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Exchanging Self with Others

Since cherishing myself is the door to all faults
And cherishing mother beings is the foundation of all good qualities,
I seek your blessings to take as my essential practice
The yoga of exchanging self with others.

These two verses summarize the actual practice of exchanging self with others. Buddhas have attained enlightenment by abandoning self-cherishing and cherishing only others, and so they are able to work continuously for others. Samsaric beings on the other hand are like children because they are concerned only with their own welfare, and as a result they remain trapped within samsara. Since beginningless time we have taken countless rebirths in samsara because of our self-cherishing, but the Buddhas have given up self-cherishing and attained enlightenment. The only difference between us and them is that we cling to self-cherishing whereas they have abandoned it.
Buddhas have not always been Buddhas. At one time they were just like us, but they took on the responsibility of working for others and freed themselves from samsara whereas we remain trapped by our self-concern. As Shantideva says:

But what need is there to say more?
The childish work for their own benefit,
The Buddhas work for the benefit of others.
Just look at the difference between them!

At one time a Yogi called Drugpa Kunleg went to Lhasa to pay homage to a statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. Upon arriv-ing in front of the statue he prostrated to it, exclaiming:

O Buddha, to begin with you and I were exactly the same,
But later you attained Buddhahood through the force of your effort,Whereas due to my laziness I remain in samsara;
So now I must prostrate to you.

Again and again we need to contemplate how selfcherishing is the door to all faults, and generate a determination to abandon it; and again and again we need to contemplate how cherishing others is the source of all good qualities, and generate a determination to practise it. By meditating on these two determinations for a long time and carrying them in our heart throughout the meditation break, we will naturally come to cherish others more than ourself.

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All quotations from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's books copyright The New Kadampa Tradition - International Buddhist Union, all rights reserved worldwide. For more information on Geshe Kelsang's books visit Tharpa Publications.