(1.20) For the sake of those with lesser inclinations,
These benefits were explained with logical reasons
By the Tathagata himself
In Sutra Requested by Subahu.
(1.21) If even the thought to relieve
The headaches of others
Is a beneficial intention
That results in infinite merit,
(1.22) What can be said of the wish
To dispel the immeasurable misery
Of each and every living being
And lead them all to countless good qualities?
This refers to a story where in a previous life of Buddha he got in a fight with his mother and walked over her head as she tried to stop him from leaving. This negative karma ripened in the form of a rebirth in hell where he and others were having their heads drilled into. Upon seeing this, he generated compassion and practiced taking on the suffering of the others experiencing the same thing. He prayed that they were freed from all head pain and he imagined he took all such suffering upon himself. As a result, even though he was in hell, he was immediately reborn in a god realm. Once we are reborn in a god realm, we enjoy pleasant experiences that far exceed anything in the human realm, and we do so for many aeons. If just the intention to relieve others from such pain results in a god realm rebirth, what need is there to say of the merit from the intention to liberate all beings from all suffering?
Every time we experience any form of pain or discomfort, we should be inspired by this story to do as Buddha did. We should mentally pray that all of this type of pain or discomfort experienced by all living beings ripen upon ourselves so that they are freed. We imagine that our accepting and transforming our own discomfort into the path is actually us having taken on the suffering of others upon ourselves so that they don’t have to experience it. If this becomes our habit, every time we have a headache or any other difficulty, we will be creating powerful causes for higher rebirth. If we dedicate such merit to our eventual enlightenment, we daily create powerful causes to become a Buddha.
By training in this way, our bodhichitta will quickly become stronger. We do not merely wish to take on the simple sufferings we see in our daily life, but we aspire to be able to take on all of the infinite sufferings of all living beings upon ourself so that they never have to experience it again. In the beginning, the thought of such a thing seems impossibly daunting, indeed overwhelming. But the reality is our ability to take on suffering is merely a question of capacity. In the beginning, our capacity is quite low so we can only comfortably and willingly take on small sufferings. But as our practice matures, we become able to take on more and more without it overwhelming us. It is no different than training a muscle of our body to be able to lift more and more weight. Eventually, we can get to the point where can take on greater and greater sufferings. A true holy being can take on all of the infinite suffering of all living beings upon themselves without even breaking a sweat. The primary reason for this is they do not identify with their suffering, so they do not experience it as their own. Ultimately, they realize it is not even there.
First we work on the intention for wanting to have the ability to do this, and then after the intention is sufficiently strong we will start to actually do things which take us in that direction. Becoming a Buddha is not just about taking on other’s suffering, but rather gaining the abilities to help others cultivate within themselves the tools to abandon their own suffering once and for all. We cultivate within ourselves every good quality, then we help others do the same. Then, no matter what happens, it won’t be a problem for them or for us.
We continue to build this desire, and it continues to grow stronger and stronger until we are actually willing to bear some discomfort for the sake of others, until eventually we genuinely wish to take their suffering, delusions and negative karma upon ourselves and work through it for them. For me, the easiest way to get a feeling for this mind is to imagine that our own contaminated aggregates, delusions and so forth are actually those of our loved ones that we have previously taken on. On a daily basis, we have to experience problems and suffering anyways. Instead of imputing “my problems and suffering” we can instead impute “the problems and sufferings of others I have previously taken on.” By working through that suffering, learning to accept it and transform it into the path, we can feel as if we are literally feeding off of the suffering of others and using it to strengthen our body of enlightenment.
We strongly believe that by or having taken on the sufferings of others they will now be freed from such suffering. We don’t believe this because it is somehow objectively true, rather we do so because this belief functions to complete the karma of the mental action of taking. Since ultimately, this is all a karmic dream, when we purify the contaminated karma giving rise to the appearance of this world of suffering, the beings that appear to our mind will literally appear to progressively become freer and freer from all suffering until eventually it appears as if everyone has quite literally made it to the pure land. We change our dream from a world of suffering to a pure world. We might object, “well, that’s nice for me if it appears that way, but what about others – they will still see their own suffering.” The answer to this objection is what appears to the minds of others is empty also. We can also karmically change that too!