The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Faults of Cyclic Existence”
When we are considering the thoughts that turn the mind, we consider the teachings on the six realms. We consider the faults of cyclic existence. We consider teachings on cause and effect. We consider teachings on impermanence. But also we consider teachings on compassion, and they start with, and are absolutely related with, those teachings that you have just had on the six realms of cyclic existence and the faults of cyclic existence.
The idea of compassion, of Bodhicitta, is intimately related to that. The way that they are related is like this:When one is actually considering entering onto the path, or considering making one’s relationship with the path much more firm and solid, or if one is a more advanced practitioner, to deepen on the path, one always has to go back and re-examine the faults of cyclic existence. One of the main thoughts that we have concerning the faults of cyclic existence is that we look around and we see the Buddha’s first teaching in action. We see that all sentient beings wish to be happy. We all have that in common —we all wish to be happy. It is our motivating force. Whatever it is that we are doing, whatever form it takes, underneath that is the wish to be happy. Now each one of us has delusions. Each one of us has habitual tendencies. But underneath all of them is the wish to be happy
One way to understand this and to really broaden the perspective on it is that in some cases it is very easy to see that a person is striving to be happy. You might see one person, one particular type of personality, for instance, using every skill that they have to maintain happiness and joyfulness and equilibrium and that sort of thing. Maybe they go to psychotherapy in order to clear out neuroses, or maybe they do a lot of affirmations, you know, positive thought—thinking in affirmations about themselves in order to try to be happy. And for the people like that who are trying to maintain a certain kind of energy in their personality, it’s very obvious that they are trying to be happy. You can mark that and see it very easily.
But what about somebody like a criminal? What about someone who is a committed criminal? I mean a serious criminal, somebody who has done something unthinkable, such as even a serial killer? I don’t mean somebody that kills cheerios, I mean, kills people in a row—a serial killer. Let’s say somebody like that. We can’t even understand what the mind of a serial killer would be like. They are filled with obsession, filled with compulsion, filled with hatred. In many cases they are psychologically incapable of empathizing with other human beings. It’s like they have a microchip missing. They are all kinds of messed up. All kinds of messed up. To many of us their thinking, their world, may not even be recognizable. It may not have even the same landmarks. And internally, certainly, if we could go into their minds, it would not be recognizable as any kind of internal reality that we’ve ever experienced. So they would seem very different from us.
But there is one factor that we have in common with somebody like that, and that is that we are both equally, in our own way, trying to be happy. Believe it or not! This person who commits such a horrendous crime, and does so repeatedly, is compelled to continue doing so. If we were to really go within and try to slice and dice enough to find out what moves this person, what is happening here, we would find out that there would be a lot of jungle to go through. I’m sure that that’s the case. There are a lot of entanglements in there and a lot of mental confusion. However, underlying the dynamo that drives this engine is aperson who wishes to be happy and, in that way, is completely the same as you, completely the same as you.
Now I’m not recommending that because of that we should be nice and pat them on the head and let all the serial killers out on the street. I’m not saying that. I realize that this issue is far more complicated than I am presenting it, but the fact that I’m mentioning does not change, no matter how complicated the situation is. And that is that this person has something in common with you that is very strong and it is what drives both of you. You wish to be happy. Interestingly, neither one of you really knows how to be happy until, as a mature practitioner, you have really contemplated and studied the Buddha’s teaching and learned something about that, and then maybe had enough life experience, in terms of maturity, to go within and approach oneself honestly, to look at oneself and examine one’s habitual tendencies. These are the kinds of skills that we learn as life skills, and skills that we learn on the path in order to help us to begin to learn what comprises happiness, what actually makes it up, and to develop the skill of how to produce it.
But until that happens, we are the same as anyone else. All sentient beings are exactly the same in that way. Maybe not in too many other ways, you know, but in that way we are exactly the same. And this is true of all the beings in all the realms of cyclic existence, not only in the human realm.
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