Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are parts of a living whole

After describing the practice of equalizing self and others, and giving us encouragement to train in this practice, describing its benefits, special advice and so forth, now Shantideva goes on to describe the practice of exchanging self with others.

(8.113) Seeing the faults of cherishing myself
And the many good qualities of cherishing others,
I should completely forsake self-cherishing
And become familiar with cherishing others.

(8.114) Just as I regard the hands and so forth
As limbs of my body,
So should I regard all living beings
As limbs of a living whole.

Again, Shantideva is helping us develop a new view of ourselves, as part of the body of all living beings.  Because all the parts of a body are united in a single whole, each part takes care of all the others.  In the same way, if we view ourselves as a part of the living whole, we care for each part.  The main point is this is a view we need to train in.  We have to apply effort to come to see ourselves as inseparably part of the same whole.  The hand does not think it is just a hand, it considers itself the body.  Every being, including ourself, is part of the fabric of our mind.  Others are literally parts of us, each being is part of our life.

(8.115) Through the force of familiarity, I generate a mind
That grasps at I with respect to this non-self-existent body;
So why, through familiarity with cherishing others,
Should I not develop a mind that grasps at I with respect to others’ bodies?

The main practice of exchanging self with others is to identify with all living beings.  Our “I” is just a label, we are what we identify with.  At present, we identify with something that does not exist at all, an inherently existent I.  But with familiarity, we strongly believe it to be ourselves.  This is just a question of familiarity, there is nothing about this non-existent that is us other than the fact we identify with it.  If we train in identifying with others, we can gradually come to literally feel ourselves to be all living beings, and to consider each being as part of ourselves.  Since we naturally cherish whatever we consider ourselves to be, if we consider ourselves to be all living beings, we will naturally cherish all living beings. 

If we make this one change in recognition, the entire Mahayana path falls into our laps almost effortlessly, and with it enlightenment.  Geshe-la says 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 self to others, and everything else follows naturally.  This means to attain enlightenment, all we really need to do is take as our main practice identifying with all others as ourselves.  When we see others, think “this is me.”  When we see ourself, think, “that is others.”  Again and again and again, we train.  With familiarity, this will become our view.  Then, everything else comes naturally.

(8.116) Although I work for others in this way,
I should not develop pride or pretension;
And, just as when I feed myself,
I should hope for nothing in return.

We discussed this in detail in an earlier post, but I find it important that Shantideva repeats it again.  We shouldn’t think we are special because we are training in exchanging self with others or that we are on the bodhisattva’s path.  This is a trick, a deception.  Our self-cherishing hijacks our Dharma to make us feel special and important.  Many great spiritual leaders – and many local resident teachers – easily fall into this trap.  I know I did, I know I still do. 

(8.117) Therefore, just as I protect myself
From anything unpleasant, however small,
So should I become familiar with
A compassionate and caring mind towards others.

It is familiarity that will take us to the point where we have exchanged self with others.   That is what we do over these next few verses.  We try to become more and more familiar with cherishing others and letting go of the cherishing of ourself.   At the end of the day, the practice itself is quite simple:  we keep thinking I with respect to others’ bodies, until we have actually forgotten altogether the object of our self-cherishing.  The object of your cherishing becomes only others.  At first the object of cherishing will become others.  With equalizing self and others, still to some extent there will be some self-cherishing.  But we learn to cherish only others. We continue with this training, until finally we cherish only others. That is the difference.  Geshe-la said in Eight Steps to Happiness that we need to forget our object of self-cherishing.  We can just forget it completely and think only of others.  This is what we are striving for.  Again, that doesn’t mean we don’t still take care of ourself.  We just take care of ourself so that we are of better service to others.

One thought on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are parts of a living whole

  1. I truly love and thrive off your writings, and I want to say thank you for all your teachings from your heart, I have learned much and look forward to learning much more.

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