The Decisions to Stop Self-Cherishing & Cherish Others

The Decision That We Definitely Will Rid Ourselves of Self-Cherishing 

The second decision that we make is that we definitely shall rid ourselves of self-cherishing. This we do by thinking of the faults of having the self-cherishing attitude. The main emphasis here is that because of acting selfishly we commit all sorts of destructive actions. Shantideva explains this by referring to the self-cherishing attitude in terms of our attachment to and cherishing this body of ours. He says that because we are so attached to this body as “me” – we think of it as “me” – then we are afraid, in all sorts of situations, that we could hurt that body or people won’t find it attractive, etc., and so he says: 

(VIII.121) Because of sticky attachment to this body as "me," from even small situations for fear, fear arises. So who wouldn't reject, like a fear-inspiring foe, such a body (as "me")?

Then he says,

(VIII.122) (This) body, which, with the wish to remedy afflictions such as hunger, thirst, and the like, kills fowl, fish, and deer and hides by the road in ambush (to steal),
(VIII.123) And which, because of profit and shows of respect, would murder even its father and mother, and, by stealing the property of the Triple Gem, would burn in (a joyless realm of) unrelenting pain –
(VIII.124) What wise man would desire, protect, and venerate such a body (as "me")? Who wouldn't view it as a foe and not scorn it? 

This is very important to try to bring into our daily lives. As Geshe Chekawa says in his Seven Point Mind Training

When the environment and its dwellers are full of negative forces, transform adverse conditions into a path to enlightenment, by banishing one thing [my self-cherishing attitude] as (bearing) all blame and meditating with great kindness toward everyone.

In any situation in our ordinary lives, when there is a problem that arises, and we become so afraid and then have such an uneasy feeling, try to recognize that all of this discomfort and fear is coming because we’re thinking just about me, me, me. We’re thinking about what is this person going to think about me? Are they going to like me? We’re invited to a dinner, and we’re all worried about “Am I going to like the food?” We are impatient in a restaurant when the food doesn’t come on time, so we’re just thinking about me, me, me – not the people who are working in the kitchen and how busy they are. Any disagreement that we get into, we get so upset because we’re thinking about me, “I’m right!” When there’s a long line to buy anything or to get anything, we are so upset and impatient because we’re thinking about me, not everybody else in the line. 

We kill because we’re thinking about me. We don’t like this insect in the room, so we kill it – moving from that all the way up to murdering somebody else, a human. Even if the insect can’t harm us, like a harmless spider, we’re afraid of it because we’re thinking about me, me, me; we kill it because of thoughts about me. Then we steal things; we take things that are not given. “I want it for myself.” We commit adultery and all sorts of different types of sexual misbehavior because we’re thinking about me, our pleasure. We lie because of protecting me. We engage in idle chatter because we think that what we have to say is so important that we have to say it, so we will interrupt anybody. 

It is very important to be able to recognize when we are feeling uneasy in a situation and see that this is coming because of our self-cherishing attitude. And not just say that in our heads, but actually recognize it, where it is as part of our attitude, in terms of how we are acting, how we are feeling. We try to realize that if we don’t get rid of this selfishness and self-cherishing attitude inside us, there’s no way that we’ll ever be able to have happiness and peace of mind. So, we decide that we’re never going to let ourselves come under the influence of this self-cherishing attitude; we ask our spiritual mentors, spiritual teachers, to inspire us to do this, and that means to see within a fully qualified spiritual master their example of not being selfish and how they’re always thinking of others. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a very good example of that. We have this second verse, now, from The Guru Puja

(91) Inspire us to see that this chronic disease of self-cherishing is the cause giving rise to our unsought suffering, and thus, begrudging it as what is to blame, to destroy the monstrous demon of selfishness. 

Let us focus on that decision, which we come to based on thinking of all the disadvantages and problems that arise from self-cherishing. In our daily practice, we try to, as I say, recognize more and more subtle levels of that selfishness, that self-cherishing. The gross level, of course, would be to take the best piece of cake, or the best thing, when there’s food on the table for the whole family – and all the way up to more and more subtle aspects of selfishness. Always worrying about can we get the best seat at any event, so that we can see, and we’re all upset if we don’t get it. That’s all because of self-cherishing, isn’t it? 

I think in this meditation here, the important phrase is “monstrous demon of selfishness,” to see that our selfishness really is our worst enemy. 


Often, we put up a great deal of emotional resistance to recognizing this selfishness within us because it is quite ugly, and as we have here in the verse, it’s a monstrous demon. However, it really is important to try to admit our selfishness, not just recognize it, but admit that it is our biggest troublemaker, and more than that, to resolve that we’re going to try to get rid of it. We could not go to that step and just say, “Well, it’s a troublemaker,” and that’s all. 

Obviously, this selfishness is based on grasping for a false “me,” the solidly truly existent me, me, me, that “I have to have ‘my’ way.” We have to work jointly to get rid of the self-cherishing and selfishness on the one side, and the grasping for a truly established “me” on the other side. This requires joint work on the side of what’s known as method and wisdom. Now obviously, until we are very, very far advanced, we still are going to have this selfishness. Only when we become an arhat are we going to be completely free of grasping for a truly established “me,” but even an arhat has the disadvantage that he or she is not able to really help others fully, and that’s because of a more subtle form of self-cherishing with which they were aiming just to achieve their own liberation. We’re not talking here about a bodhisattva who, on the path to becoming a Buddha, achieves arhatship first, but we’re talking about an arhat that is characterized by thinking only of his or her welfare, in terms of gaining liberation. Although, of course, those who follow the Hinayana path also have a great deal of meditation on love and compassion, it’s not as though they are completely free of it. 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama says if we’re going to be selfish, at least be what he calls “intelligent selfish,” which is, out of self-interest, to work for our own liberation and enlightenment, to try to get the proper circumstances and so on. Of course, if we had a pure motivation, we would be trying to accumulate all the proper conditions and so on just to benefit others, but even if we’re doing that just to benefit ourselves, as part of benefiting others, that would be intelligent self-interest. 

Questions about Overcoming Self-Cherishing

My question is about killing insects. If a Colorado beetle is eating our potatoes, what to do? 

In terms of insects that are causing harm, whether they’re causing harm to the crops or causing harm to people – like malaria and mosquitoes, this type of thing – we try to use methods that will not kill them, especially if any such methods are available. Like, for instance, sleeping in a mosquito net, or when insects that bite and are difficult are in our room, to try to catch them in a cup and put a paper – you know, when they land on the window, put a paper underneath it and take it outside, rather than killing it. However, if there’s no way to actually avoid killing these insects, then, like the example of Buddha in a previous lifetime having to kill the oarsman who’s going to kill all the merchants on the ship, we try to have as pure a motivation as possible. In your case of the insects destroying the crop, then a purer motivation would be in order to be able to raise this food to feed others; our concern is for others, rather than the selfish motive of wanting to preserve our profits and be able to make money from this crop. Then, if we do have to exterminate the insects, to try to do it in a way which is the least cruel to them, with good wishes and prayers for their future lives, and fully accepting on ourselves the negative consequences that will come from killing, without being naive about karmic cause and effect. 

Shantideva has a verse like this:

(VIII.107) Those with mental continuums accustomed like this, and who (hold equally) dear quelling the sufferings of others, plunge themselves into even (a joyless realm of) unrelenting pain like a swan into a lotus pond.

In other words, a bodhisattva is willing to go to the worst hells in order to be able to benefit others. In fact, we have a secondary bodhisattva vow that if it’s necessary to commit a destructive action in order to benefit others, we must not hesitate; in a sense, we give the victory to the others (that we save them from some disaster), and we take the defeat on ourselves (the negative consequences), even if it means a rebirth in a lower realm. However, we know that the result of a karmic action, the heaviness of what ripens from it, will be influenced by the motivation. If our motivation is pure compassion, then the negative consequences, even of killing, will be less severe than if our motivation was just to save our profit from the crop. After killing the insects, we try to feel regret. We don’t feel happy about it, and have the wish that we don’t have to repeat this in the future, and bring in some counteracting forces like, as I was saying, prayers for the good rebirth of these insects. 

Two groups of people are waiting for my decision, and I know that any of my decisions will make one group happy and will cause suffering in the other group. What to do? This situation, for example, is that we’re speaking about employees and business administrative owners. Employees want to have a higher salary, and business owners want to have more profit. 

In this situation, we need to see, again, what is the motive of the business owners (to get more money) and what is the motive of the employees (to get more money), and we try to give in accordance with who has the greater need and what will be the result, and we try not to reward or encourage greed. I mean, this is very clear in terms of economic policies. For instance, if we lower taxes on the business owners with the hope that if they have more money, they will give higher salaries and will employ more people – which is one political philosophy – then we need to examine, based on past experience and trial, whether or not that actually is the case that these employers will give better salaries and hire more people, or does this just feed their greed so that they get more profit? If their motive is greed, or the greed of the stockholders of the company, then that’s not the best way to improve an economy. On the other hand, if we give a tax break to the employees rather than to the businesses, they might have a little bit more money (the employees), but then the employers might not have enough money to pay so many employees and might lay them off, dismiss them. Again, do the employees need more money to be able to feed themselves or, again, is it just out of greed to buy unnecessary things, inessential things, I should say. In other words, does it really stimulate your economy? 

These economic questions are extremely, extremely difficult because they’re based on a faulty premise, a faulty assumption. The whole system is based on a faulty assumption, because it’s based on the assumption that we measure the effectiveness of an economy in terms of how much progress we make each year; the assumption is that it has to grow every year, and if it doesn’t grow by a certain percentage, then that’s a disaster. It’s never based on the idea of enough; it’s always based on the idea of getting more and more and more, so the whole premise of it is greed. This is really a very difficult situation. There’s no easy solution because obviously everybody is working under the influence of greed, and somehow one needs to find a compromise. In situations where it’s quite obvious that one party is working on the basis of greed and the other party has a great need, then the decision is much easier to make. In situations where it’s not so clear, that’s much more difficult, and it just underlines the necessity that really to eliminate all these difficulties, that one has to somehow work to enable people to overcome being under the influence of greed and selfishness. It reaffirms our bodhichitta motivation that we need to become a Buddha in order to really somehow enable a change in the social mentality that will then not be based just on greed, whether that greed is in a capitalist system for the individual or, in a socialist system, greed for the nation or the authoritarian rulers. 

Is selfish motivation really destructive? For instance, all improvements that we have here, all the things around us, the cars that we use and so on, all these things were created by people, most of whom have a selfish motivation to express themselves or to gain profit. So without these people and their influence, we would have hardly any of these things. 

That’s true, but when we talk about the consequences of selfishness, we’re talking about the consequences of it on the person who’s selfish. As His Holiness explained, and I mentioned, if we’re going to be selfish, at least be intelligently selfish, so that in working for our own benefit (in terms of greed with a job, and so on) that at least we’re doing that in some type of endeavor that will benefit others, like making a product that others need, as opposed to making a product that nobody really does need. 

I remember when I was traveling with Serkong Rinpoche, we went into a very, very fancy, expensive store in Zurich, which was filled with all sorts of exotic, expensive things. After our host showed us around the store and we got outside, Serkong Rinpoche’s remark to me was that there’s nothing in this store that anybody actually needs. So, if our profit motive is just to make things that others don’t need, then that certainly is not very beneficial, that’s not intelligent self-interest. Intelligent self-interest would be to, if we want to make a profit, at least be involved in the food industry or something like that, a service industry, that it’s not just stupid entertainment to increase people’s desire or anger, like sex and violence. 

The Decision to Make Cherishing Others Our Main Practice 

The third decision is that we shall make cherishing others our main practice. Here we think about all the benefits and advantages that follow from cherishing others, all the happiness that we experience. Everything going well is the result of cherishing others. In other words, thinking of others. 

When we talk about constructive actions, which are what bring about happiness, it is enumerated in terms of the general constructive actions and the special constructive actions. In our general, or mere constructive actions, it is to refrain from the destructive actions. When we have the impulse to kill something, to refrain from killing. That’s because we think of the welfare of that (or happiness of that) insect, animal, fish, or whatever it is that we would want to kill. If we refrain from stealing something that belongs to somebody else, again, it’s because of thinking of the unhappiness that it would cause that other person. Of course, we might refrain, as well, from thinking in terms of “I want to avoid the suffering that it’s going to cause me if I commit the destructive behavior.” 

In the general presentation of karma that is shared in common between Hinayana and Mahayana, the motive for refraining from destructive behavior is that “I want to avoid the suffering that that destructive behavior would cause to me.” That’s the only thing that is certain, that it will cause suffering to us, and it’s uncertain what will be the effect on the other person. Nevertheless, in addition to that, the special Mahayana presentation is to try to avoid the suffering that it would possibly cause to others. It’s this Mahayana point of view that is emphasized here, in terms of the happiness from refraining from destructive behavior comes because of cherishing others. 

Also, the special Mahayana type of constructive behavior is, instead of taking or damaging the lives of others, to do something that would support the lives of others. That’s not only to save the life of someone that’s drowning, for example, or an animal or an insect that’s drowning, which means even taking the fly out from a dirty toilet when the fly is drowning, taking it out with our hands (after all, we can wash our hands). It is also taking care of someone, so as to support their life, and instead of stealing from others, to give to others. All these opposite actions of the destructive actions: instead of lying, saying the truth, or instead of idle chatter, always speaking what’s meaningful, etc. 

In general, if we’re selfish, nobody likes us. If we are always thinking of others and are kind to others, others will like us and be happy with us. Even on this very worldly level, we can see the advantages and disadvantages here. As Shantideva said, if we look at Buddha, Buddha achieved enlightenment because of completely cherishing others, and wouldn’t that be the greatest happiness that we could achieve, the happiness from being able to bring happiness to everyone? We can understand how everybody appreciates and wants kindness. Kindness is based on cherishing others, thinking of others, and through kindness and affection – and by affection, we don’t mean sexual affection, but generally being affectionate – then this brings about harmony and happiness in any group. 

We try to make this decision, that we will cherish others, that this is the basis and root of all happiness; regardless of what harm they might do to us or others, we will always cherish them, and feel terrible if anything were to go wrong with them, and never reject them. No matter what happens, we shall always have a kind and warm heart toward them. 

Again, we ask for inspiration from our spiritual mentor, from his or her example. This is the inspiration never to be parted, for even a moment, from having such a warm feeling of kindness, affection and cherishing others. We have the verse from The Guru Puja

(92) Inspire us to see that the mind that cherishes our mothers and would secure them in bliss is the gateway leading to infinite virtues, and thus to cherish these wandering beings more than our lives, even should they loom up as our enemies.

Let’s focus on making that decision.