Taking and giving

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Part of a series of talks on Lama Tsongkhapa’s Three Principal Aspects of the Path given in various locations around the United States from 2002-2007. This talk was given in Boise, Idaho.

  • A meditation that we do in order to increase our love and compassion
  • Based on exchanging self and others
  • Watching our mind react to the taking and giving meditation
  • Using taking and giving meditation to work with our mental states
  • Aspiring bodhicitta and the bodhisattva vows

Bodhicitta 14: Taking and giving (download)

The next step after we exchange self with others is to meditate on taking and giving. In Tibetan it’s called tonglen. Tong, or giving, and len, taking, or tonglen. This is a meditation that we do in order to increase our love and compassion. In our normal ordinary way, if there’s happiness we think, “I’ll take it,” and if there are problems, “You can have it.” Right? If there’s something good, “Thank you very much, I’ll hold on to it.” Or if somebody has to suffer or go without, or if there is some difficulty, “Somebody else has to work overtime, somebody else has to hassle, you can do it, that’s fine with me.” That’s our self-centered way of viewing things. It’s true as individuals, as a group, as a nation, as a species: we always think “I.”

With the taking-and-giving meditation, because it’s based on exchanging self and others, what we used to call “I” is others. And what we used to call “others” is “I.” So, when we say “you can have suffering, and you can do the overtime, and you can mow the lawn, and you can take out the garbage,” we are pointing at our own aggregates. And when we’re saying, “I want happiness, and I should have everything good, and I should become enlightened,” we are pointing at what used to be others, because we’ve exchanged them.

Woman meditating in a camper.

We take the suffering and give the happiness, whereas before, we took the happiness and gave the suffering. (Photo by Paco Flores)

So, we’re taking and giving, but it’s exchanged. What we’re doing is, we’re now taking the suffering and giving the happiness, whereas before, we took the happiness and gave the suffering. This meditation is quite profound and when we do it very seriously, it can bring up a lot of stuff. When we think of taking others’ suffering, sometimes the mind gets a little bit frightened. That’s why they often recommend that when we start the meditation and thought training teachings, we start the meditation by thinking about taking on our own suffering. This is a very interesting prospect, to do the taking-and-giving meditation with ourselves as the chief figure. So let me just describe the meditation first, before we get into doing it.

Whoever it is out in front, we think of their suffering. We generate compassion for them and then we imagine that their suffering leaves them in the form of pollution and all sorts of icky, horrible, junky stuff that comes out of them. Their suffering and the cause of their suffering and their afflictive emotions leaves them in the form of this pollution. Now, they’re free of the suffering. We take this pollution unto ourselves and we don’t just sit there with everybody else’s suffering and causes of suffering on top of our head or in our heart. We imagine that as it comes to us, it transforms into a thunderbolt that then strikes at the lump of our own self-centered thought which we imagine at our heart.

You know how it is when we get really selfish. We have the expression in English “hard-hearted,” don’t we? There it is, right in our own language, somebody is hard-hearted. Somebody who is very self-centered is hard-hearted. We can feel that when we’re very attached or very angry or jealous or proud. There’s actually pain in the chest sometimes when we are worried and fearful about our own happiness. That rock or hard place in our own heart is our own self-centeredness and our own self-grasping ignorance. When we take on others’ suffering in the form of this pollution, it becomes a thunderbolt, and we imagine that it strikes this lump in our own heart, it blows it up, and then in our heart there is just space.

That can be a real interesting thing to imagine, having our heart be just open space. It’s not crowded in there, it’s not congested, it’s not painful, it’s just total open space, without limits, without boundaries. So that’s the taking part. We’re taking others suffering, which they don’t want, and using it to destroy the cause of our own suffering, our own self-centeredness, which is what we don’t want. So, it actually becomes very constructive. Then we stay in that open space in our heart and after some time we image that a light appears there, and that light is the nature of our loving kindness. We radiate that out to others and we imagine that we’re able to take our body and transform it into what others need and multiply it, so if somebody needs a friend, we send them a friend; if they need a doctor or a babysitter or plumber or washer repairman, whatever it is, we send it out to them. So we imagine giving our body, making charity out of our body.

Then we imagine our possessions. All of our stuff, whatever it is we have, our glasses, our bag, we imagine that we multiply and expand it and transform it so it becomes whatever others need and send it out to them. When we’re sending out our body and our possessions, transformed into what others need, we should imagine that other people receive and feel very happy and delighted having these things. So really imagine that through our generosity, others are delighted, and take joy in their delightedness. We give our body, we give our possessions, we also give our own positive potential. All the good karma that we’ve accumulated. Instead of thinking selfishly and holding onto it for ourselves, we dedicate it and we imagine sending it out as all these rays of light, and it goes out and also becomes what others need. We can imagine that by sending out our positive potential, we give other beings spiritual realizations.

For example, when we’re transforming our body and sending it out, maybe we’re giving them perfect environments to practice the Dharma in, and Dharma books and a meditation hall, and the whole thing. When we transform our body and send it out, we imagine sending them teachers and Dharma friends. When we take our positive potential and send it out, we imagine that they all gain spiritual realizations. Here you can go through all the steps of the lamrim. “Oh, now they have understanding of the importance of a relationship with a teacher, now they understand precious human life, now they understand death and impermanence, and you go through and imagine giving all these realizations. Now they have bodhicitta, now they realize emptiness, now they are transforming into bodhisattvas and Buddhas. This meditation on taking and giving is very detailed. I’m just explaining it very briefly. In Geshe Jampa Tengchok’s book, Transforming Adversity into Joy and Courage, in Chapter 11 there’s an excellent explanation of it, so I really refer you to that book. It’s published by Snow Lion.

So when it says to start this meditation beginning with ourselves, we can start with imagining ourself, tomorrow’s self or Monday morning’s self. Imagine that the day-after-tomorrow Monday morning’s self is in front of you. What kind of problems and suffering does that person have?

Audience: [inaudible] [laughter]

Venerable Thubten Chodron: You know, they’re tired, they’re dreading going to work, maybe they have a headache, they’re worried about their kids, they’re worried about money, whatever it is. Think of the person you’re going to be two days from now. Imagine that person out in front and really think of their suffering and their problems, and have compassion for that person that could be you if you live that long. And then you do the taking-and-giving meditation with that person, who is near-future you, the “I,” in two days. So you imagine taking on their suffering, give them the happiness, and because it’s you, it should be much easier to imagine taking on their suffering and giving them happiness, right? But it’s an interesting thing because just even thinking of our self in two days, it’s already “other” than I am now, and when we see, “Oh that person needs to meet with this really disagreeable person. I don’t want to take on their suffering, meeting with that disagreeable person on Monday morning.” Here, try and go back and generate compassion for the person that you’re going to be, take that person’s suffering and give them happiness.

Then think of the person you’re going to be when you are 70 or 80 and think of their suffering, and take their suffering on and give them happiness. Then think of your future life and who are you going to be in a future life and the different problems and difficulties that person is going to have. That person is as much me as the person when we are 70 or 80. They’re all future me’s, aren’t they? So, they’re as much me, as much not me, as each other. So again, think of their suffering, take it on, use it to destroy our present self-centeredness and then imagine giving our bodies, possessions and positive potential out to them.

Watching our mind react to the taking and giving meditation

When you get into this, really do it. If the mind starts going, “Oh, wait a minute I don’t want to take on that person’s cold.” I remember when we were having the retreat that I just came back from in Cloud Mountain, one person had a cold, and you could just see everybody in the room going, “I wish they went somewhere else because I don’t want to get their cold, and their coughing and sneezing, and I don’t want to get their cold.” Imagine the future you that has a cold. Can you have compassion for the future you that has a cold and take on their suffering now? If you can do that, then why can’t we take on the other person’s suffering now if the person is sitting next to us?

In the thought training teachings it talks so much about how an actual bodhisattva welcomes suffering because they see suffering and problems and difficulties as a way to purify previously created negative karma. They also give all that suffering and problems to their own self-centered thoughts that created the negative karma to start with. So real bodhisattva’s, when they have difficulties, are so happy because they know that it really pushes them along the path; so they pray they have problems. The thought training teachings are suggesting that when we have a problem or when we have fear of having a problem, we should pray to have it so that we purify that negative karma, so that it helps us generate compassion and renunciation and helps us see the disadvantages of self-centeredness so we can have more compassion, and so on and so forth.

It was really interesting when one person on the retreat told me that when this other person got sick, she started saying, “Okay, let me get a cold. Let me get the cold and I’ll purify.” So she said she got a cold, it lasted for an hour-and-a-half. It’s really kind of amazing what happens sometimes when you do this meditation. That doesn’t mean that you do the taking-and-giving meditation to cure your own cold. We should really do it with genuine love and compassion for others, being willing to have their cold. So in the same way, whenever you have some problem, if you think, “As long as I’m going through this, may it suffice for everybody else who has a similar kind of problem.” Or, even for anyone who has any problem whatsoever. As long as I’m having difficulties, it’s happening, it’s not going to go away, may it suffice for whatever everybody else is going through. Then you do the taking-and-giving meditation. You imagine taking on all their suffering and using it to destroy your self-centeredness. It’s a very, very powerful meditation. It works very well when you’re sick, as in the example I just gave.

I remember one time years ago I had an infection in my big toe. We usually ignore our big toe. How often do you think of your big toe? Not very often. Talk about taking things for granted. We really take our big toe for granted. So, one day years ago I had an infection inside my big toe, and I was living in a monastery out in the countryside and it was night time, and my big toe was throbbing. I could never imagine that anything could hurt so badly, especially a big toe. And there was nothing to do about it because you couldn’t go to the doctor until the morning. I was sitting there going crazy with the pain and then I just started doing this meditation. As long as my toe hurts, may it suffice for the suffering of everybody. I just kept doing the taking-and-giving meditation all night because it was very difficult to sleep with that kind of pain, and it helped me get through the night. So it’s a very, very good meditation.

Using taking and giving meditation to work with our mental states

Also, when we are afraid, I think it can be very useful because when we have fear, we are pushing something away. We are rejecting something. Do you feel that when you have fear? When we have fear we’re saying, “Get that away from me,” and that feeling of, “Get that away from me” creates more mental turmoil and more mental suffering. I find it very interesting when I have fear to say, “May I take on that fear from everybody else. May I take on others’ fear which is so unpleasant, and may I take on the painful situation that I’m afraid of that other people are now experiencing.” So, instead of being afraid of X, Y and Z, I’m welcoming it, I’m taking it on. I find it to be a very, very effective method for working with the mind that’s afraid. Just take on the suffering that you’re afraid of, and say, “Okay. I will bear this for the benefit of sentient beings.” And I won’t just bear it and sit and feel like there’s a ton of bricks on my head, but I will take that suffering and use it to destroy the cause of suffering, my own self-grasping and the self-centeredness at my heart, and use it to smash it and have that light of love that you radiate out to others.

Similarly, when you are doing the visualization of giving, really get into it. If there’s something that you are holding very tightly to, “I’m so afraid I’m going to lose my house, I’m so afraid I’m going to lose …” whatever it is that you’re clinging onto, multiply it and give it away, okay? Go right into that situation mentally that you don’t want and give it away. “Here I am, I’m clinging so much, I can’t separate from this $100. I can’t separate from my house. I can’t separate from …” whatever it is we are clinging onto. These shoes, I finally got the shoes that I always loved or the sports equipment that I always loved. I don’t want to give it away. Then just mentally multiply it, transform it and make it into whatever anybody else needs, and give it away. Mentally, it becomes food that’s going into Afghanistan, it’s a peaceful society going into Iraq, it’s becoming food going into the impoverished inner city. I mean, just send out whatever it is that you’re clinging to and imagine it just becomes what others need. So it’s a very wonderful meditation, and very practical and effective in our own life.

If, when you’re doing it you start to feel afraid, “No way do I want to take on their suffering and give them my happiness,” go back and do some more meditation about the kindness of others and the disadvantages of self-centeredness. Go back and review that so that we renew the love and compassion that enables us to do the meditation. There’s somebody that’s probably going to think, “It’s fine if it’s a visualization in meditation, but what about if it really works?” Don’t you kind of have that fear? It’s bad enough thinking about others’ suffering, but what happens if I do the meditation and I actually get a cold? Then you say, “Wait. I’m so glad.” Because that’s what we were doing it for, isn’t it, to develop compassion and take on others’ suffering?

Or what happens when you’re imagining giving away your house and everything in it, your family and all your money, and then the mind comes up and says, “Oh, what happens if they actually do go away? This is a nice visualization, but I want to keep everything nice and comfortable, thank you very much.” What happens if they do go away? You say, “Good, I’ve been meditating to really give the happiness to others, and now it’s working. I can actually give happiness to others.” So rejoice. That point, that one that’s going, “Hey, wait a minute I don’t want to really do this,” that is the object to be negated in the emptiness meditation, okay?

If you have problems in the four-point analysis when we are doing the emptiness meditation, identifying the “I” that in fact doesn’t exist, when you do the taking-and-giving meditation and that thought comes up, “No way do I want suffering, no way do I want to give away my happiness,” look at how that “I” seems to exist, because that is the appearance of the inherently existent “I.” The one that says, “Oh, this is fine as a visualization, but I don’t want it to work because I have enough problems.” Look at that “I.” That’s the object to be negated. So you can actually, if you’re skilled, at that point do a meditation on emptiness and start looking for that “I,” because it appears so vividly and so real then. Who is that? What is that I? Where does it exist? It feels so real, what exactly is it? Is it my body? Is it my mind? Is it the collection of the two? Is it something separate from the two? And really analyze, try and find that “I” that seems so real in that very moment.

Through taking and giving, you can see that we can cultivate very, very strong love and compassion. It’s very easy after that to generate bodhicitta because we start saying, “Well, if I really want to bring others’ happiness and take on their suffering, I need to become a Buddha quickly so that from my side there won’t be obstructions and limitations to the good that I can do.” Then we generate bodhicitta, so that becomes the second method for generating bodhicitta.

Lama Tsong Khapa’s synthesis eleven-point method

Lama Tsong Khapa also had a way of putting all these points from the two techniques together to put them into one meditation. Here there are eleven points. I’ll just list these eleven points. The first one is equanimity. That’s usually the basis. The second one is recognizing sentient beings as our mother. Third is remembering their kindness. Fourth is the wish to repay that kindness. So those are usually the first three steps in the Seven Points of Cause and Effect. Then we equalize self and others. The fifth point in the eleven-point synthesis is Equalizing Self and Others. Sixth is recognizing the disadvantages of self-centeredness. Seventh is seeing the benefits of cherishing others. Eight is taking others suffering through compassion. Nine is giving them happiness through love, so that’s the taking-and-giving meditation. Then ten is the great resolve, taking the responsibility to actualize others’ happiness and their alleviation of suffering; and then eleven is the actual bodhicitta. So if you want to meditate on these two trains to develop bodhicitta in a synthesis way, you can do it through those eleven points like that.

Aspiring bodhicitta and the bodhisattva vows

Now I just want to talk briefly about aspiring bodhicitta and the bodhisattva vows, because they fit into this subject here. Aspiring bodhicitta is when we generate the aspiration to become a Buddha for the benefit of all beings. We can generate that aspiration, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it stays for a long time. It comes and it goes, doesn’t it? We can do a meditation that makes it come strongly. We might be in front of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the feeling comes very strongly. Then afterwards, we get out of the teaching and all we want to do is eat ice cream. But still, it’s very good to generate the aspiring bodhicitta, this aspiration to become a Buddha.

There’s an actual ceremony that we do to do it. Anytime you’re meditating and you aspire to enlightenment for the benefit of others, you’re doing this aspiring bodhicitta. In the actual ceremony, there are two ways to do it. One in which just in the presence of the spiritual master you generate bodhicitta and you leave it like that. The second way is where you generate bodhicitta and you make a determination not to let it decline in this life. That’s making much more of a decision and a determination. In the Pearl of Wisdom Book I, the red prayer book, there’s a list of 12 points that we try and live by to prevent our bodhicitta from declining. Four that prevent bodhicitta from declining in this life, a set of four to practice and another set of four to abandon, that prevent our bodhicitta from declining in future lives. Those are listed in the red prayer book.

Then later on, when you feel really firmly that bodhicitta is what you want to do, you can take the bodhisattva vows. There are 18 root bodhisattva vows and 46 auxiliary ones, and they basically center around keeping us from following our self-centeredness and keep us on track on the Mahayana path to full enlightenment. The Bodhisattva vows should not be taken lightly. We should take them on the basis of refuge. Although it’s not required, I would advise at least having some, hopefully all of the five lay precepts before you take the bodhisattva vows. The Bodhisattva vows are actually more difficult to keep purely than the five lay precepts.

The nice thing about the bodhisattva vows is that you can know them before you take them, so you can train your mind in them before you take them. It can be very, very helpful because they really specifically point out certain behaviors and attitudes that we want to try and abandon if we hope to attain enlightenment. It can be very good, whether you’ve taken them or not, but especially if you’ve taken them, to at least a couple of times a month read through them and do a little bit of analysis about how you are doing, and on a daily basis, if you recognize that you are transgressing any of those vows, to confess and purify them. Also, when we do the bodhisattva vows, those of you who have taken them, do them in the morning and each evening because we can visualize all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and recite the verses and renew our vows, and in that way it’s a very, very nice practice.

Aspiring bodhicitta and engaging bodhicitta

I should explain the difference between aspiring bodhicitta and engaging bodhicitta because the ceremony for aspiring bodhicitta is aspiring bodhicitta, and taking the Bodhisattva vows falls under engaging bodhicitta. The difference between those two is described as aspiring to go to the ice cream parlor and actually going there and buying your ice cream. There’s a difference, isn’t there? Because we can sit here and say, “Oh, how nice it would be to go and get some chocolate ice cream. How nice it would be, how nice it would be.” But we’re sitting here. When we get up from the seat and we go there and we say, “I want this, and here’s my money,” we’re really putting some effort into it. We are engaging in the practice. So here, instead of seeking ice cream, which doesn’t give any long-lasting happiness at all, we are seeking enlightenment. It’s the difference between aspiring to attain enlightenment and engaging in the process of actually getting there. We generate the aspiration for enlightenment by practicing the Seven-Point Cause and Effect, or Equalizing Self and Others. That’s how we generate the aspiration to enlightenment. Once we generate it and we’ve engaged in the process of going there and, hopefully, taken the Bodhisattva vows, then we really start to practice in depth the six far-reaching attitudes. These are generosity, ethical discipline, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom.

Then you’re going to say, “Hey, wait a minute, I have to generate bodhicitta before I practice generosity? I can give some cash to somebody today can’t I?” Well, yes of course, but you see, there is a difference between regular generosity and far-reaching generosity. Regular generosity is when we have a kind attitude and we give somebody something, right? And that’s good. It creates good karma, and they’re happy, and we’re happy, and it’s very wonderful. The far-reaching attitude of generosity is when we give with the motivation of bodhicitta and when we also seal our giving with the practice of what they call seeing the emptiness of the circle of three.

In other words, when we give, we see ourselves as the giver, the object given, and the recipient of the object, and in the action of giving we see all these things as empty of inherent existence, but existing dependently. We’re sealing the generosity with the awareness that it’s not a concrete practice of generosity; we’re sealing it with the awareness that it exists within the spirit of emptiness. That and the bodhicitta turn it into far-reaching generosity. So you can see the difference between that and average generosity, where we’re not mindful and we don’t think about bodhicitta and emptiness when we’re giving. It behooves us, as we are practicing generosity, to at least try in our mind to generate bodhicitta and to remember emptiness. Even if we can’t sit down and cross our legs and do a three-hour mediation, at least in our mind we can try and remember this as a way of transforming ordinary actions of generosity into ones that become the actual causes for enlightenment. Okay?

So that’s a little bit about the second principal aspect of the path, bodhicitta in general. I mean we went very quickly through the whole topic of aspiring and engaging bodhicitta, and the six far-reaching attitudes. It’s something that can be expanded on in the future. It gives you some inkling about what that practice is about. So any questions or comments?

Questions and answers

Audience: Maybe a comment and maybe a couple of questions. I was down for the last month to the rain forest and the place was beautiful, but it’s just overwhelmed with horse flies. Thousands upon thousands of these animals coming to bite me. (Laughter). And for about a week I thought nice compassionate thoughts about interdependence and horse flies and how they all needed each other. Then, finally one day I had about a hundred bites on me and I couldn’t handle it anymore and I started swatting these things all over the place. Then that night I felt really bad and so I started doing tonglen for them. Then for about the next ten days they were kind of okay again, and I could handle it. So let’s just say it really works and I just wanted to share that. Then I think that ten days later they got to me again and I had to do this again. The other thing I wanted to ask is if you don’t have any problem doing tonglen for others, is there an advantage for doing it for yourself too?

Venerable Thubten Chodron: So you’re asking if there’s a real reason for doing taking and giving for oneself? I think first of all, doing that helps us get in touch a little bit more with the state of our own suffering, but in an objective way. Usually it’s, “My suffering, poor me.” Instead, here it is, we’re putting it out in front of us because it’s the person we’re going to become. So, we can look at it with more detachment. For example, if we live that long, we’re going to have the sufferings that come with old age. By thinking about those and taking those on now, it prepares us to deal more gracefully with those sufferings when they actually do manifest. Also, because we do tend to be rather self-centered, it can be very helpful to us to imagine taking on our own future suffering and giving our future self-happiness as a way of leading into taking on others’ suffering and giving them happiness. When we think about ourselves, there’s still a little bit more attachment there. But it’s a skillful way to ease us into it, because at that point we’re thinking about the “I” in terms of the future “I” in future lives, whereas our usual take on the self is my happiness now in this very instant. So it’s helping us to expand upon that.

Audience: Okay. My second question is if there are different versions on how to do tonglen. Khensur Rinpoche taught us a way, you say something else, Pema Chodron explained it in a different way. Should we just find one that we’re most comfortable with? What’s your recommendation?

VTC: Okay. There are many different ways of describing tonglen. I think it’s just a matter of difference in what you emphasize. I think the technique is basically the same. There’s a way of emphasizing taking from sentient beings and from their environment and giving to sentient beings and their environment. I didn’t teach that right now, but it’s included in tonglen. Some people say that it’s a lightning bolt and some people visualize pollution, some say smoke, some say lightning bolt, some say detergent, whatever. In terms of the visualization, you can do whatever feels most comfortable. In terms of who you are taking from and how you’re taking, it’s just a matter of continuously amplifying and including more and more beings in your meditation. If we start out by taking on the suffering of all sentient beings, it becomes very intellectual. Instead, we start out with one person, such as our future self, then go from there to our friend, somebody we dearly care about, and then to other people, eventually getting to all the beings of the six realms, including the arhats and the aryas and everyone who is not a Buddha, and taking on their subtle obscurations. We just keep expanding it and doing more and more. It’s not like one version is right and the others are wrong. It’s just a matter of how broad and extensive you make it.

Audience:About how much time should you spend in meditation when you have eleven points, and each of those could be an individual meditation by their own self? At the same time, we wouldn’t want to rush it and finish this all in eleven minutes. How do you gauge your time?

VTC: So, how do you actually do a meditation session on this?

Audience:Yes, including all the points.

VTC: What I would recommend is start with equanimity as the main focus. You want to do many different meditation sessions over a period of time. If you’re starting in equanimity and making that the heart of your session, do a little review of the topics for the lower and middle levels of practitioners, those topics. You can do that just by reading a few verses in the glance meditation. Then work on equanimity and get that strong, review the rest of the steps, then end your session. Then the next day, review all the way up to say, recognizing sentient beings as your mother, and make recognizing sentient beings as your mother the big thing that you spend most of your time on. Then review the steps that come after that. Then the next day review the first two scopes in equanimity and seeing sentient beings as your mother, until you get to seeing the kindness of the mother and then emphasize that and do most of your meditation on that and review all the rest of them. So you keep doing that each time, going quickly through the previous ones, and you can do that, snap, snap, snap, when you are more familiar with them, and then going more in depth on each step. Okay? The thing is, as you go more in depth on each step, that one becomes stronger in you so then when you go on to the next step, you can generate that feeling quicker. And by reviewing the steps that come after the one that we’re focusing on, we’re directing our mind, planting the seeds and preparing ourselves for future meditations that we’re going to do in the future, so we are starting to gain some familiarity with them. Does that seem doable?

Audience: My wife has a cat and I just do not like it. It cries because it wants in, it cries because it wants out. It’s got six paws, so I think it must have some negative karma to be a cat and to be deformed on top of that. I offer water, put out food, but it doesn’t care. Sometimes I can endure it, but sometimes you just have to wonder. My wife expects me to like it. What should I do?

Ven. Chodron: So the question is about your wife’s cat that you can’t stand, that you can endure sometimes, but sometimes it gets too much. And that’s like Erik with the horse flies; exactly the same situation isn’t it? You try and you try, and at a certain point it’s, “Listen shut up. I can’t stand it, go away.” Okay? So, how do you practice with that kind of thing?

Audience: What I do is I try to remind myself to be positive. When I leave I play the Om Mani Padme Hum CD on repeat, and let it play all day long to give positive karmic seeds to the cat, but it’s just not enough.

VTC: Well, you’re trying to change the cat. You need to change. I’m not saying don’t change the cat. My cat woke me up at 3:30 this morning. So it’s nice to try to change behaviors, but the best thing is to change our mind. What I would recommend is, think of somebody that you care about very deeply who maybe has passed away and think, “What if that cat was the continuation of that person that I cared deeply about?” If I was able to recognize that this is my uncle or my grandfather or my grandmother or whatever it was, would it feel the same way? I’d be a little more patient, wouldn’t I? And this is the reason why we see sentient beings as our mother. The idea being that you look at the cat like your mother and think this was my mother in a previous life.

Sometimes that can seem abstract to us if our own mother is alive. But if our mother isn’t alive we think, “Well this is the future life of my mother.” Oh, my goodness, then I want this cat to be happy. Or, if it’s a friend you have who has passed away or whatever. Try that. And then it’s very interesting to look at the mind, that harmful mind that says, “Just go away and leave me alone.” Because my cat, the one that’s waking me up in the middle of the night, almost died a couple of weeks ago. I mean, he was on the verge of dying and until that point I thought, “I really need to get some sleep, really wish he wouldn’t wake me up in the middle of the night.” Then, when he got sick I thought, “Oh, it’s fine, you can wake me up in the middle of the night all you want, I just want you to be around, don’t die on me.” So, this morning when he woke me up I just thought, “Oh, well he’s getting better. He’s back to his usual thing.” I’m happy because he’s well now because we almost lost him. Well not well, he’s better. He’s not completely well, but we almost lost him. So, I noticed that shift in my mind where I just took a living being for granted and thought, “You’re a nuisance,” to really cherishing life and saying, “Oh, I want you to live!” I mean it wasn’t like I ever wanted him to die, but just that thought of “go away,” it’s an exclusionary thought. And I still wish he’d sleep through the night. Or even if he got up and walked around, don’t come meow by my ear. What to do? Okay?

Alex, who many of you have met, told me this story that in India they have these enormous spiders. I mean, really enormous spiders. They’re in your house, all over the place. Not all over the place, but there’s no way to keep them out because it’s so hot that you have to have your windows open. Alex’s uncle had died at one point and he really, really cared about that uncle. He was telling me that one night he was writing and he looked on the wall and there was one of those huge spiders again and usually he could not stand those spiders. It wasn’t that he killed them; he never killed them but he just couldn’t stand them. Suddenly when he was looking at that spider he thought, “Well what happens if that is the continuation of my uncle?” And he said after that his whole way of relating to those spiders changed. So, I think that can be very helpful.

Audience: I just have one comment. Yesterday at 7:00 p.m. on TV there was this show, I don’t know if anyone one watched it. This commentator discussed interconnectedness and how we have lost the sense of community around us. We think we’re self-sufficient and so forth and so on, and one of the things that struck me was that he said in modern society basically the standard is pathological ecological individualism. We think that we’re so self-sufficient. You just see everybody walking by, and the way modern society has evolved leads us to believe we are separate. We don’t tend to relate, just the way we live, we don’t tend to relate to anybody other than ourselves.

VTC: It is kind of pathological individualism, isn’t it? Okay. Let’s sit and meditate for a few minutes.

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