Transforming mundane activity into a spiritual endeavour

On Saturdays, Deer Park is co-ordinating with Jangsa Animal Saving Trust to assist with cleaning the dog pound at Memelhakha. Before joining this weekly project, it might be helpful to consider some of the points below with regard to using the experience as a way to deepen our practice.

While the means of practice are many, the motivation is constant:  to benefit others. In Buddhism, this mind is called 'bodhicitta'. Without giving rise to bodhicitta, our practice, no matter how profound, will be mired in ego clinging. As a result,  it cannot lead us to the ultimate goal of gaining release from suffering.

To ground our practice in bodhicitta and to channel our efforts into benefiting others, we should consider that all beings, from the smallest ant to the largest whale, all wish to avoid pain and be free from suffering. In this respect, animals are no different from ourselves. 

Furthermore, through the endless cycle of rebirths, there is not one being that at one time or another has not been our mother. We should repeatedly contemplate this. Then, when we look at animals, we will not merely see a creature of lesser intelligence, but an actual mother of the past.

With this understanding, we should do our utmost to assist  these 'mothers of the past' and try to relieve them of their suffering and make their lives as comfortable as possible. If it is difficult to perceive the dogs in this way, at least consider their suffering and try to imagine how we would feel in their situation.   

At the moment, there are many dogs held at the Memelhakha Dog Pound whose lives are less than ideal.* Therefore, we hope to put our practice of bodhicitta into action at the weekends and assist Lama Kunzang of Jangsa Animal Saving Trust** to give them a clean  environment.

*Information on the dog situation at Memelhakha:        

Frustrations of a “dog-eat-dog” world and The barks and yelps of a national conscience

**Jangsa Website: http://www.animalsavingtrust.org

 

Our innate goodness of heart:
To practice the Dharma, it is crucial to give up the idea of self. Even so called advanced practices will be unable to transform the mind if we remain embroiled in self clinging. And a powerful means to counter pride and attachment to the self is the practice of generosity and giving.

When we undertake this practice, however, it is important not to do so from a sense of poverty, but with a warmth that expresses our innate inner wealth. When we give from a sense of poverty, there is a feeling of a superior 'I' that is giving to an inferior 'other', and this is sustained only by some form of payback – such as gaining appreciation or, in the case of the dogs, achieving a sense of personal satisfaction.

However, generosity that arises from inner wealth is like the sun rays. It pours forth naturally, and is an expression of our innate goodness of heart. In this respect, action is undertaken purely for the benefit of others, and there is no need for gratitude or satisfaction. This form of generosity is inexhaustible because the source of fuel, our innate goodness, is limitless.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche once shared an example of the power of this approach with his students in Taipei. He used the allegory of helping someone with alcohol problems. A person with a poverty mentality will help, but will soon tire because they are running on a limited source of fuel – reliance on outer conditions, such as positive feedback, etc.

A person reliant on such outer conditions is enthusiastic at the beginning, but will be less willing to devote time and energy to help if the recipient relapses. After several attempts, he will totally give up. This kind of generosity is unsustainable because it is rooted in a tainted motivation: personal gratification. And like anything that contains a flaw, it is weak and easy to break.

However, a person who helps while tapping into their inner wealth of goodness will not tire because they do not rely on paybacks. It is like  having switched from a limited source of energy, such as that based on fossil fuel to harnessing something inexhaustibleness like air.

Such a person, Rinpoche says, will not only be prepared to help the alcoholic once or twice. Nor will they limit their endeavours to even one or two life times, but will continue to assist for hundreds of thousands of lifetimes. And why can they achieve this? Because their motivation is purely to assist others, and is not contingent on personal satisfaction. In short, they have have discovered the means to tap their innate inner wealth of goodness of heart, which is unconditioned and inexhaustible. Such a person has taken his first step on the noble path of the Bodhisattva.     

The Vast Attitude of Bodhicitta – Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche:
http://www.siddharthasintent.org/gentle/GVindex.htm#19

 

Merit:
Think of our life-stream as a structure. Each part is connected to the part below and above. To continue this example, consider altruistic action as being like strong bricks and selfish action as unstable bricks. As the building is built higher, the lower bricks are no longer in sight and are forgotten. However, the effect of these bricks is felt throughout the whole structure. And, if there are many weak bricks, even a magnificent building of over 100 stories will fall when struck by external factors.  

This is similar to the results of karma. If we engage in action that benefits others, we create a positive influence on the mind stream, and this produces good results in the future. Such action is like adding sturdy bricks to a structure. Conversely, negative action will cause future difficulties to arise.

This truth was taught by the Buddha in the following way: Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draws it. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves”  - The Dhammapada

However, from a deeper point of view, whether we receive good or bad results, we remain in the cycle of samsara. In this way, we still suffer the effects of impermanence, such as sickness, old age and death.

Therefore, in order to create the necessary conditions to break through the illusory state of samsara, we need to transform the results of our action from merely benefiting us on a mundane level to creating the conditions for us and others to fully awaken from the illusion of suffering. In order to accomplish this, Longchenpa explained that we should contemplate in the following way:

  • Before undertaking a positive act, we should make aspirations that it helps sentient beings to attain complete enlightenment.
  • While cleaning, we should remind ourselves of the higher view that in reality the  whole act is merely an interpretation of the mind, and we should reinforce this by continuously thinking, “my mind is doing this,”  “my mind is feeling tired.” Further, we should consider that ultimately the giver, the receiver and the act do not exist in the way they appear outside our perception.
  • After completing the act, we chant the following dedication  of merit as a means to direct our mind:  “I totally dedicate all merit in the same way as the Buddhas of the past, Buddhas of the future and Buddhas of the present. May it be the cause of enlightenment of all beings”

Through contemplating in this way, our merit is preserved and  our daily action is transformed into a spiritual path dedicated to the benefit of others.

End quote from HH Dalai Lama:

“In our approach to life, be it pragmatic or otherwise, the ultimate truth that confronts us squarely and unmistakably is the desire for peace, security and happiness. Different forms of life in different aspects of existence make up the teeming denizens of this earth of ours. And, no matter whether they belong to the higher group as human beings or to the lower group, the animals, all beings primarily seek peace, comfort and security. Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not to die, so do other creatures.”