His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave this teaching on The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation in Dharamsala, India, on 7 October 1981.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, a text by the Kadampa geshe Langri Tangpa, explains the Paramitayana practice of method and wisdom: the first seven verses deal with method—loving kindness, bodhicitta—and the eighth deals with wisdom.1
1. Determined to obtain the greatest possible benefit from all sentient beings, who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, I shall hold them most dear at all times.
We ourselves and all other beings want to be happy and completely free from suffering. In this we are all exactly equal. However, each of us is only one, while other beings are infinite in number.
Now, there are two attitudes to consider: that of selfishly cherishing ourselves and that of cherishing others. The self-cherishing attitude makes us very uptight; we think we are extremely important and our basic desire is for ourselves to be happy and for things to go well for us. Yet we don’t know how to bring this about. In fact, acting out of self-cherishing can never make us happy.
Those who have the attitude of cherishing others regard all other beings as much more important than themselves and value helping others above all else. And, acting in this way, incidentally they themselves become very happy. For example, politicians who are genuinely concerned with helping or serving other people are recorded in history with respect, while those who are constantly exploiting and doing bad things to others go down as examples of bad people.
Leaving aside, for the moment, religion, the next life and nirvana, even within this life selfish people bring negative repercussions down upon themselves by their self-centered actions. On the other hand, people like Mother Teresa, who sincerely devote their entire life and energy to selflessly serving the poor, needy and helpless, are always remembered for their noble work with respect; others don’t have anything negative to say about them. This, then, is the result of cherishing others: whether you want it or not, even those who are not your relatives always like you, feel happy with you and have a warm feeling towards you. If you are the sort of person who always speaks nicely in front of others but badmouths them behind their back, of course, nobody will like you.
Thus, even in this life, if we try to help others as much as we can and have as few selfish thoughts as possible, we shall experience much happiness. Our life is not very long; one hundred years at most. If throughout its duration we try to be kind, warm-hearted, concerned for the welfare of others and less selfish and angry, that will be wonderful, excellent; that really is the cause of happiness. If we are selfish, always putting ourselves first and others second, the actual result will be that we ourselves will finish up last. Mentally putting ourselves last and others first is the way to come out ahead.
So don’t worry about the next life or nirvana; these things will come gradually. If within this life you remain a good, warm-hearted, unselfish person, you will be a good citizen of the world. Whether you are a Buddhist, a Christian or a communist is irrelevant; the important thing is that as long as you are a human being you should be a good human being. That is the teaching of Buddhism; that is the message carried by all the world’s religions.
However, the teachings of Buddhism contain every technique for eradicating selfishness and actualizing the attitude of cherishing others. Shantideva’s marvelous text, the Bodhicaryavatara [A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life], for example, is very helpful for this. I myself practice according to that book; it is extremely useful. Our mind is very cunning, very difficult to control, but if we make constant effort, work tirelessly with logical reasoning and careful analysis, we shall be able to control it and change it for the better.
Some Western psychologists say that we should not repress our anger but express it—that we should practice anger! However, we must make an important distinction here between mental problems that should be expressed and those that should not. Sometimes you may be truly wronged and it is right for you to express your grievance instead of letting it fester inside you. But you should not express it with anger. If you foster disturbing negative minds such as anger they will become a part of your personality; each time you express anger it becomes easier to express it again. You do it more and more until you are simply a furious person completely out of control. Thus, in terms of mental problems, there are certainly some that are properly expressed but others that are not.
At first when you try to control disturbing negative minds it is difficult. The first day, the first week, the first month you cannot control them well. But with constant effort your negativities will gradually decrease. Progress in mental development does not come about through taking medicines or other chemical substances; it depends on controlling the mind.
Thus we can see that if we want to fulfill our wishes, be they temporal or ultimate, we should rely on other sentient beings much more than on wish-granting gems and always cherish them above all else.
Question. Is the whole purpose of this practice to improve our minds or actually to do something to help others? What is more important?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Both are important. First, if we do not have pure motivation, whatever we do may not be satisfactory. Therefore, the first thing we should do is cultivate pure motivation. But we do not have to wait until that motivation is fully developed before actually doing something to help others. Of course, to help others in the most effective way possible we have to be fully enlightened buddhas. Even to help others in vast and extensive ways we need to have attained one of the levels of a bodhisattva, that is, to have had the experience of a direct, non-conceptual perception of the reality of emptiness and to have achieved the powers of extra-sensory perception. Nonetheless, there are many levels of help we can offer others. Even before we have achieved these qualities we can try to act like bodhisattvas, but naturally our actions will be less effective than theirs. Therefore, without waiting until we are fully qualified, we can generate a good motivation and with that try to help others as best we can. This is a more balanced approach and better than simply staying somewhere in isolation doing some meditation and recitations. Of course, this depends very much on the individual. If we are confident that by staying in a remote place we can gain definite realizations within a certain period, that is different. Perhaps it is best to spend half our time in active work and the other half in the practice of meditation.
Q. Tibet was a Buddhist country. If these values you are describing are Buddhist ones, why was there so much imbalance in Tibetan society.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Human weakness. Although Tibet was certainly a Buddhist country, it had its share of bad, corrupt people. Even some of the religious institutions, the monasteries, became corrupt and turned into centers of exploitation. But all the same, compared with many other societies, Tibet was much more peaceful and harmonious and had fewer problems than they.