Now I would like to explain some benefits and merits of altruism and the good heart. The human and deva vehicles — the ultimate aim of a favourable rebirth in the future — can only be achieved by refraining from actions which harm others. We find, therefore, that altruism, or the good heart, is the root. And the different aspects of favourable human existence — long life, little illness, success and happiness and so forth — are also dependent upon the basic quality of kindness and the good heart. So we find that kindness and a good heart are the basis of success in life, success in a spiritual path, and success in the realisation of the ultimate aspiration. Kindness and the good heart are important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.
Since compassion and the good heart are achieved and cultivated through conscious effort and contemplation, it is important for us to identify the favourable conditions — which give rise to our experiencing those things. And it is also important to identify the adverse circumstances that obstruct our cultivation of them. It is therefore important to live under the constant vigilance of mindfulness and alertness, and whenever the situation arises, to be able to identify whether circumstances are favourable or adverse for the cultivation of compassion and the good heart. If we pursue our lives in such a manner, we shall be able to reduce the force of the obstacles and increase the favourable conditions.
The place for cultivating compassion and the good heart is our own selfishness (thoughts that cherish our own welfare alone) and the delusions which accompany those self-centred attitudes. It is very important for a practitioner of compassion to first of all see the destructive nature of delusion and the faults that delusions lead to.
In the chapter on Conscientiousness in the Bodhisattvacharyavatara, Shantideva explains that delusions such as hatred, desire, anger and jealousy are within our own minds and are our own enemies. They do not have legs or bodies and so on, nor do they hold weapons in their hands, but they reside within our minds, control us from within, and make us their servants. The text explains that we do not realise that these delusions are our enemies, even though they reside within our minds, controlling and inflicting harm upon us. So we never confront them or challenge them. And because we do not challenge them, they continue to reside within our minds and inflict harm on us at will.
Now, these negative thoughts trick us. When desire and attachment appear, they seem to be as friends, as very beautiful and very dear to us. Then anger and hatred (negative thoughts) appear in our minds and they can seem to be like some kind of bodyguard — someone is about to hurt us and anger appears as a protector which gives us a kind of strength. Though you may be physically very weak, when anger appears you somehow become strong, and immediately you get the ability to hit someone! You may not take up the real challenge, however, the actual challenge, but anger appears to you as some really reliable protector, doesn’t it? So these are the tricks by which negative thoughts deceive us. In order to see how they deceive us, our minds have to be in a calm state; then we are really able to see the treachery of negative thoughts.
When we look back through history to those great people — spiritual masters, teachers, politicians, or even great army leaders, people throughout history who have done something good or have been of great service to mankind nationally or internationally — the crucial factor for their goodness has been the good heart, proper motivation. This has not necessarily been from a religious motivation, but simply from someone thinking of others, from thinking of one’s own nation, of the majority, of the poor people, the needy people. With that motivation and those actions, the resulting goodness remains, lives, stays in history as something good, as a contribution to humanity. When we read of these things today, although the event may now simply be a memory, because the motivation and deeds were good, even today when we read about them, it gives us a comfortable feeling, ‘Oh, such and such a person was really great; he did such noble work.’ And even today we can see traces of work undertaken by great people.
Now, from another aspect, we read about killing, torturing, destruction, misery for large numbers of people, those negative things which took place in history. And the most crucial factor in those dark periods of history has been hatred, anger, jealousy and unlimited greed — extreme greed — that is clear.
So, you see, human history is the history of negative thoughts and positive thoughts. If we want a better, happier future, it is clear that the time has come to check our own generation’s motivation.
Then there is one’s daily life. Sometimes, despite being a monk, despite being a practitioner of this kind of book [Bodhisattvacharyavatara], still I get irritated and angry. In those moments, I occasionally use certain harsh or negative words; then after just a few moments the anger disappears. And then I feel very embarrassed! I have spoken some negative word, the word has gone, and there is no way of withdrawing it, is there? Even though the word itself, the sound of the voice itself, has ceased, the impact of that word is still there. The only thing to do then, is to go to that person and apologise, isn’t it? But in the meantime you feel some embarrassment, feel shy, don’t you? So, you see, that short moment of temper has already created such embarrassment. Negative thought is almost like an action; and these negative states of mind obscure our intelligence and judgement — and that is a greater damage.
One of the best qualities of a human being is intelligence — the ability to judge positive and negative. Now, anger and attachment, those negative thoughts, simply destroy that best of human qualities — and that’s a great pity. So, when anger or attachment dominate our minds, we become almost mad. And nobody would volunteer to become mad, would they? In the meantime we neglect to do anything about these negative thoughts, so, in effect, we are inviting them to come again. When negative thought dominates our minds, therefore, we become completely blind or mad, and all sorts of actions which basically we do not want to do, are committed very readily, unnoticed.
By analysing these things, we will realise that the enemy is not outside. For example, if our minds are controlled, self-disciplined, we shall remain calm. And even if we are surrounded by external hostile things, our mental peace will not be disturbed. Mental peace is destroyed very easily by negative thoughts, not by external factors. So, therefore, the real enemy is within ourselves, not outside.
There are, of course, people who want to harm us or harm others, and we usually distinguish them as the enemy. Yet these enemies are impermanent. One moment they are acting as our enemies, the next as our best friends! That is a fact. Now, negative thoughts, this inner enemy, is always the enemy — today, in the past — and in the future (so long as we remain in those circumstances), it will remain the enemy. Shantideva says that negative thoughts are the real enemy that remains within oneself, and that is very dangerous.
The ancient kings built castles with limited material and equipment; through sheer human hard labour, all sorts of big fortresses and things were built. Today, in our nuclear age, these castles and fortresses are useless; now everybody is a target of these awful weapons. Some expect the new project in America, Starwars, will give ultimate protection. I don’t know! There may even be some means of protection for us all worldwide. But the internal enemy, that awful dreadful enemy within ourselves, if that is there, that is really dangerous. The only method of protection against that is awareness and realisation.
[Excerpt from a talk given in London in 1988.
Published by kind permission of The Office of Tibet, 1 Culworth St, St John’s Wood, London NW8 7AF 020 7722 5378]
Published in the April 1989 edition of Buddhism Now.
Avalokiteshvara Padmapani, Pakistan (Swat Valley), 7th century © Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Bodhisattva as the lotus-bearer Padmapani was a favored form of Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of Buddhist compassion. His identifiers are the lotus (padma) held in his left hand, and the small figure of the Buddha Amitabha atop his head. In this early representation, he sits in royal ease, with one leg pendant and a hand poised as if gesturing contemplation.
Mahakala, Central Tibet, ca.1500 © Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mahakala is one of the most popular guardians in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon.
He is especially revered by the Sakya order, which commissioned this work. This tangka, one of the earliest and grandest of this subject, can be related to murals preserved in the fifteenth-century Kumbum at Gyantse monastery, central Tibet.