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A buddy of mine wrote recently asking for some words of advice on how to really benefit other people and I had to extol the virtues of a wholesome intention, notably as a Buddhist I often linger on the intention to establish all beings on the Path, whatever is most direct for them, and to benefit all sentient beings either directly or indirectly through all my actions of body, speech, and mind.
Of course, just talking about it, versus actually applying the antidote of self-cherishing to your mind, are different.
But I wanted to mention that applying that intention is super good, and I also wanted to mention that philosophers have similarly come to the same conclusion as the Buddha.
Consider Emmanuel Kant, he states in his categorical imperative, that
"Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law."
Which to me, made no sense until I thought about it in terms of reoccurring situations.
Say you're defending a girl from bullies on a playground.
If you were in the same role at the same playground with the same bullies and princesses, what is the way to act [in this one particular situation] that you could will your action become a universal law?
Consider the event replayed many times, potentially infinite times, how do you act to ensure the most beneficent outcome?
And really, what it starts pulling drawstrings on, since our sleeping-bag-situation of this present moment and the larger sleeping-bag-vessel of this life and continuum and universe are together, is that how you act in this situation may echo out to the future. You have to find a way, according to Kant, to act that you can will it become a universal law! That means that even the bullies must, by some grace, find some freedom through this small scene. Be it a tiny intention that fruits later, or a small nudge in the right direction, but something.
Many teachers helpfully illuminate the fact that the size of an action or its appearance on the outside is not what counts, but it is the quality of mind and intention that is most vital. The qualia of your consciousness as you formulate motivational drives and activities in the world. Our responses are conditioned greatly by our internal state, and the more we are aware of it, the more we can skillfully guide it with the [ultimate] Altruistic Intention to be of "direct or indirect benefit to all sentient beings"
So watch your mind! Watch the quality of your mind. Don't discard or shun or avoid it, but look into it and stay present with it. What is conditional and based on transient conditional factors must itself be transient=impermanent, so by observation and by embracing our state we let the ice crack shift and eventually melt back into a water that can flow unobstructed.
If you're new to Buddhism you may wonder, why the heck would I want to benefit all these jerks around me?
What's the point of that?
Well, to the degree that you see others as jerks, that's the degree to which you yourself are a jerk. In a way this is a profound statement because it pulls together infinity time and the present moment expression. In another way, this may not be helpful if read by a novice, if read by someone who thinks I'm just insulting them on a personal ad-hominem level. Really, this is more a phrase about perception. We perceive in others our own imperturbably small gaps in a pure continuum. I've been reaching for the hot stove for generations, and now the hot stove and the person near it are looking more and more gargoyle-like. My perception is trying to save me the pains of the hot stove, but at the same time I may lose all the utility, because no longer can I rationalize that it's a tool for cooking food, or a place to make tea, it's instead a doorway to something discomforting and unsettling, and my perception reflects my past exposure.
One enlightened quality I absolutely cherish contemplation of is "nothing to guard"
As someone who travels a lot and has a lot of different possessions, some more easily replaced than others, I find it hard to let my guard down with my possessions, but what is in a possession? My quality of consciousness is not in the object. The objects, from their side, are neutral. It's what my mind brings to the situation that colors them this way or that.
So, some fun words in closing:
Function. How much of our selections and movements are serving greater functions?
Can we consciously be in charge of the enlightenment of all sentient beings and especially all human beings?
Can we consider the scope of infinity time and eons-long reoccurrence of situations based on replay-grasping that is deeper still than the blood in your gut? More visceral than your bones and fingertips are these subtle qualities of mentation that affix and hold with vigor phenomena that ceaselessly change.
Start with one person in your life. Start with someone easy to care for.
OR start with everyone on the planet, see how they all have base needs, and all have the potential for full awakening within them already, birthright as a human being.
This auspicious form of the human body will not long last. It will dry up in the glade like the dew of the morning grasses. How to use it for the maximum benefit, for the immediate and long long future?
Contemplation of the immediate, developing the altruistic intention until it is more automatic than breathing, and perfect meditation posture.
Posture? What? Why?
Consider your body as a resting point for Buddhas.
An eagle cannot land in a shrub.
A dragon will not make a roost of a gnarled and cramped cavern.
The body in the Vairochana points, as a vital axis of mind, serves as a perch for an awareness free of fixation.
In short, contemplate benefitting others near and far, and when you do something great and noble, let it go.
A ship cannot leave the shore when held back by many ropes
A monkey cannot swing to the next branch while still holding tight to the first
Without dropping what we already conceive to be tangible, graspable, braided and real,
we may not ever peer clearly beyond our suitcase.
Okay here are some more thoughts on Selflessness.
Your "self" is like a suitcase. Everyone carries one around. It's pretty nice, it's got a name, it's sort of you but sort of just an index of preferences. What happens when you look at what this suitcase is made of? What's in your suitcase called "me" or "i" or "mine" what really makes up that suitcase?
You'll find that the suitcase is part body and part mind. Actually Buddha broke it down into collections, the Skandhas, One is Form and the remaining four are Mind/Psyche.
Consider that, only one of the five aggregates is body, and yet without a body there is no mind. No seat for the guest.
The more I look into it, the more my suitcase is made up of other stuff. The Form part of this suitcase is mostly made of earth and other elements.
The psyche part, too, with its endless preferences and history of scenes, is based mostly on past experiences and reactivity, not so much on a pro-active stance but one of reacting. And what solidness do my reactions have, other than they feel automatic when the right stimuli are there?
Positive situations and not-positive situations alike, there are in-built preferences. We can deconstruct everything, to see our suitcase is actually a handle, a top, a bottom, a rim, a locking mechanism. Where is the suitcase? Is the handle the suitcase? No, there's no suitcase in the handle.. There's no suitcase in any of the pieces! Where did it go?! Well, it's not really "there" it's imputed by consciousness. Suitcase is a conventional label affixed to collections in order for communication to function and for us to have ease, but when we believe at face-value the existence of the external world to be as it appears, we lose our true ground, the qualia of mind