Next is the renunciation of clinging to our own aims – in other words self-cherishing – and having our main interest instead being in cherishing others and fulfilling their aims. What are we determining to be free of? We need to identify that, and this is having our main interest in being fulfilling our own selfish aims and ignoring fulfilling the aims of others. For example, “I want to get the best seat at the concert, and I don’t care if the others have to sit way in the back or stand” – that kind of attitude.
Over-refutation and Under-refutation of Renouncing Clinging to Our Own Aims
Over-refuting would be totally ignoring ridding ourselves of unawareness, disturbing emotions and compulsive behavior, so that impedes our ability to help others. For example, “I shouldn’t take care of my own aims to gain liberation and enlightenment, so I’m not going to work on myself, I’m only going to help others.” This would be the whole martyr trip as a bodhisattva: “I don’t have to take care of my needs, I’m only going to take care of yours.” Even as a bodhisattva, we still need to eat, we still need to sleep, we still need to meditate and work on our own disturbing emotions.
Under-refuting would be to work to rid ourselves of selfish concern regarding helping only those that we like and neutral beings, but not people or life forms that we don’t like. “I’m going to work to help all my friends, all my loved ones, but forget about the other people that I don’t like,” or “I’m going to work to benefit all humans, but work to help all mosquitos? Come on, that’s too much.” May all humans have enough food to eat. What about the mosquitos? May all mosquitos have enough people to bite, so that they will be able to live? It starts to become very weird, “I’ll sacrifice myself to the mosquitos.” Nevertheless, there are some highly-developed people who let mosquitos feed from their arms when they land on them, but that’s quite rare.
The Causes and Disadvantages of Self-Cherishing
The cause of self-cherishing is considering ourselves better than others, so we lack seeing the equality of all beings. We consider ourselves special. It’s a very common attitude, isn’t it? “I’m special, and I should have my way.” Or we consider our loved ones and friends as special. We also lack recognizing the equality of everybody as having been our mothers, having been kind to us, and so we don’t feel grateful to everybody for the kindness they’ve shown us in previous lives when they’ve been our mothers. That’s an obstacle to cherishing everybody equally.
What are the disadvantages of self-cherishing? First of all, nobody likes a selfish person, so nobody will like us. In acting destructively to get what we want just for ourselves, we close ourselves off to warm contact with others. Our hearts are very closed, so we feel lonely. We suspect and mistrust others, because we’re afraid they’ll prevent us from getting our own way. So, being very selfish and thinking only of ourselves is a very unhappy state of mind.
Over-estimating or Under-estimating Working to Fulfill the Aims of Others
What are we aiming for? We’re aiming to have our major concern be for the welfare of others. Over-estimating that would be to think that we’re an almighty, omnipotent god, and we can solve everyone’s problems. We need to be realistic about how much we can actually help others. It’s very common that we give advice to others and it fails. It didn’t work, so we feel guilty. But we need to remember, we’re not yet Buddhas, so we don’t know the best way to help others. We can only try our best.
Even if we become omniscient Buddhas, and we know what is the best way to help each and every being, all that we can do is show them the way. Each and every being has to do the work themselves. A Buddha can’t liberate others for them. A Buddha can’t understand reality for them. They need to work and gain understanding themselves.
Under-estimating would be to think that people need to liberate themselves – which is true – but then we don’t need to help them, because they need to do all the work. That’s under-estimating that we can have any effect on others by trying to teach them and help them. It’s not that we can do everything for them, but it’s also not that we can do nothing for them. We can help as best as is possible by showing them the way, and setting ourselves as a good example.
The Benefits of Being Free of Self-Cherishing
What are the benefits of being free of self-cherishing and cherishing others instead? The benefits of cherishing others are that it opens our minds and hearts, so that we’re better able to understand voidness. When we develop the four immeasurable attitudes: love, compassion, joy and equanimity, our minds and hearts, and so our energy, are open to the vastness of the universe. When they’re open like that, and we're not just focusing on “me, me, me and I want to be happy,” in which the energy and everything is closed, we gain the openness to be able to understand voidness. It’s not that things are just closed in some sort of plastic wrapping; things are very open. We even have a term for that in the Nyingma teachings, the open space of the mind. That’s the term long (klong) if you are familiar with Tibetan.
Also, cherishing others builds up a positive force for overcoming obscurations and obstacles. Remember, we discussed that if you have beginningless confusion, beginningless compulsive karmic behavior, and so on, the inertia of that is enormous. It continues and continues and perpetuates itself. So, we need a tremendous amount of positive force to oppose that, to out-weigh that. That’s why we need to build up three zillion eons of it. How do we build up so much positive force? It’s through cherishing others, not just thinking in terms of “I have to get my way.”
There are many further benefits of cherishing others: others will like us and are open to us. Of course, we need to use our discriminating awareness in helping others, because sometimes we over-help them. That’s when they don’t want our help, they don’t need our help, and we’re pushing our help on them. Then they can be quite closed to us: “Leave me alone, I want to do it myself.” So we need to use our discriminating awareness to know when to help and when to help better by not helping. That’s the over-enthusiastic bodhisattva: “I’m going to do everything for you” and you say, “Please! Let me do it.” Especially if you have children: as they get older, you don’t want to do everything for them, do you? They need to learn how to tie their shoes themsleves; you don’t tie their shoes forever, to use a silly example.
I must say that this is a big danger when following the bodhisattva path, that you want to help everybody and you try to do too much for people. That’s why it’s so important to become a Buddha, so we know what will help and what will not help. Often letting other persons do it for themselves helps far more than doing it for them.
If we work to cherish others and help others, we become happier, since we get a sense of self-worth and self-confidence in our ability to be of help. When somebody has a feeling of low self-worth, the best help for them is to let them help you; let them do something constructive. It’s very interesting, the way that the Tibetans in the monasteries encourage this by having the very young novices, the children, pass out the tsog – the food, the candies, the fruit and things that are passed out during the puja rituals. They have little children novices do that. It gives the children a sense of participating, that they can actually do something that helps in the ritual. Emotionally, psychologically, that’s very intelligent.
Then, what we will do once we attain this sense of having our main interest be in cherishing others? We will help others as much as is possible and develop the bodhichitta aim to be able to help others as much as we can.
The Methods for Developing More Concern for Others
When we have that determination to be free of our selfishness, our self-cherishing, then what method do we follow to get rid of that and to develop more concern for others? First, we need to develop the equanimity that’s free of attachment, repulsion and ignoring others, so that we’re equally open to everyone. “I’m not attached to this one, I’m not repulsed from that one, I don’t ignore others. I don’t have favorites; I’m open to everybody, equally.” That’s developing equanimity in the emotional direction, in terms of not having attachments, repulsion or putting up the walls.
We reinforce that with equanimity based on a rational understanding. Here, we develop the equanimity that sees all others as being equal, including ourselves, in that we all equally want happiness and all equally don’t want unhappiness. Then we develop the method further by thinking of the disadvantages of self-cherishing, the advantages of cherishing others, and then we train in tonglen, taking on the suffering of others to overcome our self-cherishing and get rid of the resistance that we have of dealing with the suffering of others. With tonglen, we imagine taking others’ problems and sufferings on ourselves, and then giving them happiness.
Gaining Confidence That We Can Exchange Our Attitudes about Self and Others
The last point is gaining confidence that we are capable of changing our attitude of whom we are most concerned about. If we think about it, this body that we consider ourselves came from the sperm and egg of two other people, our parents, so actually we have cherished part of the bodies of two other people. How can we say it’s my body? It didn’t come from our own sperm and egg; it came from somebody else’s sperm and egg, didn’t it?
If we can cherish a body that comes from the sperm and egg of two other people, we can cherish any body that comes from the sperm and egg of two other people. What’s the difference? That gives us confidence that just as I can wipe my nose, I can wipe somebody else’s nose as well. It’s just a nose. A nose is a nose. There’s no big difference. We are quite willing to wipe the nose of our own baby with our own finger, but are we going to wipe the nose of the drunk on the street with our finger? Probably not. What’s the difference?
Also, if we compare what Buddha accomplished with cherishing others, and what we’ve accomplished with cherishing ourselves, and think how Buddha started out the same way that we are now, that gives us confidence that if Buddha can do it, we can do it too.
That completes the discussion of the determination to be free of self-cherishing, thinking only of my own aims, and developing my main interest being in cherishing the aims of others and trying to fulfill them. As we can see, in each of these levels of determination to be free, and each of the points with which we’ve analyzed them, we could spend a lot of time elaborating on it, thinking about it and meditating on it. This is just a framework, a structure that we can use for our own practice.
We have some time for questions, if you have any.
Questions about Positive Force, “Merit”
It’s difficult for me to understand the concept of positive force or merit. Could you maybe give some example from life that it would be easier to understand?
I’ve been working for many years now on my website, berzinarchives.com and before that, I lived and worked in India for 29 years studying, but primarily serving my teachers, first Serkong Rinpoche, and then as my training with him progressed, serving His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was Serkong Rinpoche’s interpreter. I arranged all his international travels, I translated for him whenever he taught, helped write letters for him, got all the visas for him and his attendants, etc. I also served occasionally as interpreter for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and carried out many projects for him around the world, and continue to do so.
The best way to serve and help your teacher is to help them to serve others, so this is what I’ve done. If you look at the teachings on karma, that builds up a tremendous amount of positive force, and even the type of positive force that can ripen in this lifetime. Most karmic force doesn’t ripen in this lifetime, but particularly helping your teacher to help others can ripen in this lifetime.
With my website, it’s very clear, there’s no other explanation except positive force for all that I’ve done that has resulted in the fact that, the way that I describe it, everything for this website has fallen from the sky without any effort. Without asking for help, people have come to make the website and maintain it. Money has fallen from the sky without even asking for it, and it continues over and over and over again. There is no explanation except karma, positive force. The more that people use the website and benefit from it, the more positive force it builds up, so it continues to make even more positive force.
Just an example that happened a few days ago: we’re making the new website right now, which we’re renaming studybuddhism.com, working with an IT company in Berlin and an excellent designer. The other day, the designer mentioned to our project manager that it would be wonderful if we could add illustrations into some of the articles. The next day, the designer got an email from an old friend of hers who has worked with her before, an illustrator, saying, “I’m looking for some work, do you have anything?” This illustrator just fell from the sky like that, instantly the next day. That’s a clear example, it just happens like that, over and over again, without looking for what we need. Boom! There it is.
I must admit, that in my experience with this website, I was way on the side of believing in karma before, but now I’m totally convinced. There’s no explanation for what’s happening other than karma, positive force. The point is not to feel arrogant about it, not to feel smug, “Oh, I’m so great” and stuff like that, but to continue to build up positive force, and without effort, it ripens. You have an example of this from the life of Geshe Ben Gungyal (’Ban Gung-rgyal, ’Phen rKun-rgal), who was a thief in his early life, but later became an intense meditator. He said, “When I was a thief, I couldn’t find enough food to eat. But now that I devote my life to meditation and practice, I don’t have enough mouths to put all the food in that people give to me as offerings.”
Is it possible to say that positive karma and positive force are synonyms, and if so, why do you in particular call it positive force and not positive karma.
Karma is a mental factor – the compulsiveness that drives us to act or think or speak in a certain way. It produces a result. That result is karmic force or karmic potential. What comes from our behavior, which is based on this compulsiveness of karma, is called positive or negative karmic force. Karma and karmic force are not the same.
Speaking loosely, a lot of people refer to karmic force or karmic potential as good karma, bad karma, but that’s not a precise usage of the words. That compulsiveness with which we lie, with which we cling to things, that compulsiveness with which we are a perfectionist – that’s what karma is talking about. That’s what we want to rid ourselves of – compulsiveness – so that all our behavior is based on compassion, not just based on these compulsive drives that we have no control over.
In English, many translators and many teachers translate the word karma as “action.” The reason for that is that the Tibetan word used to translate karma is the colloquial word for action. Naturally they translate it that way, but the absurd conclusion would follow that if karma meant action, then ridding ourselves of karma means ridding ourselves of doing anything whatsoever. Therefore, if we stop doing anything, then we would become liberated – that’s the absurd conclusion that would follow if karma meant action.
Even when physical and verbal karma is explained in the more complex Prasangika system as forms of physical phenomena, still they are referring to the compulsive shape of our actions, the compulsive sound of our words and the subtle energy from them. These karmas do not refer to the actions themselves.
In short, what we want to rid ourselves of is the compulsiveness of our actions, not the actions themselves. And, of course, we want to rid yourself of destructive behavior, that’s beside the point. But we don’t want to rid ourselves of constructive behavior altogether, but rather we want to rid ourselves of compulsive constructive behavior done as an ego trip.