Altruism: From “Compassion in Tibetan Buddhism”

The following is respectfully quoted from “Compassion in Tibetan Buddhismby Tsong-ka-pa

If the intention to overcome the process of cyclic existence is not conjoined with altruism, one will attain only freedom from suffering, not the Buddhahood that is a perfection of one’s own and others’ welfare. Therefore, the altruistic aspiration, called the mind of enlightenment (bodhicitta) is most important.

Within Buddhism, those of the Hearer and the Solitary Realizer Vehicles cultivate the paths of a being of middling capacity – the thought to leave cyclic existence, together with the view of emptiness. Thereby they attain liberation, but due to not cultivating the altruistic mind of enligthenment, they cannot attain Buddhahood. The mind of enlightenment, in general, is of two types, conventional and ultimate, and the conventional is again divided into aspirational and the practical.

The aspirational mind of enlightenment is the wish to attain Buddhahood in order to help all sentient beings; it marks the beginning of a Bodhisattva’s accumulation of meritorious power in conjunction with wisdom and continues until Buddhahood, having twenty-one forms called ‘earth-like’, ‘gold-like’, and so forth, which are instances of its increasing in strength as one progresses. The practical mind of enlightenment occurs when, having taken the Bodhisattva vow, one actually practises the six perfections of giving, ethics, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom. The ultimate mind of enlightenment is a wisdom consciousness in meditative equipoise directly cognizing emptiness attained at the time of the Mahayana path of seeing.

To become a Bodhisattva one must cultivate the conventional mind of enlightenment, specifically in aspirational form. As was explained before, it involves seven steps in the system transmitted from Buddha to Maitreya to Asangha:

  1. recognition of all sentient beings as mothers
  2. becoming mindful of their kindness
  3. intending to repay their kindness
  4. love
  5. compassion
  6. unusual attitude
  7. altruistic mind generation

Having practiced equanimity and reflected on the plight of cyclic existence in the two previous meditations, one is prepared for the first step, recognizing all persons as mothers.

This meditation is to visualize individually every sentient being that one has known, beginning with recent friends, then passing to neutral persons, and then to enemies, identifying each as having been one’s mother. One should meditate until everyone, from bugs on up, is understood as having been one’s mother. Since this is the door to generating the mind of enlightenment, its benefit has no boundary or measure as will become apparent in meditation.

The next step is to cultivate mindfulness of the mothers’ kindness, first with respect to friends, then neutral persons, and then enemies. The essence of the practice is to become aware that even if persons are now enemies, neutral, or friends, they have in the past been as kind as one’s own mother of this life.

What is the kindness of a mother? First of all, one enters her womb while she copulates with a mate. At that time one’s mind has entered into the soft substance of the father’s semen and the mother’s blood. During the second week the fetus becomes a little hard, like yoghurt; in the third week, it becomes roundish, and during the succeeding weeks bumps appear that develop into limbs – head, arms, and legs. Then, while one’s body grows by stages over many weeks, one undergoes indescribable discomfort due to the way the mother lies, eats, and so forth, and she also suffers great physical and mental discomfort as one’s body forms. Still, she considers the child more important than even her own body; fearing that her child might be harmed, she makes great effort at proper diet, habits of sleep, and activity.

When about to be reborn, the baby turns around inside the womb and begins to emerge, causing the mother such pain that she almost swoons. Though finally her vagina is torn, her body harmed, and she has undergone great suffering, she does not throw one away like faeces, but cherishes and takes care of her child. Her kindness is greater than the endearment she has for her own life.

One should also reflect on the delightful ways a mother holds a baby to her flesh, giving her milk. She must provide everything; she cannot tell the baby to do this or that; she must attentively do everything herself. Except for having the shape of a human, the child is like a helpless bug. She teaches it each word one by one, how to eat, sleep, put on clothes, urinate, and defecate. If one’s mother had not taught these, one would still be like a bug. Even when a cat gives to a kitten, one can directly see that the cat undergoes great hardship to take care of the kitten until it is able to go on its own.

Just as one’s present mother extended great kindness, so those who now are enemies were mothers in former lives and extended the same kindness, and in later lifetimes they will again protect one with kindness. If it were necessary to become angry when it is determined that someone is an enemy, then since one’s present parents and dearest friends were enemies in a former lifetime and will be in the future, it would be necessary to hate them. But if one’s mother became incensed and attacked oneself, would it be right to become angry and beat her, or would one try to calm her and restore her mind to its usual state? In the same way, an enemy is one’s own best friend who has lost control and, without independence, is attacking oneself. He is not at fault; he is not attacking under his own power. He has helped before and will help again. When one was inside his womb, how much suffering he underwent! After one was born, how many difficulties he had to bear!

The thought is:

Each and every being, upon taking birth in cyclic existence over t beginningless continuum of lives, has protected me with kindness, just like my mother in this lifetime, and will do so again in the future. Their kindness is immeasurable.

When, having considered friends, neutral persons, and enemies, one is clearly mindful of their kindness, one should cultivate the third step, developing in the intent to repay their kindness:

I will engage in the means to cause all to have happiness and to be free from suffering. Just as they helped me in the past, now I must help them.

One should alternate analytical meditation – analyzing the reasons for repaying the kindness of others – and stabilizing meditation – fixing on the meaning understood – finally gaining a measure of the kindness of each and every being throughout space and developing a sense of the need to respond.