Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Viewing all suffering as our own (without it hurting)

(8.97) But why should I protect others
If their suffering does me no harm?
If we cherish only others, we find their suffering hard to bear;
So we definitely need to protect them.

(8.98) It is not a wrong conception to think
That it will be I who experiences the future suffering,
Because it will not be another person who dies
And yet another who is reborn.

Why then do or should we protect others if their suffering does me no harm?  Why?  Why protect ourselves from future suffering, since likewise that presently does me no harm?  If we do not protect others from their suffering because it does not harm us, then likewise we should not protect ourself from future suffering because it does not harm ‘us’ either.  It will be the ‘self’ of the future.  Everything is impermanent.  If we do seek to protect ourselves from future suffering, then likewise we should protect others from their suffering.  There is no difference.

But we do feel the need to protect ourself from future suffering, even though it is a different self.  We are grateful to our past selves that created the karma for us to refind the Dharma in this life and generally speaking enjoy a good life.  If our past self had not been so considerate, we would have a difficult life right now.  Likewise, we go to school to have a good job later, we save our money to have enough during retirement.  These sorts of actions involve us working for somebody in the future who is not us now.  Why do we do that?  Because we see the relationship between ourself now and ourself then.  In exactly the same way, when we let go of the grasping at self and others and come to see all living beings as one body of living beings, when we see the inseparability and dependent relationship between ourself and others, then of course it makes sense to free others from suffering.  The hand removes the thorn from the foot. 

At a deeper level, from the perspective of exchanging self with others according to tantra where we impute our I onto all living beings, in the same way that it makes sense for this present self to protect that different self, the self of the future from their suffering, then so too it makes sense to protect a different self that is others’, the self of others, from their suffering.

(8.99) “Surely, whenever there is suffering,
It should be dispelled by whoever is experiencing it.”
Then, since the suffering of the foot is not the hand’s,
Why should the hand help to alleviate it?

(8.100) We alleviate the suffering of the foot with the hand
Because it is a specific method to relieve this pain.
It is also incorrect to grasp at an independent self and others –
Such grasping should be completely abandoned.

(8.101) Things that we call “continuums” or “collections”,
Such as rosaries or armies, are falsely existent.
Thus, there is no independent possessor of suffering,
For who is there who has control over it?

(8.102) Since there is no independent possessor of suffering,
There is no real difference between my own and others’ suffering.
Thus, we should dispel all suffering simply because it is painful –
Why cling to false distinctions with such certainty?

I love this line of reasoning.  It is so powerful.  We make a difference between overcoming our own suffering and that of others because we make a difference between ourself and others.  As the analogy we discussed in the last post, if each being is a separate part of the same whole, then just as the hand removes the suffering of the foot, we should remove the suffering of somebody else.  If we were paralyzed in our legs and did not feel them, but they nonetheless had gangrene, we would certainly deal with it even though we don’t feel that pain.  Why?  Because it is part of us.

Here Shantideva goes even further. We feel like we are suffering because we falsely grasp at there being an ‘us’ who is suffering.  We think we do not feel the suffering of others because we believe that they are inherently different, they are inherently different to us.  The suffering is that of others who are inherently other. That is what we feel, isn’t it? It is the suffering of others. Other being inherently other. How can it possibly be my suffering? There is no relationship between the two at all.  As Shantideva points out, there is no independent possessor of suffering. 

There is just suffering in the mind inside ‘this body.’  Likewise there is no independent possessor of others’ suffering.  There is just suffering in the mind inside ‘that body.’  Since there is no possessor of suffering anywhere, there is just suffering in the mind, and it is equally that of everybody.  The suffering of anybody is the suffering of everybody.  For this reason, we need to overcome all suffering, simply because it is suffering taking place within our mind.  We should not cling to false distinctions with such certainty.

What about the argument that there is still a difference because the suffering that takes place within my mental continuum is ‘mine’ and that that takes place within the continuum of others is ‘theirs?’  Shantideva answers this too in that there is no continuum either.  Continuum is just what we impute on the series of subject-object pairs.  Other than this, there is no continuum.  When we understand subtle impermanence, the self of this moment is different than the self of the last moment – different, but not separate.  Different, but not independent.  Conventionally the two are completely different.  They are just as different as self and other.  There is no difference between the other of our future mental continuum and others, so if we care for one we should care for the other.

If we find ourselves confused now and have no idea about who actually possesses or experiences suffering, then that is a good thing.  Because before we found that there was no confusion — my suffering is mine and everybody else’s is theirs. And that belief binds us to a life of suffering, keeps us in a world of suffering, doesn’t it?  What perhaps begins with certainty becomes doubt, and then eventually we will get a correct belief, then a valid cognizer, and ultimately a yogic direct perceiver.  It doesn’t matter if we do not have a perfect understanding straightaway.  We have to read these verses over and over and over again, contemplate and meditate on them until they make sense to us. It is worth the effort.

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