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Tonglen (Giving and Taking) in the Context of Equalizing and Exchanging One's Attitudes about Self and Others

Alexander Berzin
Munich, Germany, March 2005

Session Three: The Type of Equanimity Developed Exclusively in Mahayana

Unedited Transcript
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Yesterday we were speaking about the context of the tonglen practice of giving and taking, and we saw that it fits within the context of the teachings for developing bodhichitta. And we started the series of meditation steps that lead up to it – because this tonglen practice is quite advanced and something which needs a great deal of preparation for being able to do it on any type of sincere level.

The first step is to develop the type of equanimity which is shared in common with Hinayana and Mahayana practice, which is primarily aimed at the Hinayana scope, which is to even our minds, in other words, make our minds smooth and tranquil, free from attachment to some people – attraction to them – repulsion from others – anger – and indifference with which we would ignore yet others.

In the teachings on generosity as are explained in tantra, one of the types of generosity is to give freedom from fear. The usual explanation in sutra is that we save other beings’ lives and protect them from fearful situations, from being attacked and so on, like taking insects out of the pool when they are drowning, this type of action. But in tantra this giving freedom from fear is explained as a giving of equanimity.

In other words, if we are with another person and we’re not going to cling to them, we’re not going to get angry and reject them, and we’re not going to ignore them, in other words, if we give this type of equanimity, then they have nothing to be afraid of about us. That’s a tremendous gift that we can give to somebody, isn’t it, that they don’t have to fear from us, that we’re not going to do any of these three types of actions. So we see that this type of Hinayana practice of equanimity is found very much in Mahayana as well, including in tantra – tantra, by the way, is a division of Mahayana; it’s not something dissociated from Mahayana.

So now we’re ready with the next step in the process of building up to bodhichitta with tonglen on the way. This is the second type of equanimity and this is the equanimity which is special to Mahayana, which is when we actually are setting about to help others – mind you, with the first type of equanimity we’d still help others, but without these disturbing emotions – here, when we set out to help others, we do this without partiality, without considering some beings as close to us so we want to help more and other beings as being more distant so we help them less.

In the practice for building up bodhichitta, which is called “equalizing and exchanging our attitudes about self and others,” this is what’s referred to as “equalizing our attitude.” When we equalize our attitude about self and others, this has two aspects; one is seeing that everybody is equal to us – in the sense that we all are the same, we all want to be happy, we don’t want to be unhappy – but more specifically it is having this equal attitude about everybody so that “everybody” includes ourselves. This way of getting this equal attitude toward everyone is done with nine points, in other words, from nine points of view we are able to see the equality of everyone without having the concept of near and far.

As you all are probably familiar, the Tibetans organize the teachings with outlines and so on, so that it is easier to remember and to learn. This is something that already began in the Indian Buddhist commentaries; it wasn’t that the Tibetans invented it, but the Tibetans developed it much more. What’s interesting is to look at that anthropologically, just as an aside, that Tibetans are very, very well organized. If you have a nomad society and you’re living in a tent, and then you have to pack everything up on the yaks and take it away and then unpack it, everything has to have its proper place, and it has to be very, very well organized. And so this type of mentality they’ve brought to the Dharma, and so we have these fantastic outlines and ways of organizing things.

If you’ve ever visited a Tibetan monk’s tiny room in India, you can appreciate how well-organized the room is. It’s very small, but there are shelves all over the place, and everything has its proper place, so you can find things. So in this teaching these nine points of view are divided into six from the relative point of view and three from the deepest point of view, and the six relative ones are three from the point of view of considering the situation in relation to ourselves and three considering it in relation to others.

Now, first in terms of in relation to ourselves why the others are not in the category of close and far. The first point is that everybody, all limited beings, or sentient beings, have been our parents, relatives, and friends in countless lives, so it’s improper to feel that some are close and some are far, or some are friends and some are enemies, or to welcome some and to throw out others. The way to think about this is that if we haven’t seen our mother in ten minutes or ten years, she’s still our mother, isn’t she. So similarly, if we haven’t seen her in ten lifetimes, she’s still our mother.

It’s just a matter of time, time difference, in terms of when somebody has been our mother or our closest friend, but still they all have equally been our mothers. Of course, for this to make any sense to us, again, we can’t really approach this so easily on a Dharma-Lite version; this very much takes into account previous lives. We can think of it in a Dharma-Lite version in terms of, “Well, everybody could be kind to us like a mother; anybody could take us into their home and give us a meal and a place to rest and to sleep.”

I always remember an example from the first time that I visited Buenos Aires. I have some distant relatives, some cousins, in Buenos Aires, whom I had never met. So when I came to Buenos Aires I called them and I said, “I’m your cousin Alex from America,” and they were very incredibly friendly and excited, and they invited me to their house and gave me a meal, and I met all the relatives, and it was a wonderful time. And I thought, “Well, I could have called up anybody in the telephone book and said, “Hi, I’m your cousin Alex from America,” and the same thing would have happened.

So like that, that would be a Dharma-Lite version of “everybody has been or could be our mothers and treat us very kindly so that we’re all equal.” However, there are severe limitations to that Dharma-Lite version, because it doesn’t apply very nicely to the mosquito. And remember, we have to include all our mothers – the mosquitoes and the cockroaches and so on – in our practice, so for that we need to bring in past lives, so Real Thing Dharma.

Again, I remind you of the proof that we mentioned yesterday of why everybody logically has been our mothers – because if everyone is equal, and we have infinite time, and a finite number of beings, then if one has been our mother like in this lifetime, then all have been our mothers; because if one was not our mother, then none have ever been our mother, including the one in this lifetime – although of course this is difficult to use to prove that everyone is equal, because it’s based on everybody being equal.

Anyway, this topic of everybody having been our mother, this is really not a very easy one at all. Atisha, the great Indian master who helped to bring the Dharma the second time to Tibet, he said that really sincerely feeling, not just with your mouth, “Everybody’s my mother,” and call everybody mother, but to really sincerely feel that everybody has been your mother is one of the most difficult points in the Dharma to realize. So we shouldn’t be discouraged if we find that difficult with the mosquito or the cockroach. Here though, we can try to practice with the three persons that we used before, the one that we like, the one that we dislike, and someone that we are quite indifferent to.

We can try that for a moment. When we do this type of meditation, what we’re trying to do is based on a line of reasoning to generate a certain type of... well, it’s usually translated as “recognition,” but “recognition” is not quite the proper word, what I would prefer is “to discern.” I don’t know if we get the distinctions so clearly in German, but “to discern” would be to understand a certain characteristic feature of someone and to focus on them in terms of that characteristic feature, here the characteristic feature being that they’ve been our mother, to discern that from all the other aspects of the person.

So we’re coming to be able to discern, or understand, or see, that feature of someone by understanding how they have been our mother and then to focus on them in terms of that characteristic, “This one has been my mother, that one has been my mother, that one has been my mother.” It’s just a matter of time, that’s the only difference, and it certainly makes no difference what form they are in now, whether they’re a woman, whether they’re a man, whether they’re a human, whether they are a cockroach...

...a child, an old person. It’s very helpful, actually, to practice this with a wide variety of people of different ages and then extend it to the animal realm as well, and then of course to practice this with other people – when you’re sitting in the U-Bahn, or on the bus, to see all of them in that way. Traveling in public transportation is a great opportunity to practice many of these meditations. Or when we are stuck in traffic, if we’re driving a car, “Everybody in all the other cars,” this way.

OK, so lets try this, we think in terms of it’s just a matter of time; everybody has been our mother, or our father, or a closest friend. Actually, many Western people have difficult relationships with their mothers – this is something that most Tibetans find quite difficult to understand, how that could possibly be so, but unfortunately it’s true – so for some people, in the beginning, if they have a difficult relation with the mother, then to think of the father, if that’s a difficult relationship as well, then the closest friend.

However, it’s important not to just leave it like that and say, “Well, I have a difficult relationship with my mother, so I’m not going to work with it.” We need to work on our relation with our mother or father, so that we can gain at least equanimity with respect to them, if not appreciation of their kindness. Even if they’ve abused us terribly, at least they didn’t have an abortion – so at least there’s some kindness there.

Question: How come that Tibetan people don’t have this problem with their mother? I don’t think mothers are any different in different countries. Why do we experience problems and they don’t?

Answer: The question is why do Tibetans, or Indians for that matter as well, not experience the same type of problems as many Westerners do with the mother or the father. Again, this is purely my own speculation, but if we look at models of the hero in our Western culture, it’s the one that challenges the gods, that challenges the authority, and is going to be independent. This is very, very deeply inbred in our Western mentality and it’s not there at all in most Asian cultures.

And in Indian culture you have the whole thing of cow as the mother symbol, the nourishing symbol and so on – their gods are very, very different from the Western gods – there’s this whole emphasis on the mother, and the mother taking care of the child and so on. There’s a whole different aspect of family structure. In Indian culture, you’re born into a certain position in life and the highest virtue is to do your duty and fulfill that role. You certainly don’t rebel against it.

In Chinese thought, Confucian thought, the whole universe will function properly if the father acts like a father, the son as a son, the emperor as an emperor, the subject as a subject. When you look at the tragedies in ancient Greece, or the tragedies of Shakespeare, you always have children killing their parents and so on; this is quite strange from an Asian point of view. For Indians it’s very important to do their duty to the parents, for Chinese as well, filial piety it’s called. Tibetans don’t quite have the same thing, but it’s important in their society as well. In Chinese Buddhism there’s still an emphasis on honoring the ancestors, you don’t have that in Tibetan or Indian Buddhism.

Question: In Christianity, the fourth of the Ten Commandments is to honor your parents.

Answer: Right, honor thy mother and father. That certainly is there, but as I was explaining yesterday, the basis of ethics in the West, whether we look at Biblical ethics, or we look at democratic ethics coming from the Greek tradition, the emphasis is on obedience. And so, “Here is a law,” a commandment, “Obey, honor your mother and father!” And then you’re supposed to obey it, and then this rebellion comes in, to be disobedient.

Whereas in Indian or Chinese culture, it’s not a law that you have to obey, its part of the nature of the universe. I find it very, very helpful to try to identify our culturally specific beliefs, which we often think are universal, that they’re not. And when we learn that other cultures think quite differently, then that starts to loosen up our grasping at the universe to exist the way that we project and imagine it to exist.

So, let’s do this meditation with viewing these three persons – one we like, one we dislike, and one that we ignore – we can also add a few others there, children and old people, both different ages, men and women, in these three categories. Try to discern that all of them are equal in the sense that they all have been our mothers at one time or another. The only difference is time, like the example of if we haven’t seen our mother in ten minutes or ten years, that she’s still our mother.

Also I should mention, although in many Theravada practices we meditate with our eyes closed, in Mahayana it’s always recommended to meditate with your eyes open, looking down at the floor in front of you. And there are many explanations for that, but the point being that if we get in the habit of meditating with our eyes closed, it’s very difficult to apply it in real life, because then we think that, “Oh, I have to close my eyes in order to develop this equanimity,” and that’s very rude, to say the least. We need to be able to apply it with our eyes open, looking at people, interacting with people.

And then, if you like, you can also try to discern everybody in the room that way, as having been our mothers equally, just at different times. Too bad we’re not in India, we don’t have some flies in the room as well. You can also think that, “If I don’t recognize and treat as my mother somebody, and consider them far, and I’m very cold to them, how are they going to treat me next time they’re my mother?” So they’re all equal from this point of view.

By the way, if you have any questions relevant to what we’ve been discussing, please.

Question: Is it also possible in this meditation that I visualize these people first of all as my children instead of my mothers?

Answer: Sure. I haven’t seen that actually mentioned like that in any text, but I don’t see any reason why not. But again, if you think a little bit more on this topic, parents who have a number of different children, sometimes they feel closer to one than to the other, they have a favorite; it isn’t necessarily an equal attitude toward all of them. When we recognize others as having been our mother, we are also then remembering the kindness of motherly love and appreciating that kindness. Our children aren’t necessarily kind to us – the attitude regarding everyone as one’s dearly cherished, beloved child comes in another context in the bodhichitta meditation, as part of love – so I would qualify, “being my beloved child,” not just any child, if you’re going to use it in this context.

Question: What can people do whose mother has beaten them up two times a day?

Answer: Well, as I said, at least she didn’t abort us. But here we’re not working with remembering the kindness of motherly love and so on; we’re just talking about having a relationship with everybody and that we have the same type of relationship with everybody and it isn’t a matter of close and far. That’s the point of this, to develop an equal feeling of relatedness with everybody when we’re helping, or we want to help others.

The fact that we have this relationship with everybody as having been our mother is regardless of how they treated us. That’s the closest type of relationship that one could imagine with somebody, that they actually kept us in their womb for nine months, that’s quite something. Actually, that’s quite remarkable if you think about it. Would we be willing to have every living being at one point be in our wombs for nine months? That’s quite something to think about.

So we have this first point. The second point is that we might say, “Well, just as it’s possible that they have helped us, also sometimes they’ve harmed us, and so isn’t there a difference here?” Here comes your point, that the mother beat us up a lot. And so the point is that if we look on a very, very large scale, the large perspective, then we see that the amount of help that they’ve given us far outweighs the amount of harm. So again, we need to think in terms of how dependent we are on the work of everybody else in all previous lifetimes, not only in this lifetime, but going all the way back.

This becomes quite clear when we examine, for instance, everything in our house and everything in our room, where did it come from? It came from the unbelievable amount of work of an unbelievable amount of other beings to make everything that we possess – all the food, people had to grow it, they had to build the roads, they had to make the cars, they had to get petrol, dinosaurs had to decompose in order to make the petrol – it’s unbelievable when you start to really think where did everything come from.

Like that we see that throughout history the whole development of our society has depended on the unbelievable amount of work of absolutely everybody. So the harm that one particular being has done to us, like hitting us, is trivial compared to over all their lifetimes how they’ve contributed to our welfare and our lives now. Everybody is equal from that point of view.

Question: The same mothers have also produced atomic bombs.

Answer: The same mothers have produced atomic bombs. Of course, that’s what we’re saying, the amount that they’ve produced the atomic bombs is trivial compared to the amount that they’ve produced food for us to eat, the atomic bomb is a byproduct, but what we’re saying is comparing, because this is the objection, “Haven’t they also hurt us?” And so we compare the amount of harm that others have done to us with the amount of help that they’ve given, and the help far outweighs the amount of harm.

Question: Is it that the positive overweighs the negative; it’s not that the concept is that positive and negative are equal?

Answer: It’s not that the positive and negative are equal. The positive outweighs the negative. What sustains life are the positive things, not the negative things. As I said, if you look at the example of everything that you have in your house and everything that we’ve eaten, used, and enjoyed throughout our entire lives, where did they come from? We’ve benefited from an unbelievable number of beings, regardless of what their motivation was.

The more that one thinks about that, the more one realizes that that actually is true, it’s just that we’re not so aware of it. We don’t appreciate the amount of work of others that goes into sustaining our lives. With this understanding, then we see that there is no division of close and far in terms of others. So again, we try to view these representative people in our meditation with this understanding.

When you add up all the help that they have given over time, that’s going to be the same for everybody. In any particular lifetime this, one may be of more help, this one of less help, this one may be hurting us, this one may be helping us. But if we look at the whole timeline, it works out even.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: What he’s saying, let me just translate, is that if he understands it correctly, that we think in terms of individual beings, we’re not thinking of humanity as if it were an entity unto itself, but we think of individual beings, and each individual being has been our mother in some time, regardless of what they’ve actually done – that was the first point here, the second point by the way is in terms of the amount of help that they’ve given us, so that’s a further development – but nevertheless, then you’re saying, well, this is very difficult, when we think in terms of their kindness and so on, for someone who thinks in terms of Adolf Hitler or, if we’re a concentration camp survivor, the people who tortured us and so on.

Yes, of course it’s difficult. That’s why we said in the beginning, you don’t start with somebody that has abused you; you just start with somebody that you dislike. But I can give an example of someone that it is possible to think like this. Look at the greatest example, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in terms of what the Chinese have done in Tibet. He has no animosity towards them and he admits that maybe at some times for a few moments, when he hears the news of some terrible thing that’s happened in Tibet, for a few moments he may feel upset, but very quickly he’s able to apply these teachings, to think in terms of them, the suffering that they’re creating for themselves. Therefore they become an object of compassion.

Earlier this year I accompanied the twenty-year old reincarnation of my teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, who in his last life was one of the teachers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and I accompanied him on a tour of the United States, which was basically a vacation for him, a sightseeing tour for him to learn about the West and specifically the United States. So it included all the usual tourist places – Disneyland, and the Statue of Liberty and so on – and one of the things that we visited was in Washington D.C. the Holocaust Museum, which is much more graphic and much more heavy than in Berlin, or what you find in Jerusalem. It shows you pictures of the victims of the medical experiments in the concentration camps, graphic pictures of all of this. And at the end of the trip when we asked, “What did you enjoy the most on the trip?” Rinpoche said the Holocaust Museum was his favorite.

Mind you, his comment about the whole trip of the United States and the West was, “Nothing special.” So, he liked the Holocaust Museum the most, so we asked, “Why?” And he said, “Because it gave me an opportunity to develop more compassion,” – a twenty-year old boy! And when we toured the museum, at the end of the museum there’s a guest book where people write comments, and so he asked me to write down for him in the book his comment about it. And he dictated it in his simple English – he speaks English, but in a simple way – and so he said,

“I’m a Buddhist monk and I really appreciated seeing the museum, because it helped me to develop more compassion for all the terrible suffering that people had, which was caused by such terrible bad deeds by Hitler and his helpers.” Remember, all of this always reminds a Tibetan of what goes on in Tibet, and then he said, “But as a monk I must say we can’t say that Hitler was a bad person, just what he did was bad, and so I ask you, please, to remember in your prayers Hitler, and the people who helped him as well, because of all the terrible things they’ve done, they must be suffering very much now.”

This is what he had me write, so it is possible to have these type of thoughts – obviously, he was the teacher of the Dalai Lama. He was one of the highest lamas, but what’s interesting is that that carries over into the next reincarnation, a twenty-year old boy, the same type of feelings – and he certainly was quite sincere. I mean, why did he ask me specifically to write it?

Question: Well, that’s a very positive attitude, but isn’t it – well, the Dalai Lama himself wasn’t tortured. I’m sure your teacher and his reincarnation have never been tortured, as he was born on the Indian side of the border. Isn’t it different, even if you’re a very feeling person, isn’t it different to the position you’re in if you’ve been tortured yourself? I personally haven’t been tortured, but I imagine that it must be nightmarish.

Answer: Absolutely. Isn’t it more difficult – His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Serkong Rinpoche weren’t tortured themselves – isn’t it more difficult when you yourself have been tortured? Of course, but I certainly have met Tibetans who were tortured and who made it out. I mean Tenzin Choedak, the late personal physician – he died a few years ago – of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was in a Chinese concentration camp for twenty years and was terribly, terribly treated and yet – an incredible attitude, kindness, love and so on.

Garchen Rinpoche, thirty years in a labor camp of the Chinese, does he hate the Chinese? No. Does he hate the people who tortured him? Probably not. We’re not saying that it’s easy, what we’re saying is that it is possible, but obviously it’s very advanced, very advanced. Shantideva said, if we didn’t have enemies, how could we develop patience, how could we develop love? But this is an obstacle that always comes up in these type of practices, that people immediately bring the most difficult example – Hitler or Stalin – and that of course is the most difficult. One starts much more mild.

Question: I’m very sorry.

Answer: No, it comes up every time that the topic is taught.

Question: From this discussion, I found out that it’s not only possible, but it is absolutely necessary to have compassion for Hitler, for Stalin, for all these people, according to one statement that you made, the statement that Hitler was not bad, what he did was bad. That was from your teacher? Then this clears the issue.

Right. So let’s take our tea pause and then we’ll continue.

Now we’re up to the third point in terms of developing an equal attitude toward everybody that we accomplish with thinking in relation to ourselves. And this is to think in terms of how we definitely are going to die and so is everybody else and that the time of our death is uncertain. This is equally true about everybody and so if we were going to be executed tomorrow, it would be absurd to spend our last day, or our last hours, plotting how we could hurt somebody because we consider them far from us, distant from us, so we reject them, we want to hurt them. What a waste of time that would be to spend our last hours thinking in this harmful way.

Or the same thing with somebody else, if they were going to be executed tomorrow, what would be the point of rejecting and harming them today, thinking they were so far from us? In English we have the expression “to kick a dying dog.” So this is a point, they use an example of some official who got very angry with somebody, and thought to punish them severely the next day, and spent the whole day plotting what horrible things he would do, and in the night he had a heart attack and died before he could carry anything out, and what a waste of the last day.

So we think in terms of this, if this were my last day, why do I want to be cruel and feel distant and remote from anybody? And all of these other beings, they could die at any time, so if this were their last day, why be nasty to them? OK? This is the third way of thinking, thinking in terms of if this were my last day or if this was everybody else’s last day, so anybody that we meet we would equally, on that last day, try to be kind to and feel close to.

It’s interesting if you think of this in real terms, like you’re in a hospital and you’re dying. And very often people in that situation would like very much to have some physical human contact, hold somebody’s hand. It really doesn’t matter whose hand you hold, does it? Just a human contact. In that sense you wouldn’t say, “I don’t want to hold your hand, because I don’t like you,” “You’re not my relative,” “You’re not my friend.” We would hold any nurse’s hand, anybody’s hand, just to have that human contact, wouldn’t we?

So this is a good example of what it’s talking about here. I remember seeing that very clearly when my mother died of Alzheimer’s disease and was in a nursing home in the section for people with Alzheimer’s and similar type of things. And you’d walk down the hall and there were all these people in wheelchairs in just sort of really terrible shape, but when somebody walked down the hall, many of them would stick their hand out and try to grab you, just to have some human contact. It didn’t matter who you were. There was no concept of close and far there. We think in these terms with the group of people – someone we like, dislike, and a stranger – in our last few hours we would be happy to hold any of their hands.

Now we have the three ways to develop this equanimity or equal attitude that is in relation to thinking in terms of others. Looking from the point of view of others, the first point is that just as we don’t want to suffer – even in our dreams, and no matter how much happiness we have, we never feel that it’s enough – the same is true of everybody else.

This is true of all living beings, from the tiniest bug up on upwards. They want to be happy and not to suffer. Put your finger in front of an ant and it tries to go around it. It’s frightened, because it wants to be left alone. This is true of everybody, so it’s improper to discard some, ignore them, and to welcome others. Everybody wants to be liked, nobody wants to be disliked. Nobody likes to be ignored or treated badly. If we think in that way, we can develop an equal attitude toward everyone.

I use something similar to this in the sensitivity training, “Everybody has feelings, just as I do. You’re a human being, you have feelings just as I do.” It’s very helpful to try to recognize that and discern that when we meet somebody. Whether they show their feelings or not, everybody has feelings. We look at again these people that we like, dislike, and the strangers, and see them all as equal in this respect. From their side they want to be happy, not to be unhappy, they want to be liked, they don’t want to be disliked. They have feelings that can be hurt, just as ours.

Then the next point, the second in relation to others, is that we all have the same need and right to be happy. If we think of the example of, if we are in school, and there are ten children in the class, and all of them would like to have milk and cookies, it would be unfair to just give it to the ones who are good-looking or the ones that we like and not to give it to the ones that we don’t like. They all have the same need to have the milk and cookies and the same right to have milk and cookies.

Question: Coming back to those mosquitoes, like for example you have some kinds of insects in your place and well, you can’t catch them and set them free outside, and these guys reproduce madly, don’t they? And so you either live with them and their children and grandchildren and so on, or you kill them. What can you do in situations like that?

Answer: So the question is, when we have mosquitoes or other insects in our house and we’re unable to catch them – things like mosquitoes and flies you really can catch, if you become skilful and learn their customs – sometimes our house is infested with termites or bedbugs or these sort of things, or ants, these are not something that one can so easily catch and get rid of, and so what do we do then? Do we just accept them as our roommate and share our house with them or do we kill them? So what do we do?

There are choices, what it says is that a bodhisattva on a lower level doesn’t try to do the practices of a higher bodhisattva. A fox doesn’t jump where a lion can jump. So if we’re not ready to feed ourselves to the hungry tigress, like Buddha did, you certainly don’t do that, because all you would develop would be a very negative mind in the process. One may have to, in that situation, kill them. But the point is to try to minimize the negative result of it by having thoughts of compassion for the termites and wish them well. Do some sort of practice for a better rebirth for them and so on. And try when you’re doing it not to have hatred toward them, but be perfectly willing to accept that there will be negative consequences of what you do.

I had to do that once in Dharamsala. My whole house was infested with bedbugs, the furniture, the walls, everything – there were mud walls, so they lived in the walls. And there was a choice, either give them the house or get rid of them, and so I did choose to get rid of them. Now, what is quite awful here, what I noticed is that when you actually then are in the process of killing them with some sort of poison liquid that you put on the wall and the bed and so on, how it is easy for a negative mind of really ill will to come up at that time, because you really want to kill them, and so you put it in strongly and so on. We have such strong instincts for that, that in that actual situation that anger comes up, so this is... one has to really watch out for that, because one differentiates the motivation with which you start an act and the motivation with which you carry out the act. You may start it with compassion, but while you’re carrying it out, that anger and ill will very easily comes up. Sometimes we have to make these choices.

Also in terms of helping others, we sometimes have to make a choice of who are you going to help first. Obviously we do have to make that choice, and so there you have to see that, “Although I have an equal attitude toward everyone, I have to see who has a relatively closer relationship at this point so that they’re more receptive to my help.” The willingness is there to help everybody equally, but obviously you do have to make choices. We’re not at the stage of a Buddha, or an arya, where we can multiply ourself into thousands of forms simultaneously.

Question: If I kill a mosquito who can bring me malaria, I’m only a tool in the hands of his karma. So why is that something so horrible after all?

Answer: So do I understand correctly? What he’s saying is, what’s wrong with death, why be hesitant to kill the mosquito that gives us malaria? The mosquito is going to die anyway, so we are just helping its karma. And so let’s say you’re eighty years old and you’re going to die anyway, so then the absurd conclusion would follow that we should shoot you, because we are helping your karma to die anyway.

Question (cont’d): I’d thank you. Do that before I get prostate and can’t go to the toilet, I would be very glad if somebody would shoot me soon enough, because now I’m alright towards everything.

Answer: The question is, OK, you’re eighty and you would rather die now than endure a terrible cancer in the prostate or any of these sort of things. But also the absurd conclusion would follow that everybody is going to die, so we might as well destroy the entire world and kill everybody. We don’t have to help karma is the point, karma is going to happen anyway.

Question: I think that if it’s necessary to kill somebody, then one shouldn’t have any regrets about it.

Answer: This is getting into the whole topic of euthanasia, which is a large topic, and we don’t really have time to go into that in any detail. One nevertheless has to think in terms of karma. If one shortens the lifespan of others, it shortens your own lifespan, is the point of karma. If you are shortening a lifespan, one certainly tries to minimize the gross suffering that another being has, we don’t just say, “Well, that’s their karma to suffer so let them suffer.”

Question (cont’d): I just wanted to say that you were right to remove your bugs from your house in Dharamsala. I wasn’t making the point that everybody should have the right to commit suicide.

Answer: But one has to be a little bit careful, for what I understood you saying that, “It was the karma of the bedbugs to be killed by me, and so I was just an instrument of that.” That’s very, very difficult to say, because then you could also say, “God has told me to declare war on Iraq,” and “I’m just an instrument of God’s will.” That’s the danger of this way of thinking. How do you know what the karma of the termites are?

It’s very important in this entire discussion not to negate karma. No matter what our motivation might be, killing is still a destructive action. It’s like you drive your car and you run over insects; insects smash into the windshield, you have no intention of killing them. You just walk on the ground, you step on things. This is part of what’s called the all-pervasive suffering of samsara, that we just perpetuate killing and so on. That doesn’t make it nondestructive. It is destructive.

Question: [inaudible]

So you had a pet fly and you kept on feeding it and you saw that the fly actually is a living being and contact and so on. Sure, of course. Especially if you’re in prison, in solitary confinement, if you have a spider in your cell, you’re very happy to have contact with another living being. So this helps us to see that we’re equal and everybody wants to be happy and nobody wants to be unhappy. And perhaps we would all like to be happy and get through this material, so let’s continue.

Question: But this is innocent.

Answer: Innocent, yes, like the bedbugs in the wall.

The third point here is that likewise everybody has the equal need and right to be free from suffering and pain. If there were ten sick people, they are all equal – if we were a doctor or a nurse – they would all be equal in their wish to be taken care of by us, and to get an injection or whatever. So it would be completely unfair just to treat the ones that we like or, “I’m too tired, so the ones at the end of the line, forget about them.” All the sick people have the same wish to be taken care of and treated. They have the same right to be treated. So again we think of these people in these three categories, and if they were all sick, don’t they have the same right to be treated by us if we were a doctor?

That brings us to one o’clock, so we need to stop for a lunch break.