Vows, commitments and modern life:  Put others first – always.

The precepts of training the mind

Do all yogas by one. 

This means that we should perform all of our actions with the intention of benefiting others.   If we do all our other practices with the same intention, they will all have great meaning.

In one of his most famous lines, Geshe-la says in Eight Step to Happiness that the path to enlightenment is very simple:  we simply need to cherish others’s happiness more than our own.  All other realizations flow naturally from this.  There is a tendency amongst many to always thirst for new instructions and more instructions.  We easily become distracted or bored when we hear the same instructions over and over again, and become very excited when we hear something new.  We often like to contemplate the really deep and profound questions that require us to push our analytical reasoning skills to the limit.  We love the intellectual jujitsu of the debates on tenants.  Why?  Part of it may be our love of Dharma, but if we are honest a large part of it is we treat Dharma instructions like we do any other samsaric object, namely some external thing that has some power to give us some happiness.  The first time we try mint chocolate chip ice cream, we are in heaven.  But if we had to eat it every meal, every day, we would soon become disgusted.  We treat the Dharma the same way, and quickly become bored.  Dharma teachings no longer “do it” for us.  The high gradually wears off and we wander in search of something new.

The solution to this problem is realizing that Dharma instructions are not something that have any power to do anything to us, rather they indicate practices we ourselves need to do with our mind.  If we are actually changing our mind with the instructions we have received, when we hear the same instruction again in the future we will get something new out of it.  Why?  Not because the instruction itself has changed, but rather because the mind understanding that instruction has changed.  If we find ourselves bored with Dharma teachings we have heard before, it is a perfectly reliable sign that we have not actually changed our mind with that instruction since the last time we heard it.  If we had changed our mind, even if only on the margin, hearing the instruction again will confirm and reinforce our own personal experience, and our mind will be blessed to see a new or deeper perspective on the instruction.

Many Dharma practitioners observe the fact that Geshe-la’s books don’t contain everything and there are many incredibly interesting avenues left unexplored.  So they set out to fill in the gaps with other books and other teachings.  I remember once, shortly after I became a Highest Yoga Tantra practitioner, I set out to understand the symbolism of every single aspect of every single visualization within the sadhana.  If we check the books, we will realize that Geshe-la explains – at most – about half of the symbolisms.  I knew that Gen-la Losang knew the symbolism behind every single aspect, so I prepared a spreadsheet with each aspect and all of the symbolisms I knew from the various books, and I asked him to help me fill in the blanks.  He wrote back saying he knew but said I didn’t need them.  This, of course, peaked my curiosity even more.  I knew he knew, but perhaps he didn’t know me and what a “sincere practitioner” I was.  So I wrote him back and lengthy email explaining to him all of the valid reasons (with scriptural references, of course) as to why I did need these explanations.  I concluded by reminding that it was a bodhisattva vow to respond to all questions asked out of faith!  He then wrote back again saying, “It is unthinkable that Geshe-la would not give us everything we need to attain enlightenment.  It is also unthinkable that he would give us something we don’t need.  Why?  Because he wants us to focus on gaining deep and personal experience of what is important and not become distracted by what is not.  So instead of trying to make your Dharma understanding more complex, try to make your experience of Dharma more simple.”

This was an incredibly powerful teaching for me, as I had become very attached to receiving more and more Dharma instructions and making my understanding more and more complete.  Now, my goal is to simplify my practice more and more down to the essentials.  When we do so, what we find is by practicing a few simple things directly we train in everything else indirectly.  So we actually lack nothing.  And if all of Dharma is boiled down to one thing, it is cherishing others.

We may object, “but it says in the Lamrim teachings that the quintessential butter that comes from churning the milk of Dharma is bodhichitta,” so shouldn’t bodhichitta be the “one” we perform all yogas by?  The answer is no because bodhichitta is the last domino that falls naturally if we, with effort, topple the first domino of cherishing others.  If we cherish others and then consider their sufferings, compassion arises naturally.  If we have compassion and we consider we currently lack the ability to help others, bodhichitta arises naturally.  So the real beating heart of bodhichitta is cherishing others.

Shantideva says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life that cherishing others is the root of all happiness and cherishing ourelf is the root of all suffering.  He also observes that Buddhas cherish only others and samsaric beings cherish only themselves, and then he invites us to look at the difference!  There is no practice more important than cherishing others.  It is also one that we don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate.  It is the true universal panacea, accessible to all.

3 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Put others first – always.

  1. Perhaps one of the best teachings is taking greatest care of oneself. Not to be confused with self-cherishing. This is so, so important.
    See the ambulance man analogy from GKG. ESTH.

    Again, that comes directly from knowing our own needs, wants and wishes to remain balanced and of sound well being. Then, as our capacity increases, we gradually change the object of cherishing from self to others.

    I’ve seen too many practitioners destroyed because of the “others, others, others” mentality, which dominates Buddhist tradition. This tendency is used as an inner avoidance of what’s really going on inside and what seems wrong with self. This then moves to ‘seeking’ to find a cure. Dharma right? And working even harder for the Dharma.

    Dharma is inner protection, inner Jewels. Others are inner, centres are inner.

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