Becoming Bodhisattva

For bodhisattvas, all aspects of life, including the fate of humanity, live within.

“You could define a bodhisattva as one who acts as a true adult,” explains Kosho Uchiyama*. “That is, most people in the world act like children. The word dainin means ‘true adult’ or ‘bodhisattva’. Today most people who are called adults are only pseudo adults. Physically they grow up and become adult but spiritually too many people never mature to adulthood. They don’t behave as adults in their daily lives. A bodhisattva is one who sees the world through adult eyes and whose actions are the actions of a true adult. That is really what a bodhisattva is.”

For aspirant bodhisattvas here are some wisdom pearls by honoured teachers.

Maitri (loving kindness) and generosity
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Many Mahayana scriptures speak of inviting all sentient beings as our guests. When we invite a guest, we have a sense of the importance of that relationship. Guests are usually fed specially cooked food and receive extra hospitality. The life of a bodhisattva is relating with all sentient beings as guests. The bodhisattva invites everyone as a guest, constantly offering a feast.

Inviting all sentient beings as our guests is the starting point of applying compassion in the Mahayana. By viewing sentient beings as guests, the bodhisattva has a constant sense of the impermanence of the relationship, because eventually all guests leave. So we view the time with our guests as precious. There is a sense of the preciousness and the impermanence of the relationship. Our guest may be our husband, our wife, or our child – everybody is a guest of everybody, constantly. On a day-to-day level, all relationships for a bodhisattva are based on relating with guests.

Compassion is a combination of maitri, or loving-kindness, and generosity. It is a journey outward, a journey of communication. On one level, compassion is feeling friendly toward ourselves. On another level it is experiencing a sense of richness, that we can expand the warmth we feel toward ourselves to other sentient beings.

It is said in the scriptures that, just as fish cannot live without water, compassion cannot develop without egolessness and without the experience of emptiness, or shunyata. It may seem that this view of compassion is somewhat abstract, but in fact it is the heart of the practice of meditation in action. The presence of compassion is experienced as a sudden glimpse, a sense of clarity and warmth simultaneously. According to the scriptures, that glimpse, if you analyse it, takes one-sixtieth of a second. It is so fast and so sharp. The sharpness is the intelligence of the compassion. Compassion also means being open and communicative. It contains warmth.

So, first there is maitri, trusting in the heart.

Second, there is a gap in which you experience the openness of tathagatagarbha, or Buddha nature.

Third, there is a sense of communication – having already woken up at that level, there is a sense of freedom to expand and to relate with your actions, whatever you are doing. That seems to be how to develop compassion.

The love for one becomes love for all
Thich Nhat Hanh

More than anything else, we want to love and be loved. Why do we find it so difficult to love?
Thich Nhat Hanh answers this age-old question
“Love is the capacity to take care, to protect and to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself, it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teaching, it’s clear that to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice.”

Why don’t we love ourselves?
We may have a habit within ourselves of looking for happiness elsewhere than in the here and the now. We may lack the capacity to realise that happiness is possible in the here and now, that we already have enough conditions to be happy right now. To go home to the present moment, to take care of oneself, to get in touch with the wonders of life that are really available – that is already love. Love is to be kind to yourself, to be compassionate to yourself, to generate images of joy and to look at everyone with eyes of equanimity and non-discrimination.As you progress on the path of insight into non-self, the happiness brought to you by love will increase. When people love each other, the distinction, the limits, the frontier between them begins to dissolve and they become one with the person they love. There’s no longer any jealousy or anger because, if they are angry at the other person, they are angry at themselves. That is why non-self is not a theory, a doctrine, or an ideology, but a realisation that can bring about a lot of happiness.

Engender compassion that cannot bear suffering
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Seventeenth Karampa

Our compassion must have a broad focus, including not only ourselves and those close to us but all sentient beings. All beings want to be happy and free of suffering, yet most sentient beings experience only suffering and cannot obtain happiness. Just as we have a desire to clear away the suffering in our own experience and to enjoy happiness, we come to see, through meditating on compassion, that all other beings have this desire as well.

When we practice, we must bring our meditation on compassion to the deepest level possible. We must reflect on the intense suffering of sentient beings in all six realms of samsara. Reflecting on our connection to these beings, we must engender a compassion that cannot bear their suffering any longer.

This great, unbearable compassion is extremely important. Without it, we might feel a compassionate sensation in our minds from time to time, but this will not bring forth the full power of compassion. But when we witness with unbearable compassion the suffering of sentient beings, we immediately seek out ways to free them from that suffering. We are unfazed by complications and doubts; our actions for the benefit of others are effortless and free from doubt.

To make our compassion strong, we need the path. We already have compassion, wisdom, and many other positive qualities, yet our mental afflictions are stronger than these most of the time. It is as if the afflictions have locked all of our positive qualities away in a box.
One day, when we open that box and all of our good qualities spring forth, we will not have to go looking for our compassion. We will discover that compassion is present in our minds spontaneously and a wealth of excellent qualities will become available to us.

You deserve love and compassion too; you cannot pour from an empty vessel.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete,” says The Buddha.
We cannot recognise love in others unless we have it for ourselves. It allows us something genuine to share with the world and, when you believe you are worthy, your life will reflect it. Self-compassion was emphasised often in Buddhist teachings and can lead us to the steps we need to take towards loving ourselves in a natural, organic and healthy way. 

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection,” teaches the Buddha.Too many of us direct unkind and harsh accusations at ourselves, we stand in judgment of ourselves with words and thoughts we would never direct toward another, knowing the harm it would do!  The path of compassion in becoming bodhisattva does not rescue every being and lessen every hardship in the world. This path is walked one step at a time and each of these steps lessens the suffering of the world and all people.

Take one more piece of advice from The Buddha on the path to becoming bodhisattva:
You cannot travel on the path until you become the path itself.”
To give and receive love we must become aware of our true loving nature. We are already complete and enough just as we are. Meditate to dissolve the walls of disdain and to open and expand our heart space. Go within by meditating daily to bypass the labels, judgments and fears and touch that source of true happiness, peace, serenity and harmony found in true love of the self and all humanity.

All love Ed.

* Kosho Uchiyama was a Sōtō priest, origami master and abbot of Antai-ji near Kyoto, Japan. Uchiyama was author of more than 20 books on Zen Buddhism and origami.

Image: Funaoka Peace Kannon (Guanyin Bodhisattva ), on the mountaintop of Funaoka Castle Ruin Park, Shibata, Miyagi, Japan.

Debra Robins

Savvy and insightful corporate jungle escapee, wordsmith, author, publisher and magazine editor, Debra is passionate about upliftment through the power of the written word. Former natural healer, teacher and healing academy principal Debra blends together extensive expertise in wellness, both in the corporate and personal contexts, as well as over 25 years’ experience in driving and delivering corporate wellness initiatives for local and global corporations. Student of law and corporate consultant by trade, naturopathic practitioner by design and magazine editor by choice. Debra is honoured to be the custodian of Odyssey

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