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#862334 - 04/22/14 10:53 AM The Way of the Bodhisattva
Lisa - Buddhism Offline

BellaOnline Editor
Chipmunk

Registered: 12/16/08
Posts: 1201
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
This thread is a step by step look at Shantideva's The Way of the Bodhisattva. I am kicking off this ongoing study of this text with an article providing an overview of the book:

The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva

As I mention in this article, this is a classic text of Mahayana Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama has said, "If I have any understanding of compassion and the bodhisattva path, it all comes from studying this text."

I hope to use this thread to explore this teaching in more detail, with select passages. I'll move through in order, so I'll begin in a couple of days with a passage from the first chapter. I hope you will follow along with me!
_________________________
Lisa Erickson, Buddhism Editor
Buddhism Site
Teaching and Private Session Website: Enlightened Energetics
Blog: Mommy Mystic

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#862458 - 04/23/14 07:15 PM Re: The Way of the Bodhisattva [Re: Lisa - Buddhism]
Lisa - Buddhism Offline

BellaOnline Editor
Chipmunk

Registered: 12/16/08
Posts: 1201
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
In the first chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva spends most of the time describing the tremendous value, beauty, and power of bodhicitta, or awakened mind, comparing it to a lightening bolt in a dark night (I included this verse in the article linked to in the first post above.) A lot of this chapter is motivational, urging readers to take up the path.

He also describes the difference between 2 types of bodhicitta, 'bodhicitta in intention' and 'active bodhicitta':

"From bodhicitta in intention
Great results arise for those still turning in the wheel of life;
Yet merit does not rise from it in ceaseless streams
As is the case with active bodhicitta.

"For when, with irreversible intent,
The mind embraces bodhicitta,
Willing to set free the endless multitudes of beings,
In that instant, from that moment on,

"A great and unremitting stream,
A strength of wholesome merit,
Even during sleep and inattention,
Rises equal to the vastness of the sky."

I think one way to think about this is that bodhicitta in intention is when we engage in virtuous and giving acts in our lives - when we choose to act in this way. It also includes the mental training that corresponds to this - the attempt to weed our mind of egocentric, selfish and angry thoughts, and replace them with virtuous ones, or with meditative practice. It really includes all kinds of practice, anything that requires effort on our part - mindfulness, meditation, ethical behavior, etc. When we make the effort to align our thoughts and actions with bodhicitta, we accrue merit, or create a momentum of that energy in our lives.

In active bodhicitta, we have reached the point where we truly feel the desire to work for the awakening of all beings, out of our deep compassion and sense of connection. Then our thoughts and actions are naturally in alignment with bodhicitta, it is no longer something we need to force. There is a ceaseless flow of awakened attention, pulling us deeper a long our own path to awakening.

I think we can swing between these two states also. We can feel as if we have reached a place of almost effortless bodhicitta, when we have a powerful spiritual insight, are on retreat, or come to a certain place in our practice. But then some new karma from deep in our mind may surface, and challenge us once again, causing negative or ego-based thoughts to arise once again. Then we are back to effort and diligence once again, to practice through this phase.
_________________________
Lisa Erickson, Buddhism Editor
Buddhism Site
Teaching and Private Session Website: Enlightened Energetics
Blog: Mommy Mystic

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#863200 - 05/06/14 03:30 PM Re: The Way of the Bodhisattva [Re: Lisa - Buddhism]
Lisa - Buddhism Offline

BellaOnline Editor
Chipmunk

Registered: 12/16/08
Posts: 1201
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
The title of the second chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva is translated as 'Confession' in this edition, and I admit it caught me a bit offguard the first time I read it, as it could be part of a medieval Catholic text. In it, Shantideva is essentially repeating over and over how 'evil' and 'sinful' he has been, how many wrong acts he has committed, how foolish he has been, and vowing from this day forward to follow the dharma. He is beseeching the teachers of the dharma, Buddha and other bodhisattvas/teachers, to accept him as a dharma practitioner, and to help him mend his ways.

There aren't many Buddhist texts in my experience that use the term 'sin' (and of course this is a translation, so I'm not sure of the original word), or that have this tone of confession. This is because Buddhism tends to be much more about looking at whatever arises non-judgmentally, with equanimity, and moving forward. Although there are purification practices in many traditions, designed to help us clear old karmas, the emphasis isn't really on asking for forgiveness as it is in Christianity, because there is no supreme deity to ask forgiveness of. The emphasis is more on bringing about personal change. And in this chapter, Shantideva does almost sound as if he is berating himself for his past mistakes, and asking for forgiveness of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

I think for me, it's important to view this chapter in the context of the entire book. I've come to view this book as a how-to book, and in that sense it is taking us as the reader through a process. This second chapter in the book represents the point in the process where we get in touch with our motivation. Shantideva is really trying to get us to tap into the motivation we need to change. As we know, it takes a lot of motivation to really change.

So in that context, here's a typical section, in which Shantideva contemplates his death bed scene:

"There I'll be, prostrate upon my bed,
And all around, my family and friends.
But I alone shall be the one to feel
The cutting of the thread of life.

And when the heralds of the Deadly King have gripped me,
What help to me will be my friends and kin?
For then life's virtue is my one defense,
And this, alas, is what I shrugged away.

O protectors! I, so little heeding,
Hardly guessed at horror such as this-
And all for this brief, transient existence,
I have done so many evil things.'
(Chapter 2 passages 40, 41, 42)

Then later in passages 47 and 48:

"Thus, from this day forward I take refuge
In the Buddhas, guardians of beings,
Who labor to protect all wanderers,
Those mighty ones who scatter every fear.

And in the Dharma they have realized in their hearts,
Which drives away the terrors of samsara,
And in all the host of Bodhisattvas
Likewise I will perfectly take refuge."
_________________________
Lisa Erickson, Buddhism Editor
Buddhism Site
Teaching and Private Session Website: Enlightened Energetics
Blog: Mommy Mystic

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#863907 - 05/15/14 05:53 PM Re: The Way of the Bodhisattva [Re: Lisa - Buddhism]
Lisa - Buddhism Offline

BellaOnline Editor
Chipmunk

Registered: 12/16/08
Posts: 1201
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
I was reflecting on this more and I think another purpose of this chapter, within the context of the entire process/practice the book takes us through, is taking personal responsibility. Through listing all of his past mistakes, Shantideva takes full responsibility for the state of his own life and awareness. This taking of responsibility is central to Buddhist practice. And I think really this is the heart of all true atonement. It is not meant to be self-deprecating or punitive (although all too often it may tip into that). It is really about taking responsibility.
_________________________
Lisa Erickson, Buddhism Editor
Buddhism Site
Teaching and Private Session Website: Enlightened Energetics
Blog: Mommy Mystic

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#866653 - 06/14/14 10:33 AM Re: The Way of the Bodhisattva [Re: Lisa - Buddhism]
Lisa - Buddhism Offline

BellaOnline Editor
Chipmunk

Registered: 12/16/08
Posts: 1201
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
It was Tibetan Saga Dawa yesterday, the holiest day of the year in Tibetan Buddhism, celebrating the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and entry into nirvana at death. It is an especially auspicious day to take the Boddhisattva vow - the vow to work for the enlightenment of all beings, even forgoing one's own enlightenment in the process. This vow is really at the heart of Mahayana Buddhism, which includes Tibetan Buddhism.

It isn't simply a matter of martyrdom but about truly realizing the innerconnectedness of all beings, and knowing that our own welfare is not simply linked to the welfare of others, but IS the welfare of others - they cannot be separated. Then when we act on behalf of others, we do not experience it as a sacrifice, or even as a giving away, but as a beautiful opening and receiving - an expansiveness of ourselves outwards to include all beings. I hesitate to use the word 'love' because you do not find this word often in Buddhist texts, and in our current culture the word love is usually used to talk about the emotions we feel for particular people in our lives. Those feelings are contained within this expansiveness I think, but bodhicitta is really much more.

Here is part of how the Boddhisattva vow is expressed in the Way of the Boddhisattva:

"For all those ailing in the world,
Until their sickness has been healed,
May I myself become for them
The doctor, nurse, the medicine itself.

Raining down a flood of food and drink,
May I dispel the ills of thirst and famine.
And in the aeons marked by scarcity and want,
May I myself appear as drink and sustenance.

For sentient beings, poor and destitute,
May I become a treasure ever plentiful,
And lie before them closely in their reach,
A varied source of all that they might need.

My body, thus, and all my goods besides,
And all my merits gained and to be gained,
I give them all and do not count the cost,
To bring about the benefit of beings."

- The Way of the Boddhisattva (Shambhala edition), Chapter 3, passages 8-11
_________________________
Lisa Erickson, Buddhism Editor
Buddhism Site
Teaching and Private Session Website: Enlightened Energetics
Blog: Mommy Mystic

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#876961 - 09/08/14 10:56 AM Re: The Way of the Bodhisattva [Re: Lisa - Buddhism]
Lisa - Buddhism Offline

BellaOnline Editor
Chipmunk

Registered: 12/16/08
Posts: 1201
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
The fourth chapter in the Way of the Boddhisattva is called 'Carefulness' in this translation, and it is really about dealing with 'defilements' within the mind - all thoughts and emotions that arise from ego-grasping. Shantideva discusses karma quite a bit, and how thinking negative thoughts about others harms us, bringing our own state of attention, and thus our karma, down. He affirms his own vow to instead focus on the Boddhisattva vow, the vow to work for the liberation of all beings. He talks about the inherit 'craziness' of this vow:

"When I pledged myself to free from their afflictions
Beings who abide in every region,
Stretching to the limits of the sky,
I was myself not free from such defilements."

"To speak like that, not knowing my capacity,
Were these not, truly, but a madman's words?
More reason then for never drawing back
Abandoning the fight against defiled affliction."
[passages 41 and 42 in Chapter 4]

He continues with his passionate commitment to drive all defilements from his mind, even as he doubts his capacity, noting that certain thoughts return to him again and again. He says 'But oh, my mind is feeble, I am indolent!' [passage 46]

Finally, in the final passage, he cuts through this, noting the 'mirage- like' nature of all thoughts, including his afflicted ones:

"Defilements are not in the object,
Nor within the faculties, nor somewhere in between.
And if not elsewhere, where is their abode,
Whence they inflict their havoc on the world?
They are simple mirages, and so take heart!
Banish all your fear and strive to know their nature.
Why suffer needlessly the pains of hell?" [passage 47]

This is where he begins to connect practice with the Boddhisattva vow, and the rest of the book continues more along these lines, with descriptions of how we may cut through our afflicted mind patterns through meditation and inquiry.

One other note - 'hell' comes up a lot in this book, so I thought I should clarify that term. All states of existence are really taught on 2 levels in Buddhism. There are states of existence (usually 6 that I am familiar with, but sometimes more or less) and on the surface they are presented as places - planes of existence that beings can incarnate on. 'Hell' refers to the lower planes of existence, and this is where dark states of mind transport us too.

However, all talk of states of existence, heavens or hells, can also be seen as states we experience in this lifetime. So Shantideva's point in this chapter is really that when we allow negative mind-states to overtake us, when we are mired in judgment, anger, hatred etc., we are ourselves brought to a hell state - in this life. That is the most immediate and direct form of karma - how the momentum of afflicted states can overtake us when left unchecked. So this is really what the bodhisattva vow and practice are meant to help us cut through.
_________________________
Lisa Erickson, Buddhism Editor
Buddhism Site
Teaching and Private Session Website: Enlightened Energetics
Blog: Mommy Mystic

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