But the other morning while meditating I saw clearly that this was hogwash. This does not require courage. This requires strength. Two quite different qualities. And by using the word “courage,” we set ourselves up with a higher, scarier barrier to overcome. And an excuse.
Let me explain. After being exposed to the Buddha dharma, that the source of all of our suffering is our craving and that all our cravings (and the emotions, judgments, and attachments behind them) are a product of our mind, of dependent origin (learned experience), with no intrinsic existence. Certainly after having discovered this truth from within ourselves, rather than just understanding it intellectually and having faith in it spiritually … how could one say that bringing about the change we seek requires courage?
Courage is something that one needs when confronting something scary. When one is exploring the unknown, which is scary. But that is not what we’re dealing with here. We are dealing with the known, both in the sense that we know these truths and also in the sense that we have been aware of experiencing these truths to at least some extent in our lives.
What is required here is not courage but strength. And discipline. Indeed, to not bring about these changes in how we view ourselves and the world around us and thus continue our suffering, once we have this knowledge, can be said to be weakness and self-destructive. Neither of which are admirable qualities to which we would aspire. However to say that one does not have courage, while not perhaps appealing, is not socially unacceptable. Thus I think the use of the word courage is by design.
“What?” the reader may react. As an example, I once was chastised by a senior Shambhala teacher. We had had a discussion of a lojong concerning discipline and meditation. Most of the members made light of the fact that they did not have a regular or daily practice, no schedule, meditated perhaps for a few days in a row and then thought they could take a few weeks off, something else intervened, they were too rushed in the morning, etc. Whatever the excuse, it was valid and sufficient.
I countered by saying that it’s essential to have a disciplined daily meditation practice, explaining why, and pointing out that it is possible in a non-monastic setting, an example being that I have been meditating every morning for 20+ years without missing a day, regardless where I’ve been or what the situation has been.
I was chastised because this teacher said I set forth a standard and an example that made the others feel bad or not worthy. And that was not good teaching. I did not argue, but I didn’t agree with his criticism. Had I chastised the others, that would have been another matter.
If we do not set clear standards and present role models then how can others find hope and strength as they struggle with the challenges of the path? This senior Shambhala teacher would also probably choose to use the word courage rather than strength in the mantra I noted, for the same reason. To not have courage is one thing, to be weak is quite another.
Yet I have found that the best teaching I have received, and the best books I have read, challenged me to take the extra step, to be more disciplined. A wonderful Sufi book I read makes it very clear, in an empowering way, that to follow the emotions and judgments of the ego-mind is the easy way out, it is weakness. To follow your heart requires strength. It is thus weakness to become angry even though our ego-mind says that this is how we are strong, how we defend ourselves. Instead, it displays strength to say no to our ego-mind and seek guidance from our heart.
Thus, I encourage you to use the word strength rather than courage in your mantras. Discipline in the face of our habit-energies and the strength of the ego-mind is not an easy matter. But it should be clear that this is your intent. I believe it will make walking the path and overcoming the obstacles less difficult.