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Part 1 The Root Text
by Jigme Tenpe Nyima,
The Third Dodrupchen Rinpoche
Transforming Felicity and Adversity into the Spiritual Path
Oh, Noble Avalokiteshvara,
Who always rejoices at the happiness of others,
Who is deeply saddened by others' suffering,
Who has perfectly realized the qualities of great
And who has released his own joy and sorrow...
I bow to you recalling your virtues; and I shall explain in part the quintessential teaching on transforming felicity and adversity into the spiritual path, this being an indispensable tool of spiritually realized beings, which is invaluable in the world.
HOW TO TRANSFORM ADVERSITY INTO THE SPIRITUAL PATH BY MEANS OF RELATIVE TRUTH
Whenever you are afflicted by sentient beings or anything else, if you habituate your mind to dwelling on suffering only, even the most insignificant circumstance will bring forth great distress. This is because whatever attitude you cultivate towards felicity and adversity will, by nature, grow stronger. Thus, as the power of gradual habituation increases, eventually virtually everything that appears will lead to misery, and there will be no possibility of happiness.
By not recognizing that this is due to your own mental habits, you blame this on external circumstances, and eventually the flames of hatred, evil actions, suffering and so on spread endlessly. Thus, appearances arise as enemies. The reason whysentient beings of this corrupt era are afflicted by suffering stems from our interior powers of discrimination; so this calls for precise understanding.
Therefore, the meaning of not being afflicted by the hindrances of enemies, sickness, malevolent spirits, and so on is not that one averts the arising of illness, etc. or prevents their occurrence in the future. Rather, it means that these things are not able to arise as obstacles to following the spiritual path.
In order for this to happen, you must (1) dispense with the attitude of utter aversion to adversity and (2) develop the attitude of good cheer in the face of adversity.
Dispensing with the Attitude of Utter Aversion to Adversity
Recognize again and again the pointlessness and great detriment of all the miserable anxiety you experience through regarding adversity as being purely unfavorable. And thoroughly accustom yourself to the powerful anticipation, From now on, whatever kind of adversity arises, I shall not quail." In this way practice cultivating great courage.
The pointlessness of aversion to adversity. If adversity can be corrected, there is no need to be despondent; and, if it cannot be remedied, there is no benefit even if one becomes unhappy.
The great detriment of such aversion. If you do not react with anxiety, due to the strength of your mind, it will be easy to experience and handle even great adversity as if it were as light and flimsy as cotton wool. On the other hand, if you react with anxiety, you will become unbearably oppressed with overwhelming misery in the face of even minor adversity.
For example, while thinking about a gorgeous woman (or man), even if you try to stop desire, you just wear yourself out. Likewise, by engrossing yourself in the miserable aspects of some adverse situation, you will be unable to develop any sense of fortitude. Thus, as in the instructions on guarding the doors of the senses, in the event of adversity you should not become engrossed in its characteristics; rather, get used to placing your mind in its natural state and let it apprehend its own nature.
Developing a Sense of Good Cheer in the Face of Adversity
Cultivate a sense of good cheer by regarding adversity as an aid on the spiritual path. Moreover, for whatever kind of adversity arises, if you do not have individual practices to apply to each one in accordance with your own mental abilities, by merely having a theoretical understanding, you may simply think many times, "In general, if one is skillful, it's possible to attain such and such benefits as a result of adversity." But this will be like the saying, "Great is the distance between the sky and the earth." And it will be difficult for you to succeed. The goal is farther than the sky is from the earth.
Adversity as the support for training in the mind of emergence (renunciation) from samsara. Recognize that as long as you wander without self-control in the cycle of existence, the occurrence of such adversity is not an injustice or something unfair; rather, that is the very nature of the cycle of existence. Further, if it is difficult to bear even such minor adversity as this that is encountered occasionally in this fortunate realm of existence, there is no point in mentioning the adversities of the unfortunate realms. Develop a sense of disillusionment, thinking, "Alas! The cycle of existence is a bottomless and endless ocean of adversity!" and direct your attention towards liberation.
Adversity as the support for training in going for refuge. Practice going for refuge by contemplating with conviction, "For the repeated affliction of such fear as this throughout all my lives, the sole, unfailing refuge is the Three Jewels. So, whatever happens, I shall entrust myself to them alone and never abandon them under any circumstances."
Adversity as the support for dispelling arrogance. Bearing in mind the way in which you lack self-control, as explained previously, and the way in which you continuously fail to escape being controlled by adversity, snuff out the enemy of pride, which destroys prosperity, and the unwholesome attitude of holding others in contempt.
Adversity as the support for purifying unwholesome actions. Consider, "Such adversity as this, as well as immeasurably greater adversities, arise only as a result of unwholesome actions," and carefully ponder the four points that (1) actions invariably give rise to corresponding effects, (2) the effects of actions increase, (3) one never experiences the effects of actions that were not committed, and (4) deeds committed never fail to produce results. Thus, bear in mind, "If I don't want adversity, I must avoid its cause, which is non-virtue," and by means of the four powers disclose such actions that you have already amassed, and strive to restrain yourself in the future.
Adversity as the support for attraction to virtue. Ponder at length, "If I take delight in felicity, which is the opposite of adversity, I must strive for its cause, which is virtue," and in various ways do whatever you can to progress in the direction of virtue.
Adversity as the support for training in compassion. Reflect on the ways in which other sentient beings, like you, are afflicted with adversity like your own or even far greater, and train yourself in thinking, "May they, too, be free of all adversity!" This will also bring an understanding of how to cultivate loving-kindness for those who are bereft of happiness.
Adversity as the support for cultivating the attitude of cherishing others more than oneself. Cultivate the attitude, "The reason that I am not free of such adversity is that I have always been self-centered, so now I shall devote myself solely to the attitude of cherishing others, which is the source of happiness and prosperity."
When misfortune stares you in the face, it is very difficult, so it is crucial to become familiar with these practices beforehand, and to emphasize those in which you have the most vivid experience.
It is not enough for adversity to become an aid to your spiritual practice. Rather, it is vital that you cultivate a strong and continuous sense of gladness as a result of dearly recognizing that this is happening. So, whenever you apply what has been explained here, think such thoughts as this: "Such adversity is a great help to me in experiencing the many, wonderful joys of the higher realms that lead to liberation, which are extremely difficult to reach. By continuing in this way, even if my suffering is severe, it is extremely agreeable, like ladu, a sweetmeat the taste of which is both sweet and hot." Consider this point repeatedly and with care, and accustom yourself to a sense of good cheer.
By doing this, your abundant, or predominant, sense of mental well-being will make physical pain seem imperceptible. The inability of physical pain to afflict the mind is the criterion of being able to overcome illness by means of inner strength, and this suggests that this is also the criterion for overcoming enemies, malevolent spirits, and so on.
As explained above, reversing the attitude of antipathy towards adversity is the basis for causing adversity to arise as the spiritual path. For as long as your mind is troubled with anxiety and despair, it is impossible for adversity to be brought onto the path.
Moreover, by training in actually bringing adversity onto the path, you will encounter unprecedented benefits, for you will see for yourself how adversity can enhance your spiritual practice, and your sense of well-being will continue to increase.
It is said, "If you practice at first with minor adversity, it will gradually become easy; and, in this way, you will finally be able to practice even in the face of great adversity." This is what is needed, for it is difficult to reach an experience that is beyond the capacity of your own mind.
In between meditation sessions, pray to your spiritual mentor and the Three Jewels that adversity will arise as the spiritual path. When the power of your mind has increased somewhat, make offerings to the Three Jewels and other beings, with the supplication, "For the sake of empowering my spiritual practice, let there be unfavorable circumstances!" And at all times sustain a deep sense of good cheer.
When you first begin to practice, it is helpful to meditate far removed from distractions. For in the midst of distractions (1) you are liable to be diverted by many unwholesome companions who will ask you, "How can you put up with such adversity, contempt, and abuse?"; (2) worrying about enemies, relatives, and possessions will cloud and uncontrollably disturb your awareness, and you will slip into bad habits; and (3) furthermore, you will be carried away by all kinds of distracting situations.
In solitude your awareness will be very clear due to the absence of those things, so it is easy to set your mind to the task at hand. It is said that this is the very reason that, when those who engage in "cutting through" (chöd) train in the attitude of suppressing adversity, at first they put off applying the training, in the midst of distractions, to harm caused by humans. Instead, they emphasize applying this training to illusory manifestations of gods and demons in solitary cemeteries and wild habitats.
To sum up: In order not only to prevent all unfavorable circumstances and adversity from afflicting your mind, but to cause them to elicit a sense of good cheer, you should put a stop to experiences of aversion toward both inner and outer obstacles—illness as well as enemies, spirits, vicious gossip, etc. Practice seeing everything solely in an agreeable way. For that to happen, you should stop seeing those harmful situations as something wrong, but give all your effort to seeing them as valuable. For it is the way our minds apprehend situations that makes them agreeable or disagreeable. For example, those who reflect at length on the faults of worldly amusements become increasingly perturbed the more they are surrounded by admiring people and enjoyments; whereas those who regard worldly amusements as beneficial aspire to increase them.
By training in this way, you will become gentle-minded, easy-going, and courageous; there will be no obstacles to your spiritual practice; all unfavorable circumstances will arise as splendid and auspicious; and your mind will continually be content with the joy of serenity. To follow a spiritual path in a degenerate era, such armor as this is indispensable.
Then, since you are free of the suffering of anxiety, other types of misery also vanish, like weapons falling from the hands of soldiers; and even illnesses, etc. tend to disappear of their own accord. We can learn from the saints of the past who say, "By not becoming distressed at anything and not succumbing to unhappiness, your mind will not become troubled; since it is undisturbed, your nervous system will not become disturbed; due to that, the other elements of your body will not come into disequilibrium; as a result, your mind will not become troubled, etc., and the wheel of well-being spins on."
They also say, "Just as birds find horses and donkeys with sores on their backs easy prey, so do malevolent spirits find an easy target in people with fearful dispositions, but it is hard for them to overcome people of steady character."
Therefore, the wise see that all adversity and felicity depends on the mind, and they seek happiness within the mind. Since they have the complete causes of happiness within them, they do not rely on externals. They are not afflicted by the harms of sentient beings or anything else, and this remains true even at the time of death. They are always free.
In this way the bodhisattvas attain the "samadhi that suffuses all phenomena with well-being." However, the foolish run after external objects in the hope of finding happiness, but whatever happiness they achieve, great or small, turns out like the saying, "It's not you who is in charge; your hair is caught up in a tree!" There is just one failure after another, due to things not working out, not coming together, occurring in disproportionate ways, etc. Enemies, thieves, and so on have ample opportunities to harm them, and even the slightest criticism separates them from their happiness. However much a crow looks after a baby cuckoo, the cuckoo can't become its own offspring. Just so, since their minds can never become steady, there is nothing but fatigue for the gods, affliction for the spirits, and misery for themselves. This is quintessential advice that comprises a hundred crucial points in one.
There are many other types of austerities for following the spiritual path by willingly accepting adversity, and other types of instructions, such as those in the Zhijé teachings, for bringing illness and harmful influences onto the path. But here I have offered an easily understandable, general discussion of accepting adversity, based on the treatises by the noble Shantideva and his wise followers.