Ultimate stages of the path: Taking

When we engage in the meditation on taking, motivated by the great compassion we generated in the previous meditation, we imagine we take other’s suffering upon ourselves.  This meditation has limitless benefits.  First, it makes our compassion practical by giving it a means to fulfill its wish to free all living beings from their suffering.  Second, it destroys our self-cherishing mind completely because only a mind that cherishes others more than ourselves would be willing to take on others suffering.  Third, it creates the causes to be able to actually take on others suffering in the future, not just in our imagination.  In this sense, the meditation is tantric in nature in that by bringing the result into the path it functions to ripen that result. Fourth, it functions to ripen our bodhichitta because we see how amazing it is to be a Buddha who has the ability to do this, and so we therefore naturally wish to become one.  Fifth, it dramatically increases our faith because it takes a leap of faith to willingly take on the suffering of all living beings since our natural fear is we will be crushed by such a thing, but then by doing so we realize that far from being crushed we become liberated ourselves.  Sixth, it is an extremely powerful method of purification because taking their suffering upon ourselves motivated by compassion is exactly karmically opposite of all of the negative, harmful actions we have engaged in against living beings since beginningless time, so it neutralizes virtually all of the negative karma we have with respect to whose suffering we take on.   Seventh, it provides us with a universal method for transforming adverse conditions into the path because we can imagine every problem we encounter is us having actually taken on and are now working through the negative karma of others.  So instead of us suffering from adversity, we joyfully and courageously look at our difficulties as us working through others’ suffering so they do not have to.  Eighth, it deepens significantly our understanding of emptiness by helping us realize how samsara and nirvana are karmically created appearances.

The meditation itself is very simple.  First we generate cherishing love for all living beings (or a group of beings), then we consider their suffering.  On this basis, we generate compassion for them, wishing to free them from their suffering.  We then ask how can we do so?  Through the practice of taking.  With a mind that is willing to suffer ourselves so that others do not have to, we then imagine that we take on all of the suffering, delusions and negative karma of all living beings in the form of a black smoke which gathers from them into our root mind.  We imagine that we direct all this universal suffering against our own self-cherishing mind, like evil turning in on itself destroying itself.  This destroys completely our self-cherishing mind and we generate a feeling of profound joy strongly believing that we have actually freed all living beings from their suffering and that we have completely destroyed our own self-cherishing mind, the root of all suffering.  We then meditate on this feeling of joy.  The perfection of this meditation is engaging in the meditation understanding how it is a powerful cause for becoming a Buddha ourselves.  The ultimate perfection of this meditation is engaging in the perfection of this meditation combined with an understanding of how ourselves, others, our act of taking and the final results of our meditation are all empty.

It has already been described how others are the beings of our karmic dream, but it is worth repeating.  If we dream of somebody in a wheelchair, who put them there?  We did.  Is there anyone there really in a wheel chair?  No.  So does it matter that they are in one?  Yes, it does, because they conventionally appear to suffer.  In the same way, when we see somebody in the waking world (which is just a different level of dream) in a wheelchair, we can ask the same questions, who put them there, is there anyone really there and does it matter.  Through the force of the ripples of our past karmic actions, we have constructed a dream world full of dream-like beings who experience all sorts of different forms of suffering within the dream.  Ultimately, there is no one really there experiencing anything, but conventionally what is there is the appearance of suffering sentient beings.  Understanding their emptiness, we feel a profound feeling of personal responsibility – we put them in their suffering situation and therefore it is our responsibility to free them from it.  How?  By undoing all that we did to them, directly or indirectly.  We do this by taking upon ourselves all of their suffering, delusions and negative karma.   Just as we can karmically construct them to be suffering sentient beings through our deluded actions, we can karmically construct them to be liberated beings through our compassionate wisdom action of taking.

Sometimes people mistakenly think that we are not really liberating beings from their suffering by engaging in the practice of taking, it is just our imagination.  In reality, the extent to which we engage in the practice of taking conjoined with an understanding of emptiness is the extent to which we actually free others from their suffering, delusions and negative karma.  But this occurs with a karmic lag.  All karmic appearances have a certain duration to them resulting from the intensity of the original action.  Right now, the karma for the appearance of a world of suffering is ripening, and these appearances all have a certain duration to them.  But through engaging in the practice of taking and engaging in the mental action of strongly believing we have undone the harm we have inflicted upon them, we plant new karmic seeds on our mind.  Over time, the seeds which produce the appearance of suffering will exhaust themselves and the seeds which produce the appearance of liberated beings will ripen.  Then beings will appear to us as having been liberated through our practice of taking.  Some people object by saying, “well that must be nice for you to see them as liberated, but they still see themselves as suffering so what good does your view do?”  The answer to this objection is quite profound.  As ordinary beings, we still grasp at a duality between view and action.  We view things in a particular way, and on that basis we act.  For a Buddha, their pure view IS their pure action, and their pure action IS maintaining pure view.  They do not maintain pure view because it is objectively true (nothing is), rather they maintain this view because doing so functions to ripen others into pure beings.  Thus, the duality between pure view and compassionate action collapses into one and the same.  Thus, there is no contradiction between saying a Buddha sees all beings as having already been liberated (in fact, as having always been enlightened) and saying Buddhas work tirelessly to free all beings from all suffering.  If we can understand the profundity of this, our practice of taking and even more so our practice of self-generation take on profoundly different meanings.

Even if we don’t understand fully, we should apply effort to improve our understanding of how compassion, taking, emptiness and karma interrelate.  Doing so will greatly deepen our wisdom and our enthusiasm for such practices.

11 thoughts on “Ultimate stages of the path: Taking

  1. Amazing article, thank you. I’ve been wanting to explore this further ever since Geshe-la’s teachings on this topic. I can’t remember what year it was, but it was the festival where he gave teachings on Eight Steps and explained the practices of taking and giving in a phenomenal way,along with the superiority of shepherd-like bodhichitta. Thanks for reminding me of these special teachings.

    I have a couple of questions:

    1. I understood there to be a difference between, for example, a person in a wheelchair in a dream, and a person in a wheelchair in the ‘waking world.’ The difference being that the latter is sentient and the former not. Is it still appropriate to generate compassion for the non-existent person projected by the dream mind? Is that not like a wrong awareness and therefore not a valid object of compassion? (Perhaps I’m touching on a question of whether objects projected by the dream mind have any conventional validity) Sorry I realize I’m a bit mixed up with my understanding and terminology.

    2. ‘We put them in their suffering situation.’ Would you mind explaining this a bit more please?

    Many thanks!

    • When you are in the dream, the dream person appears to be sentient so it is conventionally appropriate within the context of the dream to generate compassion for them. It is exactly the same with the waking state, they appear to be sentient so it is appropriate to generate compassion for them. When you wake up from your dream, you realize nobody was actually there – it was always just a mere appearance. When you wake up from the waking state into enlightenment, you will realize that nobody was ever actually there – it was always just a mere appearance. You may ask, why then generate compassion if nobody is there? Because conventionally speaking – in other words relative to the world you are dreaming – somebody is there, suffering, etc., and compassion is the appropriate response. Likewise, generating compassion functions to purify the contaminated karma giving rise to that particular dream.

      On the second point of explaining what I mean by we put them in their suffering situation. This is where the analogy of tapping a bowl of water comes into play. If you have been tapping your finger into a bowl of water for a period of time, it will produce a scramble of waves crashing into and interacting with one another. If you did not know it came from you tapping your finger, you would think all of this had nothing to do with you. But when you understand that it is all due to you tapping your finger, you realize the origin of all of these interactions is you. In exactly the same way, the beings who appear to your mind are mere karmic appearances of mind that emerge from how you have karmically shaped the fabric of your mind. At a more basic level, you can say when you engaged in negative actions towards others it created the causes for others to engage in negative actions towards you. Your karma propels others to engage in negativity against you. When they do this, they create negative karma for themselves. Without your negative karma, they wouldn’t engage in negative actions towards you. So it is your responsibility. Your carelessness in past lives created the karma for others to harm you, and as a result they will now suffer in the future.

  2. Kadampa Ryan:

    Thank you very much for your kindness in sharing this teaching with us. I find it particularly meaningful today. I discovered earlier this morning that a high school friend’s three-year-old son always accidentally killed by a handgun he found at home last night. I cannot begin to imagine the profound suffering he, his wife & other children are experiencing right now.

    My friend is also a very outspoken critic of gun control, and avidly expresses his views about the necessity of guns to “defend” our children. And now, sadly, this tragedy has befallen his precious child and family. This “object of refuge” has transformed into an object of a horror and suffering I can scarcely fathom.

    Now is the time to engage in this profound practice for the benefit of all living beings.

    • How awful! Thank you for sharing the tragic story. You should post it on Facebook. I imagine many people would share it and the more people who see it, the more they might change their views.

  3. Kadampa Ryan:

    I will appreciated very much if you could explain this a little more please?

    “As ordinary beings, we still grasp at a duality between view and action. We view things in a particular way, and on that basis we act. For a Buddha, their pure view IS their pure action, and their pure action IS maintaining pure view. They do not maintain pure view because it is objectively true (nothing is), rather they maintain this view because doing so functions to ripen others into pure beings. Thus, the duality between pure view and compassionate action collapses into one and the same. Thus, there is no contradiction between saying a Buddha sees all beings as having already been liberated (in fact, as having always been enlightened) and saying Buddhas work tirelessly to free all beings from all suffering.”

    • This is such an important concept. Geshe-la teaches that Buddhas do not see suffering sentient beings. This then leads to a contradiction in our mind, saying, “then how can they generate compassion for us?” We have this objection because we still grasp at their being some sort of objective reality. For us, we see things, and based on how we see things, we then act. For a Buddha, they see us as already enlightened. We might object, but I am not, so their view must be wrong. Actually, it is our view that sees us as an ordinary being that is wrong. The fact that we see ourselves as ordinary doesn’t make us inherently ordinary, that is just one possible view for us. Wherever we imagine a Buddha, a Buddha actually goes. Wherever a Buddha goes, they accomplish their function, namely to ripen and liberate living beings. Buddhas generate us as Buddhas because that pure view functions to ripen and liberate us, they enter into us blessing our mind. So their pure view is their pure action and their pure action is to maintain pure view. The duality between view and action collapses.

      • Thanks Ryan for this explanation,it make me to begin to practice whit even more joy and effort this wonderful practice of taken and giving.

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