Renunciation, Self-Cherishing Versus Cherishing Others

General Introduction and Overview

The teachings are infinite in their extent and are addressed to beings of infinite types of dispositions. They can all be included within three vehicles of mind: Hinayana, Mahayana sutra, and Mahayana tantra. All of these vehicles of mind and the teachings concerning them were preserved in Tibet. And within the lineages as they were transmitted in Tibet, we can distinguish between the old and the new translation traditions: Nyingma and Sarma. Within Sarma or the new translation traditions, there are Sakya, Kagyu and Kadam. This latter one, Kadam, coming from Atisha, later became the Gelug tradition.

The Kadam tradition was strongly influenced by the various bodhichitta teachings. The Gelug tradition has specialized in transmitting all the extensive teachings on this topic, coming directly from the line of the great Nagarjuna and his spiritual offspring from India.

As we have said, it is extremely important that our minds and everything within us be totally consistent with the teachings. Holding the teachings must not only be on our lips. They need to be integrated with our minds, in harmony with the disposition of each practitioner. It’s very important not to fall to extremes of partisanship, feeling that only one of the Buddhist traditions has the true teachings. As the great Fourth Panchen Lama, Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen has said in A Root Text for Mahamudra (Phyag-chen rtsa-ba), “From the point of view of individually ascribed names, there are numerous traditions… Nevertheless, when scrutinized by a yogi, learned in scripture and logic and experienced (in meditation), their definitive meanings are all seen to come to the same intended point.” So it is extremely important to approach the teachings in an impartial, unbiased manner.

We have been working with a text by Namkapel, a disciple of the great Tsongkhapa, called Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, a commentary on the Seven Point Mind Training by Geshe Chekawa. The seven points are:

  • the preliminaries,
  • the method of training in the two bodhichittas,
  • transforming adverse circumstances into a path to enlightenment,
  • condensation of the practice in one lifetime,
  • the measure of having trained our attitudes,
  • the close-bonding practices for mind training,
  • the points to train in for mind training.

Completion of the Preliminaries

So far, we have been addressing the preliminaries. With a whole-hearted commitment to a spiritual mentor, as explained before, we train in the various points of the graded path. Thinking in terms of the precious human life, we need to recognize all the aspects of the liberties or respites that we have, and all the enrichments that we have. Once we recognize them, we can actually take advantage of them. This is because once we appreciate what we have, we will naturally want to take advantage of it.

Thinking about how easily we can lose this opportunity makes us mindful of death and impermanence. We become aware that except for the Dharma and the various preventive measures that we have built up on our mental continuum, nothing is going to help at the time of death. In order to really integrate the various spiritual measures and practices into our minds, we must have this mindfulness of death. Otherwise our efforts will not be fully serious. We can look to all the great masters of the past in Tibet and all the great masters of India. Now as well, there are a great many practitioners who truly devote their entire lives to the practice – some in Mysore, some up in the caves here in Dharamsala, some in Ladakh, and in other places here in India – but none have gained immortality; none will live forever.

No matter what kind of situation we’re in, it is extremely important to plan how to make the best use of it for making the greatest spiritual progress. We can think of the various communities we might be able to join, in terms of the Sangha and so forth, but no matter the level to which we commit ourselves, it is important to turn our entire minds and hearts to the teachings. It is extremely important that lay persons as well be refined and well trained. We can see this is true from any viewpoint we take to examine it. Someone who is arrogant and puffed-up, someone who exploits and takes advantage of others, just causes reactions of contempt and discomfort in everybody. Even if we are not particularly religious, it’s extremely important to cultivate ourselves as a good person. If we then actually become a spiritual person, we won’t think exclusively in terms of this lifetime, but of all future lifetimes and how we can benefit them.

At whatever level we are working – whether just for this lifetime or for future lifetimes – we need to put all our efforts into improving ourselves, working on ourselves, growing, becoming a better and kinder person. In this way, our lives will become happier and the society in which we live will be happier. If we have worked all this life on becoming a better person and have developed various positive potentials, then at the time of death we won’t die with a great feeling of regret that we have wasted our life. It is quite important to work on this in order not to feel regret when we die, and the best way to die with peace of mind is to build up positive potentials on our mental continuum during this lifetime. If we have built up strong positive potentials in this life, then in future lifetimes we will meet with pleasant situations, things will continue to improve, and we will be able to continue with our spiritual growth and progress.

Whether or not we have actually been able to realize any of the spiritual pathways of mind in this lifetime, such as the five pathway minds, from having built up positive potential in this life, we will be able to die with the hope that in future lives we will actually realize one of them and become a highly realized being, an arya.


In the text, we have reached the point in the preliminaries at which the topic of renunciation – or the determination to be free of our problems – is discussed. If we don’t think about all the problems and sufferings of all the uncontrollably recurring situations in samsara, then we will not develop this determination to be free of all them, this renunciation. So it is extremely important to think about all these situations, to develop full disgust with them, and the strong determination from the depths of our hearts to be free.

The Vinaya texts say, “The end result of going high is falling low. The end result of coming together is dispersion, falling apart.” That is the actual nature of reality. We need not mention that over beginningless lifetimes, all the various beings that have been together with us have parted, and that this has also happened within this lifetime. No matter what type of splendor we might enjoy in worldly existence, in the end it will all disintegrate and fall apart. When we think about beginningless lives into which we were repeatedly born and then died, the points that have consistently recurred are birth and death – and it seems that we always experience these totally alone. When we keep this in mind, it becomes obvious that the important thing is for us to build up the various positive potentials, by trying to develop the far-reaching attitudes or perfections, such as ethical discipline, generosity, and so forth.

We need to realize that no matter what perishable things we may have, none of them are reliable. We can’t rely on our body – there’s no stability in it. Nor can we rely on our position or on our wealth and possessions. These things are unsuitable for gaining security. Nagarjuna, in his Letter to a Friend (bShes-phreng), brings up the topic of the different types of sufferings or problems that we experience, such as sickness, aging, death, not getting what we want, getting what we don’t want, and so forth.

These points are discussed in great detail in Tsongkhapa’s Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo), in terms of the six types of sufferings, the eight types of sufferings, and the three types of suffering – there are many ways of presenting it. In short, once we are born under the influence of karma and delusions, compulsive impulses and disturbing attitudes, nothing but problems and suffering will come. We have all the causes collected within us that are going to bring about problems and suffering. The external circumstances may certainly help these causes to ripen, but the causes themselves are already inside us. So we experience suffering, for instance the problems of actual suffering: our body gets sick; we get hurt; we experience pain and so forth.

When we think of the human body, it is something that comes from the substances of the parents, nauseating things like the sperm and blood of the parents. There is nothing about it, when we take a close objective look, that would be really pleasing or attractive to the mind. In particular, if we think of the human body and take off the outer covering of skin, there is nothing at all attractive about it. Nobody will find the inside of the body especially attractive.

This nature of the human body as something unclean and unattractive does not come from outside: it comes from its actual nature. If we found a puddle of sperm and blood on the floor, we wouldn’t find it terribly attractive or pretty. Everyone would find it rather nauseating and disgusting, but those are the actual causes or substances out of which the body is made. So there is nothing attractive from its actual nature. But this judgment of the body as so attractive – this incorrect way of considering the body – acts as a circumstance for all the various disturbing attitudes and impulses that we have on our mental continuum to flare up, such as attachment, hostility, and naivety. All these arise from grasping at this mass of unclean substances, grasping it as “me,” “my body,” and so forth. This identification acts as the basis for all kinds of disturbing attitudes.

If we don’t make constructive use of the body, then from the side of the body itself, what does it actually do? First, it caused discomfort to our mother carrying it in her womb and then pain to her in giving birth to it. Then it caused problems and suffering for everyone involved in supporting it. It caused and continues to cause a great deal of trouble and bother taking care of it, so if we don’t make anything constructive out of it, then it is just a troublemaker. And we’ve been taking this type of body since beginningless time.

Take the example that is always used, the ocean of samsara. An ocean is something fathomless: we can’t measure its depth. Likewise it is the same when we think of all the human bodies that we have taken and all the problems that have arisen, all the suffering associated with getting old. No matter what business or activity we have been associated with, we’re going to engage in it with diminished vigor, our mind will become more depressed and weak, our senses will diminish, our body will start to weaken and fall apart. This is something that everybody experiences, isn’t that true? It’s very painful to grow old. And everyone knows all the suffering associated with sickness. We have to undergo all kinds of medical treatments that are usually very expensive and extremely uncomfortable. If we think about it from all these different points of view, the body really is quite a troublemaker because it gets sick; it grows old, and so forth. No matter how much we’ve built up our body, whether we are fit or not, eventually our body is going to break down. So we need to think about all these problems associated with growing old and how we can’t keep fit forever.

The Four Noble Truths

With reference to the attainment of liberation, it is definitely something to be attained. But if we just think, “If I could just attain liberation, then I could have a nice rest!” that will not bring it about.

Every one wants a true stopping, a true cessation of all these problems and troubles, but we can’t just sit back and expect them to disappear by wishing them to vanish. We have to look at the causes of our trouble: all the uncontrollably recurring aggregate factors that make up each moment of our experience. These aggregate factors arise from our disturbing attitudes and impulses, because our mind is untamed. It is untamed because of our unawareness (ignorance) and our grasping at truly established existence. Such grasping is due to our distorted outlook on reality.

If we consider the various types of outlook on reality we can have, some are disturbing and some are valid. Since the disturbing attitudes are based on incorrect and distorted views of reality, then if we have a correct and valid outlook on reality, the very root of the cause of these disturbing attitudes is eliminated. As the correct view of reality becomes stronger in our minds – as we get completely familiar with always looking at things from the correct point of view of reality – our distorted views, which are completely based on unreality, will become weaker and weaker.

When we achieve a complete cessation, or stopping, of grasping at things to exist in a truly established, impossible manner, we rid ourselves of the stains that obscure us from seeing the nature of the mind. These stains are fleeting; they are not the basic nature of the mind. There are progressive stages of true stoppings of grasping at truly established existence. Proceeding through and achieving the stages of these true stoppings, we can eliminate all the fleeting stains and realize the true nature of the mind. If there were nothing that could be done about this situation, then there would be no point in working so hard. But since it is possible to get rid of the stains that cause us so much suffering and problems, it is really quite relevant to think about the uncontrollably recurring problems of samsara. In this way, we develop a strong determination to be free and actually work to attain the true stopping and ridding of problems.

Let us look at the different types of problems and sufferings: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and all-pervasively affecting suffering. This third type is the suffering of having the all-pervasively aggregate factors that affect each moment of our experience. It is the very nature of the body, together with the aggregate factors of our experience, to simply bring problems. The aggregate factors of our experience come about due to the force of impulses – or karma – and the various disturbing attitudes that come with it. If we could just rid ourselves of those, we could get rid of these difficult problems resulting from the aggregates. So it is the third type of suffering, the aggregate factors coming with disturbing attitudes and impulses, that are the basic troublemakers. They constitute samsara, so we must be sure to think about the drawbacks of samsara from many, many different points of view. If we think that, once we’re ordained, we are free from samsara, whereas if we have a family and children we are in samsara, this is a completely mistaken attitude.

The second noble truth – the true origin or causes of all problems – is the disturbing attitudes and impulses, or karma. Let us consider whether or not it is possible to get rid of these. We will discover that it is in fact possible to get rid of them forever; it is possible to have true cessations or stoppings of them and, in order to achieve this, we need to develop true pathways of mind. These are the most profound points.

The most profound way to actually gain freedom from all problems and suffering is to develop a bodhichitta aim. There are various ways in which we can be led to developing this aim. Here, we are speaking of developing it only within the context of turning away from compulsive involvement with this lifetime and turning our interest toward future lives. We’re not talking about limiting our attention to liberation and turning away from involvement with future lives. In this text, whatever realization we have relative to this life, we immediately turn to the desire to develop bodhichitta. This is the way it is explained in this text.

Developing the Two Types of Bodhichitta

The Importance and Benefits of Developing Bodhichitta

We have now completed the preliminaries. The second of the seven points is how to develop actual bodhichitta. We need to develop two types of bodhichitta aim: relative and deepest. Conventional bodhichitta is aimed at the conventional (relative, superficial, surface, apparent) truth of everyone and everything; while deepest bodhichitta is aimed at their deepest truth, their voidness. In this text, we develop conventional bodhichitta first, and then go on to deepest bodhichitta. In A Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamayalamkara), Maitreya tells us that a person of very sharp wits would first develop an actual understanding of reality and, on the basis of that, then develop conventional bodhichitta. Sometimes it is more effective to develop or generate deepest bodhichitta first. This is because when we realize that it is possible to attain a true stopping through generating deepest bodhichitta and that we therefore have the possibility of attaining liberation from samsara and beyond that to enlightenment – when we see that this is a realistic goal, then we can truly become interested in reaching enlightenment for others.

[Note: In Togme Zangpo’s edition of Geshe Chekawa’s root text, deepest bodhichitta is presented before conventional bodhichitta, with the verse: “Ponder that phenomena are like a dream. Discern the basic nature of awareness that has no arising. The opponent itself liberates itself in its own place. The essential nature of the path is to settle within a state of the all-encompassing basis. Between sessions, act like an illusory person.” In Pabongka’s edition, this verse on deepest bodhichitta, preceded by the additional line, “What is hidden is to be shown after attaining stability (in this),” immediately follows the verses on conventional bodhichitta. This additional line does not appear at all in the Togme Zangpo edition. In Namkapel’s edition, this verse, together with the above additional line preceding it, appears at the very end of the text.]

Mahayana is divided into the sutra and tantra paths, and regardless of which one we may take, the advantage of developing conventional bodhichitta is that it is the gateway for entering the Mahayana vehicle. No matter what other qualities we may have – even the understanding of voidness – if we don’t have a bodhichitta aim on our mental continuum, we cannot be considered a Mahayanist, someone having a vast vehicle of mind. But, if we do have a bodhichitta aim, then even if we have no other qualities, we can be considered a spiritual child of the Buddhas, a Mahayanist having a vast vehicle of mind. The actual distinguishing factor for being a Mahayanist, then, is whether we have a bodhichitta aim. We find this in both the sutra and tantra texts. In Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, Shantideva tells us that bodhichitta is the only gateway for entering Mahayana. In The Tantra of Vajrapani it also says that if we have bodhichitta, we are qualified to enter into the mandala and receive empowerment (initiation). But, if we do not have bodhichitta, we are not qualified or permitted to receive empowerment.

All these different quotations tell us that bodhichitta is the source of all good qualities. And really, when we look at it, the benefits of developing a bodhichitta aim are infinite. They are discussed very well in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. When we reflect on the Buddha Shakyamuni and why he is such a precious and important person, it is because he had developed a kind and warm heart and, based on that, he developed a bodhichitta aim to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all.

When we consider the advantages of having a kind and warm heart – of being a good person – we can see them even with animals. If we have a cat that just sits around nicely and purrs, we will give it food and be very nice toward it. But if the cat is always jumping around and acting wildly, scratching and biting and the like, no one is going to be pleased with such an animal and it may have problems getting fed. As for human beings, if we are kind and warm, everything comes our way. But if we are very crude and mean, no one will want to be with us.

It is extremely important to work on developing all these positive states of mind: the love that wishes everyone happiness, the compassion that wishes everyone freedom from suffering, and the heartwarming type of love for all others. If, on the basis of these, we have developed a bodhichitta aim on our mental continuum, then just on the basis of that, we will build up bountiful stores or networks of various types of positive force. So, bodhichitta in itself will build up various potencies to protect us and rid us of hindrances.

Just to say the word bodhichitta or to hear it spoken is profoundly positive and instructive. This is the first part of this section, the benefits of developing bodhichitta.

The second part explains how to actually train first in conventional bodhichitta and then in deepest bodhichitta. Conventional bodhichitta is aimed at all limited beings, with the intention to help liberate them from samsara, and at enlightenment, with the aim to achieve it. When we speak about benefiting all others, it is a matter of changing our attitude about self and others. So we need to keep in mind that bodhichitta is a heart that has a such strong intention to benefit all others that it is expanding out infinitely to all of them, and also such a strong intention to attain enlightenment that it is expanding out fully toward that.

The Two Methods for Developing Conventional Bodhichitta

The actual methods for developing conventional bodhichitta are equalizing and exchanging our attitudes about self and others and the seven-part cause and effect meditation. Both of these methods have as their basis developing a heartwarming state of love for others. Heartwarming love is an automatic feeling of closeness and warmth whenever we meet anyone: we cherish and are deeply concerned about them and would feel badly if anything went wrong for them. According to the seven-part cause and effect method, to develop this heartwarming type of love, we first need to develop an equal attitude – or equanimity – toward others, with which we feel neither attachment, aversion, nor neglect of anyone. We recognize everyone as having been our mothers, acknowledge and remain mindful of their kindness and, being grateful and wishing to repay it, we develop this heartwarming love for them.

Exchanging our attitude toward self and others comes from Shantideva’s tradition. We don’t have to belabor the point of everyone having been our mother, but simply think in general how we all want to be happy, how nobody wants suffering or problems, exactly like ourselves. In this regard, we’re all equal on that level. We see how cherishing ourselves is the root of all problems, while cherishing others is the root of all good qualities. We need to think, “Since I do not want unhappiness and I do want happiness, I must give up self-cherishing and develop the attitude of cherishing others.” So, on the basis of realizing the equality of self and others, we develop this heartwarming love for others and we change our attitude with respect to them. This is a very extensive method. Both ways of developing a bodhichitta aim – exchanging our attitude toward self and others and the seven-part cause and effect method – get us to this point of the heartwarming love for others.

Depending on a person’s disposition, developing the attitude of recognizing everybody as “my mother” can sometimes involve problems. We might develop it in terms of considering ourselves very important: “I’m really someone very important, and because I’m important, my mother is also very important.” And so we develop this feeling that, “I want to help my mother because she is my mother,” and we want to develop and help all beings because “they have all been my mother.” There is great emphasis placed on “me” and “my” in this way of developing bodhichitta. That point is the danger in this instruction.

If, on the other hand, we think of exchanging our attitude about self and others, wanting to help others not simply because they’ve been “my own mother,” but because “they don’t want problems and they want happiness, just as I do,” there’s far less danger. We are no longer involved with considerations of “me” and “mine,” and so it becomes a far more extensive way of reaching out to all others and developing a bodhichitta aim. We don’t just think of the kindness of others when they have been our mother, but we think of the kindness of everybody, how they have always been kind to us in all ways. So this is basically a discussion of how we work out both methods together, the seven-part cause and effect training and the equalizing and exchanging of self and others.

The Disadvantages of Self-Cherishing

[Note: In Namkapel’s text, the line from Togme Zangpo’s edition of Geshe Chekawa’s text, “Banish one thing as (bearing) all blame,” is moved here and the disadvantages of self-cherishing are given as commentary to the line. Pabongka follows this order.]

In regard to exchanging our attitudes about self and others, the text explains how all our problems and difficulties come from cherishing ourselves, while all our benefits and happiness come from cherishing others. The fact that shravakas and pratyekabuddhas are not capable of achieving the highest spiritual level, the highest spiritual goal, is due to their self-cherishing. So, from there on down, the blame for every disadvantage, every drawback that can be experienced can be placed on the self-cherishing attitude: in other words, selfishness. Very often, when people are unhappy, they want to point an accusing finger at others: “I am unhappy because this other person has done this or that.” In fact, all our unhappiness comes from self-centeredness, by which we consider ourselves so big and important that we point the finger at others as responsible for our unhappiness. In truth, all our problems and unhappiness come from the destructive impulses that arise from our own minds – in other words, karma and the disturbing attitudes.

We have two things here: the self-cherishing attitude and grasping for a truly existent self. If we gained an understanding of reality – that there is no such thing as a truly established identity – then we would get rid of both the grasping for a truly existent self and also self-cherishing. Here, we are making a distinction, saying that the problem comes from self-cherishing. But in fact, we have to think about these two together: self-cherishing and grasping for a truly established, truly existent self.

The disadvantages of self-cherishing, or the selfish attitude, are discussed in various parts of Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. Referring to both self-cherishing and grasping for a truly established self, Shantideva says, “Whatever violence there is in the world, and as much fear and suffering as there is, all of it arises from grasping at a self: so what use is that terrible demon to me?” Elsewhere in the text, Shantideva points out that our self-cherishing comes from our own minds and the unawareness in it of grasping for a truly existent “me.” This is our real enemy. He writes, “These longtime, continuing enemies like this are the sole causes for masses of harm to increase ever more. How can I be joyful and not terrified in samsara, if I set a secure place (for them) in my heart?”

In other words, we think strongly “me, me, me,” and then we think “I have to become happy; I have to get rid of my problems. Forget about everybody else. It doesn’t matter what I do with others in order to gain my own happiness.” It is under the sway of this ignorance that we exploit others and do whatever we can just to get happiness. All complications and troubles and problems that come about from this type of behavior can be traced to this self-cherishing attitude and grasping for truly established existence.

The Buddha and we are the same from the point of view that our mental continuums have existed from beginningless time. But what has the Buddha accomplished in that time? Having rid himself of his self-cherishing attitude, based on his concern for others, he has been able to achieve enlightenment, whereas we are still completely involved in being selfish and so we are still miserable and full of troubles and problems. The cause for this difference, since both the Buddha and we have been going on for the same amount of time, is the factor of whether or not we have a self-cherishing attitude, whether or not we are selfish and grasp for ourselves. So this ties in very well with the disadvantages of samsara. All of the uncontrollably recurring problems of samsara stem from this same root. Whenever we have coveted all the various splendors of samsara, it has also arisen from selfishness, and we’ve fooled and deceived ourselves.

It is the self-grasping and the self-cherishing attitudes that give us the courage to go to war, and do all such kinds of things for our own benefit. Then, if anything goes wrong, we put the blame on our own gurus, or on our parents and so on. We need to apply that same courage to overcoming our self-cherishing attitude.

These quotes in the text are all saying, basically, that all harm comes from self-cherishing. If we were to point the finger at whoever is responsible for all the bad things that come to us, we would have to point it at our own selfishness, our self-cherishing attitude. Therefore, now is the time to rid ourselves of self-cherishing, our real enemy. As Shantideva writes, “That time before was different, when I was being ruined by you. But (now) I see you; so where can you go? I’m going to knock all the arrogance out of you. Throw away, now, any hope, ‘I still have my own self-interest.’ I’ve sold you to others, so don’t think of your weariness; I’ve offered your energies (to them). If, because of not caring, I don’t hand you over to limited beings, then, for sure, you’ll hand me over to the guards of the joyless realms. I’ve been handed over, like that, many times by you and long tormented; but now, recalling those grudges, I shall smash you, you creature of self-interest.” All the faults of selfishness are discussed very thoroughly in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior and also in An Offering Ceremony to the Spiritual Masters, The Guru Puja (Bla-ma mchod-pa, Lama chopa).

One of the Kadampa Geshes used to recommend then when chopping our brick tea, we should think, “I smash down on the head of self-cherishing and grasping at self.” Those people who are always totally preoccupied with self, or who feel terrible self-pity when they are sick, need to examine where all their problems come from. They need to realize that they come from always being concerned with their selfish preoccupation, “I have to be happy; I have to get rid of all my problems.” This type of person is never content, no matter what the situation is. Everything is always too hot or too cold; nothing is ever right. The basic root of their problem is their selfish preoccupation. If they could give that up, they could relax. They are always uptight, never able to relax, because they are always preoccupied with themselves.

We can study and sit in puja ceremonies as much as we wish, but if we always nurture the self-cherishing attitude within us, we are completely wasting our time. If we were not preoccupied with ourselves all the time, with selfish concern, but instead opened our hearts out to others, we would truly be able to have the vast vehicle of heart and mind of Mahayana. But because our hearts are too narrow and too concerned for self, they can’t be that vast vehicle. If we are preoccupied with ourselves, even if we claim to follow the Mahayana vast vehicle of mind, it just turns into an occasion for us to become more proud and arrogant.

That completes the discussion of the disadvantages of self-cherishing.

The Advantages of Cherishing Others

The next point concerns the advantages of cherishing others. [Note: Namkapel explains this point by inserting here the line from Togme Zangpo’s edition of Geshe Chekawa’s text, “Meditate with great kindness toward everyone.” Pabongka does the same in his edition.]

It says in An Offering Ceremony to the Spiritual Masters that cherishing others is the gateway of all good qualities, and so it is. This is discussed in Chandrakirti’s Engaging in the Middle Way (dBu-ma-la ’jug-pa, Skt. Madhyamakavatara), where it says that the source of the great attainments of the Buddhas is their compassion. Where does this compassion come from? It comes from cherishing and having intense concern for others. So the root of all happiness and qualities comes from cherishing others. Cherishing others brings us to develop love and compassion, which bring us to develop a bodhichitta aim, and a bodhichitta aim brings us to enlightenment. All these vast-minded Mahayana states of mind – love, compassion, exceptional resolve and bodhichitta – are aimed at other beings. So the root of all the good qualities that come from all these states of mind is cherishing others.

As for how these qualities continuously improve and don’t degenerate, this is also due to being focused on others and cherishing them. Likewise, the attainment of the result, namely Buddhahood, comes from this sustained concern for others. Thus, the generation, continuation and attainment of the result of these positive states of mind all come from cherishing others. Even the strength of the enlightening influence of the Buddhas, that too comes about because of others, out of concern for and cherishing them.

In order to achieve enlightenment, as explained in these quotations, we need both the enlightening influence of the Buddhas and the bountiful field of all limited beings. It is on the basis of both of these that we actually achieve enlightenment. Its attainment cannot occur independently of others, but has to be based on our aim of benefiting them as much as is possible. So, it is not enough just to have respect for the Buddhas; it is necessary to have respect for all limited beings as well, since our achievement of enlightenment comes equally dependent on the side of the Buddhas and on the side of all limited beings. In that sense, the Buddhas and all limited beings are equal in kindness.

All the good qualities of the path and the results of the Mahayana vehicle of mind spring from cherishing others. A quotation states that all achievements of the better states of rebirth come from helping others, whereas worse states of rebirth come from harming others. This shows us that the experience of happiness comes from kindness. For those who follow the Hinayana modest vehicle of mind, it is due to their lack of this intense cherishing of others that they are unable to achieve the highest attainment. Whereas the bodhisattvas have this intense concern for others, and because of that they are able to achieve the highest enlightenment.

One quotation here speaks about how we hurt others. On our side, our minds are filled with the habit of self-cherishing. On the side of other beings, they have untamed minds, which from the force of their unawareness or ignorance, are filled with disturbing emotions. Their disturbing emotions lead them into all kinds of situations that we find disturbing and then our self-cherishing attitude and selfishness cause us to want to harm them. We can see this with the example of the Chinese. We can see self-cherishing at work on both sides, causing harm. This has been the result of the past build up of negative karmic force on both sides, and we are now building up further negative karmic force from our impulsive destructive actions. These actions will only cause further situations to arise in the future, from which more harm will happen to us as their result.


To get rid of all these things that harm us, the text instructs us to develop the two bodhichittas and the six far-reaching attitudes (the six perfections, the six paramitas). To develop bodhichitta, we must have genuine concern for others and great tolerance. To develop tolerance, it is necessary to have enemies. If there were no obnoxious people – no enemies – there would be no way for us to develop patience and tolerance.

When we look at what will bring us to enlightenment – namely, true stoppings and true pathways of mind – neither of them has an attitude of wishing to either benefit or harm us. True stoppings are static phenomena, so they don’t have any attitude. True pathways of mind are simply states of mind, and they have no particular motivation or wish to help bring us to enlightenment. Now, look at various enemies, friends and so forth: these are what actually bring us happiness or unhappiness, but not simply in terms of actual physical pain. We have doctors who give us injections and perform operations and the like, and although they cause us pain, we wouldn’t call them our enemies. This is because they have an attitude of wishing to benefit, not harm us. So, enemies are called enemies not on the basis of whether they have knives or guns in their hands, but rather based on their attitude of wishing us harm. So, if we wish to develop patience and tolerance, it is necessary to be faced with someone who has this harmful intention. On the basis of our tolerance, we can develop ourselves and achieve enlightenment.

In an account of the previous lives of the Buddha, there was the story of Minag Dungdung, the oarsman of a boat in which there were five hundred merchants, who was going to kill everyone else on the boat. The ship’s captain, who was a previous incarnation of the Buddha, thought that allowing this person to kill everybody wouldn’t do. To tell him not to kill everyone was useless, as he wouldn’t listen. So he thought, “If I kill this one person, of course it is a destructive action that will build up negative force on my mental continuum from having killed one person. But if I don’t kill him because I cherish myself and don’t want to build up any negative potential for myself, he’s going to build up the much greater negative force of killing five hundred people and all those people will lose their lives.” So, out of compassion and concern for both the five hundred people on the boat as well as for the oarsman, Buddha killed Minag Dungdung. A relevant example is the mercy killings that doctors and veterinarians might perform to help some creature in a situation of unbearable pain, by giving them an injection of chemicals to kill them. They don’t have an attitude of anger when taking that life, but take on the consequences of the negative action just to help the other being.

Any such type of forceful action needs to be performed not with an attitude of anger or wishing to harm, but with an attitude of compassion, wishing to help. In certain situations, we have to take forceful action to stop people from taking advantage of us. If we’re practicing bodhichitta, it doesn’t mean we have to let everybody step on us.

So we have to take appropriate action out of a compassionate, pure motivation not to let others take advantage of the situation. We must not engage in actions while we are angry, while we are completely drunk with the delusion of anger. The things we do in anger are bound to be full of mistakes and will cause us embarrassment and trouble afterwards.

There was a story often told to me by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche about a Chinese man who was very prone to anger and who, when aroused, would break his favorite things. Then, in a moment, his anger would subside and he would pick up the pieces and cry.

The point is that using forceful methods to cause harm – such as the Buddha’s previous incarnation killing one person who intended to kill five hundred people – is not supported by hatred but, rather, by compassion. And it is not done in a fit of anger, when we do crazy things that we later regret. As we said earlier, it is done with the attitude of being willing to take on the negative potential arising from this harmful action. There are many quotes from Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior to illustrate patience, tolerance and mental stability regarding enemies. Our enemies help us develop tolerance, love, compassion, and so forth.

There are certain practices to aid in developing an equal feeling or equanimity toward others. The main trouble point is the enemy, the one who really gets us angry and uptight, someone who is really obnoxious and makes us really work hard not to get disturbed. So we have to turn to someone who is really our enemy, somebody we hate, and try to develop the attitude of loving this person. We need to find concern and sympathy for this person, who only wants to be happy, and try to develop real heartwarming love for someone whom we previously hated. If we can do that, it is something that is extremely extensive and extremely powerful. So Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior is really quite an amazing teaching, because it provides such an extensive method. If we can develop such a heartwarming feeling of love and concern for someone that we previously hated and considered our enemy, we are really developing a very powerful tool of the mind and heart.

Contrasting the Benefits of Cherishing Others with the Drawbacks of Self-Cherishing

In short, there’s little more to say about the respective advantages and disadvantages of self-cherishing and of cherishing others, except that An Offering Ceremony to the Spiritual Masters says that the difference between the Buddhas and ourselves is that they always cherish others, whereas we only cherish ourselves.

Let’s look at where we are, in terms of history, or in terms of our friends, people that we know. The people whom everyone admires are those who had great concern for others. The point of this is to exchange our attitudes so that this business of “I have to be happy,” feeling sorry for myself – all this self-concern and cherishing – are applied to another object. Instead of “I have to be happy,” we need to think, “Other people need to be happy.” And instead of “I’m feeling unhappy” and thinking, “I have to get rid of that,” we need to change the object and think that others have to get rid of their problems. That is changing the point of view, exchanging our attitudes about self and others. Doing this involves giving happiness to others, really having love and concern for them, and taking on others’ suffering with compassion. In some texts, we have compassion taking on the suffering of others first, and then giving them happiness. In this text, we have giving happiness first, then taking on their suffering. It doesn’t really matter which we do first, but as the text says, we alternate the two.

[Note: The line commented upon here reads, “Train in both giving and taking in alternation.”]

If someone hurts or harms us, instead of thinking how to retaliate, how to hurt back – thinking about what kind of poison to use isn’t going to help anybody – we need to think that we’re seeking enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, which certainly include this particular being over here. We’re trying to develop and improve ourselves in order to be of ultimate benefit, and that includes the good of that person.

Giving Happiness to Others

As for giving to others, there’s giving our body, giving our wealth, giving the roots of our positive potentials so that they will ripen on others. The source of this is Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. As a practice of giving away our body, we first pray for inspiration, then we think of the beings in various joyless realms, such as the reviving hells, or others in the hot hells and so forth, and we think of changing our body into cooling rain, for instance. Basically we think of whatever those beings need to relieve their suffering: for the thirsty, we change into something to slake their thirst; for the hungry, something to satisfy their hunger. We change our body into whatever is needed by the beings in the joyless realms and take on the suffering of their disastrous situation. To stabilize this, we change our body into all the various positive qualities they will need to reach enlightenment, such as the seven arya gems.

For the realm of the clutching ghosts, we relieve them of all their problems and suffering and give them all the realizations they need to bring them to enlightenment. Then we do this as well for the animals and for the human beings who have no situations of leisure to practice the Dharma. We transform our body into all the opportunities and teachings that they need. Then we do the same for the divine gods and the would-be divine demigods. In general, we give housing and clothing to those who need it. Likewise, for those who have a modest vehicle of mind of Hinayana, we transform our body into realizations so that they will be able to achieve enlightenment.

Next we transform our body into various kinds of environment to help others. The text describes all sorts of images from the pure lands, trees of jewels, and so forth. If we haven’t seen this kind of thing, it might be a little difficult to picture, but we just think of the most gorgeous place we could possibly conceive and imagine giving that to all beings. The giving of our body includes giving all the possessions and things we make use of. We transform them into their most appealing form and imagine giving them to others in need. When it comes to giving away our positive potentials, we are giving away all those that we have built up in the past, those that we are building up at present, and whatever ones we may build up in the future. We give all of these potentials to others, wishing that the beneficial results may ripen on them.

Now, when we speak of these meditations, we might think they don’t actually, practically, help anybody – that we’re only imagining giving away all our wealth and roots of our positive potentials to others. If we ask whether it is actually going to have some practical use, the answer is that if we don’t build this up as a beneficial habit of mind, it is not going to actually happen in the future that we really will be in a position to give away our body and possessions to others. So it is by building the potentials and the good habits of mind now that the karmic force builds up on our mental continuum that will ripen in the future into our actual ability to give everything to others.

The commentary tells us that when we have a family tradition over seven generations of doing a certain thing, it adds force to the continuation of that tradition. Likewise, if we build up a certain tradition now, like giving to others, then after some time – such as after seven lifetimes in the future – it will build up a strong force, as in a family tradition. So the practice of giving away to others is out of love and a concern for others to be happy. Since they are poor and in need of something, then out of our concern and caring for them we use whatever we have to relieve them of their poverty of happiness or their lack of whatever else they are missing. We need to give to everyone, including the gurus and the Buddhas. But when it comes to taking on suffering, we don’t need to take any on from the Buddhas and the spiritual mentors. This is because they don’t have any faults and sufferings to be taken on by us.

With Compassion, Taking on the Sufferings of Others

The second point here is having compassion for others. If we have compassion for others, all good qualities and things will come to us, even if we don’t pray for them. Conversely, if we lack a compassionate and sympathetic heart, even if we pray for things, we won’t get them. If we get discouraged, we can think of taking on all the future sufferings of all others onto ourselves. To help gain familiarity with this, we think of our own problems and sufferings in this lifetime and the future. We can start by thinking, “It’s better for me to experience them now, when it’s easier for me to deal with them; otherwise, I will have to experience them later, when I may be much less able to handle them.” In this way, we gain familiarity that will help us to take on the problems of others as well. We train in stages, taking on tomorrow’s problems, next year’s problems, and so forth, so we can develop the courage to take on problems and suffering from others.

The whole point is to get rid of the selfishness in our hearts, and we do that by opening up to deal with and take on the problems of others. The text continues explaining how we take on the problems of others who are on various spiritual paths and levels, all the way up to, but not including the Buddhas and the spiritual mentors.

Having gained familiarity with this process, we can then combine our breathing with taking on others’ problems. We breathe in, taking in problems, then breathe out, sending out happiness.

[Note: This explanation and what follows is in commentary to the lines in the root text, “As for the order of taking, start from myself, mounting those two on the breath. (With regard to) the three objects, (taking) the three poisonous attitudes and (giving) the three roots of what’s constructive, the guideline instructions for after absorption are, in brief, to incite staying mindful of this by training with words in all paths of behavior.” In Togme Zangpo’s edition, the line, “As for the order of taking, start from myself,” follows “training with words in all paths of behavior.” Pabongka’s edition follows Namkapel’s order, as above.]

The text speaks of dealing with the three objects and the three poisonous attitudes. The three objects are the pleasant, unpleasant and neutral objects that cause us to develop the three poisonous attitudes of attachment, aversion, or indifference. Further, we think how all other beings also develop attachment, aversion or indifference and say, “May all their attachment, aversion and indifference come onto me. I’ll deal with it and get rid of it for them. May they be completely free of all attachment, aversion and indifference,” and we give them back all these insights.

So, as it says in An Offering Ceremony to the Spiritual Masters, “Therefore, compassionate, ennobling, impeccable gurus, inspire me that all the negative forces, obstacles, and sufferings of wandering beings, my mothers, ripen upon me right now, and that I may impart my happiness and positive forces to others and thereby secure all wanderers in bliss.” This is also the way to train in words: we repeat these prayers, “May their sufferings ripen on me; may my goodness ripen onto others.”

The point here is that we need to train in trying to develop kind thoughts, such that all beings may be happy, and this includes the Chinese. If we have a situation in which others place all their hope in us that we will be able to help them, even if on our side we want to, we may not have the actual ability to do so. This is very difficult. So we need to realize that the only way we can truly help all other beings is to become Buddhas ourselves.

We might think, “What is going on here? There have been all these Buddhas in the past and all became enlightened. They are able to benefit all beings, so why must I? Why does it depend on me to become enlightened, since there are all these other ones who have become enlightened already?” This might cause us to get discouraged. But rather than take that line of thinking, we would do well to consider that there are a lot of beings who have a special karmic bond with us, who didn’t have a particularly close karmic relationship with the Buddhas of the past, so they were not able to be directly liberated by them at that time. So we must think of all beings who have a special connection with us, then we will develop more courage to actually become enlightened ourselves in order to help them. We have to build up more and more positive connections with those beings with whom we have a relationship.