Ultimate stages of the path: Wishing love

This meditation is exactly the same as the meditation on great compassion, except this time we develop great love (or wishing love).  There are three types of love, affectionate love, cherishing love and wishing love.  Affectionate love is when you feel warm in your heart, affectionate towards others and you are naturally delighted to see or think about someone.  I think of this as “Grandma love”, it is the joy my Grandma feels everytime she sees one of us.  Or it is also 4 year old love, the love and delight our kids feel as they come running towards us for a hug when we come home from work.  Cherishing love, as explained before, is a love that considers the happiness of others to be something important, or precious, to us.  We value the happiness of others as important to us, something worth working for and prioritizing in our life.  I think of this as a parent’s love.  The happiness of my kids is very important to me and I make my decisions based on what is best for my whole family, even if that sometimes means at the expense of my own narrow interests.  Wishing love is beyond these.  Wishing love sees that others lack true happiness and commits itself to doing whatever it takes to bestow upon others true happiness.  Great compassion is “great” because it (1) concerns all living beings and (2) concerns all three types of suffering (manifest, changing and pervasive).  In the same way, (great) wishing love is concerned for all living beings and its wish is that all beings experience the eternal, perfected happiness of full enlightenment, not merely worldly happiness.  I think of this as a qualified Spiritual Guide’s love.  Only a qualified spiritual guide loves all beings without exception and wishes for them the pure and everlasting happiness of enlightenment.  Even our parents do not wish this for us, and if we have Dharma parents they may wish this for us but not for all living beings.

Just as great compassion is an essential foundation of our bodhichitta, so too is wishing love.  These two, one wishing to free all beings from all suffering the other wishing to bestow upon all beings all happiness, are two aspects of the bodhisattva’s basic wish for others.  This two-sided wish is the substantial cause of our bodhichitta.  In science, we divide causes into necessary and sufficient.  In the Dharma, we divide causes into substantial and circumstantial.  The substantial cause is the thing that transforms into the next thing, like an acorn into an oak tree.  The circumstantial causes are what facilitate that transformation.  In the context of generating bodhichitta, great compassion and wishing love are the substantial cause of our bodhichitta and the practice of taking and giving (and a few extra contemplations) are the circumstantial causes which transform our principal bodhisattva wish into a qualified bodhichitta.  Engaging in the meditation on wishing love understanding the essential role it plays in our generating bodhichitta is the perfection of wishing love.  The ultimate perfection of wishing love is engaging in the perfection of wishing love conjoined with an understanding of emptiness.

We generate wishing love as follows:  first we generating cherishing love in the ways described before, then we consider how living beings do not experience a true, pure, everlasting, uncontaminated happiness.  This is actually easier to understand than most people realize.  The worldly happiness we normally experience, such as that derived from eating ice cream or getting a good job, is happiness but it is not true, pure, everlasting, uncontaminated happiness.  It is not true happiness because it is actually what we call “changing suffering,” meaning it is really just the temporary reduction of our suffering of a lack of something, like the relief we feel after drinking water when we are really thirsty.  A true cause of happiness would be something where the more we have of the cause, the more it produces its intended effect, namely happiness.  Some water brings us initial relief, but if we keep drinking water more and more, eventually doing so will change into suffering.  The same is true for all forms of worldly happiness, such as food, sex, intoxicants, etc.  It is not pure because it concerns a happiness of this life alone, whereas pure happiness looks to our happiness in all our future lives.  It is not everlasting because it fluctuates and eventually dissipates, not remaining unchangingly perfect for eternity.  And it is not uncontaminated happiness because we grasp at it as a happiness that exists from its own side, somehow separate from us and existing independently of our mind.  Wishing love wishes that all beings could experience true, pure, everlasting, uncontaminated happiness.  Seeing that they don’t, we naturally generate the wish that they did.   Wishing love even goes one step further than this by wishing that beings enjoy the bliss of full enlightenment.  The bliss of full enlightenment is an inner peace so qualified, it is blissful.  But it is combined with the deep inner satisfaction that comes with being a vehicle for the eventual ripening and liberating of all living beings, “the main gateway for those seeking liberation.” This is wishing love.

Unobservable wishing love, like unobservable great compassion, is wishing love combined with an understanding that living beings are mere karmic appearances of our mind, they are the beings of our dream, they are waves on the ocean of our mind, they are our karmically created children.  As before, the karmic ripples of our past actions coalesce together into the forms of the beings of this world chasing after contaminated, worldly happiness and lacking the eternal bliss of full enlightenment.  Why are they like this?  Because we have karmically constructed them in this way.  Our contaminated, virtuous actions, such as giving flowers to somebody on their birthday, create the causes for others to engage in similar virtuous actions towards us in the future.  When they do so, they in turn create the causes for their own happiness and they create the tendencies to engage in similar actions again (thus setting the stage for even more happiness later).  Thus, from an ultimate point of view, just as we are responsible for all the suffering of all the empty beings of our dream, so too we are responsible for all of their worldly happiness.  This is good, but there is even better – the bliss of full enlightenment.  There is nothing wrong with wishing for people to be happy in this world, we just need to not stop there.  We need to karmically reconstruct the beings of our dream to be ones experiencing the eternal bliss of full enlightenment.  Wishing this is unobservable wishing love and the object of our meditation.

Ultimate stages of the path: Taking

When we engage in the meditation on taking, motivated by the great compassion we generated in the previous meditation, we imagine we take other’s suffering upon ourselves.  This meditation has limitless benefits.  First, it makes our compassion practical by giving it a means to fulfill its wish to free all living beings from their suffering.  Second, it destroys our self-cherishing mind completely because only a mind that cherishes others more than ourselves would be willing to take on others suffering.  Third, it creates the causes to be able to actually take on others suffering in the future, not just in our imagination.  In this sense, the meditation is tantric in nature in that by bringing the result into the path it functions to ripen that result. Fourth, it functions to ripen our bodhichitta because we see how amazing it is to be a Buddha who has the ability to do this, and so we therefore naturally wish to become one.  Fifth, it dramatically increases our faith because it takes a leap of faith to willingly take on the suffering of all living beings since our natural fear is we will be crushed by such a thing, but then by doing so we realize that far from being crushed we become liberated ourselves.  Sixth, it is an extremely powerful method of purification because taking their suffering upon ourselves motivated by compassion is exactly karmically opposite of all of the negative, harmful actions we have engaged in against living beings since beginningless time, so it neutralizes virtually all of the negative karma we have with respect to whose suffering we take on.   Seventh, it provides us with a universal method for transforming adverse conditions into the path because we can imagine every problem we encounter is us having actually taken on and are now working through the negative karma of others.  So instead of us suffering from adversity, we joyfully and courageously look at our difficulties as us working through others’ suffering so they do not have to.  Eighth, it deepens significantly our understanding of emptiness by helping us realize how samsara and nirvana are karmically created appearances.

The meditation itself is very simple.  First we generate cherishing love for all living beings (or a group of beings), then we consider their suffering.  On this basis, we generate compassion for them, wishing to free them from their suffering.  We then ask how can we do so?  Through the practice of taking.  With a mind that is willing to suffer ourselves so that others do not have to, we then imagine that we take on all of the suffering, delusions and negative karma of all living beings in the form of a black smoke which gathers from them into our root mind.  We imagine that we direct all this universal suffering against our own self-cherishing mind, like evil turning in on itself destroying itself.  This destroys completely our self-cherishing mind and we generate a feeling of profound joy strongly believing that we have actually freed all living beings from their suffering and that we have completely destroyed our own self-cherishing mind, the root of all suffering.  We then meditate on this feeling of joy.  The perfection of this meditation is engaging in the meditation understanding how it is a powerful cause for becoming a Buddha ourselves.  The ultimate perfection of this meditation is engaging in the perfection of this meditation combined with an understanding of how ourselves, others, our act of taking and the final results of our meditation are all empty.

It has already been described how others are the beings of our karmic dream, but it is worth repeating.  If we dream of somebody in a wheelchair, who put them there?  We did.  Is there anyone there really in a wheel chair?  No.  So does it matter that they are in one?  Yes, it does, because they conventionally appear to suffer.  In the same way, when we see somebody in the waking world (which is just a different level of dream) in a wheelchair, we can ask the same questions, who put them there, is there anyone really there and does it matter.  Through the force of the ripples of our past karmic actions, we have constructed a dream world full of dream-like beings who experience all sorts of different forms of suffering within the dream.  Ultimately, there is no one really there experiencing anything, but conventionally what is there is the appearance of suffering sentient beings.  Understanding their emptiness, we feel a profound feeling of personal responsibility – we put them in their suffering situation and therefore it is our responsibility to free them from it.  How?  By undoing all that we did to them, directly or indirectly.  We do this by taking upon ourselves all of their suffering, delusions and negative karma.   Just as we can karmically construct them to be suffering sentient beings through our deluded actions, we can karmically construct them to be liberated beings through our compassionate wisdom action of taking.

Sometimes people mistakenly think that we are not really liberating beings from their suffering by engaging in the practice of taking, it is just our imagination.  In reality, the extent to which we engage in the practice of taking conjoined with an understanding of emptiness is the extent to which we actually free others from their suffering, delusions and negative karma.  But this occurs with a karmic lag.  All karmic appearances have a certain duration to them resulting from the intensity of the original action.  Right now, the karma for the appearance of a world of suffering is ripening, and these appearances all have a certain duration to them.  But through engaging in the practice of taking and engaging in the mental action of strongly believing we have undone the harm we have inflicted upon them, we plant new karmic seeds on our mind.  Over time, the seeds which produce the appearance of suffering will exhaust themselves and the seeds which produce the appearance of liberated beings will ripen.  Then beings will appear to us as having been liberated through our practice of taking.  Some people object by saying, “well that must be nice for you to see them as liberated, but they still see themselves as suffering so what good does your view do?”  The answer to this objection is quite profound.  As ordinary beings, we still grasp at a duality between view and action.  We view things in a particular way, and on that basis we act.  For a Buddha, their pure view IS their pure action, and their pure action IS maintaining pure view.  They do not maintain pure view because it is objectively true (nothing is), rather they maintain this view because doing so functions to ripen others into pure beings.  Thus, the duality between pure view and compassionate action collapses into one and the same.  Thus, there is no contradiction between saying a Buddha sees all beings as having already been liberated (in fact, as having always been enlightened) and saying Buddhas work tirelessly to free all beings from all suffering.  If we can understand the profundity of this, our practice of taking and even more so our practice of self-generation take on profoundly different meanings.

Even if we don’t understand fully, we should apply effort to improve our understanding of how compassion, taking, emptiness and karma interrelate.  Doing so will greatly deepen our wisdom and our enthusiasm for such practices.

Ultimate stages of the path: Great compassion

The next four meditations are about gaining imaginative experience of what it is like to be a Buddha.  On the basis of cherishing the happiness of all living beings, we geneate great compassion for them – a mind that actively wishes to free others from their suffering.  We then imagine doing so as a Buddha would through the practice of taking.  Then, again on the basis of cherishing all living beings, we generate wishing love for them – a mind that actively wishes to bestow pure and eternal happiness on all living beings.  We then imagine doing so as a Buddha would through the practice of giving.  Seeing how amazing it is and understanding how Buddhas work makes us extremely motivated to become a Buddha ourselves.  Thus, if we do these meditations well, we will find it effortless to generate bodhichitta itself.  The perfection of these meditations is engaging in them understanding how they are the essential building blocks of the bodhichitta mind.  The ultimate perfection of these meditations is engaging in them conjoined with an understanding of emptiness.

In the previous meditations we built up the mind of exchanging self with others – a mind that cherishes only others.  Again, to cherish means to consider something to be important or valuable.  Practically, it means something worth working for.  To engage in the meditation on great compassion, we simply re-generate our cherishing love for others and then consider how they suffer.  If we did our meditations on cherishing love and our meditations on suffering well, by simply combining the two the mind of great compassion will effortlessly develop in our mind, like the next domino falling in a chain.  We consider how living beings are trapped in a cycle of delusion and contaminated karma that throws them again and again into the lower realms.  We can consider how they experience manifest, changing and pervasive suffering.  We can recall manifest suffering is some form of pain as we normally think of it, changing suffering is contaminated pleasure as we normally think of it (it is called changing suffering because the more we try secure contaminated pleasure the more it turns into pain), and pervasive suffering is the suffering that comes from identifying with contaminated aggregates (we suffer from human problems becuse we identify with a human body and mind, animals suffering from animal problems because they identify with animal bodies and minds, etc.).  We can consider how until living beings free themselves by travelling the path, there is no escape for them.  Since we consider their happiness to be valuable, something worth working for, we will naturally develop the mind of great compassion actively wishing to do something to free them from their suffering.

Ultimate compassion, or unobservable compassion as it is referred to in Ocean of Nectar, is a compassion combined with an understanding of emptiness.  It can be developed as follows:  First, we recall how we are responsible for all of the suffering of all living beings (analogy of tapping water or considering how our enaging in negative actions towards others creates the karma for others to engage in negative actions towards us which then condems them to suffering).  Second, we consider how each being is actually a wave on the ocean of our mind – they are not separate from us but are in fact parts of us.  So just as my right hand cares for my left foot, so too the Ryan wave should care for all the other waves.  If we understand we are the ocean, and not just an individual wave, then great compassion becomes an obvious – wanting to free all of our self from suffering is exactly the same as wishing for all living beings to be free from suffering.  Third, we can consider how others are mere karmic appearances generated by our mind.  Others suffer because we dream them that way.  Our uncontrolled mind dreams a world of uncontrolled suffering for all.  We must stop dreaming such a world.

Great compassion means we generate this mind (1) for all living beings without exception and (2) with respect to all three types of suffering, manifest, changing and pervasive.  Anything less than this is compassion but not great compassion.  For example, if we wish our children were free from manifest suffering, it is compassion – and therefore very good – but it is not great compassion because we do not wish the same for others and we are not taking into consideration the three types of suffering.  But we need to be careful to not make the best (great compassion) the enemy of the good (anything less than great compassion).  Sometimes people intellectually understand what great compassion is, realize that the compassion they generate is less than that, and then mistakenly think that it is not good (and even bad) to feel more limited compassion for a more limited number of beings.  So they wind up denying the compassion they do feel becasue they cannot yet feel that same compassion for all living beings for all of their suffering.  This is a huge mistake, and one that is commonly made.  Great compassion is built up on the basis of growing our less than great compassion.  So we need to start smaller, generate a real taste for genuine compassion towards anyone for any of their suffering, such as victims of rape warfare or our children in Middle School, and then gradually build up this mind for more beings and for more types of suffering.

To grow our compassion in a qualified way, we need to avoid the extremes of abstract compassion and grasping at the feeling of compassion.  If by expandng the scope of our compassion too far we lose the feeling and start intellectualizing about what are still for us abstract concepts of “all living beings” and “pervasive suffering” then we have fallen into the extreme of abstract compassion.  If we start to grasp at the feeling of heart felt compassion, thinking it is our object of contemplation, then we have fallen into the extreme of grasping at the feeling of compassion.  This is more subtle.  The feeling of compassion is a natural by-product of holding the two minds of cherishing love and a wisdom understanding their suffering at the same time.  When these two minds are held together, compassion naturally arises like a candle from a flame.  But if we grasp at the flame and thereby drop the candle we will hold neither.

Ultimate stages of the path: Exchanging self with others

The last several meditations have as their goal to bring us to the final conclusion to exchange ourself with others.  This is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful meditations on the path.  If we do it right, it changes everything.  To exchange self with others according to Sutra means to change the object of our cherishing from self to only others.  Practically, this means that I value only their happiness and my every action is aimed at securing their happiness.  When we equalized self and others, we tried to cherish all beings as much as we cherish ourself, but we still hung on to cherishing ourself.  In the last two meditations we looked at the disadvantages of self-cherishing and the advantages of cherishing others.  This meditation is the final conclusion of the previous ones – I should therefore cherish only others.  The perfection of this meditation is understanding how this determination to cherish only others is the frame of the house that supports the roof of our great compassion, which has as its peak our bodhichitta.  The ultimate perfection of this meditation is cherishing only others understanding that they, ourself and our cherishing are all empty.

Shantideva says that all happiness in this world comes from our cherishing others and all suffering comes from cherishing ourself.    How can we understand this from the point of view of emptiness?  We can understand this literally!  If I cherish myself, I engage in negative actions, setting the stage for my own future suffering.  It also creates the karma for others to engage in negative actions towards me in the future, setting the stage for their suffering.  Since others are mere karmic projections of mind, waves on the ocean of my mind, with no independent existence form their own side, the only conclusion is I am responsible for all the suffering in this world, both my own and that of others.  Likewise, when I cherish others, I engage in virtuous actions, setting the stage for my own future happiness.  It creates the virtuous karma for others to engage in virtuous actions towards me, setting the stage for their happiness.

We can think of this like a giant body of water.  Imagine at the beginning the water is perfectly calm.  If I begin tapping on the water, trying to raise my own wave and knock down those around me, it will send out shock waves in all directions.  Some of these waves will reverberate back to me (eventually all of them will), but most of the waves will start interacting with the other waves, crashing into each other in all sorts of different ways.  If I didn’t know how all of the waves started, I would ignorantly think that there are all sorts of waves doing all sorts of different things to each other and it has nothing to do with me.  But if I do understand how it started, I realize that it was my tapping which created all of the interactions of all of the waves.  I am responsible for all suffering.  Likewise, if I realize my error, and instead start cherishing only others, my corresponding virtuous actions will create anti-waves, waves that are the opposite of the selfish, destructive waves I have been sending out since beginningless time.  An anti-wave neutralizes the negative waves, thus calming the waters of our mind.  We keep going until the waters become completely still, peaceful and blissful – we will have gathered all phenomena into the bliss of the Dharmakaya.  The mind of bodhichitta is exactly opposite of all of the negative minds I have ever generated, and its corresponding action – generating oneself as a Buddha so that we may lead all others to the same state – is one single action that (if done powerfully enough) has the power to neutralize directly, simultaneously and effectively instantly all of the negative waves I have sent out since beginningless time – all living beings can be freed from the suffering I have inflicted upon them in an instant.  The conventional shape of this “great wave” is the self-generation meditation and the ultimate shape of this “great wave” is meaning clear light of completion stage.  Shantideva also said all the Buddhas cherish only others whereas samsaric beings cherish themselves, just look at the difference!

According to Tantra, we engage in this meditation by not simply changing the object of our cherishing to only others, but by literally changing the basis of imputation of our I to be only others.  We impute I on all others, and we impute other on our former self.  We naturally cherish whoever we think we are.  If we think we are all living beings, we will naturally cherish them and work for their happiness.  This will come effortlessly for us, just as it is currently effortless to cherish ourselves.  Just as we naturally currently view others through the lens of how they can help us and serve our needs, in the same way when we impute our I onto all others and look back at our former self as “other”, we will naturally view our former self through the lens of how it can help the new us and serve our needs.  What would we want our former self to do for the new us?  We would want him to stop harming us and to only help us.  We would want him to work very hard to fulfill our wishes and accomplish our needs.  Really, the best thing he could do for us is become a Buddha that then leads us to enlightenment!  When we look back at our old self and see the difference between what we would want and need him to do and what he is actually doing, we will know what to do in all situations and we will be extremely motivated to do it.  To put it in modern terms, we will realize what a “douche bag” we have been and we will really want to change!  😉

We may find it unfair to cherish only others and to view ourselves as merely a tool to serve the needs of others, but is this not just correcting for the unfairness we have doled out since beginningless time?  We owe it to others to make up for all the harm we have done them.  Besides, since the self we normally see does not exist at all, what point is there in cherishing it?  We may find it dangerous to cherish only others because then who will look after ourselves.  But we will still need to take care of ourselves – in fact, we will need to transform ourselves into a Buddha – the only thing that changes is the reason why we care for and grow ourselves.  We do so to be of greater service to others.  So we need not worry.

These meditations are extremely powerful, and if we do them sincerely it will change everything for us.  We will enter into high gear and race towards enlightenment.

Ultimate stages of the path: Advantages of cherishing others

If we understand the disadvantages of cherishing ourself, it is fairly easy to understand the advantages of cherishing others.  First of all, what does it mean to cherish others?  It means to consider their happiness and freedom to be something important.  Their happiness is something we ourselves value as important.  A parent naturally considers the happiness of their children to be important and when they make decisions they take into account the happiness of the child.  The fact that we don’t experience that happiness directly is irrelevant, their happiness in and of itself is important to us.  The meditation on cherishing others is quite simple:  we consider the benefits of cherishing others, and realizing them we make the decision to cherish others’ happiness and freedom as being important to us.  The perfection of this meditation is understanding how cherishing others is a critical foundation for the minds of great compassion and bodhichitta, so we strive to develop cherishing love so that we can develop bodhichitta and eventually become a Buddha.  The ultimate perfection of this meditation is when we meditate on the perfection of cherishing others combined with an understanding of emptiness.

So what are the benefits of cherishing others?  First, it helps improve all of our daily relations with others.  There is hardly a single relationship problem we encounter that does not come from our thinking about ourselves, and virtually every relationship problem can be resolved by valuing the happiness of the other person as likewise being important.  If we are putting others first, what basis is there for conflict in our life?  We might object that this will make us everyone’s favorite doormat.  But this is not the case.  We help others because we want to, not because they are manipulating us to do so.  Besides, if we do find that somebody is taking advantage of us, then we can recognize it is not good for them to do so, so as part of our cherishing of others we don’t let them do this.  Our relations with others are not inherently fixed, but rather depend on how we mentally view them.  If I mentally construct my relations as a battle between the interests of myself and the interests of others, then I am naturally in conflict with others all of the time.  But if I change my mental lens to viewing my relationships as an opportunity to train in cherishing others, then all of my relations become “win-win”.  I win because I advance spiritually, and the other person wins because we are helping fulfill their wishes.

Second, cherishing others is the root of all happiness.  Just as all negative actions arise from considering our own happiness as more important than others, all virtuous actions arise from considering the happiness of others to be supremely important.  Karmically speaking, all experiences of happiness arise from past virtuous actions.  All virtuous actions depend upon the mind that cherishes others.  So cherishing others is quite literally the root of all happiness.  An understanding of emptiness helps us realize why this is so.  Since all beings are empty, meaning they are creations of our own mind, waves on the ocean of our own mind, aspects or parts of our own mind, then in reality there is no difference between ourselves and others.  Ryan and others are just different parts of the same whole, my true self.  What sense is there is cherishing only one small part of myself called Ryan?  That is like cherishing my left pinky, but neglecting the rest of my body.  When we understand emptiness, we understand who we really are (namely the unity of all living beings) and so cherishing others is really just an expansion of cherishing of our true self.  We must be careful to not misunderstand this point.  Self-cherishing is bad because the object it cherishes is the self of our self-grasping ignorance, for example the ignorance that thinks I am just Ryan.  There is no fault, however, in cherishing our true self (which is the ocean of all living beings).  So while we might say cherishing others is just a more expansive way of cherishing our true self, the meaning here is not self-cherishing.  If I help improve the waves around me, I help improve the quality of the ocean itself, so both they and I benefit.  When we understand emptiness, the happiness of any living being is our own happiness, so the more we make others happy the more we make our true selves happy.

Third, cherishing others is also the root of great compassion and bodhichitta.  As will be explained in subsequent meditations, when we consider the happiness and freedom of others as important and then we consider how others suffer, we naturally generate a mind of compassion for others.  When we have compassion for others, our desire to free them from their suffering will eventually grow so intense that we will be compelled to get up and do something about it.  When we combine this with the wisdom that understands the best way we can help others is by becoming a Buddha for them so that we can lead them to enlightenment, then we naturally generate bodhichitta.  Bodhichitta is the main cause of enlightenment, and if we generate and maintain this mind we will inevitably become a Buddha.  Once we become a Buddha, we will have the power, wisdom, compassion and skilfull means necessary to lead each and every living being to the same state.  Seen in this light, we can validly say that cherishing others literally is the source of all happiness for ourself and all living beings, not only in this life but in all of our future lives.  Again, emptiness helps us understand why this is so.  If all beings are the ocean of our mind, then cherishing ourself as somehow more important than others is not in accordance with how things really are, so it only stands to follow that the more we try to cherish ourself the more we will create turbulence in the ocean of our mind – we create a samsara.  But cherishing others is in perfect accordance with how things are – it is the natural and logical conclusion of understanding that ourself and others are equally empty.  By aligning our actions with how things are, we naturally bring harmony to the ocean of our mind, the waves subside until eventually they become perfectly still.  We then let go of any residual grasping at self and others and the clarity of the ocean of our mind will continue to improve until eventually it becomes omniscient clear light.  We will have become a Buddha.

Ultimate stages of the path: Dangers of self-cherishing

The purpose of this meditation is to generate the determination to abandon completely our self-cherishing mind.  We do this in three stages:  (1) by understanding clearly what is self-cherishing, (2) by considering its disadvantages, and then (3) on this basis generating the determination to abandon it.  The perfection of this meditation is the determination to abandon our self-cherishing mind understanding it to be the principal object of abandonment on the Mahayana path and the ultimate perfection of this meditation is engaging in the three stages of the meditation conjoined with an understanding of emptiness.

What is self-cherishing?  Self-cherishing is a mind that considers the self that we normally see, namely an inherently existent self, to be supremely important.  Supremely here means the most imporant compared to everyone else.  As explained before, the inherently existent self is the one that we think exists from its own side, independent of everyone and everything else.  We view it as the possessor of our body and mind, as if it was somehow separate from them.  We conceive of our self as inherently distinct from all others, like there is an unbroachable chasm between ourselves and others so that what happens to others is of no importance to ourselves because it does not affect us and that what happens to us is the only thing that matters because that is all that we experience.  With self-cherishing, we value and consider our own happiness to be the only thing worth working for.  If we work for the happiness of others it is usually in some self-serving way, such as understanding how by being nice and helpful to others it serves our own mercenary interests.  Self-chershing is prepared to sacrifice the happiness and well-being of others on the altar of what is best for us.  If others have to suffer so that we can get ahead, this seems not only entirely justified, but entirely natural.  The mind of self-cherishing reasons that if we do not look after ourselves, then nobody else will.  It erects all sorts of elaborate philosophical justifications for its existence, which in the end boil down to “since everyone else is selfish, if I am to survive and thrive, I too must be selfish.” 

Self-cherishing only considers things through the very narrow  lens of how things affect ourselves.  It views all relationships through the lens of others relations with us.  Things derive their importance in dependence upon how they serve our interests.  The only needs that matter are its own.   Every other being is viewed as an object whose usefulness is measured by what we can get out of them.  Even though we may intellectually deny that we consider ourselves supremely important, when we examine things from the perspective of “for whose sake did I engage in that action” we realize that virtually all of our actions, even the few virtues we manage, are done for the sake of ourselves.  Our actions speak louder than our rationalizations.  It is a mind that is so all-pervasive in our thinking that we don’t even really notice it.

What are the disadvantages of self-cherishing?  Shantideva says all suffering in this world has one source:  self-cherishing.  In the lojong texts it says we should “gather all blame into one”, meaning we should blame all of our problems on self-cherishing.  How can we understand this?  According to Buddhism, all suffering is due to the ripening of negative karma.  Negative karma itself comes from negative actions.  Negative actions in general are those actions which harm a living being (ourself or others) in some way.  All negative actions are driven by delusions, usually attachment, anger or jealousy.  All delusions arise from self-cherishing.  For example, because I consider my own happiness to be more important than others’ happiness, I am willing to harm them to benefit me, such as by stealing or saying hurtful things.  In a subtle way, we can even say anytime I am doing something for the sake of myself I am neglecting all countless living beings, in other words I am putting the interests of myself over all others and depriving them of the benefit I could otherwise be extending them if I was thinking about and valuing their happiness. 

From the point of view of emptiness and the analogy of the ocean, if each being is a wave on the ocean of the emptiness of my mind of bliss and emptiness, self-cherishing values my wave over the waves of others.  But it is impossible to favor one wave without indirectly harming other waves since they are all inter-related.  The more I try to raise my wave or smash the waves around me, the more turbulent I make the waters of my mind.  A turbulent, violent mind appears (literally creates) a turbulent, violent world.  Additionally, from the point of view of emptiness we can see the absurdity of self-cherishing in that the object it cherishes, namely the inherently existent self, does not exist at all!  We have spent countless aeons trying to serve a master who is not even there – no wonder we have not gotten anywhere and have so little to show from the fruits of our labor.

Understanding clearly what self-cherishing is and its many disadvantages, we are naturally led to the conclusion that we must abandon it completely.  What does this mean practically?  It means every time the thought arises in our mind to favor ourselves at the expense of others, we should recognize this as a deceptive mind and not be fooled.  In Christianity, they say the Devil is the root of all evil and he tricks us into being evil.  In many ways, we can say the Devil is nothing other than the personification of the self-cherishing mind.  We can think to ourselves, “this thought is the devil of my self-cherishing mind trying to trick me, I will not be fooled.”  We take the time to identify the deception – how our self-cherishing promises us happiness but will deliver us only misery.  When we see clearly the deception, we will no longer be fooled and our self-cherishing will lose its power over us. 

From the point of view of emptiness, we can realize, paradoxically, that the best way to secure happiness for our wave is to allow it to settle into the stillness of the ocean.  Why be one wave when you can be the whole ocean?  When you stop trying to raise your wave or smash the ones around you, the waters of your mind become increasingly calm and peaceful, and as they do a profound feeling of inner peace and joy begins to emerge until eventually it becomes an almost overwhelming blissful contentment.  Once we have tasted this, the candy our self-cherishing offers us will seem woefully inadequate and won’t tempt us in the least – why sacrifice a feeling of universal bliss for the poisoned pleasures of samsara?




Ultimate stages of the path: Equalizing self with others

The next several meditations have as their goal to reach the goal of cherishing only others.  To cherish somebody means to consider thier happiness to be precious and important.  Practically speaking, it means to actively work for the happiness and well-being of that we consider to be precious.  In this first meditation, equalizing self with others, we strive to equalizing our cherishing of each and every living being – so that we cherish each being as much as we cherish ourselves.  In other words, we consider the happiness of each and every being, including ourselves, as being equally important.  Practically, this means we work to maximize the happiness of all beings in the aggregate, without favoring any one being (including ourselves) over any others.  This meditation differs from equanimity in that with the meditation on equanimity we develop an equal warm and friendly attitude towards everyone, but we never actually challenge our own self-importance.  Here, we try identify how much we consider our own happiness to be important and we realize all that we are willing to do to secure our own happiness, and we consider valid reasons why we should cherish each and every other being to exactly the same level.

Conventionally, the valid reasons for this are simple:  there is nothing about myself that makes me any more important than anyone else.  Happiness is happiness, regardless of who is experiencing it.  Suffering is suffering, regardless of who is experiencing it.  So there is no basis for considering my happiness and suffering to be any more important than the happiness and suffering of anyone else.  The fact that we experience our own happiness and suffering with our aggregate of feeeling does not make our happiness and suffering any more important than anybody elses in a universal sense, because they too experience their happiness and suffering with their aggregate of feeling – so both are equally important.  Sometimes we consider the happiness of our family, friends or the people of our ethnic, religious, or national group to be more important.  The reason for this is when we view things from the perspective of our self-cherishing mind, things derive their importance in terms of their relationship to ourselves.  But from a universal perspective, this makes no sense.  If there is nothing about ourselves that makes us more important than others, then likewise there is nothing about those in relationship with ourselves that makes them more important.

We may object, but they are more important to me for this reason, therefore it is perfectly appropriate for me to consider the happiness of myself and those close to me as more important.  But this does not follow.  The question is why should your own or their happiness be more important to you?  We have no valid reason for thinking this and there is nothing stopping us from considering the happiness of all beings as being equally important to us.  It is true from a practical perspective that we will have a karma which enables us to help and work for certain beings more than others, but that is a question of how we can act upon our equal cherishing of others, not what we actually consider to be important.  We can consider all beings as being equally important, but accept the practical reality that we can act upon that equal cherishing in different ways depending upon our karmic relationship with different beings.

To engage in this meditation from the perspective of ultimate truth, emptiness, we simply use emptiness as the ultimate definitive reason why the happiness of each and every being is equally important.  Since all beings are equally empty, there is no basis for considering any one being, including ourselves, to be more important than any other. 

Once again, the analogy of waves and the ocean serves us well.  Ryan is just one wave on the ocean of the emptiness of my mind of bliss and emptiness.  The same is true for every other being.  We are all equally waves on the ocean.  There is nothing about any one wave that makes it more important than any other wave, and since we all share the same underlying ocean, there is no basis for considering Ryan to be “me” and other waves to be “not me.”  Ignorance, at its root, is believing we are just the one wave and not the ocean coupled with a mistaken notion that our one wave is more important than all the other waves.  Clearly, that is absurd.  If all waves are equally by nature the ocean of my mind, then the happiness of each and every wave is equally important.  If I am the ocean, and not just the Ryan wave, then to consider the happiness of Ryan to be more important than the happiness of anybody else is the same as considering the happiness of my right hand to be more important than my left hand.  Venerable Geshe-la gives the example of the right hand doesn’t not remove the thorn from one’s foot arguing “it is not my problem.” 

Additionally, to cherish somebody means to consider them to be important or precious.  This depends entirely upon our mind.  “Importance” or “preciousness” depends upon mental imputation and construction.  It is our mind that makes things “important” or not, they have no such importance from their own side.  Venerable Geshe-la gives the example of a bone and a diamond – which is more important?  Most of us would argue the diamond, but for a dog the bone is far more precious.  So we cannot say that any one being is intrinsically more important than any other, rather we can say if we think this it simply reflects a laziness in our mind to have not yet taken the time and put in the effort to consider how each and every being is likewise important. 

A related mistake we make when we start training in this meditation is instead of raising the importance of the happiness and well-being of others up to the highest level, we rather reduce our cherishing of all others down to the lowest common denominator – so instead of cherishing all beings as equally important we neglect all beings as being equally unimportant.  We sometimes get so confused about this that we think it is somehow wrong to cherish any one being because we are not yet able to cherish all beings to the same amount, so we wind up cherishing nobody because that is something we can do equally!  Ridiculous!  But you would be surprised how many even senior practitioners accidentally fall into this trap.  Rather, we should find the person we cherish the most and then use that person as an example of how we should equally feel towards everybody else.  Ultimately, the person we cherish the most is ourselves, so we want to cherish all others as we cherish ourselves.  But as an intermediate step we can take the love we have for somebody very close to us who we naturally feel love for, such as a child, and then bring everybody equally up to that level.  What I do is I ask myself the question “what would I do if this person were my child?”  And then I act accordingly.  Later, we can ask “what would I do if this person were me?”  And then, we can act accordingly.

Ultimate stages of the path: Remembering the kindness of others

The general purpose of this meditation is generate a feeling of gratitude towards all living beings, wishing to repay their kindness.  The perfection of this meditation is I want to generate a wish to repay their kindness to serve as fuel for the ultimate way in which I can repay their kindness, namely by becoming a Buddha which then leads them all to enlightenment.  The ultimate perfection of this meditation is the perfection of this meditation combined with an understanding that ourselves, others and their kindness are all empty.

If we understand the emptiness of ourselves we realize that everything we are is in dependence upon others.  An inherently existent person is an island unto themselves, completely independent of everything.  But in reality, there is nothing about us that is not dependent upon everything.  In this way, meditating on the kindness of others is itself a way of meditating on the emptiness of ourselves.  Where does our body come from?  From our parents and from the food we eat.  Where does their DNA come from?  From the actions and activities of countless beings over countless generations.  Our food comes from the work of countless farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc.  Who built the trucks?  Who built the roads?  How was all of this paid for?  Without all of these beings (our parents, our ancestors, those in the food industry, taxpayers for roads, etc.) we literally would not be who we are today.  But surely our thoughts are our own?  No, everything we think ultimately comes from others as well.  There is not a single thought we have which we can say comes exclusively from us.  How to read, the language we speak, the ideas we have all come from others – we did not invent them ourselves.  Even if we have had some original ideas ourselves, these have come from understanding the connections between the ideas that other people have given us.  Without their ideas, we would have nothing to connect.  The mental habits we have in this life largely carry over from the mental habits we cultivated in previous lives.  These habits arose from an enculturation of countless others we have intereacted with in the past.  More profoundly, mind and its object arise in mutual dependence upon one another.  All minds have, directly or indirectly, others as part of the object of mind.  Put another way, without others serving as objects of our mind, we would simply not have any minds at all!  So there is not a single aspect of our body nor a single aspect of our mind that is not entirely dependent upon others.  We simply wouldn’t be without them.  So everything we have, everything we are is due to the kindness of others, and realizing this helps us realize the emptiness of ourselves.

Realizing others are kind is itself a meditation on emptiness, and meditating on the emptiness of others helps us realize their kindness.  It has been discussed before how others are empty, in other words mental constructions.  Nobody is “kind” from their own side, they become kind in dependence upon how we mentally construct them.  By focusing on certain aspects of them and mentally viewing them in particular ways, they become “kind” in our eyes.  For example, our mother cared for us throughout our childhoood.  This is an act.  We could say “that’s normal for her to do” and then we would not feel her to be kind, but would rather take it for granted.  We could say, “yes, but she also treated me badly” and then we would completely ignore all that she has done for us.  Or we could say, “she didn’t have to do any of these things and if she hadn’t I would surely be dead or completely screwed up right now” and then suddenly her acts become acts of kindness.  One final word on mothers, while it is true we may have had a troubled relationship with our mother, the fact remains that she did not abort us.  She could have, but she didn’t.  This means we owe our entire life we have to her.  Without that one act of kindness, we would not have had any of the other opportunities we have had in our life, including the opportunity to travel the path.  This one act of kindness so completely trumps any mistakes she might have made to make our focusing on her mistakes nothing but being petty.  We need to let go of our petty resentments and see the bigger picture.

Just as we say that “friend, enemy and stranger” are mere mental projections and just as we say “each being is my mother” is a mental projection, so too is viewing each being as kind.  For me, the most powerful way of realizing their kindness is to realize how the simple existence of beings – regardless of what they do – is an act of supreme kindness because they serve as objects of my practice.  If all beings are equally empty, then all beings are equally useful in terms of serving as an object of our practice of training the mind.  Some give us opportunities to practice patience, some give us opportunities to practice love, but all equally give us an opportunity to practice something.  If all we wish to do is train our mind, and all beings provide us equal empty opportunities to do so, what basis do we have to develop bias or aversion towards anyone?  All beings are equally kind in that regardless of what they do, they are an equal opportunity for me to train my mind, and without these opportunities that they provide me, I wouldn’t be able to attain enlightenment.  It is impossible to engage in virtue without others, and there is no happiness without virtue, so we can correctly say all happiness arises in dependence upon the simple existence of others.  How kind they are, regardless of what they are doing to me!


Ultimate stages of the path: Recognizing all beings as our mothers

In this meditation, we consider how all living beings are all equally our mothers.  The purpose of this meditation is to break our normal imputations of friend, enemy and stranger and to instead replace it with “mother” for all beings.  By doing so, we eliminate our bias and generate a feeling of closeness towards all beings.  The actual mental action here is familiarizing ourselves with the wisdom recognition that realizes that indeed all living beings are our mothers.

Conventionally, the contemplation is very simple.  In the last meditation we considered how all living beings have equally been everything towards us countless times in all of our infinite previous lives.  Building on that, we say “so they have all been my mother.”  Why do we single out them having been our mother as opposed to say our assassin?  Because when they were our mother they were at their least deluded towards us.  When we engage in loving kindness towards somebody, it is actually us.  When we get angry or upset at others, it is our delusions.  We know this because delusions function to render our mind uncontrolled, whereas loving kindness never arises uncontrolledly.  We often generate regret after having gotten upset, but we never generate regret from having purely cared for somebody.  At the very least, we single out motherhood because this is when others have been very kind towards us and it evokes in us the least deluded response to consider them our mothers.

Some people object at this point, “but my relationship with my mother is terrible!  If I consider all beings my mother I generate all sorts of delusions towards them.  Can I instead consider all living beings my children?  That works better for me.”  The short answer is yes, of course you can consider others to be your children if that works for you.  But in my view it is nonetheless very valuable to also take the time to consider them to be your mother and generate the good feelings intended by this meditation.  Unfortunately, modern psychology can be summarized as “it’s all your mom’s fault.”   Psychologists get paid thousands of dollars to dig into people’s past to try identify how our mothers/parents screwed us up so people can say “it is not your fault you are messed up, it is your parents’ fault.”  Such thinking is completely counter-productive.  Yes, of course, we can recognize that our parents made mistakes, but don’t we all?  Anybody who has subsequently become a parent realizes how hard of a job it is and how nothing in life prepares us for it, so is it any wonder we make a mess of things?  Second, this is inappropriate attention at the extreme.  No matter how much harm our parents did to us, they provided us with so much more positive.  They gave birth to us (they could have aborted us), so we can say everything we have in our life is due to this one act of kindness which overwhelms everything else.  In the next meditation we will go into much more detail about the kindness of our mothers.  Third, if our being screwed up is somebody else’s fault, then our ability to get better is also dependent upon others.  So the end result is to make us helpless victims.  Sure, as children, we could not be expected to respond with wisdom to our parents’ mistakes, but there is nothing that stops us from applying our wisdom now.

When we engage in this meditation conjoined with an understanding of all beings as being equally empty, there is a danger we might start to think nothing of anybody and fall into the extreme of indifference.  Indifference is just as much of an extreme as attachment towards our friends and aversion towards our enemies.  From the point of view of satisfying the wishes of our self-cherishing mind, it is true some beings are more helpful than others, and it is usually upon this basis that we generate attachment, aversion or indifference.

According to Tantra, we can engage in the mother’s meditation in a special way.  When we engage in self-generation practice, we assume the role of the Guru-Deity.  Guru in this context is Lama Tsongkhapa and Deity is our Highest Yoga Tantra Yidam.  When Lama Tsongkhapa looks at any living being, he sees not only his kind mother, but he sees his kind mother who is his disciple/student he has the responsibility to lead to enlightenment.  So just as we can view all beings as our mother, we can also view them all as our future students/disciples who it is our responsibility to lead to enlightenment.  Of course, we don’t go around and explain to everyone, “I am your savior, who has come from Tushita Pure Land, to lead you to enlightenment.  Follow me, my child.”  Such behavior would quickly land us in the psychiatric hospital!  But internally, we can take the long-view of our relationships with living beings and say yes, it is my responsibility to lead this being to enlightenment.  Conventionally, right now, they are appearing as my boss or my colleague or my bus driver, but I must cultivate my relationships with each and every being in such a way that I may eventually conventionally appear to them as their Spiritual Guide.  It may be hundreds of lifetimes from now before that happens, but in the meantime I will do whatever I can to develop a warm and friendly relationship with the person as the foundation for later (most likely in a future life) leading them along the path.  Just as it is difficult to learn how to view all being as our mothers in a non-deluded way, there are also unique delusions that come up preventing us from looking at all beings as our future students in a non-deluded way.  But just as it is worthwhile to work through our delusions towards our mothers, so too it is worthwhile working through our delusions associated with viewing others as our future students.  We need to strive to learn how to do this in a healthy and balanced way that is entirely normal.

In a similar way, our Highest Yoga Tantra Yidam is a Chakravatin King or Queen (Heruka or Vajrayogini).  Chakravatin Kings and Queens are universal monarchs of the three thousand worlds (basically, every dimension of every universe).  But they are unlike monarchs as we normally think of them.  They use all of their power solely for the benefit of their people.  Their every action is aimed at serving the interests of their people.  Ghandi said the person who is the highest of all is the one who has managed to make themselves the lowest of all.  A Chakravatin King is, in reality, a servant of all who happens to have the power and resources of a universal monarch.  So just as we can view all beings as our mothers, children or future disciples, so too we can view all living beings as our “Chakravatin subjects”, in other words our people that we serve.  Again, it is easy to generate delusions if we consider ourselves as a universal monarch and all beings as our subjects.  But these are all wrong understandings of what is meant here.  There is a way to view things as a Chakravatin King would, namely genuinely using all our power and resources for the sake of serving all others, so we should try view things in that way.  A Billionaire philantrhopist is quite similar – they use all of their wealth to help and serve people.  This is the meaning.

Ultimate stages of the path: Equanimity

All of the meditations up until now have concerned primarily adopting a spiritual attitude towards ourselves.  The remaining meditations concern adopting a spiritual attitude towards others.  Our first and fundamental problem is our mind remains biased towards others, considering some to be friends, some to be enemies and some to be irrelevant.  All three attitudes are wrong, and ultimately create most of our problems.  The goal of the meditation on equanimity is to adopt a balanced and equal attitude towards everyone.  If we have a positive attitude towards everyone, a good 90% of our daily problems with respect to others will fall away.  A balanced and equal attitude towards everyone is also the indispensable foundation for generating great compassion and bodhichitta, minds that seek to free all living beings without exception.  We cannot become a Buddha for all but a couple of living beings.  So either we hold on to our bias and forego ever becoming a Buddha or we eliminate all bias and open the door to enlightenment.  The choice is ours.

Conventionally, we engage in this meditation by considering how over the infinite expanse of countless previous lives, every single being has been everything towards us – sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, sometimes irrelevant – countless times.  When we look at things from a narrow scope of time, we might say some people are nice than others or some people are meaner than others and develop bias.  But when we expand the temporal scope of our vision we realize all beings have been equally everything in relation to us.  Their present appearance of friend, enemy or stranger is quite temporary and even in this life we see how it changes quite quickly (if you have any children in primary or middle school, you know what I mean!  They have new BFFs every day!).  So there is no sense in grasping at such labels.  Most of the “drama” we create for ourselves in this life comes from the ever shifting nature of these appearances and labels.  We get so wrapped up in these shifting sands of dependence that we drain ourselves of all energy and literally torture ourselves mentally.  If instead, we develop a warm, friendly and balanced attitude towards everyone regardless of how they are presently appearing then we stand above the shifting appearances and introduce a stability into our relationships.  We free ourselves from having our own inner well-being be dependent upon what anyone else might be saying or doing.  At a minimum, we make our lives far less “dramatic” and so therefore much more stable and calm.

If conventionally we develop equanimity by realizing everyone has been everything to us countless times, ultimately we develop equanimity by realizing everyone has been “nothing” to us countless times!  In other words, everyone has always been equally empty since beginningless time.  In reality, from their own side, others have been nothing.  It is not a case of from their side they have shifted from friend, enemy and stranger, rather it is our mind has been constantly shifting the mental labels we impute upon others depending upon the vagaries of our mind.  We have just been mistakenly blaming them for the change of label, when in reality it comes exclusively from our mind.

We might object by saying sometimes others are appearing to help me and sometimes others are appearing to harm me, so it is appropriate for me to change my mental label.  But why is the appearance changing?  As was explained before, each and every being is empty, a being in our karmic dream.  Nobody is actually there doing anything.  They are simply the theater of our karma playing itself out.  Venerable Tharchin once said “life is a play in which we write the script, others are merely actors playing out our karma.”  Others are mere karmic echos of our own past behavior.  Looking at others is like looking in a magical karmic mirror and seeing nothing other than our own past absurdities.  Why do people appear to us to be “fair weather friends”?  Because that is what we have been towards others in the past.  Why do people appear to betray us or abandon us or favor us?  Because we have done all these things to others in the past.

If we wish for stable friendships with others, we ourselves need to be stable friend towards them regardless of what they do and we need to be such a stable friend from now until the end of endless time.  We need to start – right now – creating a new karmic play.  It will take time for our past karma to work itself out, so there will be a long period of time where we will be a vajra friend (vajra means pure and indestructible) towards others and they will continue to shift, betray, disappoint or fade into irrelevance, but eventually that karma will exhaust itself and what will emerge will be a new pattern of vajra friendships with an ever increasing circle of people until eventually it embraces all living beings.  Once again, the analogy of the ocean is instructive.  If I favor some waves over others, trying to pull those I like closer to me and push those I dislike farther away, the only thing I do is make the waters more choppy.  The more intensely I do this, the worse it gets, and so I start doing it even more in increasingly violent and abrupt means and worse still it gets.  Such a strategy is entirely self-defeating.  The way to calm the waters is to neither pull nor push, but to accept.  If I accept all of the waves equally without trying to manipulate or control them, then eventually the waters around me begin to settle, the magnitude of the waves begins to diminish, the vividness of the appearance of friend, enemy and stranger begins to subside and the waters of my mind become clearer and more stable.

Happy Heruka Day everyone!