Shantideva is encouraging us to go further, to keep moving on, further and further and further, because we hold back. We know we are holding back. We are holding back on cherishing some of ourself. We are also still keeping some distance from others, it’s clear. Perhaps, we are reaching or we have reached the stage where we do cherish others. Of course we do. But do we care only for others? Is our interest in others actually a self-interest? Do we calculate everything through the lens of how things affect us? We have to keep going forward until finally we have left altogether the world of the self-centered mind.
These times, especially in our societies, people really do need our love, they need to feel that our heart is totally open to them. If we are really to help the people in our life, they need to feel that our heart is totally, totally open to them. It is so important. They must feel that we want to let them in. But there is still a part of our mind does not want to. We have to overcome this, otherwise they sense it, and there is an obstruction for others, too. With respect to the people we are to help, we have to open our hearts to them, they have to open their hearts to us. When this happens, beautiful things will come then. Otherwise, there remain obstructions.
To protect themselves, people keep in place so many barriers, don’t they? Everybody does. There are so many barriers that we are keeping firmly in place. How can we expect others to take down and remove their barriers, if we are not prepared to do so ourselves? They are not going to take down their barriers if we don’t take down ours. They sense, we sense, they sense. If others are to be open with us, if they are to open their heart, which they need to do, then we have to open ours. Opening our heart in this way is actually part of our Tantric practice of loosening the channel knots. We need to invite everybody into our heart, literally, where we see all of reality taking place within our indestructible drop.
Geshe-la and Shantideva are encouraging us to ‘forget our object of self-cherishing.’ We know that there is fear in our own mind at the prospect of that. It seems dangerous to forget about the object of self-cherishing. What would that mean? What would happen? Just forget about myself? That seems dangerous, doesn’t it? It seems dangerous as well, highly dangerous to go completely into the worlds of others. What are we going to find there? We do feel afraid, don’t we? We believe that we would be so exposed, so vulnerable, so we hold back, even just a little bit, we hold back thinking we are protecting ourself. We keep a little bit our distance. We do not completely open our heart. We have got to overcome this one, go further and further. This is what Shantideva is encouraging us to do, through familiarly, applying effort.
We need a tremendous amount of faith, a tremendous amount of trust. We need to trust this Dharma jewel of equalizing and exchanging self with others. Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness to transform our mind in such a radical way, we need deep faith in this practice, an abundance of merit, and powerful blessings from a spiritual guide who has personal experience of these teachings. And he says with all these conducive conditions, the practice of exchanging self with others is not difficult.
These last two or three verses help us to overcome any fear.
(8.118) Out of his great compassion,
Arya Avalokiteshvara even blessed his own name
To relieve living beings from the fear of self-cherishing;
So I should recite his name mantra to receive his blessings.
(8.119) Do not turn away from learning to cherish others because it is difficult.
For example, a person’s lover may once have been her enemy, the mere sound of whose name induced fear;
But now through familiarity she cherishes him
And becomes unhappy when he is not around.
(8.120) Thus, whoever wants to swiftly protect
Both themselves and others
Should practise this holy secret
Of exchanging self with others.
Geshe-la describes samsara as the experience of a self-centered mind. The samsaric world is a reflection of such a mind, in no way existing from its own side. And we know the samsaric world is a suffering world. It is a world inhabited by suffering living beings who also in no way exist from their own side. How can we bring such a world to an end? Only by destroying the self-centered mind. We do this through exchanging self with others and the wisdom realizing emptiness – chapter 8 and chapter 9 of Shantideva’s Guide.
Through compassion, naturally arising from exchanging self with others, conjoined with wisdom, we create an enlightened world in which there is no suffering. If we think deeply from the point of view of emptiness, this is the only way to bring suffering to an end. There is no other way. We cannot bring an end to suffering in samsaric world because that is its very nature, isn’t it? Therefore, we must end the samsaric world itself.