Whenever any difficulty or trouble arises we usually blame it on some other person or object. Nations accuse other nations of causing conflict, and even dogs blame their troubles on other dogs. However, it is entirely incorrect to blame someone else, because the true enemy deserving this blame is the self-cherishing attitude that we have always had within us.
We consider ourselves to be very precious and important, and such attachment and dedication lead each of us to commit many unskillful deeds aimed solely at bringing us temporal pleasure and comfort. When we do not possess something we desire, or when danger threatens something to which we are attached, we react with aggression and selfishness. By acting in such a self-centered way, we accumulate negative karmic propensities that will arise later as misery.
Even among nations, many unwholesome deeds are perpetrated for similar self motivated reasons. For instance, a nation with imperialistic attitudes wages war over territories belonging to other people with the motivation of exploiting their resources for its own selfish ends. Conversely, a country will fight to defend itself from external aggression because it fears the loss of its own territory. However, in so doing it creates only more conflict and misery. Even when two small insects fight, their reasons are the same, and we too commit many self-centered actions for similar aggressive or defensive reasons.
In our present situation as human beings born into the era of degeneration, most of us have accumulated strong adverse imprints on our streams of consciousness and thus have many karmic debts to pay. We must recognize that all our faults and problems are actually within us. The principal cause of them is the ignorant self cherishing attitude that narrows our attention to only one person: our own self. When we feel uncomfortable from even a slight thirst or discomfort in the heat, our self-centered attitude desiring immediate relief from this annoyance leads us to crave a cold drink. Yet our self-cherishing attitude allows us time for only brief and comparatively unsympathetic thoughts for the numberless beings who have greater misfortunes than we.
The accumulation of karmic debts that we owe other beings can be terminated either through intensive meditation or by our own acceptance of the fruit of such debts. This last method is the easiest and is the technique taught in this text.
We should view any person who appears to be harming us as an intermediary who, in causing us difficulty, frees us from a more serious ripening of our past unskillful actions. In such situations those who harm us are, in reality, our benefactors. We should constantly remember their kindness in showing us, as our spiritual teacher does, that the burdens heaped on us are actually the results of our own actions. For instance, if we had a debt and our creditor told us that to cancel it we need take only a slap in the face, we would see this person as kind for letting us off lightly. In the same way, harms inflicted by others help us eliminate karmic debts that may otherwise ripen in more serious ways.
Therefore, the true object that we must recognize as our greatest enemy, deserving all the blame for any misery we may experience, is the self-cherishing attitude we hold within us. In addition, we should always remember the kindness of other beings, whatever their character may be. Whether they appear to be harming or aiding us, they are always assisting us in the elimination of accumulated karmic debts. Never think that this is merely a pleasing or euphemistic way of interpreting events, for this is the actual way things are.
All suffering, all sickness, loss of wealth, involvements with the law and so on, are without exception the result of clinging to the ‘I’. We should not blame anything on others. Even if some enemy were to come and cut our heads off or beat us with a stick, all he does is provide the momentary circumstance of injury. The real cause of our being harmed is our self-clinging.
A basis for ego-clinging has never at any time existed. We cling to our ‘I’, even when in fact there is nothing to cling to. We cling to it and cherish it. For its sake we bring harm to others, accumulating many negative actions, only to endure much suffering in samsara, in the lower realms, later on.
It is not possible to point to a moment and say, ‘This was when I started in samsara; this is how long I have been here.’ Without the boundless knowledge of a Buddha, it is impossible to calculate such an immense period of time.
Our minds which cling to the illusion of self, have brought forth misery in samsara from beginningless time. How does this come about? When we come across someone richer, more learned or with a better situation than ourselves, we think that they are showing off, and we are determined to do better. We are jealous, and want to cut them down to size. When those less fortunate than ourselves ask for help, we think, ‘What’s the point of helping a beggar like this? He will never be able to repay me. I just can’t be bothered with him.’ When we come across someone of equal status who has some wealth, we also want some. If they have fame we also want to be famous. If they have a good situation, we want a good situation. We always want to compete. This is why we are not free from samsara: it is this that creates the sufferings and harm which we imagine to be inflicted on us by spirits and other human beings.
The degree of self-clinging that we have is the measure of the harms we suffer. It is only if we really have the wish to put an end to the ego-clinging which has brought us pain and loss from beginningless time —it is only then that we will be on the path to enlightenment.