All of the meditations up until now have concerned primarily adopting a spiritual attitude towards ourselves. The remaining meditations concern adopting a spiritual attitude towards others. Our first and fundamental problem is our mind remains biased towards others, considering some to be friends, some to be enemies and some to be irrelevant. All three attitudes are wrong, and ultimately create most of our problems. The goal of the meditation on equanimity is to adopt a balanced and equal attitude towards everyone. If we have a positive attitude towards everyone, a good 90% of our daily problems with respect to others will fall away. A balanced and equal attitude towards everyone is also the indispensable foundation for generating great compassion and bodhichitta, minds that seek to free all living beings without exception. We cannot become a Buddha for all but a couple of living beings. So either we hold on to our bias and forego ever becoming a Buddha or we eliminate all bias and open the door to enlightenment. The choice is ours.
Conventionally, we engage in this meditation by considering how over the infinite expanse of countless previous lives, every single being has been everything towards us – sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, sometimes irrelevant – countless times. When we look at things from a narrow scope of time, we might say some people are nice than others or some people are meaner than others and develop bias. But when we expand the temporal scope of our vision we realize all beings have been equally everything in relation to us. Their present appearance of friend, enemy or stranger is quite temporary and even in this life we see how it changes quite quickly (if you have any children in primary or middle school, you know what I mean! They have new BFFs every day!). So there is no sense in grasping at such labels. Most of the “drama” we create for ourselves in this life comes from the ever shifting nature of these appearances and labels. We get so wrapped up in these shifting sands of dependence that we drain ourselves of all energy and literally torture ourselves mentally. If instead, we develop a warm, friendly and balanced attitude towards everyone regardless of how they are presently appearing then we stand above the shifting appearances and introduce a stability into our relationships. We free ourselves from having our own inner well-being be dependent upon what anyone else might be saying or doing. At a minimum, we make our lives far less “dramatic” and so therefore much more stable and calm.
If conventionally we develop equanimity by realizing everyone has been everything to us countless times, ultimately we develop equanimity by realizing everyone has been “nothing” to us countless times! In other words, everyone has always been equally empty since beginningless time. In reality, from their own side, others have been nothing. It is not a case of from their side they have shifted from friend, enemy and stranger, rather it is our mind has been constantly shifting the mental labels we impute upon others depending upon the vagaries of our mind. We have just been mistakenly blaming them for the change of label, when in reality it comes exclusively from our mind.
We might object by saying sometimes others are appearing to help me and sometimes others are appearing to harm me, so it is appropriate for me to change my mental label. But why is the appearance changing? As was explained before, each and every being is empty, a being in our karmic dream. Nobody is actually there doing anything. They are simply the theater of our karma playing itself out. Venerable Tharchin once said “life is a play in which we write the script, others are merely actors playing out our karma.” Others are mere karmic echos of our own past behavior. Looking at others is like looking in a magical karmic mirror and seeing nothing other than our own past absurdities. Why do people appear to us to be “fair weather friends”? Because that is what we have been towards others in the past. Why do people appear to betray us or abandon us or favor us? Because we have done all these things to others in the past.
If we wish for stable friendships with others, we ourselves need to be stable friend towards them regardless of what they do and we need to be such a stable friend from now until the end of endless time. We need to start – right now – creating a new karmic play. It will take time for our past karma to work itself out, so there will be a long period of time where we will be a vajra friend (vajra means pure and indestructible) towards others and they will continue to shift, betray, disappoint or fade into irrelevance, but eventually that karma will exhaust itself and what will emerge will be a new pattern of vajra friendships with an ever increasing circle of people until eventually it embraces all living beings. Once again, the analogy of the ocean is instructive. If I favor some waves over others, trying to pull those I like closer to me and push those I dislike farther away, the only thing I do is make the waters more choppy. The more intensely I do this, the worse it gets, and so I start doing it even more in increasingly violent and abrupt means and worse still it gets. Such a strategy is entirely self-defeating. The way to calm the waters is to neither pull nor push, but to accept. If I accept all of the waves equally without trying to manipulate or control them, then eventually the waters around me begin to settle, the magnitude of the waves begins to diminish, the vividness of the appearance of friend, enemy and stranger begins to subside and the waters of my mind become clearer and more stable.
Happy Heruka Day everyone!