from the 37 Practices of All Bodhisattvas
from the 37 Practices of All Bodhisattvas
With one small fulcrum, a lever can move tons of weight. With one greedy thought, years of integrity can be corrupted. A greedy thought is the seed of fear and confusion. It will grow wildly. The material gain that a greedy act brings is a small gain indeed. To act without greed and lose some material benefit is also, therefore a small loss. But to lose one’s integrity! That is an immense loss! The enlightened person stands in awe of the fulcrum.
What do people strive for? Money, or fame, or successful relationships, or the Dharma. Well, one man may become very rich but be hated by his family. Another man may be loved by everyone but not have a penny to his name. Still a third man may be hailed as a hero by his countrymen and then find himself with neither funds nor loving family. Usually, so much effort is put into achieving one goal, that the other goals cannot be attained. But what about the man who strives to attain the Dharma? If he succeeds he has gained in that one goal far more than the other three combined. He who has Dharma lacks nothing.
So, I don’t really know what a fulcrum is and I think that’s okay. Han Shan is talking about consequences here, how even small negative acts can bring about big consequences. He’s really tearing into the poison of greed.
Greed, along with hatred and delusion, is part of a list in Buddhism called the three poisons.
The three poisons are caused by ignorance of our true nature. Coming from ignorance, these poisons motivate us to make mistakes and act in ways that are outside our own interest and cause harm to ourselves and others.
Greed is our desire, attachment and yearning for happiness and satisfaction from external sources. It is our impulse to always want more. It helps to think about the accumulation of wealth. Money is made up of numbers and numbers never end, so we can chase that forever if we are obsessed with how much is in our bank account.
When we believe that our fulfillment is dependent on what we have, then we come to realize that we don’t really get the same satisfaction we were expecting. We always want more. Greed can affect our relationships, our jobs, and everything else.
Han Shan is telling us that acting out of greed can have far ranging and unexpected consequences. He’s telling us that instead of striving for material gain and making enemies out of everything all the time, we should strive on the path. We should be motivated to become more aware, wise and compassionate, instead of spending all our time worrying about our possessions.
Awakening and freedom.
That’s what the path is all about. Enlightenment really just means awareness, seeing things as they really are. Reality unfiltered. The world as it is instead of as we think it is.
We come to enlightenment by freeing ourselves of the three poisons; greed, hatred, and delusion. We free ourselves by transforming these poisons. We transform them to virtue, meditation, and wisdom.
The truth is that enlightenment is simply not creating delusions. When we’re in delusion we think we have to escape it. When we dwell in awareness we realize these poisons, the things we cling to, are empty. By realizing things are empty we come to enlightenment.
But we can’t grasp it with the logical mind. We have to use intuition and direct experience. And you get there by realizing you’re already there.
“Flow with whatever may happen.”
~ Tao Te Ching
Our true self is always open and free—the only thing stopping us from realizing that truth is ourselves.
This applies not just to our spiritual practice, but to many of our goals in life, the big goals and the smaller goals. We are the cause of many of our own problems—not all of our problems, but a lot more of them than we realize.
The number one way of getting out of our own way is simply becoming aware. We meditate to train our awareness. We want to become more aware of ourselves and the things we do.
If we simply can understand what we are doing to get in our own way, then solutions become easier.
How do we get in our own way?
In Buddhism, we talk about the Three Poisons—greed, aversion and delusion. These three poisons all come from within us and they cause a lot of our suffering. When we are guided by these poisons, we are causing ourselves to suffer.
The first poison is greed or desire: I want, I need, give it to me, please, please please I really want it. I need to get it and I need to figure out a way to get it. Maybe I can just take it.
Greed interrupts the natural flow of things. Adding my desire into the equation of life, trying to change or alter the way things are to bring me satisfaction, ultimately can lead to suffering. We often want things that we don’t need and we sometimes want them so much that we get upset.
We also sometimes want things that are incredibly unrealistic.
Aversion or hatred is the second poison. Aversion is essentially rejection—get that thing away from me. Hatred and aversion arise in response to something we don’t like or want to happen to us. It often leads us to push away, at worst culminating in violence. Hatred and anger can overwhelm us, causing us to act in negative ways in order to get relief from these feelings.
Sometimes, pain can’t be avoided, of course, but we make things worse for ourselves when we get angry or stressed out about it. Obviously bad things are going to happen and we want to avoid them and we should try, but at the same time, we shouldn’t become obsessed about bad things.
We tend to worry about things that are unrealistic too. And we tend to magnify things. If something bad happens and we get angry, we are making ourselves suffer more. Anger doesn’t help. It only contributes to our negative feelings.
The third poison is ignorance or delusion—this poison follows directly from the other two. Our greed and anger leads us to a sense of separation. To live with that separation I make up a story or narrative to explain who I am and why my greed and anger are justified. More and more of my true self is lost and I live in the dream of my narrative.
This is a fundamental delusion. The more rigid we become trying to justify and bolster our story, the more we suffer, and the more we cause suffering for those around us.
So what can we do about this?
Awareness. Moment-to-moment awareness is what we talk about in Buddhism. If my mind is here and now, living in this moment instead of in some kind of delusional fantasy, then I am not polluted by the three poisons. Things are going to happen—the universe is going to unfold however it unfolds. We can’t control everything.
The only thing we can really and truly control is ourselves. We can control how we respond to things. Sometimes, it can be very difficult.
Understanding our own actions and responses is the first step in getting out of our own way.
It is a big step.
If we practice meditation, we can learn to be more aware of our minds.
This is important.
For reality to manifest here and now, do not distinguish between good and bad. To discriminate in this way is a disease of the mind, which obscures the realisation of the mysterious knowledge, and renders the practice of quiet study futile.
Discrimination represents the labels we put on things. We label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we look upon things with greed and aversion, but these are just meanings we are attaching to things, meanings that are not inherently present.
It’s important to recognize greed and delusion because they are two of the three poisons. They are things that do a lot to harm our efforts on the path.
We shape our reality with labels. Nothing is good or bad, everything just is. As long as we cling to these labels that we are creating, we are feeding a disease of the mind.
Greed and aversion inspire and support delusion. As long as we are suffering from the three poisons, understanding our true nature will remain beyond our reach.