When that happens, we have to go back and think about the disadvantages of self-centeredness and the benefits of cherishing others. We can then see that we actually are helping ourselves by giving up the self-centeredness. When we treat others with kindness, we create good karma Actions of our body, speech and mind. Our actions leave imprints on our mindstream and later bring about our experiences. Who experiences the result of the good karma we create? This is a very big reversal of how we usually look at things.
Why should other sentient beings be important in our life? Because our entire life depends on them. If you look, everything we have, everything we know, everything we do comes because of the kindness of others and due to the influence of others. When we were in school, our teachers taught us how to read, how to write. All the skills we have as adults, all the talents we have, we have them because others taught us, others encouraged us. Well I remember being in Bodhgaya, India one year and they had found a little girl.
I think she was about four years old and somehow she had been staying with a pack of wolves instead of with her human mother and father, and she was acting like a wolf. When we look at our lives and the advantages we have as a human being, we see that they happen because of other beings.
In order to attain enlightenment we have to develop bodhicitta. The bodhicitta depends on having love and compassion for each and every living being. If we leave out even one sentient being from the sphere of our love and compassion then it becomes impossible for us to attain buddhahood. Have you ever heard of a fully enlightened being who is still hanging on to a grudge against somebody else? We have to give up all the grudges, all the self-centeredness, all the parts of ourselves that want to push other beings away and instead welcome other sentient beings and see that our enlightenment as well as our happiness this life depend on them.
When we see that and understand that deeply then it becomes much easier to be kind to others because we feel so close to them. We see how everything depends on them. Now you might say: People have hurt me. People have betrayed my trust. People have been mean and cruel to me. No one in the entire universe has ever experienced such injustice and such harm! That the mean things that you have experienced, nobody else has ever experienced anything like it? When we look, anything that happens to us is such a big deal.
But in actual fact, there are other beings who have suffered much more than we have. So we begin to really see the kindness of others and put other sentient beings first and cherish them. When we do that, the more we practice cherishing others, the happier we feel. The more we cherish others, the more we feel happiness whenever we look at any sentient being.
The more we hold on to anger , then the more we look at anybody, the more we feel angry and upset and miserable. Is this true or not true in your own life? Remember yesterday when I told you about my maroon cashmere sweater story? And I lived very well after I gave it away. So we practice cherishing others in that way. That leads us to another meditation that I mentioned briefly before. The Tibetan term is tonglen.
That translates as the taking-and-giving meditation. This is a meditation that we do in order to enhance our love and compassion. To cultivate very deep and very profound love and compassion, we practice this meditation in which we imagine taking on the suffering of others and giving others our happiness. This meditation is the exact opposite of our current way of doing things. If there is a problem, you can have it.
This meditation is completely changing that. The way we do this meditation is, we visualize others in front of us. Or we can imagine one or two or five or ten other people or a certain group of people or a certain realm of beings. We start small and we gradually increase the number of sentient beings we imagine in front of us.
Imagine yourself when you are 80 years old. Can you get an idea of how you might feel at 80 years old, what your body would be like, what your mind is like? My mum is Imagine ourselves being that old going through that. We are just using ourselves as an example here. Like I said, as we progress, we can put other sentient beings in that place.
Because we have very deep compassion, we imagine all their pain, suffering and misery coming out of them as some kind of pollution or smoke and we imagine that we inhale that. But as you take it on, it becomes like a thunderbolt. You know how when we are very selfish, when we are very miserable, it feels like there is a stone at our heart?
Have you ever felt that way? You can physically feel it sometimes when there is a lot of self-centeredness. I am talking about the middle of our chest, the heart center here. Our own self-centered thought is the real enemy that makes us miserable.
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- Verses 22-33.
We imagine it here at our heart center like a rock, as something really solid. Their suffering comes out as pollution and changes into a thunderbolt. The thunderbolt then hits at this lump at our heart, the rock of our own self-centeredness at our heart, and it completely demolishes it. So now there is no more rock at our heart, there is no big hindrance at our heart. Our heart feels completely open. This is a very important process. What good is that? No, you use their suffering by imagining it becomes a thunderbolt. The thunderbolt destroys the cause of your own suffering—the self-centeredness, the self-grasping egoism, the self-grasping ignorance.
Your whole heart becomes so open—wide open, very peaceful, very free. And you stay in that state of openness, totally free of any kind of grasping at a solid self. You stay in that open space for a while. After that a light begins to appear in your heart. This light is the light of your own loving kindness towards others.
How are we going to give them happiness? We give sentient beings our body. We give them our possessions. We give them our virtue or our merit Imprints of positive actions, which will result in happiness in the future. When we give our bodies, we imagine that our bodies are like wish-fulfilling bodies that can emanate in many different forms to become whatever or whoever other sentient beings need.
We send doctors out to people who need doctors, friends to people who need friends, janitors to people who need janitors. In this way other beings receive the help they need in their life. We really imagine that and think like that. Similarly we imagine all our possessions as wish-fulfilling possessions that can multiply and transform into all the objects that sentient beings need.
Whoever needs a washing machine, we send them a washing machine. Whoever needs a pair of socks, we send them a pair of socks. We imagine other beings receiving the things that they need. We imagine the people at Darfur receiving food and clean water. We imagine the people in Iraq receiving a safe place to live. We imagine people who are suffering from illnesses receiving medicine. So thinking that we are able to give everything away and it becomes what others want, they receive it and get the benefit from it.
We also imagine giving away our virtue, our good karma. We imagine that as we give it away, it becomes all the conducive circumstances for practicing the Dharma In the most general sense, Dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha. Most specifically, it refers to the realizations of the path and the resultant cessations of suffering and its causes.
For sentient beings who need meditation cushions, we send these out. For sentient beings who need Dharma books, we send these out. For beings who needs Dharma friends, our virtue becomes Dharma friends.
For beings who need Dharma teachers, our virtue goes out and becomes Dharma teachers. We send out all the conducive circumstances—a nice place to practice, food to sustain a retreat and so on so that they are able to practice the Dharma and attain the realizations. So now instead of being angry sentient beings, they have the realization of patience.
Instead of being greedy, they have the realization of impermanence. Instead of being depressed, they have the realization of the precious human life. Instead of feeling forlorn, they have the realization of taking refuge in the Three Jewels. Instead of being confused about their ethical conduct they realize ethical discipline. Instead of having scattered minds, they all generate samadhi, single-pointed concentration.
Instead of suffering from self-grasping ignorance they now have the wisdom that realizes emptiness. In summary we imagine giving away all our virtue which becomes what other beings need in order to practice the Dharma. We imagine that having received what they need, they practice the Dharma and gain all the realizations of the gradual path to enlightenment and become fully enlightened Buddhas.
This is a very beautiful meditation because it starts out thinking of beings in a suffering state and it ends with them becoming buddhas. We take it away in the form of pollution. It becomes a thunderbolt which hits at the lump of our self-centeredness at our heart. That is completely demolished. We stay in that empty space not grasping at a self. After a while a light appears within that space and radiates out. As the light radiates out we imagine being able to give to our year-old self whatever is needed—our body multiplies and becomes whoever our year-old self needs, our possessions multiply and transform into whatever our year-old self needs, our virtue is transformed into all the conducive circumstances for our year-old self to practice the Dharma, gain all the realizations of the path and become a buddha.
So we might start out with our year-old self and after that do the meditation for some friends or relatives or for strangers. Some people have a lot of compassion for animals so they might think of various animals and do it for them. Or you have compassion for the hungry ghosts so you imagine taking on the suffering of the hungry ghosts and giving them your body, wealth and virtue.
Or you imagine the dukkha or the unsatisfactory conditions of the gods, the celestial beings. So we do this for all sentient beings and it becomes quite a beautiful meditation. The taking-and-giving meditation then leads us to generate bodhicitta. The taking-and-giving meditation makes our love and compassion extremely strong. Who is capable of being of the greatest benefit to others? They have many different psychic powers and abilities to bring great benefit to others.
Therefore we too generate that very strong aspiration to become a fully enlightened Buddha for the benefit of all beings. This is the bodhicitta motivation. If you want a much more in-depth explanation of the taking-and-giving meditation, one of my teachers, geshe A learned master comparable to a Ph. We will now continue with Chapter 3. We have finished up to Verse Verses 22 and 23 are talking about the generation of bodhicitta and the taking of the bodhisattva vows.
Just as the Sugatas of old adopted the Spirit of Awakening, and just as they properly conformed to the practice of the bodhisattvas,. So I myself shall generate the Spirit of Awakening for the sake of the world; and so I myself shall properly engage in those practices. Verse 23 says just as the previous Buddhas did all of that, I am going to do the same thing. I myself shall properly engage in those practices. Just as they practiced it and achieved the resultant buddhahood I know that if I practice it I too will attain the resultant buddhahood, so I am making the commitment and the determination now to generate the bodhicitta and to attain full enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
These two verses are very powerful.
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You can do that by visualizing the Buddha surrounded by all the other Buddhas and bodhisattvas in the space in front of you and then reciting these two verses. And then imagining that you are really retaking the bodhisattvas vows and strengthening your bodhicitta. These two verses are quite important. Upon gladly adopting the Spirit of Awakening in this way, an intelligent person should thus nurture the Spirit in order to fulfill his wish.
After we have generated bodhicitta, an intelligent person would want to nurture their bodhicitta in order to fulfill their wish. The rest of the text explains all those practices. Until now we have been generating bodhicitta. Now my life is fruitful. Human existence is well obtained.
Today I have been born into the family of the Buddhas. Now I am a Child of the Buddhas. This verse is a verse of rejoicing. How wonderful that my life now has some meaning. So we really rejoice. There is now a purpose for my mum and dad having had me, for their having had to go through so much difficulty to raise me as a child, feed me, teach me how to behave and give me an education.
We hear some other religions talk about being born again. When you are part of a family, you know that your behavior reflects on the entire family. If you misbehave it causes other family members embarrassment. So out of consideration for them you behave properly because you cherish your family and your other family members. I really need to stop complaining.
I need to stop whining. So not going around saying and doing all sorts of outlandish things that make people lose faith in the bodhisattva path or make them lose faith in the Buddhadharma. Just as a blind man might find a jewel amongst heaps of rubbish, so this Spirit of Awakening has somehow arisen in me. How likely is it for a blind person to find a jewel in a heap of rubbish? Here we are marveling at how incredible that somebody like me, who is usually so overwhelmed by ignorance, anger and attachment , has generated the bodhicitta!
We are like the blind person. The heap of rubbish is like our samsara, our cyclic existence , all of our ignorance, anger and attachment. The jewel that the blind person finds is the bodhicitta. We found this bodhicitta in the midst of our overwhelming suffering and confusion in cyclic existence. And when it can no longer do so, it can still become food for carnivorous animals.
Chapter 3: Verses 22-33
The argument continues to attract both critics and defenders see especially ch. Commentators have tended to analyze the passage in question as having two major parts. The first part presents a simple, clear, inspiring, and yet at the same time, profoundly radical and unsettling argument for altruism:. I should dispel the suffering of others because it is suffering like my own suffering. I should help others too because of their nature as beings, which is like my own being. When happiness is dear to me and others equally, what is so special about me that I strive after happiness only for myself?
When fear and suffering are disliked by me and others equally, what is so special about me that I protect myself and not the other? In highlighting the fundamental and undeniable similarity between ourselves and everyone else, it calls us to broaden our concern and care without limit, and to recognize the moral call of suffering and need, wherever they might be found. It stands as a lasting challenge to all those who seek to limit the scope or curtail the demands of morality. I bear a special relation to my own future self, one that I do not bear to others.
This is the relation of personal identity.
Just as it is widely acknowledged that I have especially strong reason to benefit my friends, family members, students, or others to whom I bear special relations, the objection goes, why should I not have an especially strong prudential reason to benefit myself in the future, someone to whom I bear an even closer, simpler, and more fundamental relation? The second part of the passage answers this objection with a line of reasoning now commonly known as the Ownerless Suffering Argument.
This argument draws on the reductionist metaphysics of the Buddhist philosophical tradition known as the Abhidharma. If I give them no protection because their suffering does not afflict me, why do I protect my body against future suffering when it does not afflict me? If you think it is for the person who has the pain to guard against it, a pain in the foot is not of the hand, so why is the one protected by the other?
The continuum of consciousness, like a queue, and the combination of constituents, like an army, are not real. The person who experiences suffering does not exist. To whom will that suffering belong? Without exception, no sufferings belong to anyone. They must be warded off simply because they are suffering. Why is any limitation put on this? This denial is based on a long philosophical tradition within Buddhism, stretching back to its earliest days, of defenses and expositions of the doctrine of no self, the most important and distinctive of all Buddhist teachings.
It is quite common for Buddhist texts to assert that if we can realize experientially that there is no substantial self, this realization will cause us to be more altruistic. This argument is in a way much simpler than the previous ones: It makes no sense to be attached to something that does not ultimately exist.
But nothing at all exists ultimately. So it makes no sense to be attached to anything. When all things are empty in this way, what can be received, what taken away? Who can be honored or humiliated by whom? From what can there be happiness or misery, what can be liked and what loathed? What craving can there be? This profound reasoning could nevertheless be questioned.
Many Western scholars have had their doubts. On this topic, for those who have taken the vow, a universal characteristic of downfalls will be stated, so that whenever they perceive anything that has that characteristic, they should abandon it, and so that they will not become confused by merely apparent downfalls, or things that merely appear not to be downfalls. If a bodhisattva does not make a sincere, unwavering effort in thought, word, and deed to stop all the present and future pain and suffering of all sentient beings, and to bring about all present and future pleasure and happiness, or does not seek the collection of conditions for that, or does not strive to prevent what is opposed to that, or does not bring about small pain and suffering as a way of preventing great pain and suffering, or does not abandon a small benefit in order to accomplish a greater benefit, if he neglects to do these things even for a moment, he undergoes a downfall.
In this context, the commitment in question is the bodhisattva vow, the aspiration to attain Awakening Sanskrit bodhi for the benefit of all sentient beings. As articulated by a number of British writers in the nineteenth century, most notably Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick, classical utilitarianism holds that the criterion of right action is based on the consequences of our actions for the happiness of sentient beings.
Mill once formulated this view as holding. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure. In rationally evaluating different options on this basis, many utilitarians claim that we should aggregate all the different consequences of each action, weighting possibilities by the probability they will occur, and then maximize, choosing the action with the highest expected value for all those affected, counting everyone equally.
This passage constitutes a remarkable, and long-neglected, intellectual achievement. So if A has to choose whether to harm B in order to save C from some greater harm, how should A make this choice? What he does do is consider tradeoffs between the wellbeing of the agent A and of some other person B ; and what he says about these tradeoffs has an unambiguously consequentialist structure.
This is especially clear in the case of the famous verse on the gift of the body, BCA V. But for someone whose disposition is comparable, one should relinquish it. That way, there is no overall loss. This will be true despite the harm done to the animal whose meat is eaten.
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Several of these concern the issue of when it is acceptable to infringe what would normally be binding rules of Buddhist moral discipline. His position on the flexibility of the rules is stated in full generality at BCA V. It is only by giving things up that his own welfare is accomplished. Nevertheless, for fear of losing benefits for sentient beings, he does not place his own burden on unworthy sentient beings. But where no benefits to sentient beings will be lost, what difference does it make if the welfare of the world is promoted by him or by somebody else?
Suppose that he fails to discard what is wholesome of his own in order to bring about what is wholesome for other bodhisattvas. Well, if he fears the suffering of the lower realms for himself, what others fear is also suffering. Probably the most important aspect of this rich and complex passage is the rhetorical question it raises: In Reasons and Persons , Parfit explains this concept as follows. If a normative theory gives different agents different moral aims, then it is an agent-relative theory.
So, for example, many moral theories hold that parents have a special obligation to take care of their own children; such views would give each parent the aim that his or her own children flourish, and these aims would differ from one person to the next. A theory is agent-neutral in virtue of giving all agents the very same set of moral aims.
So a theory that told everyone to adopt the sole aim that all children should flourish would be an agent-neutral theory. Now a view that claims that it does not matter whether, say, Martha or Vivek promotes the welfare of the world, but only how much the welfare of the world is promoted, is an agent-neutral view, in that it gives both Martha and Vivek the same, common aim: In terms of such a view, Martha should, for example, abandon an opportunity to produce a small benefit for others if she can, thereby, create the conditions for Vivek to bring about a greater benefit for others.
This kind of agent-neutrality is a central element of most consequentialist views, and plays a crucial role in generating many of their most frequently discussed implications. But this second similarity is quite weak, as most plausible ethical theories do regard consequences as having some practical significance. And he offers several reasons in support of his critique. The statements that we entertain as part of such a practice do not need to be asserted as true, as part of a sober statement of philosophical tenets.
We can wish for impossible things to happen during the cultivation of altruism as in much of BCA X ; and we can tell ourselves things that are false, suspending disbelief during a meditation session, in order to develop certain virtues. Of course, as Harris points out, he might be doing both of these things at once; and if we can show that this is what he is doing, the passages would be just as good evidence for his ethical theory as they would be if they were not also meditation instructions.
By this phrase, I mean the view that our moral obligations and our prudential incentives always or almost always coincide if rightly understood. All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others. If this is true, it is wonderful news for those of us who want to be happy; but it may be a bit inconvenient for those of us who want to classify Buddhist ethical views.
2. Metaphysics: No Self and Emptiness
This is because the Fortunate Coincidence Thesis makes it difficult or impossible to pull apart the justificatory role of self-interest from that of what we owe to others. If these two perspectives give us the same answers across a wide range of cases, how can we tell which of them would take primacy, if they were to conflict? So as Harris points out, even what seem to us to be very demanding and lofty exhortations in Buddhist texts to practice extreme altruism might, in light of the Fortunate Coincidence Thesis, be justified at the foundational level by a eudaimonistic virtue ethics, or even by a form of rational egoism.
Obviously, a theory that is egoist at its foundations is in severe tension with the Ownerless Suffering Argument; and though it may be less obvious, there is an equally strong tension between that argument and a view that tells me to prioritize my own virtue over the cultivation of virtue in others. In several ways, these texts are unique. No other premodern text contains such interesting general reflections about how Buddhist teachings on how to live relate to each other and form a coherent whole.
The Ownerless Suffering Argument has no exact parallel elsewhere in Indian literature. No other Indian text grappled with the problem of free will as carefully and as seriously as the BCA. To advance his spiritual goals, he crafted passages that are remarkably effective, even today, at arousing disgust, fear, remorse, determination, altruism, generosity, lovingkindness, and compassion. History and Legends 2. No Self and Emptiness 3. Ethics and Ethical Theory 3. No Self and Emptiness The most central and most original intellectual discovery of the early Buddhist tradition was that we do not need to posit a substantial self in order to explain the world of our ordinary experience.
This chapter contains some of the finest Buddhist poetry ever written: This is the supreme medicine, curing the sickness of the world, a tree of shelter for weary creatures staggering along the road of existence; The six perfections are: The three verses that are perhaps most crucial to this passage are: The crux of the disagreement between the two interpretations concerns verse VI. Thus Tsong kha pa writes that Although many reasonings are set forth in [the BCA ], it is easy to be certain of this one, and it is a very powerful remedy for anger… so meditate repeatedly on this remedy.
The first part presents a simple, clear, inspiring, and yet at the same time, profoundly radical and unsettling argument for altruism: Mill once formulated this view as holding that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
Śāntideva (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Oxford University Press, Lenz, and Jason Neelis eds , pp. Cultivating the fruits of virtue , New York: Ethics and Emptiness , New York: Agentless Agency , New York: Hartmann eds , Indica et Tibetica: Mill, John Stuart, , Utilitarianism , Indianapolis: Mrozik, Susanne, , Virtuous Bodies: Pye, Michael, , Skillful Means: An Introduction , Indianapolis: Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee trans.
A Philosophical Introduction , New York: Williams, Paul, , Altruism and Reality: