The next several meditations have as their goal to reach the goal of cherishing only others. To cherish somebody means to consider thier happiness to be precious and important. Practically speaking, it means to actively work for the happiness and well-being of that we consider to be precious. In this first meditation, equalizing self with others, we strive to equalizing our cherishing of each and every living being – so that we cherish each being as much as we cherish ourselves. In other words, we consider the happiness of each and every being, including ourselves, as being equally important. Practically, this means we work to maximize the happiness of all beings in the aggregate, without favoring any one being (including ourselves) over any others. This meditation differs from equanimity in that with the meditation on equanimity we develop an equal warm and friendly attitude towards everyone, but we never actually challenge our own self-importance. Here, we try identify how much we consider our own happiness to be important and we realize all that we are willing to do to secure our own happiness, and we consider valid reasons why we should cherish each and every other being to exactly the same level.
Conventionally, the valid reasons for this are simple: there is nothing about myself that makes me any more important than anyone else. Happiness is happiness, regardless of who is experiencing it. Suffering is suffering, regardless of who is experiencing it. So there is no basis for considering my happiness and suffering to be any more important than the happiness and suffering of anyone else. The fact that we experience our own happiness and suffering with our aggregate of feeeling does not make our happiness and suffering any more important than anybody elses in a universal sense, because they too experience their happiness and suffering with their aggregate of feeling – so both are equally important. Sometimes we consider the happiness of our family, friends or the people of our ethnic, religious, or national group to be more important. The reason for this is when we view things from the perspective of our self-cherishing mind, things derive their importance in terms of their relationship to ourselves. But from a universal perspective, this makes no sense. If there is nothing about ourselves that makes us more important than others, then likewise there is nothing about those in relationship with ourselves that makes them more important.
We may object, but they are more important to me for this reason, therefore it is perfectly appropriate for me to consider the happiness of myself and those close to me as more important. But this does not follow. The question is why should your own or their happiness be more important to you? We have no valid reason for thinking this and there is nothing stopping us from considering the happiness of all beings as being equally important to us. It is true from a practical perspective that we will have a karma which enables us to help and work for certain beings more than others, but that is a question of how we can act upon our equal cherishing of others, not what we actually consider to be important. We can consider all beings as being equally important, but accept the practical reality that we can act upon that equal cherishing in different ways depending upon our karmic relationship with different beings.
To engage in this meditation from the perspective of ultimate truth, emptiness, we simply use emptiness as the ultimate definitive reason why the happiness of each and every being is equally important. Since all beings are equally empty, there is no basis for considering any one being, including ourselves, to be more important than any other.
Once again, the analogy of waves and the ocean serves us well. Ryan is just one wave on the ocean of the emptiness of my mind of bliss and emptiness. The same is true for every other being. We are all equally waves on the ocean. There is nothing about any one wave that makes it more important than any other wave, and since we all share the same underlying ocean, there is no basis for considering Ryan to be “me” and other waves to be “not me.” Ignorance, at its root, is believing we are just the one wave and not the ocean coupled with a mistaken notion that our one wave is more important than all the other waves. Clearly, that is absurd. If all waves are equally by nature the ocean of my mind, then the happiness of each and every wave is equally important. If I am the ocean, and not just the Ryan wave, then to consider the happiness of Ryan to be more important than the happiness of anybody else is the same as considering the happiness of my right hand to be more important than my left hand. Venerable Geshe-la gives the example of the right hand doesn’t not remove the thorn from one’s foot arguing “it is not my problem.”
Additionally, to cherish somebody means to consider them to be important or precious. This depends entirely upon our mind. “Importance” or “preciousness” depends upon mental imputation and construction. It is our mind that makes things “important” or not, they have no such importance from their own side. Venerable Geshe-la gives the example of a bone and a diamond – which is more important? Most of us would argue the diamond, but for a dog the bone is far more precious. So we cannot say that any one being is intrinsically more important than any other, rather we can say if we think this it simply reflects a laziness in our mind to have not yet taken the time and put in the effort to consider how each and every being is likewise important.
A related mistake we make when we start training in this meditation is instead of raising the importance of the happiness and well-being of others up to the highest level, we rather reduce our cherishing of all others down to the lowest common denominator – so instead of cherishing all beings as equally important we neglect all beings as being equally unimportant. We sometimes get so confused about this that we think it is somehow wrong to cherish any one being because we are not yet able to cherish all beings to the same amount, so we wind up cherishing nobody because that is something we can do equally! Ridiculous! But you would be surprised how many even senior practitioners accidentally fall into this trap. Rather, we should find the person we cherish the most and then use that person as an example of how we should equally feel towards everybody else. Ultimately, the person we cherish the most is ourselves, so we want to cherish all others as we cherish ourselves. But as an intermediate step we can take the love we have for somebody very close to us who we naturally feel love for, such as a child, and then bring everybody equally up to that level. What I do is I ask myself the question “what would I do if this person were my child?” And then I act accordingly. Later, we can ask “what would I do if this person were me?” And then, we can act accordingly.