Tribute to Geshe Dawa Part Two


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Resident Translator: Samdup Tsering

Transcribed from audio file and personal notes with light editing:   Ross Moore.




Because compassion is generated by thinking over the suffering of sentient beings you need to know how the objects of compassion–sentient beings–suffer. When we think it over, there is no sentient being who does not have any suffering.

Consequently, when we think about how sentient beings are tortured by various pains and sufferings, it is reasonable and important to have the feeling to free them from suffering. Why the generation of this compassionate wish is reasonable is because we and others are not unrelated. Though some might feel quite alienated to us, in reality this is not the case. By considering the beginningless nature of our life we come to know that we have some personal relation even to these alienated sentient beings. While we might not currently know what relationship formerly existed it is certain that other sentient beings have been our mothers and relatives. By thinking deeply in this way we come to realize that sentient beings are all belonging to one family and, just like myself, they are suffering. Moreover, because they are my relations they have been kind to me. So, in this way, we imagine all sentient beings as our own mother and remember their kindness.

Having generated this awareness of the kindness of others the thought of repaying their kindness automatically comes. In dependence on this we generate love towards other sentient beings. This love is like that of a mother’s love for her only son; because she wants her son to feel happy she feels love towards him. So, if we had the same likeness [affectionate feeling] towards others, we would love them all in this way. Just as a mother, due to her love for her only child is willing to shoulder [take upon themselves] all suffering on their behalf, likewise, if we had the same feeling of love towards other sentient beings we would automatically wish to take their suffering by ourselves. So this is the beginning of the process of developing bodhichitta according to the method called Seven-Fold Cause and Effect, starting with (1) recognition of all beings as our mother to remembering their kindness (2) and up to wishing to repay their kindness (3) and love [through the force of attraction] (4).[1]

Although there are many different ways of developing bodhichitta, amongst them this method of Seven-fold Cause and Effect is one of the main ones. At the same time, the generation of bochichitta through practising the method known as Exchanging Self and Others is practised.[2]

The way to reach [engage] the system of Exchanging Self and Others involves knowing the suffering of sentient beings and, at the same time, recognising other sentient beings as our mother. We need to contemplate on the kindness of sentient beings according to the Seven-fold Cause and Effect method. In this way we have a two-fold approach.

When we talk of exchanging self and others we don’t take this literally: that I become you and you become me! Rather, it means that instead of self-cherishing we need to produce the mind of cherishing others.

Now the question arises: how can we exchange self-cherishing with cherishing others? At the beginning we need to contemplate upon one’s own misery. By thinking upon this more, together with contemplating the causes of our suffering, we come to know that suffering is not without a cause. But, at the moment we feel that the suffering we have is coming from the other side. While it is true that suffering has come from some cause we nonetheless feel that all the suffering we are undergoing is absolutely due to some other beings! It is due to him or her. But in a real sense this is not so. Maybe sometimes other people will cause one to suffer but the main cause of suffering is not those others: it is our own misconceptions. Our own misconceptions are the main source of one’s suffering and this main cause is not the immediate cause or condition: it is something else. This means that if, in order to be free of sufferings, we wait for the external conditions of suffering to be exhausted we will conclude that there is no way to get rid of suffering.[3]

The suffering we have is not merely coming from the side of others. For instance, all the Buddhas who have attained highest enlightenment did so in times when people’s nature was not different from what it is today: there were still those who showed anger and hatred, and so forth, towards them. But those who became Buddhas were still able to achieve enlightenment in those conditions. This indicates that in order to destroy suffering we must see how it comes from our own mind. Therefore, when we think that the main cause of suffering is other beings and their bad manners, this is not so. If it were, then there wouldn’t be any persons who have attained liberation–freedom from the suffering of this life.

In connection with this Bodhisattva Shāntideva has said: to clear the whole surface of the hill of all stones and thorns by covering it entirely with leather is difficult. It is better to cover the soles of your feet with leather shoes.[4]

The meaning: in order that we do not suffer by walking on the rough hills, it is better to cover one’s feet with sufficient leather. Similarly, though we normally point towards others when we experience any problems or suffering, but in a real sense this is not appropriate. Just as Shāntideva has said: rather than pointing outside, it is better to point inside at one’s own self-cherishing. It is reasonable to do this because self-cherishing is the main cause of our internal suffering. But even when we go very deeply inside to look into how much self-cherishing we have there, it is still very difficult to know how self-cherishing deceives us. The way other people cause us to suffer is quite coarse and rough compared to it. That is why we are so quick to hold external causes responsible; they are relatively easy to understand. But when we consider how self-cherishing harms us, it is harder to see. We recognize I-grasping as our savior, as our best friend, but it is in this way that self-cherishing gives problems to us.

If we consider our self-cherishing so highly, then, in the end, we will even live far from one’s friends and relatives. We won’t think of other sentient beings, let alone our friends and relatives. This proves that the I-grasping of self-cherishing is supported by only one being who is the “I”.

If one proceeds according to the suggestions of self-cherishing one can’t be free from the whole of suffering. It could be [relatively] ok, but it is impossible to get free of suffering if one goes in the direction self-cherishing pushes us, pushes us even when we can’t get enough happiness in this life.[5] The “I” or self-cherishing gives a lot of problems to us; this is why Shāntideva has said that the main source of our entire suffering is this self-cherishing “I”. Furthermore, Shāntideva has said that it is the main source of one’s own suffering and our worst enemy. This is because while our enemy can do no more harm than actually kill us, our self-cherishing attitude has numerous times caused us to be reborn amongst hell beings. Therefore it causes immense suffering in limitless lifetimes.[6] Even if we think in just terms of this lifetime, surely it has given us lots of problems and sufferings?

The self-cherishing is the main enemy of oneself so, in order for it to be destroyed one needs to contemplate on the effects of self-cherishing and think of the advantages of cherishing others.

Why are other beings more beneficial and in possession of more qualities than oneself? If we think of this lifetime we were born naked and were grown-up by the love and kindness of others. This shows how kind are others to us. Up till now we have been brought up by the kindness of others.

At the same time, to attain Buddhahood, fifty percent of the causes to obtain it are dependent on the other side. This is because the main causes for Buddhahood, such as love and compassion, are generated through other beings. So all our qualities are dependent on the kindness of other sentient beings and the Buddhas; other beings are the objects towards whom we generate love and compassion and bodhichitta. Just as others are so grateful to us for our attainment of Buddhahood, so too we must we be grateful to them for even allowing our enlightened attainment.

Because of others, Milarepa and Nyangtsa Kargyen (his mother) have made spiritual development. Even though Nyangtsa was treated so rudely by her aunt, Nyangtsa said that she was the main cause leading her to enter dharma practice.[7] At the same time, Milarepa attained the highest enlightenment in one lifetime due to the over-bearing rude nature of the uncle. Sometimes the other being may be so harsh and rude to oneself, yet, due to them, one can do one’s best practice of spiritual development.

With regards to the benefits of cherishing others, Shāntideva has said there is no need to mention the distinction between the advantages of cherishing others and the disadvantages of cherishing ourselves: all we need to do is to observe or look upon the qualities possessed by Buddha and the qualities possessed by ordinary people.[8] We can know this distinction by thinking in terms of this lifetime: who is a person whom we consider good? Is it someone with self-cherishing or someone who cherishes others?


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Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] Though not enumerated here, the remaining causes are: great compassion (5) and special intention or altruism. The result (7) is the mind generation of bodhichitta itself. See Pabongka, Liberation, 566.

[2] Geshe Dawa is teaching the unique combined method passed down in oral tradition from Lama Tsongkhapa. It is that taught by the Panchen Lama in The Easy Path. As Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa explains:

Lama Tsongkhapa himself innovated a unique method for making these powerful instructions more accessible for beginners by combining them with the seven-point cause-and-effect instructions, like two rivers flowering into one powerful current. Lama Tsongkhapa did not write these unique instructions down. They were passed orally from teacher to student until Panchen Lama Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen put them in writing for the first time in Easy Path as well as in the Guru Puja. In this approach, which is very effective for beginners, you begin by meditating on the first three points from the seven-point cause-and-effect instructions: seeing all beings as your mothers, recalling their kindness, and wishing to repay their kindness. The purpose of those three meditations is to give rise to great love. Practitioners of very high capacity who can realize great love solely through equalizing and exchanging self with others don’t have to engage in these initial steps, but most of us will find this instruction very useful. In this unique approach, great love is generated in two ways. First you generate it as a result of those first three contemplations. Then you intensify that love by meditating on equalizing self with others, on the faults of self-cherishing, and on the advantages of cherishing others. All of this gives rise to very intense universal love.

See Jampa, Easy Path, 179-80.

[3] The point implied here would appear to be that we would conclude thus because the external conditions could never be actually or successfully exhausted: there is always another problem or difficulty lying in waiting as it were. This was covered in the extensive point concerning the manner in which the suffering of uncertainty pervades cyclic existence. Though we remain unsatisfied we remain addicted to finding it within terms that perpetually fail. At some point our habits must be challenged and broken.

[4] This is a paraphrase. The verse reads:

To cover all the earth with sheets of leather–
Where could such amounts of skin be found?
But with the leather soles of just my shoes
It is as though I cover all the earth!

See Shāntideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, translated by Padmakara Translation Group, Chapter Five: Vigilance, verse 13, 33.

[5] Shāntideva writes:

While in cyclic existence how can I be joyful and unafraid
If in my heart I readily prepare a place
For this incessant enemy of long duration,
The sole cause for the increase of all that harms me?

See Shantideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, translated by Stephen Batchelor, Chapter Four “Conscientiousness”, verse 34, 40.

[6]  Shāntideva:

Should even all the gods and demi-gods
Rise up against me as my enemy,
They could not lead nor place me in
The roaring fires of deepest hell.

Yet the mighty foe, these disturbing conceptions,
In a moment can cast me amidst (those flames)
Which, when met, will cause not even the ashes
of the king of mountains to remain.

Shantideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, translated by Stephen Batchelor, Chapter Four Conscientiousness, verses 30-31, 40.

[7] For detail of what is, in many fascinating mystical and yet all-too earthy ways, a torrid Himalayan tale of intergenerational cruelty, familial abuse, black magic, ugly revenge, repentance and actual Enlightenment, see The Life of Milarepa, translated by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa. Boston & London: Shambhala Books, 1985. Other translations are available.

[8] The exact reference intended here is elusive, though the following is a possible contender:

If, in the past, I had practised
This act (of exchanging self for others),
A situation such as this, devoid of the magnificence and bliss of a
Could not possibly have come about.

See Shantideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, translated by Stephen Batchelor, Chapter Eight “Meditation”, verse 157, 125.





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