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Instructions for Equalizing and Exchanging Our Attitudes about Self and Others

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche I
Munich, Germany, November 1982

Session One: Renunciation as the Foundation for Compassion

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:41:05)

Definitions of Love, Compassion and Bodhichitta

Today I’ve been asked to speak to you about the practice and methods for equalizing and exchanging your attitudes concerning self and others. The subjects of love and compassion, and developing a dedicated heart of bodhichitta, a heart dedicated to others and to achieving enlightenment, are the most important points of the vast-minded vehicle of teachings, or Mahayana.

What is this dedicated heart of bodhichitta? It’s a heart that is totally dedicated to achieving a state of complete and total clear mindedness and full evolvement. In other words, to reach one’s fullest potential and achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha. But if you ask if your heart is dedicated just to achieving enlightenment, is this alone by itself what it means to have a dedicated heart of bodhichitta? No it’s not, because in addition you need to have a heart that is totally dedicated to others, and to bringing about happiness and working for the benefit of others. When you have these two attitudes together, this is what’s known as the dedicated heart of bodhichitta.

In order to develop this dedicated heart, before this you need to have the attitudes with which you wish everyone to be happy – you have it to benefit everyone – and have the wish for everybody to be free from all their problems and suffering and unhappiness. In other words, before you can develop an attitude with which you wish to help and work for the sake of everybody, you need to have the attitudes before of love, which is the wish for everyone to be happy, and compassion, the wish for everyone to be free from their problems.

The Sufferings of Uncontrollably Recurring Rebirth

Before you can have this attitude of compassion, the wish for everybody else to be free from their problems, it is necessary to first of all think about your own problems and become aware of them. If you don’t think about your own problems and develop the wish to overcome them and solve them, then it’s very difficult to develop the wish for everybody else to be free from their problems. Before you can truly wish to get out of all your problems, it’s necessary to realize that no matter what type of situation you might be reborn into, if it’s an uncontrollably recurring situation of samsara it has nothing but problems. It’s necessary to recognize that no matter how wealthy you are, how many possessions you might have, still you have nothing but problems.

Whatever type of situation we’re in, in terms of the amount of wealth we have, the amount of possessions we have, it’s something that does involve just problems, but this is something that we tend to ignore. We tend to think that in fact we’re happy, when in fact we still have a great deal of problems with these things. Because when you’re in an uncontrollably recurring situation, then in that type of situation, even if you have a very high position, you have a lot of problems associated with that. You have the problems of worrying about falling and losing that position and being demoted. You have worries wondering about whether or not you’re going to get further promotions above that, and in fact you’re never satisfied, and you’re filled with great anxiety about the entire situation.

Likewise, everyone who is born must someday die, but most of us, due to the force of the great instincts that we have, we tend to try to ignore the fact that our situation always is going to be changing in life, that nothing ever remains static. Things are always going to be impermanent, but we grasp at these things as if everything was always going to last forever. We grasp at things as if they were static and permanent, when in fact they always are going to change.

Even if you are aware of your mortality, aware of death, there are many people who strive very much to become a god in their next lifetime, to become the most magnificent god they can be, or to become the wealthiest human being and so on. There are many people that have that aspiration. Let’s say even if you are reborn as a god, you could be reborn in any of the three types of dimensions that there are gods. There are gods in the dimension of sensory desires, there are gods in the dimension of ethereal forms, and then there are gods in the dimension of formless beings.

Each of these god realms as you get progressively higher are more and more magnificent, that the gods and the palaces that they live in, and everything as you get higher far outshines everything that is beneath it, and everything beneath looks very inferior compared to the further realms above it. In these various god realms the gods live extremely long lives which are filled with a great deal of happiness, and it seems as though they have no problems. But eventually their time is finished, and the positive potentials that they have built up for living such a happy life as a god are finished, they’re depleted.

Then the gods become aware that now it’s time for the negative potentials from the past to bear fruit, and they’re aware that they’re going to fall from the realm of the gods, and now they’re going to be reborn in a horrible state. When the signs of their coming death appear to the gods, then they have a great deal of misery and unhappiness. Their flower garlands that they wear begin to wither and fade. Their bodies start to give off an offensive bad odor, and their friends who usually had always been with them now will have nothing to do with them. Everyone will leave them far behind and alone. The mental suffering and anguish that these gods experience is something just incredibly great.

The palaces in which the gods live are something that are really magnificent. They are made of beautiful gems and polished stones. But then they have this tremendous suffering and unhappiness at seeing that they are going to have to leave behind such beautiful homes, such beautiful and wonderful friends and so on. Their suffering is just unbearable. The most wonderful type of rebirth that we can imagine would be as a god, and it’s important to realize that even as a god still you have nothing but problems. You have all this unhappiness that you would need to experience.

Renunciation: The Determination to Be Free

When you look at all these splendid and magnificent situations that you could be reborn in, and realize that they’re all involved in uncontrollably recurring situations and that they have nothing but problems, then you develop the type of attitude and mind that “I must get out of all these types of problematic situations all together,” and this is what is known as the determination to be free or renunciation. It’s the determination to be free from all problems.

This type of determination to be free is known as the determination with which you turn away from your obsession with future lives. If you actually meditate and build all of this up as a beneficial habit of your mind, then you can actually develop such a determination to be free from your problems. But before you can develop this determination to be free, with which you turn away from your obsession with future lives, with which you determine to be free from all these problems that would be involved in being reborn in future lives as a god or a wealthy person – before you can develop that, it’s necessary to develop the determination to be free with which turn away from your obsession with things of this lifetime, because if you don’t turn away from an obsession with this lifetime, it’s going to be very difficult to turn away from an obsession with future lives.

If we think about the situation that we all must face in this lifetime, we all must face four major types of problems or difficult situations. We all have to face four. What are these four types of problematic situations? It’s birth, and getting sick, growing old, and dying – aging and dying.

The Sufferings of Birth, Sickness, Aging and Dying

Now what about this problematic situation of being born? This is something that involves a great deal of suffering and unhappiness, but since we were very small when it happened, we can’t quite remember it. Now what actually is involved with taking birth? The first moment of birth existence is actually referring to the moment of conception when your stream of awareness actually first enters into the basis for your future body. This is the moment of conception and is actually what is being referred to by birth existence, and from the second moment on after conception the whole process of aging occurs, and you have all the problems and sufferings involved with aging.

As for the suffering involved with being sick, this is something that we all are familiar with. The various diseases can be classified in the system of four hundred and four diseases, and in addition to that there are many new diseases which come up that have been predicted to arise in later times of degeneration, and these are something that we can see are actually occurring.

Anybody who has ever been born, if you think about it, is going to have to face the problem of dying. If you think about it, you realize that at the time of death you’re going to have to give up all your beautiful clothes, you’re going to have to give up all your favorite foods, and you’re going to be in a very pathetic situation as you have to actually leave this life. There’s no certainty in terms of the order in which the various problems of aging and sickness and death are going to occur because it’s possible for someone to die just a few moments after their conception while they're still in their mother’s womb, after they have aged a few moments in the womb and then die.

You should think about even if you do survive the whole period of being in the womb, that if you’re in your mother’s womb you have to be confined in a very small space for more than nine months. You should try to imagine what it would be like if you were locked up in a tiny little closet with no doors, no windows. If you were shut up in that for even three or four days it would be very, very hard for you to bear it.

Consider what we were like when we first came out of our mother’s womb, when we are tiny little babies. We had no teeth, we had no clothes, we were completely helpless. We could do absolutely nothing for ourselves. We had to be totally dependent on the loving care of our mother, and it is because of that, because of the care that has been taken of us when we were tiny little infants that we survived this most difficult period and are alive now. When we were very small babies we didn’t know how to do anything and that gave us a tremendous amount of problems. You can realize how many problems you had when you were a small child and a baby if you think about it. It wasn’t fun.

The actual process of being born itself is something that is extremely painful and it has a great deal of suffering that’s involved in the actual process of taking a birth, coming out. But this is something that even though it was so painful, we don’t remember it.

If you live long enough to become old, then the problems of aging and growing old are the longest lasting type of problems. It could last over your whole lifetime. Let's say if you live to be eighty years old, you’re going to have terrible problems as you get older and older. These problems of old age are something that sneaks up onto us without our even realizing it. Aging happens very steadily and gradually over a long period and we’re not even aware. If the suffering and problems of growing old were something that didn’t just happen gradually, but which happened to you all of a sudden at once, it would be something extremely terrible. Just imagine what it would be like to be sixteen years old and then the next day you wake up and you’re eighty. It would be as if you had just put on a mask of an old person. Realize that you actually grow gradually to change into looking like this.

If you think about the types of problems that you face when you are old, for instance in terms of your physical strength, that even if you want to work and your mind is very much active into wanting to work, still your body is not able to do it, and that gives you a terrible problem of frustration. Even if you had a very clear mind when you were young, you start to forget things and your sight is no longer clear and it’s just awful. Likewise, the foods that you used to like so much, you find that they no longer agree with you. Even though you want to eat them you can’t, it just makes you sick. All the places where you used to like to go and the things you liked to do, you no longer can go there or do them. It’s a terrible problem and unhappiness.

Likewise, no matter how much wealth and possessions you might have accumulated during your lifetime, you are eventually going to reach the point where you’re going to have to leave everything behind. That’s a terrible problem; it makes you extremely unhappy and miserable.

The greatest problem that we have to face is when we actually have to die, when all the medicines that we’ve been taking are no longer of any help. Nothing works, no medical technique that we try is of any help anymore, and we’re going to actually have to face our death. We’re going to have to leave behind everything that we had and our mind stream is just going to have to go off by itself alone, and that’s the greatest problem and suffering that we face, or that or you’ll have to face.

This suffering that you experience at the time of death is something that is intense, but it’s very short because it only takes a very short time to actually die. If after that everything was finished and that’s it, then that wouldn’t be so bad because the intense suffering of dying is something that’s just short and you get over with it and it’s finished. But in fact, that’s not the case because after that again, you have to take rebirth. Again, you have to go through the whole cycle once again. It’s an uncontrollably recurring situation that just goes on and on and on without any end.

This uncontrollably recurring cycle, this situation is something that just repeats. It’s like the seasons of the year. They go through the four seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter, and then the cycle just repeats again. It’s like these large machines that are used in fields for harvesting, that the wheel of it turns around and it harvests the crops. Then later it’s involved in plowing, involved in sowing the field, and it’s just a circular thing that goes on and on.

You might ask, "What is the purpose of being aware and being mindful of all these problems?" It does have a purpose because it inspires you and moves you to actually develop a wish to get out of all these problems now; and in fact, there is a way to get out of all the problems that you have, that you could possibly face. If it were the case that there was no way to get out of your problems, then it would be much better not to be mindful of them and not to think of them at all. But in fact, there is a way to get out of them, therefore by thinking about them you’ll be moved to try to follow that method.

When you think about all the problems that are involved with just being caught up with things of this lifetime, just being involved with food, clothing, and fame, and you see that to put all your energies into that just has no essence, there’s no point to it at all, then you get the type of mind with which you turn away from your obsession with just things of this lifetime and you have the determination to be free of all these types of problems. You should think about all the problems that you would have if you were born in any of these uncontrollably recurring situations, especially if you were to be reborn in any of the worst states of rebirth, how awful that would be, and you generate the determination with which you feel, “I must get out of all these problems, this is awful.”

Compassion

Then you go on with that train of thought, and just as you have this strong determination to be free from all your problems yourself, then you should think about how everybody else is in the exact same situation. Everybody else has to face all these problems in life no matter where they might be reborn, and then you just exchange this attitude, and instead of just thinking of it in terms of yourself – your determination for you to be free from your problems – you should develop the same determination that everybody else should likewise be free from their problems. That type of attitude with which you wish everybody to be free from their unhappiness and suffering is known as compassion.

It’s extremely important to develop compassion in your mind stream as part of you, and therefore you should be certain about the method for being able to do this. When you wish for everything to go well with everybody else, for everybody to be happy, that type of feeling and thought is known as love. These are things that you have to practice to develop and you have to be certain to develop both love and compassion as part of you.

For instance, when you are eating something that's especially delicious, you should try to develop the thought that "wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody else as well could enjoy this delicious treat." When it’s very cold outside and you’re wearing a nice warm coat or sweater, likewise you should think about all the various beings and people who are cold, and have the prayer and wish that "I wish everybody could have such a nice warm coat." When you’re living in a nice, beautiful, comfortable, warm house, you should think about all the various creatures that don’t have any houses to live in, and again generate this strong wish that "I wish everybody could live in as nice and comfortable a house." If you practice and offer prayers like this, first what will happen from this is that all of this will actually happen to you. But to offer these types of prayers because you realize that you’re going to get these nice things for yourself first is completely improper.

Among the famous three brothers from the Kadam tradition, the Kadampa tradition, one was called Geshe Chenngawa, and he always prayed that "may I be reborn in one of the hells for the benefit of everyone." When he was about to die he said, "Oh dear, my prayers are not going to come true." His attendant asked him, "You’ve spent your entire life doing spiritual practices, and what do you mean now that your wishes are not going to come true?" He said that, "I always prayed all my life that for the sake of all beings that may I be reborn in one of the worst states of rebirth, and now when I am about to die I have received a vision that I’m going to be reborn in a pure land Buddha field, and so please set up offerings." Then he started making offerings of a mandala with a round symbol of the universe and he passed away like this.

It’s extremely excellent that you are interested in, and have asked for teachings on this whole process of how to change your attitudes concerning self and others. When you are interested in equalizing and changing your attitudes concerning self or others, then it’s very important to go through these procedures and these trains of thought as have been explained here. It’s like, for instance, laying the ground plan or the architectural plan for building a house, going through all this as a preliminary thing, then setting up the whole outline and system upon which you’re going to build a house.

We’ll stop here for this evening, and now I open the floor for questions.