Opening the Door of the Mahāyāna Path





His Holiness the Dalai Lama comforting child who lost both parents 2011 Tsunami , Ishinomaki Kimimasa Mayama/EPA



By understanding  the evolution of suffering we come to recognize even the smallest insect as the only object of compassion. How then would it be possible to arise anger? How would it be possible to retaliate when it is only an object of benefit to be protected from karma, delusion and falling into the lower realms’ suffering? If you do not generate great compassion toward every single one of the numberless sentient beings and cherish them by practicing bodhicitta, there is no way for you to enter the Mahāyāna path to enlightenment. Therefore, the infinite buddha qualities of the holy body, speech and mind, qualities as limitless as the sky, come from generating compassion and cherishing this one, due to which you are able to do perfect work toward numberless others, whether in hell, preta, animal, human, demi-god or god realms. So this one is the most precious one. Even if it is a small insect, it is a wish-fulfilling jewel requiring so much merit to find.

By depending on suffering sentient beings, bodhicitta, the door of the Mahāyāna path, is opened. Compared to them even the value of your own body is nothing. Just as a mother feels in her heart twenty-four hours a day, for the whole of her life, that her beloved child is the most precious one, so should we regard sentient beings as the most precious ones, the most important things in our life. Just as a mother works at a job to earn money to care for and educate her child, so should we do whatever we can to help sentient beings. Even if we don’t know how, we should learn. Of course, that is why we learn Dharma and reflect and meditate on the path. Just like the mother we eat for them, walk for them, sleep for them, do our job for them. We even dress and wash for them. Even if we have an operation in the hospital to prolong our life, we should feel it is in order to help others. Think: it is also for them. As much as possible we should train our mind into this very deep way of thinking. Everything we do in our lives should be done to bring them happiness.



The simple way to practice is like this: think how, at lunchtime, one person wants pizza while another wants momos. Or you want a barbecue and the other, pizza. Usually, an argument arises because, in order to achieve one’s own happiness according to the self-cherishing mind, you want the barbecue to win! This is so even if it makes the other person sad. Not really happy. Not satisfied. But how can you really enjoy your life when your friend has been made unhappy? Or perhaps, although they didn’t get what they want, deep down they are not really unhappy. But the example still holds. Rather than cherishing a barbecue for oneself in order to secure personal happiness, seek instead the happiness of the other person and accept pizza! In fact, it is because you want the happiness of the other that you happily and peacefully accept pizza!

Naturally there is peace and happiness whenever one lets go of the I like this—with the speed of a finger snap. Immediate fulfilment comes to your heart. This one action of seeking the happiness of the other person therefore brings two happinesses! Happiness is doubled when you see the other person is very happy and also happy with you. So it’s a circle. Making the other person happy makes you happy and so it revolves. If instead you follow the self-cherishing thought and argue with them, insults, even physical violence might come! Plates might be broken! The TV could be smashed! The table might be hit! The car crashed!


Upsetting the other person also upsets you. Due to anger there is no space. So you jump out and bang the car! Because the other person is upset you get angry back at them. So again there are negative consequences. Here I am not talking about karma but immediate consequences. By following the I, the self-cherishing thought brings two problems: for oneself and for others.



The example of the pizza shows a simple way of cherishing others. But it also carries a deeper signification: an explanation of how to vastly benefit others who are vast like the sky, together with the shortcomings of cherishing the I. Again, the harm from such self-cherishing is like a limitless sky. The teachings explain: whatever happiness there is in the world comes from seeking others happiness, and whatever suffering from seeking one’s own.[1] So what is the need of so much talk? Consider the following quote from the Guru Puja: “The Mighty One [Lord Buddha] does the work of others, while the child does the work for self.”[2]


“Child” is defined here as someone preoccupied with “my playhouse” and so forth. I remember when I was a child putting my feet in the sand and then covering them up while announcing: “This is my house. My house!” Then, when somebody destroys such a house, you cry. You get so upset and angry over what is really just nonsense. You start accusing: “He destroyed my house! She destroyed my house!” Like this. So much attachment and worry comes.[3]

We normally call such behaviour childish because this is what a child does.[4] Similarly, people, when living the life of the ego, behave in the same nonsensical, childish way. Such childishness not only opens the door to all sufferings but it has no meaning. So we must look at the differences of how sentient beings work for self while the mighty ones [buddhas] work for the benefits of others.


This reference to childish meaningless behaviour has a further significance: although we have had continuity of consciousness from beginningless lives still we are not enlightened. This is in spite of the fact that many others (including numberless pandits and yogis in different countries, even Tibet) have achieved this goal. Including Śākyamuni Buddha, there are one thousand buddhas of this fortunate eon who were previously bodhisattvas. Yet, even before that, they were ordinary beings, with problems and delusions just like us. But they changed their minds earlier. In the case of the thousand buddhas, they did this an inconceivable time ago. And what they changed was the self-cherishing mind. Renouncing self-cherishing, they generated the thought of cherishing others instead. Due to generating bodhicitta they became enlightened an inconceivable time ago. But for us, we are still suffering in saṃsāra!

Śāntideva says that as long as you don’t drop the fire, the burning cannot be stopped. This means that for as long as you don’t let go of the I, suffering cannot be abandoned: “Therefore, in order to pacify one’s own suffering and to pacify the suffering of others, one should give up oneself for others and cherish others as oneself.”[5]

The conclusion is that there is no one else to cherish in our life other than sentient beings. There is no one else for whom to work except other sentient beings. Because what they want is not to suffer, we must liberate them from all suffering and its causes. By oneself alone we must bring them to enlightenment. It is for this reason we should listen to the lamrim and develop our own mind in the stages of the path to enlightenment.



Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography


Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.

But what need is there to say much more?
The childish work for their own benefit,
The Buddhas work for the benefit of others.
Just look at the difference between them!

Guide, ch. 8, vv. 129–30

[2] Losang Chökyi Gyältsen, the First Paṇchen Lama:

In brief, infantile beings labor only for their own ends,
While the able ones work solely for the welfare of others.
With a mind understanding the distinction between the failings of one and the advantages of the other,
I seek your blessings to enable me to equalize and exchange myself with others.

Gyältsen, Lama Chöpa, 55–56, v. 93.

[3] Considered not in conventional terms (as in the immediate example here) but from the perspective of the Prāsaṅgika tenet view, grasping at “my sandcastle” is an example of grasping at a self of phenomena, while grasping at “mine” is an example of grasping at a self of person.

The reason is subtle. As the Dalai Lama notes, “‘Mine’ is a characteristic of the self, for the thought ‘I am’ immediately gives rise to the thought ‘mine.’ The grasping at mine is a form of grasping at selfhood because ‘mine’ grasps at objects related to the self.” Middle Way, 74.

Quarcoo usefully observes that “the Tibetan expression nga yi ba nyid literally means ‘mine-ness’” and hence can be understood as a modality or functionality of “I.” See Tsongkhapa, Middle Length Lam-Rim, 244, footnote 262. The demarcation does not reside in the mere labeling (of) “mine” or even the notion of “mine” but stems from innately misconceiving (due to ignorance) what has been merely labeled “mine” as a real “mine.” As Tsongkhapa explains, “The subjective aspect [of such an innate misapprehension] is that, within observing the ‘mine,’ it apprehends the ‘mine’ to be established by way of its own character.” See Hopkins, Final Exposition, 43.

Yeshey Tupden also describes how “The conception of a self of persons is of two types: the conceiver of the I as truly existent and the conceiver of the mine (nga yi ba, mama) as truly existent.” He notes, “Moreover, it is not the eye, nose, and so forth, which are objects of the conception of ‘mine’; rather it is ‘my eyes,’ and so forth, that are its objects.” See Klein, Path, 139. And elsewhere elaborates: “In conceiving the truly existent I, there comes the conception of [a truly existent] mine. This thought of ‘mine’ does not [necessarily] observe the aggregates; there are many other things, such as houses, that we regard as ‘mine.’ However, the aggregates are instances (mtshan gzhi) of what is ‘mine.’ The aggregates [conceived as] ‘mine’ are seen as inherently existent; observing them, one apprehends the ‘mine’ as inherently existent. This apprehension of ‘mine’ as inherently existent is a conception of a self of persons” (ibid., 142). “There is no way to apprehend the ‘mine’ without also observing the I,” he adds. Ibid., 143.

For extensive treatment of various views and debates regarding what constitutes “mine” and “my,” see Hopkins, Maps of the Profound, 865–875. All this said, it is because we grasp at our sandcastles as truly existent  that we are able to generate powerful afflictive clinging (to them) with such force and pain. One doesn’t require tenets in order to grasp at sandcastles. Or tilt at windmills for that matter. In this sense we are trapped (or trap ourselves, rather) in a compulsively driven infantilism; we inhabit  a cage patched together with a seemingly endless proliferation of projected idealisms projected by lust, anger and ignorance.  But what we hold and so tenaciously grasp as “mine,” absolutely really really truly “mine,”  is no more real than a hallucination or dream. As Gyel-tsap writes,

Sūtra says:

In a young girl’s dream she sees
A youth arrive then die, and feels
Happy when he arrives, unhappy when he dies.
Understand all phenomena are like this.

Geshe Sonam Rinchen, Yogic Deeds, 262.

[4] Śāntideva:

When their sandcastles collapse,
Children howl in despair;
Likewise, when my praise and reputation decline,
My mind becomes like a little child.

Guide, ch. 6, v. 93. The Dalai Lama traces how such intense self-preoccupation arises, or rather, escalates from ignorance: “When our own self is involved, we emphasize that connection: now it is ‘my body,’ ‘my stuff,’ ‘my friends,’ or ‘my car.’ We exaggerate the object’s attractiveness, obscuring its faults and disadvantages, and become attached to it as helpful in acquiring pleasure, whereby we are forcibly led into lust, as if by a ring in our nose. We might also exaggerate the object’s unattractiveness, making something minor into a big defect, ignoring its better qualities, and now we view the object as interfering with our pleasure, being led into hatred, again as if by a ring in our nose. Even if the object does not seem to be either agreeable or disagreeable but just an ordinary thing in the middle, ignorance continues to prevail, although in this case it does not generate desire or hatred. As the Indian scholar-yogi Nagarjuna says in his Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning:

How could great poisonous afflictive emotions not arise
In those whose minds are based on inherent existence?
Even when an object is ordinary, their minds
Are grasped by the snake of destructive emotions.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, How to See Yourself, 33–34.

[5] Śāntideva:

If I do not completely forsake it
I shall be unable to put an end to suffering,
Just as I cannot avoid being burned
If I do not cast aside the fire (I hold).

Therefore, in order to allay the harms inflicted upon me
And in order to pacify the sufferings of others,
I shall give myself up to others
And cherish them as I do my very self.

Guide, ch. 8, vv. 135–36.



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