Practices for Uncommon Equanimity from Deepest View

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We are going through the stages of meditation leading up to the development of bodhichitta. And we have gone through the process for developing mere equanimity, and we’re working through the nine stages for developing the uncommon Mahayana type of equanimity. The first type of equanimity was the mere equanimity with which we are free of attachment, repulsion, or indifference toward others, and that’s developed in common with Hinayana. And what we’re working on now is the Mahayana form, which, in addition to the mere equanimity, is free of the attitude of being close to some or far from others when we’re actually going to help them. We’ve worked through already six of the nine points, which are explained from the relative point of view (three from self and three from others’ point of view), and now we are up to the three points from the deepest point of view.

From the Viewpoint of Buddha-Nature, No One Is Truly Established as Close or Distant

The first is that we think now, because of our confusion, that someone who helps us is close to us and someone who harms us is more distant, and so the first we consider a truly established friend and the other as truly established or truly existent enemy. But if that were so, then the Buddha himself would also have seen others in these categories; but, as is cited in a text by the great Indian master Dharmakirti, Buddha is the same toward someone who is applying scented water and massaging him on one side of his body and someone, on the other side, is chopping away at his body with a sword. In other words, if we look from the point of view of valid mental labeling, then the type of mind that has the most valid labeling of course would be that of a fully enlightened Buddha. And a Buddha would be focusing on the Buddha-nature factors of everyone’s mental continuum and, on the basis of the Buddha-nature factors, would impute the not-yet-happening enlightenment of everyone.

So a Buddha sees that everyone has the potential ability to become a Buddha. No one’s mental continuum is stained in its nature by the disturbing emotions, or any type of behavior conditioned by those disturbing emotions. And so a Buddha wouldn’t label somebody simply on their behavior right now and label them as truly existently established in that way – as being “friend” or “enemy” – although at the moment they might be acting in one or the other way. But in seeing everybody equally as being able to achieve enlightenment, Buddha’s also seeing and focusing on the voidness of each person and their enlightenment that they’ve not yet attained. So if we have a broad enough basis for labeling and an understanding of voidness, then we wouldn’t label anyone as “close” or “far,” but see everyone as equal. So that’s this point, and again we can try to think about this, try to see and focus on how our way of viewing others might be mixed withconfusion; but the way that a Buddha sees others is not like that – a Buddha works to help everyone equally.

What is also relevant here, with this point, is the way that His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains and the way that he acts: he always emphasizes that we should not label and regard others in terms of their behavior but, rather, we need to label and regard them in terms of the fact that they are talking about people, they are human beings and they all want to be happy and don’t want to be unhappy. And on that basis, as we had in our earlier points in this meditation, they all have the same right to be happy and not to be unhappy. And so, although we would not necessarily approve and be tolerant of destructive behavior that others do – we might try to stop that or prevent them from continuing destructive behavior – nevertheless, the basis for our compassion and helping them is not that they have been nice to us but, rather, that they are simply a human being who wants to be happy and not to be unhappy. And so, like this, although His Holiness certainly tries to create a situation in which the Chinese government stops its oppression in Tibet, nevertheless His Holiness maintains equal love and compassion for the Chinese and their leadership as he does for absolutely everybody else. As he says, they are also human beings and want to be happy and not to be unhappy, and have the same right to that as everybody else. A very good example.

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From the Viewpoint of Impermanence, No One Is Truly Established as Close or Distant

Then the second point is that if limited beings were established as truly existing in the categories of “friend” and “enemy,” or “close” and “far,” then they would have to be forever in that category. But we observe that people’s behavior changes and, with almost everybody, sometimes they are nice to us, sometimes they are cruel and hurt us, even if it might not be intentional. And so no one is truly established from their own side as permanently in one category or another, close or far, friend or enemy. Again, we focus on that.

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From the Viewpoint of Relativity, No One Is Truly Established as Close or Distant

Then the third point here is that near and far are relative and depend on each other – they are labeled relative to each other. So if there are two mountains facing each other and a valley in-between, if we look from one mountain to the other, the one where we are is the near mountain and the other one is the far mountain; but if we look from the point of view of that other mountain, then that mountain is the near mountain and the first one is the far mountain. And so this is the same in terms of different people or beings, and also with respect to self and others. From our point of view, I am “self” and the other person is “other”; and from their point of view they are “self” and we are “other.” And so “near” and “far,” “self” and “other” are labeled relative to each other and relative to the point of view of its labeling. Nothing or no one is established from its own side as “near” or “far,” or “self” or “other” – they’re all relative. So, again, we view others from this point of view.

Everybody regards themself as “self” and all the others as “other,” so is there only one truly established true “self” and everybody else is “other” – or is it relative? “All the others are wrong, and I’m the only one that is ‘self.’” This is obviously absurd.

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Equalizing Others and Ourselves

In this last point, should we think about near and far, or about me and others? Should we consider both or only one?

Well actually in equalizing and exchanging self with others, the step known as equalizing can be understood in two ways. One is: self and others are equal, and this is emphasized in Shantideva’s presentation of this material in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. And the other is that, in terms of others, everybody is equal. If we don’t speak just in terms of self being equal to others, the other aspect of equalizing is to equalize just among others that they are all equal. So, many of these points that are given here in this particular practice could be applied to both types of equalizing our attitude. Although the way that I learned these – I was taught by my teacher who was emphasizing the equality of everyone; that’s why it was called the “distinguished Mahayana” form of equanimity. But here, especially in this last point, we could see how this (and many of the other points as well) could be applied to both – two aspects of equalizing: self and others; or within others, all others.

So for instance, in terms of “everybody wants to be happy, nobody wants to be unhappy” etc., those three points certainly apply to self and other, as well as all others. And here, in terms of the deepest point of view, we have a different body in each lifetime and so we regard as “self” not just this body, but other bodies as well – Shantideva points that out – so which body is truly “self” and which body is “other” is not truly established or permanently established. And Buddha would certainly see that everybody regards themselves as “self,” not just us and others; and others [and we] are equal in regarding ourselves as “self.” So all of these last three points could be applied to both types of equalizing our attitude: self and other, and within all others. And within the three points from our own point of view, also the third of those, in terms of death – that death could come at any time to ourselves or to others – we and others are equal in that, and everybody among themselves are equal in that. So that applies to both kinds of equalizing.

But it’s the first two points out of these nine that are a little bit more difficult to apply to both types of equalizing. Everybody has been my mother, it’s just a matter of time – of when they were my mother. I suppose one could look at it from the point of view of: I have been everybody’s mother as well; it’s just a matter of when. And the second one, though, that the amount of help that they’ve given to me outweighs the harm they might have done – in other words, that everyone has been equally kind to me – I suppose we could look at it from the point of view of: I’ve been equally kind to everybody. But these first two points, trying to take them in terms of self and others is really forcing it a little bit. So I must say if we look at this method of equalizing our attitude, it seems to be a little bit mixed in terms of the two types of equalizing our attitude.

I think a lot of these points here, especially this last one – suggests many other ways in which we can understand the relativity of position of close, far, self, other. It suggests many more ways of meditating on it, in terms of relativity. If you look around and observe people (and animals, as well), to each person somebody is very dear and very close. So here in our group we have a husband and wife, and so perhaps each of them look at each other as the most dear and close person, that that person is dear and close to their marriage partner; whereas from our point of view, they might be a stranger – we might never have met them. So each person that we meet, or even each animal, most of them have been loved by their mother – maybe some were abused by their mother, or eaten by their mother in the case of spiders – and some others have viewed that same person in a different way. You might not have liked that person. Not everybody even liked the Buddha. So this also is a clear indication that the position of close, far, dear, and so on, is relative. Okay? If your mother could love you, why can’t I? That’s an interesting thought.

Questions about Developing Equanimity

When we meditate on equanimity and we need to take three types of persons – persons to whom we have positive feelings, negative feelings, then to whom we have neutral feelings – is it appropriate to use our teachers, our spiritual teachers, when we are dealing with the first category: people to whom we feel attraction or positive feelings?

Well that’s usually not recommended. But if we have attachment and clinging to the teacher, that’s a disturbing emotion and so it indicates not the proper type of relation with a spiritual teacher. It can lead to jealousy when the teacher is with someone else or elsewhere, not in our city, and even anger at the teacher for not being available to me all the time. And rather than listening purely to what the teacher teaches, we might have more worldly desires. We want to be praised; we want to be liked by the teacher. We might even have sexual desires toward the teacher, and so these are certainly things we would want to eliminate. But if we are going to be attached to somebody, it is certainly more beneficial to be attached to the teacher rather than attached to someone with lesser qualities, that’s true. But in this equanimity meditation it’s probably best not to choose the teacher; otherwise it can get a little bit complicated.

When we talk about the different types of confidence or belief in a teacher, there is one type which is called, I think, “clear-minded” or “clear-hearted belief” (I forget how I translate it). It’s the type of belief in which we believe that it really is a fact that the teacher has all these positive qualities; and as a result of being fully convinced of this, believing that this fact is true, it clears our mind of all disturbing emotions toward the teacher. So we no longer have doubts about it, and we are confident that the teacher will take care of us and guide us, so we don’t have to cling and demand more and more and more, or be upset if they are with somebody else. So if we put this in ordinary language, it’s the type of confidence with which we, as a result, feel secure in the relationship. When we’re insecure in the relationship, then we have all these disturbing emotions associated with it. If the teacher does in fact have all these good qualities, the teacher is never going to abandon me or neglect me.

How, technically, should we practice this meditation? Should we set some period of time when we do these meditations?

Well it is always highly recommended to have a daily meditation practice, and this helps us to maintain continuity in our practice. If we have a commitment to practice each day, it helps us to develop perseverance and patience, because of course the nature of samsara is that it goes up and down, so sometimes our meditation will go better and other times it will go worse. Sometimes we feel like meditating, sometimes we don’t, but nevertheless we do it anyway because we’re doing it every day. And it’s important not to make it too long, especially in the beginning. The meditation should not be an ordeal in which we feel uneasy because we don’t have enough time and we can’t wait until it’s over because I have other things I need to do. We need to be flexible so that sometimes it can be longer, sometimes it can be shorter, but at least we do something each day. That’s why it’s very helpful to set a very small basic minimum of what we’ll do each day, not something which is a large minimum.

And in terms of these bodhichitta meditations, what’s always recommended is that we have a preliminary aspect in our meditation. And “preliminary” is probably not a very good word, “preparation” is better; like if we’re about to go on a journey, you need to prepare to go on the journey. If you call that my “preliminary” things that I do before I go on the journey, we don’t really understand the necessity. But if we look at it as a preparation, well of course you have to prepare. So what we normally translate as the “preliminary practices” are really “preparatory practices.” We are preparing the positive force, and preparing (diminishing) the negative potentials, so that we’ll have more success on the journey (the main part of the practice).

And so as a preparation, we always start with quieting down, motivation, then refuge and safe direction, and the more general bodhichitta motivation – in general, without going through all the specifics. And then the seven-part practice, which we get in Shantideva’s text very nicely, which is prostration; offerings; openly admitting our shortcomings and mistakes (that we very much regret) and applying the opponents; rejoicing in the positive things that others and we ourselves have done; requesting the teachers to teach; requesting them not to pass away, but to continue teaching; and then dedication. And then we are in the proper state of mind for going into one or another of these bodhichitta meditations. So we can focus on one aspect in a particular session, but with some sort of review so we have an idea of where it fits into the path, and then a final dedication.

All of that could be done easily within five minutes or ten minutes. It doesn’t have to be an hour doing that. The important thing is to actually generate some sort of feeling with each step. What we’re aiming for is to be able to generate these things instantly, not slowly, when death comes, as we have in so many of our death meditations. Death doesn’t wait for us to get in the proper seating position and to light some incense and light a candle and do things very slowly. If you die – like my very close friend Alan died earlier this year of a massive heart attack and just dropped dead in the shower – then perhaps you have only a few seconds to be able to get your mind in the proper state for dying, and then it’s over. As it says in the text: death doesn’t wait.

And so that’s what we’re aiming to do, to just generate these states of mind. So although in the beginning it might take us longer to generate these states of mind, don’t get into the habit of having to do them slowly. Aim to be able to generate them more and more quickly without losing the sincerity. This is very important, not only in terms of death, but in terms of our encounters with other people. When we need to be able to have patience, or perseverance, or being more generous in our time and so on, with others, we need to be able to do that instantly, not say, “Hey, wait a minute” and then we go through this whole meditation process. That’s especially important in terms of overcoming getting angry or getting jealous or any sort of disturbing emotion coming up in the interaction. We need to be able to counter it instantly as soon as we recognize it.

We probably could do this practice in our daily life in some real situations. For instance, when we use public transport and we have some time to do that, but probably we need some sort of mindfulness to do that. The question is what really do we need in order to use this practice in our daily life?

We need to have a great deal of familiarity with it so that we remember what the practice is. We don’t have to look up in our notes or anything like that. And mindfulness means to remember it and keep our attention like mental glue on it. So we need to have a motivation for that. We need to set a strong intention, before we set out in the morning, that we are going to try to do this. And at the end of the day, review what we have done. “Have I actually been able to do this practice during the day?” If so then we rejoice; and if we haven’t been able to practice it, or we forgot, or we were unsuccessful, then we feel regret about that and resolve that tomorrow we’re going to try better. So motivation and intention based on familiarity and remembering are the keys to help us to overcome the obstacles of laziness or forgetfulness.

When we have our nine points, when we’re doing the last three of them we don’t work with people to whom we have neutral feelings. But probably, with the first stages, we have to work with this sort of people. Is it true? And, if yes, why?

That is not necessarily true. The last points were in terms of: a Buddha wouldn’t regard anybody as a stranger. So a stranger would be included. Nobody is established from their own side, permanently, as a stranger; they could change and become somebody that we know and have a close relation with. And being a stranger is relative to the point of view: this person might be a stranger to me, but they’re not a stranger to their parents, or their partner, or to their dog. So a stranger is relative to the relationship of the person that’s labeling them as that. So, although we might not have mentioned a stranger explicitly in connection with the last three points, it certainly covers strangers as well – toward whom we would feel indifference and ignore.

When we speak in terms of others, we want to avoid partiality of some being close and some being distant, then in that distant category we would include probably both strangers and those we dislike. It’s hard to say. Do we consider a stranger closer than somebody that we dislike? We might know that person that we dislike very, very well. Usually that’s the case.