Exchanging ourselves and others

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Exchanging ourselves and others (Tib. བདག་གཞན་བརྗེ་བ་, dak shyen jewa, Wyl. bdag gzhan brje ba) - the practice of exchanging ourselves and others, which follows the practice of equalizing ourselves and others, was described by Nagarjuna in the Precious Garland and by Shantideva in chapter 8 of the Bodhicharyavatara. It is also taught in texts such as Patrul Rinpoche's Words of My Perfect Teacher, as part of the precepts of the bodhichitta in aspiration.


There are said to be four types of exchange:

  1. the exchange of the self-cherishing itself,
  2. the exchange of the body as the basis for the imputation of the self,
  3. the exchange of happiness and suffering, and
  4. the exchange of negative and positive actions,

The first three of these four are mentioned in Chapter 8 of the Bodhicharyavatara. The Precious Garland mentions the fourth when it says:

May their misdeeds ripen on me,
And all my virtues ripen on them.


Chökyi Drakpa wrote:

"Secondly, the way to meditate on exchanging self and others is to practise giving happiness and receiving suffering as you breathe in and out (the practice of tonglen). No matter what unwanted suffering comes your way, focus on wishing to take on the suffering of others as well. Train your mind in this practice, which is illustrated by the story of Daughter, and the Buddha pulling a wagon in the hell realm."

Special Method of Exchanging Ourselves and Others

The Bodhicharyavatara describes a special method of exchanging ourselves and others in which we put ourselves in the position of those who are lower than us, of a similar status and superior to us. We then cultivate feelings of envy, jealousy and proud indignation from their perspective towards ourselves.

Patrul Rinpoche says:

In the first meditation, the ‘other’ is someone in a position lower than ourselves, for whom we are someone of higher status. From the point of view of this less privileged other, we practise feeling envious of our superior selves. When we have finished the meditation, the following feeling will arise:
“Look how even in a practice like this, if I am the superior one and others are inferior, to feel envious causes such distress! What is the point of envying others?” With this, our envy will subside.
Similarly, there is a meditation of rivalry focusing on those of equal standing to ourselves. In this, we take the position of an ‘other’ of similar status to ourselves, and from their point of view consider ourselves as an opponent. Then, as the other, we cultivate an attitude of rivalry towards ourselves from every possible angle. When we let go of this meditation, the following feeling will arise:
“If considering myself as an enemy and imagining the malicious and competitive attitude of others causes such distress, then what is the point of wishing harm upon others and feeling rivalry?” With this, our rivalry will naturally be pacified.
Again, following the same principle, there is a practice of cultivating pride, in which we are in the position of an inferior, and the other is our superior. As the superior other, we cultivate feelings of pride based on our superior family, better education and so on. When we finish the meditation, we will think, “If considering the arrogance others feel towards me creates this much distress, then how can I feel arrogance towards others?” With this, our arrogance will be naturally pacified.[1]

A similar version of this practice is also described in Sakya Pandita's Elucidating the Sage's Intent.


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