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It’s no secret that we human beings are not getting along very well with each other these days. There are any number of reasons for this, but the deeper causes arguably lie more in our messed up psychology than in the external world.
Buddha was an expert psychologist – diagnosing what ails us at the deepest level and proscribing the cure. He lived at a time when the caste system was entrenched in Indian society, but in his teachings and practical example managed to show how people could live without all the prejudice and hatred, the “isms” of his time. He taught everyone equally, from monarchs to outcasts, and he taught that everyone IS equal.
The following is just a list off the top of my head – there are probably more ways we are equal – but it’ll do for starters. (Please feel free to add more in the comments.) Contemplating all or any of these always increases my love for others and lifts my mood.
1. Equally full of potential: We all have the same spiritual depth or Buddha nature, the same indestructible potential for enlightenment, the same exact innate seeds for purity, goodness, love, happiness, compassion, and wisdom. Regardless of our packaging, all living beings have far more in common than not. If we could learn to distinguish people (which includes animals) from their delusions and see them instead as innately pure, even as future Buddhas, world peace and harmony would quickly appear on the horizon.
2. Equally wishing to be happy and free: Every living being has the same two basic wishes – the wish to be happy and the wish to be free from suffering. No one has a monopoly on these wishes. Like the snowflake example given here, we have far more in common than not.
Although we all equally deserve to be happy and free, unfortunately our common enemy, the delusions, causes this to happen instead:
Although living beings wish to be free from suffering,
They run straight towards the causes of suffering;
And although they wish for happiness,
Out of ignorance they destroy it like a foe. ~Shantideva
3. Equally me and other: We are all equally me and we are also all equally other, depending on our perspective. Which means that if I am special because I’m me, so is everyone else; and if others are not special because they are other, nor am I.
We pay lip service to equality in our society:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. ~ US Constitution
But of course, due to our delusions, some men are created more equal than others, to coin a phrase. Or rather they think they are.
Some of these life-changing ideas on innate equality so prominent in Buddhist mind-training have also come up the ages in other faiths and in political discourse, of course. Truth is truth, wherever we find it.
One important area of equality, however, that has always lagged so dismally as to be largely non-existent is in the generally accepted human view of animals. According to Buddhism, person, being, self, and I are synonyms, and so animals are as much persons or people as we are. And we can end up as animals.
4. Equally subject to delusions: Whether our delusions are strongly manifesting or leaving us in peace, while we remain with self-grasping ignorance we are never free from the threat of delusions. We may be temporarily free from hatred, for example, but if we have no permanent liberation from hatred we will hate again, causing ourselves and others suffering. This is why temporary liberation from particular sufferings is not good enough – we have to get rid of all our sufferings permanently by destroying its root, self-grasping.
5. Equally enmired in samsara: While we share this prison called samsara, we are all equally experiencing the sufferings of birth, ageing, sickness, and death, not getting what we want, getting what we don’t want, and experiencing dissatisfaction. Regardless of our status in this particular samsaric life, we are still all equally subject overall to the three sufferings – pervasive, changing, and manifest. We are also all equally subject to the six sufferings of uncertainty, having no satisfaction, having to leave our body over and over again, having to take rebirth over and over again, having to lose status over and over again, and having no companionship. Regardless of where we are in the six realms, sooner or later we all experience all of these, and have done so since beginningless time.
Some people are temporarily luckier than others at any given moment; but no one in the six realms is more special. If we really want to be special, we’d be better off becoming liberated and enlightened for the sake of all living beings. We’re only special once we realize we’re not special.
6. Equally subject to karma: We are all equally subject to the laws of karma, the internal law of cause and effect wherein our intentions are the causes and our experiences are their effects. As in gravity, where for everyone what goes up must come down, so for everyone our positive actions must lead to happiness and our deluded or negative actions must lead to suffering.
7. Equally kind: Every living being has been the mother of every other living beings. Multiple times in fact. Due to our different appearances, we don’t recognize each other as mothers, more likely as friends, enemies, and strangers. But these appearances are deceptive and keep us divided.
Everyone is also equally kind when it comes to helping us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in life after life – this is the meditation called Remembering the kindness of others.
We need everyone equally as our objects of love and compassion, patience, generosity and so on, if we are to attain enlightenment.
8. Equal in the eyes of enlightened beings: Due to their omniscient wisdom and universal compassion, Buddhas love everyone equally, with absolutely no favorites. It is one of the qualities of being enlightened and why enlightened beings are true sources of refuge.
9. Equally empty of inherent existence: Venerable Geshe Kelsang says in Modern Buddhism:
To mix our mind with emptiness we need to know that, although phenomena appear in many different aspects, in essence they are all empty. The differences we see are just appearances to mistaken minds; from the point of view of ultimate truth all phenomena are equal in emptiness.
When we get rid of our self-grasping ignorance and have this experience of emptiness:
everything becomes very peaceful and comfortable, balanced and harmonious, joyful and wonderful.
When you get a chance, check out this stunningly beautiful teaching called “The Ten Equalities” in Ocean of Nectar (in the chapter Identifying the negated object.)
10. Equally mere label or imputation: We are always “othering” each other – it is a function of our self-cherishing whereby I am inherently me and you are inherently you. By extension I, myself, and those whom I currently identify as my kind are more important and/or better than you and your kind.
There is a lot of sensitivity around race, for example. White people can feel like they’re being guilted into being racist, for example, when they don’t really feel they are racist. But black people know firsthand the dangers of white people being blind to the systemic racism in this and other countries, including South Africa where I recently had the benefit of spending a month.
Buddha’s wisdom helps us get way past our labels of each other. We are all in this system together and need to get out of it together. No one is more equal than anyone else. We are all We. We are all Me.
Shantideva explains how we categorize people into those we feel superior to, inferior to, or moreorless equal with. These categories leading to pride, unworthiness, and competitiveness are based on the delusion of self-cherishing, where we feel we are always in a position with respect to others, jostling for position like a horse competing on a racecourse. It is tiring, and it is based on labels imputed by ignorance and self-centeredness.
When we exchange self with others in the radical way he teaches, we actually swap places with someone in each one of these categories and then look back at ourselves. Moving from the space of self to other, developing empathy, those labels disappear. This shows us that these categories do not exist from their own side, that there is nothing behind these labels.
Just as Buddha, in his teachings, did away with all the isms of his time, I think we could profitably do something similar with each other to cure the societal evils of homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, xenophobia, exceptionalism, etc, as well as to stop looking down on animals and abusing them for our own ends in speciesism.
There is a noteworthy verse in the Offering to the Spiritual Guide tsog offering that I’ve always loved:
Since Brahmins, outcasts, pigs, and dogs are of one nature, please enjoy.
This shows that everyone, regardless of their current societal line up, is equally empty of existing from their own side, and exists as mere label. Labels are imputed by thought, so if we change our thoughts from racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and speciesism to love, empathy, compassion, and wisdom, the labels we hold of each other will change as well. And as there is nothing to be found beyond mere label, everything will change.
These Buddhist teachings for recognizing our equality in all these different ways are very practical. They are not meant to be dry or intellectual – they can start off intellectual but need to get into the heart through contemplation and meditation. They help us break down the illusion of separateness, increasing our empathy and love. Starting with us, today, they can be used by everyone to make an enormous difference.
Please add your comments in the section below 😁