Happy Tsog Day: Putting Others First in Thought and Deed

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 31 of a 44-part series.

Exchanging self with others

In short, since the childish are concerned for themselves alone,
Whereas Buddhas work solely for the sake of others,
I seek your blessings to distinguish the faults and benefits,
And Thus, be able to exchange myself with others.

Since cherishing myself is the door to all faults
And cherishing mother beings is the foundation of all good qualities,
I seek your blessings to take as my essential practice
The yoga of exchanging self with others.

To exchange our self with others means to cherish only other living beings. This mind is the natural conclusion of the previous contemplations. If there is no advantage and only suffering that comes from cherishing ourselves and only advantages and happiness that comes from cherishing others, it follows that we should not cherish ourselves at all and cherish only others.

We might object, “if we do not cherish ourselves at all then who will take care of us?” The answer is we do not need to cherish ourselves to take care of ourselves. It is perfectly possible to take care of ourselves – feed our body, get adequate rest, and meet all our other needs – for the sake of cherishing others. For example, if we starve or become sick because we are not caring for ourselves, then we are not able to help others. Indeed, the mind of bodhichitta, which we will discuss later, seeks to acquire every good quality for the sake of others. There is no contradiction whatsoever between improving ourselves, taking care of ourselves, and cherishing only others.

How can we generate the mind of exchanging self with others? As with abandoning self-cherishing and cherishing others, it suffices for us to contemplate the advantages of doing so and then make the determination to cherish only others. The more familiarity we gain with this determination, the more our behavior will become consistent with it. Fundamentally it is simply a question of familiarity. We need to make effort every day, month after month, life after life, to come to cherish only others. With familiarity this mind will come. Once it does, as explained before, enlightenment will naturally follow.

In chapter eight of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva explains a special method for generating the mind of exchanging self with others. He encourages us to identify with people who we normally generate pride, competitiveness, or jealousy towards. We put ourselves in their shoes and look back upon our old self. For example, we usually generate pride towards someone who we think is inferior to us in some way. When we put ourselves in their shoes and look back at our arrogant old self, we can see very clearly our selfish and deluded behavior and can realize what the other the person needs from us. Seeing ourselves from the perspective of others is a powerful way for undermining and ultimately destroying our self-cherishing attitude.

According to Highest Yoga Tantra, we can exchange self with others by simply imputing our “I” onto all living beings thinking that we are now them. And then we can impute “other” onto our old self. On the basis of these new imputations, we cherish our new self and can completely neglect our old self. All these practices can give rise to misinterpretations of what it means, but if we put the instructions into practice sincerely and try approach it in the way it was intended, we can naturally overcome these doubts and hesitations.

Taking and giving

Therefore, O Compassionate, Venerable Guru, I seek your blessings
So that all the suffering, negativities, and obstructions of mother sentient beings
Will ripen upon me right now;
And through my giving my happiness and virtue to others,
May all migrating beings be happy.  (3x)

This is the only verse in the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide that has five lines. Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit this is to indicate the special importance of this practice. In Universal Compassion, Geshe-la explains that the practice of taking and giving is the synthesis of our Lojong trainings. All the previous meditations on exchanging self with others, great compassion, and wishing love all find their final conclusion in the practice of taking and giving.

The practice here is quite simple: first we generate a mind of compassion for all living beings, and then we generate the superior intention to ourselves protect others from their suffering. With this mind, we then imagine we take on all the suffering of others in the form of black smoke which comes to our heart and destroys our self-cherishing mind completely. We then generate a mind of wishing love, wishing that others experience only pure happiness, and we once again generate a superior intention to assume personal responsibility to help others be happy. We then imagine that from our heart infinite light rays radiate out in all directions bestowing upon all living beings pure and everlasting happiness. Imagining that we have taken away all their suffering and bestowed upon them perfect happiness, we then generate a mind of joy strongly believing that we have done so.

The doubt may arise that we have not actually taken on the suffering of others or given them happiness. This doubt then prevents us from generating joy, feeling that we have not engaged in the practice. There are several lines of thought we can use to overcome this doubt. First, others do not inherently exist. They are not inherently suffering, nor are they inherently unhappy. That is simply how they are appearing to us based upon our past karma with them. The practice of taking and giving is similar to our tantric practices of bringing the result into the path. Engaging in the practice of taking and giving creates a new karma which causes the beings of our karmic dream to appear to be free from suffering and experiencing everlasting happiness. This is a way of karmically reconstructing the empty beings of our dream. Second, we do not generate joy believing others have been freed from their suffering and so forth because we believe they inherently have, rather we generate joy because strongly believing we have done this is how we complete the mental action of taking and giving. In other words, generating the mind of joy believing we have taken on their suffering and bestowed upon them happiness is how we complete the mental action of taking and giving, which then gives us all the karmic benefits of the practice.

We can engage in the practice of taking and giving at any time. One powerful way of doing this is to mount the practice of taking giving upon the breath. As we inhale, we imagine that we take on all the suffering of living beings. And as we exhale, we imagine that we bestow upon others everlasting happiness. There is a close relationship between our breath and our mind. If we mount the virtuous practice of taking giving upon our breath, it will function to purify our inner energy winds. If our inner energy winds are purified, then our mind will naturally also become purified.

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