We have spoken a great deal about compassion and equanimity and what it means to cultivate these qualities in our everyday lives. When we have developed our sense of compassion to the point where we feel responsible for all beings, we are motivated to perfect our ability to serve them. Buddhists call the aspiration to attain such a state bodhicitta, and one who has achieved it, a bodhisattva.
There are two methods for bringing about this attitude. One, called the Sevenfold Cause-and-Effect Method, hinges on viewing all beings as having been our mother in the past. In the other, Exchanging Self for Others, we view all others as we do ourselves. Both methods are considered practices of the method, or vast, path.
THE SEVENFOLD CAUSE-AND-EFFECT METHOD
If we have been reborn time after time, it is evident that we have needed many mothers to give birth to us. It should be mentioned that our births have not been limited to the planet Earth. According to the Buddhist view, we have been going through the cycle of life and death for far longer than our planet has existed. Our past lives are therefore infinite, as are the beings who have given birth to us. Thus, the first cause bringing about bodhicitta is the recognition that all beings have been our mother.
The love and kindness shown us by our mother in this life would be difficult to repay. She endured many sleepless nights to care for us when we were helpless infants. She fed us and would have willingly sacrificed everything, including her own life, to spare ours. As we contemplate her example of devoted love, we should consider that each and every being throughout existence has treated us this way. Each dog, cat, fish, fly, and human being has at some point in the beginningless past been our mother and shown us overwhelming love and kindness. Such a thought should bring about our appreciation. This is the second cause of bodhicitta.
As we envision the present condition of all these beings, we begin to develop the desire to help them change their lot. This is the third cause, and out of it comes the fourth, a feeling of love cherishing all beings. This is an attraction toward all beings, similar to what a child feels upon seeing his or her mother. This leads us to compassion, which is the fifth cause of bodhicitta.
Compassion is a wish to separate these suffering beings, our mothers of the past, from their miserable situation. At this point we also experience loving-kindness, a wish that all beings find happiness. As we progress through these stages of responsibility, we go from wishing that all sentient beings find happiness and freedom from suffering to personally assuming responsibility for helping them enter this state beyond misery.
This is the final cause. As we scrutinize how best to help others, we are drawn to achieve the fully enlightened and omniscient state of Buddhahood.
The implicit question in this method is central to Mahayana Buddhism: if all other sentient beings who have been kind to us since beginningless time are suffering, how can we devote ourselves to pursuing merely our own happiness? To seek our own happiness in spite of the suffering others are experiencing is tragically unfortunate. Therefore, it is clear that we must try to free all sentient beings from suffering. This method helps us cultivate the desire to do so.
EXCHANGING SELF FOR OTHERS
The other method for bringing about bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain highest enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, is Exchanging Self for Others. In this method we work at recognizing how dependent we are on others for all we have. We contemplate how the homes we live in, the clothes we wear, the roads we drive on, have all been created by the hard work of others. So much work has gone into providing us with the shirt we are wearing, from planting the cottonseed to weaving the fabric and sewing the garment. The slice of bread we eat had to be baked by someone. The wheat had to be planted by someone else and, after irrigation and fertilization, had to be harvested and then milled into flour. This had to be kneaded into dough and then baked appropriately. It would be impossible to count all the people involved in providing us with a simple slice of bread. In many cases machines do a lot of the work; however, they had to be invented and produced, and must be supervised.
Even our personal virtues, such as our patience and ethical sense, are all developed in dependence upon others. We can even come to appreciate that those who cause us difficulty are providing us with the opportunity to develop tolerance. Through this train of thought we come to recognize how dependent we are on others for all we enjoy in life. We must work at developing this recognition as we go about our lives after our morning meditation sessions. There are so many examples of our dependence on others. As we recognize them, our sense of responsibility toward others develops, as does our desire to repay them for their kindness.
We also contemplate how, because of the laws of karma, our selfishly motivated actions have led to the difficulties we confront on a daily basis. As we consider our situation we see how pointless our self-cherishing ways are and how selfless actions, devoted to helping others, are the only logical course. Again, this leads us to the most noble of all actions: engaging in the process of attaining the state of Buddhahood in order to help all beings.
When working with the technique of Exchanging Self for Others, it is important to also practice developing patience, as one of the main obstacles to our development and enhancement of compassion and bodhicitta is a lack of patience and tolerance.
Whichever method we employ to develop bodhicitta, we should remain true to it and cultivate this highest aspiration daily in formal meditation and afterward. We must work diligently to diminish our selfish instincts and supplant them with the more lofty ones contained in the bodhisattva ideal. It is important that we first develop a strong sense of equanimity, the attitude of sympathetic impartiality toward all beings. Continuing to entertain biases makes it difficult for our virtuous aspirations to be very effective, as they will favor those we feel close to.
While we work to cultivate the superior aspiration of bodhicitta, many obstacles make themselves felt. Inner feelings of attachment or hostility arise to undermine our efforts. We find ourselves drawn toward old time-wasting habits, watching television or frequenting friends who pull us away from the noble goal we are now committed to. We must work at overcoming such tendencies and emotions by means of the meditative techniques described throughout this book. These are the steps that must be taken.
First, we must recognize our afflictive emotions and bad habits as evidence of our continuing state of attachment and consider, once again, their harmful nature. Second, we must apply the appropriate antidotes and marshal the determination not to indulge these emotions further. We must remain focused on our commitment to all sentient beings.
We have been exploring the way to open our hearts. Compassion is the very essence of an open heart and must be cultivated throughout our journey. Equanimity removes our prejudices and enables our altruism to reach all sentient beings. Bodhicitta is the commitment to actually help them. We shall now learn the methods by which we develop the concentration necessary to cultivate the other aspect of our practice, wisdom.