Anyone with an interest in Buddhism will have come across the “3 jewels” – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They are the central “pieces” of Buddhism, both as a religion and a philosophy. These “3 jewels” are what Buddhists take refuge in – the figure of the Buddha (Shakyamuni as the one that brought to us the teachings in this era, but also all the other Buddhas “of the three times and ten directions”); the “dharma” ie the teachings of the Buddha – in effect the primordial pillar of Buddhism; and the Sangha – the Buddhist companions that “support and encourage” us on the Buddhist path (to enlightenment).
But when we contemplate the wonderfully insightful 8 Verses of Thought Transformation written by Geshe Langri Tangpa, we could just wonder whether we should add a 4th jewel – “all sentient beings”! Let’s look at the first verse:
With the thought of attaining awakening
For the welfare of all beings,
Who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,
I will constantly practice holding them dear
The first line refers to the ultimate goal for all Buddhists (Mahayana) and that is attain “enlightenment”, ie the state of Buddhahood where one has completely transformed the mind to one that understands all phenomena “for what they are” (I like to describe it as that mental state where we are able to use 100% of the capacity of the mind – taking into account, here and now, few or any of us are using more than 10%!)
The second line is all about “bodhicitta” (a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existing self) ie the mind that not only wants to reach enlightenment for ones own benefit but has the aspiration to want to help each and every living being to do the same, and is conscious that, the ultimate goal of ones own enlightenment, can only be achieved by developing compassion and loving kindness for ALL beings.
In the third line reference is made to a “wish-fulfilling jewel”, which in ancient Indian culture is a mythic gem that could grant whatever one wished for. Here we recognise that not only do we want to help all sentient beings reach enlightenment, but that it is those very same sentient beings that can help us achieve that state in ourselves because, through caring for sentient beings, and showing compassion and loving kindness, we attain enlightenment!
This verse is all about recognising that each and every sentient being (human, animal, insect or whatever) has the latent capacity to reach enlightenment and that by placing them all, in equanimity, at the centre of EVERYTHING we do, think or say, we will rapidly advance along the path. For example take the 6 Perfections, giving / generosity; morality; patience; energy / determination; meditation; and wisdom – the essential practices of a bodhisattva (a sentient being that puts into practice “bodhicitta” and we can see that it would be impossible, for example, to practice giving or patience if other sentient beings didn’t exist! Since without that practice we couldn’t reach enlightenment it elevates the importance of all sentient beings to the state of a “wish fulfilling jewel”!
Remember that “bodhicitta” by definition MUST include All sentient beings, as we must see them All in equanimity to reach the mind of enlightenment. If we leave one sentient being out of our bodhicitta, we lack bodhicitta and thus our ultimate spiritual aspiration of attaining enlightenment is thwarted!
Think also how your very existence in this life, and the your ability to study and practice the teachings / dharma, is due to the kindness of each and every sentient being. Everything we enjoy—clothes, food, teachings—everything we use, is created by or dependent on other sentient beings. The world’s natural environment exists only due to the ecosystem that consists of innumerable sentient beings (animals, insects etc etc). When we look at the world like that we see that we should be unimaginably indebted to sentient beings and that sentiment, in turn, shakes us out of our natural tendency of self centeredness. We come to realise that we are not isolated “beings” but part of a fully interdependent world where our great fortune (to have the life we do – health, intelligence, economic means etc) arises from the unbelievable kindness of all other sentient beings!
Take the wasp that is buzzing around your food, on a summers afternoon, and change the chip and rather than think “you pesky so and so, buzz off!!” think instead, “my enlightenment depends on you Mr Wasp!” Why? because if we exclude the wasp we are not applying equanimity (ie ALL sentient beings are deserving of our compassion and care etc) and in so doing we no longer have bodhicitta. As a consequence we won’t receive the incredible benefits of generating bodhicitta—the tremendous purification and creation of positive potential (merit accumulation).
I know it is a tough ask but we need to try to see ALL sentient beings in this way, even those otherwise demonised by our society, such as murders, terrorists and rapists. All sentient beings are actually that precious to us and that is why they are ALL “wish granting jewels”!
Note: where I refer to “murders, terrorists and rapists” in NO WAY are we blindly accepting or condoning their behaviour / actions, we are not, but what we are doing is differentiating the “act” from the “person”. We condemn the act not the person. The person in turn is deserving of our compassion, as their behaviour will have arisen from the many delusions and mental afflictions of their mind, and because, via the law of cause and effect (Karma), they will suffer consequences in the future.
The lesson? Our enlightenment depends on each and every sentient being. Your enlightenment depends on every single being you encounter in your life from those that are nearest and dearest; those that cause us harm; those we don’t know; and those that appear insignificant, like an insect. The drunk on the bus, the boss that shouts at you, the terrified child from Siria that you see on the TV, each and everyone are and will be the causes, or not, of your enlightenment!
As the last line says “I will constantly practice holding each one dear”, this is all about practice and “constant” practice! Don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and see each and every being in equanimity! This is about “thought” or mind “transformation”, and this takes time, but there is no time like the present to start! Every being you see, encounter and come into contact with, gives you the perfect opportunity to practice equanimity and “bodhicitta”. Start to see beings with compassion and understanding – the understanding that they are under the influence of profound emotional afflictions and “ignorance” (of the reality of all phenomena and the grasping at the “me” and “mine”). Deep down they are just like you, a lost soul searching for happiness and wanting to be released of suffering!
Note: The above verse is one of 8 from the text “8 verses of thought transformation” by Geshe Langri Tangpa. In other posts we will examine the other 7 verses.
This article contains my humble opinions and thoughts and should not be mistaken for the wisdom of my teacher, the Venerable Geshe Tsering Palden, or any other fully qualified Buddhist teacher or Guru. My only aim in writing this Blog is to try and train my mind in the path of the Buddha and if, by so doing, I am able to benefit others, I dedicate all merits for the relief of suffering of all sentient beings.
Note: Any error in this text is entirely attributable to me, and only to me, and should never be attributable to the perfect teachings of Dharma. I sincerely apologise for any mistakes.