The last several meditations have as their goal to bring us to the final conclusion to exchange ourself with others. This is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful meditations on the path. If we do it right, it changes everything. To exchange self with others according to Sutra means to change the object of our cherishing from self to only others. Practically, this means that I value only their happiness and my every action is aimed at securing their happiness. When we equalized self and others, we tried to cherish all beings as much as we cherish ourself, but we still hung on to cherishing ourself. In the last two meditations we looked at the disadvantages of self-cherishing and the advantages of cherishing others. This meditation is the final conclusion of the previous ones – I should therefore cherish only others. The perfection of this meditation is understanding how this determination to cherish only others is the frame of the house that supports the roof of our great compassion, which has as its peak our bodhichitta. The ultimate perfection of this meditation is cherishing only others understanding that they, ourself and our cherishing are all empty.
Shantideva says that all happiness in this world comes from our cherishing others and all suffering comes from cherishing ourself. How can we understand this from the point of view of emptiness? We can understand this literally! If I cherish myself, I engage in negative actions, setting the stage for my own future suffering. It also creates the karma for others to engage in negative actions towards me in the future, setting the stage for their suffering. Since others are mere karmic projections of mind, waves on the ocean of my mind, with no independent existence form their own side, the only conclusion is I am responsible for all the suffering in this world, both my own and that of others. Likewise, when I cherish others, I engage in virtuous actions, setting the stage for my own future happiness. It creates the virtuous karma for others to engage in virtuous actions towards me, setting the stage for their happiness.
We can think of this like a giant body of water. Imagine at the beginning the water is perfectly calm. If I begin tapping on the water, trying to raise my own wave and knock down those around me, it will send out shock waves in all directions. Some of these waves will reverberate back to me (eventually all of them will), but most of the waves will start interacting with the other waves, crashing into each other in all sorts of different ways. If I didn’t know how all of the waves started, I would ignorantly think that there are all sorts of waves doing all sorts of different things to each other and it has nothing to do with me. But if I do understand how it started, I realize that it was my tapping which created all of the interactions of all of the waves. I am responsible for all suffering. Likewise, if I realize my error, and instead start cherishing only others, my corresponding virtuous actions will create anti-waves, waves that are the opposite of the selfish, destructive waves I have been sending out since beginningless time. An anti-wave neutralizes the negative waves, thus calming the waters of our mind. We keep going until the waters become completely still, peaceful and blissful – we will have gathered all phenomena into the bliss of the Dharmakaya. The mind of bodhichitta is exactly opposite of all of the negative minds I have ever generated, and its corresponding action – generating oneself as a Buddha so that we may lead all others to the same state – is one single action that (if done powerfully enough) has the power to neutralize directly, simultaneously and effectively instantly all of the negative waves I have sent out since beginningless time – all living beings can be freed from the suffering I have inflicted upon them in an instant. The conventional shape of this “great wave” is the self-generation meditation and the ultimate shape of this “great wave” is meaning clear light of completion stage. Shantideva also said all the Buddhas cherish only others whereas samsaric beings cherish themselves, just look at the difference!
According to Tantra, we engage in this meditation by not simply changing the object of our cherishing to only others, but by literally changing the basis of imputation of our I to be only others. We impute I on all others, and we impute other on our former self. We naturally cherish whoever we think we are. If we think we are all living beings, we will naturally cherish them and work for their happiness. This will come effortlessly for us, just as it is currently effortless to cherish ourselves. Just as we naturally currently view others through the lens of how they can help us and serve our needs, in the same way when we impute our I onto all others and look back at our former self as “other”, we will naturally view our former self through the lens of how it can help the new us and serve our needs. What would we want our former self to do for the new us? We would want him to stop harming us and to only help us. We would want him to work very hard to fulfill our wishes and accomplish our needs. Really, the best thing he could do for us is become a Buddha that then leads us to enlightenment! When we look back at our old self and see the difference between what we would want and need him to do and what he is actually doing, we will know what to do in all situations and we will be extremely motivated to do it. To put it in modern terms, we will realize what a “douche bag” we have been and we will really want to change! 😉
We may find it unfair to cherish only others and to view ourselves as merely a tool to serve the needs of others, but is this not just correcting for the unfairness we have doled out since beginningless time? We owe it to others to make up for all the harm we have done them. Besides, since the self we normally see does not exist at all, what point is there in cherishing it? We may find it dangerous to cherish only others because then who will look after ourselves. But we will still need to take care of ourselves – in fact, we will need to transform ourselves into a Buddha – the only thing that changes is the reason why we care for and grow ourselves. We do so to be of greater service to others. So we need not worry.
These meditations are extremely powerful, and if we do them sincerely it will change everything for us. We will enter into high gear and race towards enlightenment.