But as I explain in my posts, “It’s No Crime to Think About Oneself” and “The Misleading Teaching of No Self,” selflessness, offering joy to others, is not inconsistent with thinking about oneself. It is the attachment to oneself, it is the preoccupation with oneself, with the ego, which is the problem for it results in cravings. The Buddha taught that we should be free of the ego, which is what we commonly think of as being one’s self. He taught that the ego is “not self.” He did not teach that there is no self.
Bottom line, there is no conflict between doing things that you feel are needed for yourself, to take care of yourself, and being there for others, being self-less, practicing bodhichitta. The point is not to do things for others because of what’s in it for oneself, which is what many people in our culture do, but to do it for the joy of helping others and offering them joy, because of our compassion for others.
I realized in a recent meditation that we benefit from selflessly offering joy to others in at least three ways. The first is what is traditionally taught. That by offering others joy, we experience joy. All of us have experienced the truth of that teaching … when we offer joy to someone in a selfless manner, our heart feels warm and joyful regardless of how that offer is received.
The next way is also traditionally taught, but I had never experienced until recently. By offering joy to others selflessly, our ego-centricity is lessened and because of that we experience a lightness of spirit. After having been exposed more deeply to the Tibetan lojong and practice of bodhichitta, I have found that practicing my newly acquired intent to have compassion for others and offer everyone I come into contact with joy throughout the day actually does result in a palpable lessening of egocentric thought and a corresponding increase in a warm feeling of well-being and lightness of spirit.
The third way is something that I have not read or heard. If we are in a deep, loving relationship, one of the ways in which we bring joy to the other person is being happy ourselves. For the same reason as their happiness brings joy to us.
Thus we become aware that it is important as part of our practice of bodhicitta to bring happiness to ourselves, not by doing what the mind tells us to do to achieve happiness (which only brings suffering and frustration), but to do what our heart tells us to do. This becomes a powerful motivator to go within ourselves and seek guidance from our heart and to say “no” to the urgings of our mind.
In this way, just as anger and negative emotions rise to an ever increasing level as described in my post, “Desire - The Gerbil Trap,” joy and happiness will rise to an ever increasing level through the synergistic impact of our intent to practice bodhicitta.