The Three Disciplines
Vigilance, Part Two
The Three Disciplines here are the same as my tradition's Three Pure Precepts. I don't have to look, they are ingrained in me now after so many years. 1. Cease from evil. 2. Do only good. 3. Do good for others. Another way to put it: Stop. Look for good to do. Listen for the good that is needed. Chodron puts it this way: not causing harm, gathering virtue, and benefiting others.
When the urge arises in the mind To feelings of desire or wrathful hate, Do not act! Be silent, do not speak! ...wild with mockery...filled with pride or arrogance...when you want to show the hidden faults of others....act deceitfully...fish for praise...criticize and spoil another's name...use harsh language...It's then that like a log you should remain.(Shantideva 5.48-50)
So often these are encouraged qualities in this very individualistic competitive society, even if they are recognized as unethical. Pride, arrogance, seeking praise, criticism, these almost seem demanded if you want to "get ahead."
At the moment, I'm not aware of an equivalent in my tradition, but Pema Chodron outlines 4 points of interruption when we get these urges to splash that egoistic self all about.
- At the pre-verbal level. "Emotional turmoil begins with an initial perception--a sight, sound, thought--which gives rise to a feeling of comfort or discomfort. This is the subtlest level of shenpa, the subtlest stage of getting hooked."
- When thoughts are just getting started. "By interrupting thoughts before we get worked up, we diffuse the intensity of emotions. Emotional intensity can't survive without our thoughts, so this is a pivotal instruction." Thoughts are the oxygen and the fuel for the fire. We can turn them, shift them, change them. Without a conscious effort such as outlined in Buddhism, or without fortunate circumstances, this is difficult. These thoughts are more likely to be in the unconscious mind then, or the subconscious mind. The spiritual work of Buddhism is all about making the subconscious conscious.
- When those thoughts have triggered emotions. "If we don't catch those subtle thoughts, our emotions escalate. ...we can let the story line go even after the emotional heat has started to rise. It's never too late to interrupt the escalation of the kleshas."
- Just before we act on those thoughts and emotions. "...we can hold our seats...just before we take the fatal step of speaking or acting out. ...The final instruction--to refrain from words or action--points to the easiest place to notice the urge, but the hardest time to refrain."
This is the beauty of this practice. Ordinarily it is as Pema Chodron says, easiest to notice, but hardest to stop ourselves just before we behave poorly. By practicing that awareness and vigilance, we observe the thoughts sooner, the shenpa sooner. Often when people begin this practice, they become super-sensitive to mild drugs like coffee, or food sensitivities. They are sinking into the karma of their own bodies. I did this too. I naturally felt little urge to drink alcohol. It is like we are sinking down into a lightness of being, and first we must pass through the grosser layers of the physical plane. Then we can sink through the subtler layers of the mind, and awareness makes those thoughts as tangible as the layers of the body were. Sinking deeper into awareness practice, it does become easier to catch those impulses before they've gained much identity.
Through it all, Shantideva says "It's then that like a log you should remain." That is to begin a practice of zazen. Whatever you feel, whatever you do, zazen doesn't care. Just keep stopping, remaining like a log. ("Zazen doesn't care" is my favorite and most-oft remembered phrase from Returning to Silence by Dainin Katagiri.)2. Do only good.
With perfect and unyielding faith,This is a good opportunity to speak of Buddhist faith. Pema Chodron does. We did in class. These things arise naturally. She calls "eager faith" that first arising thought that this thing could help us in our lives. Back in college, I was attracted to the benefits my boss talked about. I was set loose in the world on my own for the first time, finally away from a dysfunctional childhood. All that karma didn't just disappear. I needed help, needed to learn how to navigate the world in a different way. Somehow in me there was a recognition that this practice could meet that need that I hadn't even been able to articulate yet.
With steadfastness, respect, and courtesy,
With modesty and conscientiousness,
Work calmly for the happiness of others. (Shantideva 5.55)
She calls that trust in Buddha Nature "confident faith." Chodron says, "We have faith that basic goodness is within all of us. This jewel may be buried, but it is always present and available to all of us. We feel confident that we can find it, nurture it, and bring it out."
Some of us are so lucky as to get a beginning glimpse of that inner strength. The first time I meditated with others...a small group my boss began for students...I felt an openness and a lightness of being that made me feel I could walk for miles without tiring. For the first time, I was able to converse in class without painful self-conscious planning of every word. From that time on, I meditated daily. During times of, well, now I have a word for it, dunzi, all I had to do was remember that moment, and I could persist with my solitary practice.
Respect, modesty, courtesy, these are all reflections of a deepening access to our non-dual Buddha Nature. Chodron says, "When we see how reactive and unkind we can be, this humbles us considerably. Instead of causing despair, however, this painful realization can connect us with the tenderness of bodhichitta. Modesty, or humbleness, is the opposite of armoring ourselves: it allows us to be receptive and hear what others have to say."
When doing virtuous acts, beyond reproach,
To help ourselves, or for the sake of others,
Let us always bear in mind the thought
That we are self-less, like an apparition. (Shantideva 5.57)
This can be difficult for us Americans. We are rewarded in this competitive world with recognition of our good deeds. We wrap our identities around one good deed deserving another. The thing is, if we do good deeds for the recognition, we aren't really doing it for others, we're doing it for ourselves. And if we're really only doing it for ourselves, that ends up being cramped by ignorance, small and small-minded.
I understand this intimately after a childhood of mis-recognition, and my always seeking positive recognition. Instinctively I knew that while I eyed positions of leadership in my temple with the wistful wish that I was worthy to hold those positions, I would not be good in such positions before they ceased to matter to this little self. Now, I find myself in positions of leadership in the wider community, and it works because I am not doing it for myself. For myself, really I'd rather step back. For the community, I need to step forward, and that is stepping into the 3rd Pure Precept.
Regard your body as a vessel,
A simple boat for going here and there.
Make of it a wish-fulfilling gem
To bring about the benefit of beings. (Shantideva 5.70)
In class, K talked about this being instruction to take care of our bodies, that our bodies are a tool for doing good for others. To me though, the primary message is that the focus is not using my body to make my world better for myself, but using my body and my mind to make the world a better place for others. I do what I can with this simple boat. It's not the most streamlined boat, but it's tough enough to do the job. It tends to work better when I am working for the benefit of others. There's nothing like forgetting the self to make the self feel better, I have to tell ya, and that's because the self isn't limited to this small cramped cave, but to a spacious world connected to many beings. Does that sound mystical? I don't think so. It's very practical.
See? See here:
The goal of every act is happiness itself,
Though even with great wealth, it's rarely found.
So take your pleasure in the qualities of others.
Let them be a heartfelt joy to you.
By acting thus, in this life you'll lose nothing;
In future lives, great bliss will come to you.
The sin of envy brings not joy but pain,
And in the future, dreadful suffering. (Shantideva 5.77,78)
(Think "future moments" for "future lives.") Again, that's not mystical, that's what really happens, if you let it! This "heartfelt joy" is mudita.
3. Do good for others.
And it is others' good that is the highest goal. (Shantideva 5.83)
Meet people where they are. Understand what is needed. This progresses naturally from the deepening practice of doing only good via an expansion of the self to include all beings. And you know, it does come back to the details. After losing yourself in the expansiveness of mudita, you gotta come back to earth and do the laundry, or throw away your toothbrush properly. (5.91)
You still need your teacher. Shantideva says, "Never, at the cost of life or limb, Forsake your virtuous friend, your teacher." (5.102) A good teacher never loses their humbleness. This is partly due to the understanding that the point is the greater good, not self-aggrandizement.