Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why do we obsess over our body?

(8.178) My body is a frightening, impure form
That cannot move without depending upon mind
And that eventually will completely disintegrate;
So why do I grasp at it as “I”?

(8.179) Whether it lives or dies,
What use is it to me to grasp at this machine?
It is no different from grasping at a clod of earth;
So why do I not give up the pride of grasping “my body”?

Our body is no more than a guest house.  Eventually it will be no different from the earth itself.  Why should we identify with something we know we will be separated from?  Surely our true self would be something that goes on, no?  How is our body any different than our clothes?  We don’t identify with them, do we?

(8.180) As a result of attending to the body’s desires,
I have experienced much suffering without real meaning.
What is the point of generating anger or attachment
For the sake of something that is like a piece of wood?

(8.181) Whether I care for it in the way that I do,
Or allow it to be harmed by others,
The body itself develops neither attachment nor anger;
So why do I feel so attached to it?

(8.182) Since the body itself does not know
Anger when it is insulted
Or attachment when it is praised,
Why do I go to so much trouble for its sake?

How much of our attachment and our anger arise from thinking “I” with respect to this body, and showing so much concern for it? how much attachment how much anger and how much suffering as a result of our attachment and anger, just for the sake of this body?

(8.183) “But I want to cherish this body
Because it is very beneficial to me.”
Then why not cherish all living beings,
For they are very beneficial to us?

(8.184) Therefore, without any attachment,
I will give up my body for the benefit of all;
But, although it might have many faults,
I will look after it while I am working for others.

We need to give our body then into the service of other living beings.  We need to use it for their sake, not for our own enjoyment.  At present we’re very much anchored in this body, so we must stop now identifying with this body.  We must stop considering it to be mine.  We must consider it to be others’, we must consider it to belong to others, and in this way bring our self-centeredness to an end.

(8.185) I will put a stop to all childish behaviour
And follow in the steps of the wise Bodhisattvas.
Recalling the instructions on conscientiousness,
I will turn away from sleep, mental dullness, and the like.

(8.186) Just like the compassionate Sons and Daughters of the Conqueror Buddha,
I will patiently apply myself to whatever needs to be done.
If I do not apply constant effort throughout the day and the night,
When will my misery ever come to an end?

Here Shantideva’s saying it is time to grow up, isn’t he?  We need to put a stop to all childish behavior.  We have discussed before we’ve got to grow up, we’ve got to move on. We must be conscientious now, apply great effort, and become like the actual Bodhisattvas others need us to be, become the actual Bodhisattvas our spiritual guide is trying to create.

Finally:

(8.187) Therefore, to dispel both obstructions,
I will withdraw my mind from all distracting conceptions
And place it in constant meditative equipoise
On the perfect object of meditation, the correct view of emptiness.

The main point of this chapter is we need to withdraw into our mind, but not be self-centered.  To be able to mix our mind with emptiness, we need to be withdrawn and centered within our mind. It is our attachment and delusions, such as self-cherishing, which draw us out.  We need to be centered, but not self-centered.  Letting go of attachment to wanting things for the self of our self-cherishing is how we do this.  We can do this on the side of letting go of the object of our self-cherishing or at least moving onto the side of letting go of the self-cherishing.

The only way to identify with other’s body as our own is if we understand it is a projection of our mind, we are looking at the fabric of our mind.  It is us.  So the more we go inward, the more we discover others are ourselves.  Then we can be centered, but not self-centered.  It seems like a contradiction to withdraw into our mind, yet at the same time go out to others to cherish them.  But this is only because we grasp at others being outside, when in reality they are part of our inside.  They are most of our inside, actually.  Our ordinary self is only a small part.  Our self-cherishing mind just spends all of its time obsessing about this one small part.

We also need to practice the moral discipline of restraint.  Things will try to pull us out of being centered within our mind in our heart.  We need to realize there is nothing worth going out to because actually there is nothing out there at all.  This is difficult to do unless we become disciplined with our bodily, verbal, and mentally activity.  When we are withdrawn in our mind, we are happy.  When we get drawn out, we become unhappy.  We can experience this directly, and then we know.  When we can withdraw ourselves into our mind and never be drawn out by things, then we will experience our lives as if we are on retreat right now.  Our whole life will become a big retreat.  I once heard a story about a senior teacher having a meeting with Geshe-la.  He hadn’t seen him for several days.  He remarked on how well Geshe-la looked, and he looked at the teacher and said “that’s because I’m always inside.”

This concludes the eighth chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled “Relying upon Mental Stabilization”.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Don’t try go at it alone

We also should not try go it alone.  We need to enlist the help of the Buddha and Sangha jewels to help us put the Dharma jewel of cherishing others into practice.  We need blessings and support.  We cannot do it alone.  We need to choose to come under their influence instead of trying to have our Samsara and Dharma too.  Sometimes our self-cherishing is so strong that we do not even want to turn to Buddha and Sangha because we know they would encourage us to not do what our self-cherishing wants.  I always keep a picture of Geshe-la and Dorje Shugden on my desk.  When I feel tempted to do something wrong, I try look at them and ask, “would I do this in front of them?”  In fact, that is what I am doing.  But sometimes, my delusions are so strong, I intentionally do not look at them because I know if I did, I wouldn’t be able to do what my self-cherishing wants to do.  Ridiculous!  I start to view them as the problem because if they were not around, I could pursue my delusions with abandon.  When we have such thoughts, we need to ask ourselves the question, “if I follow this thought, where will it lead me?”  Sometimes we need to stare into the abyss before we decide to step back.

(8.171) If, out of non-conscientiousness,
I were not to give you to others,
You would certainly deliver me
To the guardians of hell!

(8.172) You have done this to me often enough in the past
And, as a result, I have suffered for a very long time;
But now that I have brought to mind all my grudges towards you,
I am determined to destroy you, selfish mind.

(8.173) Thus, if I want happiness,
I should not be happy with the self-cherishing mind;
And if I want protection,
I should always protect others.

We need to realize a very clear relationship:  the more we try to make this self happy, the more unhappy we become as our wishes go unfulfilled.  If our only wish is to work for the happiness of others, then we can be happy all the time regardless of what happens because we can always do what we want.  Karmically, the more we work for and protect ourself, the more we actually make our situation difficult because we are depriving our future selves of help and protection.  If we want freedom, happiness and protection, then we need to give these things to others.  It is that simple.  Our attachment to harvesting results instead of planting seeds is what prevents us from doing this.

(8.174) To whatever extent I seek
To fulfil the desires of the body,
To that extent I shall experience
A state of dissatisfaction.

(8.175) The desires of the self-cherishing mind
Cannot be satisfied
Even by all the wealth in the world –
So how can we hope to fulfil all its wishes?

(8.176) When our desires are not fulfilled,
We develop delusions and a dissatisfied mind;
But whoever becomes free from such distracting concerns
Will never know dissatisfaction.

(8.177) Therefore, I will never allow
The desires of the body to increase.
A person who has no attachment to attractive objects
Will find contentment – the best of all possessions.

One of our greatest problems, one of the greatest obstacles to removing self-cherishing is our attachment to our body and to our bodily feelings.  As much as we say we do not like our body, we do.  The fact is that we do have attachment to it.  One of my former students once told me, “most people live their life by the pleasure principle, seeking to do what brings them the most pleasure.  Not me man, I head towards what hurts because that is how we grow.” Our body is one of our biggest objects of pleasure.  Think about how much people do in this world to bring about pleasurable feelings within this body – attractive forms, sounds, smells, tastes and so forth.

But Shantideva is indicating that there is no satisfaction to be had in the body, ever.  We are not quite convinced of that one, are we?  We seek satisfaction, don’t we?  The fact that we seek satisfaction indicates that we are desirous, doesn’t it?  The fact that we are seeking means that we are desirous, which itself is a suffering and indicates that we have not yet found satisfaction.  Even when we do fulfil certain desires, others manifest themselves because the desirous mind remains – it just reasserts itself towards another object, so we remain forever dissatisfied.

If we reduce our desires, we will reduce our dissatisfaction because there will be less desires unfulfilled.  When we have eliminated all our external desires, we will experience pure contentment.  Someone who is content is truly wealthy because they lack nothing.  We will become the richest person on earth as far as our experience is concerned.  A person who has no attachment to attractive objects will find contentment, the best of all possessions.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Stop giving in to self-cherishing

Now Shantideva encourages us not to give in any longer to our self-cherishing mind, and its desires.

(8.167) In this way, selfish mind, you should avoid non-virtue.
If you do not observe this discipline,
I will bring you under control
Through the power of mindfulness and alertness.

(8.168) However, if you choose not to act
In the way that you have been advised,
Since you are the source of all my misfortune
I will completely annihilate you.

(8.169) The time when you could govern me
Has been consigned to the past.
Now that I see you to be the source of all my problems,
I will eradicate you wherever you appear.

(8.170) Now I will immediately cast aside
All thoughts to work for my own sake.
O self-cherishing mind, I have sold you to others;
So stop complaining and get on with helping them!

How much longer are we going to give in to our selfish or self-cherishing mind?  We still tend to go along with it.  Even after all these years of Dharma practice, we still think that our self-cherishing is our friend.  We need to feel that it is actually is our enemy, our worst enemy.   Our self-cherishing is like the devil – it has only one goal, to put us in the deepest hell.  If we follow it, that is exactly where it will lead us.  Perhaps we see this after it has burned us, where we have done something that we know we should not have, or have gotten angry, jealous, etc., and it created some problem.  But then slowly, it creeps back up and convinces us that we should do what it says.  It will help us.  We need to be burned several times before we finally say enough is enough.  Once this becomes clear, then it is just a question of time.

Our job is to destroy this inner enemy – we need to annihilate it.  If you knew you were possessed by some demon, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to exorcise yourself of it?  We should do the same with self-cherishing.  Our delusions are as strong as we make them, and we make them strong by believing them to be true.  The only way we will stop following this inner demon is we realize it is deceptive.  It promises us one thing, but delivers the exact opposite.  It is deceiving and betraying us.  And it always will.  The more we realize it is deceptive, the less power it will have over us.  It often hurts to go against the wishes of our self-cherishing.  This is like somebody blackmailing us.  If we give in to the emotional penalty they invoke, the blackmail will only continue and get worse.

We need to train strategically.  Our job is to completely eradicate every trace of self-cherishing from our mind.  The trick is making our desire to overcome our self-cherishing stronger than our desire for what our self-cherishing wants.  When the balance is tipped in this way, we will find the strength to oppose it.  Otherwise, we will lose every time.  We should focus on the easy things where our self-cherishing is weaker.  Here our desire to overcome our self-cherishing will be stronger than our desire for whatever our self-cherishing wants, and we will be able to weaken our self-cherishing.  We should also focus on the really strong self-cherishing, the one or two things that create big problems for us that we see clearly how our self-cherishing is our enemy.  The middle stuff we will get to with time.  For now, we should focus on the easy and the really strong or problematic.

Often overcoming self-cherishing is just an issue of identifying it clearly within our mind.   Once we see it, it is not hard to see how it is wrong, and then we can overcome it.  Identifying it is quite simple:  do we think about things from the perspective of how they impact us – in other words, is there self-centeredness in our mind, do we view things from the perspective of us being the center of our universe?  If we see how we do this, then we have identified our self-cherishing.  We see the bias and exaggeration in our mind.  The rest flows naturally from that.

One very important point is our self-cherishing will never go away on its own.  It will remain in our mind until we make the decision to eliminate it.  There are people who have been practicing Dharma for 20 or more years, but they have not made this decision, and so self-cherishing remains in their mind.  We need to come to a personal decision, realizing that we are possessed by the demon of self-cherishing, that we need to eliminate it from our mind.  With this intention, we will do so.  Without this decision, no matter how long we remain in the Dharma, we will leave the roots of our delusions intact, like the roots of weeds, and they will come back.  Once we make this decision, we will need constant mindfulness and diligent effort over a long period of time to rid our mind of this inner demon.

The biggest question our self-cherishing poses to us is ‘what is left for me?’  We need to have a good answer to this, otherwise we will feel like we are losing out and we won’t have the power necessary to really make this decision.  If we understand karma, the only thing we will want to be left with is the opportunity to work for others.  We will derive all our pleasure working for others because we will know we are building for the future.  The definition of maturity is when we use the present for the future.  We take great satisfaction in building for the future.  We should strive to become a spiritual Bill Gates, who acquires the inner wealth of Dharma so that it can be given away.  Our happiness comes from the satisfaction of doing that.

Sometimes our self-cherishing objects, ‘I understand I need to do it, but it is so damn hard.’  It is hard because we have so many obstacles.  Where do these obstacles come from?  They are a reflection of our own self-cherishing.  In other words, self-cherishing creates its own obstacles.  Seeing this will help us increase our desire to overcome it.  We have to compare how hard overcoming self-cherishing is with the alternative of remaining with it forever.  No matter how hard it is to overcome our self-cherishing, it is infinitely harder to not.  With self-cherishing, everything we do is hard and nothing works.  Without self-cherishing, everything is easy.  We have a choice, do one hard thing to make everything else easy, or don’t do that one hard thing and have everything else be difficult.  When we see this is our choice, we will naturally make the right decision.

Muhammad Ali’s is my father’s all-time favorite philosopher.  He said, “When a man says I cannot, he has made a suggestion to himself. He has weakened his power of accomplishing that which otherwise would have been accomplished.”  Samsara is a self-enforcing prison.  We remain in samsara because we have not decided to leave.  We decide to stay because we keep going back in for the attractive things of samsara.  Once we are sucked in a little bit with these attractive things, we then get pulled into the main body of samsara, which is the lower realms.   When our self-cherishing starts complaining, we have a choice:  to listen or not.  Because we listen to it, it has power over us.  But if we know it is wrong and see it as some blowhard know-it-all, we will naturally ignore what it says.  It will still be babbling in the background, but we don’t pay attention. 

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.

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.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: It’s all about gaining familiarity

In the remaining verses I feel Shantideva is saying essentially just one thing, and that is, practice.  We need to actually do this meditation to get a feel for it, otherwise it isjust an interesting intellectual exercise.  We should practice in meditation as has been described, and practice out of meditation too, until we complete this exchange of self with others. Just keep practicing.

Countless times in samsaric rebirths,
This self-cherishing attitude has caused me harm.

(8.155) O mind, because you wish to benefit yourself,
All the hard work you have done
For countless aeons in samsara
Has resulted only in suffering.

(8.156) Therefore, I will definitely engage
In working for the benefit of others;
And because Buddha’s teachings are non-deceptive,
I shall experience excellent results in the future.

(8.157) If in the past I had practised
Exchanging myself with others,
I would not now be in this situation –
Devoid of the excellent happiness and bliss of Buddhahood.

(8.158) Just as I am familiar with developing the thought “I”, “I”,
When perceiving my body, which arose from others’ sperm and blood,
So should I become familiar with developing the thought “I”, “I”,
When perceiving others’ bodies.

It is simple, really.  We just need to keep thinking I, I, with respect to others’ bodies and minds.  That is it.  Just keep thinking “me” when observing others’ bodies.  In order to bring about some deeper experience of this practice, simply think I, I, with respect to others.  “I” is just a thought.  Other than the thought, there is no I. We will see later on, in the next chapter, other than the thought “I” there is no I.   We think the I is one with our body and mind, which is why when somebody points at our body we feel they are pointing at us.  But we also think that our I is somehow separate from our body and mind, because we say, ‘my body’ and ‘my mind’ as if there was some independent part-possessor.  If our I were inherently existent, this is completely impossible, but this is exactly what we think.  In reality, our I is not one with its basis, nor is it entirely separate from it.  It is just the opposite of what we think.  When we see this, then there is no problem imputing our I onto the basis of others.  Until we realize this, we will feel anchored and fixed to this body, and we will remain self-centered.

We believe that others’, the self of others, exists within their body, too, don’t we? We conceive an inherently existent other within their bodies.  We naturally conceive an inherently existent other within the bodies of others.  They are inherently others, so they cannot be me!   This is also a mistaken belief.  There is no other there. There is no other there within their body.  Other, like I, is just mere imputation.  So we can impute “I” on others and “others” on ourself.

Once we realize it is possible, afterwards, it is just an issue of training and familiarity.  All we need to do is become more and more familiar with imputing “I” upon this different basis, the body or bodies of others. Thinking I whenever we observe or perceive others’ bodies.  Just keep doing it. Think “I” when perceiving others — so we can do that at all times, when we are with others and when we are just thinking about them, just keep thinking I, I, I.  Eventually, they become a basis of imputation, and this body eventually will cease to be for us the basis of imputing I, it will become the basis of imputing other.

It is clear if we cannot exchange self with others in this way, we won’t achieve much success in the Tantric practice of generation stage.   In generation stage we try to become familiar with the thought “I” when perceiving the body of the deity, the body of Vajrayogini for example.  Right now, the body of Vajrayogini is not our body, it seems to us to be a different body.  We feel it is someone else’s body.  But we know through training in generation stage, Vajrayogini’s body gradually comes to feel to be our body.    Our training in exchanging self with others is an excellent preparation for our ability to engage in our tantric practice.  In fact, it is part of our self-generation practice, because when we self-generate as the deity, we generate ourselves as all living beings in the aspect of Vajrayogini.

(8.159) Examining myself thoroughly
To make sure I am working for others,
I will take whatever I possess
And use it to benefit them.

Venerable Tharchin explains for as long as we impute ‘mine’ on any object within our possession, we continuously burn up our merit.  If instead we impute, ‘belongs to others’ on the objects within our possession, and we view ourself as the guardian of these things until we hand them over to others, then we do not burn our merit.  If we use these things for the sake of others, then we accumulate merit by having them.  In this light, it doesn’t matter what we have, it matters entirely what our imputation is.  This is equally true of ourself, our human body and mind, our time, everything.

If we have exchanged self with others, this practice becomes automatic.  If when regarding ourself, we think “others,” then naturally everything we own or possesses belongs to “others.”  With one simple switch of imputation, we are able to automatically give away everything we have to others without changing a thing.  Likewise, if we impute I onto others, then everything they have is felt by us to be “ours,” so there is no basis for jealousy or attachment to arise.  We already have everything.  Like magic, this one practice inverts all of our delusions into virtues.  

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Looking down on our former self

Lastly, Shantideva explains how to change places with someone whom we regard to be superior to us in some way.  This one is particularly interesting.

(8.151) “It is said that this deluded being
Is vying to be my equal,
But how can he compare with me in learning or wisdom,
Or in looks, status, or wealth?

(8.152) “When others hear of my good qualities
As they are proclaimed to the world,
May they experience so much delight
That their hair pores tingle with excitement.

(8.153) “And as for whatever he owns,
Since he is supposed to be working for us,
We will allow him just what he needs
And take the remainder by force for ourselves.

(8.154) “Thus, may his happiness decline,
While we continue to burden him with our problems.”

With this meditation we become happy, very happy, to be the servant of others.  We want to become merely the servant of others, all others.  We are ready to do whatever we can for others to the best of our ability without ever becoming discouraged, unhappy, worried.  It seems to me that we worry and become discouraged because we are not accepting our weaknesses.  Just as we can acknowledge our strengths without being proud, so too we can accept our weaknesses without becoming discouraged.  If we don’t learn how to do this, how can we improve?  Our self-cherishing and our pride will not allow us to look at and accept our own weaknesses.  We have strengths, each one of us, but also weaknesses.  We do not need to become unhappy or discouraged when we become aware of them.  At present we struggle with this due to a non-acceptance of where we are at.  This is why there is so much concealment and why there is so much pretension.   Why we hide our faults from others.

In an earlier post, we talked about how important it is that we take down our barriers if we are to help others to take down their own barriers.  We need to remove concealment and pretension and be perfectly open with others.  Of course, if we have a good reason, as Geshe-la described in the Bodhisattva Vow, if we have a very good reason, there can be an apparent concealment, but generally we don’t have a good reason.  In general, we should try to be as transparent as possible.  Kadam Morten said there are two types of spiritual guide, those that show the final result and those that show the path of how to get there.   We are not very good at many things, and we are not very important.  We can either be unhappy about that, or happy, can’t we?  We can either be discouraged or encouraged by this.  There are many things that I’m not very good at.  I have many weaknesses, and that’s OK. I am no one important.  This meditation helps us to develop this kind of acceptance.  

In particular, I think this meditation helps us develop consideration for others.  We are generally so self-absorbed that we are only thinking about our own experience of things, and then we find it intolerable when anybody who does not respect or take into consideration our views or needs.  In such situations, we feel the need to ‘fight to defend our justified position.’  Kadam Bjorn said there is not a single Dharma mind that feels ‘justified.’  If we ever find ourself feeling justified, then we can know for sure we are already wrong.  When we have consideration for others, we make sure that our own behavior does not disturb others, especially their spiritual practice.  For example, if there is a new person present in the center, we think about how our behavior might be interpreted by the other person and we make sure that we do not do anything that might put them off.  We refrain from talking to them about things they are not ready to accept or judging them for what they do.

We should also show consideration for one another.  People’s lives are difficult, and they want to be able to come to the center or come home after a long day at work and find a place of peace where they can recharge their batteries and get themselves reset for the week ahead.  We should also think about why people are coming to our Dharma centers, namely to listen to classes and so forth.  Our questions may seem important to us, but perhaps they are not important to others. 

We should also show consideration for the Buddhas.  Sometimes we think, the Buddhas love me unconditionally so I can do whatever I want and they will always love me.  This is true.  But this does not mean they are happy with everything we do.  If we respect others, we naturally show consideration for them and watch our behavior to make sure it is correct.  When we are in the gompa we should recall that we are in the living presence of all the Buddhas. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Developing competitiveness with ourself

We can now put ourselves in the place of someone we regard to be equal to us, and we look back at our former self with competitive thoughts.

(8.147) “This Bodhisattva is regarded as my equal,
But so that I might outshine him
I will acquire wealth and reputation,
And defeat him in debate.

(8.148) “I will proclaim my own good qualities to the whole world
By whatever means I can,
But I will make sure that no one ever hears
Of any good qualities he might possess.

(8.149) “I will hide my own faults but make his known.
I will be venerated by others but ensure that he is not.
I will acquire a great deal of material wealth
And encourage others to honour me, but not him.

(8.150) “For a long time, I will take pleasure
In seeing him be humiliated.
I will make him the laughing stock of all
And an object of ridicule and blame.

Again, there are two main ways we can take this meditation:  We learn a lot about ourself – we see ourselves from the point of view of the other person, and this helps us realize how we act so that we can change.  We can also see how we ourselves have such competitive thoughts towards others.  The conclusion is we need to accept defeat and offer others the victory.

When we engage in this meditation, we try consider our self to be within others, then we be ‘as competitive as possible’ towards our old self.  What does this mean?  We want our new ‘self’ to win and we want ‘him’ (our old self) to lose.  From the perspective of our old self, we want to accept defeat and offer the victory.  We want to spread our ‘own’ reputation far and wide and make sure that everybody knows only good things about ‘us.’  We want to hide ‘others’ qualities and successes, so that nobody knows about them.  As a bodhisattva, we want to be humble, and if possible, help people anonymously.  Then our motivation is free from many worldly concerns.  We want our ‘self’ to be considered higher and for ‘him’ to be considered the lowest of all.   As a bodhisattva, we want to be humble, and view ourselves as a servant of all.  We will take great pleasure in seeing ‘him’ humiliated and we will do everything so that he alone is blamed for all problems.  As a bodhisattva, we know that what is bad for our delusions is good for us.  We also want to take on others’ suffering and burdens so that they do not have to have them.

We might object, but why would we want to put ourselves down in this way, why would we want to overburden our old self and harm his reputation. The only limitation on this is for our own ‘selfish’ ends (in other words, our new self, all living beings).  We want our former self to have a good reputation and not be overburdened to the extent that it is necessary so he can better serve us.  Smart slave owners adequately fed their slaves, and so forth, for the exclusive purpose of extracting more labor and service out of them, because otherwise they would be too weak to do anything for the slave owner.  In fact, we are so cunningly ‘selfish’ in wanting to use this other person, that we want to make him into a Buddha so that he can serve us eternally!  So far from destroying the other person, we will try maximize him as a resource.  In this light, we will take great joy in smashing his delusions because we know what is bad for his delusions is good for “us.”

It seems strange at first to identify with these kind of thoughts.  If we had such thoughts from the perspective of our old self, they would be absolutely awful delusions, which would completely destroy our inner peace.  But when we have these thoughts from the perspective of others, they are actually virtues within our mind – humility, taking and giving, accepting defeat and offering the victory, etc.  In this sense, the totally selfish way of looking at things is perfectly correct, we are just completely wrong about who we are and who we are not! 

I think we are naturally quite competitive, or at least I am.  We can always find something in others that will bring them down a notch or two.  Even if we do not say it to them, we think it to help us maintain our prideful view of ourselves.  Even if we become aware of others good qualities that are similar to our own, we will find something, won’t we, some bad quality that is not as good as our own, that will mean that we are still competitive or superior. When someone is praising another individual, we may think “yes they’re right,” we may even say “yes you’re right, but…”  There’s always a but there in our mind. 

Generally when we are speaking with others, we are competitive.  Usually, the conclusion we are trying to reach in every conversation is how wonderful we are.  And even just speaking to others, in a conversation, it seems we are in competition with them?  We are trying to assert our view over theirs, trying to speak over them, trying to “one up them” in everything they say.  We always have to be the precious, the important one.  Of course, that’s the function of self-cherishing, isn’t it?  We find it difficult to accept defeat and to offer the victory.  Even when we are speaking with someone, let alone in other cases, it is so difficult to accept defeat and to offer the victory to others.

In this meditation, something quite unusual happens.  If we do it right, it has the effect of wanting to accept defeat and wanting to offer the victory.  Through this meditation we work hard for others’ gain so that they win.  We work hard for our loss.  That is what happens, isn’t it?   We work hard for the loss for our self-cherishing.   It is like using our competitive streak against our delusions.  Others always win, we lose.  From our side, we want to be defeated and we want the other person to always win.  We strive, through this meditation, to accomplish the greatest possible results for others, with no concern for our own.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Seeing our pride and heartlessness

(8.141) “He is honoured, but I am not.
I do not have the wealth he has.
He is praised, but I am despised.
He is happy, but I suffer.

(8.142) “I have much heavy work to do,
While he remains comfortably at rest.
His reputation has spread throughout the world,
But all I am known for is my lack of good qualities.

(8.143) “But what do you mean, “I have no good qualities?”
I have many such qualities.
In comparison with many, he is inferior,
While there are many to whom I am superior.

(8.144) “My morals, views, and so on degenerate
Through the force of my delusions, not because I want them to.
You, Bodhisattva, should help us regenerate them in any way that you can,
And willingly forbear any hardships you might encounter in doing so.

(8.145) “But he does nothing to help us,
So why does he make us feel so insignificant?
What use are his so-called good qualities to us?
He never uses them for our benefit!

(8.146) “Not only does he have no compassion
For beings such as us dwelling within the jaws of the lower realms;
Externally he displays pride in his own good qualities
And prefers to contend with the wise.

We come to understand a lot more about the person or people we feel superior to through this meditation.  But as well, we come to understand a lot more about ourselves, don’t we?   We discover things that generally we do not look at, we don’t bother to look at.  This meditation uncovers faults that we need to remove.  In this meditation they become so clear to us.  This meditation makes us want to help someone who we normally consider to be inferior.  In particular, we want to help them improve their good qualities, through praising them encouraging them and so on.  I think we develop a wish to help them without, without pride.  We help others humbly.

We can see clearly the pride that we have by putting ourself in the place of others and looking back to our former self.  We can observe the pride that we have, and it is embarrassing, isn’t it?  Embarrassing.  Awful.  We have it, and this meditation makes it so obvious to us.  We have a lot of pride.  Who really do we think we are?  We have an air of superiority.  “if you really are a Mahayanist, behave like one.  You think you’re a Mahayanist, you think you’re a spiritual practitioner, behave like one.”  Pride is one of our biggest obstacles, preventing any real spiritual growth, preventing us from helping others effectively.  The trouble is we are too proud to look at the pride that we have, aren’t we?  We all have pride, but we do not want to look at it. It is like we are too proud to look at it and to admit to it.  In this meditation we have to admit to it. “I have pride. It’s true.”

This meditation helps us to reduce and eliminate our pride, and it encourages us to work humbly to improve others’ good fortune, to improve others’ good qualities and so forth.  We can acknowledge our strengths.  Perhaps in this meditation we recognize that we do have some strengths, we do have some good qualities.  We can acknowledge those and develop a strong wish to use our strengths for the benefit of others.  We wish to use whatever good qualities we have in the service of others.

When we have pride, we feel easily slighted.  When others do not share our view of ourself, we feel like they are putting us down.  Actually, it is we have artificially inflated view of ourselves. 

Generally speaking, the world is a reflection of our own mind, so if we find ourselves surrounded by prideful and jealous people, what does that say about the quality of our own mind?  Where are all these prideful and jealous people coming from?  When we have pride, we make ourselves completely unteachable.  In fact, we see no reason to be helped because we are already faultless.  This stops all progress.  Geshe-la said we can help anybody except those with pride.  When somebody is humble and admits that it is their own mind which is impure, then everything can change.  Without this, nothing can change.  A bodhisattva understands that there are no faulty beings because in fact there is nobody there.  Venerable Tharchin said we need to take personal responsibility to remove the faults we perceive in others because they are coming from none other than our own mind.

Another way we can look at this meditation is what does the jealousy of the other person want?  If our ‘self’ is at others, if it is selfish, what does it want?  It wants all good things to be transferred to it.  If we assume the delusion of the other person, we want all good things to transfer to others.  The delusions of others are virtues within our own mind.  This is because we have everything backwards.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Transforming delusions into virtues

To enhance our experience of exchanging self with others, Shantideva now goes on to describe a special method where we put ourself in the place of others who may seem to have deluded minds towards us.  Where previously we have learnt to identify with the basis of others, that is their body, now it seems we learn to identify with the basis of others that is their mind.   In dependence upon their mind of jealousy, or their mind of pride, and so forth, we think I. We are imputing I upon that basis, aren’t we? We are bringing to mind their jealousy for example, and thinking I.

It is quite funny.  Normally we dislike people who have such delusions.  Here we learn how to love them. It seems we love them for those faults!  Then no matter what people are like, no matter how deluded their behavior, no matter how they feel towards us, we just love them. We love them. We love them as they are. A jealous person, we love. A proud person, we love. Competitive person, we love.  It is just three examples, but we can take any other delusion and regard a person with that delusion as someone whom we dearly love. Even, or especially, if that deluded behavior is directed towards us.

It is interesting how we normally distance ourselves from jealous, competitive, or prideful people.  Here we are doing completely the opposite — drawing closer and closer to them through identifying with the delusion that they have in their mind, a delusion they have towards us.  The fact is that beings in our world are deluded, aren’t they?  If we cannot like or love deluded beings in our world, then there will be no one to love!  We have to love them not despite their delusions towards us, but because of their delusions towards us.  If we don’t, then there is no one to love otherwise.  And it is worth asking ourselves once again, where do these deluded, childish beings come from in the first place?  Here, Shantideva shows us how to take those people who have deluded minds towards us, and love them for it.

This practice is unusual because generally we’re encouraged to focus on the good qualities of others, and in that way, love them.  That is what we normally do, focus on the good qualities of others, and then naturally a mind of love will arise towards them.  We can’t help it, we naturally will like, even love, people possessing those qualities.  And now Shantideva is giving us a method to love those with apparently bad qualities.  Then, it doesn’t matter how they are – we focus on people’s good qualities, naturally we come to love them; we focus on their bad qualities, naturally we come to love them.  With this wisdom, it doesn’t matter what they’re like anymore, we can love them.

I think what is extraordinary about these meditations is that out of one’s own self-centeredness, naturally delusions such as jealousy, pride, and so forth arise, but when we identify with others’ self-centeredness, their delusions, jealousy, pride, and so forth, naturally virtues arise in us.  If we identify with our delusions, they are delusions; if we identify with others’ delusions, they are virtues.  Interesting how that works.  Jealousy normally thinks, for example, that we want what others have.  If we generate jealousy, we have a delusion.  But the jealousy of somebody else wants them to have what we have, so if we identify with that, we will want them to have what we have.  In other words, we will want to give.  A virtue.  The same is true with all the other delusions (except ignorance).  By identifying with the delusions in somebody else’s mind, it functions to oppose the delusions in our own mind.  Amazing!

By doing these meditations, we find out a lot about ourselves.  We see ourselves from somebody else’s perspective, and this helps us realize how we are and how we should change.

(8.140) Putting myself in the place of those who are lower than, equal to, and higher than me,
And then regarding my former self as “other”,
With my mind free from the crippling conception of doubt
I should meditate on jealousy, competitiveness, and pride.

In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says that through the force of meditations such as these, we become more open to others’ point of view, more tolerant and more understanding, and we shall naturally treat others with greater respect and consideration.  This will help us improve our communication with others and our knowing how to help others.  We must try to free ourself from doubts, any hesitation, or resistance to these meditations for whatever reason.  We should not worry that if we identify with the delusions of somebody else, we will become a deluded being ourselves.  If we adopt the delusions of others as our own, they are virtues as far as we are concerned.  We must try to increase our faith and, in this way, remove any doubt or hesitation and resistance to engaging in these meditations.  Then we will get some experience, we will gain some glimpse of the incredible meaning behind these meditations that will inspire us more and more to exchange ourself so completely with others, even those whom we find difficult or dislike, or even hate.

We put ourself in the place of those who are lower, equal to, and higher than us.  There are those of course who we consider to be lower than, equal to, or higher than ourselves. not in all respects of course, but in certain respects.  We can divide others into those three categories.  First of all, we put ourself in the place of those whom we regard to be in some respect lower than us (that’s just about everybody since we have so much pride) and then we look back to our former self with jealous thoughts.