We started our discussion of the Eight Verses of Mind Training by Langri Tangpa, with the first verse:
(1) May I always cherish all limited beings by considering how far superior they are to wish-granting gems for actualizing the supreme aim.
We discussed how practicing with others, developing compassion, being patient with them and so on, is the only way to reach enlightenment. This is the supreme aim mentioned in the verse, our whole motive for reaching enlightenment. Further, the wish to benefit others is what gives our understanding of voidness the strength to cut through both the emotional as well as the cognitive obscurations. These two obscurations are what prevent our liberation and our omniscient enlightenment.
The only reason for reaching enlightenment is to benefit others; and this is why others are so extremely important, more important than a wish-granting gem, which can only provide us with worldly things. As Shantideva says:
(VI.132) Should even such a king be pleased (with me), it's impossible that he could bestow Buddhahood, which is what I'd be brought to attain by having made limited beings be pleased.
(VI.133) (Leave aside) seeing that the future attainment of Buddhahood arises from making limited beings be pleased, don't you see that, at least in this life, great prosperity, fame, and happiness come?
(VI.134) (Moreover), with beauty and so on, freedom from sickness, and fame, someone with patience, while still in samsara, gains extremely long life and the abundant pleasures of a universal chakra king.
In other words, we will not only gain this supreme aim, but we will also get all the various facilities, like prosperity, being well known, happiness, freedom from sickness, and so on. However, it’s not that we want to have these abilities only for our own happiness. But the more capabilities we have, the greater an influence we can have on others. If we have prosperity, we can travel everywhere and can help others materially. If we’re well known, people will be more open and receptive to us and will come to us for help. Otherwise, if they’ve never heard of us, how will we really be able to help them, except with prayers? All of these things in our lives come from the positive force that’s built up by helping others.
Now, the second verse of our text:
(2) Whenever I come into anyone’s company, may I regard myself less than everyone else, and, from the depths of my heart, value others more highly than I do myself.
There are two way of understanding and interpreting or translating this verse. First, when we think of the advantages of helping or cherishing others, as opposed to the disadvantages of only thinking of and cherishing ourselves, then we will naturally think less about our own happiness. We will also value and cherish others more highly. In other words, we will value working for others more highly, realizing that not only can the supreme aim of reaching enlightenment be fulfilled this way, but even ordinary aims can be achieved as well. This is one way of understanding the second verse.
The other way of understanding this is through translating the line as,
Whenever I come into anyone’s company, may I regard myself as the lowest of all, and from the depth of my heart value others as higher than myself.
If we take this very literally, in a Western psychological context it could seem to be just reinforcing low self-esteem; but that’s not what is intended here. What is meant by the verse is the developing humility and overcoming arrogance.
When we are with others, if we are only thinking of and cherishing ourselves, then of course we just consider our own point of view: “What would be of benefit to me? What do I want?” We tend to talk just about ourselves, for example, and think only of our own comfort. This of course leads to all sorts of problems and suffering. “I wanted it to be like this and then it didn’t work out like I wanted.” We get all upset because the other person wanted something else, and so on. However, if we cherish others and think of them as being more important than ourselves in this respect, then we don’t get so upset.
Of course, we need to have a balance between taking care of our own and others’ needs. But, as His Holiness always points out, if we think in terms of numbers, then certainly others are almost infinite in number and we’re only one. If we look to see what would be fair, then obviously working for others is far more important than just working for our own selfish aims. However, we do have to differentiate between our personal selfish aims and the goal of working to improve ourselves so that we have the facilities to be able to help others more, which is ultimately not a selfish objective to have.
As Geshe Chekawa said in the Seven Point Lojong, “Put all the blame on one thing,” which is self-cherishing. This is actually very helpful when we’re feeling upset and disturbed in some way or another. It doesn’t have to only be with situations with other people. Even when we’re by ourselves, put the blame on one thing. In other words, look and see, “Why am I so upset?” and we will find that it’s because of self-cherishing. “I wanted it to be like this and it wasn’t.” This is usually why we’re so upset.
Then, of course, we can start to apply many opponents to self-cherishing, and not just the opponent of thinking of the voidness of the self, of “me.” We can also think about how it is totally unrealistic to expect everything always to work out the way that we want it to. That’s truly absurd. What do we expect from samsara? Therefore, it’s very helpful, when we’re upset, to not just stay in it and feel worse and worse. Instead, we have to work on reducing our self-cherishing.
Shantideva explains this very nicely:
(VIII.126) Paining others for my own self-aims, I'll be tormented in joyless realms and the like; but paining myself for the aims of others, I'll acquire all glories.
(VIII.127) Through the wish for just myself to advance come the worse rebirth states, low status, and stupidity; but transferring that very (wish) to others brings the better rebirth states, honor, (and intelligence).
(VIII.128) Ordering others around for my own self-aims, I'll experience being a servant and worse; but ordering myself around for the aims of others, I'll experience being a lord and better.
(VIII.129) All whosoever who are happy in the world are (so) through the wish for the happiness of others; while all whosoever who are miserable in the world are (so) through the wish for the happiness of themselves.
(VIII.130) But what need is there to elaborate more? Just look at the difference between the two: an infantile person acting for his own self-aims and Sage (Buddha) acting for the aims of others.
Practice Cherishing Others in Daily Life
Shantideva presents very clearly in these verses the disadvantages of cherishing ourselves and the advantages of cherishing others. Therefore, we should try to work on this in meditation, for instance when we’re having a problem and something didn’t work out in our lives, and we’re really very upset and unhappy. At such times, we need to identify the source of our problem, “Okay, it’s because I’m just thinking of it from my own point of view. I wanted it like this, and I didn’t get it. Poor me.”
Next, we think, “What is the result of being upset and thinking like that? It just makes me more and more miserable. It just puts me figuratively in a hell-type state of mind, disables me from helping others, and so on. Whereas if I think of the other person, from their point of view, trying to understand their way of thinking, and if I consider the larger scope of others in general, then it’s inappropriate to only think of my own point of view. If I think in terms of others, that will broaden my mind, make me happier, I can understand more and so on.”
Overcoming Resistance and Objections
Okay, we’ve heard all of this, and there are all sorts of other teachings of methods that we can use for overcoming these types of self-destructive attitudes. The problem is, when we meditate on it, what happens? We’re usually able to have an intellectual understanding, but emotionally we have a lot of difficulty accepting that the troublemaker is our self-cherishing attitude. We’re still upset.
If we examine the whole process more closely, we discover that “I don’t want to accept that the others’ point of view is more important than my own,” and that “If I think in terms of that, I won’t be so upset.” We don’t want to accept that. “But I still wanted it this way!” and “Poor me!” That still comes up. Even though we might be able to act appropriately, not say something nasty to the other person, and outwardly seem forgiving, inwardly we’re still upset.
One way to handle this is to think of the analogy of a wild horse or a dog, or something like that. We tie up the horse or the dog in a pen with a fence and they go crazy. They don’t want to settle down. The horse or the dog is trying to get away, barking and so on. That’s what our minds are like. When we try to stay focused on the benefits of cherishing others and thinking of others, understanding that it really is a losing battle to think just of ourselves, we don’t really want to accept this. We feel very uncomfortable. It’s like we’re the dog trying to get away from the mindfulness that’s holding us to the post of this thought.
The only way to actually start to feel it on an emotional level, beyond only the intellectual understanding, is to just force ourselves to stay with our thoughts. The longer that we can stay with them, the sooner the ego-powered mind eventually gives up and relaxes. It’s when we’re able to relax, that we can begin to actually feel it emotionally. At least from my own experience, I find that this is the only way that we can break through the barrier between intellectual and emotional understanding.
Further, the use of animal images is a method that Tibetans employ quite a lot to illustrate our absurd behavior. It’s quite helpful to think of our minds and emotions being like the dog that’s tied to the fence on a chain, constantly trying to run away, but getting jerked back and barking, “I don’t want to accept this thing that I intellectually understand. I’m still upset.” If we view ourselves like that, it’s easier to accept that we surely don’t want to be like this dog. Instead, we’ll want to quiet down and relax.
However, we’re constantly making objections: “But!” We see it in class. We come across a Buddhist attitude that might seem quite radical, shocking and out of the ordinary, and then we object and object. We say, “No, I can’t do this,” and “It’s too difficult,” and so on. This type of objection is an example of the dog barking, being on the chain.
It’s true that we need to examine things critically; however, questioning is something else. In this case, we’re talking about after we’ve examined things critically and we still don’t want to accept. It is then that it’s a matter of relaxing. This is very much the teachings that we have in shamatha, a stilled and settled state of mind. We need to quiet our mental agitation.
Let’s take a few minutes to examine ourselves, to look at some sort of problem that we might be having. Here are the steps:
- Try to see that the problem is coming from self-cherishing.
- See if you’re actually able to accept that and quiet down.
- If it’s emotionally not possible, think more of the need to cherish others.
- Focus on how the other person’s point of view is more important and try to value this other person more highly than yourself.
- See if you can quiet down with that.
Just do it for a couple of minutes now. Obviously, it is not going to be so effective when done so briefly. But this is something really to work on in meditation especially when we’re upset about something that’s happened in our life, whether big or small.
When we try to develop a stilled and settled state of mind, shamatha, or shine in Tibetan, there are many different kinds of objects we can focus on, not just our breath or a Buddha image. Most of them are various types of understandings to oppose our disturbing emotions. Therefore, it’s very good to practice gaining a stilled and settled mind with them.
When one thinks about it, perhaps when we quiet down, we can start to emotionally accept this understanding of cherishing others. If we can quiet down sufficiently, then, when we get to the nature of the mind, the various good qualities are all present. It’s just a matter of quieting down enough to get in contact with the basic quality of warmth, understanding, acceptance, openness, and so on. In the West these are the qualities we associate with an “emotional understanding” of something.
Therefore, in order to cherish others more highly than ourselves, one of the ways of doing this is to focus on Buddha-nature and combine this with the understanding that we’re only one person and that there are many, many more others than just us.
Shantideva indicates these two topics of focus in the following verses:
(VI.118) Since a share giving rise to a Buddha's foremost Dharma (attainments) exists in limited beings, it's fitting that limited beings be honored, in accordance with this very share.
“Share giving rise to a Buddha’s attainments” refers to Buddha-nature, and since there are more other beings having Buddha-nature than just us, we should honor them more.
(VI.126) There's no doubt that Those with a Compassion Self-Nature have taken all wandering beings (to be the same) as themselves. The very nature they've seen as the essential nature of limited beings is those Guardians' self-nature, so why don't I show (them the same) respect?
(VI.113) (So,) having understood the faultiness of (cherishing) myself and the oceans of advantages of (cherishing) others, I shall meditate on discarding my way of taking a "me," and extend it to others.
In other words, we don’t just think in terms of a limited self, “me,” as in “I’m only going to take care of me.’” Instead, with this understanding of the equality of everybody, we extend it to others and take care of them as well.
We find a similar sentiment in Dharmarakshita’s Mahayana Mind Training, The Wheel of Sharp Weapons:
(8) All of our sufferings derive from our habits of selfish delusions we heed and act out. As all of us share in this tragic misfortune, which stems from our narrow and self-centered ways, we must take all our sufferings and the miseries of others and smother our wishes of selfish concern.
(9a) Should the impulse arise now to seek our own pleasure, we must turn it aside to please others instead;
Being a Servant to Others
These lines also touch upon the second interpretation of this second verse of Eight Verses of Mind Training, which is to consider ourselves the lowest of all and others as higher. The image used for this is being a servant to others and serving them.
Shantideva says the same:
(III.18) May I be…a servant for every embodied being who would want a servant.
Shantideva emphasizes this point quite a lot, of how we’re to use this body to serve and help others. In this sense, we see ourselves as the lowest and others as supreme.
It’s not so easy to view oneself as a servant of humanity and the servant of all beings. It is to think, “I’m going to use all my talents, my body and so on to help others.” We do something similar when we make the offerings of concentration, in which we offer all our practices and so on to help others. In doing this, we need to be extremely humble.
Atisha also speaks about humility in A Bodhisattva’s Garland of Gems:
(3) Let me make my own failings be known and seek not mistakes in others. So, let me keep my own good qualities hidden and make the good qualities of others be known.
In other words, we should think less about ourselves. If we have faults, let that be known, don’t hide them. Don’t speak about the faults of others, keep our own good qualities hidden in a humble way and speak more of the good qualities of others.
Atisha goes on to say:
(6) Let me overcome rage and pride and come to have an attitude of humility. (14) While still acting always negatively and parted from joy, when a feeling of superiority arises about anything, let me cut off my pride and remember my sublime teacher’s guideline instructions.
When we’re feeling very proud about things and want to work only for ourselves, we need to remember the guideline instructions about how samsara goes up and down. Remember, we inevitably go from a higher position to a lower position, and back again. Also, we need to bring to mind the teachings on death and impermanence. These teachings help us to overcome our pride and arrogance – which are very often behind self-cherishing – allowing us to have the humility to be able to serve the world.
There is one last quote for this verse. Langri Tangpa himself, the author of this text has said:
Whenever I read a Mahayana scripture, I have a strong realization that all the faults described are my own and all the good qualities are others.
That’s a very, very good piece of advice. Often, we think the other way around, don’t we? We read about faults and disturbing emotions, and we think, “Ah, this friend of mine and that friend of mine has them.” Langri Tangpa advises us to think of all faults in terms of ourselves – basically, how we have these faults. In regard to good qualities, rather than thinking, “I’m so great; I have this and that,” think of the good qualities of our teachers and others that we know. This kind of thinking helps us very much to overcome self-cherishing and to cherish others more than ourselves.
To conclude, I’m reminded of one Kadampa Geshe that said when we study the Dharma, don’t have the mirror of the Dharma facing out; have the mirror of the Dharma facing in, to closely examine our shortcomings, mistakes and so on. Don’t just face them outwardly; look within. But again, this isn’t about just reaffirming our low self-esteem. This process gives us some realistic idea of what we need to work on. Looking at our shortcomings always has to be tempered by the understanding of Buddha-nature, especially for us Westerners.