Being Humble

We started our discussion of the Eight Verses of Mind Training by Langri Tangpa, and we discussed the first verse:

(1) May I always cherish all limited beings by considering how far superior they are to wish-granting gems for actualizing the supreme aim.

And this was the discussion of how, by practicing with others – developing compassion for them, and patience with them, and so on – that this is the only way really to be able to reach enlightenment, which is the supreme aim mentioned here, because our whole motive for reaching enlightenment, which gives the strength to our understanding of voidness to cut through both sets of obscurations, is the wish to benefit others. And the only reason for reaching enlightenment is to be able to benefit others, and so this is why others are so extremely important, more important than a wish-granting gem, which can give us worldly type of things. As Shantideva says:

(VI.132) Should even such a king be pleased (with me), it's impossible that he could bestow Buddhahood, which is what I'd be brought to attain by having made limited beings be pleased.

(VI.133) (Leave aside) seeing that the future attainment of Buddhahood arises from making limited beings be pleased, don't you see that, at least in this life, great prosperity, fame, and happiness come?

(VI.134) (Moreover), with beauty and so on, freedom from sickness, and fame, someone with patience, while still in samsara, gains extremely long life and the abundant pleasures of a universal chakra king.

In other words, we will not only gain this supreme aim, but we will get all the various facilities, like prosperity, being well known, happy and freedom from sickness, and so on. Not that we want to have these in order to be happy, but the more of these things we have, the greater an influence we can have on others. If we have prosperity, then we can travel everywhere, we can help others materially. If we’re well known, then people will be open and receptive to us, and will come to us. Otherwise, they never hear of us, so how can we really be able to help them, except by prayers? So all these things come from the positive force that’s built up by helping others.

Now the second verse of our text:

(2) Whenever I come into anyone’s company, may I regard myself less than everyone else, and, from the depths of my heart, value others more highly than I do myself.

This follows from the first verse. There are two way of understanding the verse, and two ways of interpreting it, or translating it. Basically, when we think of the advantages of helping others, and the disadvantages of just thinking of ourselves – in other words, the advantages of cherishing others as opposed to the disadvantages of cherishing oneself – then we will naturally think less of ourselves, in terms of accomplishing just what would make us happy, and we would value others more highly. In other words, we will cherish and work for others more highly, realizing that not only the supreme aim of reaching enlightenment can be fulfilled that way, but even these ordinary aims are achieved as well. So that’s one way of understanding the verse.

The other way of understanding this is, “Whenever I come into anyone’s company, may I regard myself as the lowest of all, and from the depth of my heart value others as higher than myself.” If we take that very literally, in a Western psychological context, it could be just reinforcing low self-esteem, but that’s not what is intended here. What’s intended here, with this way of translating and understanding the verse, is developing humility, overcoming arrogance.

So, when we are with others, if we are thinking just of ourselves and cherish ourselves, then of course we just think in terms of our own point of view. What would be of benefit to me? What do I want? And so on. We tend to talk just about ourselves, for example, as well, and think of our comfort; whereas here, what it’s saying is that that of course leads to all sorts of problems, suffering.“I wanted it to be like this and then it didn’t work out like that,” and so we get all upset, because the other person wanted something else, and so on; whereas if we cherish others, and think of others as being more important than ourselves in this respect, then we don’t get so upset.

Of course, we need to have a balance between taking care of our own needs and others’ needs. But if we think in terms of numbers, then certainly – as His Holiness always points out – others are almost infinite in number and we’re only one. And so if you look to see what would be fair, then obviously working for others is far more important than just working for our own selfish aims. I think you have to differentiate between our personal selfish aims and the aim of working to improve ourselves, and so on, and have the facilities to be able to help others more. It’s not a selfish aim. I think you need to differentiate the two.

So, as Geshe Chekawa said in the Seven Point Lojong, “Put all the blame on one thing,” which is self-cherishing. And that actually is very, very helpful when we’re feeling upset, disturbed in some way or another. It doesn’t have to only be with situations with other people. Even when we’re by ourselves, put the blame on one thing, in other words look and see, “Why am I so upset?” and it’s because of self-cherishing. “I wanted it to be like this and it wasn’t” – it’s usually why we’re so upset.

Then, of course, you can start to apply many opponents to that, not just the opponent of thinking of the voidness of the self, of me, but also thinking,“Isn’t this totally unrealistic? That I expect everything always to work out the way that I want it to. That’s absurd. What do I expect from samsara?” So one has to work on that self-cherishing. So, it’s very, very helpful, when we’re upset, don’t just stay in it and feel worse and worse and worse.

Shantideva explains this very nicely:

(VIII.126) Paining others for my own self-aims, I'll be tormented in joyless realms and the like; but paining myself for the aims of others, I'll acquire all glories.

(VIII.127) Through the wish for just myself to advance come the worse rebirth states, low status, and stupidity; but transferring that very (wish) to others brings the better rebirth states, honor, (and intelligence).

(VIII.128) Ordering others around for my own self-aims, I'll experience being a servant and worse; but ordering myself around for the aims of others, I'll experience being a lord and better.

(VIII.129) All whosoever who are happy in the world are (so) through the wish for the happiness of others; while all whosoever who are miserable in the world are (so) through the wish for the happiness of themselves.

(VIII.130) But what need is there to elaborate more? Just look at the difference between the two: an infantile person acting for his own self-aims and Sage (Buddha) acting for the aims of others.

Shantideva says it really very very clearly – the disadvantages of cherishing ourselves and the advantages of cherishing others. So, when we try to do this in meditation, like for instance we’re having a problem, and something didn’t work out in our lives, and we’re really very upset and unhappy about this. And so we identify, “OK, that’s because I’m just thinking of it from my point of view, and I wanted it like this and I didn’t get it. Poor me.” Then we think, “What is the result of thinking like that? It just makes me more and more miserable, and it just puts me figuratively in a hell-type state of mind, and disables me from helping others, and so on, because I’m so upset; whereas if I think of the other, and the other person, let’s say from their point of view, and try to understand what was their way of thinking, and so on, and if I think in terms of the larger scope of others in general, then it’s inappropriate to just think of my own point of view. If I think in terms of others, that will broaden my mind, make me happier, I can understand, and so on.”

OK, so you hear that, and there’s all sort of other teachings of methods that we can use for overcoming this type of self-destructing attitudes. Now, the problem is, when you meditate on it, what happens? And what happens is that, “Intellectually I understand this, but emotionally I’m having a lot of difficulty accepting this, I’m still upset.” And if you examine the whole process, what it is, is that “I don’t want to accept that others’ point of view is more important than my own,” and that “If I think in terms of that, I won’t be so upset.” We don’t want to accept that. “But I still wanted it this way!” and “Poor me!” That still comes there, still comes up. And even though we might be able to act in such a way that we don’t say something nasty to the other person, and outwardly we’re forgiving – inwardly we’re still upset.

I think the way to handle this is to think of the analogy of a horse, a wild horse, or a dog, or something like that. You tie the horse up in a pen with a fence and the horse goes crazy, it doesn’t want to settle down; or the dog as well, you tie the dog to a post, and the dog is barking and trying to get away, and so on. That’s what our minds are like. When we try to stay focused on the benefits of cherishing others and thinking of others, and that it really is a losing battle to think just of myself – we don’t want to accept that, and we feel very uncomfortable. It’s like we’re the dog trying to get away from the mindfulness, what’s holding us to the post of this thought.

The only way to start to actually feel it on an emotional level, not just the intellectual understanding, is to just force ourselves to stay there. And the longer that you stay with this thought, eventually the ego-powered mind gives up and relaxes. And it’s when you relax with the understanding, that then you start to begin to actually feel it. At least from my own experience, I find that that’s the only way that we can break through this barrier between intellectual and emotional understanding. It’s all a matter of how much you relax with the understanding.

The images of animals as an absurd conclusion is a method that Tibetans employ quite a lot. And I find it quite helpful here to think of our minds and emotions being like the dog that’s tied up, and that is constantly running out, and then it’s getting caught on a rope and barking and so on, that, “I don’t want to accept this thing that I intellectually understand. I’m still upset.” And if we view ourselves like that, then it’s easier to say, “But I don’t want to be like this dog,” and to quiet down, and relax.

Because we’re constantly making objections. “But!” you know, and all of this. We see it in class. We say something, which is quite radical in terms of a Buddhist attitude, shocking, out of the ordinary, and then people object and object and object, and, “No, I can’t do this,” and “It’s too difficult” and so on. That’s the dog barking, being on the chain. It’s true that we need to examine things critically – that’s something else. But we’re talking about after we examined it critically, and we still don’t want to accept it. Then it’s a matter of relaxing. And that’s very much the teachings that you have in shamata, a stilled and settled state of mind – quiet the mental agitation.

Let’s take a few minutes to examine ourselves, some sort of problem that we might be having. Try to see that it’s coming from the self-cherishing, and see if we can actually accept that, and quiet down. And think more of cherishing others; the other is more important, as it says here. Value others more highly than I do myself, their point of view. And see if you can quiet down with that. I mean to just do it for a couple of minutes. Obviously it is not going to be so effective, but this is something really to work on in meditation. Especially when we’re upset about something that’s happened in our life, whether it’s big or small.

[Meditation.]

OK. So when we try to develop a stilled and settled state of mind – it’s shamata, or shine in Tibetan – there are many, many different objects on which we can focus, not just our breath, or a Buddha image. And most of the topics that are explained in the long list of the objects for focus are various types of understandings to oppose our disturbing emotions, and so it’s very good to practice the stilled and settled mind with them.

When one thinks about it, then I think that the reason why, when you quiet down, you can start to emotionally accept these understandings is – as we work in the sensitivity training as well – that if you can quiet down sufficiently, then, when you get to the nature of the mind, the various good qualities are all there, present. It’s just a matter of quieting down enough to get in contact with the basic quality of warmth, and understanding, and acceptance, and openness, and so on. And these, I think, are the qualities of what we in the West would call an “emotional understanding” of something, when we actually can accept it. I think that’s how it would work. I mean how it does work, I should say.

So, in order to cherish others more highly than ourselves, or when we think in terms of “We’re only one and others are many,” then one of the ways of doing this is to focus on Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature and others, and they are many, many more than just we are.

Shantideva says:

(VI.118) Since a share giving rise to a Buddha's foremost Dharma (attainments) exists in limited beings,

It’s referring to Buddha-nature

it's fitting that limited beings be honored, in accordance with this very share.

There are more of them, so you honor them more. And then:

(VI.126) There's no doubt that Those with a Compassion Self-Nature have taken all wandering beings (to be the same) as themselves. The very nature they've seen as the essential nature of limited beings is those Guardians' self-nature, so why don't I show (them the same) respect?

So the conclusion of that:

(VIII.113) (So,) having understood the faultiness of (cherishing) myself and the oceans of advantages of (cherishing) others, I shall meditate on discarding my way of taking a "me," and extend it to others.

In other words, don’t just think in terms of “me,” and “I’m only going to take care of ‘me’” in terms of this limited self, but extend it – with this understanding of the equality of everybody – to others and take care of them as well.

We find a similar sentiment in Dharmarakshita’s Mahayana Mind Training, The Wheel of Sharp Weapons, in verse eight and the beginning of verse nine:

(8) All of our sufferings derive from our habits of selfish delusions we heed and act out. As all of us share in this tragic misfortune, which stems from our narrow and self-centered ways, we must take all our sufferings and the miseries of others and smother our wishes of selfish concern.
(9a) Should the impulse arise now to seek our own pleasure, we must turn it aside to please others instead;

And this also gets into the second interpretation of the verse, which is consider ourselves the lowest of all and the others as higher – this is understood as being a servant of others and serving them. And so Shantideva says:

(III.18) May I be…a servant for every embodied being who would want a servant.

And so, there’s a lot of that, I don’t have all of the quotes here, but how I’m going to use this body to serve others and to help others, Shantideva says that quite a lot as well. And so in this sense, see ourselves as the lowest and the others as supreme.

It’s not so easy to view oneself as a servant of humanity and the servant of all beings, that “I’m going to use all my talents, my body, and so on, to help others,” but this of course is what we do when we make these offerings. Remember, we were making the offerings of concentration, in which we offered all our practices and so on to help others. And in doing this, we need to be extremely humble. And so Atisha in The Bodhisattva Garland of Gems:

(3) Let me make my own failings be known and seek not mistakes in others. So, let me keep my own good qualities hidden and make the good qualities of others be known.

In other words, think less of ourselves. If we have faults, let that be known, don’t hide it. Don’t speak about the faults of others, and keep our own good qualities hidden in a humble way, and speak more of the good qualities of others.

Atisha goes on:

(6) Let me overcome rage and pride and come to have an attitude of humility.

(14) While still acting always negatively and parted from joy, when a feeling of superiority arises about anything, let me cut off my pride and remember my sublime teacher’s guideline instructions.

So when we’re feeling very proud about things, and want to work only for ourselves, then remember the guideline instructions, how samsara goes up and down – we go from a higher position to a lower position, and back again – and the teachings on death and impermanence. And so these help us to overcome our pride and arrogance, which is very often behind the self-cherishing, and allows us to have the humility to be able to serve the world.

So, just one last quote for this verse. Langri Tangpa himself, the author of this text has said:

Whenever I read a Mahayana scripture I have a strong realization that all the faults described are my own and all the good qualities are others.

That’s a very, very good piece of advice. Because often we think the other way around, don’t we? We read about faults and disturbing emotions and things, we say, “Ah, this friend of mine and that friend of mine has them.” He says, think of them all in terms of myself, how I have these faults. And when it talks about good qualities, rather than thinking in terms of “Oh, I’m so great; I have this and that,” think of the good qualities of others – our teachers and others that we know. And this helps us very much to overcome the self-cherishing and to cherish others more than we do ourselves. That finishes this verse.

I forgot which Kadampa Geshe said it, but he said when we study the Dharma, don’t have the mirror of the Dharma facing out; have the mirror of the Dharma facing in, to look at ourselves in terms of the shortcomings and the mistakes and so on, not just face it out, look in. But again, not to just reaffirm our low self-esteem, but to give us some realistic idea of what we need to work on. So it always has to be tempered by the understanding of Buddha-nature, especially for us Westerners.