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The perfect Buddhas are born from the intention to benefit others.
Therefore, to truly exchange your own happiness for the suffering of others
How do you develop the ability to do this? Begin by visualizing according to the instructions on tong len, the practice of giving and taking. First visualize that when you exhale, you give away your happiness in the form of white light for the benefit of all sentient beings, and then when you inhale that you take upon yourself their suffering in the form of black smoke which you perfectly purify when it reaches your heart. This visualization takes some getting used to. After you have become accustomed to tong len, have continued it for a long time, and have attained the Bodhisattva levels, then you will truly be able to exchange your own happiness for the suffering of others.
In his text, The Bodhicharyavatara: A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, Shantideva makes many aspiration prayers on exchanging himself for others. Chapter 3, in particular, contains a number of them. One line says: "May I become a servant for those sentient beings who need a servant".
In an aspiration prayer, you aspire to help others who need help. You give yourself up for the benefit of helping others. Here, Shantideva wishes to become a servant to those who need a servant. He doesn't pray, "May I become the boss and give orders to others." In an aspiration prayer, you do not wish for your own welfare. If you do not read Shantideva's entire text, at least study the third chapter again and again to help you develop the right attitude.
In general, the Mahayana can be divided into two categories of practice: meditation on emptiness, which is a remedy against confused appearance and habitual tendencies because it cuts the root of samsara; and meditation on bodhichitta because it shows how to behave in everyday life within the relative world of samsara. Ngulchu Thogme's thirty-seven practices provide short, clear instructions for both categories of meditation that we can apply just as he teaches.
These thirty-seven Bodhisattva practices are as important for the Vajrayana as for the Mahayana, because if you carry them out, your Vajrayana practice will become more profound and you will be able to benefit many sentient beings.
Because Ngulchu Thogme was such a great Bodhisattva, he composed these verses so that ordinary beings could comprehend them. But merely understanding them isn't enough. You need to be convinced. Even conviction is insufficient. The practices must be applied and worked with. Reading them once and saying, "Oh, how easy! I understand everything," and then putting them aside will not bring any benefit at all. You need to read them again and again, memorize them, and strive to put them into practice.
Even if someone driven by desire steals all your wealth
The application of bodhichitta and the act of dedication enable you to benefit the thief. You also benefit yourself, since these practices accumulate merit and lead you closer to Buddhahood. Loving kindness and compassion are therefore very important.
If someone steals all your wealth and possessions or instigates someone else to do it, why should you dedicate everything to this person? The basis for the apparent contradiction is that sometime in a previous lifetime that thief was your parent. The Mahayana speaks of many lifetimes, throughout which every sentient being at some point has been your parent. In some past life this very thief showed you great kindness. Understanding this process encourages compassion for the thief-which means not developing anger. Compassion enables us to be patient so that we can actually dedicate everything to him or her. Without bodhichitta, we merely become angry.
There are many stories of how people came to the Dharma as a result of having been harmed by others. Milarepa is a good example. When he was very young, his aunt and uncle stole all his family's wealth and property. Because of this painful experience and others that followed, Milarepa undertook the practice of Dharma and subsequently developed gratitude toward his relatives. Like Milarepa, Mahayana practitioners should consider those who harm them as friends helpful to their Dharma practice.
It may be easy to comprehend this Bodhisattva practice, but to apply it is quite another matter. When someone steals everything we own, we become enraged. It is so difficult not to. Nevertheless, we cannot practice the Dharma when we are angry. We cannot develop compassion towards the thief. Until we behave in accordance with this verse, we are not following the practice of a Bodhisattva. We really must find out whether we can do so.
If someone cuts off your head
The Buddha himself offers many inspiring examples. In his multiple lives as a Bodhisattva, The Awakened One was often killed, but he viewed these deaths as an opportunity to accumulate merit and to develop deep compassion for the person who took his life. Thus, he amassed great merit and in his final incarnation attained enlightenment.
When someone is trying to physically injure us, the practice is to meditate on patience for oneself and compassion for our enemy. Imagine a child who loves his mother very much. Suddenly, the mother goes crazy and begins to beat him because she is emotionally unbalanced.
The child's affection makes it easier for him to respond to the mother's distress patiently and compassionately, and to help her find a cure. Using this example, we can regard someone trying to harm us as our mother who has gone mad, and our attitude should be helpful. Those compelled to injure, even kill, have no control over their emotions. Possessed by anger or rage, they lose all self-control and strike out or even commit murder. There was once a book printer called Pharken Togden, which means "the one with high realization." In those days, books were printed from letters carved into pieces of wood, so his name became "the book printer of high realization." He was a very famous siddha with many qualities arisen from meditation. How Pharken Thogden came to practice the Dharma was rather unusual. One day as he sat carving, his mother unexpectedly showed up and disturbed his concentration. Pharken Thogden became so enraged that he lost control and beat her on the head with a block of wood until she died. Regaining his senses and seeing the horror of what he had done, he was overwhelmed by grief and shock.
Pharken Thogden's remorse was so great that he undertook a long pilgrimage to all the holy places in Tibet, including Mount Kailash, which was as far from his home in Eastern Tibet as he could go. Wherever he traveled, the grieving son carried his mother's head with him. Lama Pharken Togden endured many hardships on his pilgrimage. Afterwards, he returned home and dedicated the rest of his life to Dharma practice. In this way he became a highly realized being with many special qualities.
This example shows that without intending to, anyone can be overpowered by anger, lose control, and commit terrible deeds. Thus, sentient beings that harm others do not have power over their own senses. Through ignorance, they lose control; through confusion, they cause harm. Remembering this, we develop deep compassion. Have you ever been so furious that anger kept you awake and lack of sleep disturbed your mind and made you unhappy the next day? Perhaps you could not eat, could not concentrate, were irritable and distressed. All this because of anger. Now imagine that the person wishing to harm you is experiencing the same agitation: seething with hatred, unable to sleep, obsessed by vengeance. On the basis of your own experience, you can empathize and feel compassion for someone whose anger is the root of his suffering. More methods on how to take upon yourself the misdeeds of others are well described in Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye's Seven Points of Mind Training, called The Great Path to Awakening.
Should someone slander you
Each of us thinks we are very important. When someone challenges our conceit by circulating unflattering lies about us, we condemn him or her. In Thogme's example, a slanderous person is broadcasting these lies throughout a billion worlds. In Tibetan, the term for "billion worlds" is sometimes translated as one tricosm, meaning one thousand to the power of three. Try to imagine a thousand worlds, multiplied by another thousand, which again is multiplied by another thousand. This is a very vast space! There are countless tricosms, a vast, endless number of worlds. Therefore, the text uses the metaphor of a billion worlds to suggest how far slander can extend. In our time, through television, radio, email, and other technology, it is possible to circulate a slanderous rumor around the globe. But that is as far as we can go.
When someone is going about slandering you, what can you do? The first reaction is to retaliate, to tell everyone who will listen how despicable the other fellow is-not exactly a Bodhisattva's response. But if, instead of striking back, you can lovingly praise this person and proclaim his or her virtues, then you are behaving like a true Bodhisattva.
Also be aware that it is generally better for one's Dharma practice to be obscure than to be famous. When we are not well known, pride has less opportunity to take root. Obscurity helps us develop an aversion to samsara and brings us to the Dharma. On the other hand, fame and prominence can generate so much pride that we eventually behave counter to the Dharma. We commit negative actions that contradict the Buddha's path or that destroy our own practice. This is important for us to know.
Though we practice correctly, if we think, "What a good person I am, what fine qualities I possess, what a warm and loving heart I have!" this is pride. Then, when somebody reveals what a miserable person we really are, our inflated self-esteem pops. Therefore, our slanderer is actually a friend who helps deflate our pride, the real enemy. Instead of harboring anger against this person, gratitude is more appropriate.
If in the middle of a crowd of people
In Milarepa's early life, his aunt and uncle continually insulted him and his family. These insults helped him develop a thorough disgust for and renunciation of samsara that enabled him to generate compassion for the cruel relatives. Renunciation and compassion became the bedrock of immense inner strength that enabled the Jetsun to meditate throughout his entire life. Another example concerns the translator, Vairochana, and the great practitioner, Namkhai Nyingpo, at a time when the Vajrayana was new to Tibet. When people saw them, they decided the two were dangerous practitioners of black magic, very bad men. This rumor spread and soon Vairochana and Namkhai Nyingpo were forced into exile. Vairochana was banished to the very east of Tibet, where the forest was so dense it was thought no one could survive there. Namkhai Nyingpo was sent to the far south, where the forests were also very thick and water scarce. Both practitioners accepted exile as an opportunity for solitary practice, became accomplished meditators, and attained great realization. Their story illustrates how it is possible to bring lies against oneself onto the path of Dharma.
If someone whom you dearly cherish like your own child
Remember that the person behaving so ungratefully is incapable of seeing our kindness and good intentions because his or her negative state makes it impossible. The situation is like the process of observing a flower. Light allows us to perceive a flower and appreciate its beauty. Without light, perception cannot take place because the conditions are wrong, the circumstances negative. It is like this when someone we care about imagines we are their adversary.
Another example is a teacher eager for his students to become skilled and learned. This teacher imposes a challenging, disciplined schedule. The students must study diligently, behave properly in the classroom, and so on. So the students start to think, "Oh, this teacher is terrible. How he makes us suffer! We do nothing but study, study, and more study. What a hard time he gives us!" They do not understand that their work will benefit them in the future. Anger and resentment darken their minds, and negative circumstances blind them to the qualities of the teacher and his teaching. They perceive the teacher as their adversary, even though he or she has their best interests at heart. If we apply this example to individuals whose negative thoughts distort their perception of us, we can develop compassion.
In the lineage of the Shangpa Kagyu, there was once a very kind woman who was not well treated in return. This woman, later known as Sukhasiddhi, was married and the mother of two sons. The family was very poor. One day, when she was about sixty years old, her husband and sons went out to search for food. Only a single bowl of rice remained in the house. While they were away, a starving beggar knocked at her door and asked for food. So great was her compassion that Sukhasiddhi cooked the rice and gave it to the beggar. Her husband and sons returned that evening exhausted and hungry. They had not found anything to eat and ordered the mother to cook the last of the rice. When she told them she had given it to a beggar, the men became so enraged that they beat her, dragged her by the hair, threw her out of the house, and told her not to come back. Though forced to abandon home and family and to experience many difficulties, Sukhasiddhi eventually encountered an accomplished yogi who taught her Dharma. She meditated so well that siddhis arose through which she transformed herself into a young woman of sixteen, became renowned as a great yogini, and obtained the rainbow body when she died. You can read the biography of Sukhasiddhi and study her many profound teachings. Sukhasiddhi's life, in which the wrath of her husband and sons helped her along the path, exemplifies how the anger of another can benefit one's Dharma practice. In brief, for a Bodhisattva with great wisdom and great compassion, all conditions-whether negative or positive-can be brought to the path of Dharma.
Even when someone who is your equal or inferior
You may start out as a good Dharma practitioner, then everyone begins to praise you. The result? Your pride grows. You do not notice it happening, so you do not apply a remedy. And then? You begin to act against the Dharma and to harm others. But when people blame you and are spiteful, then naturally your pride is squashed. Therefore, blame is much more useful than praise, and we should respect those who despise us no less than we revere our guru.
Even an excellent student endowed with a good heart and good fortune can succumb to wrong views. For example, the Dakinis foretold that the pride of one of Milarepa's main disciples, Rechungpa, would be an obstacle in his spiritual development. Having gone to India twice, Rechungpa began to think, "What a very educated man I've become, and a very fine scholar, too." He became puffed up with pride, even imagining he was Milarepa's equal. Milarepa, eventually tamed Rechungpa's pride by manifesting miracles through which the disciple realized what an accomplished yogi his guru was. You can read about Rechungpa in the biography of Milarepa. Also, The Thousand Songs of Milarepa contains many stories about Rechungpa and how he developed wrong views. One of the main ones is the story of the yak horn.
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