We have been going through one of the methods for generating bodhichitta, which is an expansion of the meditations on equalizing and exchanging our attitudes about self and others. It derives from the teachings of Shantideva in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (Skt. Bodhicharyavatara) and the teachings of the various Kadam masters, and also the commentaries and explanations from the Lama Chopa (The Guru Puja); “guru puja” means an offering ceremony to the spiritual teachers or the spiritual masters. This practice has been put together by the late Junior Tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Trijang Rinpoche.
We have gone through the meditations for developing the mere equanimity, which is in common shared between the Hinayana and Mahayana tradition, and which is the basis for both this method for developing bodhichitta as well as the seven-part cause and effect method which deals with recognizing everybody as having been our mother in a previous lifetime. Then, we’ve gone through the nine rounds or nine steps for generating the uncommon Mahayana form of equanimity, and this is specifically directed at eliminating any feelings of partisanship of near or far, in terms of the quality of everyone that we are helping. We saw that many points in that presentation could also be applied to seeing the quality of ourselves and all others. We added in here the points that Shantideva himself makes in terms of helping us to develop this understanding of the equality of ourselves and all others.
Making the Decision to Stop Being Partisan
Now, we go on with five decisions from having thought about these nine points of this uncommon Mahayana type of equanimity. Each of the five is correlated with a verse from The Guru Puja. The first decision is, “I shall stop being partisan.” In terms of this, whether we look from the relative point of view or the deepest point of view, there’s no reason to consider some beings as close and others as far. So, we make the firm decision that we shall stop being partisan. We shall rid ourselves of feelings of partiality with which we reject some and welcome others, because if we have this partisan point of view, it certainly causes problems; whereas regarding everyone as equal is the road that the Buddhas have followed.
If we look at the verse from The Guru Puja that’s associated with this practice, then what we find in the verse is that it’s referring to equalizing self and others, rather than looking at the equality of all others. If we are looking at just us, ourselves, then that’s another way of understanding being partisan, whereas if we develop a non-partisan attitude, then we are working for the benefit of everyone, which would include ourselves. Like if we are in some sort of disaster, if we think of an environmental disaster, it’s not just “my” problem, it’s everybody’s problem, and we are part of everybody.
The verse from The Guru Puja reads:
(90) Inspire us to increase others’ comfort and joy, by thinking that others and we are no different: no one wishes even the slightest suffering, nor is ever content with the happiness he or she has.
When we say “inspire us,” that is addressed to the guru, Buddhas, bodhisattvas, etc. Often that’s translated as “bless me” or “bless us,” and that I find is an inappropriate translation. With this, we ask for inspiration from the spiritual teachers to have an equal attitude toward everyone, without any feelings of close or far in our thoughts or actions, with respect to bringing about the happiness of others and eliminating their suffering. We see that we and others are equal in this, so no feeling of close (just me) and far (meaning all others), and no feelings of close or far among all the others that we are trying to help. The type of state of mind that we generate with this decision, Serkong Rinpoche gave an analogy for that, which is when we see some really beautiful item in a store that we would really like and really need, and we make the firm decision to buy it – so that state of mind with that firm decision that we’re going to get this – is the type of attitude that we try to generate and focus on here; that’s the decision to develop and maintain this equal attitude concerning us and others, and all others within themselves.
That decision is based on many reasons, so let’s look at some of them, such as we are all equal in wanting to be happy and not wanting to be unhappy. We remind ourselves of that, and then come to the firm decision not to favor anyone over anyone else, and then we focus on it. We can do that while looking at a whole group of people, such as the people here in this room or the people in the metro station when we take public transportation, whatever. We will not have any favorites, in terms of all these people and trying to help them, and they are all the same as us; we are the same as them.
What is also helpful, we don’t have it here, but if we have a large mirror, like we might have in an exercise room or a dance practice room, then if we are in a group of people in a meditation course, to sit facing that mirror so that we see the whole group of people (including ourselves) in the mirror, and this makes it easier to focus on the equality of “everybody including myself.” That’s actually a very powerful practice because normally we don’t really visualize ourselves when we are with others, so it’s easy to forget that we are like everybody else, just like another sheep in a herd of sheep in which, when we look at the herd, they all seem to look alike, or a big flock of penguins.
Let’s try to do that.
Points that Shantideva Makes to Fortify the Decision Not to Have Favorites
If we want to add in here some of the ways in which Shantideva has explained how we equalize our attitude about self and others, Shantideva wrote:
(VIII.90) First, I shall meditate strongly on the equality of myself and others (in this way): as everyone's a fellow being, having happiness and pain, (others) are to be cared for (by me) in the same way as I am.
He says the pain of others is due to their clinging to a false “me” – the “me” that they think is truly established – and the same is true of our suffering and pain. It’s due to our clinging and grasping to a solidly existent “me,” so this is to be equally eliminated by us because there is no difference. In terms of this false “me,” it is equally nonexistent in terms of everybody, and so there’s no difference in terms of the suffering that is generated by this false view of me. He says that it’s equally unbearable, the suffering that’s generated by anybody in terms of clinging to a false “me,” because it’s based on the same type of confusion, or unawareness, or ignorance (just not knowing).
(VIII.92) Although my own pain doesn't hurt the bodies of others, yet being, like that, the pain of a "me," it's unbearable, because of clinging to a "me."
(VIII.93) Likewise, though the pain of others doesn't befall me, yet being, like that, the pain of a "me," it's (also) difficult to bear, because of clinging to a "me."
(VIII.94) Thus, the pain of others is something to be eliminated by me, because of its (nature as) pain, like the pain of a "me;" and others are beings to be helped by me, because of their (natures as) limited beings, like the body of a "me."
So, we can look at others. We can do this as a meditation in terms of “everybody has that same type of confusion, just as I do.” This is the basic problem that everybody faces – it’s this unawareness or confusion about how we exist. It’s not “my” private problem, and it’s not “your” private problem; it’s everybody’s problem. The suffering that is generated by this is something that is terrible and has to be eliminated regardless of who’s experiencing it, me or others. He’s saying that ignorance has to be eliminated throughout the world, not just “my” ignorance, but ignorance in general, and not just “your” ignorance.
By the way, the fact that I’m adding into this meditation that I received from Serkong Rinpoche further points that are made by Shantideva is not an unusual method. The way that His Holiness the Dalai Lama usually teaches is that he teaches several texts at the same time, and he fills in parts from one text into sections of another text where more elaboration is found in the second text. This is not the fault of “making up the Dharma,” but it’s following a teaching method of putting together material from different texts that are all coming from the same harmonious tradition.
The next verse that Shantideva has in his presentation is emphasizing that there’s nothing special about my happiness or my suffering, so why focus only on mine? That’s very true. What’s so special about my headache that makes it more horrible than your headache? Or my happiness or your happiness? There’s nothing special about me.
(VIII.95) When happiness is something equally liked, both by myself and others, what's so special about me that I strive after happiness for myself alone?
(VIII.96) And when suffering is something equally disliked, both by myself and others, what's so special about me that I take care of myself and not others?
This “nothing special” aspect is very helpful; it is the favorite phrase of the young reincarnation of Serkong Rinpoche, “it’s nothing special.” We can focus again now on nothing special about our suffering or our happiness that makes it proper to work only for getting rid of our suffering and bringing about our own happiness. Your happiness and your suffering are as equally important as mine, nothing special. That also is true in terms of equalizing everybody; nobody among everybody is special. We see that very well in how His Holiness the Dalai Lama treats people. In a sense, he makes everybody feel special, in the context of nobody is more special than others.
This point ties in with the previous point that Shantideva makes. If we say that our suffering and happiness is special because it’s “mine,” then actually everybody considers their suffering and their happiness special because they also consider it “mine,” so what is the difference? There is no difference. That’s not a valid reason that it’s special because it’s “mine,” because that’s everybody’s reason. It’s very true, isn’t it?
We can put our attention on others’ suffering, but we can’t get it in the same way as our suffering.
Well, this is covered by further verses in Shantideva’s presentation. Shantideva deals with all of these objections very nicely. He says that we form a whole with everybody, like the hand and the foot form a whole body. A whole can be imputed on our entire body, and likewise, it can be imputed on the basis of all sentient beings, and we are part of that whole as well.
(VIII.91) Just as, despite its many parts, with divisions into hands and so on, the body's to be cared for as a whole; similarly, despite the differences among wandering beings, yet in regard to happiness and pain, they're all equal to myself in wishing to be happy, and (thus form) a whole.
His Holiness often uses as an example, if we are only concerned with our own problems, that’s one level; it’s valid that we have our own individual problems, but he says we’re also part of a larger whole, the whole of Tibetans; therefore, it is proper for us to be concerned about the suffering of Tibetans because we are one of them, we are part of that whole. We are part of all the life on this planet, and we all face a larger problem of environmental and climate disaster, and so it’s not just our individual problem, it’s a problem that encompasses everybody, because we are part of all of this life on this planet.
In dealing with these larger problems that encompass larger groups, it’s totally appropriate because we form a whole, and the whole experiences that problem. In dealing with these larger problems, like in the case of Tibetans or in the case of life on this planet, we are not just dealing with our own problem, but it’s everybody’s problem. As Shantideva says, if the foot has a problem – like a thorn in the foot – then, of course, the hand helps the foot. The hand doesn’t say, “Well, sorry, that’s your problem. I’m fine up here.” Of course, the hand helps the foot, because they are both part of the whole. It’s the same in terms of our being part of the larger group of the whole, all limited beings.
(VIII.99) If whatever suffering anyone has must be taken care of by that one himself, then since the foot's suffering is not the hand's, why is that to be taken care of by it?
(VIII.100) If it's the case that (ignoring) it would be illogical and so here it's undertaken from a sense of a (whole) self; well then, surely what's illogical regarding (the whole formed by) myself and others is something to be dismissed, as much as I can.
Let’s focus on that.
Since everyone has his or her individual mind-stream, how can I really say that everyone is equal?
Everyone is equal in the sense that we are all parts of a whole, that even a mental continuum is imputed on its parts of each moment, and a group of individual mental continuums: we can impute on it a whole, a whole group. Shantideva has a verse in this sequence that says a rosary and an army are not truly established from their own side, that they are wholes that are imputed on parts. There’s nothing inappropriate in terms of labeling larger and larger groups as wholes. Although our individual mental continuum conventionally has individuality, nevertheless, it is not just truly established as an individual thing totally isolated from everybody else.
(VIII.101) What are called "a continuum" and "a group," such as a rosary, an army, and the like, are not truly (a findable whole), and so, since a possessor of suffering doesn't exist, whose responsibility is it (as "mine")?
Also, if I might add something here – sorry for the interjection – but looking at your age, you undoubtedly experienced the life under the Soviet system in which you were forced to think in terms of collectives. So you are part of a collective, and if you are forced to be part of a collective and to think of a collective, and not of your individual need, then obviously you can’t force this on others; people will rebel and reject it. It’s very understandable that those who have experienced being forced to think with a collective mentality would object to this point here. However, if we think about it logically and reasonably according to these proper lines of reasoning that we find in Shantideva’s material, then we are thinking in terms of a larger sense of social responsibility based on our own choice and our own understanding, not something that’s just being forced on us. But one can understand very well in the case of the experience of countries under a forced collective system like Russia, like China, etc., that this would be problematic.
I think in terms of larger groups, like collectives, there are artificially designated groups and those that are naturally designated. I’m thinking in terms of if there is prejudice and discrimination because of the color of skin. For instance, in South Africa during the apartheid under which those with black skin were not allowed to ride on the same buses as white people, or use the same toilets, or use the same beaches and so on, or even schools, go to the same schools. We had many of these aspects in the southern part of the United States; blacks had to sit in the back of a bus and couldn’t sit in the front of a bus. Then, if the color of our skin was black, that problem affected us whether we liked it or not. So, that’s not an artificially designated group; that’s a naturally designated group that we are naturally part of. I think in that type of situation, it is much easier to think in terms of working for the problem of all black people, especially if we are black – or women’s rights, if women are discriminated [against]. In some countries, women are not allowed to drive a car; they are not allowed to go outside without having their face covered. Then if we’re a woman, we’re part of that; that’s our problem too, so that’s a naturally designated group. I think in dealing with this point from Shantideva, it’s best to think in terms of naturally designated groups or wholes, rather than artificially designated collectives that are made by an authoritarian government.
The next point Shantideva makes, in a very lovely verse, is that he says:
(VIII.102) In their being without an owner, all sufferings lack a distinction: so it's (simply) because they're suffering that they're to be averted. Why are there fixed (limitations) made here?
If we think in terms of a whole, of all of life, then the suffering that we all experience, in fact, does not have an individual owner. It’s to be eliminated simply because it hurts.
A very trivial example that I think of is in the hallway of the building that I live in there is a bin for trash. But sometimes you find paper on the floor and that paper needs to be picked up, not because it’s my paper or your paper that dropped, it just needs to be picked up simply because it’s on the floor. Therefore, without making a big problem about who dropped it, if I walk into the building and I see something on the floor like that, I just pick it up and put it in the trash can simply because it needs to be picked up.
Let’s think in terms of that. The problem of the environment is not my problem, and it’s not your problem – nobody is the owner of that problem – it needs to be eliminated, simply because it is damaging to everyone.
The next point that Shantideva makes is a logical line of reasoning to demonstrate that everybody’s suffering is to be averted, in other words, to be turned back, to be gotten rid of. It says:
(VIII.103) "But why is the suffering of everyone to be averted?" Well, it's indisputable: if (anyone's) is to be averted, then everyone's is to be averted; if not, (that applies) to me as well, just like to (every other) limited being.
We could say this slightly differently: “If there’s one person whose suffering is not to be eliminated, then no one’s is to be eliminated, including my own.”
Do you follow that line of reasoning? That’s not so easy. If one person’s suffering is to be eliminated, then everybody’s suffering is to be eliminated, because we’re all equal; because if that were not the case then, otherwise, if one person’s is not to be eliminated then nobody’s is to be eliminated, because also we’re all equal. Try to work with that. If our suffering is something that should be eliminated, then everybody’s suffering should be eliminated; because if everybody’s suffering is not to be eliminated, then our suffering is not to be eliminated either. That’s perhaps a clearer way of stating the line of reasoning.
That, by the way, is based on the understanding of the part and the whole that Shantideva just established. If the suffering of a part is to be eliminated, then the suffering of the whole is to be eliminated. Otherwise, if the suffering of the whole is not to be eliminated, the suffering of a part is not to be eliminated, especially when that part is the individual “me.”
Then, Shantideva presents verses that are similar to the first decision here in our meditation practice, that we definitely shall stop being partisan, whether we think in terms of partiality when dealing with others – that some are close and some are far – or we take “close” as being just me and “far” as being everybody else. So Shantideva says:
(VIII.105) If the suffering of many disappears through the suffering of one, that suffering would be something that someone with loving compassion would bring on, for the sake of himself and others.
As we find in other bodhichitta teachings: We’re only one, and everybody is much more than just one. And Shantideva says:
(VIII.109) Thus, even though working for the benefit of others, there's no conceit; there's no amazement; there's no hoping for a ripened result (for oneself), when it's with an appetite exclusively for what benefits others.
Shantideva also gives an example:
(VIII.116) Even though working, like that, for the benefit of others, amazement or conceit doesn't arise: it's like the hope for a reward doesn't arise from feeding food to myself.
Like, for instance, it’s absurd for the hand to feel, “how wonderful I am if it helps the foot by taking out a thorn,” or “how wonderful I am for feeding my body for putting food in the mouth.”
That fits in very well with “suffering is to be eliminated simply because it hurts,” not because it’s your suffering or my suffering, and not because we’re the wonderful one that eliminated it, or you eliminated it. In my hall, I don’t put up a sign: “This paper that was on the floor was cleaned up by….” and I sign my name; I certainly don’t do that as that would be silly. I don’t expect that everybody’s going to thank me. I just pick it up because it needs to be picked up.
I think this is a very important point, that we help simply because it needs to be done. My own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, was very helpful in helping me to understand this. I served him as translator, secretary and helper in many ways for nine years, and in all that time, he only said “thank you” to me twice. The whole point was that I helped him and did everything possible to make his teachings available to others simply because it was of benefit and needed to be done, and not because I wanted to be thanked and patted on the head like a dog, and then I wag my tail. It was very helpful.
Shantideva goes on:
(VIII.114) Just as the hand and so on are held dear through their being the limbs of the body, why couldn't beings having a body be similarly held dear through their being limbs of wandering life?
In other words, the hand is considered dear and precious since it’s a part of the body that’s labeled as “me” and “mine.” We label our hand as “me.” If we hurt our hand, we say, “I hurt myself,” but the hand is obviously not “me.” If we take care of the hand as if it were “me,” even though it’s not “me,” then we can take care of somebody else’s hand as well because it also isn’t “me.” We can take care of it the same as we would take care of our hand; we could consider it “me.” This is to help us to see how we could regard and take care of others the same way as we take care of ourselves. Their body is not “me,” but then again, our body is not “me” either.
Then, Shantideva concludes:
(VIII.115) Just as, out of familiarity, an attitude of "me" has come about with respect to this body (of mine), despite its lacking a "me," likewise, out of familiarity, why couldn't an attitude of "me" arise with respect to other limited beings as well?
You said that when our hand takes out a thorn from our foot, it is natural, and that’s true. It is natural, because there is a body and our mind-stream on which we label our “me;” and so this “me” experiences pain, and that is why our hand will not think that it shouldn’t help the foot. But if we will continue this analogy and look at the situation with the parts and the whole when we have us as a people who are parts of the living world, what is the case then?
First of all, in Buddhism, we never assert a universal mind that we’re all part of, and so we all have individual mental continuums, that’s true. But in terms of “experiencing,” if we ask what it means to experience something, it doesn’t mean just to register data or information, because a computer does that as well, or to record it, and then to be able to bring it back up, a computer does that as well. A computer does not experience the data. To “experience” something means to be conscious of it with some level of feeling of happiness or unhappiness. That happiness or unhappiness with which we experience or cognize a piece of information, whether it’s in one of the senses or just mental information, is the result of karma. It is defined – the feeling of happiness or unhappiness – the definition is “it’s the way in which we experience the ripening of our karma,” experience it with happiness or unhappiness. It is also what ripens from karma. We encounter some type of sensory information, of seeing something, or pain, that’s a physical sensation, and that is also coming from karma, but that comes together with a feeling of happiness or unhappiness which would ripen actually from a different karmic tendency, usually a potential.
The point is, can we experience the unhappiness in terms of someone else’s pain? This is something which we can, but Shantideva has a number of different verses in which he treats this topic. We referred to that briefly before. He says that whether it’s our suffering – the suffering that we have – that’s a pain, or the pain of somebody else, it is a pain that arises because of a clinging to a “me,” and it’s to be removed because of the clinging to “me.” We want it removed. When we act in terms of that, we are acting in terms of a clinging to a truly established, truly existent “me,” which is a false “me” that doesn’t exist at all. In that sense, there’s no difference in terms of this false “me,” whether it’s a projection in terms of conventional “me” of ourselves or a conventional “me” of somebody else. Because of that, we would want to work to remove the pain and the unhappiness simply because it’s based on a false “me.”
Now, of course, we have the conventional “me” that does exist, but what is being labeled (namely, “me”) is not identical to the basis, and so the basis would be, as you said, the body, but “me” is not the body. Shantideva says that there’s the body and, even within this lifetime, the body of the baby and the body of the old man, or the old woman, is not the same body. If we can work to remove the unhappiness of all these different types of bodies during one lifetime – and then he brings in bodies of another lifetime as well – none of them are “me.” The pain that is in any of these bodies, we would work to eliminate. Then, we could also work to eliminate pain that is associated with any other body, and we could experience unhappiness in relation to that pain of a body that’s not “me.” In relation to the pain of any body, the body of anyone – either the body of a baby within our own mental continuum; the body as an old man or old woman; the body of a future life; the body of a past life; or the body in another, associated with another mental continuum. The hand doesn’t experience the pain of the foot, but they form a whole, and on the basis of the whole, we work to eliminate the pain. So, one part helps the other part of a whole, and “me” is labeled on the whole thing.
We can have a larger whole of all of humanity, or all of life, and although we don’t label “me” in the sense of a truly existent “me,” that we are everything – that’s more of a Hindu view – but nevertheless, we are part of this whole, and therefore, one part can help another part. There’s a difference between saying “I am a human” and “I am all of humanity,” or “I am a Tibetan” or “I am all Tibetans.” This is obviously a difficult topic, a difficult question, in terms of the false “me,” the conventional “me,” what it means to experience something, and so on.