Ten ways we’re all equal

 8.5 mins read.

(Para leer este artículo en español utilice este link.)

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.

Everyone needs a rest from our narrative.

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.

Rater than segregating ourselves from other living beings, Buddha’s advice is to segregate ourselves and others from the real prison guards = the delusions.

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.

Summary

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 😁

 

 

 

 

Have no fear

People’s hearts are good, but ignorance is our greatest enemy and destroys our happiness every single day.

bench in botanical gardens
He’d just left when I took this photo.

Earlier today in the Denver Botanical Gardens I saw an old Air Force veteran sitting all on his own looking sad, and then I saw him later near my pond. He dug into his canvas bag I thought for a sandwich, and indeed it was, but instead of eating it himself he proceeded to break it up and feed it to the fish, peering at them through the water as he did so. I thought, “May he and all those fish never experience another moment’s hunger or loneliness between now and when they attain enlightenment.” For none of them deserves to suffer, ever. None of us do. It is only our ignorance that has got us into this existential predicament.

Carrying on from this article.

Four noble truths

We talk about the “four noble truths” in Buddhism. In the first noble truth, Buddha showed that there is suffering, an endless cycle of suffering, and everyone still in samsara experiences it. In the second noble truth he identified the causes of suffering as lying within our minds – external conditions are only conditions for suffering if we have the actual causes in our mind, delusions and karma.

These delusions tend to cluster around a strong sense of self-importance, me me me, I’m the center of the universe, my happiness and suffering matter more than yours. In this article I tried to explain how we identify with a limited, painful sense of self, one that doesn’t even exist except as the object held by a wrong idea (self-grasping ignorance). Then we cherish that I, do everything we can to serve and protect it (self-cherishing).

That I — the seemingly real or inherently existent I, the I that we normally perceive — is like a puff of air blown into a balloon. The balloon is locked in a box. The box is secured in a vault. The vault is put in the bank. The bank is protected by guards.  The guards are employed by the government. And there we have it – a vast impressive bureaucracy of ego to administer and defend a big empty nothing.balloon in box

And everyone is doing it! Therefore, we suffer. And the stronger our sense of self, the stronger our sense of other. As it says in this article on some benefits of compassion that I quoted previously:

There is no-one who has not, will not, or does not suffer. By trying to identify common traits which you share it starts breaking down this barrier of defining someone as an ‘other’.

So in general when we are very self-absorbed and so on we are neither peaceful nor fulfilled because we are not living in accordance with reality. Self-cherishing that positions ourselves as more important than others leads to anger when things don’t go our way, uncontrolled desire grasping at what we think will make me happy, jealousy, miserliness, fear, and so on. One way or another, our mind is agitated. Modern society — or as we might want to put it “degenerate times” — apparently does not help us much either:

Combined with the frenetic pace of modern life, it has led to a stressed out, individualized society with a reduced capacity for empathy. As we remain vigilant to perceived threats to our own small piece of turf, compassion is the casualty.

Geshe Kelsang did say this though, and I believe him:

Full enlightenment is not easy to achieve. In these spiritually degenerate times people’s delusions are so strong, and there are so many obstacles to making progress in spiritual practice. But if we sincerely practice Kadam Dharma [Kadampa Buddhism] with a pure motivation, pure view, and unchangeable faith, we can achieve the ultimate happiness of full enlightenment in three years without any difficulty. We can do this.

Empathy

In our little experiment in this article, did you find that there was a sense that, although you really felt for another’s suffering, your mind was peaceful? Or not? Was it a bit of both? In which case, which bit was which?
empathy

Real compassion is all about the other person, identifying with their feelings etc. We have exchanged places with them in a way. And to the extent that it is about them and not us, compassion is very pure and free from any kind of pain. Also during that time it is impossible to feel impatience, at least as soon as you do the compassion has gone. Maybe your mom knows how to push your buttons and irritate you, but maybe she is very ill in hospital and you are not irritated with her at all.

The second noble truth, the causes of suffering, refers to self-grasping, self-cherishing, and their backing band delusions. These have reduced while we are cherishing others, so we are experiencing some peace. Thus, we gain a little taste of the third noble truth, the cessation of suffering and its causes; we see how this could be possible. How? Through the fourth noble truth, true paths, spiritual paths. These are states of mind such as compassion and wisdom (understanding that the I we normally perceive doesn’t exist) that cancel out our delusions and lead to their cessation.

So in this experiment, hopefully we see in our own experience how a cessation of suffering is possible. This may only be a temporary cessation for now, but through spiritual training it’s possible to get rid of our suffering for good. This is amazing, and gives us the confidence to think, “I don’t need to fear suffering. If I know its causes, I can stop it, and also apply this understanding to others to help them stop theirs.”

Reality

Generally, however, unless we want to train in renunciation or compassion, we try to avoid looking at suffering through distraction etc, and when we can’t avoid it we get depressed. As TS Eliot puts it:

Human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

cow in factory farmIn that state, we don’t really want to explore suffering more deeply to see where it is coming from, let alone to look at others’ suffering. We’d much rather switch on Netflix or self-medicate. Again, in the words of TS Eliot, we spend much of our life “distracted from distraction by distraction.” But even if we were to spend 6 hours on Netflix and manage to forget about suffering for a while, does that get rid of it?

If all our efforts to get rid of suffering through distraction and diversion worked, we would be as happy as clams by this point; but instead we have the same old problems every single day of our life because we are not addressing their causes ie, the delusions and karma. For as long as we are not touching those, for as long as we are fiddling about with externals to solve our problems, we are not getting rid of the causes of suffering and experiencing cessations. The most we’re getting is some temporary relief, like scratching an itch – that is, if we’re lucky, and of course if we don’t keep scratching. Looking for freedom in external sources is a fool’s game. It has got us nowhere.

Training in compassion is not an optional extra, therefore, that might make our life a little better. It is a necessity, the actual path to happiness and fulfillment.

One more article on compassion here.