Benefiting Others Will Naturally Benefit Oneself
Buddhism, especially in the Mahayana tradition, places great emphasis on the spirit of altruism. If one eschews his own benefit and works only for the happiness of others, he will naturally acquire both happiness and spiritual realization, just as a fire burns and ashes are left naturally. As Mother Teresa said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love till it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
In following the bodhisattva path, it’s part of the teachings to have compassion for yourself, as it could be overwhelming in the pursuit to not leave any living creature behind and to care for others, because there’re so many needs and so many people who need help in the world. So how do you balance both interests to care for yourself and also care for others?
From the worldly perspective, some teachers are always thinking of their students and care about their students very much. Even if they seldom care about themselves, their welfare will still be taken care of. This is a matter of course and also a common rule in society. Likewise, on the training of the bodhisattva, if you solely think about how to benefit sentient beings, then abandonment of all flaws will occur and all the stages of higher realization will be cultivated effortlessly. All the qualities on the path of Dharma will be yours. Just like if a fire burns, what remains are the ashes. If you’re dedicated to the benefit of others, your own benefit will be taken care of in the best way possible.
There are three types of bodhicitta commitments that a bodhisattva can undertake. The first one is the shepherd’s way of arousing bodhicitta: the wish to lead sentient beings to Buddhahood first before attaining Buddhahood for self, just like a shepherd following and looking after his flock of sheep. The second is the boatman’s way of arousing bodhicitta: the wish to achieve Buddhahood for oneself and all beings at the same time, like arriving on the other shore together on the same boat. The third one is the king’s way of arousing bodhicitta: the wish first to attain Buddhahood for oneself and then to bring others to Buddhahood.
The shepherd’s way of arousing bodhicitta, vowing to lead sentient beings to Buddhahood first before attaining Buddhahood for self, is the most sublime of all. Bodhisattvas Manjushri and Ksitigarbha are said to have aroused bodhicitta in this way. It is said in the Earth Store Sutra,
“Until all beings are liberated,
I vow not to realize Bodhi;
Until all hells are emptied,
I vow not to become a Buddha.”
That is, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha vows to not attain Buddhahood as long as there are beings in samsara. This aspiration is sublime and supreme. Of course, there is no problem for Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s “getting paid.”