The altruistic intention
The 7-point cause and effect technique for generating bodhicitta
A series of commentaries on Mind Training Like Rays of the Sun by Nam-kha Pel, a disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa, given between September 2008 and July 2010.
- Making the most of this precious opportunity
- Combating the eight worldly concerns
- The seven-point cause and effect method for generating bodhicitta
- Seeing the kindness of others and wanting to repay it
MTRS 22: 7-point cause and effect (download)
Good evening everybody. Let’s start by cultivating our motivation. First by appreciating this life that we have because it ends very quickly, it goes by very quickly. It’s quite a remarkable opportunity to practice, to put good imprints in our mindstream. We don’t know when we’re going to get this kind of opportunity again, and so it’s really important to make good use of it.
The first step in doing that is to detach ourselves from the claws of the eight worldly concerns. Those claws are not the external objects, they’re the internal attachment and aversion that’s completely hooked onto the happiness of this life. We have to pull our mind out of thinking that the happiness of this life is the most important thing in the universe—our own personal happiness in this life right now. Instead we enlarge our mind and think about the happiness of future lives which is a different kind of happiness, the happiness of liberation and enlightenment, and the happiness of benefiting other sentient beings. By enlarging our mind to see those other kinds of happiness, let’s aspire for them and then release the clinging to the happiness of this life. Let’s aspire that all sentient beings can have the happiness of full enlightenment. Let’s generate that right now.
Combating the eight worldly concerns
If we look, the eight worldly concerns are really eight big trouble makers. They not only get in the way of our Dharma practice, but they make us totally miserable right now because our mind is completely hooked into, “my happiness now,” from external things. We think, “I want my room to look like this,” and “I want people to act like this,” and “I want this kind of food,” and “I want to wear this kind of clothes,” and “I want the temperature in the room to be like this,” and “I want the temperature of the hot water in the shower to be like this,” and “I don’t like when people squint at me,” and “I don’t like when they don’t say hello,” and “I don’t like the snow when it’s melting and slippery.” And, you know, “I don’t like this and I don’t like that,” and this litany of, “I want, I want. I don’t like, I don’t like.” Okay? Constant!
Of course all the things we’re craving for and craving to get away from disappear in the very next moment. Yet we spend our whole life just so worried about all these things. The mind just worries and spins around, “What if this?” and “What if that?” and “Oh, maybe this and maybe that.” All the worries that we’re all wrapped up in—are all having to do with our pleasure of this life. It makes us terribly miserable, and then of course, we waste our precious human life. So rather than accumulating merit and freeing ourselves of negativities, we accumulate negativities and free ourselves from happiness. It’s really self sabotaging.
There’s one part of our mind that is so hooked into the happiness of this life that we’re afraid that if we don’t have it then we’re just going to croak, you know—that life just can not go on, or I am going be so miserable! But if we really step back, it’s only our mind telling us this. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the situation because lots of times we wind up being happy in situations that we thought we were going to be miserable in. That happens when we let go of the mind that says, “I’m going to be miserable.”
We really have to stop trying to rearrange our “samsaric duckies” because it just doesn’t work! Yes? Look, you no sooner get your little ducky in place then change happens—and your ducky goes out of order. Then you have to scurry to get it back in place, but it doesn’t want to go in the line you set it in. You finally get it in that line and you don’t want it there any more, you changed your mind. So, you know, the whole thing is just useless.
So that doesn’t mean that happiness in this life is bad. That’s not true. Did you hear that one? I’m looking at all the ex-Caths. [laughter] Okay? Happiness in this life is not bad. Our problem is when we get attached to it.
Generating bodhicitta: seven-point cause and effect method
We’re going through the methods now for generating bodhicitta. One of the biggest hindrances for generating bodhicitta is the eight worldly concerns. We’ll get into this when we get into the part of equalizing and exchanging self and others because when we talk about the disadvantages of self-centeredness, what does our self-centeredness twirl around? The eight worldly concerns. Yes, doesn’t it? Completely twirls around that and it makes us miserable. We have no ability to look beyond our own nose and care about anybody else because we’re too busy, saying, “I don’t like this color carpet,” or “The cat puts too much fur on the carpet,” or “Ach [Achala, one Abbey cat], you should become blue. Then your fur would match the carpet.” And so we get into all sorts of things that are really ridiculous.
We’ve been talking about the two ways to generate bodhicitta. What are the two ways? First one?
Audience: Seven-point instruction.
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Seven-point instruction, cause and effect. Second one?
Audience: Equalizing, exchanging self and others.
VTC: Equalizing, exchanging self and others. Okay. What’s the preliminary to the seven-point instruction of cause and effect?
VTC: Equanimity. And what does equanimity mean in that sense?
VTC and audience: Open concerned mind and not having attachment for friends, aversion for enemies and apathy toward strangers.
VTC: And then the seven points, first one?
VTC and audience: Seeing all beings as our mothers.
Seeing their kindness as our mothers.
Wanting to repay it.
Seeing the kindness of our mothers
You should be able to recite these in your dreams. Try it tonight. If you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, then try and remember these. Okay?
Last time we talked about equanimity and also talked about how sentient beings have been our mothers but we don’t recognize them from one life to the next. Then we started talking about the kindness of our mother. Okay, the kindness of our father too, we’re in a gender-equal age. The kindness in their giving us this body, giving us an education, giving us enjoyments, and taking care of us. Really thinking about that: making it very personal—so that we really have this feeling of being the recipient of a tremendous amount of love.
See their kindness to us! We were a total stranger when we moved in, weren’t we? I mean people always think, “Oh it’s my baby,” when they have a child. Actually it’s a total stranger, knocking on your body saying, “I’m moving in for the next 18 to 40 years. I’ll be born from your body in nine months, but after that you’re not going to get rid of me so easy!” Actually we’re total strangers when we get reborn into somebody’s family yet they look at us and they’re so happy to see us. Everybody thinks babies are cute.
They always pick us up, “Oh look!” I’m amazed. My friends who have babies and the way they look at their kids, it’s like nobody else on this planet has ever had a baby. Really! Have you ever looked at parents? Nobody has ever had a baby. Nobody has ever seen anything that is quite as adorable and unique and precious as this pooping, peeing, crying machine, and they just love us to bits! And what do we do? We poop and we pee and we cry and they love us. Imagine that! Doesn’t that astound you? Yes? I mean, if one of us, if somebody came to the Abbey and pooped and peed and cried would we have that kind of attitude towards them?
Our parents have been really incredible towards us—and thinking that we’re so adorable even if they’ve had many kids before us. The youngest one is just so adorable until another one comes along, but then we’re still adorable too! So just really seeing that: feeling the kindness of others. And being aware that if they didn’t take care of us when we were little we wouldn’t be able to take care of ourselves now. It’s only because they taught us and protected us and all these kind of things that we function in the adult world.
Repaying their kindness
When we see sentient beings as our parents, and see their kindness, then automatically, the third step of wanting to repay their kindness—that one comes automatically. Human beings are like that: when we see ourselves as the recipient of kindness, then we want to repay it.
It’s very good to meditate a lot on the kindness of our parents and then want to repay that kindness. And not just the kindness of the parents of this life, but remember that all sentient beings have been our parents and wish to repay their kindness even though they aren’t our parents in this life. Wanting to repay kindness and then thinking about, “What are beneficial ways to repay their kindness?” We might try to do everything our parents want us to do, or be everything they want us to be, but is that necessarily the best way to repay their kindness? We have to think beyond this lifetime. We might please our parents this lifetime and in the process create a lot of negative karma, and then have a lower rebirth next life. And they might have a lower rebirth as well. So then what good was our trying to please them in this life? It didn’t really benefit them. It really didn’t benefit us. Thus while we try and help sentient beings in this life as much as we can, we also have to have a big mind thinking about how to benefit them beyond this lifetime.
From wanting to repay their kindness comes the fourth one which is heart-warming love. Heart-warming love is seeing sentient beings as worthy of affection, as affection-able—as beings that you have affection for. And so having this feeling that they are heartwarming, like when you see somebody that you think is just so precious. Then you have this feeling of a warm heart towards them, and good wishes, and care, and concern. And so feeling that for everybody equally, because remember, we’ve gotten rid of the attachment for friends, aversion for enemies, and apathy towards everybody else. We’ve trained our mind to see everybody as having been kind to us in their previous lifetimes when they’ve been our parents; and we want to repay that kindness. So we see them all as being very precious, very worthy of our affection.
From there we go on to compassion. Now heart-warming love and love are a little bit different, because heart-warming love is seeing sentient beings in beauty and it necessarily must come before compassion. We can’t have compassion if we just think sentient beings are creeps. We have to see them in beauty first, so heart-warming love must come before compassion.
Regular love is the wish for others to have happiness. Compassion is the wish for them to be free of suffering. There’s no fixed order in which we generate those. Some people may generate compassion first wanting them to be free of suffering, so that they can then want them to have happiness which is love. Other people may generate them at the same time, or may want them to be happy but then think, “Oh, but they must be free of suffering in order to be happy.” So love and compassion don’t have a fixed order, but heart-warming love has to come before compassion.
Now the first three points of: seeing sentient beings as our mother, remembering their kindness, and wanting to repay it—those are the basis for generating the aspiration to benefit others. By meditating on those we’re imbuing our mind with the basis for having the aspiration to benefit them. Then love and compassion are actual attitudes that want to benefit them, because with love we want them to be happy, with compassion we want them to be free of suffering.
The great resolve
The two great resolves which we’re going to come to next, step number seven, they’re the actual thoughts that decide to work for others. The first three points are the basis for generating the aspiration to benefit them. Love and compassion are the wishes to benefit them. The two great resolves, which we’re going to get into, are the actual thoughts that decide to benefit them. And then bodhicitta is the aspiration to attain full enlightenment in order to be able to benefit them. So there’s a sequence going on here.
Love and compassion are the actual attitudes wanting to benefit them. Love wanting them to be happy, compassion wanting them to be free of suffering. Then from there we get the sixth point, which is called great resolve and there are two great resolves. One of them is based on love and it says, “I myself am going to bring happiness to sentient beings” And the other one is based on compassion saying, “I myself am going to free them from suffering.” So the great resolve is taking some responsibility for bringing this about.
You have a question?
Audience: Before you said there was heart-warming love and now you’re referring to it as in the normal sense, so which one is it?
VTC: We’re referring to love in the normal sense when I’m saying it’s the actual method to benefit sentient beings.
Audience: You were talking about it as the fourth and fifth step of aspiration.
VTC: Yes, the fourth one’s heart-warming love—but then they kind of slip in regular love too. The great resolve is the aspiration to actually do something about it.
Now it’s very important that our love and compassion are stable and that they’re generated for all sentient beings. Because if they’re partial, then that indicates that there’s going to be attachment and aversion involved. And when there’s attachment and aversion involved our love and compassion are not stable.
We can see that very clearly in our daily life, can’t we? When there’s attachment for somebody, then wanting them to be happy comes very easy. But the moment they do something that we don’t like, we stop wanting them to be happy. The love is not stable when we’re attached to them and so this is why equanimity is so important. It’s also why seeing all of them as having been our mothers and being kind to us—this equally is very important. This way we really see sentient beings equal in this respect and free ourselves from the attachment and the aversion. That’s one point to be real careful of when we’re generating love and compassion.
A second point is this thing of personal distress and personal agenda. I want them to be happy yet my personal agenda is in the way for I think they must do my agenda in order to be happy. So go to college, get a job, marry this person, blah, blah, blah; our agenda for the other person. That’s not what we’re talking about because there we can see there’s attachment involved, there’s a personal agenda involved. It’s not genuine love that wants them to be happy simply because they exist.
Similarly with compassion, we have to make sure that personal distress doesn’t get involved whereby we see others suffering and then we feel so distressed by it that we can’t stand it. Then the focus of things switches to us and our painful feeling. We’ve really forgotten about the pain of the other person and it becomes more, “I can’t stand to see them suffer!” If we’re going to work for the benefit of sentient beings, we need to be able to bear seeing them suffer—not because we’re causing their suffering, but because we can’t push a button and get rid of it.
It’s kind of like those of you who are in the helping professions, as a nurse and as a physical therapist, sometimes you have to be able to see and bear your patients suffering because you’re trying to help them but you can’t make it all go away at once. The body just doesn’t work that way. If you got so distressed at seeing their suffering that you said,”I can’t stand it,” then they don’t have a nurse and they don’t have a therapist. You have to be able to bear seeing their suffering and still want to help them, and be okay with knowing that you can’t get rid of it all at once.
That’s really important in order to generate the bodhicitta because it’s going to take a long time to lead sentient beings to enlightenment. I mean, look how long it’s taking the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to lead us to enlightenment. And we’re not even there yet and they’ve been working since beginningless time! They’ve been watching us go up and down in samsara, from the heavenly realm to the hell realm a myriad of times. And I’m sure they can’t bear to see us suffer but somehow they bear it because they haven’t dropped us and said, “Trying to benefit this one, trying to lead them to enlightenment, but look what she’s doing again, you know, stupid thing, forget this one.” They don’t do that.
We have to have the same kind of attitude that doesn’t give up on sentient beings: even though we know that we’re not going to be able to fix it, even though we can so clearly see what they need to do and they don’t, just as the Buddhas and bodhisattvas very clearly see what we need to do and we’re like this. So we have to have this long term attitude really hanging in there and wanting to benefit over the long term.
Wanting to repay their kindness
Another thing to be careful of with love and compassion and the great resolve is wanting them to repay our kindness: “I’ve helped you, don’t you have any gratitude? What did I do to deserve you? And look at the way you’re treating me after everything I’ve done for you!” Do I have the accent right? “Oy, I work so hard for you. What did I do to deserve this?”
Okay, so not doing that ourselves. Because it’s very tempting isn’t it? Especially when we have the script down because other people have said it to us; so then to switch it and say, “Now I’m trying to help them and they’re so ungrateful.” So here we have to remember that the point is for us to repay their kindness. That’s the third step, wanting to repay their kindness. There is no step in this process that says getting them to repay our kindness, we have to stay focused on that we are repaying their kindness.
If we’re going to see things in terms of debt, it’s not them owing us something for what we do for them. It’s us owing them something for everything they’ve done for us in previous lives and everything they’re doing for us in this life. If you have that idea of debt, it should go that way. Because then if you just have that mind that says, “I want to repay the kindness, I want to repay the kindness,” our mind is focused on that and it’s not focused on how are they treating me in return. Okay? So that’s what we need to be careful of.
Now sometimes we do notice that other people are not treating us very well in return. We have to be able to endure it. Or if we see that their not treating us well in return is making them degenerate, then we have to find a skilful way to help them—for their benefit to change their attitude. Not because we need them to change their attitude, but because when they take things for granted or act in a certain way it degenerates their own mental state.
Okay? Are you getting what I mean?
How can we be of the most benefit to sentient beings?
We have these two great resolves of “I’m getting involved, I’m committed to bringing about their happiness and removing their suffering.” Here we’re seeing happiness and suffering not as the happiness and suffering of the eight worldly concerns. This also is very, very important, because if we’re just wanting to bring people the happiness of the eight worldly concerns—that kind of happiness is limited. So of course if people are hungry we want to give them food, and if they need a home to give them a home and so on and so forth, like that.
If we really want to benefit them over a long time, we can lead them on the Dharma path and teach them the Dharma. Or help them to learn some spiritual path that will be beneficial for them. Then that is a great way to benefit them and give them happiness and to liberate them from suffering because there we’re working with the real cause of happiness and suffering—the afflictions and the karma. You see, unless we have that idea when we want sentient beings to be happy and free of suffering (to work in terms of liberating them from afflictions and karma), unless we have that idea to do that, there’s no way we’re ever going to be able to bring about their happiness and liberate them from suffering.
It’s so interesting, you can see sometimes people—somebody really needs help. Other people give them the help. They can’t see it. Or their karma interferes and they can’t receive the help. Or it gets wasted. Or something happens. And so we really need to work on the karmic level which means working on the mental level of virtuous and non-virtuous thoughts and intentions in order to really benefit them over a long period of time.
You can see this sometimes when we give foreign aid. We give foreign aid to countries in a civil war and then all the armies take the food and the food doesn’t get to the people that it’s meant for. So there you can see that you have to do something about the armies and bring about peace if you want people to be fed. But also you have to look at the karma of those people who have people who want to give them food but the food can’t get to them because of the armies.
There are so many interdependent factors going on there and we have to be able to work with all of them, but really working in terms of karma which means teaching sentient beings how to avoid negative karma and how to create positive karma. That’s so important. And to do that on the basic level, because that’s the basic level of our practice, isn’t it? Abandon non-virtue, create virtue. That’s going to be much more effective in the long term than working for their eight worldly concerns.
Then we have to teach them how to be free of the afflictions all together. Because if they aren’t free of the afflictions all together, they’re going to keep getting reborn in samsara again and again and again: sometimes in upper realms, sometimes in lower realms. And then if we really care about all sentient beings we’ll want to lead everybody to enlightenment so that there are more Buddhas working for the benefit of all sentient beings.
We really have to have a big mind. Don’t just think when we say, “Compassion is wanting them to be free of suffering,” that suffering means the ‘ouch’ suffering. Think of the sufferings of the dukkha of change, think of the pervasive dukkha that pervades everything in cyclic existence.
If you just see suffering as the ‘ouch’ kind of suffering, you’re not going to be able to benefit sentient beings most completely. You hear me say this over and over and over again. That’s because we keep thinking of suffering as: I struck myself, or I hit my thumb with the hammer, or something like that. So we really have to think big. And if we think big like that then we can look at somebody who’s wealthy and we can look at somebody who’s impoverished and we can have equal love and compassion for both of them, because the wealthy one is only wealthy temporarily. So everybody is going to change places. In another hundred years we’ll all be gone, all be born in different realms, different situations, maybe completely change places. So we have to have that big mind that doesn’t discriminate amongst sentient beings.
The causal aspiration of bodhicitta
As I was saying before with bodhicitta: that the aspiration to benefit sentient beings most effectively is the causal aspiration. And that bodhicitta itself is focused on, its object is enlightenment. And so the aspiration to attain enlightenment is the one that actually accompanies the bodhicitta. Similarly compassion doesn’t accompany bodhicitta, it’s a cause of bodhicitta.
Remember when we talk about a primary mind, a primary mind has certain mental factors that are associated with it—or mental factors that are concomitant. So compassion isn’t concomitant with bodhicitta. It’s a cause of bodhicitta, which means it comes before bodhicitta. It doesn’t mean that when you get bodhicitta you stop having compassion. You generate bodhicitta and then other times you might meditate again on compassion. It doesn’t mean that your compassion has stopped. It just means it isn’t fully manifest when you have bodhicitta. But the mind has compassion. This person has compassion.
Those of the seven-point instruction cause and effect: the first six are the cause, bodhicitta is the effect. Questions?
Equanimity and emptiness
Audience: I have a couple questions but one of them is, in thinking about equanimity, especially the way you talked about it last week. It almost seems that you have to have a pretty strong understanding of emptiness even to develop, to go anywhere with that thought.
VTC: [restating the question] Okay, so to develop equanimity when we think of not having attachment and aversion, it seems like you must have some awareness of emptiness.
I think that the more awareness of emptiness you have it benefits all these meditations. There’s not going to be somebody who gets to this point in the Dharma without any awareness of emptiness because everybody’s heard teachings on emptiness at one point or another, haven’t they?
It’s interesting because often when we hear the stages of the path we get the idea that you do this one and then you finish it completely before you get to that one. And you finish that one completely before you get to this one. And you can’t do this one before you’ve completed that one. And it’s not like that, all these things really interplay and influence each other a lot.
Entering the bodhisattva path
Audience: And my other question is: you hear that once you’ve developed—had that instant of bodhicitta—that you become a bodhisattva which has the implication that having that realization of bodhicitta means that now it’s lasting to some extent.
VTC: Wait a minute, who said you have an instant of bodhicitta and that’s the realization of bodhicitta?
Audience: Well, maybe that’s a misunderstanding.
VTC: Yes it is!
Audience: … but somehow you generate bodhicitta—that’s when you enter the doorway of becoming a bodhisattva.
VTC: Yes. Yes. It’s not just generating bodhicitta. We generate bodhicitta every morning, don’t we?
Audience: We really generate bodhicitta?
VTC: There’s fabricated bodhicitta and there’s unfabricated bodhicitta. We generate fabricated bodhicitta all the time. Even unfabricated bodhicitta: the first time you get it, does that mean it’s never going to go away? No. You have to make that very, very strong. Okay? So it’s not just one instant of unfabricated bodhicitta and now you’re good to go forever.
Audience: So when do you become a bodhisattva?
VTC: When you enter the path of accumulation, when you have a stable bodhicitta. That doesn’t mean that you can never lose it. On the small path of accumulation it’s still possible to lose it. But to enter the path of accumulation, the first of the bodhisattva path, you have to have bodhicitta that’s stable enough so that when you see sentient beings your reaction to them is, “I want to attain enlightenment in order to benefit them.” So your mind is very well drenched in that and you don’t have to spend hours cultivating it. It’s like unfabricated.
That’s good to know because, for example, when His Holiness does the ceremony of aspiring bodhicitta with us and we all generate bodhicitta in His Holiness’s presence, does that mean that we all become bodhisattvas? No. As soon as we’re out the door, it’s like, you know, “Get out of my way!” But it’s good that we did that, isn’t it? It put a good imprint on our mind. That’s why we generate bodhicitta again and again before each of our meditation sessions, every time when we wake up in the morning, before every activity. We try again and again to familiarize our mind with that.
What we want is…you know how when you see something that’s beautiful how attachment comes in your mind, like that? That’s what you want your bodhicitta to be like when you see a suffering sentient being.
Repaying kindness and cause and effect
Audience: These days kind I’ve been thinking about doing something and then that brings kindness. But I kind of realized that there’s nothing between your action and someone repaying your kindness. I don’t know. Like something stupid: say like you take off your socks and you expect an apple to fall or something like that. So then we expect others to repay kindness is something stupid.
VTC: Repaying kindness is something stupid?
Audience: No. Like if you would expect someone to.
VTC: Oh, I see. Okay, so you’re saying, “Expecting somebody to repay your kindness is rather silly because what you do and what others … ”
Audience: Yes. It’s like how or what would be the relationship between those? This wouldn’t be cause and effect.
VTC: Okay, so you’re saying that: “When we show kindness to others, it’s not necessarily a cause and effect relationship that, therefore, they’re going to show kindness back. So expecting them to show kindness back is rather silly.”
Yes. Quite definitely. But our deluded mind thinks that there is a cause and effect relationship.
The path of accumulation and losing one’s bodhicitta
Audience: And the question I want to ask is, so when we are entering the path of a bodhisattva and then there is the smaller practice of the person who hears and then realizes …
VTC: No. There are the five paths of the bodhisattva, five paths of the hearers, five paths of the solitary realizers. The bodhisattva path of accumulation, which you enter when you’ve generated spontaneous bodhicitta, it has three parts to it: the small part of the path of accumulation, the medium, and the great part. On that small part, your bodhicitta isn’t a hundred percent stable; then it’s possible to lose it by getting really fed up with some sentient being.
It’s interesting because often what discourages us from attaining enlightenment is thinking the path is too long or enlightenment is too high. You know, looking at the path and looking at the result and thinking that they’re beyond us. And so that often inhibits us from practicing.
What’s very interesting is whenever they talk about losing your bodhicitta it’s always done from the perspective of getting angry at some sentient being that doesn’t treat you right. I’ve never heard it explained as you start thinking enlightenment is too high and you want to give up on that. I can imagine somebody doing that, but they never explain it that way. They always explain it in terms of looking at some sentient being and saying, “I am fed up. I am never working for that one’s benefit.” That’s the one they caution us about as being particularly dangerous.
Audience: The small, the medium [subdivisions of the path of accumulation], how do you differentiate between them?
VTC: I forget. It must have to do with the amount of merit that you’ve accumulated on each part. One part has to do with how stable your bodhicitta is. It has to do with the amount of merit and it has to also do with how close you’re getting to having a union of serenity and insight focused on emptiness. That would also be a discriminating factor between the three parts of the path of accumulation because somebody who’s newly entered the bodhisattva path on the path of accumulation, they don’t go to the path of preparation until they have a union of serenity and insight focused on emptiness.
If they haven’t realized emptiness before, or if their concentration isn’t real stable, then they’re working on that during the path of accumulation. It’s called the path of accumulation because you accumulate merit. On the bodhisattva path it’s the accumulation of merit that acts as the sustaining force that pushes you to the next path, but you actually go to the next path in terms of your realization of emptiness: how that’s coming along and how capable it is of counter acting afflictions.
Looking at our motivations and actions
Audience: I don’t quite know how to ask the question but you were talking about there’s the option of enduring the suffering when we perceiving it as the result of someone harming us. And then there’s the using skillful means to find the best way after seeing that they themselves are degenerating. But it seems like, at least in my experience it’s always very messy and it’s really hard to get to the place where, “Yes, logically I want to benefit someone but at the same time I feel so habituated and you’ve hurt me and there’s some repayment.”
VTC: What I was saying before is that sometimes if you see sentient beings who have harmed you and you see that is making them degenerate, so you might want to help them stop that behavior. And you’re saying that it gets really messy because we’re so habituated with, “You hurt me” or “I’m offended.” And then we go, “And therefore for their benefit, I’m going to help them change.”
It gets very messy because really there’s one motivation going on in our mind which is quite a self-centered one, a hurt one: we’re offended, our ego is touched. The other thing which is: how can I benefit them?
So it’s a process of really working with our minds. We have to see where this afflicted motivation comes in, see how we’re contorting the Dharma to make the Dharma match our self-centered mind, and then tell ourselves that is not suitable behavior. Really turn back and look at the self-centeredness. That is not suitable behavior—for me to correct somebody with this kind of motivation. So then you have to change your motivation.
It’s like a parent taking care of a child. If you’re a Dharma practitioner parent you hear all of this about disadvantages of anger. You want to raise your child without being angry but sometimes you really get ticked off at this kid. So then do you say to yourself, “Well, I have such a bad motivation so therefore I’m not going to do anything?” No, because then your kid just runs wild and goes crazy. So recognize you have a bad motivation, then you correct it as much as you possibly can and you really work with, “I want to help my child as a human being.” You try and generate a good motivation as best as you can and then you have to do something.
Each situation is really different so we shouldn’t get into this thing of, “Well, all these people are hurting me, and all these different people are offensive. So I’ve got to correct everybody.” That’s our M.O. right now isn’t it? Yes? “Everybody does what I don’t like so let’s correct them for their benefit.” That’s just getting picky.
The value of seeing the kindness of our parents
Audience: I just want to say that, years and years ago when I first heard you talk about seeing everyone as our parents and looking at the kindness of our parents, I had no idea how much just doing that was going to change everything. Particularly this last year when my mother died and I was able to be with her: those kinds of practice and seeing that became so important and so precious and gave such a strong base to just going there and being kind to her. No matter what had happened in the path, it just didn’t matter anymore. So I really thank you because it’s made a huge difference.
VTC: Will you come here and say that? I think that’s good for everybody to hear. Come. Come on.
Audience: I was just sharing that years ago I heard from Venerable about these practices about kindness of parents and meditating on this. I did a lot of meditating on it. I was very hard at first because, like a lot of Westerners, I just grew up feeling that my parents really screwed up and messed up and left me pretty damaged. And as I worked with the ideas, I could really see the tremendous kindness and tremendous sacrifices that they made to raise us well, and did their best. That meditation that I did has made a huge difference for me. My mother died this last year and I was able to be with her while she died. It was very easy to be kind towards her and just let go of all the other things in the past because of those meditations, so it’s just really important to do that. Thank you.
VTC: So this meditation might be difficult sometimes, especially when we start. But it can have a very healing effect on our mind in this life to heal relationships that have been difficult. With our mother, with our father, with our siblings, anybody we have a relationship with where there’s some really strong negative feelings, really try and go back and see their kindness. Often the person we have negative feelings for is somebody that we’ve been very close to, so there has been the opportunity where they’ve offered us a lot of kindness.
Audience: The other part of it that has helped me also is that I never saw the kindness of my parents in the face of a lot of physical pain, in the face of a lot of financial challenges, in a lot of relationship challenges between the two of them, and just the conditioning of their own lives. I always disregarded that and said, “Well, I don’t care. I wanted more time. I wanted more love. I wanted more attention. But when I got to see what they were trying to cope with and they raised three children at the same time, it just changed my relationship to them.
VTC: Do you want to say that? I think we should get everybody up here now. Yes, because I think it’s much better if you guys say it.
Audience: I was just sharing that in part of my healing process in relationship to my parents, is that for years and years I thought of all the love that I didn’t get and all the attention and the reprimands and things like that. I never understood the difficulties that they faced. That it was only by doing this meditation that the kindness that they showed me in the face of, certainly my mom had incredible physical pain due to a car injury that she never recovered from. My father was trying to compete in an economic market where he was about twice the age of most of the men that he was working with. And that they had their own difficulties in relationships. They would raise us, take care of us, and educate us in the middle of having a lot of insurmountable difficulties in their own personal lives—and it’s still quite amazing considering what they had to deal with on a lot of different levels.
VTC: Okay, anybody else?
Audience: I just would say for me, doing the meditations and feeling how it opened up my heart really released me from the anger and the negativity. It really brought so much space in my mind so that I could progress. I was very stuck. It was like I kept hitting the ceiling all the time and couldn’t make any progress and doing that meditation released me. I felt like I was released. So it was very powerful.
VTC: Because it totally changes our whole take on things, doesn’t it?
This week spend some time meditating on these topics: especially if you have a teaching and it’s fresh in your mind, then if you do some meditation it can be really quite wonderful.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.