teaching by khenpo ngawang dhamchoe Excerpt from The Mahayana Booklets of the Autumn Buddhist Philosophy Course
If we meditate on equanimity just because we Buddhists believe every being is equal, that is not good enough. We need to understand the reason that every being is equal. This can be explained: first, from the relationship point of view; second, the sentient beings’ interest point of view; third, the dharmic point of view.
Equanimity: from the relationship point of view
First, the relationship point of view. In our normal life, we do not see everyone as equal because someone is our partner, some you dislike and there are others who are strangers to you. In meditation, you consider these relationships as only temporary – in your past lives, these people had different relationships with you, and in your future lives they will have different relationships with you. Your loved ones, your enemies and strangers are always in flux – always changing. In one life, your loved one may become your enemy. In this sense, there is no real, fixed differences.
One of the sutras describes a mother, holding a baby, eating meat, and beating a dog. The point is that the meat she is eating has been her father in a previous life, the dog she is beating has been her mother, the baby she is holding has been her enemy. Now, her enemy becomes her child, her mother becomes her enemy who she beats up, and her father becomes her food. Dharma opens our eyes, so we are able to see the past, present and future. When we understand this, we will not be caught up with small things. So, from the relationship point of view, we are all equal. This is logical.
Equanimity: from the sentient beings’ interest point of view
From the viewpoint of sentient beings’ interest, every one of them wants to be happy; none of them wants unhappiness. So, you and all sentient beings are the same in this regard. Think, then, what is the difference – between me and others, between enemies, strangers, friends? They all want the same thing – happiness. Once you accept this logic, implement it in your mind and change your view of others, you will be able to see everyone as equal. This will help you achieve equanimity. Ask yourself if you have the right reasons to love someone, to dislike someone and so on; do you like or dislike someone for the right reasons?
Buddha did not tell people to just believe what he said: Buddha spoke truth with reason. The reason is right in front of us, so let us use the reason to prove what we think is true. We realise that we do not have right reasons for liking some and disliking others. We just feel close to someone, label those who we do not know as strangers, and label those who do not like as enemies. But the moment an enemy does good things to us, we change our mind, and the person becomes our friend. From the sentient beings’ interest, we are equal.
Equanimity: from the dharmic point of view
From the dharmic point of view, there is no reason that your loved ones give you an opportunity to gain enlightenment and your enemy does not. They equally give you opportunities to gain enlightenment. A beggar gives you an opportunity to practise the Perfection of Generosity; enemies give us opportunities to practise the Perfection of Wisdom. Without them, we cannot practise the Six Paramitas. From that point of view, how can we think they are different? In terms of our practise of loving kindness and compassion, they are also equally as important. If we miss one sentient being, then our loving kindness is not complete. All these reasons are so important to implement in our mind. They change our view of sentient beings. They contribute to our equanimity.
Once we see, or feel, that everyone is equal, then our practise of loving kindness becomes much easier. We will not have divisive thoughts, because we understand that we are all the same. Then, why not think about all sentient beings? When we say, ‘may all beings have happiness,’ what we mean is ‘may all beings have truly virtuous minds’ because the happiness that comes from having a virtuous mind is the true happiness. Other happiness is false happiness that brings desire, disappointment, anger, and other negative things. Virtues do not bring negative things. We wish all beings to not just dwell in the virtuous state but also accumulate virtues consistently. The more virtues they get, the happier they become. This is what we call loving kindness. Wishing them to have a good holiday on the beach is not loving kindness. They may enjoy their holiday today, and tomorrow they want to go again but then worry about losing their job if they stay at the beach. That is not real happiness; the real happiness is a virtuous mind and virtuous activities.
Then, we wish sentient beings to be free from suffering. Suffering does not mean poverty; even if they are free from poverty, they still have suffering. How many people do we know who are rich and suffering? Suffering comes from non-virtues. This is how we wish them to be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.
Thirdly, all of us, no matter how bad, have some kind of virtues in our life. These virtues, no matter how small, bring some kind of joy. We wish that they never part from that joy. To never part from any joy they have. These are the four immeasurables. These create a solid foundation for the mind path. They establish a very healthy seed for bodhicitta. For this reason, if you want to have healthy bodhicitta, you must train yourself in the four immeasurable first. Once you have solidly established these four immeasurables, you will be able to cultivate real bodhicitta mind.