In this post I want to talk more about the Tibetan Eight Verses for Training the Heart. As I discussed the first verse in my last post, I’d like to talk now about the second verse (Fyi, I’m borrowing the Dalai Lama’s translation):
Whenever I interact with someone,
May I view myself as the lowest amongst all,
And, from the very depths of my heart,
Respectfully hold others as superior.
So this is a tough verse for westerners, who have been trained to beat themselves up for perceived psychological faults. The Tibetans have no word for “guilt,” but they do have a word for regret. The difference is the former is active and the latter is passive. “Guilt” implies that you are a bad person. The upside and downside of being a bad person is that you do not have to change. A “bad” person is bad by nature, so how could they change?
Un/fortunately for Buddhists, we do not accept a self-nature to person. No person has a nature of being anything, much less “bad.” So there is no such thing as a bad person; people can do bad things. So if I do something bad, then I regret it, which means that I won’t do it again. The upside is you can change, the downside it is hard work.
So how do we do it? From the very depths of my heart, I will hold others as higher than myself. What does this really mean though? That I have to kowtow to every person I meet? Not really; the point is that everyone you meet has something that they can teach you.
When I was in high school (Walnut Hills), all I wanted was to be a veterinarian. I loved working with dogs; I though what could be better than to help sick dogs and cats? But one day, towards the end of my senior year, I was talking to my senior high school English teacher–Mrs. Draper–and she looked at me and asked me what I was going to be my major in college. I said pre-vet. She looked down for a moment–I can still see her face in my mind–and looked up at me and said, “You should think about being an English major.”
Two years later I had quit pre-vet (I volunteered working with some vets and realized it wasn’t exactly what I imagined it to be) and was an English major. I wrote an undergraduate thesis on Shakespeare, and it has been a big part of what I enjoy in life (I’m finishing my Masters degree in Shakespeare and Theatre this summer). So the question is, how does this work?
Well, if you’re open to learning from everyone you meet, then the possibilities for you to learn meaningful lessons is around you all the time. The metaphor of the cup here applies; if your cup is already full, no one can put anything else in. But if you keep your cup empty, then when you meet someone they can put something new in your cup.
So it’s really not about establishing some kind of hierarchy where I’m on the bottom so people can abuse me. The idea is that if I can keep my pride out of the way, everyone has something to give me, that I can benefit from. But you won’t be able to if you think you’re better than the people around you, or if you think they owe you something.
I teach to learn myself; I was teaching in Sacramento and Santa Cruz last week, and I remember at least twice when I said, “I don’t know; I never thought about that before.” If you teach, or if you have kids, try to keep an open mind about whether you’re teaching them or they’re teaching you; you might be surprised what you learn.