The Determination to Be Free, the First of the Three Principal Aspects of the Path
In Buddhism, we speak of three principal aspects of the path: the determination to be free, usually translated as “renunciation,” a vast enlightening aim of bodhichitta, and a profound, correct view of voidness or emptiness.
The first is the determination to be free. There are two types of determination to be free. The first one is the determination to be free with which we turn away from obsession with this lifetime, and the second is the determination with which we turn away from obsession with any future lifetime. In other words, the two determinations to be free entail the cessations of being fully involved or obsessed in some way with this present or any future lifetimes.
“Obsession” here means being completely preoccupied with this lifetime, being compulsively attracted to and involved with the appearances and experiences of this lifetime. In other words, we spend all of our time trying to find things to eat and drink and things that are just for this lifetime. Right now, we have achieved the accomplishment of a human rebirth, and on this basis, it is possible for us to accomplish any of three great purposes, instead of just being merely obsessed with this lifetime.
We simply cannot and will not accomplish even one of these three greater purposes if we remain obsessed with this lifetime. Why? If we are only involved with the various appearances of this lifetime, we will not be mindful or considerate of our inevitable death. Because we do not turn away from our obsessive compulsion with this lifetime and its appearances, objects and experiences, we won’t work for anything beyond this lifetime.
Turning Away from Obsession with This Lifetime
How do we turn away from this obsession, compulsion, preoccupation and involvement with the things of this lifetime? How do we develop the determination to be free of it?
It is by thinking about this precious human rebirth. We can see that this lifetime has the eight respites and ten enrichments, making it possible to practice the Dharma. Reflecting on our human rebirth, we can realize how difficult it is to attain this kind of rebirth from the point of view of the vast number of other kinds of limited beings and the causes required to attain a precious human rebirth. We think of how rare this opportunity we have is, and how we must take full advantage of it. If we consider how difficult it will be to obtain such a precious human rebirth in the future, and how rare it will be if we do not negate and renounce our obsession with this lifetime, then it will dawn on us that we must not waste our time in this life. We must take full advantage of it because if we die without having taken advantage of this human rebirth and have just wasted our whole life, then we will die in a very pathetic state.
Therefore, it is by thinking in this way that we can naturally develop the motivation to take advantage of the qualities of a rebirth as a human being, and work toward accomplishing one of the greater purposes on the basis of this precious human rebirth. We should consider how our achievements can help us avoid rebirth in one of the lower realms; or, that we can even attain a state where we escape rebirth and are not reborn in uncontrollably recurring existence at all. Even more, we can attain a state of enlightenment by which we are able to eliminate the suffering of all others. Considering all of this, naturally we will not want to waste our time being occupied with ordinary mundane things, letting our precious time pass away.
A Mountain of Diamonds
For example, let’s say there is a mountain of diamonds outside and somebody says, “You can keep as many of them as you can gather up in half an hour.” We would think that this was a very great opportunity, wouldn’t we? If we were given that opportunity, we would really work incredibly hard, as much as we possibly could for all thirty of those minutes. We wouldn’t just sit there being spaced out for fifteen minutes before we got up and did anything. We wouldn’t just sit there doing nothing and daydreaming. We would really get up and work as hard as possible to get as much as we could. Likewise, having attained a precious human rebirth, we need to work as hard as we would in this scenario to do something with our time.
Let’s take this example a little further. We’ve got this opportunity to gather as many diamonds as we can from right outside, but then someone else comes over and says, “Could you do this little job for me? I will give you a hundred coins.” Naturally, we would think that doing this little task is a complete waste of time when we could gather diamonds instead. Likewise, with this precious human rebirth, we need to use it to accomplish a great purpose and not waste our time on very trivial, mundane pursuits.
If, in the beginning of our Dharma practice, we find that it is very difficult to get enough to eat and drink, we will find that as we practice further and have higher realizations, then things to eat and drink will come to us automatically without us having to make any effort. If, for instance, through the practice of tantra we attain the very high state of the illusory body. At that stage, we have an extra-physical power known as “the absorbed concentration of the treasury of space.” With this power we can make things manifest out of thin air. We are able to materialize food, jewels, or anything that we want. In short, we need to accomplish something very great, one of the greater purposes, and not waste our time with something trivial, with preoccupations or obsessions with the matters of this lifetime.
If we think in this way about the difficulty of attaining a precious human rebirth, about death and impermanence, and also about the great things that can be accomplished on the basis of this precious human rebirth, these considerations will motivate us to actually do intensive practice and make proper use of this opportunity.
Start with Avoiding Destructive Actions and Developing the Two Levels of the Determination to Be Free
Our first training is to keep the strict ethical self-discipline of avoiding the ten destructive actions. As a result of this, we prevent ourselves from falling into a lower rebirth. This is something that is very important. To develop the determination to be free with which we turn away from compulsive obsession with the appearances of this lifetime, we have to think about the precious human rebirth, death and impermanence, and things like this. This will take us to the first type of determination to be free, the determination to be free of our obsession with this lifetime, we renounce it.
This is something that we can be certain about. If we take proper refuge, follow the instructions on the path of the safe direction of refuge, understand and live according to the laws of cause and effect, strictly avoid destructive actions, and engage in only constructive actions, then we will not fall to a lower realm in our next lifetime. Instead, we can be reborn in a very prosperous state as a human or a divine being.
However, if we think about it, no matter where we are born in uncontrollably recurring existence, it is all in the nature of suffering. The second type of determination to be free is, therefore, to turn away from the compulsive obsession with future lifetimes. It is not enough to abandon committing the ten destructive actions, to admit all the negative things that we have done in the past, to purify ourselves of their negative potentials and practice as many constructive actions as possible, just to know that we will be able to attain a human or divine being rebirth in the future. That won’t do at all. No matter where we are born in uncontrollably recurring existence and no matter how much wealth and material possessions we accumulate, these things have no essence at all and are only in the nature of recurring problems and suffering. By seeing this, we should develop the determination to be free with which we turn away from our obsession with such things now and in the future.
The Intermediate Motivation
We must seek a method with which we can release ourselves entirely from rebirth in uncontrollably recurring existence. A method for doing this is to meditate on the four noble truths as previously presented. Even if we are reborn as a god, a divine being, at the end of that rebirth it is very possible to fall to a state of being someone who is extremely poor. By considering this, we can understand a little bit about how there is neither certainty nor permanence to our status in uncontrollably recurring existence. Such methods that enable us to entirely prevent ourselves from having to be reborn in uncontrollably recurring existence are known as “the teachings of someone of intermediate motivation.” If our motivation is only for our own sake, and only to get ourselves out of uncontrollably recurring existence, it constitutes the motivation of someone of the intermediate scope.
But these teachings are also known as “the common teachings of a person of intermediate motivation.” It is a path which is held in common with someone of advanced level motivation in the sense that they both train themselves along this path. For instance, with the trainings of the initial scope, we focus on the rare and precious human rebirth, death and impermanence. This moves on to the intermediate scope, where we focus on the suffering of all uncontrollably recurring existence, and on trying to get out of that. This intermediate scope then moves us onto the advanced scope and its meditations of working to help bring everyone eliminate their suffering. All of this is one common path that all practitioners travel as their motivations advance and expand.
Someone who follows the initial level of motivation practices to prevent themselves from falling to one of the three lower realms. If that person were merely an initial scope type of person, they practice only up to that point. Someone of the intermediate scope goes on to think of preventing themselves from having to be reborn in any of the states of uncontrollably recurring existence and would stop at just that point. Someone of the advanced scope would want to do all of this in order to obtain a state where they could help everybody, because they see that it is not enough for just themselves to become free from uncontrollably recurring existence alone.
The Advanced Scope of Motivation
Therefore, someone who is working on this advanced scope will have already gone through the path that is held in common with the lower levels of motivation. For someone who is of an advanced level motivation, a Mahayana type of person, it is extremely important for them to train in the meditations from the earlier scopes, which are those specifically dealing with the precious human rebirth, death and impermanence, and dealing with all the disadvantages of uncontrollably recurring existence. If we think that it is not sufficient for only ourselves to become free from the sufferings of uncontrollably recurring existence, and that we must attain enlightenment for us to be able to work for the liberation of everybody from this situation, this is the way of entering the advanced scope.
Love, Compassion and Bodhichitta
The intention of wishing to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings is what is known as “the enlightening aim of bodhichitta.” This is the second of the three principal paths. Bodhichitta is something that we must try to develop. But before we can develop this vast enlightening aim of bodhichitta, we need to develop what is called “the exceptional resolve.” This is the resolve with which we take responsibility to release everybody from suffering and bring them all to a state of happiness.
Before we can develop this exceptional resolve, we first need to develop love. Love is the attitude of wishing others to be happy. In addition, we need the attitude of wishing for everybody to be freed from suffering, which is known as “great compassion.” We need these two together: love and compassion.
To develop compassion, where we wish everybody else to be parted from suffering, we have to first develop the wish for ourselves not to suffer. We can develop this wish by generating the same two determinations to be free we were just discussing. We need the determination to be free with which we turn away from our obsession with this lifetime and the determination to be free with which we turn away from our obsession with future lifetimes. We have to want to be completely rid of all suffering ourselves in order to be able to think of helping to rid everybody else of this same suffering.
If we don’t develop the wish for ourselves to be separated from suffering, we won’t be able to develop it for others, either. For example, if there is an official who had to work very hard and undergo a lot of suffering to gain their position, it makes a great difference when they are an official, in terms of their sympathy and understanding of other people’s suffering. Whereas, if the official was just given a high position and never experienced any hardship or suffering, when dealing with others who are suffering, they would likely lack empathy and wouldn’t be able to sympathize.
So, if we have never experienced suffering ourselves, it can be very difficult to take seriously and care about the suffering of others. If we think about our own suffering and the experiences that we have had, then it will be very easy to think about the suffering of others and to wish for them to be free of it.
The verse that discusses this reads:
(5) Anyone who fully wishes to eliminate completely all the sufferings of others as (he or she would) the sufferings included in his or her own mental continuum is someone of supreme motivation.
Someone of the advanced scope or supreme motivation has thought about their own sufferings and is determined to be free of them, and then thinks of all others and works so that they too will not have to suffer. This person is someone who has an advanced or supreme motivation, a Mahayana person or practitioner.
To be able to develop this enlightening aim of bodhichitta, wishing to attain enlightenment to be able to benefit all others and to free them from suffering, it is necessary to receive the instructions and methods for doing so.
(6) For these hallowed beings who have come to wish for supreme enlightenment, I shall explain the perfect methods that the gurus have shown.
Atisha went to Sumatra and studied with the great lama Serlingpa for twelve years to learn all the methods for developing this enlightening aim. In this text, he shares with us all the methods that he practiced, realized and learned.
The enlightening aim of bodhichitta has two aspects: aspiring bodhichitta and engaged bodhichitta. First, we have the aspiring state of bodhichitta, with which we aspire for the attainment of enlightenment.
The Preliminaries for the Ritual for Developing Aspiring Bodhichitta
To formally develop this aspiring state of bodhichitta, we need to act as it says in the text:
(7) Before paintings, statues, and so on of fully enlightened Buddhas, as well as stupas and hallowed (Dharma texts), offer flowers, incense, and whatever material things you may have.
(8) Also, with the seven-limb offering mentioned in (The Prayer of) Excellent Conduct, with the mind never to turn back until the ultimate (realization) of your Buddha-essence.
(9) With supreme belief in the Three Supreme Gems, with bent knee touching the ground and palms pressed together, firstly, take safe direction three times.
So, we need to put up representations of the Buddha’s body, speech and mind, and make very extensive offerings of flowers, incense, water and so on without any miserliness. We also need to practice the seven-limb offering. To review, these seven limbs are: prostration, making offerings, admitting the wrongs that we have done in the past, rejoicing in the positive actions of others, requesting the turning of the wheel of Dharma (requesting teachings), beseeching the gurus not to pass away, and then dedicating all the positive potential from this. These are the seven-limbs that we need to do to start this ritual for developing an enlightening aim of bodhichitta.
Then, to further develop this enlightening aim, we need to take refuge for the sake of all limited beings. With our palms together and right knee on the ground, we need to take proper refuge. The three causes for taking refuge as previously discussed are having a state of fear, having great confident belief, and having great compassion to do this for the benefit of all others. We should feel, “I have to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all beings. In order to do this, I completely entrust myself to the refuge of the Three Jewels.” In this way we begin by taking refuge.
Developing the Bodhichitta Aspiration
To actually develop this aspiring state of bodhichitta, with our mind aimed at all limited beings, we wish for all beings to have happiness. In the text it says:
(10) Next, with a mind of love toward all limited beings, as a start, look to all wandering beings, barring none, suffering from birth and so forth in the three worse realms, and from death, transference, and so on.
These are the lines referring to the preliminary practice of compassion. In other words, we need to develop an attitude of love and compassion with which we wish for all beings to be parted from their sufferings. We think of the suffering of those in the lower realms, and likewise the human suffering of birth, sickness, old age and death, and develop a strong feeling of compassion, wishing them all to be freed from such suffering.
Look to all wandering beings, barring none refers to everybody in all the six realms. Suffering from birth and so forth in the three worse realms refers specifically to those beings in the three unfortunate states. Then, from death, transference, and so on refers to human beings who have their own various types of suffering. This verse describes the object toward which we aim our motivation of compassion: all limited beings.
The Three Types of Suffering
In general, there are three types of suffering: first is the suffering of suffering, second is the suffering of change, and the third is known as “all-pervasive suffering.” The suffering of suffering is something we can easily understand from our daily lives: any sickness or pain that we might have, aging, and then our suffering at the time of death. This is the suffering of suffering.
We can understand the second type, the suffering of change, from the following examples. For instance, we might be very hungry, so we eat something to lessen our hunger. We might think that the feeling we get from eating is happiness, but in fact it is not happiness at all: it is actually suffering. It is simply a decrease in the gross amount of suffering we’re experiencing at that moment. Being happy from eating is in itself not happiness. It is just a decrease of suffering and therefore it is still suffering itself.
Another example is when we are in the sun and feel very hot. Going into the shade and feeling a little bit cool may seem to be happiness; however, in fact, it is just a decrease of the suffering of being hot by becoming cooler. Becoming a bit cooler in itself is not happiness but just another form of suffering. If we are cold, for example, we go outside in the sun or come in and sit by the fire. But if sitting by the fire and feeling warm itself were happiness, then no matter how long we stayed there it should always make us happy. However, it doesn’t make us eternally happy and doesn’t always give us pleasure because if we stay there too long, we get too hot, and then we have to go back outside to cool down. The same is true with sitting down if we are very tired from standing up. Eventually, we tire of standing and want to sit down again. This is known as “the suffering of change.”
The third, all-pervasive suffering, is the suffering that we have just from having a body. Because we have a body, it is all-pervasive. From having this body, we are going to have suffering. If we have a body, then it is going to get sick, it is going to get old, it is going to get hot sometimes, cold sometimes, it is going to be frightened, and it is going to die. All these things happen just from the fact that we have a body.
This body comes from a tainted mind filled with disturbing emotions, which then generates a tainted physical body. This is all-pervasive suffering. Unless we get rid of having to take a tainted body and tainted aggregates out of our unawareness and confusion about reality, we will continue to have all-pervasive suffering. This is inherent in the fact that we have a body that attracts suffering by its very existence.
The fact that we don’t want to get sick or die is something that we can see very easily. The suffering of change isn’t so easy to realize, but in particular what we don’t recognize is the all-pervasive suffering that comes from simply having a body. The arya beings, or the noble ones, see having a tainted body with this all-pervasive suffering to be as painful as having a hair in an eye. They wish to abandon and get rid of the all-pervasive suffering of a body as strongly as we would wish to get a hair out of our eye. For us, although we can see the first type of gross suffering, we don’t really consider the sufferings of change and the all-pervasive sufferings to be suffering. For us, we view it as akin to having a hair in the palm of our hand. We don’t consider that to hurt or be any type of suffering. However, to the arya beings the sufferings of suffering and all-pervasive suffering are like a hair in their eye. They wish very strongly to get rid of it.
So, to develop an attitude of compassion with which we wish others to be freed from their suffering, first we need to have mindfulness of suffering. This is just like how someone who wants to succeed at monetary investment needs initial capital to start. In order to be a capital investor, we need to have a certain amount of beginning capital. From this, we can make profitable investments and draw interest. Likewise, to develop the compassion with which we wish everybody to be released from their suffering, we have to have our beginning capital. This capital includes a great deal of contemplation and mindfulness of how much suffering hurts, the way that it hurts continuously, and how we don’t want to have this suffering. From this capital, we draw the thought of compassion as our interest, like the interest on the investor’s initial capital.
Therefore, we need to be mindful of the different types of suffering of the beings in different realms and how they are afflicted by these sufferings for a long period of time and how much it hurts.
This includes the sufferings of the higher realms. The divine beings, the gods, have their own types of suffering and eventually have to fall from their state. Likewise, the demigods, the asuras, have the suffering of fighting, quarreling and jealousy. Human beings have the suffering of birth, old-age, sickness and death. Then there are all the sufferings of the lower realms. We need to think about the beings of all six realms and the individual types of sufferings that afflict and harm them. By using this type of mindfulness of suffering, we can then begin to develop the compassion with which we wish them to be free from all suffering.
The text continues:
(11) Then, with the wish that all wandering beings be liberated from the suffering of pain, from suffering, and from the causes of suffering, generate pledged bodhichitta with which you will never turn back.
With a preliminary attitude of love toward all limited beings, as the previous verse says, we should look to all beings without exception “suffering from birth and so forth in the three worse realms” and from “death, transference and so on” and wish that these beings be liberated from the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and all-pervasive suffering and its causes. We do this by generating bodhichitta with which you will never turn back. That is known as the pledged state of aspiring bodhichitta.
The Object and Aspect of Love and Compassion
We have these two attitudes of love and compassion. Love is wishing everybody to be happy and compassion is wishing everybody to be parted from suffering. What is the object of compassion? Basically, it is all limited beings. What is the aspect of this attitude? It takes the aspect of the wish for them to be free from suffering. And what is the object of love? It is the same, all limited beings. Its aspect is wishing them to be happy.
We need to understand the differentiation between the object and the aspect that these attitudes take. Questions such as: What are the causes of taking refuge? What is the object of a mind of compassion or a mind of love? What is the aspect that a mind of compassion or love takes? These are very important questions. On the other hand, asking whether a tree has consciousness or not is not a very crucial issue.
Once, a lama was giving a discourse to test out the disciples’ understanding. Tibetans like to use a long white radish in their cooking, so he said to them, “Oh, a radish has so much suffering. It has the suffering of having its skin peeled off and the suffering of being chopped up in order to make soup.” He looked at all his disciples and everybody was crying about the suffering of this poor radish. If we think about the Jewels of Refuge and their great qualities and about taking refuge and these types of things, these are very important issues. On the other hand, if we think about other more trivial things, there is no great purpose in them.
In Tibet there is the position of Ganden Tripa, the successor to the throne of Tsongkhapa. Above the throne there is a canopy, like an umbrella, made from golden brocade. The canopy is a sign of this very high position and no one else is allowed to sit under it except the person who holds the throne. Once, because the Ganden Tripa is a very important and precious person, he was invited to visit some other land. When he went there, an old lady came by and in a very humble way said, “I take refuge in the holder of the Ganden throne.” But she was directing this to the umbrella, thinking that that was the holder of the Ganden throne! Then she said, “And what a lovely old monk standing underneath it.” We need to try to understand the crucial points in the Dharma and not mistake unimportant things for important things.
The important point here is that love and compassion both take as their object all limited beings. This is what these states of mind are aimed at. The aspect that they take is, for love, the wish that all will be happy and, for compassion, the wish that all will be freed from their suffering. We have to practice and train yourself in order to have such an attitude. It is not something that is going to come about all by itself without practice and training.
Equalizing Our Attitudes toward Everyone
Although we can very glibly recite, “May all limited beings be happy and may all limited beings be parted from suffering,” it is very difficult for us to really feel this very deeply in our minds. What we find is that we actually wish, “May my friends be happy, and how great it would be if my enemies were miserable.” So, first we have to equalize our attitude toward everybody. We need to develop an equal attitude toward our friends, our enemies, and those, neither friend nor enemy, who are complete strangers. We have to wish for all friends, all enemies and all strangers to have happiness, for all of them to be happy and for all of them not to suffer.
There is a method to help us understand our favoritism, and how we are attracted to some and feel hostile toward others. We need to visualize three people in front of us: one is a friend, someone that we like very much, another is an enemy whom we cannot stand, and the third is a complete stranger that we have no particular feelings toward. If we think about and look at this enemy, we get very angry with them. We think about how it would serve them right if they were miserable and were to suffer. We need to think, why do we wish harm to this enemy? There must be some reason why we want them to be miserable. It is usually because this enemy has done something nasty to us or hurt us in some way. If just because somebody has done something nasty to us, we immediately attack back and wish to hurt them, well, then we are very much like a scorpion. If we touch a scorpion, it immediately attacks. We need to think that if we act like this, immediately wanting to strike back at anybody who does something bad to us, then we are no better than a scorpion.
In addition, we need to think, “Maybe this enemy has hurt me today, but, at other times, they undoubtedly have helped me.” Likewise, if we think about our friend, this person we want to help and for whom we have a great deal of attraction and attachment, then we analyze, “What is the reason for this?” It is because this friend has helped us in the past. That is why we feel we want to help that person. We can think that although this person may have helped us now, undoubtedly at some other time this person has hurt us as well. This person has done many different things for us.
We need to consider the following story: A long time ago, there were merchants who would sail out to sea to collect treasures or jewels from the ocean. Sometimes they would lose their way and might happen upon an area inhabited by cannibals, people who eat human flesh and drink human blood. These cannibal demons normally have a very ugly and repulsive form, but they have certain powers to transform their bodies into looking like anything, like sirens for example.
In this account, there was a party of five hundred sea merchants who lost their way and were shipwrecked in the land of cannibal demons. One day, the leader of these merchants went for a walk to a place some distance from where they were stranded, and there he discovered a large pile of bones and parts of skeletons. An emanation of a deity appeared to this leader of the merchants and told him, “You are in the land of cannibal demons, and these are the bones of a previous group of shipwrecked merchants who came here and were eaten by these cannibal demons. You are a new group of merchants, and this is the same fate that awaits you.”
The leader of the merchants asked if there were any way that they could be free from this fate, and the emanation said, “Yes, soon is the day of the enlightenment of the Buddha.” He said, “On that day of the enlightenment of the Buddha, the fourth month, fifteenth day, an emanation of the Buddha will appear. He will come in the form of a white horse and this white horse will land in the lake, wash in the lake water and then roll in the sand. After that, the horse will start to fly back in the air. At that time, without any attachment or anything like that, you must grab hold of the tail of the horse and also the hairs of the mane of the horse, and like that, you can all be carried away and freed from this land.” The merchant leader went back and told all the other merchants about this.
Therefore, on the fifteenth day of the fourth month, they all went to this lake. Sure enough, the horse came down from the skies. But by this time, these merchants had already been stranded in this land of cannibal demons for a few years, and the demons had taken the appearance of very beautiful women. Many of the merchants had married these women and a few of them even had small babies. Still, the merchants grabbed hold of the tail and the mane of the horse, and the horse started to fly off. The lady cannibals started to cry out to these merchants, “How can you leave us? We are your wives and your babies! What are you doing?” A few of the merchants opened their eyes and looked back down because they had a great deal of attachment. Because they had this attachment and looked down, they lost hold of the horse and fell back to the ground. Those who had no attachment, who were completely detached, just kept their eyes closed and held on to the horse and were carried away. Those who had attachment looked down and fell. As soon as they reached the ground, the cannibal ladies ate them up.
When we consider our friends, we need to remember this example here of the cannibal ladies and think of the problems of being so attached to people.
We can consider another example. In this case, there are two people. The first person is someone who beat us up yesterday, but today gave us a large amount of money. The second person gave us a large amount of money yesterday but beat us up today. Which of these two should we feel is our friend, be happy with and want to help, and which is our enemy, the one that we don’t like?
Thinking in this way, can block the thought that arises when somebody hurts us, and we immediately want to hurt them back. Likewise, if somebody helps us, it will stop us from immediately feeling very attached to them. These are the two things that we want to stop. Thinking in this way will stop this.
Toward a stranger, this third person that we visualize, we neither feel that we want to hurt this person, nor do we feel that we want to help them. We just have a neutral state of mind. This is actually what we want to establish: a neutral state of mind where we have neither strong hostility nor great attachment. We need to first calm down our minds to get this neutral state of mind. Once we have this neutral state of equanimity, we can feel love and compassion toward others freely.
Unless we develop this state of equanimity toward others, we will continue to be biased and it will be impossible to develop the wish for wanting everybody to be free from suffering and everybody to be happy. It is because we don’t have equanimity now that we are prevented from developing these attitudes. First, we have to equalize our attitude toward everybody and then this basis of impartiality builds up to the attitude of wishing everybody to be happy and free from suffering.
The Kindness of Others
Finally, we have to think about the kindness of all limited beings, about how kind they have been to us. We need to understand that all limited beings are just as kind to us as the Buddhas are.
Let’s think of something as simple as milk, butter and cheese. All these things come from cows, and so it is due to the kindness of cows that we can eat and enjoy these dairy products. Likewise, if we wear woolen sweaters in the winter to keep us warm, this wool comes from sheep. This is the wool from the body of a sheep that keeps us warm, and they are very kind to provide us with their wool.
Furthermore, in order to attain the enlightened state of a buddha, we need to perfect the practice of patience. Patience is the opponent to being angry at any type of living being, especially our enemies. The development of patience depends on our perception of these limited beings as being kind to us, even when they are our enemies, in that they help us to develop the patience necessary to achieve love and compassion, the motivations of the bodhisattvas. The Buddhas aren’t involved in this practice as objects of patience. A Buddha isn’t someone that we get angry with. It is toward regular limited beings that we develop patience, especially our enemies. Therefore, our enemies are very kind to us in this way.
We also need to perfect the practice of ethical self-discipline. To attain the rebirth of a precious human body, we must have practiced ethical self-discipline in the past. The main practice of ethical self-discipline is to refrain from killing any type of living being. Therefore, it is directly dependent on the existence of limited beings that we refrain from killing, and as a result, we are able to attain a precious human rebirth. So, our human rebirth is dependent on the kindness of other beings that we have refrained from killing.
If we think of all the things that we have derived from other beings, we will be very mindful of their kindness. Likewise, we need to think about our mother of this lifetime when we were small infants and were as helpless as a little worm. We didn’t know how to speak or eat or anything. Our mothers were very kind to us when we were helpless and brought us up as well as they could. This is so very kind, so we must also remember the kindness of our mother.
What follows from this recognition and appreciation of all the kindness we’ve received is the genuine wish to repay their kindness. Just as others have been so kind to us, we should give this kindness back to them. We can give other people food, drink, money and so on, but that is not of very great help to them. Instead, if we use our precious human rebirth to practice hard and achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha, we will be able to completely free them from all their suffering. This is really the best way to pay back their kindness.