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Determining to benefit others

This talk was given during the White Tara Winter Retreat at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Practicing the Dharma, transforming the mind
  • We can’t benefit others without transforming our own minds
  • Helping others with a pure motivation
  • How to measure our progress

White Tara Retreat 34: Making the determination to benefit. (download)

We’re talking about what we think and feel after saying the mantra and doing the visualization. The first part goes, “I am liberated from all negative karma, disturbing attitudes, negative emotions, diseases, interferences and dangers of untimely death.” We already talked about that, and about really expanding our mind to give ourselves the opportunity to feel something different than the ordinary way our mind is so limited and narrow in what we feel and think. That’s the purification part, that all that kind of stuff is being abandoned.

Transforming the mind

Now we’re going to make a determination for where we want to go from here. It says, “I will use my life in a meaningful way to transform my mind…” Making a really strong statement, thinking about the purpose of my life. What do I want to do with my life’s energies? What is really important? Practicing the Dharma to transform my mind is the thing that is really important here. Now, why is that important? Why don’t we say benefiting others? Why don’t we make that the first statement?

Audience: Because we can’t benefit without transforming our mind.

Venerable Thubten Chodron: Yes, because we can’t benefit others without transforming our own mind.

The problem with people-pleasing

That’s the problem with people pleasing, and people who take care of everybody else; they haven’t transformed their mind. They’re helping others, but the motivation isn’t crystal clear. It isn’t pure. It’s done, often, in a very self-abnegating way just to get people to like you, to not criticize you. The actions are good but the motivation isn’t completely clear.

We really have to work to transform our minds so that when we are helping others, it’s done with a very pure motivation of cherishing them. We’re not trying to put across our own agenda. We’re not trying to control them because we know the best way for them to live their lives. We’re not trying to please them so that they like us. We’re not trying to run away from looking at ourselves by keeping ourselves so busy taking care of everybody else. But we’re really doing it with a very sincere motivation to be of benefit.

For that reason, we have to really work on transforming our own mind. That really takes a lot of effort and a lot of energy. I think people really are kind and compassionate, but often our motivation is very obscure, and not even readily apparent to ourselves.

Measuring Progress

To really get a very clear motivation on this takes a lot of work. I was thinking about it this morning, how we can tell how far we’ve progressed in terms of having a pure motivation for helping others. One sign is to see how we react when others don’t do as we want them to do, or others don’t accept our help, or others tell us to get lost and mind our own business. Then, we can really see, “Oh, to what extent was I doing this to fulfill my own personal psychological needs? What was really going on? Or, was I acting really from a pure motivation?” When our motivation isn’t completely pure—and I’m not saying that what we did is bad, I’m just saying the motivation wasn’t completely clear—then we feel hurt, we feel depressed, we feel angry. When that happens, instead of beating ourselves up, “Oh look, I had an impure motivation,” that whole rubbish that we always do. Look and say, “Oh, this was a little test here, and I did a lot of kind things to help. But now I can see that I’m feeling kind of rejected, and so I have some work here to do to really let go of my own expectations. So I’m glad this is happening because it gives me a chance to really evaluate and assess how I’m doing.”

Then we continue our bodhicitta motivations so that we can continue to really set aside the self-centered mind and enhance the mind that cherishes others purely because they exist, and because they all equally, across the board, have been kind to us. So to really come back to those points again to make sure our motivations are clear.

The method and the wisdom

When it says, “I will use myself in a meaningful way to transform my mind,” we also have to transform our mind by meditating on emptiness, on gaining wisdom by thinking about dependent arising and dependent origination, by contemplating karma and its effects to make sure we have a correct understanding of what that means. So all the wisdom aspects of the path that are going to diminish the different kinds of ignorance that we have, especially the ignorance of karma and its effects and the ignorance about the nature of reality.

Then we need to also work on those two areas and transform our mind that way. Working on the compassion bodhicitta side or the method side of the path and working on the wisdom side of the path complement each other. Compassion and bodhicitta will really enhance our motivation to meditate on wisdom. Meditating on wisdom will give the right view, imbue our compassionate actions with the right view and help to purify the motivation so that we aren’t grasping at an inherently existent me or an inherently existent somebody else. We transform our mind through those two aspects: the method and the wisdom; bodhicitta and the wisdom.

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.