#23: The power of familiarity

17 June 2010 - 12:12pm Comments Off

If teenagers can change in just a few short years, change over our entire lifetime is inevitable

How is it possible to exchange self with others?

First, we must acknowledge and understand that the object we cherish (i.e. our self) is always changing. Check for yourself, and see how you’ve morphed from being a baby to becoming a child, before moving on to adolescence and eventually adulthood.

We have never had a problem with loving ourselves despite the total change in our physical and mental make up. Right now in this life, we may be cherishing a particular human called Peter or Jane, but after we die, we will continue to cherish another being reborn in a completely different form, human or otherwise. Since this cherishing naturally changes from one object to another, it is definitely possible through training in meditation for us to change the object of our cherishing from our self to others.

Even cats can be self-cherishing!

Due to our wrong view, we are very attached to our body. We love it as if it is ours and call it ‘my body’. However, if we contemplate correctly, we will have to accept that this body belongs to others: we did not bring it with us from a previous life but received it from our parents of this life. The union of sperm and ovum develops into our present body. Our mind identifies with this body as our own through familiarity and, as a result, begins to cherish it. If we are already cherishing an object which belongs to others, then why can we not extend this to treasuring others?

When we have friends who are regularly involved in our lives, we begin to cherish them as family or even adopt them as part of family. In the same way, although our limbs, face, organs, etc. are not our body but its parts, by the force of familiarity we cherish these parts as much as our body as if they are also the body. Losing some hair or a nail creates as much concern as losing a finger or losing some skin on our body. By the same reasoning, and with correct effort, we can certainly cherish others as being part of us by the power of familiarity.

Apparently, we CAN say an orange is an apple, and vice versa!

‘Self’ and ‘other’ are relative terms, rather like ‘this mountain’ and ‘that mountain’. This is not like comparing an apple and an orange. When we see the orange, we cannot say it is an apple nor vice versa. However, if we climb a mountain located in the east, we call it ‘this mountain’ and we call the mountain situated in the west ‘that mountain’. If we cross over to the other mountain and look back, then the eastern mountain we labeled as ‘this mountain’ becomes ‘that mountain’. The labeling of all things depends on our point of reference, and hence these labels are interchangeable. This also holds true for ‘self’ and ‘other’. We can do this by recognising that from another person’s point of view; it is he or she who is ‘self ‘, while it is we who is the ‘other’.

In our daily life, we encounter three types of people and accordingly develop three general attitudes towards them. Those we consider to be inferior, we develop haughtiness; those who we consider our peers or equals, we develop competitiveness, and those we label as superior to ourselves, we experience jealousy.

All of the above reactions function to disturb our happiness of mind. We can train our mind to counter the above negative attitudes by a radical but powerful method prescribed by the great pandita Shantideva. This method of exchanging self with others can turn these deluded states of mind against themselves. In the process, it increases the power of our compassion for others, which can help to speed our journey towards Enlightenment.

NEXT: The Power of Imagination

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