The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Instructions for Equalizing and Exchanging Our Attitudes about Self and Others

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche I
Munich, Germany, November 1982

Session Three: Developing Love and Compassion

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:35:45)

The Need for an Equal Attitude toward Everyone

In order to develop compassion it’s necessary to purify and train the mind and the heart. The definition of compassion is the attitude with which you wish everybody to be free from their problems and unhappiness. The attitude with which you wish everybody to be happy is called love. The reason why we don’t have these attitudes of wishing everybody to be happy and nobody to have any problems is because we don’t have an equal attitude toward everyone. This is because toward enemies we feel hostility and anger, and toward friends and relatives we have attachment and infatuation.

Overcoming Attachment, Hostility and Indifference

In order to overcome your attachment you should realize that attachment is involved with an infatuated type of desire, and this is something that is very destructive and builds up a great negative potential. It is destructive to be so infatuated with someone, and because of that, attachment and desire build up a great negative potential. If you’re hostile toward an enemy then you become angry and you develop hatred, and this as well brings about a great deal of problems. It’s necessary to overcome these extreme attitudes and feelings of attachment and hostility and to develop an equal attitude toward others in which you don’t feel hostile and angry toward those you consider enemies, and you don’t feel attached toward those you like and consider your friends.

Another reason why we don’t have an equal attitude toward everyone is because it’s only when people help us that we have the wish to help them back. The only reason why we want to help anybody is because they’ve done something nice to us and helped us. The reason why we want to hurt an enemy, why we feel angry and wish to hurt them is because they have hurt us in some way. The way to learn to handle this situation is to think of three persons in front of you: one who has helped you, one who has hurt you very much, and someone, a stranger, who has neither helped you nor harmed you. You should look at the feelings that arise when you think of these three persons in front of you. The person who has helped you – you feel like doing something nice for them, you feel like helping them. The person who has hurt you – you feel like hurting them back. The person who has neither helped nor harmed you – you feel total indifference toward, and you wish neither to hurt nor harm the person. You just have no feeling for that person.

Points to Consider for Equalizing Our Attitude toward Others

If you look at the type of attitudes that we have, it’s mainly an attitude of favoritism. We play favorites in terms of who we wish to help. You should consider two persons, one who has hurt you very deeply yesterday and today has helped you a great deal; and another person who has helped you a great deal yesterday, but hurt you very deeply this morning. You should consider, which one do you wish to help and which one do you wish to hurt? If you’re going to help this person who helped you yesterday, well, this person hurt you this morning, didn’t they? If you wish to hurt the person who hurt you yesterday, well, didn’t he help you this morning? You should consider how you have these ideas of people; that you imagine that people are your true enemies and that they always hurt you, and that’s the way that they always are. They’re sort of out there trying to get you all the time, or you think of people as being these wonderful persons who always help you all the time and out there just constantly wanting to help you. If you think of how you view things in such concrete categories and realize that this is really not so, then this will help you to equalize your attitude toward others.

If when you consider someone who is a stranger, who has neither harmed nor helped you during this lifetime, and you consider how you feel total indifference toward this person and you don’t have any feelings toward either helping or hurting this person, you should consider how it is quite possible that in the future this person might help you a great deal. It’s quite possible that someone who you never thought could help you at all could turn out to be someone who gives you a great deal of help. Likewise, it doesn’t follow that someone who you consider is going to give you a great deal of help that they’re going to help you at all. In any case, you should try to realize that everyone has somehow helped you in the past and is helping you now and can help you in the future.

But you might object: You say that everybody is always helping you, but isn’t it the case that sometimes people hurt you? It’s true that some people might hurt you, but if you look at it, the amount of help that they give you is far greater than any harm that they might cause you. Furthermore, when they hurt and harm you, you can actually be benefited a great deal by that harm. For instance, you could look at my own case. My country was attacked and taken over, so a great deal of harm was caused to us. But this has become a circumstance for me to be able to travel like this to many countries throughout the world and meet with people like you, so actually this harm has turned out to be of good.

Furthermore, when somebody is causing you a great deal of harm and is hurting you, this gives you an opportunity to practice patience and tolerance, and by means of perfecting an attitude of patience and tolerance you can actually become enlightened. This is part of the process that is necessary. When Atisha went to Tibet he brought with him an extremely obnoxious and annoying Indian attendant. People said, “Why do you bring someone so annoying like this? It just makes everybody so angry.” Atisha said, "No, this is the person with whom I always need to practice patience and tolerance."

If when we have various enemies and we feel great anger and hostility toward that enemy and wish to hurt them, if it were the case that nobody ever was going to die, then that would be one thing. But if our enemy, for instance, were going to be executed tomorrow, for certain he was going to die tomorrow, then there would be no point in trying to hurt him tonight. Likewise, if you yourself were going to be executed this evening, what would be the point in going around and hurting and harming people now?

There are many things to think about. Another point is to think if there were ten hungry persons who came to your door, all of them would have an equal right to be fed. All of them are equally hungry. Likewise if there are ten sick persons, all of them have the equal right and need to be given medicine and be treated. You should really consider very carefully how just as you want to be happy, and you don’t like to have unhappiness and problems and to suffer, absolutely everybody else feels exactly the same way.

Furthermore, there’s no certainty of status of people. It’s not so that people are always your friends or always your enemies. You can see how just a few words can change your best friend into an enemy for you. All they have to do is say something that hurts you and then immediately they are your enemy. Likewise with someone that you can’t stand, it’s quite possible that with a small circumstance they could become a very dear friend for you that you can’t even bear to be away from for an hour or two. In this way you should consider how there’s no certainty, and how friends can become enemies and vice versa.

We always think in these very strong concrete categories of self and others as if they were these really concrete categories; but if that were so, then the Buddhas themselves would have seen the world in terms of these concrete categories, and they didn’t. We can see an example from the life of the Buddha. The Buddha had a cousin called Devadatta, and Devadatta always was trying to hurt him. He would do things like throw rocks and often try to compete with the Buddha. The Buddha himself was someone who had an extremely strong physical constitution as a result of all the positive potentials he had built up in the past. Whenever the Buddha would need to take any medicine or medication, he would have to take an extremely strong dose in proportion to the fact that he was such a strong person, he had such a strong physical constitution. Likewise his cousin Devadatta felt that he had to compete with the Buddha, and that he should receive the same dose of medicine and the same strength as his cousin, because he felt he was as strong as his cousin the Buddha. The doctor told Devadatta, “You aren’t as strong as your cousin the Buddha and you really can’t take such a large dose of medicine. It will harm you and make you sick.” But Devadatta kept on insisting. He said, “No, I’m just as strong as the Buddha and I can take the same kind of dose as he took." The doctor finally had to give in and he gave him just a stronger dose that he would usually recommend for ordinary people.

Devadatta took this large dose of medicine and it completely disagreed with him and made him deathly sick, he was almost about to die. The Buddha went to see his cousin and he said, "I have my own son Rahula, and you, my cousin Devadatta, are always throwing rocks at me and trying to hurt me, but I have no favoritism between you. I have an exactly equal attitude toward both of you. By the truth of my statement may you be cured." He laid his hand on the head of his cousin and his cousin was cured. Devadatta was cured by this and his only reaction was to look up at his cousin who had his hand on his head, and he said, "Get your dirty hand off my head."

If the Buddha saw people in terms of categories of those who are mine and close to me, and those who are others and distant, then it would be alright for us to also look at people in that way. But in fact, the Buddha never had any favorites.

Self-Cherishing as the Cause for All Problems

Furthermore, you should consider how selfishness and concern only for yourself are the root of all your troubles, the root of everything that goes wrong. For instance, if you’re very selfish and only concerned about your own welfare, you might work to build up a great fortune. Because of that then thieves come and want to steal that fortune away from you and you could be murdered by a thief. What’s the root of that? It’s because you had such selfish concern, you went out and tried to build up a fortune in the first place.

If you look at the example of car accidents as well, people drive so fast and they get into accidents. What’s the reason for this? The reason is that they were concerned only with themselves. They only had selfish ideas that they had to reach their destination first and the fastest, and because of that they get into accidents. When you are on a very slippery place which is muddy and wet, and you are going very quickly because you want to get to where you are going, and you fall down and break a leg and go to the hospital, what is the cause for your accident? Again, it was your selfish concern. You were so caught up in trying to get your own way and to get there fastest that you fell down.

Likewise, all disharmony and troubles that you have among countries, all of those as well are due to the selfishness of the various parties involved. Likewise, when people take a great deal of drugs and get very bad drinking habits, they are always drinking alcohol, all the problems and difficulties that they experience are due to this selfish concern which drove them to engage in all these habits. Likewise, somebody who is selfish and only thinks about themselves, what is the reaction that everybody has toward that person? Nobody likes that person; nobody likes somebody who is selfish. In this way, you should think about all the disadvantages that there are from being selfish. If you don’t get rid of your selfishness it’s like having a terrible disease inside of you.

Cherishing Others as the Source of All Happiness

On the other hand, everything good that happens to us is all the result of our concern for others. If we are always working for others, or always concerned for others, then everybody will like us and everybody will always want to be with us. If such a person dies then everybody feels very sad, they feel a great loss, and everyone will pray for that person. Furthermore, those who are always concerned with others, they will always be successful in their undertakings and in their work. If you’re always concerned with others and helpful toward others, not only will human beings like you, but also you’ll find that all the animals will like you too.

If you consider the accomplishment of the Buddha, the Buddha is someone who was able to overcome all his mental obscurations, overcome all his problems, all his obstacles and shortcomings. He was someone who was able to gain every possible good quality that anybody could gain. He realized his greatest, fullest potential; and the reason why he was able to do all of this was because he gave up all his selfish concern for himself and thought only of others. When you are always thinking of benefiting others and your concern is always with others, then others will be happy with you that you’re working for them, and they won’t feel unhappy that you don’t care about them. But if you sit and always are thinking only about yourself, and only for things to work out well for yourself, then when things go well for somebody else it makes you unhappy.

Exchanging Our Attitudes

Up until now what we’ve been doing is just ignoring everybody else and working only for our own sake, and what we need to do is change our attitude; just exchange our attitude with respect to these two things and instead of ignoring others, now we should ignore ourselves, and instead of just cherishing ourselves, we should cherish others. This is what it actually means to change your attitude, or exchange your attitude concerning self and others. Exchanging self with others doesn’t mean that now I’m you and you’re me. Unless you exchange your attitudes concerning self and others, there’s no way you can actually achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha. If you build up these thoughts as beneficial habits of your mind, if you meditate upon them, then on that basis, you’ll be able to develop compassion without difficulty.

Remembering the Kindness of All Beings and Feeling Gratitude

Furthermore, you should consider how no one has been kinder to us than all other beings with limited minds. You should consider, for instance, how in some countries people like to eat honey, and where does this honey come from? How is it made? It is due to the work of these tiny little bees. They have to build houses, they have to go out and collect the pollen from the flowers. They make the honey and all this is exploited, and we use all of this for ourselves. The fact that we’re able as human beings to have honey is due to all the hard work of the bees. They do all the work and we enjoy it, so they’re very kind to us. Likewise, you should think about where your milk and meat come from. They all come from the kindness of limited beings, beings with very limited minds.

Thinking in this way about the kindness of others, we should feel gratitude, and feel that we should try to repay that kindness, and we can repay that kindness through spiritual practice. If you think about all the kindness of others, then you’ll develop an attitude of cherishing others, just as when you have something very precious you cherish it, and take very good care of it. Likewise, you’ll develop the attitude toward others with which you cherish them, wish to take care of them, and you would feel very sad if anything ever went wrong with them.

Developing Compassion

All of this depends on developing an equal attitude toward others. When you can equalize your attitude toward everyone and have no favorites, then you’ll be able to really develop sincere love and compassion for everyone. To actually develop compassion you should think, for instance, about the various ways in which poor animals are slaughtered. For instance, in some countries where they slaughter cows and buffalos, the way they do it is they take a hammer and they smash the poor animal on its head, sometimes more than thirteen times and still the animal doesn’t die. Likewise in some places, the way that they slaughter large turtles or tortoises is they just go up to it and they cut off slices of its meat while it’s still alive, and just kill it very slowly in this manner. You should think about how you yourself have built up the negative potentials to be born as an animal and experience exactly the same thing. You should think about what it would feel like if you yourself were to have these horrible things happen to you.

The next thing you should think about is how your own mother of this lifetime likewise has built up the negative potentials to be reborn as an animal and have something like this happen to her. What would you do if you saw this being done to your mother? What would you feel like? Then think of the same thing happening to your father. Then think about this happening to each of your friends. Then go on to think about this happening to your enemies. Then think of it just in terms of all living creatures in general. If you think in this way through this process, then you will develop a very sincere state of compassion with which you wish everybody to be free from all suffering and problems. If you can truly and sincerely develop this great state of compassion, then the state of becoming a Buddha is not very far away. This is an extremely important and very great attitude to develop.

So, we’ll end the lecture for this evening and now I invite questions.