10. To liberate all beings
My mothers, each and every sentient being, / Since time without beginning cared for me.
How can I be happy while they’re suf-fering? / I must get to work and set them free.
To cultivate the mind of full awake-ning: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Verse 10 audio above. Audio for verses 8-10 is here.
With verse 10, we expand our two basic motivations for dharma practice — to gain freedom from suffering by refraining from harm to others, and to attain complete liberation because even the apparent happiness and pleasures of samsara don’t last and are suffering in disguise — to include all beings. This is the final and highest level of motivation for practice, the Mahayana or universal motivation, and the one from which the rest of the path unfolds.
Who are all these beings I am resolving to liberate? According to the traditional formula for arousing bodhicitta that we recite at the beginning of each teaching, they are “all sentient beings, whose numbers fill the extent of space.” How big is space? It is said to be infinite. This is a vast scope of intention!
Meditation: Let your attention come to rest, naturally or by following a few rounds of breathing, and then, as you breathe out, let your awareness relax to fill all of limitless, empty space. Rest like that for as long as you wish, and then:
Contemplation / Meditation: Imagine this vast, limitless space completely filled with sentient beings, each of whom has been like a loving mother to you in a previous lifetime. Envelop them all in your heartfelt love, wishing happiness for each and every one. Rest in that feeling of love pervading space for as long as you wish.
The beings who fill this vast space include all the human beings of planet earth: those we like, those we don’t like, those we’re indifferent to, those we read about in the news, and those we don’t know exist. They include our neighbors, our spiritual community, our family, strangers, citizens of every other country, refugees, even people who have died and those who have not yet been born. Beyond that, they include all animals — the ones who roam the earth, the ones who fly in the sky (yes, bats!), and the ones who inhabit every puddle, pond, lake, and ocean. Beyond even that, they include beings in the traditional hell, hungry ghost, and gods’ realms, who reside outside the reach of our six senses. Of the hungry ghosts alone, Taranatha says, “If I had clairvoyance, I would be able to perceive that hungry ghosts are everywhere.” We are talking about a lot of beings.
Dorje Chang Kalu Rinpoche once memorably instructed us at KTC that we can begin to think about benefiting “all sentient beings whose numbers fill the extent of space” once we can get along harmoniously with our family and friends — for most of us, that’s already an almost insurmountable challenge. But even though we may still be working on identifying and retiring the emotional buttons so easily pushed by those we love and hate in our own lives, we can still actively aspire toward love and compassion for all, the infinite scope of the practice of a bodhisattva.
Why should I care so much about all sentient beings? Because, as the verse reminds us, according to the Buddha’s teachings, each of them has treated us with profound love and kindness, if not in this lifetime, then throughout trillions of previous lives. The classic example is that each being has been our mother in a previous life, no matter what our relationship with them in this one, and that the mother represents the purest, most selfless love there is within samsaric existence.
Whether or not we relate that way to our mother in this lifetime, it may be helpful to explore the limitations of how we currently view our relationships with our parents and other people in our lives, the way we tend to solidify our fleeting experiences and erroneously take our conclusions as the whole story. Geshe Jampa Tegchok encourages us to bring to mind both a friend and an enemy (someone we don’t get along with or feel has harmed us) and contemplate ways in which the friend may have hurt us in the past and the enemy may have been kind in some ways. This may make it easier to imagine how fluid our relationships really are not only in this life but through many lifetimes, and help remove any barriers we may feel to this aspiration we are taking on. It is a step toward viewing all beings with loving equanimity. Or, as Lama Norlha Rinpoche has frequently advised us over the last four decades, “No friends, no enemies,” meaning these categories have no ultimate, lasting validity.
One way to look at verses 10 and 11 (next week’s practice: to exchange our happiness for others’ suffering) is that the practice of verse 10 is to cultivate love or loving-kindness: the wish to share whatever happiness we have, including liberation, with all beings, our previous mothers; and the practice of verse 11 is to cultivate compassion through the practice of tonglen, taking on others’ suffering and sending them our happiness. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, in his commentary on verse 10, has this advice: “The chapters in Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation on loving kindness and compassion offer guidance and help. I advise you to read these chapters again and again, to meditate on them, and to practice them so that you will give rise to the real attitude of the Mahayana.”
Contemplation: Try out this advice from Pema Chodron (follow the link).
Silent pop quiz: What are the four obstacles to full awakening, aka, the four reasons we’re not buddhas yet even though we may be practicing the dharma? If you have Ornament of Precious Liberation, you can look them up at the beginning of Chapter 4: “The Dharma Master’s Instruction” (page 47 in the Ken Holmes translation). I can’t find any specific reference online, so if you don’t have OPL or Ringu Tulku’s Path to Buddhahood, you’ll have to wait for class to find out. Once you know what they are, part two of the quiz: which of these four obstacles is remedied by cultivating love and compassion?
A few more notes from the commentaries and the class discussion to come after this week’s class.
The index of the study guide and recordings of the classes are here.
Next practice: Verse 11: to exchange my own happiness for others’ suffering
The complete study guide: click here (see “about the 37 practices study guide” at top of page for orientation if needed)