Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Owning others’ faults as our own

(8.162) If others do something wrong,
I will transform it into a fault of my own;
But if I cause even the slightest harm to others,
I will declare it openly in the presence of many.

Of all the words of Shantideva, these in particular really stood out for me as extraordinary, most challenging. Basically what we are saying here is if we make a mistake, we own up to it as our own and not blame others for it.  And if others make a mistake, we take responsibility for them having done so.  Sorry, it is my fault.  We perceive faults every day, don’t we? Mistakes are made again and again by others.  We are the one who is perceiving fault, so are we not the one responsible for the faulty behavior we perceive?  We think we are seeing what is actually there. Where do these faulty people come from?  Why do people appear to have such faults and delusions?  They are reflections of our own faulty mind.

Gen Tharchin says we need to own others’ faults as our own.  A natural consequence of this is we need to take personal responsibility for removing the faults we perceive in others.  A senior teacher who has frequent contact with Geshe-la once said that very often when they would describe something that has gone wrong, Geshe-la says in all sincerity, “oh I am sorry.”  Due to our mistakes … he is sorry! This is something that we have to do, and maybe as a start we can at least utter the words … when somebody close to us makes some mistake … “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Even psychologists now are increasingly realizing that the faults we see in others are often just our own faults projected onto others.  Trump assumed everybody lied, cheated, and stole.  Perhaps that had more to do with his own mind projecting that onto others because that is what he himself does.  We tend to do the same – we assume others think and act like us.  We “see” this because these are the mental glasses through which we look at the world.

(8.163) I should spread the fame of others farther,
So that it completely outshines my own;
And, regarding myself as a lowly servant,
Employ myself in the service of all.

(8.164) Being full of faults, I should not praise myself
Just because of some superficial good quality.
I will not let even a few people know
Of any good qualities I might possess.

Do we do this?  Or do we do the opposite?  We need to check and see, and ask ourselves why.  Such humility is so important.  In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says we need to practice humility because there is no inherently existent I.  Geshe-la goes on to say we should view our self or I as the lowest of all, as something we need to neglect or forget. And he says in this way our self-cherishing will become weaker, and our love for others will increase.  We can forget the observed object of our self-cherishing because it is nonexistent, whereas the observed object of the mind that cherishes others does exist.  I am not important at all.

An objection may arise if we think this way, how can we prevent ourself from feeling worthless? When we read this perhaps we think if we were really to adopt such an attitude it would be impossible to develop or maintain any self-respect, any self-confidence?

The reality is the exact opposite.  The reason why we cherish ourself is because we are insecure and needy.  Our self-cherishing makes us feel insecure and needy, it never has enough.  It takes enormous self-confidence to cherish others and praise them above us, and when we do put others up, we naturally feel even better about ourself.  When we take responsibility for the mistakes of our employees, for example, others respect us more for us.  It takes strength and confidence to do so, combined with a humility that is ready to learn.  Our self-cherishing will squeal and want to blame others, but that erodes everything.

(8.165) In short, may the harm I have caused others
For the sake of myself
Return and ripen upon me
For the sake of others.

(8.166) I should not be domineering
Or act in self-righteous ways
Rather, I should be like a newly-wed
Who is bashful, timid, and restrained.

We can follow the example of Venerable Geshe-la.  On one hand, he is restrained, almost shy, unimposing and soft.  He is not brash and overbearing.  On the other hand, he is very strong, powerful, confident, unimpeachable and he has huge spiritual ambitions.  Yet, he is not arrogant.  What an amazing combination of qualities.

Our job is to marry all of these qualities.  One important thing is we need to remain completely approachable.  People should not be intimidated by us.  That is the worst.  We also need to make people feel completely accepted as they are, without being judged at all for what they do or think.  Otherwise, they will not open up and come to us for help with their problems.  At the same time, we need to command respect, where people naturally practice consideration and respectfulness, especially towards the Dharma.  We also need to inspire confidence that we are not some wilting flower or doormat, but that we are unshakable and strong and we have our life together.   We also need to be persuasive, without being a salesman.  We respect the freedom of others to make their own choices, and we give them the information they need to be able to make the right choices.  We want people to want to come under our influence.  To do this, they must feel that we only have their best interests at heart, with no hidden agenda, and that we do not seek to control them at all.  We want to help them gain control of themselves.  We want to encourage people to grow into greater and greater responsibility, not just follow.  To do this, we have to give people the chance to make mistakes and learn from them – that too takes confidence, both in them and in ourselves.

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