Exchanging self with others according to Tantra follows the same logic as in our tantric practice where we change the basis of imputation of our I from the self we normally see to the self-generated deity. Because our I is empty, we can do that. When we fully and completely identify with the deity as ourself, we will be the deity. In exactly the same way, when we exchange self with others according to Tantra, we learn how to impute our I onto all living beings, and then we cherish our new self fully and completely. When all living beings are the basis of imputation of our I, there is absolutely no fault in having very strong “self”-cherishing, because at that time, our self is all living beings. In this way, we don’t really have to reduce or even eliminate the mind that wishes for ourself to be happy and considers our own happiness and well-being to be important, rather we simply need to change who we think we are. If we are identifying with all living beings as our self, we can – and should – have very strong “self”-cherishing. But this is completely different from the self-cherishing we abandon. That self-cherishing takes as our self the self that we normally see.
When we think about things in this way, we discover something amazing about Heruka, Vajrayogini, and indeed all of the Buddhas. We can be certain that every Buddha has completed the exchange of self with others in the way Shantideva describes – actually changing the basis of imputation of our their I to all living beings. And then, “as all living beings” they attained enlightenment. Thus, to identify with Heruka directly is necessarily to indirectly identify with all living beings. Because they have exchanged self with others, and we then identify with them, we too are exchanging self with others according to Tantra. This means when we engage in our self-generation practice, make offerings, request prayers, etc., we don’t do so “as Ryan, the aspiring disciple trying to practice Tantra,” but we do so “as all living beings.” This one change in recognition massively multiples the power of our tantric practices, where everything we do we feel we are doing it as all living beings, thus multiplying the karma of our virtues as if we were engaging in these practices countless times ourselves. We get the karma multiplying benefits of bodhichitta at the exchanging self with others stage, not just when we attain bodhichitta.
We need to cultivate an intention certainly to love others purely, and then we realize over time that to remove any separation entirely so that we can literally be one with others, and with the whole universe. With this desire, we strive to realize emptiness. Normally we believe we are here and others are there, and that there is an intrinsic difference between ourselves and others. When we realize emptiness, we understand that our self is just a projection of our mind, an idea. We also understand that others are likewise just projections of our own mind. Both are equally projections of our mind, so both are equally us. Here we have a valid reason for the view of exchanging self with others. We go further to realize that others are karmic appearances. Others are the beings of our own dream that arise from our karma. They suffer because we have karmically constructed them to suffer. We can set them free by karmically reconstructing them to be free.
We go even further by realizing that these karmic appearances are the very nature of our own mind. They are our own mind in the aspect of these beings. Since we naturally impute our I on our mind, when we feel all of these beings to be the nature of our mind, we experience ourselves as inseparably one with everyone. All gaps have been removed. With this view, we come to love others as a good God would. We realize that we are responsible for the experiences of every living being because they are all our creation. We view others as the creation of our own mind, and so we care for others and lead them to attain union with us. We love as a God would who realizes his creation is inseparably one with the creator – the gap between creator and creation falls away. Everything is united in inseparably purity.
When we understand the emptiness of others, we realize we have the power to purify all beings with Tantra. We strive to realize emptiness, and then we understand, in order to gain that direct realization of emptiness, we must generate a blissful mind through the force of Tantric practice. But then in order to free ourselves completely, entirely, from any separation whatsoever, then with that loving mind, even with that blissful mind from our Tantric practice, we try to gain a direct realization of emptiness. Then, all separation is removed. Practicing in this way, our training in Tantra is coming out of a love, a wish, a wish actually, to be so close to others that we’re inseparable. Inseparable, therefore I must engage in Tantric practice and realize emptiness directly. Then separation ends.