re conscious of that aim; we have that aim all the time. Everything in our life, everything that we’re doing, even sleeping is aimed at achieving that enlightenment.

It is working for everybody, every single limited being, which is countless, and it’s aiming to bring them to the highest, most fully developed, omniscient state possible, so that’s also enormous. Because of that, this is the most extensive, unbelievable state of mind. That’s what we mean by Mahayana, a great vehicle of mind: a type of mind that will act as a vehicle to bring us to the greatest goal. What we’re aiming for is to have that so central in our lives, in our mental continuums, that whether we’re conscious of it or not, that is our aim in life.

Togmey-zangpo gives some indication here of the way to build up that bodhichitta aim in this verse. He is referring to “liberating limitless beings,” and he refers to them as our mothers. He says:

Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?”

This is indicating the seven-part cause and effect method for generating bodhichitta. First is developing equanimity, so that we don’t have attraction to some people, repulsion from others and indifference toward others, so that we’re open to everybody. That’s very important when we think in terms of love and compassion in the Mahayana sense. We are not talking about love and compassion for just people that we like; that’s not Mahayana love and compassion. It’s called “great love” and “great compassion.” The Mahayana sense, when we speak about great love and great compassion, that is equal for everybody, which obviously is quite difficult to have, especially since some limited beings are presently in a rebirth as mosquitoes. That requires us understanding rebirth. Nobody exists as just truly in the life-form that presently they are manifesting. Everybody is an individual mental continuum that is going through countless rebirths on the basis of the karma it builds up.

So each of these mental continuums, each of these “persons,” they’re called, have at some time been our mother. That’s why they’re called “our mothers.” This is because there’s infinite time and there is a finite number of beings. If one thinks about that mathematically, one can demonstrate that this is so, that everybody has been, at one time, our mothers, if there is beginningless time and a finite number of beings and everybody is equal.

My students in Germany came up with a wonderful Prasangika proof of this. Prasangika argues by absurd conclusions. Everybody has been my mother, because of beginningless time, finite number of beings, but the main reason is because everybody is equal. If one being has been my mother, namely in this lifetime, then it follows that everybody has been my mother in some specific lifetime, because everybody is equal. If that were not the case, then if one person has never been my mother, then nobody has ever been my mother, because everybody is equal, including my mother of this lifetime. That’s a perfect Prasangika proof.

Tibetans don’t actually go through such a proof; they just sort of accept this. I gave this proof to the teacher of the debate school in Dharamsala and he agreed that it was a valid proof. This is actually very important, to (1) become convinced that everybody has actually been my mother; otherwise we’re just accepting it, not really understanding, or believing it, or thinking it. If one being has not been my mother, then nobody has ever been my mother, because they’re all equal. So if one person has been my mother, then everybody has been my mother, because they’re all equal. It’s interesting, isn’t it?

Then the next point is to (2) remember the kindness of motherly love – a minimum, minimum level of kindness, “My mother didn’t have an abortion.” So, no matter how difficult our relation with our mother is, there is at least that kindness.

Then the next step is to (3) appreciate that kindness. Usually that’s called “repay that kindness,” but I think that’s a bit heavy in terms of guilt and so on. The term actually means “to appreciate that kindness,” really “to be grateful.” So when we really appreciate the kindness that we’ve been shown by everybody, and really feel grateful for that, then naturally we’ll have what’s called “heart-warming love.” Whenever we meet any being, it just makes our hearts filled with joy and happiness, like meeting our only child.

Then naturally we (4) develop love, the wish for everybody to be happy and have the causes for happiness, and (5) compassion, the wish for them to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering, and then (6) the exceptional resolve, to take responsibility to bring them all the way to enlightenment, and then (7) bodhichitta.

As Togmey-zangpo says, “If all of these mothers of ours are suffering,” then since we’re interconnected and related to absolutely everybody, “what can we do with just our own happiness?” We need to use the everlasting happiness of liberation and enlightenment that we achieve with becoming a Buddha to benefit others, not just sit by the side of the swimming pool and have a nice cool drink and enjoy it. To review:

(10) A bodhisattva’s practice is to develop a bodhichitta aim
to liberate limitless beings,
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?

Exchanging Self with Others

In the next verse Togmey-zangpo indicates the other major method for developing bodhichitta, which is equalizing and exchanging our attitudes about self and others – first equalize, then exchange.

(11) A bodhisattva’s practice is to purely exchange
our personal happiness for the suffering of others,
Because (all) our sufferings, without an exception,
Come from desiring our personal happiness,
While a fully enlightened Buddha is born from the attitude
of wishing others well.

First we need to equalize our attitude toward everyone. This is based on the same type of equanimity we had in the first method for developing bodhichitta, where we don’t have attraction to some, repulsion to others, or indifference to others. But on the basis of that, then we’d go a step further, which is this equalizing self and others. This means that everybody is equal – ourselves and everybody else – in the fact that we all want to be happy and nobody wants to be unhappy. And we all have the right to have that happiness and not to be unhappy, regardless of what we do.

When we equalize everybody like that, then, as Shantideva explains very nicely in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, Bodhicharyavatara, he states that we all, in a sense, form a body of life, like all the parts of our own physical body form a body. And we can’t say that one part of that body is in more need of care than another, and that it’s more important that one part of our body doesn’t have pain rather than another. They’re all equal and therefore you can’t say that one part of the body like the hand would only take care of the hand. If the foot is having a problem, a pain, like a thorn in it, the hand would help it to take the thorn out.

[See: Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, ch. 8.]

The whole issue here, if I may speak about it on a little bit of a sophisticated level, is the issue of the basis for labeling “me.” Do we label “me” just on the basis of our hand, or on the basis of our whole body? So, are we labeling “me” just on the basis of this individual person here, or can we label it on the basis of anybody and everybody?

As Shantideva explains, now we’re basing our concept of “me” on the basis of pieces of somebody else’s body, something that has grown from the sperm and the egg of two other people. It’s not from my own sperm or egg. Basically we’re taking care of something that came from somebody else’s body. So what’s the difference between that and taking care of anybody’s body that has come from other people’s bodies? What is the difference between wiping our own running nose with our finger and wiping the running nose of our baby with our finger, both of which we’re willing to do if necessary; but how is that different from wiping the nose of the drunk lying on the street? As Shantideva says, suffering is to be removed, not because it’s my suffering, or your suffering, but suffering is to be removed simply because it’s suffering and it hurts. So, Shantideva says, suffering has no owner. Just as we can take care of “me” on the basis of this singular body, we can also similarly take care of “me,” in a sense, on the basis of everybody’s bodies.

When we do the practice of tonglen, giving and taking, which is indicated here in the text, of “exchanging our personal happiness for the suffering of others,” as Togmey-zangpo says – which means taking on their sufferings as if they were ours and giving them our happiness as if we were giving ourselves happiness – if we don’t understand this point about voidness and the mental labeling of a conventional “me,” then we get into big trouble. What is the trouble that we get into? It is the trouble of basing this whole practice on a misconception that we are a solid, independent, truly established “me,” and so we get this whole martyr complex of: “I’m going to take on the suffering of the whole universe,” and “I’m going to save everybody.” Also, of course, we have a tremendous amount of fear, because “I certainly don’t want to feel the pain that you feel as you’re dying from cancer.” So we’re thinking of a very solid me, separate from everybody else, and “I certainly don’t want your suffering.” But if we can understand the voidness of the “me,” and how we can think in terms of the conventional “me” on the basis of everybody, then this whole exchange of self for others becomes fairly straightforward, very reasonable. It’s only frightening when we think of a solid me. I think this is an important point here about this practice of equalizing and exchanging self with others.

Why do we want to think in terms of everybody else and not just me, everybody else’s happiness and not just my own happiness? Togmey-zangpo states here, “Because (all) our sufferings, without an exception, come from desiring our personal happiness.” When we act destructively, we’re doing that because we want just our own personal happiness, “I don’t like this beetle flying around me. I’m afraid of it, I want to be happy without it being here. It is an unacceptable life-form,” therefore I would kill it. Or because I’m thinking of my own personal happiness, “I want to have what somebody else has,” we steal it. We want our own personal happiness, so we would have a sexual affair with somebody else’s partner. We want to get our own way and so we lie, and like this we can go through each of the ten destructive actions, and it’s not so difficult to identify how they arise based on wishing for just our own personal happiness and not caring at all about anybody else’s.

Even when we act constructively, if we’re doing it based on thinking of our own personal happiness, that also just perpetuates our samsara. “I’m kind to you,” for instance, “because I want you to like me,” “I want to feel necessary, useful,” and so on. That’s thinking of our own personal happiness.

The line continues, “While a fully enlightened Buddha is born from the attitude of wishing others well.” If we refrain from acting destructively, refrain from killing that beetle, it’s because we’re thinking of the happiness of the beetle. If we refrain from stealing something from someone else, again it’s because we’re thinking of their happiness, not our own. Likewise we can go through the ten constructive actions. They’re all based on thinking of the happiness of others, not our own, and from that, all the way up to bodhichitta. How does somebody become a Buddha? It’s because of bodhichitta; bodhichitta is based on thinking of others. Therefore, in review, Togmey-zangpo says:

(11) A bodhisattva’s practice is to purely exchange
our personal happiness for the suffering of others,
Because (all) our sufferings, without an exception,
Come from desiring our personal happiness,
While a fully enlightened Buddha is born from the attitude
of wishing others well.

Once we have developed bodhichitta on the basis of these two methods for generating it – the seven-part cause and effect, in terms of seeing everybody as having been our mother, and the equalizing and exchanging of self with others – that would be the aspiring state of bodhichitta. We aspire to reach enlightenment to benefit everybody. But then we go on to the engaged state of bodhichitta, with which we take the bodhisattva vows and we actually engage in the behavior that will bring us to enlightenment.

Bodhisattva Behavior: Dealing with Harms

This bodhisattva behavior encompasses many, many different aspects, but one of the important aspects that is discussed here is dealing with harms. The basic way that is described here by Togmey-zangpo for dealing with harms and difficulties is tonglen, giving and taking, and this is one of the most basic ways of transforming negative circumstances into positive ones, which is a topic discussed very much in the various lojong, or attitude-training, or mind-training texts. Remember, Togmey-zangpo wrote a commentary on the Seven-Point Attitude-Training and so we find many points here that are similar to not only that text, the Seven-Point Attitude-Training, but also the Eight-Verse Attitude-Training, on which those seven points are based.

(12) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone under the power of great desire
Steals or causes others to steal all our wealth,
To dedicate to him our bodies, resources,
and constructive actions of the three times.

If we’re aiming with bodhichitta to bring everybody to enlightenment, to bring them to the highest state possible, and we have that total willingness to give them all that happiness and that enlightenment, then, in a sense, we’ve given it to them. We might not have actually, physically, given it to them now, but in our minds we’ve given them everything that could possibly be given. And so, if they steal something from us, take something from us, “or cause somebody else to steal,” as Togmey-zangpo says here “under the power of great desire,” then they’ve just taken what belongs to them already.

Shantideva says something quite similar when he says, “having given my body to everybody,” in terms of serving them as a bodhisattva, “then let them use my body for whatever they want, just so long as they don’t do something that is destructive.” So, if they take something of ours; well, we’ve given it already to them, so we dedicate them everything else. Of course, “we dedicate to him,” as Togmey-zangpo says, “our bodies, resources and constructive actions of the three times.” “You’ve stolen my money, you’ve stolen my computer,” whatever, “I hope you enjoy it. I want you to have happiness, and so I hope you gain happiness from this. I take on from you whatever suffering consequences might come from that and give you happiness.” “Dedicate,” here it says.

Again we’re reminded of what Togmey-zangpo said just previously, that all unhappiness and suffering comes from thinking just of myself, and all happiness comes from thinking of the happiness of others. When I was living in India, in Dharamsala, I had a flower garden and one day the local children from the street came to my garden and picked all the flowers, and – being a samsaric being – I, of course, got a bit angry at that, and wanted to go out and yell at them to chase them away. But then I tried to remember this type of advice, that if I’m doing all my meditations and practices, “May everybody be happy, may everybody gain enlightenment,” and I begrudge them taking just some flowers, this is absurd. Being upset and unhappy about them picking the flowers was based totally on thinking just of me, “my flowers, I want to enjoy seeing them,” whereas when I thought in terms of “may you enjoy these flowers,” then that’s thinking of the happiness of others and one could have peace of mind.

Remember the point of equalizing and exchanging self with others. What’s the difference between me enjoying them and them enjoying them? So we dedicate to them even more happiness from “our bodies, our resources, and our constructive actions of the three times,” past, present, and future. In summary:

(12) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone, under the power of great desire
Steals or causes others to steal all our wealth,
To dedicate to him our bodies, resources,
and constructive actions of the three times.

You see, all these verses here about dealing with harms are intended to help us to not get angry. A bodhisattva would not get angry with anybody. Anger is basically wishing that the other person be unhappy. We want to get rid of them; we want them to stop whatever they’re doing. So, wanting someone not to be happy is the opposite of wanting them to be happy, isn’t it? Like this, anger devastates, as they say, the positive force built up by all our various constructive actions, makes it very, very weak. So we need to develop the patience with which we don’t get angry, and one of the best ways of doing this is through tonglen, giving and taking.

(13) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if while we haven’t the slightest faults ourselves,
Someone were to chop off our heads,
To accept on ourselves his negative consequences,
through the power of compassion.

This is, of course, speaking of a very extreme example of somebody chopping off our heads. But the point is, if somebody were to harm us very severely and it’s not our fault, we haven’t made any mistake, still we don’t get angry. But rather we try to practice here tonglen, thinking of all the negative consequences, the suffering that this person is going to experience as a result of “chopping off our heads,” or whatever harm they do to us, and do the tonglen practice of taking that on ourselves through the power of compassion, the wish for them to be free from suffering.

It’s very interesting when we look at the teachings on karma, in terms of what are the factors that make the ripening of karma stronger and stronger? There’s a whole list of factors that we find in the teachings that make the consequences heavier – “heavier” is the term literally – and one of these factors is – when we do a destructive action, how much suffering does it cause to the object of our destructive action? If it causes a tremendous amount of suffering, then the consequences are heavier; if it doesn’t cause so much suffering, the consequences are lighter.

The examples usually given are the difference between torturing somebody to death slowly and killing them instantly and quickly. So, if somebody does something negative toward us – here the extreme example of they’re going “to chop off our heads,” they’re going to execute us, shoot us in some ethnic cleansing war, or something like that – if we get angry and really suffer from that, then the consequences on the other person are much heavier. Now, if they’re going to chop off our heads, then we’re going to die quite quickly, but if we go back to the previous verse – somebody steals something from us – if we’re really angry, and we hold a grudge, and we suffer and think about it so much after that for a really long time and “How am I going to get back at this person,” and all this anger – what the result of it is is that we will not only suffer more now, but the karmic consequences on the other person are going to be heavier. Whereas if we don’t get angry, because we’re thinking of this other person, and we want the consequences of their action to be as light as possible, because of our compassion for this person, then the whole situation changes, not only for us, but for the other person as well.

This is why it’s very important, when somebody does something negative to us, to let go. If somebody borrows money from us and they don’t pay it back, well, there are some situations where the person is never going to pay it back, so just let go. This is quite different from our Western concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness implies almost a type of aloof superiority type of attitude that, “Well, I will forgive you, you poor thing.” It’s based on this whole concept of guilt: This person is guilty and now we will pardon them. So that’s giving quite a true identity to this other person as “the guilty one,” whom, in our graciousness, we will pardon, whereas here, we’re talking simply on the basis of compassion, that we see that the more angry I am, the more upset I am, the more suffering this other person is going to experience. And so, because I want them to be happy, I’m not going to be angry. I’m going to wish them even more happiness. Therefore Togmey-zangpo wrote:

(13) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if while we haven’t the slightest fault ourselves,
Someone were to chop off our heads,
To accept on ourselves his negative consequences,
through the power of compassion.

Even if we’re not yet bodhisattvas, these are very helpful guidelines to try to put into practice as much as we can.

(14) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone were to publicize throughout the thousand,
million, billion worlds
All kinds of unpleasant things about us,
To speak in return about his good qualities, with an attitude of love.

This is something that Shantideva also speaks a great deal about, that if others say unpleasant things to us, and yell at us, and insult us and so on, that it’s important not to return that, not to say nasty things back, because if we are constantly criticizing and saying nasty things about others, people are going to have a very low opinion of us. They’re not going to trust us in terms of helping them, because they would think what are we going to say about them? Also Shantideva points out that everybody has some good qualities and then he has many, many verses in terms of, if we want others to be happy about our good qualities, why don’t we want to be happy about others’ good qualities? We’re the same. Everybody is the same.

If we rejoice in others’ happiness, others’ good qualities, we gain more happiness; if we’re very negative toward them and deny any good qualities in them, what’s the result? We’re just unhappy. When we criticize others, what state of mind is that? It’s a very unhappy state of mind. But if we rejoice in the good qualities of others, no matter how small they might be, then that’s a more happy state of mind. And others gain much, much more confidence and respect for us, which allows us to be able to help them more, because they’re open to us, they trust us.

The greatest example of this is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Think about the negative publicity that the Chinese make concerning His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They say so many negative things and spread it throughout the world. What they say is not true at all, but nevertheless His Holiness doesn’t criticize, doesn’t say nasty things about how horrible the Chinese government is, but he speaks of the positive things that China can offer to Tibet, he doesn’t deny them. In this way he is open to negotiating with them. That’s a very different attitude than one of a terrorist type of infraction – an insurgent movement, that is just “Ah! The government is horrible and they’re so bad,” and “We have to destroy them.”

The point here is to not speak about the negative qualities of others, even if they say very negative things about us, but rather to emphasize their good qualities – everybody has good qualities – and do this with the attitude of love, the wish for them to be happy. Therefore we rejoice in the happiness that they have from their good qualities. If we can’t endure one person saying negative things about us to others, how could we ever endure what His Holiness does in having a whole nation saying negative things about us? Therefore Togmey-zangpo says:

(14) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone were to publicize throughout the thousand,
million, billion worlds
All kinds of unpleasant things about us,
To speak in return about his good qualities, with an attitude of love.

That really sums up a lot of the bodhisattva behavior of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, doesn’t it?

(15) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone exposes our faults or says foul words (about us)
In the midst of a gathering of many wandering beings,
To bow to him respectfully,
distinguishing that (he’s our) spiritual teacher.

When others criticize us, expose our faults and so on, then actually they’re very, very helpful to us, because they’re actually showing us our mistakes so that we can correct them. After all, if we think in terms of what really a good friend is, a good friend is one who will tell us that we’re acting like an idiot when we actually are acting like an idiot. If we write something in school, if the teacher doesn’t point out the mistakes, or the faults that we make, and just always says, “Oh, it’s so wonderful, it’s so great what you wrote,” we don’t learn anything and we never improve. In this way, anybody who exposes our faults is really like our spiritual teacher helping us to discover what they are and correct them.

Even if what they accuse us of is false, it gives us the opportunity to check up to see, is it true or not. Even if they “expose our faults in the midst of a gathering of many wandering beings,” Togmey-zangpo says, still we look at them as our teacher. If we really want to be able to help others, one of the most important things not to do is to hide our faults and shortcomings and pretend that we have good qualities that we don’t have. If somebody points out our mistakes in a group of many people, that gives us an opportunity to be honest with them.

For example, if we’re a teacher and somebody in the class corrects us, then – rather than feeling embarrassed and, “Oh, it’s so terrible. What are the people going to think of me?” and so on – thank them for pointing that out. “Thank you. That was a slip of the tongue; that was a mistake.” I think, on that basis people in the class would have more respect for you. Sometimes His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when he teaches, will have a slip of the tongue and say something incorrect, and then he recognizes that himself, and he laughs and laughs, and says, “I just said something incorrect.” He doesn’t make a big deal out of it. He doesn’t feel, “Oh, I’m so terrible.”

When we talk about “distinguishing that this person is our spiritual teacher,” “to distinguish,” that’s here often translated as “recognize,” but “to distinguish” means to see a certain characteristic feature of someone, or something, to specify that distinguishing characteristic. And so here what do, we distinguish – the person may have all other types of characteristics, that make them all sorts of things – but one of the things that we can distinguish is that they’re acting as our teacher now by pointing out our mistakes. Therefore that’s a correct distinguishing, because they do have that characteristic feature; they’re helping us to learn. To review, the verse says:

(15) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone exposes our faults or says foul words (about us)
In the midst of a gathering of many wandering beings,
To bow to him respectfully,
distinguishing that (he’s our) spiritual teacher.

(16) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if a person
Whom we’ve taken care of, cherishing him like our own child,
Were to regard us as his enemy, to have special affection for him,
Like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.

If we have a two year-old or a three year-old child, and it’s late at night, and we tell the child it’s time to go to bed, and the child gets very upset, and says, “I hate you,” do we believe the child and get really upset, “Oh, my child doesn’t love me anymore?” But instead we have affection, we’re thinking of the welfare of the child, so, “Turn off the television and go to bed.” Or, if our baby is sick, and is crying all night long, do we get angry with the baby, and consider the baby our enemy, that “You’re disturbing my sleep!” No, we have even more affection toward the baby. So the same thing is true with anybody who were to treat us badly and “regard us as their enemy,” that “we’ve taken care of them,” and helped them so much and then they get so angry at us, then it’s very helpful to look at them in the same way, as our sick child, because, in fact, they are sick with some sort of emotional disturbance. So, again:

(16) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if a person
Whom we’ve taken care of, cherishing him like our own child,
Were to regard us as his enemy, to have special affection for him,
Like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.

(17) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if an individual, our equal or inferior,
Were to treat (us) insultingly out of the power of his arrogance,
To receive him on the crown of our heads respectfully, like a guru.

When others, “out of arrogance, treat us insultingly,” especially if they’re “our equal or inferior” in one way or another, it’s important not to be arrogant back toward them and yell at them. This brings up all the teachings that Shantideva has concerning overcoming arrogance and jealously and so on. When we feel arrogant toward somebody, he suggests that we look at it from the point of view of the person that is inferior to us. From their point of view, who do we think we are? We get all the good conditions in life and we don’t share anything with them and we look down on them, naturally they’re going to feel very badly about it, “Why don’t you help me? Why are you just looking down on me?” This is the type of teaching that Shantideva gives in terms of exchanging the viewpoint of self with others. Even if someone in that type of inferior position were to insult us and be arrogant toward us, it’s very important to remember these type of teachings of Shantideva, and not to be arrogant back toward them, but instead “to receive this person on the crown of our heads, respectfully like a guru,” in other words, rather than looking down on them and being arrogant back, we respect them, as we would our gurus, because after all, again, they’re teaching us something: teaching us not to be arrogant.

Even if those who are our inferior, or equal don’t insult us, it’s very important to have an attitude of respect toward them and not be arrogant, “After all, it’s in dependence on them that I will achieve enlightenment, and that I’ll be able to help so many others. It’s because of my compassion toward them, because of my love toward them, because of my help toward them, that I’ll be able to reach enlightenment and benefit others. So they’re very worthy of respect.”

When we talk about gaining inspiration for achieving enlightenment, inspiration comes from two directions, both from upwards and below. Upwards, coming from the Three Jewels and our spiritual masters, our gurus – they can inspire us by their example. But equally we gain inspiration from limited beings, from sentient beings who are suffering, because it’s through viewing them that we become inspired with love and compassion that “I’ve got to achieve enlightenment to help them.”

Shantideva says that all limited beings and the Buddhas are equal in having good qualities, good qualities here in the sense of: it’s based on both of them that we’ll be able to achieve enlightenment. Therefore Shantideva says, why show respect only to the gurus and the Buddhas and not to all suffering, limited beings? Then, again:

(17) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if an individual, our equal or inferior,
Were to treat (us) insultingly out of the power of his arrogance,
To receive him on the crown of our heads respectfully, like a guru.

This is a good place to stop for today, and then we’ll continue tomorrow. Perhaps we have time for one or two short questions.

Question: I acknowledge that I’ve been having problems dealing with anger. Is a first step toward working with anger when we notice it’s arising, stepping out or walking away from that situation in order to calm down and later be able to work with it and eventually destroy it or get rid of it?

Answer: Yes, that’s a very good step. It fits is in with what Togmey-zangpo says, that a bodhisattva would leave his or her homeland, where anger, and attachment, and naivety disturb us so much. So, walking away from the situation at the time when we’re unable to handle it in a decent way – we’re only going to get angry – is similar to that. We need to calm down and gain our composure. Similarly, the other person is angry and upset. That’s not the time when they’re going to be receptive to calming down and making peace. No matter what we say, they’re not going to listen. Again, we need to wait until they calm down and we’re both in a state of mind that’s more conducive for resolving the conflict.

Question: I’m confused with verse seventeen, when we talk about inferior people, because we’ve been talking in terms of equality and everybody being equal. What do you mean when someone is inferior?

Answer: Everybody is equal in that everybody wants to be happy and nobody wants to be unhappy. Everybody has the equal right to that. Everybody has been equally kind to us, as our mothers for example. As Shantideva says, Buddhas and all limited beings are equally kind to us, and so they’re deserving of equal respect, but he also says very explicitly that they’re not equal in all respects. In terms of good qualities of love, and compassion, and wisdom and so on, the good qualities of the Buddhas are beyond imagination, he says. But they’re equal only, Shantideva says, in regard to the fact that, based on them, equally we will achieve enlightenment.

Shantideva, in his chapter on mental stability, where he speaks about exchanging self for others, speaks in terms of those who are our superior, those who are our equal and those who are our inferior, because what we need to overcome is arrogance toward those who are our inferior, let’s say who have less money than us; and we have to overcome aggressive competitiveness with those who are our equal, that we have to compete with them to make more money; and we need to overcome jealousy toward those who have more money than us, who are our superior in this type of quality. So it’s just on a very conventional level that we can say that various people are our superior, equal, or inferior. It’s with regard to these type of qualities, qualities such as money, power, position, physical strength, beauty and so on.

Question: In verse twelve about somebody who steals from us, are we only talking about material wealth? The second question is, are we dealing with only the karma of the other person who is stealing something from us, or also with our karma when we react in one way or another to what they do to us?

Answer: Stealing can be stealing anything. They can steal, of course, our money, our possessions. Nowadays people can steal your name and your identity through the Internet, and use your credit card. They can steal your cow; they can steal lots of different things.

In terms of your second point, Shantideva says, on the basis of me, this person is building up negative consequences, because they’re stealing from me, whereas if I develop patience toward them, then on the basis of them I’m developing happiness. So they’re generating their own suffering on the basis of me, and I’m generating happiness on the basis of them, so why give them even more suffering by getting angry with them? On the basis of me. they’re going to have a worse rebirth, and on the basis of them I’m going to attain enlightenment. So this is a bit strange, isn’t it? Why get angry with them?

Of course we can think in another way, as in another attitude-training text, The Wheel of Sharp Weapons – to think that I have committed negative actions in the past of stealing from others, and so now this is returning to me. That’s another way of transforming this situation. So we can think in terms of my negative karma ripening, or we can think in terms of “I’m building positive karma based on them.”

Let’s end here with a dedication. We think whatever positive force has come from this, whatever understanding has grown from this, may it get stronger and stronger and go deeper and deeper, and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.