Each of us is only one individual in a universe filled with countless living beings, all seeking happiness like ourselves. The sheer magnitude of countless beings, as opposed to merely one, indicates that the welfare of others is vastly more important than our own. Thus, to live in accord with that reality would mean cherishing others far more than oneself. This is often the attitude of a mother towards her child. If the child suffers, she feels this even more strongly than if it were her own pain. And likewise, if the child is content, its mother is delighted. This is so because she cherishes her child even more than herself. Her ability to cherish others more than herself is limited to her relationship with her child, whereas our task is to extend this attitude to all beings.
After accustoming ourselves somewhat to cherishing others more than ourselves, we give special emphasis to the meditation 'taking and giving'. This meditation is begun by imagining our self-cherishing attitude in the form of a black spot at our heart. Around us we visualize all beings living in the six realms of existence appearing either in their own form or in that of human beings. Then we cultivate the wish to free all creatures from the misery they experience. Breathing in slowly through the nostrils, we imagine the mental and physical suffering of all beings entering our body in the form of rays of black light. These are absorbed into the black spot of self-cherishing at the heart. Simultaneously, we imagine the suffering of these beings to be drawn away from them to the black spot, and being borne by our self-cherishing, Then by meditating on the way in which living beings seek but do not find lasting happiness, we cultivate the wish to give them our own happiness. We then visualize all our mental imprints from wholesome actions as appearing in the form of radiant white rays of light. As we exhale, these spread forth to countless living beings. As these rays strike them, we imagine them to be filled with mental and physical bliss. It is vital to develop the power of clear visualization before practising this meditation in co-ordination with the breath.
Next we reflect upon the lack of material happiness of living beings and their desire for material comfort. Wishing to relieve their poverty and to fulfil their desires, we once again inhale their misery and exhale the white light of loving kindness to satisfy their needs. Recognizing that the suffering of all living beings is due to their ignorance of Dharma, we inhale the darkness of their ignorance and emit wisdom in the form of white light.
One may doubt the effectiveness of such meditation, since we are relieving the suffering of others only in our imagination. Nevertheless, it is a very good means for destroying our self-cherishing attitude and cultivating an awakening mind. By doing so, we will be much more effective in actually relieving the misery of others. While we are still dominated by selfishness, our desire to serve others is severely restricted, which naturally limits our ability to give them happiness. It may be more helpful to begin this meditation by thinking of only one other person, perhaps a sick friend. We may sit with him, and quietly engage in this meditation of accepting his suffering and giving him our joy. We may then follow the same contemplation in relation to a group of people, a community, a race and so on, gradually increasing the scope of our concern. The primary purpose of this meditation is not to transfer the sufferings of others directly to ourselves, but to cultivate an awakening mind. As the misery of others, in the form of black light, is absorbed into the black spot at our heart with each inhalation, we imagine this spot to decrease in size and finally vanish like a dark cloud into space. At the conclusion of the meditation, we imagine all beings to be filled with happiness.
Rising from meditation, we see that the happiness of living beings which we imagined does not correspond with their present condition. We reflect upon the innumerable ways in which others have served us, both materially and in terms of our spiritual development, and generate the wish to repay this kindness. How may we best serve them? - by delivering them from suffering and guiding them to a lasting state of joy. Throughout our present life, and in countless former lives, we have received the care of innumerable sentient beings. Now is the time for taking upon ourselves the responsibility of repaying this kindness, rather than leaving it for someone else to do. We should think of others looking to us with hope to guide them through their difficulties; and in response we should each shoulder this burden singlehandedly. . . .
Our minds are endowed with the potential to become omniscient. This potential has not been made manifest because it is veiled by mental distortions and obscurations, like the sun hidden behind the clouds. Were these obscurations to be completely dispelled, we would become Buddhas. The mind of a Buddha penetrates all that exists, his compassion is boundless and reaches out to all beings without distinction. And it is his compassion which motivates a Buddha to act unceasingly for the welfare of sentient beings. Although this power of a Buddha is limitless, sentient beings are able to receive this help only if they are receptive to it. The sun's rays, although radiating in all directions, cannot shine into a pot turned upside down.
Through reflecting upon the qualities of a Buddha, recognizing that we have the ability to attain such a state of being, and wishing to serve others in the most effective way, there arises the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all creatures. This state of mind is called an 'awakening mind'. To generate this wish once does not mean that one has developed such a mind, or that one has become a Bodhisattva. Rather, after many years of sustained practice, when this aspiration arises spontaneously, one becomes a Bodhisattva and enters the first of the five Mahayana paths. We must not be satisfied with this attainment alone; for this motivation means that we must strive without respite until the ultimate state of enlightenment has been reached. All phenomena are empty of any inherent nature or identity, and this is precisely why our minds can be brought to enlightenment. All that is required to bring about this transformation is the skilful, sustained practice of Dharma; and this is all that concerns a Bodhisattva day and night.