Extra Credit

Extra Credit

by Jeffrey Brooks

If you practice sincerely your life will change. Your mind will become more stable and clear. Your relationships with others will become more pleasant and wholesome. Your understanding of what is good to do and what is good to avoid will become more natural and more profound.

These changes occur when we follow the advice of the Buddha as described in the Dharma teachings and as modeled by the enlightened Sangha. Sometimes doing this is easy. Sometime it is difficult. It is difficult when it conflicts with our long standing habits of behavior or of mind; or when it is obstructed by the culture or environment in which we find ourselves. Then we need to use our intelligence and character to find a way to keep our practice on track – with a good, peaceful meditation schedule and good, positive ethical conduct. It is not always easy but it is always possible.

In Mahayana practice the measure of our success and the material of our practice is the well being of other people. If we begin to develop spiritual pride we diverge from Mahayana; we need to note this tendency and dismiss it, because otherwise it will obstruct our practice.

In English the word pride has several meanings. The two relevant ones (other than a bunch of lions) are arrogance and dignity. These are different and in spiritual jargon are sometimes confused. We do want self confidence and we do want dignity. We want to be proud of ourselves and of our purpose. These are consistent with the Bodhisattva action of “Joyful Effort,” the fourth of the six Paramitas or actions of the Bodhisattva.

But we want to avoid arrogance, avoid separating ourselves from others, avoid seeing our interests as divergent from theirs.

When we develop spiritual pride in this negative meaning of the word we begin to seek distinction as a spiritually accomplished person. We seek recognition by other people of our special goodness or abilities. We seek admiration, approval, ranks, titles, diplomas and so on. This is distracting and harmful if it infects our motives.

In the dojo it is evident when people preen and pose and signal their rank or status or ability.  We can see self regard continually mixed with their interactions with others. This is a sign of small achievement and a lack of self confidence.

We should note this tendency in ourselves and delete it so that we can practice without the distraction and waste of energy this habit of mind produces. We do not need extra credit for being a spiritual practitioner, and we do not need to seek it.

Then we are free to live each moment of our practice for its own sake, for the sake of the wonderful results we experience in this life, and for the good effects we can have on the lives of the people around us, and in the entire universe.

Shantideva in the Bodhicharyavatara verse 109 says:

The work of bringing benefit to beings

Will not make me proud and self admiring

The happiness of others is itself my satisfaction

I will not expect some ripening reward

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