In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog. This is part 30 of a 44-part series.
Seeing that the mind that cherishes mother beings and would secure their happiness
Is the gateway that leads to infinite good qualities,
I seek your blessings to cherish these beings more than my life,
Even if they rise up against me as my enemies.
Just as self-cherishing is the root cause of all our suffering, the mind that cherishes others is the root cause of all our happiness. The logic is exactly the same. All our happiness comes from virtuous actions, and all virtuous actions come from the mind that cherishes other living beings and considers their happiness to be important. All virtuous actions begin by considering that others’ happiness and well-being matters, and therefore works to secure it.
Just as we need to gather all blame into one, so two we need to give all credit to one – namely the mind of cherishing others. Geshe-la explains in Eight Steps to Happiness that the path to enlightenment is very simple: all we need to do is change the object of our cherishing from ourselves to others, and all the other stages of the path to enlightenment will naturally flow from this. Enlightenment depends upon the mind of bodhicitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the sake of others. Bodhicitta depends upon the mind of great compassion, which wishes to protect all living beings from all forms of suffering for all their lives. The mind of great compassion only arises when we consider the suffering of those we love. If we do not love somebody, and we consider their suffering, we do not feel any compassion and we may even feel delight. But when we love somebody, and we see that they are suffering, the mind of compassion naturally arises. There are three types of love: affectionate love, cherishing love, and wishing love. Affectionate love is delighted merely to think or see other living beings, like a loving grandmother seeing her grandchildren. Cherishing love considers the happiness and well-being of others to be important to us, something worth working towards. Wishing love aims to give others happiness. The mind of great compassion depends upon having cherishing love for all living beings. Thus, enlightenment naturally follows simply from the mind that cherishes others.
How do we generate the mind of cherishing others? In this verse and in Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la explains it is sufficient to simply contemplate the benefits of cherishing others and then make the firm determination to do so. We can likewise consider the analogy of viewing all living beings as the body of life. Of course we should cherish every part of our body because it is part of our body; in the same way, of course we should cherish all living beings because they are all part of the body of life. Atisha explains in Advice from Atisha’s Heart that the actual root of cherishing others is learning to appreciate their good qualities and to stop inappropriate attention on their faults. Because we focus on others’ faults, we generate aversion and even hatred towards others, and with such a focus it is impossible to generate the mind that considers what happens to them to be important. But when we focus our attention on the good qualities of others and choose to not pay attention to their faults, then we naturally start to see them as precious and, on this basis, it is easy to then cherish them.
We might object, “but if I do not see their faults then I am not seeing things objectively and they could even harm me.” This is a wrong conclusion. First, there is a difference between not seeing others’ faults and having inappropriate attention towards their faults. Inappropriate attention exaggerates the appearance of faults, and therefore is a mind that is not objective. Second, we need to make a distinction between the person and their delusions. The person is not their delusions, rather their delusions are like clouds in the sky of their mind. Because we make a distinction between the person and their faults, we are able to see the faults for what they are, but not see them as faults of the person and therefore still be able to cherish them. Third, when we see others’ faults and relate to them as faulty, it functions to draw out their worst aspects and it creates self-fulfilling prophecies. Every teacher and every parent can confirm whatever we pay attention to is what we draw out in others. Thus, even if they have faults, it is better for us to focus on their good qualities to help draw them out. Fourth, Venerable Tharchin explains that any fault we see in others is in fact a reflection of that same fault within our own mind. It is only because we have that fault in our mind that we can perceive it in others. This is true because others are fundamentally empty – they are mere projections or reflections of our own mind. Thus, when we see faults in others, we should see them as a mirror reflecting back to us faults that we have within ourselves. He goes on to explain that if we eliminate the fault within our self, it will begin to disappear in others almost like magic. Finally, we can view the appearance of faults in others as a supremely skillful teaching of an emanation of our spiritual guide. Buddhas can emanate all sorts of forms to reveal to us the truth of Dharma. People behaving in faulty ways teaches us to not act in those ways, and therefore they provide us with powerful teachings. Who is to say they are not emanations of Buddha teaching us these lessons? Even if that is not in fact the case, it is still a beneficial way of viewing things, and so we can still perceive the fault, defend ourselves against it, and nonetheless not see any fault in others.
In the sadhana it says that we should cherish others even if they rise up against us as our enemies. There are several reasons for this. First, by cherishing them despite them harming us we are able to purify the negative karma associated with them harming us in some way. If instead we retaliated, we would create once again new negative karma ensuring that others harm us again in the future. Cherishing those who harm us is therefore a way of ending the karmic cycles that we have been trapped in since beginning last time. This is not different than what Jesus advised to turn the other cheek.
Second, Geshe-la once famously explained in Toronto that love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies. If we cherish our enemies, they will come to view us as their friends, and therefore no longer view us as their enemy. Yes, this process may take time before we bring about a change in their perspective of us, but if we are patient with the process and willing to accept the karmic consequences of our past behavior of viewing them as an enemy, gradually we will turn our relationship around with them. We should be careful though to not misinterpret this to mean that we should cooperate with others’ dysfunctional or abusive behavior. It does not help others for us to enable them and allow them to engage in abuse towards us. Therefore, it can be an act of cherishing others to no longer cooperate with their delusions.
Third, others are only our enemies by mere imputation. If we viewed others as emanations of our spiritual guide, for example, then they would no longer be our enemy, but instead we would see them as our kind teacher. Atisha once had a cook who was very disrespectful towards Atisha. Atisha’s other disciples wondered why Atisha keep kept this cook around when there were so many other disciples who would be more than happy to serve their spiritual guide. Atisha said this disrespectful assistant was in fact very kind to him because this person gave him the opportunity to train in patience, and there’s no virtue greater than patience.