In the teachings of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the great scholars and practitioners of the past and our gurus, and particularly in the following quotation from the Guru Puja, by the highly attained Losang Chökyi Gyaltsen, the Fourth Panchen Lama, we are strongly encouraged to cherish all sentient beings without exception.
"Cherishing ourselves is the doorway to all torment, While cherishing all sentient beings is the basis of all good qualities."
I'm not going to say much here about the shortcomings of self-cherishing. What I would briefly like to talk about here is the benefit of cherishing others.
If, for example, you renounce somebody who dislikes you and whom you dislike, if you don't cherish, if you give up on that person, there is no way you can attain enlightenment. If, on the other hand, you cherish that person, you can become enlightened.
Cherishing one sentient being, even a tiny insect, becomes the cause of success and happiness in this life. Not only that, it becomes the cause of the happiness of future lives. Moreover, through that merit, you can also achieve the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara. And finally, by cherishing that one sentient being, you can achieve the entire Mahayana path--all the realizations of the paths and levels of both Paramitayana and Vajrayana. You can achieve all the qualities of Dharma and Sangha, and all the infinite qualities of Buddha's holy body, speech and mind as well. You can achieve omniscient mind and the perfect power to free all living beings from all suffering and its causes and to bring them to the ultimate happiness of enlightenment. You can do perfect work for each sentient being. You can achieve all this by cherishing one sentient being--one person or even one insect.
Thus, cherishing others opens the door to infinite good qualities, while cherishing yourself opens the door to all suffering and creates obstacles to achieving all the qualities I have just mentioned.
It makes a huge difference. If you don't cherish this one person or animal, you don't achieve all these great qualities. You miss out on all these things up to enlightenment and bringing each sentient being to enlightenment. If you cherish that one being, however, you gain infinite qualities. Therefore, a person who is angry with you and who complains about and criticizes you is extremely valuable.
Even the whole sky filled with diamonds, dollars or even wish-granting jewels is nothing compared to the value of this one person. The benefit that this one living being can bring to your life is unbelievable. The value of all that material wealth is nothing by comparison. By cherishing this one living being, you can achieve the infinite great qualities you need to liberate every sentient being from suffering and bring them to enlightenment. This one sentient being is unbelievably precious; inexpressibly precious. This person is extremely important in your life. The person who doesn't love you, who is angry with you, who has done evil things, the one you consider to be an enemy is so precious; he or she becomes the most important person in your life.
How is this so? All your temporary and ultimate happiness of the past, present, and future derives from good karma. You have been able to create this good karma through having received Dharma teachings. Dharma teachings come from Buddha. Therefore, the good karma you create is the action of Buddha. Buddha comes from bodhisattva; bodhisattva comes from bodhicitta; bodhicitta comes from great compassion; and great compassion is generated in dependence upon each and every suffering sentient being, without exception. Therefore, great compassion is also generated in dependence upon this person you don't like; the one you label "enemy." Thus, this person is the source of all your past, present, and future happiness and, therefore, unbelievably precious.
Cherishing yourself is the source of all torment; it opens the door to all suffering. Now, who do you consider more important--yourself or this one sentient being who is angry with you and criticizes you? Who is more important? Who is more precious? Since cherishing yourself is the source of all suffering, all obstacles, there's no comparison. You are nothing. Since you are the source of all suffering, you are the object to be renounced forever; and this one sentient being is the object to be cherished forever. Since cherishing this sentient being opens the door to all happiness, to all good qualities, there is a huge difference between cherishing this sentient being and cherishing yourself.
Since cherishing just one sentient being opens the door to all happiness and good qualities, one sentient being is an object to be cherished forever and that which is called "I" is something to be renounced forever. We should first understand this clearly.
Now, consider ten people. They are greater in number, but each one, like the one person we have just discussed, is very precious. Therefore, ten people are that much more important and precious than you. Now consider one hundred thousand people. Because of their number, they are much more precious than the one person and the ten, so it's clearly obvious that they are much more precious than you. Thus, when you think about it, numberless sentient beings become unbelievably precious. Not only is each one precious individually; all together, they are incalculably important and precious.
What is called "I" becomes nothing, completely insignificant, when compared to the numberless others. No matter how many problems you have, those problems are nothing. Even if you have attained nirvana--liberation from samsara--it's not that much to be excited about because you are just one person.
To make practical use of this understanding, you can use it as a basis for generating bodhicitta. For example, if you are about to engage in a Dharma practice, you can think as follows:
"In my life, there is nobody to cherish, nobody to be concerned about, other than sentient beings; there is nobody to work for other than sentient beings. Any work other than that for sentient beings is meaningless, empty. Now, what sentient beings want is happiness; what they do not want is suffering. And the happiness they want is the greatest, longest-lasting happiness--the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. So, even if they are not aware of it, sentient beings need to achieve enlightenment. Since, in my life, there is nobody to work for other than sentient beings, I must work to free all sentient beings from all suffering and its cause and lead them to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. Therefore, I must achieve full enlightenment; I can't lead others to enlightenment without first attaining it myself. Therefore, I am going to [here mention the practice you are about to do] in order to reach enlightenment for the sole purpose of enlightening all sentient beings."
This is the way to get the most meaning out of your life.