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.
- Beginning of the explanation on the second method for developing bodhicitta, equalizing and exchanging self and others
- Explanation of the meditation of equalizing self and others
- Looking from the conventional level and from the ultimate level
- The first six points of this nine-point meditation
- Looking at things from the conventional viewpoint
Good evening everybody. Let’s begin by setting our motivation. And again, feeling fortunate that another week has gone by and we haven’t died. That’s quite extraordinary actually, when you think about how fragile our life is, how hard it is to keep ourselves alive, how much work we have to do to keep this body functioning. And yet we still have this precious human life which is so meaningful, so rare to obtain. And so, it’s important to use it wisely because at the time of our death, we can’t rerun a life and live it over again. So we have to do the best we can at each moment. And even if we act negatively or even if we make bad decisions, then we have to purify them, and learn from them, and make them somehow a condition of our progression along the path. So instead of getting hung up and guilt or shame or regret, purify, learn, set a determination for the future and go on. And the best way to go on is with the thought wishing to benefit all living beings. Seeing them as exactly like us and wanting to help them in the same way that we help ourselves. So the best way to help others is not simply by giving them the things they need in this life, but by helping them be free of all lives in cyclic existence altogether. And to do that, most efficaciously, we need to free ourselves first and attain full enlightenment. And so is with that long-term goal in mind, that we listen to the teachings this evening.
Preliminaries and generating bodhicitta
In our text, Mind Training Like Rays of the Sun, we’ve covered the first point about the preliminaries, which were?
Audience: Precious human life
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Precious human life
Audience: Death and impermanence
VTC: Death and impermanence
VTC: Karma and its effects
Audience: The disadvantages of cyclic existence
VTC: And the disadvantages of cyclic existence.
VTC: Two. What’s the name of the first one?
Audience: The seven-point instruction of cause and effect
VTC: Okay, the seven-point instruction of cause and effect. And what’s the preliminary to that one?
VTC: Equanimity. And what are the seven?
Audience: Seeing all beings as our parents
VTC: Seeing all beings as our parents or as our mother
Audience: Remembering their kindness
VTC: Remembering their kindness
Audience: Wanting to repay it
VTC: Wanting to repay it
Audience: Heart-warming love
VTC: Heart-warming love
Audience: Great resolve
VTC: Great resolve
VTC: And bodhicitta. And which ones are seven points of cause and effect. How many are causes?
VTC: And what’s the effect?
VTC: Bodhicitta. Okay! Good! We are getting there.
The nonsense of attachment
So, have you thought about the kindness of your parents? Have you thought about all sentient beings as having been your parents? That one is very important, because if you just think about the kindness of your parents, you are going to get attached to your parents. We don’t need to meditate to create more attachment. That’s why it’s very important to do this equanimity meditation. We really open the mind and remember that sentient beings are not who they appear to be. This is where we get stuck because the appearance of this life is strong and we think that who somebody is, is who they appear to be in this lifetime. So if somebody is our mother or our father, our brother, sister or our kitty or whatever they are, we think this is an inherently existent sentient being. This is them. This is who they are. And that there’s some kind of essence from the side of the person, that makes them that relationship to us. But there is nothing from the side of the person that makes them that relationship to us. Because when you think about it, last lifetime, was the person who’s our mother this lifetime our mother last lifetime? Highly unlikely, like nearly impossible. Okay?
And the person who’s our mother this lifetime could’ve been an enemy in a previous lifetime. Could’ve been the garbage collector? Could’ve been the president? Could’ve been our pet goldfish? We don’t know! All these things are completely changing all the time. So, the relationship we have with somebody in this life is just a temporary relationship of this life. There’s nothing in that person that makes them that relationship to us.
You might say, but we have the same blood, we have the same genes. Well, what are genes? They’re arrangements of chemicals, okay? This gong is an arrangement of chemicals. Is there any inherent affiliation between me and this gong? And it could be if you recycle some of the… probably not enough organic material in the gong. But in some pooh, you recycle some pooh, it becomes food; somebody eats it and becomes the body of the person you love. Recycled pooh! It becomes the genes that you feel are so inherently linking you to that person. I mean, it is just a bunch of chemicals, my goodness!
So what’s such a big deal? We have similar genes to somebody else. If we both eat broccoli, do you feel so close to the other person who eats broccoli because you have the same thing inside your body that they have inside their body? You both have broccoli? No! We don’t go around with our antenna out looking for all the other people for whom we share broccoli with. We all have broccoli in our body, so therefore we are inherently connected. Okay? So when you think about it, this genetic thing is like, you know, huh? What are you talking about? Because anyway, are you your body? Are you your body? Are you your genes? You look at a bunch of genes in a petri dish and you are going to go: “Oh! That’s my mother! Oh, that’s me!” You want to hug these genes on a petri dish? “Oh, my petri dish!”
When you really look at what our attachment is based on, how we create attachment is really nutty. It’s really nutty! Look at how many wars are fought based on feeling close to certain people because you have similar genes, and distant from other people because your genes aren’t so similar. When you really think about it, everybody’s genes are made of oxygen and hydrogen and carbon and nitrogen and whatever else. So actually, they’re all pretty similar.
But look at how many wars and how many ethnic conflicts there are on this planet because of genes. And because feeling that, because we have the same genes, therefore I should cherish this one more than that one, and this one is my friend and that one is my enemy. It’s horrible, isn’t it? And how many people get murdered and killed just because of difference in genes? It’s so sad!
This thing of taking the appearance of a person in this life and feeling that that’s who they are and that there’s some thing in them, in their body and in your body, that makes you especially close to them—that’s made up by the mind, okay? It’s made up by the mind. For rearing children it’s a good thing to make up by the mind, you know, because some parents take care of the babies. But it’s beyond that, it’s really, it can be such a divisive thing, such a divisive thing. And anyway, as we said, we take the appearance of the person this life and think that’s who they are, and that’s what our relationship is, and then they die, and they get reborn, and then they are in a different body, and then what? Then what?
Because they just had the thing where they arrested, the international court, they didn’t arrest but they want to charge the president of Sudan with…they didn’t come to the conclusion of genocide but with war crimes and this kind of stuff. So I believe he’s Arab and then the people in Darfur are a different ethnic group and even the people in Darfur there is a bunch of different ethnic groups. So everybody is hanging on to their own ethnic identity. Oh, my group, my group, these are my friends. So this guy who is the president who clearly has some bias with this other ethnic groups, yes, let’s say he dies and he gets born as a child in one of these other ethnic groups. Then what? Then what? Yes?
VTC: I mean, it’s just, when he gets born in one of the other tribal groups then he develops that identity. Then he doesn’t like the group that he belonged to in his previous life, and maybe he even hears stories about what that former president did to the people of his tribal group, and then he really dislikes that person who he used to be in his previous life. And then all the people that he didn’t like this life, next life he’s born with them and they’re his best friends, and he treats them favorably and has bias against the other ones. Crazy, crazy, isn’t it?
Samsara: A state of confusion
So this is what samsara is about and you can see how it’s all just made up by mind, completely made up by mind. But then we don’t realize we make it up and we think it’s real and we think it’s there from the side of the object, and besides, all of society believes like that and thinks like that. So how can I possibly think different than everybody else? I can’t think different than everybody else. So we just buy into the current social conventions. That’s how the Nazis got so popular. You just buy into what’s happening. That’s how Stalin got so popular, or Mao or Bush. Oh, I shouldn’t say things like that. We just buy into what’s going on at the time and don’t think for ourselves.
Even all these people that I’m mentioning, they too, they’re going to die and come back in different lives and we’re going to have totally different relationships with them. The person who was Mao maybe comes back as your child who you love tremendously. We don’t know. All these things are changing all the time. Grasping on to some permanent relationship or permanent identity doesn’t make much sense.
It’s like Kathleen was saying the other day, how you realize that you have the feeling that somewhere, in your body, there is a little room with you sitting inside. And that’s the way we feel. Somewhere in there there’s a little room with the essence of me sitting inside. And then, somewhere inside everybody else’s body, if you open it up, you’re not going to find blood and guts, but you are going to find some little room with the essence of the person in there. A few of you are in the medical profession and you’ve had dissected corpses. Have you ever seen anything like that in any of your anatomy classes? Noooooo! It isn’t there! There’s no part of this body that we can identify as this is me. It’s amazing.
Feeling close to some people and distant from others is based on the body—it’s just our own made-up superstition. And feeling so attached to this body to start with—that’s also made-up superstition, isn’t it? When you look at it. But boy, do we believe it! I am this body; this body is my most cherished thing. But it’s just made up! We mentally make up what our relationship with this body is. Then somebody is going to say, well, it’s biologically built into us. We’re hardwired like that. Okay, but what do you mean we’re hardwired like that, what do you point to as the hardwire? What’s the hardwire that makes you like that?
Audience: Our habitual patterns
VTC: What are those? That’s not scientific!
You know, they talk about hardwire. It’s part of our biology, it’s part of our cellular make up, they say. So, are you going to be able to open up the cell? And find within that cell attachment to the body? You are going to be able to find the chemicals that are attachment to the body? Wouldn’t that be nice if we could? Then we could just get rid of those chemicals, have no attachment to the body. But then, the people say, oh, but you have to have attachment to the body otherwise you won’t want to stay alive. But the attachment to the body is so painful when your body is falling and you can’t stay alive, isn’t it?
What about, if we wanted to stay alive to benefit others, but not out of attachment to the body. That would be something. So when they say it’s hardwired, show me that thought of “I am my body” or “This is me I’ve got to protect it at all cost.” Yes? Very hard to show, isn’t it? You know that paradigm that only values kind of material. Okay? When we start to really examine how we think, and what common assumptions are, we see that so much is just made up by the mind, only fabricated by the mind and then we believe it, then we fight each other over it and we make ourselves unhappy over it. It’s really quite amazing when we start to look at it. Really, really amazing and so sad.
Methods of generating bodhicitta
I am going to continue reading from the text. And then I hope to talk about the meditation of equalizing self and others this evening because it’ll pick up on what I just talked about, you know, some similar things. But to get there first we have to read a little bit in the text, Okay? We’re on the section that says:
Exchanging yourself with others through acknowledging the faults of selfishness and the advantages of concern for others.
Then we’re thinking, oh, acknowledging the faults of going out of my way to help others and the advantages of caring for myself, hum yes, that sounds good!
Okay so Nam Kha Pel says, referring to Nagarjuna and Asanga:
The great pioneers have explained that in general cultivating the awakening mind involves the twofold activity of being concerned with the welfare of others and being concerned with enlightenment.
Remember that? Because those are those two aspirations that go along with bodhicitta.
With regard to the first we should see those sentient beings who are the object of our concern as being equally pleasing and agreeable. The way to achieve this includes being led through the method of seven causes and one result.
We’ve already covered that.
Having realized that relatives arouse feelings of pleasure, enemies arouse feelings of unease, and those who are neither give rise to feelings of indifference, meditate on all sentient beings as being close to you. Although in reality all sentient beings are not your mother, at least not in this lifetime, by meditating on recognizing them as your mother, remembering their kindness, and wishing to repay it generate a sense of their being attractive.
Remember that the three initial points were the basis for generating the aspiration to benefit others, so that’s that. And then love and compassion with the attitude wishing to benefit and the two great resolves are the thoughts deciding to benefit and the bodhicitta is the actual way to do it, okay?
According to the training that follows the exalted Shantideva’s tradition, once we have grasped the many disadvantages of the self-centered attitude, we will be inclined to give it up and realizing the many benefits of appreciating others, we will generate a sense of sentient beings who are the object of our concern as being attractive, pleasing and dear to us.
You see that in both methods of generating bodhicitta you want to find the way to find sentient beings to appear in a pleasing manner to you. Because it’s difficult to have love and compassion unless the object of love and compassion appears pleasing to you. The way you do that in the seven-point instruction is by meditating on others as having been our mother, or our parents, having been kind to us, and therefore they’re pleasing to us. And here we do it by thinking of the disadvantages of being self-centered, and the benefits of cherishing others, in that way seeing sentient beings as pleasing, and having a kind heart to them as something that’s beneficial. So that’s how we do it.
Since the great conqueror’s son Chekawa’s technique for cultivating the awakening mind relies upon the latter of these two approaches
(in other words Shantideva’s approach of equalizing and exchanging self for others). His explanation has two sections:
Showing what is to be given up by contemplating the disadvantages of selfishness
Showing what is to be put into practice through contemplating the benefits of concern for others.
The nine-point equalizing meditation
So, here we jump right into seeing the disadvantages of self-centeredness and the benefit of cherishing others. But actually there are some things that come before that, that I want to cover. Oe of these is the meditation of equalizing self and others. I learned this meditation as having nine points. I’ve been trying to find out what the history of this was and I don’t know where it came from. I know that Tsenshab Serkong Rinpoche taught it to me, but I’m not sure who in the lineage developed this nine-point equalizing meditation. Personally speaking, I find it very, very powerful, extremely powerful and helpful. There are nine points, divided into three. Three sets of three…
The first two sets are looking at things from the conventional viewpoint and the last set looks at things from the ultimate viewpoint. The two sets that are looking at things from the conventional viewpoint: the first one is said, the three points, that conventionally looking at it with three points, according to the viewpoint of others. The second set is looking at it conventionally according to the viewpoint of oneself. The third set is the reasoning that’s based on the truth looking at it from the ultimate viewpoint.
Let’s look at the first one, a conventional viewpoint but it’s based on the viewpoint of others. In other words, who others are. We have three points with this. The first one is everybody wants happiness and nobody wants suffering. The second one is an example of beggars and that, if you have ten beggars they all want happiness, so discriminating amongst them is unfair. The third point is the example of ten patients in a hospital who all want to be free of suffering and so discriminating amongst them is unfair.
We are all equal in our desire to be free from suffering and to be happy
Let’s go back to the first of these three points. The first one is—and now we’re looking at it from the viewpoint of others—who these other beings are. The first point is that everybody wants happiness and nobody wants suffering. This is kind of bottom line. It’s like we all know this at some point, at least intellectually, but when it comes down to living our life like that, we really have short-term memory loss. When somebody does something we don’t like, we forget they’re trying to be happy and be free of suffering. That goes totally out the window. We never think of them as a sentient being who’s just trying to be happy and find a way to not suffer. It’s so difficult to see them like that. Instead we see them as manipulative, as psychotic, as pulling one over on us, as deceptive, as cheating, as lying, as flirting, as flattering, as all sorts of other things. But we don’t see them as just trying to be happy and be free of suffering and doing what they’re doing because they think that’ll bring that about. That’s really what the bottom line is. We’re all alike in that wish for happiness and that wish not to have suffering. There’s no difference amongst us in that way, is there?
The fact that all day long we’re thinking, “me,” “my happiness,” “my belongings,” “my relationships,” “my welfare,” “my health,” “my financial condition,” “my this, my that,” all the time thinking, “me.” It’s really unbalanced, isn’t it? Because everybody else wants to be happy as strongly as I do. It’s not that our wish to be happy is somehow at level ten and everybody else’s wish to be happy is at level two. It’s not like that. We all want to be happy equally.
And we all want to be free of suffering equally, every single one of us. It doesn’t matter who you are. Whether you’re, I can’t remember, Bashir, the president of Sudan, you know, that they just kind of did this thing. Whether you’re him or whether you’re, it doesn’t matter who. Even if you’re an animal, or an insect, or a hell being, or a hungry ghost, or a deva, it doesn’t matter who you are. You just want to be happy and not have suffering.
So one really amazing thing is to watch the news and everybody that comes on there; you see good people, what we call good people, you see what we call bad people, but instead of putting those names on them, you think a sentient being who wants to be happy and not suffer. It’s an excellent meditation, when you are out in public. I do this a lot at airports. Just looking around; this person who fills up a seat and a half and I get the other half of my seat, they’re just trying to be happy and be free of suffering. That’s it. This kid that’s crying is trying to be happy and be free of suffering. The parent that’s yelling at the kid is trying to be happy and be free of suffering. The bug in my room, the spider in my room, is trying to be happy and be free of suffering. All these turkeys out there…
Did you know that turkeys like chocolate cake. [Laughter] I had a little experiment today. They like chocolate cake. They’ll also settle for cracked corn. They might actually prefer it, but… Ok?
Seeing others with the eyes of compassion
Just cultivating that habit of everybody you look at wants to be happy and want to be free of suffering, equally, equally. It’s not just people who are suffering right now want to be free of suffering. But it’s the people who look well and happy and rich and have everything. They also want to be free of suffering. So really spread it out. It’s quite strong when you practice this a lot, then it’s like whenever you look at somebody you know something very, very deep and intimate and important about them, which is they want to be happy and not suffer. And that means, when you know that about somebody, you can connect with them on that level, so it doesn’t matter what they look like or what they’re doing. You can look into their heart and connect with them on that level of they want to be happy and be free of suffering. It’s very, very powerful.
Now the second point is, why do we discriminate amongst all sentient beings if they all want to be happy? Why do we favor some sentient beings and not others? Why do we favor ourselves and put others second, if we all want to be happy and nobody wants to suffer? The example is given, is if you have ten beggars in the street; now, of course if you’ve lived in India, you confront this on a daily basis, but maybe you go downtown and there’s a lot of homeless people, or you work in a shelter or whatever, and everybody needs something. So what is the justification for favoring one person who’s in need and not favoring another one who’s in need? They may need different things; one person needs a sweater, another person needs a pair of pants, another person wants an energy bar. They all need something. They all want something. They’re all equal in wanting happiness. Why in our mind do we favor one over the other?
Now it’s important to understand this correctly because otherwise, you’re gonna go downtown and there’s somebody who needs a sweater and somebody who needs a bottle of booze and you’re gonna say, why am I favoring the person who needs a sweater and not the one who needs a bottle of booze? So I think I’ll go get him a bottle of booze. Bad decision!
We’re not talking about how we’re acting towards people here, because clearly, we have to act according to the situation and do what’s best for somebody. But what we’re talking about is mentally, why do we think one person’s happiness is more important and why do we favor one over the other, okay? Even though there are different things that bring us happiness.
We all suffer in the same way
The third point is when we look at different beings who are suffering, again, why do we favor some over others? Why do we think for example, that our relative suffering is more painful that the suffering of our enemy, or that our own suffering is more painful than our relative suffering? Why? The example here is, you have ten patients in a hospital and they all are suffering from different diseases, but they all need medicine. So why help one and ignore the other?
Here we’re talking about a mental level. Why favor one and ignore the other when everybody needs medicine, even though they need different medicine? And what is medicine for one person is going to make another person sicker.
What we’re trying to do here is smooth out the playing ground. We’re not just smoothing it out between friends, enemies, and strangers, but also between ourselves. When this thought comes of me, my happiness, what I want, what’s convenient for me, to be able to say, wait a minute. Other people want what’s convenient for them. Other people want what makes them happy.
Cultivating equanimity toward all beings
It’s not that my wish is any more important than theirs. It’s not that the people who are near and dear to me are more important in the big picture than the people who aren’t, because anyway, we all change. You will act differently according to different people. On a mental level there is the same kind of openness and feeling of closeness and receptivity to others. And sometimes that’s the thing, actually, that more than anything else can really make somebody feel good, is showing that human respect to them. Whether you give them something or don’t give them something, showing that human respect is something that, actually, often makes somebody feel better than the physical thing.
The second set. We’re still dealing on the conventional level but here it’s looking at it from the viewpoint of ourselves. Here we’re talking about our reactions and how we are. The first point is that all sentient beings have been kind to us, so we should help everybody. The second point is if you think that they’ve harmed you, remember that the help that you’ve received from them is greater. And third point is that since we’re going to die there’s no sense in holding grudges or discriminations.
So, whether people feed you or don’t feed you. He doesn’t believe me. He favors Venerable Semkye, the kitty. [Laughter] The people on the internet don’t know who I’m talking about.
The kindness of others
The first point here is that everybody has benefited us and so we should benefit in return. This is a very, very powerful meditation. And this one I think we should really spend a long time doing, yes? Just like the one of everybody wants happiness and nobody wants suffering. This one of everybody’s benefited me so I should return the benefit to everybody is very, very important.
Here we start looking around us at everything we have, and everything we know, and everything we’re able to do and see how many other living beings we are dependent upon to be able to do and have and be what we do and have and are. And that we are not these independent entities that pick ourselves up by our own boot strap and can make everything go well for ourselves, but rather our good condition comes about due to the kindness of others.
If we had more cameras we’d pan the room and show you the kitty.
You know, but to really think about it and just think, okay we’re here now having teachings. How many sentient beings were involved in our having the ability to have these teachings tonight?
First of all, we have to look back at each of our own individual lives and how many sentient beings have benefited us: from our parents, and our teachers, and the farmers who grew the food, and the people who packed it and distributed it and cooked it and all that, and the people who taught us to read and write, and then how many people were involved in constructing this building and planning and plumbing and electricity and those kind of things and installing the carpet, and how many people were involved in having the telephone, and having the video camera, you know inventing these things, and marketing them and distributing them, and selling them, repairing them and so on.
How many people were involved in us having this book? When you look, it just goes on and on and on and on and on. Our lives are so intertwined and I think more so now than at any other time in human history we are dependent on others. Even though in Western culture we have this big individualism, an individualistic streak that’s kind of come up in the last hundred or two hundred years. It’s ironic that that’s come about with the industrial revolution when the industrial revolution has made us more dependent on others, not less dependent. Isn’t that strange? That we feel more independent because I can have my own stuff and lock myself in my own room. But actually all the stuff we have comes from others. We’re more dependent on them than ever before.
In that way, to see the kindness of other living beings and the kindness of so many strangers who do all these different jobs in society that keep us alive—really thinking about that.
I remember when Lama Zopa once was teaching about this, and he was talking about being up in Lawudo, that’s where his previous life meditated, and so some of the Sherpa people who live in the Lawudo area would come and see him and this was maybe 30 years ago. The people were very, very poor there. I think they’re still poor but they do have cell phones up there now. Yup! Anyway, they didn’t have cell phones there at the time, but the people were very poor. He said that sometimes people would come to him because he’s a recognized incarnate they would want to make offerings to him to create merit and they would give him like one rupee and he just felt like, their kindness is so much, just in all the different ways that he’s benefitted from these people’s kindness throughout all of his different lifetimes. And he felt, how can I possibly take one rupee from them? They’ve given me so much and they’re so poor. How can I accept one rupee? And I remember him talking about this. Clearly you can see it made an impression on me.
Really that feeling of being interwoven with others and that we’ve received so much that instead of wanting to take, take, take, wanting to give.
We have benefited from others more than having been harmed
The second point is, as we’re thinking about the kindness of others, one corner of our mind says, yes but… Famous last words: yes, but they’ve also harmed me. Okay, they’ve been kind but they’ve also harmed me. And then we pull out our computer file, the one that never gets corrupted, that never gets accidentally erased. The computer file of the list of every single thing anybody’s ever done to hurt my feelings or harmed me. We have that list well intact. And especially if you live with somebody, if you’re in a domestic relationship, a partner relationship, you really keep that one very close because the next time you get in a fight, you need some of that data as ammunition.
When they start accusing you, and saying, you did this to me and you did this and you did this. Well, you just open up your file and there it is at your fingertips. Well, you did this, and you did this, and you did this. We do that, don’t we? To what positive function, to what avail? What goodness, what benefit does it bring about? None. But we remember all the grudges, don’t we? We hold them very dear. And like I was saying earlier in the day, we make that the identity of the person. That’s who they are. It’s that person who’s treated me like this. How dare they?
You remember that, in actual fact, if we compare the amount of harm we’ve received from somebody from the amount of benefit, the benefit we’ve received far outweighs the harm. The thing is you might say, I don’t know about that. This person maliciously did something to destroy my reputation. How can you say that, that they’ve done more good than harm? Well again, if we look in the big picture and how they play their role in society, and how we indirectly receive benefit from them and if we think the relationships we’ve had with them in previous lives. Then we really see, we have received a lot of benefit from them an in comparison the amount of harm we’ve received is quite small.
And so especially on the days when we’re having pity parties, what’s that one? Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me, I think I’ll eat some worms. Yeah, go eat some worms. Remember that one? You didn’t learn that? Oh, you’re uneducated. (Laughter)
Audience: I’m just younger.
VTC: Did you know that one, Jean Paul?
Audience: I don’t know where I’ve heard it before but…
VTC: You’ve lived here longer than he has.
VTC: So when we get in those moods or feeling sorry for ourselves, then to remember, actually we’ve received much more harm. (Laughter)
Audience: That’s what we’re remembering. (Laughter)
VTC: Then we remember that actually we received much more benefit than harm from others. And when we remember that, then we put our can of worms down and decide to get on with our life.
It’s very helpful like that, when we think about karma and when we receive some insult, and then we think it’s the result of my having insulted others. And then we think, which has been more, the number of times I’ve insulted others or the number of insults I’ve received? Number of insults we’ve received, right? No, it’s the number of insults that we’ve given, isn’t it? When we think about how harshly we’ve spoken to others, how many times repeatedly, have we received that kind of treatment in return?
Take a little tab. Do you think you go through one day without criticizing somebody? Think about it. Even when we’re trying to keep silence in retreat we wind up saying something. Even if we’re not saying it, the mind’s saying it, isn’t it? How many bad things do you hear about yourself from other people every day?
Audience: Would they be in silence? (Laughter)
VTC: If we really look at it, we’ve dished out much more than we’ve received. So the same thing here, others have benefited us much more than they’ve harmed us. You had a question?
Audience: Yes, If everybody benefits more than one harms then would be a person with karma… (inaudible)
VTC: Okay, if sentient beings benefitted us more than they harmed us, wouldn’t they be creating a lot more positive karma than negative karma? It depends on their mind states when they benefit us and it depends on the strength of the motivation when they do positive actions and when they do negative actions, and the thing is here too, and this comes up sometimes, is when we think of others benefiting us, they don’t necessarily have to have the intention to benefit us. We’re just looking at the benefit that we receive.
Others may benefit us without having the intention to, so they may not create such much good karma because of the lack of the motivation, but in terms of our having received kindness, we’ve received a lot.
Reducing our anger as we recognize their kindness
The third point is that, if you’re still hanging onto some anger after all of this, after thinking of their kindness and the mind goes, yes, but… And then thinking that they’ve helped you more than they’ve harmed you and your mind still goes, yes, but. Then you think, I’m going to die and they’re going to die and of what benefit is holding a grudge in this life if we’re both going to die? And again, I find that very, very powerful. So, when you think about it, do you want to die with anger and grudge and vengeance on your mind against some other sentient being? Is that the way you want to leave this life? We don’t want to leave this life [that way] when we die, why are we cultivating that now?
Somebody harmed us, so what? We don’t need to build a big identity over it and treasure that identity of I’m the victim of somebody else’s harm. Because what good does it do us to make ourselves into a victim? Because we think victim is what somebody else makes us. We make ourselves into a victim by how we think. We make ourselves into the victim by how we think.
If we stop making ourselves into a victim and stop holding grudges, our mind is so much freer and so much happier right now. Then we can do so much more with our lives.
Whereas if we hold onto this grudge as if it’s some precious jewel that we can’t lose, that just tortures us, doesn’t it? That’s why I want say, if you want to make yourself miserable hold a grudge. It’s the best way to make yourself miserable. Because it is, as we sit there and stew in our resentment, and our anger, and our hatred, and our jealousy, and our envy, and how come they got this and I didn’t, and all this kind of stuff. It’s thoughts in our mind that make us 102 percent miserable and produce no benefit for anybody. And in addition, all these sentient beings have been kind to us. And we’re going to die. Do we want to die with this kind of grudge?
I had a woman come to me one time for counseling. She was in her 70’s and she told me this whole story, which I won’t tell you, about what her husband did and how it affected her and everything. But her conclusion was, I don’t want to die with that hate in my mind and I don’t want him to die with my hatred on him. She said, “help me get rid of this.” So we talked. I thought that was such a beautiful thing from her own mind of just seeing, I don’t want to die with this. If you don’t want to die with it, why live with it? Why live with something that is making you miserable? And I’m talking internally in our own minds. Why live with those thoughts that make us miserable when we have the option of letting them go?
I only got through six of the points. I’ll have to save the other three for next week. But I find these points very, very rich for meditation: very, very rich. And very, very rich for making examples from our own life and really reflecting on these examples in our own life. And if we do it definitely changes our outlook, quite definitely.
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.