FYI — there is another new commentary on the Resources page. It is a traditional Tibetan commentary on the entire BCA. I think you will like it.
As social isolation and quarantine persists, I believe people are realizing the importance of the other, whether that other is a family member, a friend, a loved one, a pet, a coworker, a babysitter, etc. The other in our lives has taken on a new form, and I believe we are beginning to reflect on how imperative it is that this other is happy.
As I sit at home, I find myself most happy when I have the opportunity to connect with another being, whether that is my family over dinner, my friends over zoom, or any of my many attempts to communicate with my pets. I find that I laugh more when they smile, and I am more positive and light-hearted when they are happy. That is not to say that I am not happy alone, but I find myself most happy when another being is happy.
Being in quarantine doesn’t change the pride I feel when my friend is accepted into a graduate program or the excitement I have when it’s a friend’s birthday. Another’s happiness is directly connected to my own, and I believe in this egoistic society people are beginning to face this realization.
While reading chapter 8 of Śāntideva’s work, I found a similar sentiment expressed in Verse 129.
“All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.” (Verse 129)
Our happiness is dependent upon the happiness of others, and as we reside in this uncertain world, we are deeply aware and concerned about the happiness and well-being of others (all of the health-care workers we don’t know, the grocery store clerk, the mail person, our family members, our friends, etc.).
As the pandemic ensues and as it ends, we need to be sure to maintain this appreciation, this devotion to the other, for as expressed by Śāntideva, we will be happy as long as we continue to facilitate the well-being of the other.
Chapter 8 of the Bodhicaryavatara is all about perfecting meditative absorption. It speaks of the criticality of reflection unto oneself, in disassociating from worldly distractions. Within the text, one verse stuck out to me: “Thus one should recoil from sensual desires and cultivate delight in solitude, in tranquil woodlands empty of contention and strife” (85).
As I read that verse, I could not help but think of its relevance to current events, of how universal the feeling of solitude is during this time. With the mandatory stay-at- home order throughout the nation, I had told myself that this solitude would become an opportunity for me to focus on my mind and body. A time for reflection and healing. Like the verse had said, I imagined this solitude to produce an equanimity that I desperately needed in this time of uncertainty. But I had hoped that this would come naturally. By resting and taking care of myself that that calmness and delight would sprout organically. But now that I’ve been dealing with this solitude for weeks now, I have realized how crucial it is to be deliberate in engaging with my solitude. In reality, I have been partaking in solitude, not embodying it. From now on, I want to interact with my solitude that directly demands my actions and mentality. Like verse 88 posits, “One’s conduct and dwelling are one’s own choice. Bound to none, one enjoys that happiness and contentment which even for a king is hard to find”.
The 8th chapter of the Bodhicaryavatara, titled “Perfection of Meditative Absorbtion,” can be looked at as the guide for putting all the doctrines previously discussed into practice. Before even embarking on a journey of becoming a Bodhisattva, one must follow the Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment and leave the personal life behind. All of the connections and relationships made, such as between family, friends, and other loved ones, must be dismissed if one is to become a Bodhisattva. This is because these human connection that we hold dear to ourselves will ultimately end in suffering, due to loss of life or loss of relationship.
Another Buddhist doctrine that is put into practice is the idea of No-Self. By denying the existence of a permanent self, you detach yourself from the ego that was conditioned by your upbringing, to help see equanimity among all beings of the universe. In this same vein of thought, in verse 102, Santideva says, “Without exception, no sufferings belong to anyone.” Here, Santideva is saying that the suffering of beings is dependently arisen, and therefore impermanent. It is thus the job of the Bodhisattva, to use the impermanence of suffering to his/her advantage and help rid the world of it.
Now that we have a lot of time for ourselves to reflection, be more mindful, and prioritize what is truly important to us in this period, it is also an opportunity to express gratitude. The Buddha emphasizes the important of mindfulness or awareness – being self-aware and aware of our surroundings. With mindfulness, we begin to understand what there is to be grateful for as well. Fostering gratitude in our daily lives can help us practice mindfulness. Being grateful of the small things is important because as the Buddha teaches, we do not know how much time we have left and thus should use it wisely. We should not put things off (like building/mending relationships, acting with kindness and compassion). The present is always the right time to act. One of the ways we can do this is through gratitude by taking a step back, and seeing what is in front of us (what we are privileged with). This is ultimately focusing on the positive aspects of our lives and even though this may seem like a negative time to be in, there are always things we can celebrate. Here is a video I found interesting and possibly helpful for others in the midst of the virus. Enjoy!
“A person whose mind is distracted stands between the fangs of defilements. Distraction does not occur if body and mind are kept sequestered. Therefore, one should renounce the world and disregard distracting thoughts” (88). When I first read these lines, that opened this impactful chapter, I laughed to myself. I laughed because we are all sequestered in this moment and we are actively seeking distractions to pass the time. Tiger King would not have been a world wide success if it was not for this quarantine. It was a distraction that more than served its purpose. Śāntideva did not have Tiger King or any other tv show in mind when he wrote this, distraction to him was in regards to bad thoughts, thoughts that revolved around attachment. What is the modern equivalent? In my opinion, it is the self pitying thoughts that I hear, occasionally feeling them on my own, everyday about this situation. The worried anxieties of people who can not stand staying home. I understand them, but I think we need to move past it. This quarantine can be awful if we make it awful, but it can easily be tolerable. We need to focus on ourselves, this is a time where we can experiment. Trying new things to find new hobbies. One of my close friends is now obsessed with woodworking and I commend him for it. We need to ignore our baseless thoughts that we have to go out, thoughts that we know at the moment should not happen, and attempt to make our current situation better.
“Someone who associates with fools invariably goes to a bad rebirth, and someone who dissociates himself is not liked. What is gained from contact with fools? They are friends in the moment, enemies the next. At an occasion for being pleased they get angry. The multitude of people are impossible to satisfy. When given good advice they get angry, and they prevent me from taking good advice. If they are not listened to they get angry and go to a bad rebirth. Superiority causes jealously. Equality causes rivalry. Inferiority causes arrogance. Praises causes intoxication and criticism causes enmity. When could there be any benefit from a fool?” (88-89)
As I read this, I thought to myself what fools exist in my own life, and where have I seen examples of this type of behavior. Who are the types of people who change their disposition at a whim, are impossible to satisfy, reject good advice and prevent the taking of good advice from others, is never content with their position, gets intoxicated with praise, and hates criticism. While I contemplated the plenty of examples of this in my own life which have frustrated me, I came to two realizations.
First, people seem to be neither simply foolish nor not foolish. All of the people who I would consider “foolish” with examples of their behavior are only foolish in the specific moments when they carry out one of these actions. On the whole, however, they could be considered fairly intelligent and wise people who seem to have a unique insight into reality and life as a whole, but they are simply flawed in the way they responded in a certain situation.
Second, I myself seem to demonstrate a lot of qualities of someone who is “foolish”. I tend to change my disposition, reject good advice, feel those negative emotions when I am placed relative to other people, hate criticism, and get full of myself with praise. This is a troubling insight because while I acknowledge and dislike these qualities when I see them in others, I never truly reflect on my own behavior and how I can change those qualities about myself.
This is not altogether true – in the sense that like my friends, I would not consider myself a “fool” but someone who acts foolish in certain situations, but if I truly wish to improve myself as a person than this is a fact of life which I certainly need to pay more attention to. How, when I feel myself acting foolishly, can I know to really reflect and fix my actions in that moment? How can I teach myself to not act foolishly at all in the first place?
These are the questions which fill my mind as I continue to carry out the readings and rid myself of attachments that are detrimental to me (which I guess is all attachments according to Buddhism).
I’ve been personally meditating everyday for almost a year at this point (i began during summer ’19). I’ve found the practice transformative, and during this period, while it has had a very different mechanism, its been even more critical. During my normal busy life, I use meditation as a moment of peace and break from my rush, to quiet my mind and relax. Now that I have too much time to relax, its works in sort of the opposite way. I recall one night early in quarantine where I was antsy (a common feeling its seems for everyone these days) and I wanted to leave the apartment, but being night and everything being closed, I didn’t have much of a place to go. Idle mechanisms for killing time around my apartment weren’t alleviating my overwhelming energy either. Eventually I made the decision to sit back in a chair outside and meditate by doing nothing. I think many of us are antsy because at Emory, at far before, we developed a routine of always being active and striving to squeeze the most out of a moment. Being the over-achieving group we are, it makes sense. I think meditating taught me that if I sat down and did nothing, nothing bad would come to me. I wouldn’t fail or be left behind. It was very empowering. Verse 26 in chapter 8 reminded of this feeling as it evoked that the natural world was free from our man-made problems, and I realized in the moment I was creating my own problem. Verses 87 and 88 remind us that solitude is important, and if we were monks, we’d be committing our selves to a lifestyle not too dissimilar to quarantine. It seems then that this period is good for practicing Buddhist principles.
Verse 92 affirms, “Even though suffering in me does not cause distress in the bodies of others, I should nevertheless find their suffering intolerable because of the affection I have for myself.” Since coming home due to coronavirus, I have dramatically increased my stake in the stock market, and since the lows, I have experienced healthy growth. However, the appreciation in value of my portfolio surely comes at the cost of the decrease in value of other’s portfolios. Though I am happy at the success I have had, people who have invested at much higher prices are suffering. Their portfolios have lost so much value, and here I am, happy that mine is increasing. My actions and the verses seem at odds. I am happy, though that happiness, once analyzed, is at the cost of others.
If understood carefully, though, every action, to some extent, is at the cost of another human being. Every promotion, every job offer, every increase in portfolio value, all come at the expense of another. Finance in general is a subject that has plenty winners and losers. While one benefits, another suffers. This pandemic has separated the winners from the losers. Certain people have lost their jobs while others have been fortunate to keep their jobs. Unemployment is expected to rise to 13% by June, and it is important to understand the consequences that micro-benefits have on the macro-economy as a whole. While personal growth is to be expected and appreciated, it must not come at the helm of deliberate attacks on those less fortunate; suffering is inevitable in this economy, but we should strive not to directly cause it in others.
FYI — I have uploaded a pdf with the transcript of oral commentary on BCA chapter 9 given by the Dalai Lama in 1999. You may also visit this site for more information and to access the materials online.