Buddhist texts are often so directly applicable to our experience of the modern world that it is sometimes easy to forget that many of them were written hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years ago.
One such text is known as ‘Advice from Atisha’s Heart’. Atisha was a very famous teacher and scholar who came to Tibet from Northern India at the request of the Tibetan King.
There he gave many excellent teachings and resolved the confusion which existed at that time about what was ‘true’ Buddhism. He taught a very practical presentation of Buddhadharma which allowed the Tibetans to practice all the stages of the path to enlightenment in a logical and understandable way.
This presentation is known as Kadampa Buddhism, and it is still practised today by millions of Buddhists around the world. When the time came to return to India, Atisha gave this teaching which has become known as ‘Advice from Atisha’s Heart’.
Since there is never a time when worldly activities come to an end, limit your activities.
This advice reminds us that if we want to make spiritual progress we need to make time for our practice. Although this advice is all given in a spiritual context, it is good general advice if we want to achieve our life goals whatever they may be.
We fill our lives with distractions and before we know it, we are at the end of our life and we have not made the spiritual progress we know we could have. People die with a full diary. We think that we will die when our work here is done, but it does not happen like that. We die when we have things to do tomorrow and the next week and so on. This advice is to remind us that since our worldly activities are unending, we need to consciously limit them.
Friends, the things you desire give no more satisfaction than drinking sea water, therefore practice contentment.
Very important advice because our desires are the main cause of us living unfulfilled lives. When we are thirsty it is tempting to drink sea water, but the result of doing so is that our thirst will increase. In the same way we can understand that when our desires lead us to obtain objects such as cars, watches, partners etc. our desires – far from being satisfied – only increase.
When we see something attractive we naturally generate a desire for it – to possess it or experience it. We work hard to obtain it, but when we actually do obtain it, we do not experience the satisfaction we expect, or if we do, it is very short lived. In fact all we have done is reinforce our habit of trying to obtain satisfaction from external objects. If we practice contentment, recognising that we have enough, we can experience peace of mind and create space and time for spiritual practice.
Words of praise and fame serve only to beguile us, therefore blow them away as you would blow your nose.
This advice tells us that although we may become beguiled with our own self importance when we are praised, these things are not real sources of happiness, only suffering. If we pin our happiness on being praised, then our happiness depends on others, and this makes our happiness very unstable.
Have no hatred for enemies, no attachment for friends.
This advice reminds us that we should not allow friends or enemies to throw our mind off balance. If we have an enemy, what makes them an enemy? It is our view of them that makes them an enemy. We focus on something (real or imagined) that we find unpalatable or unacceptable, and then exaggerate this until it is all we perceive when we think about the person. There comes a point when this perception is so intolerable that we feel the need to harm the person. This is anger. Normally we believe that the person themselves is horrible, but if we think clearly, we can see that the horrible person only exists in our mind, not ‘out there’.
Similarly, attachment in this sense means that we believe that the other person is an independent source of happiness. This other person ‘has’ happiness and we can get some happiness if we are with them/marry them/have a relationship with them. This is not the reality. What is really happening is that we have found something we like about the person and we have focuesed on it. We have exaggerated this quality until it is all we can perceive. Then when we think about the person we naturally develop desire, and engage in negative actions to acquire some happiness.
Atisha advises that we have no anger and no attachment. What is implied is that we have a warm friendly feeling for everyone. A healthy balanced view which allows us to react reasonably and not get carried away with misapprehensions.
Do not look for faults in others, but look for faults in yourself and purge them like bad blood.
We normally ignore our own faults and focus on the faults of others, but here Atisha advises the opposite.
This advice tells us that it is pointless to look for and dwell on the faults of others. If we look hard enough, everyone appears to have faults. This is a very negative occupation but if we are not careful we can spend long hours dwelling on the faults of others, steadily becoming increasingly negative towards them and deepening our bad habit of viewing others in a bad light.
Instead we should look within ourselves for our own faults and overcome them. We should not beat ourselves up over our faults, and we should never forget our good qualities, but it is important to have a realistic view of ourselves.
We should understand faults such as anger and attachment, and if we have these faults, we should understand how to overcome them, and then put these methods into practice.