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Excerpt from the Introduction

New book!
Appearing and Empty

Volume 9 of The Library of Wisdom and Compassion

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and
Ven. Thubten Chodron

Wisdom Publications

In the Nālandā tradition, we emphasize reason and logic, and such analysis can help us cultivate compassion in meditation. One way to do this is to contemplate the disadvantages of the self-centered attitude—self-centeredness makes us sensitive to small slights; we interpret everything, even the smallest glance or mumbled words, in terms of ourselves; we become blind to the experiences of those around us, not recognizing that our indifference toward them leads to inequality in so many areas of life.

When others believe their well-being is discounted, they become unhappy, and their unhappiness adversely influences us too. Being around unhappy people, be they friends, enemies, or strangers, makes us unhappy too.

Therefore I meditate on compassion and altruism, which are the opposite of self-preoccupation. When I wake up in morning, I recite a verse from Engaging in the Bodhisattvas’ Deeds by the eighth-century Indian sage Śāntideva (BCA 10.55):

For as long as space endures
and for as long as living beings remain,
until then may I, too, abide
to dispel the misery of the world.

In addition, I also investigate: Where is the I? Am I my body or my mind? I’m not either of those. Even the Buddha wasn’t his body, speech, or mind, so where is the Buddha? This investigation leads us to conclude that the feeling of a solid I—something that is inherently and really me—has no basis.

The I exists—it is merely designated by term and concept—but we can’t isolate exactly what it is separate from our bodies and minds. Thinking like this helps to reduce the strong thought of self.

People and other phenomena seem to be objective entities “out there” that are not related to our minds. They don’t seem to depend on their causes or their parts—they are just “there.” But if we investigate and try to find what they really are, there’s nothing there; it is all mental fabrication. Buddhist philosophy and quantum physics are similar in this regard: nothing exists independent of our minds.

Because things appear to be objectively existent entities, we grasp them to exist as such. Someone appears kind to us and we think they are an inherently existent friend. Another person says something we don’t like and we designate them as a disagreeable person and think they will always be like that.

All the strangers around us don’t influence us one way or the other, so we navigate our way around them and forget that they have feelings. But if we investigate exactly who the friend or enemy is, we can’t find them in their body, speech, or mind. They don’t exist as self-enclosed permanent entities.