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I it is who welcome them within my heart,
Allowing then to harm me at their pleasure!
I who suffer all without resentment—
Thus my abject patience, all displaced!
The second fault of the kleshas is that we welcome them. They’re familiar. They give us something to hold on to, and they set off a predictable chain reaction that we find irresistible. This insight can be especially helpful.
When we realize that we like our kleshas, we begin to understand why they have such power over us. Hatred, for example, can make us feel strong and in charge. Rage makes us feel even more powerful and invulnerable. Craving and wanting can feel soothing, romantic, and nostalgic: we weep over lost loves or unfulfilled dreams. It’s painfully and deliciously bittersweet. Therefore, we don’t even consider interrupting the flow. Ignorance is oddly comforting: we don’t have to do anything; we just lay back and don’t relate to what’s happening around us.
Each of us has our own personal way of welcoming and encouraging the kleshas. Being attentive to this is the first and crucial step. We can’t be naïve. If we like our kleshas, we will never be motivated to interrupt their seductiveness; we’ll always be too complacent and accommodating.
A good analogy for the kleshas is a drug pusher. When we want drugs, the pusher is our friend. We welcome him because our addiction is so strong. But when we want to get clean, we associate the pusher with misery, and he becomes someone to avoid. Shantideva’s advice is to treat our crippling emotions like drug pushers. If we don’t want to stay addicted for life, we have to see that our negative emotions weaken us and cause us harm.
It is just as difficult to detox from emotions as it is to recover from heavy drugs or alcohol. However, when we see that this addiction is clearly ruining our life, we become highly motivated. Even if we find ourselves saying, “I don’t want to give up my kleshas,” at least we’re being honest, and this stubborn declaration might begin to haunt us.
But I’ll tell you this about klesha addiction: without the intelligence to see that it harms us and the clear intention to turn it around, that familiar urge will be very hard to interrupt before it’s going strong.
Do not, however, underestimate the healing power of self-reflection. For example, when you’re about to say a mean word or indulge in self-righteousness or criticism, just reflect on the spot: “If I strengthen this habit, will it bring suffering or relief?”
Of course, you need to be completely honest with yourself and not blindly buy into what the Buddha and Shantideva have to say. Maybe your habits give you pleasure as well as pain; maybe you’ll conclude that they really don’t cause you to suffer, even though the teachings say they should. Based on your own personal experience and wisdom, you have to answer these questions for yourself.
Verses 30 and 31 say more about the futility of habitual responses to kleshas, and the danger of welcoming that which causes suffering.
If all the gods and demigods besides
Together came against me as my foes,
Their mighty strength—all this would not avail
To fling me in the fires of deepest hell.
And yet, the mighty fiend of my afflictions,
Flings me in an instant headlong down
To where the mighty lord of mountains
Would be burned, its very ashes all consumed.
Here he reflects that getting emotionally worked up has consequences so painful and intense they could reduce the mightiest of mountains to dust. But, again, the Buddhist teachings encourage us to reflect on our own experience to see if what’s being taught rings true.
In verse 32, we have the third fault of the kleshas: if we’re not attentive, the kleshas will continue harming us for a very long time.
No other enemy indeed
Has lived so long as my defiled emotions—
O my enemy, afflictive passion,
Endless and beginningless companion!
Long after those we despise have moved away or died, the hatred habit remains with us. The more we run our habitual patterns, the stronger they become—and, of course, the stronger they get, the more we run them. As this chain reaction becomes harder to interrupt, our experience of imprisonment becomes more intense until we feel hopelessly trapped with a monstrous companion. No outer foe will ever plague us as much as our own kleshas.
Verse 33 presents the fourth fault: give the kleshas an inch and they’ll take a mile.
All other foes that I appease and wait upon
Will show me favors, give me every aid,
But should I serve my dark defiled emotions,
They will only harm me, draw me down to grief.
Shantideva warns us not to be naïve about the pusher; we have to know his strategies and seductive ways. Likewise, we simply can’t afford to be ignorant about the power of emotions. We can neither welcome nor indulge them in hopes they’ll bring us happiness or security.
When the teachings tell us to “make friends with our emotions,” they mean to become more attentive and get to know them better. Being ignorant about emotions only makes matters worse; feeling guilty or ashamed of them does the same. Struggling against them is equally nonproductive. The only way to dissolve their power is with our wholehearted, intelligent attention.
Only then is it possible to stay steady, connect with the underlying energy, and discover their insubstantial nature. We can’t be stupid about this process. There’s no way to abide with our dynamic, ungraspable emotions if we keep fueling them with thoughts. It’s like trying to put out a fire with kerosene.
Therefore, if these long-lived, ancient enemies of mine,
The wellspring only of increasing woe,
Can find their lodging safe within my heart,
What joy or peace in this world can be found?
In verse 34, Shantideva presents the fifth and final problematic aspect of the kleshas: as long as we are enslaved by them, there will never be world peace. We will have no peace of mind personally, and the suffering of beings everywhere will continue unabated. War will continue; and violence, neglect, addiction, and greed will continue endlessly. By steadying ourselves before we’re taken over by our emotions, we create the causes of peace and joy for us all.
And if the jail guards of the prisons of samsara,
The butchers and tormentors of infernal realms,
All lurk within me in the web of craving,
What joy can ever be my destiny?
Typically we blame others for our misery. But Shantideva says we create our own infernal realms: our personal hells are interdependent with our klesha-ridden minds. In his view, we must take responsibility for what happens to us. If we give safe lodging to neurosis, then how can we expect it to result in joy?
Just before the Buddha attained enlightenment, his kleshas arose in full force. He was tempted by anger, desire, and all the rest; but unlike most of us, he didn’t take the bait. He is always pictured as wide awake: fully present—on the dot—relaxed and undistracted by the powerful energy of the kleshas.
In one of the Harry Potter books, the budding bodhisattva, Harry, is put under a curse that creates an extremely strong urge to give in to the kleshas and do harm. The power of Harry’s intelligence and kindness, however, is even stronger. He doesn’t believe the voices of the kleshas or get seduced by their promises of comfort, and so the curse doesn’t work.