Vows, commitments and modern life:  Do not seek happiness by causing unhappiness to others

Do not seek happiness by causing unhappiness to others. 

This includes obvious things like killing and stealing.  It also includes wanting others to have misfortune so that we benefit.  Karmically speaking if we violate this commitment we create the causes for future misery, whereas if we follow it we create the cause for future happiness.

This vow is fairly simple and straightforward:  don’t sacrifice somebody else’s happiness for the sake of our own.  Every decision we make in life will involve trade-offs.  Our normal way of assessing such trade-offs is “others lose, I win” is good, “others win, I lose” is bad.  The Kadampa, in contrast, always seeks win-win solutions; and when they are not possible, they would rather the other person win and they be the one who loses.  The reasons for this have already been explained in detail in the discussion of the previous vows, such as the one on not being the first to get the best.   The real trick of this vow is to be mindful of all of the different circumstances when it can arise.

This vow also advises us to not take sadistic pleasure in the suffering of others.  Venerable Tharchin says that when we rejoice in the misfortune of others we create the causes to experience similar misfortune ourself in the future.  He gave the example of Palestinians rejoicing when an Israeli café is blown up, or Israelis rejoicing when Palestinian leaders are assassinated.  Think of Al-Qaeda’s rejoicing at 9/11 or American rejoicing in the killing of Osama Bin Laden.  Venerable Tharchin ominously said, “from a karmic point of view, rejoicing is no different than pulling the trigger ourself.”

Those who are in positions of authority or who possess some degree of power constantly have to make decisions that affect the lives of others.  From an ordinary point of view, their decision making criteria is:  (1) maximize the benefit and minimize the harm to myself, and then (2) divert benefit to my friends and deflect harm to my enemies.  Since everybody is doing this, society quickly becomes a war of all against all, where only might makes right.  It is for this reason that some ancient practitioners used to pray to never become politicians or to occupy any position of power.

Modern Kadampas, however, take a different approach to such questions.  We are taught not to shun wealth, power or position, but instead to use them to benefit others.  Bill Gates enormous wealth in and of itself is neutral, but it becomes incredibly useful when he uses it to help others.  Our mission as a tradition is to attain the union of Kadam Dharma and modern life.  Wealth, power and position are parts of modern life, so our job is to unite the Kadam Dharma with them.

The question then becomes, “how can a modern Kadampa wield power in a correct way?”  First, they use their wisdom born from seeing the benefit of cherishing others to see how “win-win” decisions can be arrived at.  Given that everything is in fact intimately inter-related, there are actually very few circumstances where a “win-lose” is required.  This will be self-evident to the mind that knows how to transform adverse conditions into the path.  Second, they make their decisions from the perspective of “maximizing the aggregate benefit for everyone involved, irrespective of who enjoys such benefit.”  If the policy is a good one, then the aggregate benefits will exceed the aggregate costs.  This is different than a policy that might be very beneficial for one group but at the expense of everyone else.  Third, the “winners” of the policy decision should be made to compensate the “losers” of the policy decision in such a way as the losers are at least indifferent between the policy being enacted and it not being enacted.  For example, in a free trade agreement, the country as a whole might benefit, but within that country different groups are winners and losers.  For example, the country’s exporters and their consumers might win, but the country’s farmers and industrial workers might lose.  A correct policy would be one where the exporter and consumer winners are taxed in some way, and the proceeds are transferred to the farmers or industrial workers in the form of professional re-training, etc.  Finally, if there must be “losers” then the modern Kadampa decision-maker will structure things so “wisdom wins” and “delusions” lose.  For example, guaranteeing equal rights represents a tragic loss for those in positions of privilege, but it is a victory for society as a whole when oppression and discrimination lose.  As Ghandi said, “even the oppressor is unfree when they oppress, they just don’t realize it.”

There may be some residual doubt in our mind about the wisdom of having wealth, power and influence.  Lord Acton famously said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  But this is only true for a mind controlled by self-cherishing.  Therefore, as a practical matter, to protect ourselves against this danger, we should always make sure that our mind of cherishing others outstrips the power we wield.  If this is the case, we still need to be mindful, but we should be spiritually safe with such power.

2 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Do not seek happiness by causing unhappiness to others

  1. Our primary wish is to be happy, this is great. Just like everyone else. But when it becomes exaggerated and extreme self cherishing is highly dominant and the heart is easily closed down. It really wants to be open and spacious. We want to be intimate and feel close with everyone, deep down.

    So our wants and wishes are seen as mega important.
    Overtime Lamrim changes our attitude but for practical purposes it is helpful to note your wants, asking, what do I want? What do I not want? This is actually critical because it’s linked to attachment and anger. If you are clear what your ‘inner rules’ are, and where you are being steered, it will be easier to be flexible in the meditation break.

    What happens is that an inner negotiation takes place. The conflicting desires of others vs our own. If we don’t know what they want or don’t want, we can’t negotiate or reach an equilibrium. Therefore our exchange will be weak. It won’t be clear.

    If instead, we see commanalities of desires, Look for common interests, then our Bodhichitta will naturally become easier to understand. We then begin to work for win win. And a full exchange of self. Where every living being is my self.

    There is much room for conflict and agreement but there are real benefits of agreement of wants and wishes.

    There is a woman at my work who invokes big anger in me. She is a conventional bully who harms people often. She is part of my self. Part of my self is a bully. When working through such gross anger an attitude of non-harm is so effective. “I will not harm my self” saying this, sounds silly but I wouldn’t harm her or myself in a destructive way. It is a potent reminder of the reality of self-grasping. Others are karmic reflections of past selves actions.

    Gross anger is highly illogical. Exchanging self is creative and leads to knowing the actual truth of reality. “I hate these people but they are myself” if forced will be a denial of the reality of ones practice, this is why Bodhichitta and exchanging self is in stages. We are all equal in wanting many, many things.

    When compassion turns to great compassion, there will be profound self-compassion.

  2. The reason I have wanted people to suffer is because I have not rejoiced enough in their Buddha nature. I’m unconsciously thinking this life, this life. It’s their potential that is infinite. Delusions are temporary. They are future saviours, future Buddhas. Once I become aware of that infinity, the idea of me wanting them to suffer for a minute speck of time becomes pointless. Do I really want them to suffer infinitely? No. I usually just want them to stop harming others, yet, I myself have not fully eradicated the seeds to harming others, so we share that in common.

    It’s said that a person is not their delusions but it is largely delusion that makes the personality of the life a being experiences.

    Personalities are constructed largely by the evolution of delusion. Deluded behaviours in humans are learned through the experience of ripening karma which tell the story of a humans samsaric existence.

    A Buddha’s personality, what does that look like?

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