Vows, commitments and modern life:  Keep it simple, just practice taking and giving.

Perform every suppression of interference by one. 

Here one refers to the practice of taking and giving.  We should overcome all obstacles, delusions, etc., through the practice of taking and giving.  This is the supreme method for overcoming our obstacles.

This may be too cultural of a reference, but in the 1980s in the U.S. there was a television show called “MacGyver.”  I can’t remember the details, perhaps he was some sort of spy, but every show he managed to solve every adventure with duct tape and a Swiss Army knife.  With these two tools, he could put together anything with whatever other materials he had at his disposal.  So prominent was this show, that “MacGyver” actually became a verb, namely “to MacGyver something.”  This meant to find an ingenious solution to something with whatever limited materials we had at our disposal.  For Kadampas, the practice of taking and giving is our duct tape and Swiss Army knife of overcoming obstacles.  With taking and giving, we can not only transform any adverse situation into the bodhisattva’s path, but we can actually overcome the obstacles themselves.

How does this work?  The starting point for the practice of taking and giving is others’ happiness is more important than our own.  The mind of giving says, “I have something good, I would rather others have it instead of me.”  The mind of taking says, “others have something bad, I would rather I have it instead of them.”  About a year ago, on Facebook there was a picture of a police officer who gave his shoes to a homeless person.  Why did he do this?  Because the police officer realized the homeless guy needed the shoes more than he did, and besides he can always get more shoes later whereas the homeless guy cannot.  The practice of giving is exactly the same.  We have all sorts of good things, our time, our body, our mind, our energy, our love, our wisdom, and we see others need these things more than we do, so we give to them.  Besides, we know we have the means to get more of these things.  If we were walking down the street and we saw some old lady struggling to carry her heavy grocery bags, what would we do?  Quite naturally, we would carry the bags for her.  Why?  Because we realize we are in a better position than her to carry that burden easily.  The practice of taking is exactly the same.  We see others carry various burdens, physical or emotional, and we see that we are in a better position to carry those burdens than they are.  We know how to transform adverse conditions into the path, we have built up the strength of our body and mind through our previous bodhichita-inspired actions.  So we naturally assume the burdens and sufferings of others.

Perhaps the greatest example of this in the world is Christ dying on the cross.  We are told that he died to save us from our sins.  For many, many years this made no sense to me.  How could his dying help me in any way?  But Geshe-la explained in Eight Steps to Happiness that Christ was most likely practicing taking and giving on the cross.  He had done nothing wrong himself, yet he took the negative karma of all living beings onto himself so that others could be free.  By generating faith in him, Christians align themselves with Christ’s special blessings which function to take their negative karma away and to give back to them the Kingdom of Heaven.  How wonderful!

The question may arise, “why would anybody want to do take all suffering upon themselves and give to others everything good that they have?”  It is a good question, and on the surface it seems like a crazy thing to do.  We can barely handle our own problems, surely we would be crushed under the weight of taking on all of the negative karma, delusions and sufferings of all living beings!  First, we need to make a distinction between our external practice of taking and giving and our internal practice of taking and giving.  Externally, we should only give that which we can afford to give or can relatively easily replace.  If we give away everything and find ourselves on the street unable to eat, then we are actually undermining our ability to give in the future.  Externally, we should only take on burdens that we can reasonably carry.  If we stretch ourselves too thin, we will be unable to accomplish anything and those who were counting on us will be let down.

Internally, however, we can go wild with this practice.  How does this work?  The important thing to keep in mind is virtuous minds activate virtuous karma and negative minds activate negative karma.  The mind of taking and giving is a supremely virtuous mind, so it is impossible for it to activate any negative karma at all.  Quite the opposite, it will act as a force field protecting us from the activation and ripening of any negative karma.  But the trick to engaging in this meditation in a qualified way is we need to choose to completely forget this karmic loophole in the practice!  If we keep this loophole in mind, when we engage in the practice of taking and giving we will know we are not really doing it, and so our practice will lack power to move our mind.  Instead, we try to forget that we know it is a safe thing to do and we throw caution completely to the wind and with all of our heart we take on all their negative karma, delusions and suffering and give back all hard-earned merit, realizations and happiness.  The more we forget it is safe, the more powerfully this practice will transform our mind.  We need to genuinely be willing to take it all on ourselves and genuinely willing to give it all away.

The benefits of this practice are limitless.  We quickly purify all of our negative karma with respect to the beings whose suffering we take on.  We generate powerful and close karmic connections between ourself and others, through which we will later be able to lead these beings to enlightenment when we become a Buddha.  We accumulate vast quantities of merit which in the future will fulfill all of our wishes.  We completely eviscerate our self-cherishing mind because the practice of taking and giving runs completely counter to it.  We also quickly ripen our ability to actually be able to engage in the practice of taking and giving in the future, just like Christ could.  This practice is also a powerful method for transforming our love and compassion from some abstract notions to practical principles we live our life by.  This practice increases our wisdom understanding that suffering and happiness are merely imputed phenomena.  And almost miraculously, the more we engage in this practice in meditation the more circumstances will spontaneously arise in our daily life where we can practically, externally take the burden of others upon ourself and give to others all the good we have accumulated.

We may ask, “I see that the practice of taking and giving is beneficial, but why should I suppress every interference with this one practice?  Surely it makes sense to use a wide variety of methods according to the varying circumstances I find myself in.”  While it is true that it makes more sense to use different tools for different jobs, it is still nonetheless wise to perform every suppression of interference with this one practice.  Why?  First, the effectiveness of any practice is determined by two main factors:  the natural function of the practice and the depth of our experience in using that practice.  It may be that some other practice might be a more exact opponent to our specific problem, but if we have not used that particular opponent very often in the past, it will lack power in our mind.  Instead, if we use a general purpose opponent like taking and giving in every situation, then our personal experience of this practice will deepen quickly, making it a very powerful method for overcoming any opponent.  There was once a boxer named Mike Tyson who for many years was simply unstoppable.  He had a crushing upper hook that was knocking out all of his opponents in the first round.  He had so mastered this one punch, he basically needed nothing else.  It is the same for the seasoned practitioner of taking and giving.  The second reason why we want to focus only on this method is by directly training in taking and giving, we are indirectly applying every other method.  Taking and giving is a practice that directly or indirectly encompasses all of the other practices.  Third, taking and giving is the principal method by which Buddhas benefit living beings.  Every day Buddhas are constantly taking on the delusions, negative karma and suffering of living beings and giving back their wisdom, pure karma and realization of great bliss.  It is their main method of benefiting living beings.  Since we are training to become Buddhas ourselves, it is only fitting that we start acting like one now.

4 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Keep it simple, just practice taking and giving.

  1. I love this article Ryan – thank you. I too often wondered why ‘Jesus died for us’ I would think in my ignorance that he needn’t have bothered! It took Geshela to explain it to me and the crucifixion then becomes a very powerful image of an amazing Bodhisattva.

  2. Kadam Ryan says keep it simple, practice this one! I prostrate!

    In general, most humans are confused about what real happiness is. And it’s every persons basic wish to be happy and free of suffering. Although the temporary relief of previous manifest suffering is referred to, in this realm, as happiness. So, this needs to be addressed.

    Initially, learning taking begins with ones own future suffering: understanding what suffering means to self and then applying taking as a method to purify. But formally, in training the mind, we take on others suffering.

    Our meaning of happiness is different to that of an enlightened beings’. Who experience unceasing great bliss. Our greatest experience of happiness,
    for example, is seen as contaminated happiness. So their taking is
    infinitely more dynamic and powerful. Taking is about extracting suffering from seed & root to fruit. Taking the contaminated and giving the un contaminated happiness of great bliss.

    Questions arise: So if they take my contaminated happiness, I won’t be happy anymore? What is leftover?

    If we consider that we mistake suffering for happiness and vice versa we can start to unwind the mistake. These mistaken ideas and the consequent mistaken actions
    taken by us in searching for and protecting our ‘happiness’ at the cost of others happiness is actually a type of suffering!

    We can understand others suffering in relation to our own, we know our suffering intimately and we can only really imagine what it may be like for others. If this is true, it follows that the meaning of others suffering, as we know it, for both self and other arises from our own mind.

    Ignorance pervades a samsaric mind, so, taking is vital whilst learning the secret exchange. It functions as a prerequisite to controlling the inner energy winds.

    Je Tsongkhapa practiced taking and giving all day! From a HYT perspective he was taking the impure energy winds (that all delusions ride) and breathing out pure winds so that others could experience the various clear light minds and taste real happiness. Beautiful!!

    If you get good at breathe work with taking and giving you will attain stratospheric results in your HYT practice. I cannot overstate the immeasurable benefit, it blows my mind.

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