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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > Developing Bodhichitta through Equalizing and Exchanging One’s Attitudes about Self and Others > Session Three: Developing Distinguished Mahayana Equanimity – The Fifth and Sixth Steps

Developing Bodhichitta through Equalizing and Exchanging One’s Attitudes about Self and Others

Alexander Berzin
Kostino, Russia, October 2009

Session Three: Developing Distinguished Mahayana Equanimity – The Fifth and Sixth Steps

Unedited Transcript
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We have been going through the nine points concerning how to develop the distinguished Mahayana equanimity. We’ve gone through the three points from the point of view of ourselves and we’ve started the three points from the viewpoint of others. We’ve covered the first of these – that everybody equally wants to be happy and nobody wants to be unhappy. 

The second point here is that everybody has an equal right to be happy. And we just had an example during our tea break, that if we have ten people (here we have fourteen people, fifteen people if I include myself), that we all equally would like tea. So we all equally have the right to have tea, and it’s not that only those that we like will get the tea and those that we don’t like or we don’t know won’t get the tea. That’s not fair. Another example that’s often used is if you have a group of ten children in school and you have milk and cookies to give to them, they all have an equal right to the milk and cookies, not just the ones that we find nice looking or the ones that are well behaved. 

So this is what is emphasized here. That even when we’re talking about just ordinary happiness, everybody wants it. And so if we have an opportunity to give, to bring happiness to others, even if it’s just the ordinary worldly type of happiness, it’s not fair to just give it to those that we like – like when giving out tea in the teachings to a whole group of people attending. So let’s focus on this. 


And the example would be as I just said: if we were serving tea, we had a big supply of tea, and we were serving it to the people in a group, let’s say at a teaching, that everybody has an equal right to get some tea. 


Okay. The next point is quite similar. Here we had that everybody was equal in their right to have happiness, and the next point is that everybody is equal in their right to be free of suffering. If there were ten sick people, they are all equal in wanting to overcome their sickness – or ten injured people – if we were a doctor. And so it’s not fair to just treat those who can pay more or those whom we like, but we need to help them all if we are able to. And the last patient in the day is as equal and deserving of our full attention as is the first patient of the day. So we focus on others with this understanding of how we need to treat them all equally, without regarding some as close and some as distant. 


These last two points I think are a little bit easier to relate to if we are a parent and have a number of children, not just one or two: all our children are equally deserving of our love and attention; and if they are sick and all need to be equally fed and all need to be equally taken care of when they’re sick, not just our favorites. Although of course there are some parents who among their children have favorites, we know how much resentment and problems that causes in the other children. And so that’s a good example to try to relate to, even if we don’t have many children, and is relevant if we are a teacher as well – it doesn’t have to be a Dharma teacher, a teacher in a regular school – that all the children are equally deserving of attention and help in their studies, and they’re all equally deserving of our sincerely answering their questions. 

Now of course these last two points raise some difficult ethical problems. What happens when we don’t have enough food or enough medicine to feed everybody? Or we are a doctor and there’s been a big disaster or a big accident and we’re faced with many people who are injured – who do we treat first? And this is a very, very difficult point. We have several things that are relevant here. First of all, in tantra practice when we are making offerings, which play a very large role in the tantra practices for many, many purposes, but if we just focus on this relevant point here: we imagine that all sorts of interferences are removed from the offerings – so that would be any faults in the offering, like it will cause an allergic reaction to someone. And then we purify them with our understanding of voidness, so we don’t have some strange ideas about it. And then we generate the offerings in a pure form, transformed into nectar, as it were, which means something that’s able to satisfy all the needs of others. And then what is relevant here is that we imagine it multiplying to a level at which it would never ever run out, so that we would never have any hesitation or stinginess or problem in terms of being able to give it to everyone. 

So that is the four-fold transformation that is done with offerings in any tantra ritual, and obviously this is an analogy for the process of becoming enlightened. We have to get rid of ordinary obstacles and interferences, gain the understanding of voidness, generate ourselves in a pure form, and then be able to give happiness – here we’re talking about the most pure joy – to everyone, of enlightenment (so that’s like the nectar), and being able to give it equally to everyone (it never runs out). So we have this type of practice with offerings, both on a more ordinary level, the level of giving ordinary things, and giving enlightenment. So that helps us with this full scope of being willing to give to everybody, because everybody has an equal right to happiness, pure happiness, and equal right to be free from their suffering. But who do we give to when we don’t have enough? That’s a real dilemma. 

In the practices that we also find in tantra of what’s called chod (gcod), which is the “cutting off” tradition, in which we cut off attachment to the body, to our body, and imagine cutting up our body and feeding it and using it for others. Which means basically to cut off any feeling of attachment to a false solid “me,” and not necessarily chopping up our own body to feed to others, but to offer ourselves to help others, service of others, without hesitation and attachment – like, “I don’t want to get my hands dirty, and this is too difficult work for me, or too dirty a type of work for me.” So it’s a very strong practice, not at all a beginner practice. Very, very advanced. But in these practices, we imagine different groups of guests that we invite, that we offer ourselves to. And there’s reference to this in lojong (blo-sbyong) as well – the attitude training or mind training practices – which is not tantra, so it’s not exclusive to tantra. There are those objects that are worthy of respect – so, the spiritual teachers, our parents – that’s the first group. And this is on the basis of that these are the ones that are able to – in the past, and now, and in the future – will be able to give the most benefit to not just to ourselves, but to others. Then we also have the objects who are the most needy – so, helping the sick, the poor, the disabled. And then giving to our enemies, the ones that we don’t like. 

And this gives us a little bit of a guideline. But also it’s difficult in terms of whom do we actually give to when we have limited resources, and there are no real fixed guidelines here. For instance, if we are a doctor and there’s been an accident and many people have been hurt, and among them our spiritual teacher has broken his arm, but there’s somebody else who is injured to the point where they could almost die – then in this situation, obviously, the person who is more in need gets treated before our teacher who just broke their arm. If it’s clear that this person is going to die, that there’s nothing that really we could do to help them, whereas there’s somebody that it’s possible that they would recover, then obviously then we would spend our efforts with the one that could recover. But when there are two that are equally badly injured, whom do we treat first? The one that we like, the one that is better looking, the one that can pay more? These obviously are not the proper considerations, but how do we decide? This is extremely difficult. 

I remember a television show in which there was a doctor faced with this moral dilemma. I mean it was a science fiction program, so the doctor was actually a hologram, a computer program, and the doctor was programmed to treat everyone equally. And there were two people who were equally badly injured, and both needed a very serious, difficult operation, otherwise they would die, and there was only time to perform one operation. And so if the doctor performed an operation on one, the other one would definitely die, and the doctor had to make a choice. And this doctor had a little bit of human personality qualities, and he chose the one that he had a closer friendship with, that he knew better. But then, after that, he had a malfunction in the computer program because it contradicted his basic programming, which is that he should be equal to everybody. But he was in a situation in which he couldn’t be equal to anybody. So how do you choose? Now obviously when we are an advanced bodhisattva, an arya bodhisattva (byang-sems ’phags-pa), someone who has had nonconceptual cognition (rtog-med shes-pa) of voidness, then as we progress through the ten bhumi levels of mind to becoming a Buddha, then we progressively are able to multiply our bodies into more and more forms that are able to help others simultaneously, and we can see the great necessity for being able to do that. And as a Buddha we’d be able to multiply ourselves infinitely, to be able to benefit everyone simultaneously. But before we have reached that level, where we can’t multiply ourselves, this is a very serious problem, not an easy one to solve. 

We see where we can be of most benefit, where there aren’t others who are helping so much in this area. But if we are alone, or if we only have enough vaccine for a certain number of people and not for everybody, then that’s, as I said, that’s really hard to decide. So in each situation we’d have to use our discriminating awareness (shes-rab), and there can be many, many factors that affect our decision. But unfortunately when it’s a matter of life or death, like in this example of the doctor having to operate on one of them, we can’t just hesitate – and in that case both would die – you have to at least try to help one. But if we experienced something like that, it certainly would motivate us to try to achieve these higher states of a bodhisattva, so that we could multiply ourselves. Now that’s very difficult, to really be convinced that it’s possible to multiply yourself; but if you think about things like the Internet, or even just some books, we are able through the Internet to benefit many, many people simultaneously, all over the world, without actually being able to multiply our bodies. I mean it’s going in that direction, in the direction of being able to multiply and benefit many people simultaneously, and perhaps it builds up karmic causes for being able actually to multiply our body. 

And so with that pleasant thought, let’s end our session. Thank you.