Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Not abandoning others to their fate

(8.107) Because one whose mind is acquainted with the equality of self and others
Derives great joy from relieving the suffering of others,
For their sakes, he or she would happily enter the deepest hell,
Just like a wild goose plunging into a refreshing lotus pool.

(8.108) The ocean of joy that will arise
When all living beings are liberated
Is everything I wish for –
So why should I wish for my solitary liberation?

Perhaps we have no wish for solitary liberation, and we are always good bodhisattvas. But does it ever come up, the wish to ‘forget others and just take care of myself’?  We often experience suffering, but we often blame our suffering on the fact that we are spiritual practitioners, that we have these responsibilities to the center, to our families, etc.  It seems that so much of our suffering is related to being involved with having to be there for others, having this responsibility to be good bodhisattvas. Because if we were not, if we didn’t have this responsibility, we think a lot of that suffering would simply disappear.  We could live quite contentedly alone, doing our practice, without all these deluded people constantly disturbing our inner peace.  Perhaps when that mind comes up, we would like to just drop it all, get away from everyone.  We want to free ourself from suffering, that’s what we’re thinking about at such times. I do not want to experience this suffering, what can I do to free myself from it.

At such times we’re not thinking of the situation of others, those who come to the center, the people in our town, the people at our work, or the people in our family.  We are just thinking about ourself and our own liberation from suffering.  But when we do, does our suffering end?  No.  It usually increases.  We start to view everyone as obstacles.  We feel this great tension between “being happy” and “following our spiritual path,” like the two are in conflict.  There are all these other people out there who haven’t taken on the great responsibility to care in every way for the doctrine and migrators, and they seem quite happy.  Happier than me, at least.  There are all these people who happily live alone in quiet places, not bothered by anybody, just doing their practice.  Ah, the life.  Wouldn’t that be great.  But I’m stuck here due to all my responsibiliites towards these people.  We can think like this sometimes. 

When we do, we need to pull out these verses.  Venerable Tharchin said he wants to be reborn in hell because that is where all the living beings are.  In Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we pray, “I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort by striving for supreme enlightenment with unwavering compassion; even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell for many aeons for the sake of each being.”  This is the supreme good heart of the bodhisattva.  We should strive instead to become like the kind-hearted Bodhisattva, accept fully and enjoy what has to be the most meaningful life. How can anything compare to the ocean of joy that arises when all living beings are liberated?

Having given some encouragement to training in equalizing self and others, in these next couple of verses Shantideva gives some special advice in relation to our training, advice that I think is particularly relevant to us as modern Kadampas. He says:

(8.109) But although I work for the benefit of others,
I should do so without pride or pretension.
Moved only by the joy of benefiting others,
I should not hope for any reward.

We do a lot for the benefit of others, but we are not entirely free from worldly motives.  We still expect some degree of gratitude, or at least we expect that others not get mad at us for the help we do provide.  We haven’t quite the pure intention of Venerable Geshe-la, our intention often is mixed, isn’t it? We have still many, many worldly concerns. We assume this responsibility, we do work for the center, for our families, for our work, but we are not quite free yet from worldly motives.

We must try, as Shantideva here is advising, we try to work for others without pride, without pretension.  Our giving must be unconditional.  We must expect nothing back from others.  If we are honest, we do expect some return for our work – or at least not criticism. Parents in particular have this problem.  Despite giving everything, almost all kids wind up blaming their parents for all of their woes.  Their children have to go to therapy to recover from the so-called “trauma” of having been raised by us.  Sure, some times it is legitimate, but most of the time parents are doing their absolute best, but the wishes of the kids are infinite.  We always let them down no matter how much we do, and then they criticize us for all of the different ways we failed them.  They often don’t realize how completely ungrateful they are being until they themselves have kids – and even then, sometimes not.  We should expect this, and love them anyways, give to them anyways.  Maybe they will understand the kindness of their mothers, maybe they never will.  It doesn’t matter – we get the same good karma regardless; in fact, our giving becomes more pure if we get the criticism. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Finding others’ suffering unbearable doesn’t mean we suffer

(8.103) “There is no need to dispel everyone else’s suffering!”
This is not a valid argument.
If my suffering should be dispelled, so should everyone else’s;
And if others’ suffering should not be dispelled, neither should mine.

It is useful to also recall what we discussed in an earlier post.  If there is suffering in my world, then it is my suffering because it is taking place within my world/my mind.  Since we are not separate from our world, if there is suffering taking place anywhere within our world, it is our suffering.  This is especially true when we understand the emptiness of everything that takes place in our world.  It is all coming from our own mind. 

(8.104) “But such compassion will bring me suffering,
So why should I strive to develop it?”
How can compassion bring suffering?
It is the very nature of a peaceful mind!

We discussed this in an earlier post, but it is worth recalling the reasoning so we have no confusion or hesitation about generating compassion.  Our suffering is painful because we have body consciousness or mental consciousness with respect to these aggregates.  It is unbearable because we cherish our own well-being as important.  The suffering of others is not painful to us because we do not have body or mental consciousness with respect to their aggregates.  If we do not cherish them, then their suffering won’t harm us and we won’t care.  But we will then conventionally be a jerk, and ultimately we will be letting the cancer of suffering metastasize in the body of all living beings (which exists and is created by our own mind).  If we cherish them, then their suffering is not painful, but it is unbearable.  If there is attachment to others not suffering in our mind – in other words, we mistakenly think that our own happiness depends upon others not suffering – then when they suffer, we will suffer too.  We don’t suffer from their suffering, we suffer from the attachment in our mind.  But if our mind is free from attachment to them not suffering, we will find their suffering unbearable, but it won’t be suffering for us.  What will it be?  It will be a powerful energy to do something to help – a selfless mind wishing to help.  Such a mind is full of energy, but virtuous, so our mind will remain peaceful.  If we also then have wisdom knowing what can actually help to permanently free others from suffering, then we will be filled with powerful energy to do that thing.  What is that thing?  Attain enlightenment ourself so we can lead others to the same state.  The strength of our unbearability then drives us with great power to attain enlightenment.  It is what powers our bodhichitta.  Unbearability + wisdom knowing how to help = bodhichitta.  Bodhichitta is the most virtuous mind possible a living being can generate. 

The suffering of others cannot harm us because it is taking place within their body.  We do not suffer from their suffering.  If we cherish them, it is true we will find their suffering unbearable, but this is not a suffering for us.  Finding their suffering unbearable will induce within our mind love and compassion, which are virtuous minds that are the nature of inner peace.  Compassion also leads us to bodhichitta and enlightenment.  Finding their suffering unbearable also induces us to engage in virtuous actions, which is the cause of our future happiness.  Being clear about all of this will remove the residual doubt we have about generating compassion for all living beings and fearing that we will be crushed by all of the suffering we see in the world.   

(8.105) If, through one person experiencing relatively little suffering,
The infinite sufferings of living beings can be eliminated,
A kind-hearted Bodhisattva will gladly endure it
And delight in working for others.

(8.106) Thus, although the Bodhisattva Supushpachandra understood
That he would suffer at the hands of the king,
He did not seek to avoid his own death
But instead released many others from their suffering.

And even if we do need to endure a little bit more suffering as a result of our working for others, what is more important, the suffering of one or the freedom of countless?  The story of Supushpachandra is he knew he would be killed by the king if he went to an area and taught Dharma, but he also knew that he would lead thousands to liberation.  If we view the suffering and happiness of all beings as equally important, regardless of who is experiencing this, then it is perfectly logical to do this.

The story of Jesus also illustrates this perfectly.  He knew if he went to Jerusalem, he would be crucified, but in so doing, he would become a source of inspiration and refuge for billions in the future.  He underwent terrible suffering, but in so doing created a path for countless others.  He did so willingly because he valued the happiness of others as more important than his own.  Soldiers do the same when they go off to war to protect their homeland and firefighters do this when they jump into the blazes to save the family trapped inside.  We can happily be the same, willing to undergo any hardship in order to help others.

But let’s get real – what hardships do we really need to endure to travel the path?  The only things we actually need to abandon are the inner diseases of our delusions, which harm our inner peace anyways.  We travel a joyful path.  Sure, it might be easier in the short-run to abandon living beings when they grow too troublesome or problematic.  We do that, don’t we?  We are happy to be around others when they are happy, but as soon as they have problems, are down, depressed, or troubled, we say, “sorry you are feeling that way,” and we find our way out as quicky as we can.  My mom would call such people “fair weather friends.”  As kind-hearted bodhisattvas, we are the opposite of that.  We actively seek out those who everyone else has abandoned.  We seek to be the friend of the friendless, the one who is there for others in their hour of greatest need.  Does this involve some sacrifice?  Only of our selfish wishes, but as we already looked at before, our self-cherishing is the root of all our suffering.  What is bad for our self-cherishing is good for us. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Viewing all suffering as our own (without it hurting)

(8.97) But why should I protect others
If their suffering does me no harm?
If we cherish only others, we find their suffering hard to bear;
So we definitely need to protect them.

(8.98) It is not a wrong conception to think
That it will be I who experiences the future suffering,
Because it will not be another person who dies
And yet another who is reborn.

Why then do or should we protect others if their suffering does me no harm?  Why?  Why protect ourselves from future suffering, since likewise that presently does me no harm?  If we do not protect others from their suffering because it does not harm us, then likewise we should not protect ourself from future suffering because it does not harm ‘us’ either.  It will be the ‘self’ of the future.  Everything is impermanent.  If we do seek to protect ourselves from future suffering, then likewise we should protect others from their suffering.  There is no difference.

But we do feel the need to protect ourself from future suffering, even though it is a different self.  We are grateful to our past selves that created the karma for us to refind the Dharma in this life and generally speaking enjoy a good life.  If our past self had not been so considerate, we would have a difficult life right now.  Likewise, we go to school to have a good job later, we save our money to have enough during retirement.  These sorts of actions involve us working for somebody in the future who is not us now.  Why do we do that?  Because we see the relationship between ourself now and ourself then.  In exactly the same way, when we let go of the grasping at self and others and come to see all living beings as one body of living beings, when we see the inseparability and dependent relationship between ourself and others, then of course it makes sense to free others from suffering.  The hand removes the thorn from the foot. 

At a deeper level, from the perspective of exchanging self with others according to tantra where we impute our I onto all living beings, in the same way that it makes sense for this present self to protect that different self, the self of the future from their suffering, then so too it makes sense to protect a different self that is others’, the self of others, from their suffering.

(8.99) “Surely, whenever there is suffering,
It should be dispelled by whoever is experiencing it.”
Then, since the suffering of the foot is not the hand’s,
Why should the hand help to alleviate it?

(8.100) We alleviate the suffering of the foot with the hand
Because it is a specific method to relieve this pain.
It is also incorrect to grasp at an independent self and others –
Such grasping should be completely abandoned.

(8.101) Things that we call “continuums” or “collections”,
Such as rosaries or armies, are falsely existent.
Thus, there is no independent possessor of suffering,
For who is there who has control over it?

(8.102) Since there is no independent possessor of suffering,
There is no real difference between my own and others’ suffering.
Thus, we should dispel all suffering simply because it is painful –
Why cling to false distinctions with such certainty?

I love this line of reasoning.  It is so powerful.  We make a difference between overcoming our own suffering and that of others because we make a difference between ourself and others.  As the analogy we discussed in the last post, if each being is a separate part of the same whole, then just as the hand removes the suffering of the foot, we should remove the suffering of somebody else.  If we were paralyzed in our legs and did not feel them, but they nonetheless had gangrene, we would certainly deal with it even though we don’t feel that pain.  Why?  Because it is part of us.

Here Shantideva goes even further. We feel like we are suffering because we falsely grasp at there being an ‘us’ who is suffering.  We think we do not feel the suffering of others because we believe that they are inherently different, they are inherently different to us.  The suffering is that of others who are inherently other. That is what we feel, isn’t it? It is the suffering of others. Other being inherently other. How can it possibly be my suffering? There is no relationship between the two at all.  As Shantideva points out, there is no independent possessor of suffering. 

There is just suffering in the mind inside ‘this body.’  Likewise there is no independent possessor of others’ suffering.  There is just suffering in the mind inside ‘that body.’  Since there is no possessor of suffering anywhere, there is just suffering in the mind, and it is equally that of everybody.  The suffering of anybody is the suffering of everybody.  For this reason, we need to overcome all suffering, simply because it is suffering taking place within our mind.  We should not cling to false distinctions with such certainty.

What about the argument that there is still a difference because the suffering that takes place within my mental continuum is ‘mine’ and that that takes place within the continuum of others is ‘theirs?’  Shantideva answers this too in that there is no continuum either.  Continuum is just what we impute on the series of subject-object pairs.  Other than this, there is no continuum.  When we understand subtle impermanence, the self of this moment is different than the self of the last moment – different, but not separate.  Different, but not independent.  Conventionally the two are completely different.  They are just as different as self and other.  There is no difference between the other of our future mental continuum and others, so if we care for one we should care for the other.

If we find ourselves confused now and have no idea about who actually possesses or experiences suffering, then that is a good thing.  Because before we found that there was no confusion — my suffering is mine and everybody else’s is theirs. And that belief binds us to a life of suffering, keeps us in a world of suffering, doesn’t it?  What perhaps begins with certainty becomes doubt, and then eventually we will get a correct belief, then a valid cognizer, and ultimately a yogic direct perceiver.  It doesn’t matter if we do not have a perfect understanding straightaway.  We have to read these verses over and over and over again, contemplate and meditate on them until they make sense to us. It is worth the effort.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why compassion doesn’t hurt

Shantideva goes on to say:

(8.92) The suffering I experience
Does not harm others,
But I find it hard to bear
Because I cherish myself.

(8.93) Likewise, the suffering of others
Does not harm me,
But, if I cherish others,
I shall find their suffering hard to bear.

This is a very clever line of reasoning.  To understand it, we need to make a clear distinction between “being harmed” and “finding something unbearable.”  Sometimes people think compassion means we are equally harmed by the suffering of others, and to find their suffering unbearable means we find it equally painful.  If this was the case, who would ever want to generate compassion since it would be a cause of infinite suffering.  Surely it would be better to remain in different to the suffering of others than to experience all suffering.  Therefore, making this distinction is crucial.

From a conventional point of view, if I break my arm, it harms me and not others.  If find this harm both painful and unbearable.  It is painful because it was my arm that was broken.  It is unbearable because I cherish my own happiness and well-being as being important.  It is perfectly possible for me to find this experience painful (since it is my arm that was broken), but perfectly bearable because I don’t consider my well-being to be particularly important. 

Now imagine somebody else breaks their arm.  From a conventionally point of view, this does not harm me, but it does harm others.  It is harmful to them because it is painful to them.  Their pain is not my pain.  Their pain does not harm me.  Everyone knows this.  If I do not care about their well-being, then their pain will also be perfectly bearable for me.  It is not my problem.  For them, however, this experience is definitely painful because it is their arm that is broken.  It may or may not be bearable for them depending on whether they cherish themselves or not.  If I do care about their well-being, and I consider it to be important, then their pain will not be harmful to me, but it will be unbearable. 

Pain, or harm, is a function of whether we are imputing our I onto an aggregate of feeling of something that is harmed.  Bearability is function of whether we consider the happiness and well-being of that person to be important. 

But unbearability does not necessarily mean we suffer from it.  Whether we suffer from the unbearability of other’s suffering depends upon whether we have attachment to others well being or whether we are free from such attachment.  To be attached to others’ well-being means we think our own happiness depends upon them not suffering.  That’s what attachment to anything means – we think our happiness depends upon some external factor.  If we have attachment to this person not suffering, their breaking their arm will be both unbearable to us AND it will be experienced by us as suffering.

Therefore, for compassion – finding others suffering to be unbearable – to NOT be suffering for us, our mind must be free from attachment to other people suffering.  If we have attachment, we will suffer from their suffering.  If our mind is free from such attachment, we will still find their suffering unbearable (because we consider their happiness and well being to be important), but we won’t experience that unbearability as suffering.  How will we experience it, then?  To be unbearable means we can’t just sit there and do nothing about it.  We feel compelled to do something because it is unbearable. 

This is where our wisdom comes in.  What do we feel compelled to do?  If we lack wisdom, we might get mad at the other person for whatever it is they did to break their arm, hoping that our anger will deter them from making similar mistakes again in the future.  Maybe that will help, but most likely not.  But what will help?  Us becoming a Buddha.  If we become a Buddha, then we can gradually help others change the basis of imputation of their I onto an enlightened being whose arms never break.  We see the only lasting solution to their suffering is for them to attain liberation and enlightenment themselves.  How can we bring that about?  By we ourselves first attaining enlightenment for their benefit – we attain enlightenment with the express purpose of being able to in the future lead these people to freedom.  The strong feeling of unbearability, that is free from attachment to them not suffering, and that possesses the wisdom that actually knows what is beneficial to others is the pure mind of compassion that is the substantial cause of a qualified bodhichitta.  This unbearability will push us to become a Buddha.  If we have attachment or we lack wisdom knowing what can actually help, this unbearability could lead to ourself suffering at best and us feeling the need to control others at worst. 

The key here is understanding we don’t have to be harmed by suffering to find suffering unbearable. We are harmed by suffering, we find suffering then unbearable, but we do not have to be harmed by suffering in order to find suffering unbearable.  If we have wisdom and are free from attachment to others not suffering, finding the suffering of others unbearable naturally leads to love, compassion and virtuous actions, which creates the causes for our future happiness. 

But what do we do about our own suffering?  We may still be harmed because we are in samsara, but if we do not cherish ourself at all, then we will find the suffering we experience to be entirely bearable.  It will not be important, just as the suffering of others is unimportant to us now.  Indeed, when we let go of thinking that our own experience is important, we find whatever pain we are experiencing to be eminently more bearable, and this creates the space within our mind to actually be able to transform our suffering into something useful for the spiritual path.  Then, not only will it be bearable, we will start to understand Shantideva when he says “suffering has many good qualities.”  For us, it will still be painful, but so beneficial.  Then, others suffering will not be our problem.  Our suffering won’t be our problem.  Others’ suffering will be a cause of our enlightenment.  Our suffering will be a cause of our enlightenment.  Perfect!

But if we cherish only others, won’t we suffer from the suffering of everybody?  No, because we do not experience their suffering.  So by cherishing others, we do not experience their suffering, but we find it unbearable and so we are lead into spiriutal paths.  And by not cherishing ourselves, we find our own suffering entirely bearable, so it is not a problem for us at all.  In short, we put our cherishing where it can’t be harmed – others.  Shantideva’s wisdom is unparalleled.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are responsible for everyone’s happiness

In the last several posts, I explained what Shantideva means by exchanging self with others – namely, imputing our “self” onto others, and “others” onto our old self.  With this background, we can now start looking at the actual practice of exchanging self with others. 

(8.89) Thus, having contemplated
The good qualities of solitude,
I should completely pacify all disturbing conceptions
And meditate on bodhichitta.

(8.90) First, I should apply myself to meditation
On the equality of self and others.
Because we are all equal in wanting to experience happiness and avoid suffering,
I should cherish all beings as I do myself.

(8.91) Although there are many different parts of the body, such as the arms and the legs,
We protect all these parts as equally as we protect the body itself.
In a similar way, although there are many different living beings,
I should cherish them all as equally as I cherish myself.

Why should I cherish others, protect others from their suffering just as I cherish myself?  We are not affected by others’ suffering in the same way that we are presently affected by our own suffering.  Because we are not affected by the suffering of others, we have no strong wish to alleviate the suffering of others.  We are deeply affected by our own suffering, and at all times we have a strong wish to alleviate it.  We consider their suffering to be theirs, not our own. We can even think that the problem is their own and it is not mine. How many times, even now, do we think when someone is experiencing a problem, it is their problem?  

From a conventional perspective, this is completely true and frankly important to keep in mind.  Each being is responsible for their own experience in life, and we each need to assume responsibility for our own suffering.  Conventionally, it is correct to say their problem is not “our problem.”  Our problem is the deluded mental reaction we have to their suffering.  Perhaps we do not care.  Perhaps we are attached to them not suffering and averse to their suffering.  Attachment to others not suffering and compassion are quite similar in many respects.  But if we have the former, we will be crushed by the suffering of others; if we have the latter, we will quickly be propelled to enlightenment.  Thinking we are responsible for others well-being and it is our fault if they suffer can quickly lead to all sorts of co-dependency issues which actually disempower others to assume responsibility for themselves.  If they don’t assume responsibility for themselves and start creating the karma that will lead them to enlightenment, from their perspective, it will never come. 

But let’s set aside all of that and look at things from the perspective of emptiness.  What difference would it make anyway simply wishing to alleviate the suffering of others?  When we think of all the suffering in the world, how many people in this world suffer, what difference would it make merely wishing to alleviate the suffering of others, all others? Wishing to alleviate does not alleviate their suffering, does it?  In Eight Steps to Happiness, Venerable Geshe-la says compassion – the wish to alleviate the suffering of others – purifies our mind, and when our mind is pure, its objects also become pure.   When our mind is pure, its objects become pure. What happens then to deluded suffering beings?

From the perspective of ultimate truth, the problem is definitely ours.  We think the problem is theirs, not mine – no, the problem is mine.  If suffering living beings had no relationship with us whatsoever, then there would be nothing that we could do to help them. Nothing. Even if we possessed a pure compassion, it would make no difference. There would be nothing we could do to help.  Shantideva is explaining here that the parts of our body are not separate from or unrelated to the body itself. They have a definite relationship with the body.  So too, there is a relationship between living beings who are suffering, other living beings who are suffering, and we ourselves who are suffering.  The relationship between other living beings who are suffering and we ourselves who are suffering is clear – we are all part of the body of suffering living beings.

There exists suffering in this world. Venerable Geshe-la says again and again this is a world of suffering?  This world is a subjective world. A suffering world does not exist as an objective truth for anyone. For everyone, a suffering world is a subjective world.  It is as Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness, it is a personal world. The world in which we live is our own personal world.  Other than people’s personal world, there is no other world existing as an objective truth. Other than the personal world, there is no other world.  Our world is a world in which people suffer. Our own subjective world, our own personal world, is a world in which people suffer.  People who are part of our world suffer. Those people, those suffering living beings are part of our world, are they not? They are part of our own subjective or personal world.  From the perspective of ultimate truth, how can we say then that these people, these other suffering people, have nothing to do with me? How can we say that these people and their suffering are unrelated to me?

In truth, it is because we believe that living beings and their suffering has nothing to do with us – that their suffering is entirely unrelated – that we suffer.  Grasping at this wrong belief is why we live in a suffering world.  This is why we suffer and why we live in a world of suffering.  If we understand and gain experience of this training of equalizing and exchanging self with others, we can develop such a special profound love for others as well as wisdom of dependent relationship.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The mind that takes us to enlightenment

If we exchange self with others in the way Shantideva explains, several things will happen.  We will close the gaps between ourselves and others.  We know that is what people want in their heart, it’s what they need, actually – to remove all the gaps.  If they can give and receive love then they will come to know themselves.  Then that fear of separation will go, the attachment will go, and as the love grows, pure love grows, they will feel more and more close not just to one person, to two people, but to everybody.

In this way, we are able to show the inner aspects of being a Kadampa.  It is our inner aspect of pure love that draws others to us.  Then, people will be drawn very much into the Buddhadharma so that they too can learn to give love and to receive love without any sense of separation with others.  It is so unusual for people to be able to receive pure love from somebody else.  A genuine selfless, unconditional, inseparable love is so unusual in this world, but actually receiving such love is even more rare still.  We can do that.  We can be that beacon of love in the life of others.  And then really things can take off for them, can’t they?  If they feel that they can receive our unconditional love.

Kadam Bjorn said the way we really feel the love of our spiritual guide for us is by turning around and loving others as he loves us.  Then, his love not only pours into us, but through us to others.  We become a conduit for his love into our own karmic world.  Once people get pulled into the orbit of this, they never want to leave.  Indeed, they want to learn how to do it themselves.  On the basis of such a foundation, we can really then set an example that inspires others to enter the Buddhadharma. And that attraction comes from how we are.  Geshe-la describes in Eight Steps to Happiness that we transform ourselves into a magic crystal that has the power to gradually purify the whole world, indeed the entire universe. Finally, that separation between themselves and the whole universe will disappear, and they will experience the purest, the purest kind of happiness imaginable. Wonderful.

The mind that wants to be with all beings all the time will take us to enlightenment.  This wish to be with and cherish others all the time is a mind that will take us all the way to enlightenment.  The wish to be with others all the time is a mind that wishes to be with them so we can love and care for them.  For us, we find our happiness in the action of loving them.  The more we love them, the more our mind is virtuous and the happier we are.  Our goal is to love them more and more, deeper and deeper, until our love is brought to full fruition.  This wish to be with others all the time is informed by a wisdom of how it is possible.  As Venerable Tharchin explains, when we see how the path is doable, effort becomes effortless.  This joyful mind of love will take us all the way to enlightenment. 

Very often when we are busy and feeling overwhelmed and over-worked, when people come to us asking for help, we think “oh no, not another demand on my time.”  We wish they wouldn’t ask.  We wish they could take care of themselves.  They are just adding one more burden onto us, and we wish we didn’t have to help.  This is exactly wrong, and a missed opportunity.  The correct mind should be, “I would want to help you, I would want to be there for you, but unfortunately I can’t right now.”  But inside we think the reason why we can’t is because we are not yet a Buddha.  This wanting to be there for others combined with a realization of why we can’t be there with them then is just a whisker away from the precious mind of bodhichitta.  We then think, I must become a Buddha so that I can be with you all the time, so that I can love you all the time.  Therefore, I will train in the stages of the path to be able to do so.

Shantideva’s explanation of exchanging self with others in Chapter 8 of his Guide is not just to help us generate the precious mind of bodhichitta, but because this explanation creates the perfect mental environment for being able to meditate on emptiness in Chapter 9.  His presentation of exchanging self with others completely breaks down our conception of self, and helps lay the foundation for viewing everything validly as part of ourselves.  This is like shattering the concrete of our ignorance before removing it completely with the wisdom realizing emptiness. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Exchange self with others, then self-generate

Exchanging self with others according to Tantra follows the same logic as in our tantric practice where we change the basis of imputation of our I from the self we normally see to the self-generated deity.  Because our I is empty, we can do that.  When we fully and completely identify with the deity as ourself, we will be the deity.  In exactly the same way, when we exchange self with others according to Tantra, we learn how to impute our I onto all living beings, and then we cherish our new self fully and completely.  When all living beings are the basis of imputation of our I, there is absolutely no fault in having very strong “self”-cherishing, because at that time, our self is all living beings.  In this way, we don’t really have to reduce or even eliminate the mind that wishes for ourself to be happy and considers our own happiness and well-being to be important, rather we simply need to change who we think we are.  If we are identifying with all living beings as our self, we can – and should – have very strong “self”-cherishing.  But this is completely different from the self-cherishing we abandon.  That self-cherishing takes as our self the self that we normally see.

When we think about things in this way, we discover something amazing about Heruka, Vajrayogini, and indeed all of the Buddhas.  We can be certain that every Buddha has completed the exchange of self with others in the way Shantideva describes – actually changing the basis of imputation of our their I to all living beings.  And then, “as all living beings” they attained enlightenment.  Thus, to identify with Heruka directly is necessarily to indirectly identify with all living beings.  Because they have exchanged self with others, and we then identify with them, we too are exchanging self with others according to Tantra.  This means when we engage in our self-generation practice, make offerings, request prayers, etc., we don’t do so “as Ryan, the aspiring disciple trying to practice Tantra,” but we do so “as all living beings.”  This one change in recognition massively multiples the power of our tantric practices, where everything we do we feel we are doing it as all living beings, thus multiplying the karma of our virtues as if we were engaging in these practices countless times ourselves.  We get the karma multiplying benefits of bodhichitta at the exchanging self with others stage, not just when we attain bodhichitta.

We need to cultivate an intention certainly to love others purely, and then we realize over time that to remove any separation entirely so that we can literally be one with others, and with the whole universe.  With this desire, we strive to realize emptiness.  Normally we believe we are here and others are there, and that there is an intrinsic difference between ourselves and others.  When we realize emptiness, we understand that our self is just a projection of our mind, an idea.  We also understand that others are likewise just projections of our own mind.  Both are equally projections of our mind, so both are equally us.  Here we have a valid reason for the view of exchanging self with others.  We go further to realize that others are karmic appearances.  Others are the beings of our own dream that arise from our karma.  They suffer because we have karmically constructed them to suffer.  We can set them free by karmically reconstructing them to be free.

We go even further by realizing that these karmic appearances are the very nature of our own mind.  They are our own mind in the aspect of these beings.  Since we naturally impute our I on our mind, when we feel all of these beings to be the nature of our mind, we experience ourselves as inseparably one with everyone.  All gaps have been removed.  With this view, we come to love others as a good God would.  We realize that we are responsible for the experiences of every living being because they are all our creation.    We view others as the creation of our own mind, and so we care for others and lead them to attain union with us.  We love as a God would who realizes his creation is inseparably one with the creator – the gap between creator and creation falls away.  Everything is united in inseparably purity. 

When we understand the emptiness of others, we realize we have the power to purify all beings with Tantra.  We strive to realize emptiness, and then we understand, in order to gain that direct realization of emptiness, we must generate a blissful mind through the force of Tantric practice.  But then in order to free ourselves completely, entirely, from any separation whatsoever, then with that loving mind, even with that blissful mind from our Tantric practice, we try to gain a direct realization of emptiness. Then, all separation is removed.  Practicing in this way, our training in Tantra is coming out of a love, a wish, a wish actually, to be so close to others that we’re inseparable. Inseparable, therefore I must engage in Tantric practice and realize emptiness directly. Then separation ends. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Exchanging Self with Others According to Tantra

When attachment is in our mind, we try to pull things towards us which leads to suffering.  The more we grasp at things being separate, the more we suffer.  The stronger our attachment, the more we actually create a separation because we grasp at this gap or distance.   But then, of course, we try find someone who we can feel safe to be close to because we are so desperate to remove that separation.  What happens, generally, is that there is an attachment arising in our mind because people appear to exist from their own side.  Our attachment does not draw us close actually because the stronger our attachment, the stronger our self-grasping, then the greater distance, and that is so frustrating. It is a suffering state.

We then try to push things away from us, which also leads to suffering.  Sometimes there are people who when we are around them it hurts, so we want to separate ourselves from them.  We feel so overwhelmed that when others put demands on our time, we want to push them away.  Also, we are convinced that they are causes of our suffering.  When we are with them, we suffer, so we think they are the cause of our suffering.  When in reality, the problem is they are at that time an object of delusion for us, so when they are present it gives rise to delusions in our mind which causes us to suffer.  The problem is not them, it is the delusion within our own mind.  But when we push others away, we create even greater separation, and we suffer even more.  We go further from the natural state, but are unable to, so just become more frustrated, etc.

What can we do to address this?  We can exchange self with others, which is the next topic in Shantideva’s guide.  Out of a wish to remove that separation we feel with others, out of a wish to no longer be separated, or no longer feel separated from others, from the whole world, actually, we cultivate the mind of exchanging self with others.  In order to reduce to a great extent the distance, the gap, we must exchange self with others.  We must develop a pure love, a pure love for others. That pure love will enable us to draw close to others – even identifying with them as ourselves.  When we impute our I onto others, there is no longer any separation, no gap, but there is also no self-cherishing and attachment.  Then, we can be inseparably one with others, but without the delusion.

Because this practice is so related to wisdom, our self-grasping itself will reduce, and then we will sense over time that distance will reduce, until finally it will feel like there’s no gap between ourselves and others.   According to Sutra, exchanging self with others is exchanging the object of our cherishing from self to only others.  According to Tantra, which is Shantideva’s explanation, to exchange self with others means to exchange the basis of imputation of our I to all others.  We literally identify with others as ourselves.  We come to view each being as an aspect or part of ourselves.  Just as our hand removes the thorn from our foot because it is part of the same living whole, so too we care for all others because they are part of the same living whole.  When we see others, we see part of ourselves.  If they are suffering, part of ourself is suffering.  If they are happy, part of ourselves is happy.  If they are not enlightened, part of ourselves is not enlightened.  With this sort of view, we can love others from the inside, as opposed to from the outside. 

Ultimately, our ability to complete this exchange of self with others according to Tantra, we need to realize the emptiness of both ourself and others.  When we grasp at ourselves and others as being some inherently independent from one another, it is impossible to complete the exchange.  We need to realize our I is just a label that we can impute onto anything.  It does not adhere to the self we normally see.  Only habit keeps it there.  Likewise, when we look at all living beings, they are not inherently “other,” that too is just a label.  We can take the basis of all living beings, and impute our I.  We can change the basis of imputation of our I from the self we normally see to all living beings.  Then, we will have completed the exchange of self with others. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Learning lessons from Gen-la Samden’s story

It is entirely natural that we want to be close to others.  In reality, we are all inseparable interrelated.  There’s no fault in wanting to be close and wanting relationships with others in which we are inseparably one.  There’s nothing wrong, quite the opposite, it seems quite natural, really, to want to be close to others.  There’s a yearning for close relationships with others because it is only our ignorance that grasps at a separation. 

It is unnatural to want to be separated. Being separate from others is unnatural when there is a dependent relationship. It is like an independence which we know does not actually exist. There is no independent object existing anywhere. We long to be close to other people and we cannot bear to be separated.  That seems natural since we are in fact inseparably interdependent with one another.  Being close with others is our natural state, actually, because there is a dependent relationship.

Because we do not understand the nature of things, in response to this natural feeling we suffer.   We think things exist from own side, so feel separate.  Due to our self-grasping, we feel like we are separate from one another.  Due to the force of our self-grasping then we experience fear and mental pain due to the feeling of separation.  There’s a distance, isn’t there, between ourselves and others, so naturally there is some fear in our mind.  Why is it, why do we experience so much suffering?  It is because what we experience at the moment is a separation due to our self-grasping, and with that a fear or an attachment arises?

This is where the problems start.  Because we are attached – we want to mix with the other person or the objects of our attachment.  I believe this is how people in the past have gone down the wrong road with allowing their sexual attachment to hijack their Dharma understanding to then pervert the teachings.  How far is it really from recognizing we want inseparably close relationships with others to breaking our moral discipline all under a rationalized pretext of engaging in “tantric practice” with an action mudra?  I think, but of course do not know, that this is how Gen-la Samden, Gen Lodro, and others eventually lost everything.  There is no way they would intentionally do anything against their vows.  They just got tricked by their attachment into thinking they were able to eliminate that sense of “separation” from others by engaging in Tantric union.  It was all in the name of realizing emptiness, so certainly that’s not breaking our vows, right?  Well we all know how that ended. 

This is how our delusions work.  They take our Dharma understandings and then subtly twist them over a long period of time until what was once “unthinkinable” becomes “natural,” and pretty soon we have lost our spiritual life and brought the entire tradition into disrepute.  The same is true for the rest of us, just in our own way.  How many different ways have our delusions hijacked our Dharma understanding?  How many different ways have we been willing to sacrifice our spiritual life, even if only on the margins, for the sake of following the “logic” of our delusions.  Are we really that different?  If not, then we are in no place to cast stones.

Venerable Tharchin said that our primary refuge must be in the Dharma, not the person.  If it is in the person, and the person does something stupid, then we lose everything.  But if our refuge is in the Dharma, and the person does something stupid, then we learn powerful Dharma lessons.  For me, when I look to the stories of Gen-la Thubten, Gen-la Samden, Gen Lodro, and others, I see powerful Dharma warnings about how all this works and can quickly go off the rails.  In many ways, we can say that these were their most powerful teachings to us.  Whether they intended them to be their most powerful teachings is actually irrelevant, for us they can be.  We can then generate a strong, compassionate wish that they realize and learn from what happened and find their way back. Gen-la Thubten has.  I heard former Gen Lodro has (I don’t know his lay name).  I pray one day former Gen-la Samden does as well.  He was an amazing teacher and had a very pure heart. 

But we need to be careful to not over-learn their lesson in the sense of allowing separation to remain so as to avoid it getting kidnapped by our attachment.  They are right – we do need to get to this stage of inseparability with all living beings – but we need to do so without attachment.  Attachment is the problem, not our longing to be inseparably one with others. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How the six perfections reinforce each other

At this point, I think it might be helpful to review everything Shantideva has explained so far, to see how it all fits together into one coherent story.  This will enable us to better appreciate how we got to this point, and provide the proper context for understanding the remainder of Shantideva’s guide.  We essentially have two main parts left – exchanging self with others as the engine of our bodhichitta and to overcome our self-cherishing; and the perfection of wisdom realizing emptiness, to overcome our self-grasping.  These two – our self-cherishing and our self-grasping together – make up our self-centered mind.  This self-centered mind is the very root of our samsara.  All of our suffering comes from this self-centered mind, and all of our freedom will come from abandoning it.  Everything Shantideva has explained so far is really just preparing the conditions in our mind for our main task – abandoning our self-centered mind, abandoning both our self-cherishing and our self-grasping.  In this light, I will spend the next several posts summarizing the main points of all we have previously done.

Our responsibility as Bodhisattvas is essentially to guide all the beings of our karmic dream back to the source from which they come, the Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas, so that they can bathe eternally in an ocean of purity and bliss.

Why are beings trapped in samsara?  The living beings we see around us are karmic appearances to our mind.  They are trapped in contaminated aggregates because we have created the karma for them to be trapped in such aggregates.  We create this karma every time we assent to them existing outside of our mind and we engage in contaminated actions towards them.  Each one of us is the creator of everything we know.  They are actual beings, our creation, suffering due to our ignorance and self-cherishing since time without beginning.

To free these beings, we need to create the karma necessary to guide each of these beings back to the source from which they came, the Dharmakaya.  So how do we do this?  By practicing the bodhisattva’s way of life as explained by Shantideva.

First, we need a mind of total acceptance for how things are.  When we get angry at the appearances of our mind, we just make them more turbulant.  By grasping at them as existing inherently, we reimprison others into their contaminated aggregates, and worse, we create the karma for them to be ‘enemies.’  They then act in harmful ways and create a new hell for themselves.

The mind of patient acceptance is a special wisdom that is able to accept everything that happens without any resistance.   It is able to do this because it sees how it can use whatever arises to lead ourselves or others to enlightenment.  Since everything can be used for our path, everything is perfect, so everything can be accepted and there is no basis for anger to arise.  By accepting whatever arises, we gradually exhaust the negative karma giving rise to such appearances, and because we do not create new turbulent appearances, gradually this world filled with enemies disappears.  Instead, everyone becomes our kind mother, and indeed our kind spiritual guide.

It is especially important to accept others as they are without any judgement.  When you do not accept others, they feel judged and get defensive.  When they are defensive, you block them from deciding from their own side to change.  But when you accept others as they are, and have no personal need whatsoever that they change, then it creates the space for them to decide from their own side that they need to change. If they do not themselves engage in the actions that will lead them back to the source, they will never get there.  Our impatience with them blocks them from deciding to change.

Then, we need a mind of joyful effort.  The mind of joyful effort is a mind that is happy to just create causes.  It does not seek results, it is simply happy to create causes.  It is not that it is only happy when experiencing the effects of our practice, it is happy simply to create causes for a better future.  What enables us to have this mind is faith in the law of karma.  We know that if we create the causes, the results will eventually come.  It is just an issue of joyfully building a new and better future, completely confident in the knowledge that nothing can stop us.  The appearance of this world of suffering is just that, a karmic appearance.  If we change our actions, we can change our karma, and in this way, we can change what world appears.

We commit to ourselves to happily go about our training, knowing that when we are finished, all the suffering of all these beings will never have been.  When we attain enlightenment, all three times are completely purified, so it is as if everyone had been a Buddha from the very beginning.  When we see others suffering terribly, we can know that soon their suffering will never have been.

We need to engage in the actions necessary to bring all of these beings back to the source from which they come.  When we engage in our tantric practices or we engage in powa, we create the karma to completely free the living beings of our dream from their contaminated aggregates and for them to emerge in the Dharmakaya.  Since there other living beings other than the ones projected by our mind, at a deep karmic level, our actions will actually free others.  When we do powa for somebody, for example, we bring one of the beings of our dream to the Dharmakaya in such a way that they never return to this world of suffering.  We need to do the same with each and every being, especially through our Tantric practice.

And we need to concentrate single-pointedly on creating good causes.  It is not enough to create one cause, but we need to create many, many causes.  It is not enough to create superficial causes, but we need to create high quality causes.  Our concentration enables us to do this.  The primary obstacle to developing concentration is our attachment to samsara, this contaminated dream, this world of suffering.  Because we think there is something to be had or accomplished within this dream, we never develop the wish to get ourselves or others back to the source of the Dharmakaya.  Out of attachment for what takes place in this contaminated dream, we engage in actions that keep ourselves and others trapped within it.  The mind of renunciation and great compassion is a mind that realizes there is nothing that can be accomplished within this contaminated dream, so the only thing that remains is to wake up from it.

It is true that this is a big job to free all beings, but when we understand the bodhisattva’s way of life, everything becomes easy.  When we understand patience, when we understand joyful effort, when we understand concentration, when we understand the relationship between self and others, and when we understand that our mind is the creator of all, we realize that we can change everything by changing our own mind.  Everything becomes feasible.  When things are seen to be feasible, effort becomes effortless, and we enter into a truly joyful path that we know with total certainty will lead to the freedom of all those we love and care for.

Our homework in life is simple:  Various things will appear to our mind.  We should view all of them as mere karmic appearances ripened by our spiritual guide to give us an opportunity to create good causes.  Then, respond well – create good causes – to whatever appears.  To do this, we just respond with as much love and wisdom as we can, joyfully creating causes knowing we are definitely emerging.