Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to practice taking and giving

(8.160) I am happy but others are sad;
I have a high position but others are lowly;
I benefit myself but not others –
Why am I not jealous of myself?

(8.161) I must give my happiness to others
And take their suffering upon myself instead.

This is one of the many references to the practice of taking and giving.  It is a natural extension of our exchanging self with others. We would rather it be us who suffers than them.  We would rather that they be happy rather than we ourselves. If others are suffering, then we take it from them, and if we are experiencing any happiness, then we give it to others.

How do we take the suffering of others? How do we give our happiness to others?  In exactly the way it is described in the Meditation Handbook, or as it is explained in Universal Compassion for how to mount taking and giving upon the breath during our daily activities.  Due to our identifying so strongly with others’ suffering and happiness of course we want to relieve them from suffering and give them whatever happiness we have.  

We can also do so practically.  We need to ask ourselves how practically can we give our happiness to others?  How practically can we take away others suffering?  There are countless examples that come up in our daily life:  for example, we can give to others our portion of cake, we can take upon ourself the hardest tasks of work, we can let others go first in line, we can carry their groceries for them, etc., etc., etc.  If we look for opportunities, we will find them.  By training in these small practical examples throughout our day and life, it will eventually become habit for us to do so.

Once again, training in exchanging self with others will greatly accelerate our motivation to engage in this practice.  What do our delusions normally want?  They want the best for ourself and they want to pass all burdens onto others.  If we impute “self” onto others and “others” onto ourself, then we train in being as “selfish” as possible.  We will naturally take anything good from “others” and give it to our “self.”  This swap of imputation of self and others completely disorients our self-cherishing mind.  It’s a way of tricking our self-cherishing into destroying itself.

I should constantly examine my behaviour for faults
By asking, “Why am I acting in this way?”

Why do we act the way we do?  We act out of habit. We have a lot of habits. Many of our actions are habitual.  The question is are they habits arisen from self-cherishing, or are they habits arisen from cherishing others.  Most of our habits are coming from self-centeredness, aren’t they?  We do not possess many virtuous habits — thoughts, speaking, and so forth.  We are training in virtue because it does not come naturally, we have to apply effort.  It has not become habitual yet.  But delusions come effortlessly.  They are habitual.  It is important that we constantly examine our behavior, as Shantideva suggests, so that we become aware of how we are acting.  Then, we can change.  Through applying enough effort, cherishing others will eventually become our habit.  Gen-la Losang said what is natural is simply what is familiar.  By changing our habits to be virtuous, cherishing others will become natural for us.  Then, enlightenment will come easily and quickly.    

Is it enough to just have our actions not harm others?  Perhaps we should ask ourself with respect to our actions, “do they help anyone?” There is a difference, isn’t there?  Our current behavior may not harm anyone, but does it help anyone?  Surely we have to reach a point where all of our actions are directly or indirectly helping others.  

Is it that hard to examine our own behavior?  We do it all the time with respect to other’s behavior, which has no value. Once again, exchanging self with others comes to the rescue.  If we impute “others” onto ourself, then we can use our natural ability to examine the behavior of “others” to become aware of our own faults.

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