Equalizing Ourselves and Others—the Fundamental Practice of Bodhicitta
For people in the world, despite the many differences we have, whether in culture, belief, ethnicity and so on, there is one basic thing that we share in common—the pursuit of happiness and avoidance of suffering. Thus, others should be protected in the same way we protect ourselves. Keeping this in mind can help us to cultivate respect and warm-heartedness towards others. This is a simple but profound principle, and also a fundamental practice of cultivating Bodhicitta.
The famous Indian master Shantideva wrote a verse in his The Way of the Bodhisattva that has great importance. He said,
Strive at first to meditate
Upon the sameness of yourself and others.
In joy and sorrow all are equal.
Thus be guardian of all, as of yourself.1.
Despite the fact that we have already entered the 21st century, human beings of this planet can still draw the quintessence of all human thought from this verse in the shastra that was composed by him around the 8th century
This verse clearly tells us that human beings from all around the world appear to have many differences, but actually we all share one thing in common. First, we should know this principle, then we should reflect on it with diligence. What should we reflect on? First and foremost, all of us—myself and others—are equal. In what way? Regardless of our origin, whether we’re from east or west, we all wish for happiness and try to avoid any physical or mental suffering in life. There’s no difference between us in this regard. As we all share the same desire, we should protect others in the same way we protect ourselves. This is a very fundamental principle. On the surface, this verse seems to be rather simple, however, if we deliberate on it with a calm mind, we will realize that it indeed has profound meaning.
This is the conduct of a Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism which is called equalizing ourselves and others. In other words, it means “to put yourself in someone else’s shoes”, which also can be interpreted as exchanging ourselves and others. Then how do we understand what it means to “exchange ourselves and others”? For example, when we are planning to kill someone, put ourselves in his shoes and think from his perspective: If I were him and someone is about to kill me or take my life, what a tremendous amount of pain and suffering it would be! At this moment, we would realize how precious others’ lives are.
Such a way of exchanging ourselves and others or meditating on what I just said―that we all want to be happy and try to avoid suffering―is actually a fundamental practice of Bodhichitta.