7-Part Bodhichitta: Mother Awareness, Kindness & Gratitude

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We have discussed the ground basis for the seven-part cause and effect meditation for generating a bodhichitta aim, and we saw that this is equanimity – the type of equanimity with which we are free of attachment or attraction to some, aversion or repulsion from others, and indifference to yet others. It is the equanimity that is – it says here in the four immeasurable – “free of bias, attachment, and anger.” A little bit more elaborate than that: attachment, anger, and naivety – ignoring others.

We saw that a basis for that is renunciation, renunciation of samsara in the sense of renunciation of these disturbing emotions that we have toward various beings in our life. We need to be willing to give that up and seek for liberation at least. It’s the foundation upon which we develop bodhichitta. Here in this verse of an inner mandala offering it says exactly that:

The objects of attachment, aversion, and ignorance, friends, enemies, and strangers, my body, wealth and enjoyments, I offer these without any sense of loss.

That’s what we were talking about this morning, of offering these without a sense of loss, “Oh, I don’t want to give up samsara,” “I don’t want to give up being really close to friends and avoiding people that I don’t like,” and so on.

Please accept them with pleasure,

How is that? This should be something that is bringing a sense of joy, a sense of freedom.

And inspire me and others to be free from the three poisonous attitudes.

It’s not that we are giving all our friends to the Buddhas. They don’t need our friends as such, or giving them the people that annoy us, our noisy neighbors and difficult people at work, but rather we’re offering them to liberation; offering them to the Three Jewels of Refuge – that’s what we discussed yesterday, a true stopping of problems and the true minds, or pathway minds that will lead to that – and offering them to this safe direction; and may they be able to go in that direction. So that is showing not only our own renunciation and willingness to do that, but also that we want to bring others to that state.

Just as an aside, since I don’t know how evident this is to you, the general mandala offering says,

This ground, anointed with perfume, flowers strewn, Mount Meru, four lands, sun and moon, imagined as a Buddha-land and offered to you, may all beings enjoy this pure land.

You know what that’s referring to? That’s referring to Sambhogakaya. Sambhogakaya teaches all arya bodhisattvas in a pure land, and it teaches them Mahayana till the end of samsara. And so what are we offering to others? We are offering to them this state of a pure land in which everything is conducive, so in other words, “Teach me” – this is a mandala offering to receive teachings – “Teach me in such a way that is going to be perfectly conducive, like in a pure land, for receiving teachings from Sambhogakaya,” and “I imagine my whole environment like that.” “Now I’m in this perfect realm conducive for receiving teachings,” and “May everybody have that type of situation,” and “I offer this,” and then this second verse, “I offer it to everybody, without excluding some people from this pure land and only including my friends.” So these mandala offering verses are really very meaningful.

Equanimity Meditation

Perhaps it might be helpful to do a little bit of meditation here, since I was asked to include a little bit of that and it always is very helpful. As I said, to do just a little bit of meditation on equanimity is fine, but it’s not a topic that we can just think, “Well, yeah, I’ll do it for five minutes and then let’s go on to the next stages.” This is something which would be unbelievably remarkable if we actually could achieve real equanimity, but in any case, let us try it. We don’t have so much time, so I don’t want to do it for a long period of time. We can try it for five-ten minutes, something like that, and we could go through all the stages that I was explaining in terms of each individual person that we choose: the one that we really, really like, the one that we really can’t stand, and the one that we ignore, we never really consider them as a person.

How do you choose people? You could choose people from your life. It’s very interesting if you are ever in crowded places and you like to look at people, whether it’s the airport, the supermarket, wherever it might be, and just to notice how we like to look at people that we find pretty, and people that we find a little bit repulsive we make sure that we’re not looking at them, and then others we totally ignore.

That’s just indicative of how our mind is affected by these three poisonous attitudes, these three disturbing attitudes. We can choose more dramatic examples from our lifetime, but then likewise we can go to a less dramatic level of it and choose just the people that catch our eye. Why do they catch our eye? “Well, it gives me a little bit of pleasure to see this pretty looking person.” And it doesn’t have to be necessarily in a sexual dimension. Some people find it so cute to see little children and this type of stuff, so whatever it is that we like, it doesn’t really matter – same same. Try to get to the point which is most challenging, as I said, which is to consider all three simultaneously.

I would recommend that we try to do this meditation in light of the whole explanation I gave of mental continuums; and the basis of labeling a person or an individual is the whole thing, not just where they are now in that mental continuum, or just in terms of their good qualities or their bad qualities, or ignoring their qualities altogether, because that’s really what is happening when we are attracted to some, repulsed from others, and indifferent to others – and see if having a little bit of understanding of that fact – because it is a fact, it’s true in terms of at least the Buddhist assertion in terms of mental continuums – if that helps dealing with this emotionally challenging meditation.


As we practice this equanimity meditation, what is the state of mind that we would be left with if we are successful with this practice? If we’re doing the equanimity meditation involved with equalizing our attitude about everybody in the Mahayana sense, we are left with a willingness to help everybody equally, not that we want to just help this one first or that one first because we like them. But here, more fundamental than that, we are left with not just feeling nothing – that’s not the point, although one might imagine that that’s what we’re left with in the end – but we’re left with a state of peace.

That’s usually what is associated with a so-called Hinayana path, which includes Theravada and many other forms of these early eighteen nikaya schools of early Buddhism – “nikaya” being the Sanskrit term, and Theravada being one of them that the Mahayana calls Hinayana. We’re left with a state of peace, peace in a positive sense of being open, not just being indifferent to everybody, and I think that one of the things we could look at to gauge that is our energy.

When we imagine these three people, the one that we like so much, and the one that we really dislike and don’t want to spend any time with, and the one that even if we know them, “So what, I’m with them; I’m not with them – it’s nothing to me.” And even though we might not feel some gross – I’m going to run over to this one; I’m going to run away from that one – type of energy, still what we can notice, if you are quiet enough, is that there’s a tension there. There’s some sort of tension in our energy that is not quite peaceful in terms of looking at these three people, and that indicates that we have to work further.

A state of peace would be what would result – nirvana is peace – it would result in being able to confront these people without any tension, just totally relaxed. We’d be relaxed and open, no tension there of conflict of feelings or emotions. That’s what we’re aiming for. That’s a tough thing to attain, not so easy, but we gauge that in terms of our energy. I think that’s the useful gauge here, the tension.

Step One: Mother Awareness

Then we go on to the next step – and the next step is not an easy one. It’s totally difficult if we don’t think in terms of past lifetimes, and beginningless lives, and mental continuums and so on – which is usually translated as “recognizing everybody as having been our mother,” this is literally “mother awareness,” and so this involves distinguishing this aspect about everyone, this particular characteristic within everyone’s mental continuum in terms of a relationship with me.

It’s helpful to prove logically that everybody has been our mother at one time or another. This is a logical proof that challenged a few people too and we actually worked out in my class in Berlin, and came up with a logical proof that everybody has been our mother in some previous lifetime, which then we checked with a distinguished Geshe, and the Geshe said that wasn’t really something that they try to prove, but in fact the proof is convincing. Before I give you the proof, do any of you have any idea how in the world you would prove that everybody has been your mother in some previous lifetime? Because otherwise isn’t it a bit of nonsense to try to see everybody as your mother? How would you go about proving it?

Maybe infinite lifetimes of everyone of us, infinite beings, how can it not be that everyone has been our mother?

Wrong! Infinite lifetime, infinite beings how could it be that it is not the case that everybody has been our mother? No, the parameters are wrong, the parameters of the system are wrong, so you have to get the parameters right, and the parameters are, infinite time, finite number of beings – it’s not an infinite number of beings, because then you could never reach the limit of everybody – and everybody is equal. Given those three parameters of the system – you have to approach it mathematically – given those three factors, prove that everybody has been your mother.

What does “equal” mean?

What does “equal” mean in this sense? That’s a good one. Equal in the sense that we have all been wandering through samsara and interacting with each other. So it isn’t that some have been isolated over in the corner and only interacting with each other – because you could also give the scenario of “One person has been my mother almost every lifetime” …. You probably would have to vary between a few, because we could die while our mother is still alive and then be reborn again, and we could conceivably be reborn to the same mother, but we might be reborn to a different mother if she’s too old. So you’d have to introduce at least more than one, but why is that not the case? Otherwise it’s crazy, isn’t it? Everybody has been my mother? That’s pretty weird.

I think we need (a) that we have a mother in each of these lifetimes...

(a) we have a mother in each of these lifetimes. We’re given infinite time, it doesn’t matter, we could have been born from heat and moisture and popped out of a lotus some of the times as well, and that’s cool.

And I think you also have to have that lifespan is indefinite, because if it’s not then you have the problem of one mother could be your mother always.

Lifespan is indefinite. Not necessarily the case. I think we have to say that it is impossible for the lifespan to be infinite, because in the Northern Continent it is definite that the lifespan will be a thousand years. So definite, but less than infinite is permitted.

It is possible that everyone has been your mother, but not necessarily true.

Oh, it’s possible that everybody has been our mother, but not necessarily true? Is that satisfactory for developing bodhichitta? That gives us a big “maybe.”

Could it be that it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s going to happen?

It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s going to happen? I think beginningless time takes care of that. We wouldn’t need to postulate that, because it’s beginningless – that’s a pretty long time – so there’s been enough time for everybody to have been our mother.

And even in the case of “possibly,” because you wouldn’t know who has been and who hasn’t been, it might be enough for developing bodhichitta, because you wouldn’t want to take the chance of leaving out someone who perhaps has been your mother.

That’s an interesting point. The point was that, even if we just deal with everybody possibly could have been our mother, then since we wouldn’t know – there wouldn’t be a little sort of checkmark with each one who has been our mother – then we wouldn’t want to take a chance of leaving one out, because we could be wrong.

Is this assuming that we’re going to base bodhichitta on everyone having been our mothers...?


...because even if they weren’t our mothers, they’ve all been kind to us.

What she’s saying is that, is this recognition, or “awareness” of everybody as having been our mother – “recognition” implies that we remember – if we are aware of everybody as having been our mother, is that really necessary for developing bodhichitta, because we have the other method? In other methods for developing bodhichitta we think of the kindness of others, even when they’ve not been our mother.

Well, here is a meditation system which is proclaimed as being a system complete in itself, a seven-part cause and effect meditation effective for being able to develop bodhichitta, so we assume that you don’t have to bring in any other methods for developing bodhichitta, that this one should work.

As I pointed out yesterday, there are some dangers that you have to be careful of, because we think in terms of “ They’ve been kind to me,” so it tends to reinforce a little bit of me here. But aside from that, we’re giving it the benefit of the doubt that it is an effective method, an effective sequence.

I’ve heard it translated as “kind like a mother,” so it’s recognizing kindness of the type of which a mother is a prototypical source of...

He’s saying that he’s heard versions of this meditation, in which “everybody has been kind like a mother” – and I think that goes in the direction of Dharma-Lite. We could do that in a real Dharma-Lite version, which I taught as well, which is: “Anybody could take us home and give us a meal and be nice to us.” It is interesting, I live in Germany and some of my students are old enough to have parents who were Nazi SS officers, who were involved in horrible things, and yet they were fed and clothed and taken care of by this kind of father, so OK ...although many of them have a lot of problems, but we’ll put that aside.

I think it’s to be taken quite literally. We make excuses for those, or sort of dispos… what’s the word? disposition, deposition, I can’t think of the word, but anyway, an exception to the recommended method for those who have been neglected by their mother, and abused by their mother, and have a particularly difficult relationship with their mother, so they have an emotional block here with this meditation. However, as I said before, this isn’t a meditation for beginners. Surely, by this point in the Dharma training you have dealt with your issues with your mother. If you haven’t dealt with the issue with your own mother by now... “Hello? Aren’t you practicing, trying to practice Dharma?”

And often that could be one of the most challenging relationships, with our parents, and you can proceed with everybody’s been my best friend, and that’s OK, everybody’s been my father, or whatever it is that you want to deal with, it’s not so relevant. But the mother is a particularly vivid image or meaningful image, because minimum, basic level, “My mother didn’t abort me as a fetus,” minimal level, “that’s very kind,” which of course makes you think about abortion and so on, but we won’t discuss that.

Isn’t this like a tool? And it doesn’t really matter whether we prove it or not if we say, “What would happen? How would it change us, if we believed that everyone we see, every ant we see, everything we see has been our mother?

This is a very important point. Wouldn’t it be sufficient to just look at this guideline as a tool and give it the benefit of the doubt? If everybody had been our mother, then what would follow from that? And therefore it’s a useful tool.

Certainly, I think that in the beginning... I certainly used this type of tool in terms of rebirth, “I don’t know about rebirth,” as I said, I think you have to understand the Buddhist teaching on the self – who takes rebirth – before you can really have confidence in the Buddhist teaching on rebirth. But you give it the benefit of the doubt and then you see what would follow from that – I certainly followed that policy – and the same thing in terms of everybody having been our mother. But then we face the criticism of either others or self-criticism, “Aren’t I brainwashing myself with propaganda?” It might be beneficial propaganda, but a lot of people think that their propaganda and their brainwash is beneficial, and it might not be. I think that eventually if we can have a logical proof of this, then this is helpful.

There is an awful lot of things I can’t pretend to have a logical proof for. There are all these enigmatic things in Buddhism, but there’s some stuff there that is really, really tough to swallow, like for instance lineage. Where do these Mahayana teachings come from? Nagarjuna went under the ocean and recovered the Prajnaparamita teachings from the nagas who kept it beneath the ocean? And Asanga went to Tushita heaven and got these teachings from Maitreya in Tushita heaven and memorized them and brought them down to earth, and fifty years had passed – it sounds as though he was traveling at the speed of light in a spaceship – and to him it was just a morning of the gods? How do we deal with that, and then be critical of things like Madame Blavatsky got these teachings from the Mahatmas in the Himalayas who sent her letters, and other people got teachings from all sorts of unusual sources. How do we deal with that?

“These are legitimate teachings” – that’s not an easy one, not at all. Or in this nuns’ conference that I attended in Hamburg this summer, one of the Western scholars pointed out that people are making such a big deal about lineage, and the lineage be proper and unbroken and so on, and he said: “If you take the number of people in the lineage – the ordination lineage from the time of Buddha to the time of when it was brought to Tibet – and you look at the number of names that are in that, each person would’ve had to have lived two hundred and twenty years on average in order for that to be the lineage.” So then you say, “Huh? Wait a minute, but what’s lineage?”

So there are a lot of things that when you start to dig into it, you find that, “Am I really basing my whole spiritual practice on these irrational beliefs? Or what am I doing?” So at least if for some of them we can gain some rational proof of what we’re doing and that we’re not crazy…. just to say that, “Well, but it is effective, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s a fairytale or not,” I think that’s okay, but I feel a little bit more comfortable if at least some of it is on so-called logical solid ground. But we certainly proceed on the basis of giving it the benefit of the doubt, in the beginning.

Anyway, let me give you the proof that we came up with: infinite time, finite number of beings, everybody has been equal. “If one being has been my mother, then everybody has been my mother, because they’re all equal. Because, if one being has not been my mother, then nobody’s ever been my mother, because they’re all equal.” At least the Tibetan Geshe, who was one of the teachers at the debate school in Dharamsala, felt that that was an OK proof. Anyway, one of my brilliant students came up with that.

It seems that the requirement that “all beings are equal” is a little sketchy.

Perhaps, I’m certainly not a mathematical person, so I don’t know. If you shake up a container of particles over an infinite amount of time, wouldn’t each one hit another one at some point over infinite time? I think this is what we mean by equal here.

There’s another way of saying that. I remember that there’s a finite number of oxygen molecules, so the probability is that you have just breathed the same oxygen that Plato has breathed is high.

You were saying, to just repeat, if there’s a certain number of oxygen molecules – and that’s assuming that it isn’t that more are being created and others are being locked up in compounds, but given that assumption – then there is a high probability that some oxygen molecule that we breathe is the same oxygen that Plato breathed is high.

OK. Yup, why not... why not, but that gets into a very complicated... what shall we say... In the discussion of time – I don’t want to get too diverted into this, because it’s a complicated topic – one of the things that Prasangika disproves is that there is a common locus object that passes through the three times – “common locus” means the same object, something that is a common locus, a common thing that was present in the past, is present now, and will be present in the future – so there is an objectively existing oxygen molecule that, in a sense, has remained permanent and moved through time and now I’m breathing the same oxygen molecule that Plato breathed. This is asserted by one sub-branch of Vaibhashika; and Prasangika refutes that. So we have to be a little bit careful in your analogy, because it would be that the same substantially existing person now is functioning as my mother, and now functioning as someone who’s not my mother; it doesn’t bring into account the whole impermanent and continually changing aspect.

OK, so enough of our logical proof. But I think that – at least for me, I feel a little bit more comfortable if there’s some sort of a reasonable basis for this view that we try to develop – everybody has been our mother – and the awareness of that, and that follows from viewing everybody as a beginningless endless mental continuum. And where they are now...

I was playing around with some images while we were doing this equanimity meditation, and the image that came to my mind was a sine curve, a little curve, like a rollercoaster that goes up and down and up and down. If we think of the mental continuums in this graphic form of a big long line that is going up and down and up and down, so at one point... let’s say up is friend and someone we like, and down is someone we dislike, and in the middle is someone that we ignore. And everybody is a sine curve, each mental continuum is this sine curve, and this just happens to be right now the picture that we take is located either on an upward curve or a downward curve of the sine function. That – at least for those who are more image-oriented – might be helpful. Given that, then at some point on this infinitely long curve – they’ve been our mother.

Now we can bring in – I just said we shouldn’t bring in teachings from other methods – one little thing that is relevant to this is then it’s just a matter of time when they were our mother, now or before. The teaching that’s associated with that point is that if we saw our mother today... and we didn’t see our mother for ten years, is she still our mother? Yes, she’s still our mother. We haven’t seen her for ten lifetimes, is she still our mother? Yes, she still is our mother. It’s just a matter of time, and just because we haven’t seen her for a while doesn’t make her less our mother.

...but without giving this person a solid permanent identity as our mother – let’s not forget voidness teachings here – all we’re doing is taking a particular characteristic. This is relevant for developing a certain way of looking at things that is helpful for developing bodhichitta. Remember, we were discussing yesterday how bodhichitta is aimed at our own individual enlightenment, which has not happened yet, but which can happen on the basis of our Buddha-nature, and so we’re focusing on something very positive.

And remember, I mentioned that seeing a “the guru is a Buddha” is very helpful for that, because we’re focusing on the good qualities of the teacher. We’re not denying any shortcomings the person might have, but focusing on the good qualities which are true, then seeing the result on the basis of the cause etc., we see the guru is a Buddha.

Here also what you said is relevant: “Is this is just a useful method, or is this something which is reasonable?” There are different levels: “The guru is like a Buddha,” this is what’s called the Hinayana level, “The person has qualities;” and the second is that the person is “representative of a Buddha,” this is Mahayana; and then tantra, “The guru is a Buddha.”

“... is a Buddha” – just to bring in an aside thing – the only explanation that I found which is satisfactory with that, to me at least, comes from the Sakya teachings of inseparable samsara and nirvana. It’s like different quantum levels of something when we speak of... what is it? quantum time, or something like that. Where’s the photon? Well, the photon is – we can’t say that it is at both locations, because that’s screwy; but there are these two possibilities, and when you perceive it in one, then that’s what you perceive, so you can say it’s there.

So you could say that in terms of the energy – the subtlest energy and the subtlest mind – that there are also these two possibilities, inseparable – this inseparability of samsara and nirvana, there’s a whole teaching on that – and that depending on what you’re perceiving, your mental labeling and what you’re perceiving, then that’s what you get. So if we deal with and perceive a samsaric aspect of – not only the teacher but everything – then there you are, with ignorance and so on.

And if with correct understanding we perceive this nirvanic possibility, or “aspect” – you can’t just say it’s “possible,” it gets into the whole ontological discussion of how these exist, but in any case – then you get the nirvanic one. So from this point of view the guru is a Buddha, and it’s not just my labeling the dog as a table, that’s screwy, not weird.

In any case, my point is that when we focus on bodhichitta, we’re focusing on good qualities, or we’re focusing on Buddha-nature, so we’re not denying that, “Beginninglessly I also have anger, and ignorance, and unawareness, and confusion.” We have that beginninglessly, just as we have Buddha-nature beginninglessly – at least most aspects of Buddha-nature beginninglessly, some aspects you gain for the first time at some point, like bodhichitta. There’s a first time when somebody develops bodhichitta, but for other things, like the nature of the mind, that’s beginningless.

We don’t deny the beginningless negative things, but we focus on the positive things – Buddha-nature – and it’s on the basis of that that we focus on our not-yet-happened enlightenment that we’re aiming to achieve. And then we want to think this in terms of everybody else as well. So by focusing on that aspect of everybody – they’ve been our mother – and then beyond that, that they’ve been kind, and we feel grateful to this, and we want them to be happy and not to be unhappy – all these sort of things – that again is getting us into this whole framework in which we focus on positive things without being rosy-minded and naive about it.

That’s an important point. As I was suggesting yesterday, we could also demonstrate that everybody has murdered me at one time. If everybody’s been my mother, everybody has also been my murderer at one time, given the same parameters of infinite time, finite number of beings, and everybody’s equal, and giving the fact that part of everybody’s mental continuum is ignorance and anger and so on. But also there’s the positive qualities of the natural... I don’t know the word, “compassion” is used here, but it is the word of... like “cultivation,” there’s the natural aspect of the mind, of mental activity to take care, to nurture, whether it’s selfishly to nurture ourselves, self-preservation instinct, or the preservation-of-the-species instinct, to take care of the young. That is what we’re focusing on here. It is helpful in many ways to have this very positive view of everybody in terms of being able to focus with bodhichitta, to have that as our mental framework.

Everybody has been our mother – or whether you want to call it “best friend” or whatever – “mother” is the point, as I said, because in fact we owe our life to our mother: she’s the one that could have aborted us; she is the one that actually gave birth to us – regardless of how she might have treated us afterwards – or “laid the egg of us,” His Holiness’ favorite example of the sea turtle that lays the egg and then goes back into the ocean and never has anything to do with the child after that, but at least she laid the egg, and she made sure that the egg was in the sand, in a place where it could hatch – so that’s very kind; she didn’t just lay it in the ocean.

Do you want to try that for a moment? And I think what is very helpful with that type of meditation, and with all these meditations, is not to just do it with pictures – this is what I do with my sensitivity training – not just with pictures, not just with thinking of these people, visualizing these people, but do it with a bunch of people, and you can include animals as well. It’s always helpful if there are some animals in the room also, and bring in a couple of flies too, and see if we can develop equanimity actually confronting these different beings.

Often, I’ll have people sit around in a circle and look at each other – and each person has been our mother – and do that on the... I don’t know if you people take buses – on the public transportation, or waiting on the line of the supermarket, or in traffic. Try to actively distinguish this aspect – this is a mental factor of “distinguishing,” isn’t it? What’s called “recognition” – so you distinguish that characteristic feature of the person, that at some point they’ve been our mother.


I’ve been troubled by this one sentence, and then I kind of got lost. You said even if we haven’t seen our mother for many lifetimes, she’s still out mother. And I think of the mind-stream not carrying along the conventional mother as this person, that it’s more the fact that this person was our mother, but when they were our mother, it wasn’t the conventional person... like if you look at somebody in a bus, if they were our mother, it wasn’t that person who was our mother, it was their mind-stream in somebody else’s body, be it a turtle or whatever. So the mind-stream doesn’t carry along the conventional side of it, right?

Your question underlines the importance of understanding the past and the future. The question was, when we have this statement of “everybody has been our mothers,” when we look at somebody now, they’re not our mother now. So who was it? On a previous part of their mental continuum – maybe when they were a turtle and I was a turtle – they were our mother, but it’s not the same person now.

Now you have to get into the voidness of the person, that neither the same, nor totally different, and so a continuum. And in terms of a continuum then, when we talk about the past, the way that that is understood from a Buddhist point of view is the “no-longer-happening” of something. So there is “no-longer-happening of them being my mother,” and now we can take it a different way, which is “the mother which is no longer happening.”

So the mother which is no longer happening is an existent phenomenon. It’s not happening now, but that doesn’t mean that it is nonexistent and therefore we can’t know it. An “existent phenomenon” is something that we can know, and we can know something that is either happening now or not happening now. This is a very subtle difference, which if you don’t really go into the definitions, you miss, but a very crucial for understanding the past and the future. It’s not that they don’t exist at all; it’s just they’re not happening now. There is the aftermath of what’s no longer happening.

The no-longer-happening of my childhood: does my childhood exist? Can I know my childhood? Yes. Is it happening now? No. Is there some effect of my childhood on the way I am now? Well, yes! The way I am now – to use the technical jargon – is “indicative” of the way I was as a child. Like that, even though they’re not our mother now, we can know the no-longer-happening of their being our mother, and we can even know the mother, although that’s the mother which is no longer happening. You would know it by inference, from the logic that we just used.

And what would actually appear? Now you have to get into cognition theory, so what actually is going on in that cognition? What would go on in that cognition would be the “appearing object” – in other words, what’s right in front of the mind – is the category “mother.” Category “mother” doesn’t have a form or a shape, and so what represents that – if you look at abhidharma and different types of forms – would be what’s called a “totally imaginary form.”

So there’s a totally imaginary form which represents a mother, the category “mother,” and if it were a Buddha, that totally imaginary form that a Buddha would know non-conceptually – so not through the category of “mother” – would be accurate. For us, it’s not accurate. For a bodhisattva on the first bhumi, it would be accurate up to having been your mother a hundred eons ago. For the next bhumi, it would be up to a thousand eons ago; for a Buddha it would be beginningless.

There is a difference here between: does a Buddha actually see the mother at that time? Or is it a totally imaginary form? It’s a totally imaginary form; it’s not the actual external form of the past or the future, because it’s not happening now. You have to bring in a lot in order to really make sense of “a Buddha knows the past and the future.” What does a Buddha actually see? This all becomes very relevant in terms of bodhichitta meditation. What in the world do you focus on when you’re sitting there with bodhichitta?

And it’s not just compassion, which for a lot of people bodhichitta meditation devolves into; you just meditate on compassion and you call that bodhichitta; that’s not bodhichitta. We will get to that tomorrow, that’s where we’re leading to, the grand finale of “How do you actually meditate on bodhichitta single-pointedly, single-mindedly?” “What are you focusing on?” “My own individual enlightenment which is not-yet-happened.” I’ll give the punch line, I’ll be Tibetan and give the punch line first: What you’re focusing on is a representation of it, totally imaginary.

You visualize a Buddha and generate refuge and bodhichitta. What do you do? You have the tree in front of you with the assembled gurus and the Buddha there, that’s what is representing it, that’s what appears in your mind. But there are much more elaborate things that have to be added to that. That is very important if you’re going to sit there and meditate on bodhichitta, what in the world is going on in your mind? Especially if we’re supposed to do that single-mindedly. Where is this seven-part cause and effect meditation leading to? What’s the final step? We’ll get to that.

Anyway, we have here mother awareness, then we’re focusing on this, distinguishing this positive aspect of everybody’s mental continuum, distinguishing that from all the other aspects, “At some time they’ve been our mother.” We try to do that with whomever we see, and this needs to eventually be “unlabored” is the term, in other words, we don’t have to think about it, we don’t have to give some sort of reason for that. It just sort of comes automatically; you don’t have to work on it. That’s what this term “unlabored” means.

Sometimes people translate that as “uncontrived,” it’s not that it is a contrivance, the point is you don’t have to build it up. We’re so deeply convinced and familiar with this that, like for instance, if I look at this being in front of me, I am aware that this is a woman, and when I look at that being, I’m aware that he is a man, and I’m aware also that they’re a human being. I do not have to go through a line of reasoning that, “Because of this shape of body and so on, therefore this is a man, or a woman” – although obviously in some cases we can’t really tell very clearly – but this is what I’m talking about when we talk about “unlabored” – it’s obvious.

Step Two: Motherly Kindness

The next point is the kindness of everybody. It’s the same thing, everybody’s also been equally unkind to us, but that’s not going to be beneficial. As in the guru meditation, it’s not beneficial to focus on the teacher’s shortcomings and complain, because that’s what it degenerates into – isn’t it? – criticizing and complaining. That’s not going to get you anywhere on the spiritual path, it’s just going to bring you down. So without being in a state of denial, you focus on the good qualities, because that’s inspiring.

Similarly with all beings, rather than focusing on the times when they have let us down and disappointed us etc., which when you focus on that, is helpful for not becoming dependent on others, and not expecting that my friends are going to be my refuge and that I can always depend on and count on my friends, because people let you down, because we are all in samsara, so people are going to let you down. That’s why you go for refuge from Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, they’re not going to let you down.

In any case, everybody has been kind to us as a mother, when they’ve been our mother, so we focus on that aspect. Sure, we can think about how they’ve been kind to us even when they’ve not been our mother, but here in this particular one we think of when they’ve been kind to us as a mother, and we can go through... there’s all sorts of meditations that we can do here, and one meditation, one process – it’s not really a meditation, but it’s sort of a thinking process – is to review our life in five-year chunks:

What is the kindness that our mother has shown us in the first years of our life? In terms of helping to teach us how to walk, and how to talk, and feeding us, and changing our diaper, and all these sort of things, undergoing the birth of us, which is not a fun thing, but our mother was totally willing to undergo that, and all the discomfort of carrying us in the womb etc. That’s incredible. And then we went to school, and making meals for us, and even if our mother has been negligent, some things she might have done.

And we can do that not only here with mother, we can do that with other people: father, relatives, friends, somebody. That’s a very, very powerful meditation for overcoming “Nobody loves me,” which is really a downward spiral when we get into that frame of “Nobody loves me, poor me.” Well, we’ve been shown an unbelievable amount of love and kindness in our lifetimes.

Here we focus on the mother, so one method is to go through our life and think about what our mother has taught us, what she has done for us – almost like our servant – taking care of us, and how we wouldn’t be here today, if it weren’t for what she’s done. So that’s kindness of the mother.

Step Three: Gratitude and Appreciation

The next point is... this is an interesting term – I’ve always been a little bit puzzled with it – which is usually translated as “wanting to repay that kindness.” It sounds like a business deal, that “I owe her something and if I don’t pay it back, I’m guilty, I’m a rotten kid,” and so I’m very suspicious of that translation, and the connotation of it. I think it is more in the direction of “gratitude and appreciation,” “I’m really grateful for this kindness.” It’s not that I owe her something, “I really appreciate that, that’s incredible, what she did.”

It’s not just remembering it and being indifferent toward that, but a sincere, deep feeling of gratitude and appreciation that naturally will lead to some sort of action, at least a change of attitude. And I think it also leads a little bit to respect for what this person has done. It might not have been the perfect mother, but who is? So we have this type of gratitude, this third step. Whether or not it really is involved with wanting to pay it back... as I said, with our business mentality... and we don’t really want this third step to degenerate into a business deal, “And now I have to pay back the loan.”

I don’t think that’s helpful, do you? I think it can really lead into guilt. You do the checklist of “everything that she’s done for me,” and then the checklist of “everything I’ve done for her,” and they don’t quite match, and for us Westerners the next step is guilt, isn’t it? Let’s try not to go there in this meditation. We don’t want to help everybody because we feel guilty. And then we’re the martyr, that’s what that leads to, “I’m the martyr, and I will help everybody and ignore myself,”

So exchange of self with others on the basis of being the martyr – that’s very neurotic, that’s not really what we want here. It’s a third positive state of mind, “I really feel... I appreciate, this is incredible what she’s done, and what everybody has done. I couldn’t be where I am now, doing this practice, if it weren’t for every mother that I’ve ever had” – just in terms of allowing the continuity of my mental continuum, even on this totally fundamental level – I think that’s why “mother” is brought in here, because it’s just totally basic.

Maybe that’s enough for presenting these steps – we have to save some for the next sessions – and here we can do a meditation on these three steps: the awareness of mother, kindness of mother, and feeling of gratitude and appreciation of that kindness. All the steps that follow are based on that, that very positive state of mind toward everybody. We’ll do that for five or ten minutes, and then have some questions. And remember, when doing this, start with equanimity, that’s the basis. When we are not feeling this tension in terms of regarding everybody, then on the basis of that we have this mother awareness; otherwise if there’s still tension there, it’s very difficult to really have this second step.


In doing these meditations, one question often comes up, so let me ask it myself before one of you asks it, which is that, “I don’t feel anything when I do this meditation. Isn’t it pretty artificial?” I think that that’s OK when we’re dealing with these types of practices, particularly practices that entail overcoming self-cherishing, selfishness, self-centeredness, overcoming really heavy emotional baggage, if you want to put it that way. Come on, unless we are an arhat, we’re not going to be rid of all these disturbing emotions, and the self-cherishing, and the selfishness and so on, so of course it’s going to be artificial, and of course it’s going to be difficult, and of course we’re not going to really feel it.

Actually that becomes a difficult question, “What does it mean that I really feel it?” “How much do I have to feel in order to really feel it?” “Where is the border?” Obviously, this is a very subjective point, but I think that – at least from my own experience and from what I’ve gathered from some of my teachers – you just do it. Here comes your point of “Give it the benefit of the doubt,” that “This is going to be beneficial and whether I feel like helping somebody or not helping somebody, I’m going to do it, because I believe that it is beneficial and I want to build up a beneficial habit” – that’s what meditation is – “So I’m going to, when somebody is annoying me or there is a fly buzzing around my face, I’ll try to think in terms of mother. I may not feel it, it may seem silly, but I will try that.”

We can do this on all sorts of levels, whether you want to do it with mother... What I used to do in India was give names to the insects, generic names. It was Molly Mosquito, and Freddy Fly, and Larry the Lizard, and Waldo the Wolf Spider, and these type of things, and it made them almost into cartoon characters that made it easier to deal with them, because India, after all, is the land of insects. As I always used to joke, the travel blurb for India is, “If you like insects, you’ll love India.” It gets a lot of business that way.

So it is artificial, that’s okay. Eventually it will be sincere, and when it’s sincere, I don’t think that it is emotionally... I don’t know, I was going to say that I don’t think that it’s emotionally so “exciting,” but you have descriptions in the texts that you’re so moved that the hair stands on end on your body. So I guess for some people it is emotionally quite strong, these meditations, but I don’t think it has to be that way. There are some of us who feel that you don’t even know what that means yet, to feel emotions.

To feel them strongly, that’s a very strange concept, “Do you feel emotions?” “I don’t feel my emotions. I have them, but I don’t feel them.” What in the world does that mean? But in any case, I think that you just do it, and try to have this – as I said, it all comes down to equanimity as the basis. Without the basis then it’s quite difficult.


I think you were trying to emphasize the basic point of the mother sustaining us in the womb. And then you said something about “She didn’t cease our continuum,” or something like that. But continuums can’t be ceased.

She didn’t have an abortion – obviously, if she had an abortion, we’d continue anyway – she wasn’t our murderer.

A little related to the “I don’t feel anything” question would be how this process works. Is it just the familiarity or the repetitiveness that imprints the mind-stream, and then you start remembering in an unlabored way? Or is there something else going on with meditation?

That’s an interesting question, in terms of not feeling anything, how does it work? Is it just through repetition that it sort of becomes part of us, like brainwashing? Or is there something different from brainwashing going on here? Or conditioning of the rat in the maze?

I don’t know. I think it is conditioning. We are consciously building up a beneficial habit. But you could be brainwashed in a positive way or a negative way. I think “brainwashed” is a heavy term and usually it implies forcing someone to believe something that’s not true. That’s why, what I was saying before, to think of the logical basis of this, that it is logical that everybody has been our mother, and it is logical that at that point they’ve been kind to us and so on. So that it’s not brainwashing with a system that is false and that is being forced on us for the purpose of manipulation. But in terms of conditioning? It is conditioning. Is it autosuggestion?

But what is any self-discipline?

What is any self-discipline? That’s true. Brainwashing myself to drive on the one side of the road and to stop when this light turns red – how Pavlovian can you get? The light turns red and you stop, the light turns green and you continue going after the cheese.

Is it also true that we have to remember the teachings correctly that we’ve listened to, and that can influence how well we do the meditation and whether we get some feeling from it?

Is it that the more we remember the teachings... “remember,” by the way, is the same word as mindful, mindfulness is the mental glue to hold on while you are remembering, it’s not the process of bringing it up to consciousness, that’s what attention does. But the mindfulness is the mental glue that holds on while you are remembering and not letting go. Do we need to be mindful of all the other teachings in order to feel something emotionally?

That I don’t know. I think that if we look to the dimension – this has just come to the top of my head, I haven’t explored this more deeply, but what comes to the top of my head in answering the question is – what moves you to feel something? So you look at the whole spectrum of the Buddhist teachings, and you do your search engine number, and what comes up number one is the relation to the spiritual teacher.

That is the source of all – this unfortunate translation of the term – “blessings.” What does it mean? It means literally, literally “waves of brightening and uplifting,” so I call it “inspiration.” It’s not blessings from on high, laying on hands, that type of thing – although they do do hand blessings – but it is inspiration, so that moves you. That is what... presumably, if you actually feel something, that’s what is going to be the basis of feeling.

[See: "Blessings" or Inspiration?]

Therefore, look at the Lama Chopa, the Guru Puja. You have the verses in the last part of the Lama Chopa, “Inspire me to change my attitude about self and others, inspire me to recognize all my mothers are suffering...” I don’t know the verses by heart, but anyway it’s “inspire me to be able to do that.” So we can take that one step further, or one step deeper, “Inspire me to feel something.” Thinking of the kindness of the guru and appreciation and all of that, that is what suggests that when we think of the kindness of mothers, we develop appreciation and respect and gratitude, because it’s the same terms involved with the teacher.

[See: The Guru Puja]

Because there’s a personal relationship with the teacher... although that also becomes a problem. The root guru – “root,” so that’s where we draw our sustenance, and that’s the person we get the most inspiration from – isn’t necessarily the one that we received the most teachings from, or the one we spent the most time with. And certainly not the one that we’ve spent the most personal, individual time with, because for most people the one that’s the most inspiring would be His Holiness the Dalai Lama or someone like that.

But there has to be this thing of, they really move your heart, that’s what gives you strength. And I think once the emotional feeling gets moving through that inspiration, then we can start to feel other things. So the relation with the teacher really is the root of the path, the fuel to feel something if we have blocks in feeling something, which many people have. So that’s the first thing that came up on my internal search engine for “How in the world could you start to feel something if you’re the type of person that has sort of Novocained feelings.”

During this meditation, I find that by looking at and visualizing this other person as my mother, I am projecting. And for having an experience as a mother, and having that visceral, that tangible experience of that... I don’t even know... there are only so many words you can use, it’s overpowering with love, it’s unconditional love for a being. So having that feeling and then projecting it on to someone... Let me just cut to the chase. What I do is that I see the other person as “I’ve been their mother.” “I’ve been your mother,” so reversing it, because I can bring up that feeling of equanimity, that when I see people that I have a very difficult time with, then “OK...I’m your mother,” because it brings up that feeling that I have, which I try to equalize as a Dharma practitioner.

I don’t know whether I should be doing it, but that is more helpful in my mind with creating the equanimity than the other, because I’ve had that experience as a mother. And so knowing how... in the ultimate form why we use mother, so being born in this life as a mother, I can see why perhaps the male teachers have done that. So it is quite exceptional, and it is amazing when you really think about the quality of mothers. When you really look at the ultimate feeling, it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing and to have that established in a way that you can give your equanimity, because to me it’s about equanimity, to me it’s about equalizing ourself and others, so what works better on my end is to do what I have just explained, and I don’t know, am I tweaking it a bit?

Well, you see, what comes to my mind in response to what you said is that you’re jumping to a next step, in which you have heartwarming love and you would love others like you would cherish your only child. That comes in, but it comes in at another step, and so the question really is sequence. It’s not pervasive that every mother loves her child. I’ve known mothers that wished they had aborted their child, and they resent the child, and resent the imposition, and really abuse the child.

So it’s not totally pervasive that a mother will really love the child, but let’s say that most do, as you explain. Sure, there’s nothing negative about that – it works – and extending it to others. But we need to have a method that includes everybody, not just those who have had the experience in this lifetime of being the mother to another being. There are many women who also never have a child. If you have had that experience, you can draw on that, but in giving a Buddhist method we have to give a method that can be used by everybody.

Yes, I understand that, as a Buddhist method, but as an individual? I would think that the equanimity is the basis – correct? – and that we’re trying to get the equanimity?

The equanimity is the ground level, that’s the basis. I don’t know, as I say, I haven’t really thought about this, so I can only speak about what comes to the top of my head, but look at the sequence – lam-rim – we have started with the initial and then the intermediate scope. In this intermediate scope we have focused on our suffering and disgust with our suffering, all the problems that we’ve had and we want to get out of that. So we have looked at a pretty negative side of life, a very unsatisfactory side of life. How would we make the transition to looking at a positive side of life?

I think it’s helpful to think in terms of what we received, rather than what we’ve given, just in terms of a psychological emotional development. “Life has been such a drag, and it’s like that, and I want to get out of it,” so that could lead to a “poor me” mentality, and so before we get to the step of the caring love for everybody like a mother to her only child, maybe it has an emotional value to think of what I’ve received. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. Being the mother is certainly a positive thing and something that can be used, but we also have to think of the sequence of the development.

In the context of developing equanimity with the people for whom we have aversion, I wonder if it’s also helpful... There are people for whom we have aversion, with whom we are just bound in this lifetime; we can’t get rid of them; we’re just inextricably involved with them. I wonder if it’s helpful with those people also to consider our permanent connection with them, not that we can know, but just to contemplate the fact that we may have had vast past karmic connections that we’re working out somehow in this lifetime and we could generate kindness or positive regard toward them because of that?

The question is, when we’re dealing with people with whom we have an aversion in this equanimity meditation, is it also helpful to think in terms of previous karmic connections that have caused us to be very much involved with this person that we have difficulty with? It could be a relative, that it’s going to be our relative for as long as they live, or as long as we live, and we have a difficult relationship with this person, and are there karmic reasons for that?

Of course there are karmic reasons for that. And can we use lojong methods, attitude-training methods, to train ourselves to look at this in a different way? Well, there’s plenty of methods that we can use, “This is the wheel of sharp weapons coming back,” and “This is the ripening of karma,” and “This person is also under the influence of so many other causes and conditions that it’s causing this person to act in that way and causing me to respond in a certain way. It’s not just that our relationship are the only causal factors involved here.”

[See: Wheel of Sharp Weapons – Literal Translation]

And we can use other transformation methods, “This is my teacher,” “This is like finding a precious gem for practicing patience,” there are all these methods, sure, we can draw on them here.

[See: Eight Verses of Mind Training]

But these are methods dealing with the conventional truth of these things, and what I was suggesting earlier in terms of mental labeling and basis for labeling is dealing with the deepest truth aspect. So sure, first we use conventional truth methods and then, when we have a little bit of control over the situation – and I don’t mean this in the sense of a separate me, “Now I’m controlling everything” – when it’s a little bit more undramatic, then we go to the deepest level methods.

With bodhichitta also, there’s conventional and deepest bodhichitta in terms of dealing with the... well, we’ll get to this, but if we’re focusing on our not-yet-happened enlightenment we want to achieve – referring to the third and fourth noble truths: true stopping and true pathway mind that leads to that – then if we’re focusing on the true pathway mind that leads to that, then that is involving us with love and compassion – so the method side – and if we’re dealing with the true stopping aspect, we’re dealing with the voidness side.

So we have conventional bodhichitta and deepest bodhichitta, so you can sort of bring it in in this way. We need to deal with both levels – conventional truth and deepest truth – and apply methods dealing with conventional truth and methods dealing with deepest truth. Just conventional bodhichitta is not sufficient for achieving enlightenment, and deepest bodhichitta is not sufficient for reaching enlightenment – you need both, because it’s the third and fourth noble truths: true stopping and true pathway minds.

I must admit I sort of test the validity of teachings with the warmth that’s there, and so I wonder if it’s helpful... when we are working with equanimity with those that we feel attraction, repulsion or aversion, and indifference toward, we feel natural warmth to the one we’re attached to, attracted to, but wouldn’t it be helpful for equanimity to develop warmth toward all of them?

Remember, there are two forms of equanimity, there is the equanimity that’s developed in common with Hinayana, and the exclusively – so-called exclusive, I wouldn’t guarantee that there is no Hinayanist who developed it, but in any case – equanimity in the context of Mahayana. The first one, which is what comes in this particular meditation sequence, is the one that is “simply” free of attachment, repulsion, and indifference.

The Mahayana one is, “Everybody wants to be happy and nobody wants to be unhappy, so everybody is equal in that,” so equally concern and warmth toward everybody. So that’s the one where you extend warmth to everybody equally. But this one is not that, and it is, as I said, the point is not to experience this tension that is there of being drawn in one direction or another, but just to be completely relaxed and open to everybody, and then you can build on that as the foundation.

That is the most basic foundation. First you want to clear out the garbage, as they say “smooth the road,” smooth the path and then you can build on it. Whereas to start with developing warmth to everybody, that’s like putting a nice sugarcoating over a rocky surface. If you haven’t leveled out that rocky surface, the sugar on top could wear off.

With that Hinayana equanimity I think I end up with indifference, rather... people use the word “detachment,” and I know that that’s not... and it gets to be as though I’m off gear and not feeling anything and that’s equanimity, and I know it’s not, but I don’t think I have a feeling for what is meant...

A feeling for what is really meant by equanimity, because she says that it tends to go in the direction of indifference. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that. There are a lot of practices in Buddhism that, just as I was saying, help to build up a way of thinking that leads us in the direction of bodhichitta – in terms of focusing on positive qualities. That’s associated with the fourth noble truth, true pathway mind. But there’s also a lot associated with the third noble truth, which is an absence, a stopping of something.

A lot of the meditations are building up to that, like “a precious human rebirth,” wow, there’s an absence of being born in one of the hells, there’s an absence of starving to death, being tortured, being with missing limbs or missing senses, and stuff like that. So you focus on this absence, and that starts to help us to get into that way of looking at things that can lead us eventually to an absence of impossible ways of existing and a true stopping – so the third noble truth, part of our Dharma refuge and part of that future enlightenment that we’re aiming to achieve with bodhichitta.

Similarly, when we’re dealing with this equanimity, it is an absence of attachment, aversion, and indifference. And to realize just as when you have... well, this becomes an interesting thing, remember we were saying that when you focus on voidness... we used the example of trying to find our keys, and there are no keys, the keys aren’t here, the absence of the keys. Or you look for chocolate in the house, there is no chocolate. And it finally sinks in, there is no chocolate, and what appears is nothing, there is none – but the understanding is that there’s no chocolate.

Likewise – I’m just speaking off the top of my head, I haven’t really thought about this before – when we have this state of no attachment, no aversion, and no indifference, what are we left with? Are we left with nothing? So “Now I feel nothing.” I don’t think that we’re left with an emotional nihilism. There is an absence of these things, but there is an emotional understanding there, which is basically – and here you have to bring in basically Nyingma dzogchen terminology – an “openness” that’s there.

Is the openness an emotionally moving experience? Well, maybe for some people it is, for some people it isn’t. I don’t think that that is a necessary component to it – the energy doesn’t have this tension of being drawn to some, and repulsed from others, and shutting off others.

And this thing about warmth... I think that if you investigate clinging attachment and desire for someone – is that really warmth? Or is that sort of pushing yourself on somebody, primarily because. “It makes me feel so good to be with you,” and “It makes me feel so good to do things for you,” and “To try to make you happy makes me feel good,” “I like doing that, whether you want my help or not,” “Whether you want my company or not, I don’t care.” So is it really warmth, or is it basically an ego thing?

I think attachment, desire, greed for more and more of the other person’s time and attention goes over into clinging. And “just as I feel uncomfortable when somebody clings to me and makes all sorts of demands on me, they don’t like that either.” And then we look at the other side, when somebody is really... I use this example sometimes in the sensitivity training: the mother that’s always nagging us – or father, or whoever it might be – the one that’s always nagging us, “Do this,” “Why don’t you get a job?” “Why don’t you get married?” “Why don’t you...” all this sort of stuff that can cause a lot of people to have great aversion and hostility toward the person directing that nagging.

If you analyze it, why is that person doing that? Because they care about us. Their idea of what would make us happy might be faulty, but they’re nagging us because they basically want us to be happy. It is a sign of love – “Oh, so that changes it a little bit” – that they’re a little bit confused about what would be the best method to help me, perhaps, but their intention is good. Whether it’s the nagging mother, whether it is the imperialist, whether it is the missionary, whoever it is, from their point of view they are trying to do something that they think is beneficial for you, for the other person.

For gaining tolerance – patience goes in that direction – you look at another aspect called “lojong,” change your attitude, changing something negative into something positive... Anyway these are just my thoughts.