Overview of the Practices for Developing Bodhichitta through Equalizing and Exchanging Our Attitudes about Self and Others
Equalizing and exchanging our attitudes about self and others is one of the two methods for working ourselves up to an actual state of mind and heart of bodhichitta. Not only is bodhichitta itself a very extensive state of mind, but the practices that lead to it are also very extensive.
Bodhichitta itself is based on and accompanied by quite a few constructive states of mind or mental factors. Therefore, in the process of working ourselves up to being able to focus on bodhichitta – which means to focus on our own individual enlightenments which have not yet happened, but nevertheless can happen on the basis of our Buddha-nature (this is referring to the various factors of our mental continuum that will enable us to achieve the various Bodies of a Buddha) – while we’re focusing on that not-yet-happened enlightenment, we have the intention to achieve it based on our understanding and confidence that it is possible, and the intention to benefit all others equally, on the basis of that enlightenment.
In order to have that intention to benefit all others equally, we need to have, first of all, a general state of equanimity. This is the state of mind with which we have neither attraction nor repulsion nor indifference toward anyone, because not only is the goal of bodhichitta (in other words, enlightenment) extremely vast, but the scope of it (aiming it to benefit all limited beings) is likewise extremely vast. The goal is vast, and so the scope of how many others we’re going to benefit is vast. In other words, the enlightened state is very vast, and the number of beings that we’re going to help is very vast.
The type of happiness that we want to bring to others and the amount of suffering that we want to eliminate from them is also vast; it’s the largest amount possible. Because of that, we label this whole state of mind that’s involved with the process of achieving enlightenment “Mahayana.” “Maha” means vast, so vast in all these ways that I just mentioned. “Yana” is a vehicle of mind; in other words, a state of mind that acts as a vehicle to bring us to a goal. Then, of course, we have the practices and the texts that describe the process and are involved with the process of reaching that goal.
We need to have this state of basic equanimity as a foundation for bodhichitta, and this is a state of equanimity that is developed in common with the Hinayana practices. “Hinayana” means a more modest vehicle of mind that is aiming for a more modest goal, which is just our own liberation. Because this is an equanimity that is, as I say, free of attraction, repulsion and indifference, or the three poisons, the so-called poisonous states of mind. Attraction is a longing desire and attachment to others; repulsion is a rejection, which is an aspect of anger toward others; and indifference (meaning ignoring others) is an aspect of naivety; we don’t realize that they are beings who have suffering, want to be happy and don’t want to be unhappy, just as we do.
Then, we need a further type of equanimity, which is an even stronger state of equanimity that we develop specifically in the Mahayana practices, which is when we are actually involved in helping others, not to have favorites. Then, we need to have an attitude in which we see the equality of not only all others among themselves, but the equality of ourselves with others, so that we can think to work for eliminating everybody’s unhappiness. In order to reinforce that attitude and form a basis for the further constructive states of mind that we need, we need to develop what’s called renunciation (nges-’byung), which is the determination to be free from our own suffering, which means all three types of suffering – suffering of pain and unhappiness; suffering of change (which refers to our ordinary type of happiness that never lasts and never satisfies); then the uncontrollably recurring rebirth that is the basis for the first two types of suffering, which is generated by our unawareness (ma-rig-pa), disturbing emotions (nyon-mongs) and karma (las).
When we have this attitude of seeing that ourselves and others are in the same type of situation, then we need to see the disadvantages of working just for our own welfare. That’s called the self-cherishing attitude (rang bces-par ’dzin-pa) with which we work only for ourselves and ignore helping others. We see the advantages of cherishing others, with which our primary focus is on helping them and ignoring our own selfish wishes and needs. Although, obviously, if we’re working for the welfare of everyone, we are part of everyone, so we need to understand this cherishing of others and ignoring of our own selfish needs properly.
Then, on the basis of all these positive states of mind that we’ve just mentioned, we develop love (the wish for everybody equally to be happy) and compassion (the wish for everybody to be free of their suffering and the causes for suffering), which is extending that renunciation or determination to be free to others. Then, we develop what’s called the exceptional resolve. By the way, this practice of love and compassion – wishing for others to be free from their suffering and the causes and to have happiness and the causes for happiness – can be practiced and strengthened in terms of “tonglen” practice (giving and taking). Then, we need to develop what’s called the exceptional resolve (lhag-bsam) with which we take responsibility to help to bring everyone to enlightenment – the highest goal – and we resolve to do that by ourselves, even if we have to do it only by ourselves. Obviously, that doesn’t mean the arrogant state of mind that “I’m the only one that’s capable of it, so I don’t need anybody’s help in this process,” but it is just referring to how exceptional that resolve or wish is even if we have to do it all by ourselves, we will do it.
Based on all of that, we have next the development of bodhichitta, because we realize that the only way that we will be able to help everybody fully to reach enlightenment is if we reach enlightenment ourselves. In the generation of that state of focusing with bodhichitta on our own enlightenment that has not yet happened, with the intention to achieve it and to benefit everybody as much as we can, on that basis, we need to work ourselves up through all these steps in order to generate that full state of mind of bodhichitta in its full strength and very sincerely. Once we have accustomed ourselves and are totally, totally familiar from repeating over and over and over again all these stages to build up to bodhichitta, then we will be able to generate that state of mind of bodhichitta just instantly with all its full characteristics.
When we need to work ourselves up through all these stages to develop bodhichitta, that’s called labored (rtsol-bcas) bodhichitta. In other words, we have to put in labor or work to achieve it; we have to construct it, like building something, which is the connotation of the Tibetan word here. However, when we are able to generate it in full, automatically, that’s called the unlabored (rtsol-med) state of bodhichitta, and at that point, we become technically what’s known as a bodhisattva.
We can see through this general introduction that there are many steps that are involved in our bodhichitta practice. Also, we should be aware that there is a second method for developing bodhichitta, a second sequence, and there’s also a method that combines these two. Nevertheless, because our time is limited, it will be difficult to go through every step with time for practicing it. To gain some familiarity with all the steps, we would require quite a large amount of time, but I would like to introduce at least all the steps in this particular method and with an elaboration of it that I learned from my teacher Serkong Rinpoche, an elaboration of some of the steps involved, more extensively than we might find elsewhere. We will only really have time to do some of the meditations for some of the parts, not all of the parts. Otherwise, we’ll never get through all of them. We’ll have a little bit of more extensive practice perhaps in the first stages of this and, after that, just a general survey of what comes next in the process.
I’d like at the end to describe a little bit more fully how we actually focus on our enlightenment which has not yet happened. In other words, when we actually get to the point in which we are meditating with bodhichitta, what actually is going on in our minds? Since there are many people who don’t really understand this, and when they consider themselves meditating on bodhichitta, in fact, what they are doing is meditating on love and compassion, which although extremely beneficial, is not actually bodhichitta meditation, it’s what comes before bodhichitta meditation, its basis.
Mere Equanimity: General Instructions
Let us begin with the first type of equanimity. This word equanimity (btang-snyoms) is, of course, quite a difficult word to translate properly (I’m referring to the Sanskrit and Tibetan terms), because the term is used in several different contexts. It has several different connotations, but here when we’re using it to mean the state of mind that is free from the disturbing emotions of attraction, repulsion and indifference, the result of that is that our mind is “even.” The analogy is like a flat ground in which we’ve removed all the rocks. In a sense, equanimity here means an even state of mind so that, like a flat plain, we are open to everybody. If we’re in a plain, it’s open. It doesn’t mean that we are no longer able to have any feelings, any positive feelings toward others, and that we become just like an emotionless robot; rather, the analogy is that, if we have cleared the plain of rocks, then we have a smooth surface upon which to build a good road.
Remember, one of the factors that makes this Mahayana practice so vast is that it’s aimed at everybody. This is not very easy; this is extremely difficult to have that state of mind aimed at the welfare of everybody equally. First, we need to do the type of work on ourselves that is done in common with the Hinayana practices, which is to try to eliminate as much as possible our disturbing emotions. The three main disturbing emotions – longing desire, anger and naivety – are behind attraction, repulsion and indifference in the sense that they are the causes of attraction, repulsion and indifference. As I explained before, attraction is based on longing desire and attachment, etc.
Now, of course, what can be a little bit difficult for us Westerners is that all the practices that are described here in Mahayana are based on a firm conviction in beginningless rebirth – past and future lives. The mental continuum has no beginning and no end; it continues even into liberation and enlightenment. This is, of course, necessary, not only in terms of how we relate to everybody else, but also how we relate to our own future enlightenment. Although we could have what I call a “Dharma-Lite” version of all these Mahayana practices, with which we develop love and compassion, thinking just in terms of this lifetime – and this is, of course, very beneficial – nevertheless, it’s not the “Real-Thing Dharma.” If we practice on the basis of Dharma-Lite and think that that is all that Dharma is talking about, then that is not being fair to the actual tradition.
On the other hand, if we see this Dharma-Lite version as a preparation for being able eventually to practice the Real-Thing Dharma, then this is perfectly all right and actually quite helpful. However, the way that I’ll explain here is in terms of the Real-Thing Dharma, with the assumption that we have already dealt with the issue of past and future lives. Even if we haven’t understood beginningless and endless mind fully, which would require the understanding of voidness (stong-pa-nyid, emptiness) – voidness of the self, voidness of cause and effect – nevertheless, we at least would provisionally or temporarily accept beginningless and endless mind, because it really is not very easy to get a hundred percent conviction in past and future lives without this understanding of voidness.
In terms of this first type of equanimity, how we practice this – this is called, by the way, mere equanimity (btang-snyoms tsam) – is to visualize three types of persons. I should mention that this development of “mere equanimity,” which means only the very basic type of equanimity, is practiced in common with both methods for developing bodhichitta as a foundation, and so we focus on three persons. We choose somebody that we find very unpleasant that we don’t like; someone that we are very attracted and attached to, like a very close friend that we love; then, a stranger, somebody that we ignore – like here in Moscow, we have these escalators in the metro, and there’s usually a lady at the bottom or the top who is watching a television screen to make sure that nobody has any difficulties on the escalator. Although we might pass her every day as we go to work and come home, we probably ignore her. Perhaps, we can’t even remember what she looks like.
Mere Equanimity, Free of Repulsion, toward Someone We Dislike
So, we choose these three people. For the one that we dislike, we shouldn’t choose somebody who has severely abused us or something like that – this is much, much too difficult to work with in the beginning – but just somebody that we would really prefer not to be with. It could be somebody from our work. It could be a noisy neighbor. It could be a relative that we find quite annoying. If we have difficulty with visualization, we can always choose pictures of such people, and for the stranger, we can just choose a picture from a magazine of a stranger. However, don’t choose from a magazine the picture of some model in an advertisement with an artificial smile on the face; that is just a little bit too strange, although, obviously, this is also a human being who wants to be happy and not to be unhappy. Although we want to eventually in this process work with all three at the same time, we can focus on just one at a time, and when we’re doing that, don’t bother about trying to visualize the other two.
With this person that we dislike – that we would find repulsive, in a sense – we let this feeling of unpleasantness and repulsion arise within us. In other words, we don’t try to counter it initially, and we let that feeling get a bit stronger, that if we saw them on the street, we would probably try to go in the other direction or make sure that they don’t see us. In some cases, we might even have a negative thought about how nice it would be if something bad happened to them. Then, at that point, we stop and examine why we have these bad feelings towards this person. Please understand that we are not practicing to have these bad feelings, but what we need to do is to be able to identify the object of refutation, in other words, what we’re trying to get rid of. It’s important to have some sort of emotional feeling here that then we can see this is what we have to work on. There are always some people that object and say, “I don’t have negative feelings like that toward anyone,” but then there’s usually some political figure or figure from recent political history that we would have such negative feelings toward, and we’d choose them.
We analyze, “Why do I have such bad feelings toward this person?” It’s usually because of something that they did to hurt us, or they did something that harmed our loved ones, or just in general, caused problems for others. That’s why we would like something bad to happen to this person or for them not to get what they want. We consider, “Is this really a valid reason for wishing this person ill?” Then we consider, “Well, in past lives this person has been my mother or father or best friend many times, and they have undoubtedly helped me at times. In the future, it’s also uncertain what will happen, things can change, and they could become a good friend. In any case, in an infinite number of future lives, I could very well be reborn in a situation in which I will need to rely on this person – they might be my parent – and at that point I’m going to have to place my hopes on this person that they take good care of me.”
What we’re doing here basically is extending the basis for labeling the person, and not just considering the small period of time (in terms of infinitely long mental continuum). We’re not considering just this small period of time when they perhaps did something nasty, but considering the whole mental continuum, and see that if because of our short-sightedness that we’re only reacting to a small period of time when they’ve been nasty, then, this is totally confused. Since in the past, in the future, [there are] far more possibilities that they’re going to help us, then it’s completely improper for us to hold onto our anger for some small harm they might have done, because in the end, actually all we would be doing is damaging ourselves because we may be reborn as a child of this person.
We also consider, when someone does something that we don’t like, if we just get angry and reject them, then we’re no better than a dog that when somebody pokes it, it barks and growls. That actually is very helpful to see when we are acting in a certain type of animal way when something annoys us, and we just bark and growl like a dog, how absurd it is to act like that. This is what’s involved in this constructive state of mind, called moral self-dignity (ngo-tsha shes-pa), that we think more of ourselves, have more respect for ourselves, than for us to act like a dog.
At the end of this process, then we try to focus on this person without that sense of repulsion, just with an open neutral state of mind. That is the type of practice that we do, and let’s try to do that for a few minutes, and don’t worry about whether or not we can actually visualize in clear detail what this person looks like. The word “visualize” actually just means to imagine, so to think of this person. It could just be to think of their name, if we can’t get some mental picture of them or a mental picture of the sound of their voice.
Mere Equanimity, Free of Attraction, toward Someone We Like
Then, we choose someone that we have a strong attraction to, someone that if they came into the room, we would ignore everybody else who’s in the room that we were talking to and just… We let that feeling arise, and then, again, we examine why we feel like that – that we would ignore everybody else just to be with this person. It’s because they did something that was nice to us and helped us, or were loving and kind to us, or they were like that to our loved ones, or to others in general – they helped them, they were kind – and because of that we like them, and they make us feel good to be with them, and we just want to be with this person.
Again, we stop and analyze, “Is this a valid reason for being so attracted to this person?” And again we see that in past lives and in future lives, they could have hurt us very much or will hurt us very much. Even in this lifetime, these are the people that can cause us the most pain. If somebody that we’re very attached to ignores us or says something cruel to us, this hurts more than if a stranger says something like that. In fact, they – in past, present and future – can cause us a great deal of harm and unhappiness. If we just run to them because we find them so attractive, then this is really no better than a moth flying to a flame.
We conclude by trying to see this person free of attraction, just as we saw the one that we don’t like (we tried to see them free of repulsion). We try to view this person free from this attraction, just open to them. You see, the main emphasis on the state of mind we’re trying to develop is one which is free of that disturbing emotion, so when I say “open” to describe this state of mind, that is describing the state when it is free of repulsion or attraction or indifference. However, that isn’t what we are trying to focus on in the meditation of being open. That’s not the focus. The focus is looking at them without repulsion or without attraction. That’s the main thing to emphasize. I use the word “open” here simply to help people not have this objection to it, that then we’re just like a robot with no emotions. Please bear in mind the state of mind that we’re actually trying to achieve is one that is free of this disturbing emotion. Let’s try this practice for a few minutes, with this person that we are so attracted to.
Questions about Mere Equanimity toward Someone We Like
What is more effective to visualize this person as our mother in future lives who will take care of us, or as our child in future lives whom we will take care of?
I think both are effective. We don’t limit ourselves to just one type of imagining. The emphasis here is, of course, that they will help us. Just as sometimes they’ve harmed us, they also have helped us in the past and will help us in the future. Although imagining them as our child could cause us to develop a warm feeling toward them, so there’s nothing wrong with that; nevertheless, the emphasis is in terms of the help that they will give to us, so us being their child. Obviously, if we want, we can actually picture that happening – of them being our mother or close friend or employer – but for many of us, we don’t need to actually picture that happening, we can just think that very quickly. The point is to have both an understanding and some sort of feeling, emotional feeling.
You said that at the end of the practice, we need to have some sort of neutral feeling. But since we’re thinking about this person as our mother or our friend, we have quite a warm feeling, and so what should we do then at the end of the practice?
Well, what we are aiming at is to have an even state of mind toward everyone because, after this, the next step is to think of someone that we’re very attracted to. In order to, in the end, be able to view this person in terms of, well, they might have been very helpful to us now, but in past and future lives, they could hurt us very much. We don’t want to turn the object of our repulsion into an object of attraction because at the end of this whole process, when we’ve done this similarly with a stranger, we’ve seen that with a stranger, they might not have had very much of a relation with us now, but in the past, they’ve both helped us and harmed us (and the same in the future). In the end, we see that there’s no difference between these three people: everybody has helped us, everybody has harmed us, everybody has not affected us at the moment. At the conclusion, we have an attitude with which we view these three people equally, but without being like the magnet: attracted, repelled, or they’re not iron (so there’s nothing). The main thing – if we can use this analogy – is to stop being the magnet, and just be open toward everyone. “Neutral” was not perhaps the best choice of words here, but just “open,” I think is more descriptive.
One of the things we need to work on in this meditation is that when we go through the line of reasoning – like, in this case, “they’ve hurt us in past and future lives, they can hurt us now,” and we are able to view them without attraction – one of the things that we can notice is our internal energy. Is our energy – this is what I meant by a neutral state – is that energy just sort of staying put, in a sense, or are we starting to again feel that energy going out toward this person, like with a magnetic force? When we’re sitting there and trying to focus on that state of mind that is without that attraction, when we notice again the energy arising to be drawn to this person, I think that this is a little bit easier to recognize than the emotional feeling of being drawn to them, at least in my own case, because it’s a little more subtle than the emotional feeling.
It sounds almost contradictory, doesn’t it? That it’s easier to recognize the disturbance of energy, even though the energy is a more subtle disturbance than the emotional disturbance. Because that movement of energy is, in a sense, the basis for the emotional feeling. As the energy moves and we feel that movement, that disturbance, if we let it go more, then we will have the emotional feeling. The clue, the indication that we have any type of disturbing emotion is that our energy is disturbed. That’s why I translate it as “disturbing emotion.” The mind is not at ease. The energy is not at ease. It’s usually easier to recognize that we are feeling uneasy or uncomfortable than to recognize when we are feeling a strong emotion of attraction or repulsion. Because I think, in a sense, when we’re feeling a strong emotion, then it is so overwhelming to us that we don’t get the objectivity to recognize it. Whereas if we can notice when our energy is disturbed, it’s easier to be objective, and we can deal with it a little bit more easily. Because when we’re feeling the disturbing emotion, then we put up a great deal of resistance, actually, to correcting it because then, in that strong emotion, the strong grasping for a “me” is very prominent. Although it may be more difficult initially to recognize the disturbance of the energy, once we’re able to recognize it, then it’s much easier to stop and correct the state of mind if we catch it there. So, just a piece of advice in terms of how we put this into practice. This, I think, is true – not just in this meditation, but in any of the practices to overcome disturbing emotions – in terms of “at what point do we start applying the opponent forces?”
Mere Equanimity, Free of Indifference toward a Stranger
The third type of person we work with is a stranger, someone with whom we feel neither attraction nor repulsion, someone that if we saw in the street or anywhere, we would pass them by without paying any attention to them whatsoever.
We think of such a person, if we can imagine a particular one that we know of, and we again go through the procedure as we did before in a similar manner. The feeling arises that if we saw this person, we’d pass them by; we wouldn’t even bother to say hello or anything – somebody who waits on us in a restaurant, someone like that. Why is it that we have no concern that this person who waits on us in the restaurant might have tired feet, anything like that, or might have a headache? We think, “Well, this person doesn’t really mean anything to me. They’ve never…” Well, I suppose the person in the restaurant has served us, but in general when we ignore somebody, we feel they haven’t done anything particular to help us or to hurt us and, therefore, why pay attention to them? So, they don’t mean anything to us, but this is also not a valid reason. When we analyze past lives, future lives, they might have been of great help to us; they might have been our parent, and they could be like that in the future. Even later in this lifetime, they could become our closest friend. Every friend that we have started out as a stranger, we didn’t know them. If we just walk past this person and ignore them, it would be as foolish as walking past a treasure of gold and ignoring it.
Then, we try to look at this person, regard this person with our mind being free of indifference. Let’s try to do that. If we can’t think of someone so much in our usual lives, there are these people who worked in the kitchen here where we just ate.
I think that overcoming this indifference toward others is especially important when we’re trying to go on the bodhisattva path. If we are walking around the city or traveling on public transport, we see so many people, and we usually are quite indifferent to them. We don’t even pay attention to whether they look healthy, whether they look sick, whether they look stressed, whether they might be in trouble. As a start in our practice, we want to try to overcome that indifference, so that we can start to develop sincere concern for everybody and for alleviating the suffering of everybody. If we don’t pay attention and notice everybody, then how could we really sincerely want to help them to overcome their suffering? We’re not even willing to look at it.
Now, we could also, of course, object and say: “I’m not strong enough yet; it’s too overwhelming; it’s too much for me.” However, this is a clear indication that this Mahayana practice is not something that we start with all at once, as this is advanced. In lam-rim meditation, we work with initial scope, and then intermediate scope, and then this Mahayana is the advanced scope of motivation. If we don’t, in these earlier stages of the practices, face all of our own sufferings, our own problems, and start to deal with them, we won’t have the strength to deal with others’. We already need to be fairly stable emotionally before we can really endeavor on a much larger scope of helping others. That doesn’t mean that when we are emotionally unstable that we don’t try to help others at least a little bit. Of course, we do, but we have to be a little bit careful in the scope of how much we do.
I’m thinking of an example that’s used in psychology. There, it’s said in one school of psychology, that if we have, for instance, our teenager is very disruptive and has very negative attitudes toward himself or herself and others, it is very helpful and important to give them an opportunity to do something, to give something to someone else. In the act of actually giving to someone else, even if it’s in terms of taking care of an animal, they build up a sense of self-worth and self-confidence that they do have something worthwhile to give to others. This is helpful even at the stage where one is emotionally unstable, but if we really are going to open up in a Mahayana way, we need to be much more stable and mature.
Mere Equanimity toward the Three Types of Persons All Together
The final step in this first stage of our practice, this stage of developing mere equanimity, is that now we imagine these three persons together: the one that we really dislike and don’t want to be with; the one that we’re so attracted to that we want to ignore everybody else and just be with this one; and this stranger that we would ignore. We try to regard all of them together, without attraction, repulsion or indifference. The line of reasoning that is used here, to help us to even out our mind toward all of them, is that we think if someone gave us a million rubles yesterday and hit us today, and somebody who hit us yesterday and gave us the million rubles today, what’s the difference? Which one is our friend, which one is our enemy? In fact, there’s no difference. It’s just a matter of when each of them was kind, and it’s the same in terms of everybody when we think of beginningless and endless mental continuums – past and future lives – it’s just a matter of time when each one was kind or cruel to us, or a stranger. To make things a little bit more graphic, we could imagine sitting down at a table for a meal with these three persons: our dearest friend, a relative that we can’t stand, who’s completely annoying, or someone from work who is like that, and the person who works from the city collecting the garbage. We try to develop an even state of mind of how we would deal with these three people at our table. Here I think it’s quite noticeable how the energy can be drawn to one or the other and repelled from one, and how somehow, we have to get the energy quiet.
This guideline actually derives from shamatha (zhi-gnas) meditation. Shamatha is a stilled and settled state of mind that we’re practicing to get perfect concentration. In dealing with flightiness of mind (rgod-pa), when the mind flies off from the object, we first try to recognize when the mind is going on and on and on with thoughts, and then bring it back. In the beginning, that’s really very difficult because we are not at all accustomed to directing our attention, and we’re so caught up in our thoughts. Once we’re able to do that, both recognize when we have mental wandering and bring our attention back to the object, then a very subtle level that we have to deal with is just this impulsive energy to leave the object before our mind actually does leave it. It was similar to what I was discussing before, in terms of noticing a disturbance in our energy that would take us away from the state of mind that we’re trying to stabilize.
Let’s imagine this meal with these three persons and use that line of reasoning, in terms of the one who gives us a million rubles and the one who beats us up.
What we really have to be very careful with here is to avoid a big mistake, which is we look at this meditation really as an exercise to just block our emotions and feelings, and just try to feel nothing, which would then lead to us being very cold and stiff and regarding the disturbing emotions as truly existent monsters and us as the victim that has to be protected, and that we had just better not feel anything. This is a big, big mistake, particularly in terms of Mahayana practice. We’re trying to overcome these disturbing emotions by facing them, rather than running away from them and blocking them. That’s why we allow them to arise in the beginning, so that we can see them and face them, and then we actively apply opponents to overcome them, like these lines of reasoning concerning past and future lives, or just a matter of time of when they’ve helped us, harmed us, or done nothing for us. If we do that properly, then we are not rendered by this meditation into a robot who is completely cold toward everyone and stiff, but someone who is open to be able to actually develop positive feelings toward everyone, and that warm-heartedness, affection, etc. will be able to flow toward everybody equally.
This point of applying the guideline from shamatha into these practices is based on Shantideva’s text Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. Because if we look at his chapter on developing mental stability (bsam-gtan) or concentration, the topic that he discusses in this chapter as the focal object for developing concentration is these practices, equalizing and exchanging self with others. In other words, what do we need to be able to focus on? Not just our breath, but obviously, positive attitudes toward others – overcoming selfishness, staying concerned with others so that our mind doesn’t wander off with extraneous thoughts or get dull.
Could you please describe this state that we need to develop? Because I tried, and what I felt is either attraction or rejection, or something like either.
We’re trying to develop the state of mind that is free of those three. So, how to describe what it feels like when we don’t have that? The only way that I was able to begin to describe that is in terms of our energy being relaxed. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that this is a very easy state of mind to achieve at that lovely table in which we have these three persons sitting. I mean, that’s extremely difficult if we try to imagine that sincerely, or if we were actually in that situation.
I remember being very challenged in a situation. I was translating for my teacher to a small group of people, many of them complete strangers, and one person was extremely annoying – asked annoying questions – and my favorite cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in about ten years, came in late and sat down and joined (I was going to meet her after the class). To be able to sit there and not be disturbed by these three different types of people – in our categories that we were just talking about – and pay attention and translate with equal concern for everybody in the room was very, very challenging. I think this is a good example of what we would be striving at in this situation, to continue to pay attention to translating and to not have my energy disturbed by these three different people there, because it’s not fair to ignore the strangers in the room, or be annoyed by the one who’s asking obnoxious questions, or by my cousin.