In order to be able to take on the sufferings of others, begin the sequence of exchange with yourself. Take on mentally all the suffering that will ripen for you in the future. When that has been cleared away, you will be able to take on the sufferings of others.
Until now, your sole consideration has been for your own benefit and happiness, and this has prevented you from feeling genuine concern for others. Therefore, at first you may experience some difficulty in desiring to take on the suffering of all other beings. You should begin the practice by accepting all the difficulties that may happen to you today, tomorrow, and on into the next life.
What you do for yourself —any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing toward yourself— will affect how you experience your world. In fact, it will transform how you experience the world. What you do for yourself, you’re doing for others, and what you do for others, you’re doing for yourself.
Start where you are. Exchange practice (and all practice) is not about later, when you get it all together and you’re enlightened. You may be the most violent person in the world right now. You might be the most depressed person in the world, the most addicted person in the world, the most jealous person in the world. You might think that there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do. That is a good place to start; just where you are.
Although the prime object of giving and taking is to accept the misery of others, you train your mind by imagining your own immediate suffering. Only after your mind has become accustomed to this do you begin to take on the suffering of others. Just as a person who wishes to scale Mount Everest will first train on the lesser peaks, so should you practice on your own self first.
Although in the beginning this meditation may seem difficult, eventually the pure wish to accept the suffering of others and give them only joy and happiness will arise spontaneously from the depths of your heart.
You will eventually think like this: ‘May all the torments destined for me in the future, the heat and cold of the hells and the hunger and thirst of the famished spirits, come to me now. And may all the karma, obscuration, and defilement causing beings to fall into an infernal destiny sink into my heart so that I myself might go to hell instead of them. May the suffering of others, the fruit, as the teachings say, of their desire and ignorance, come to me.’ Before that time, you should train again and again to accept your own suffering.
Bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment, is the heart of all the practices of the Sutra and Mantrayana, and it is easy to implement. If you have it, everything is complete, and nothing is complete without it.