Protecting And Maintaining Bodhicitta: from “The Way of the Bodhisattva”

The following is respectfully quoted from “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva as translated by the Padmakara Translation Group and published by Shambhala:

Protecting And Maintaining Bodhichitta:

That the original resolve of bodhichitta needs consolidation becomes evident from the very first stanzas of chapter 4, where Shāntideva takes stock of what he has just done and begins to count the cost. The undertaking to which he has committed himself in a moment of optimistic zeal is devastating. Hesitation is understandable. However, in view of the alternatives, and in order to stiffen his resolve, Shāntideva embarks on a graphic description of the dreadful consequences of retraction. As alway, the aim is pedagogical. Shāntideva is no tub-thumping preacher content merely to terrorize his listeners. The situation as he describes it is certainly grim, but he shows the way out and in so doing plots out a scheme of mental training that, for its spiritual profundity and psychological acuity, has rarely been equaled and surely never surpassed anywhere or at any time in the history of the world’s religions.

The first message is that, however immense the goal may seem, it is possible–provided that we want it and make the necessary effort. We can learn to be free and to become buddhas. Moreover, Shāntideva points out that having attained a human existence, we are at a crossroads; we have reached a critical point. According to Buddhism, human life, at once so precious and so fragile, is the existential opportunity par excellence. Of all forms of existence, it is the only one in which development along a spiritual trajectory is truly possible. And yet the occasion is easily, in fact habitually, squandered in trivial pursuits. Time passes and we “measure our lives in coffee spoons.” Perceiving the nature of the opportunity, and realizing how it is slipping through his fingers, Shāntideva responds with almost a note of panic.

For it’s as if by chance that I have gained
This state so hard to find, wherein to help myself.
And now, when freedom–power of choice–is mine,
If once again I’m led away to hell,

I am as if benumbed by sorcery,
My mind reduced to total impotence
With no perception of the madness overwhelming me.
O what it is that has me in its grip? (4.26-27)

This situation is certainly perilous, but what is it that constitutes the danger? It is the kleshas, defiled emotions: “Anger, lust–these enemies of mine.” These are the roots of sorrow, to which every suffering be it on a personal or cosmic scale, can ultimately be traced. And yet the kleshas, however terrible they may be in their effects, are nothing more than thoughts: intangible, fleeting mental states. To become aware of this fact, and to see therefore that our destiny lies in the way we are able to order the workings of our minds, is the theme of the fourth chapter. How is it, Shāntideva asks, that mere thoughts can cause so much havoc? The answer is simply that we allow them to do so. “I it is who welcome them within my heart.” With these words, the battle lines are drawn. The enemy is the afflictions, the thoughts of pride, anger, lust, jealousy, and the rest. The arena is the mind itself. Shāntideva steels himself for the fray, giving himself confidence by stimulating his own very characteristic of Shāntideva’s pragmatic approach–a sort of psychological homeopathy, in which an attitude normally considered a defilement is consciously and strenuously adopted as an antidote to the defilement itself. The theme is developed at greater length later on in the book, but for the time being, chapter 4 concludes on a ringing note of aggression. Emotional defilements are the enemy; they must be destroyed. “This shall be may all-consuming passion; filled with rancor I will wage my war!” Paradoxically, the conflict need not been an arduous one. Thoughts after all are merely thoughts. Through analysis and skill, they can be easily eliminated. Once scattered by the eye of wisdom and driven from the mind, they are by definition totally destroyed. And yet Shāntideva reflects, with sentiments that must go to the heart of every would-be disciple: “But oh–my mind is feeble. I am indolent!”

Once it is clear, however, that the problem lies in the mind itself, or rather in the emotions that arise there, the simple but difficult task is to become aware of how thoughts emerge and develop. This is the theme of the fifth chapter, on vigilance. Again, we find the same note of practical optimism. Just as the mind is the source of every suffering, likewise it is the wellspring of every joy. And once again, the good news is that the mind can be controlled and trained.

If, with mindfulness’ rope,
The elephant of the mind is tethered all around,
Our fears will come to nothing,
Every virtue drop into our hands.

The Treasure of Bodhicitta: What Does Enter the Bardo

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Your Treasure is Heart”

The vow of refuge—taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha—is a vow that one must renew every lifetime, but the power of the Bodhisattva Vow is so strong that the power and potency of that vow lives from lifetime to lifetime.  If you have taken that vow, you have that vow from now until you cross through the door of liberation into nirvana.  And you must pray every day that you will be guided, in this life and in every future life, to meet with the means by which you will be able to practice this great compassion.

Now everything about your life must seem different.  The prejudices you had before, about different peoples and different races and different religions and so forth, how can they make sense now?  You had ideas about how this person is better than that person because of the class that they’re in, or how one person is superior because of their superior intellect.  Having tasted one moment of Bodhicitta you realize that a superior intellect is a fools’ toy in a fools’ world, unless it can be used to bring about that pure absorption.  Everything changes, and slowly, slowly so do you.  So even if you are that person who begins practicing the Bodhisattvas’ path by saying “I dedicate myself to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings” (dull, bored and quick) that’s not going to last for long.  Accept yourself the way you are.  If that’s where you’re starting, start there.  It’s a simple truth.  Just do it, and don’t make such a big deal about it.  That’s a good mantra.  Om don’t make a big deal hung phet.  Just don’t make a big deal about it.  Just start where you are.  Gradually over time this will stop and you’ll begin to feel that catch in your throat, that movement, that change that begins to happen.

Of course, there are different ways of beginning practice, different places that each one of you start at, but the rules fundamentally are the same.  They are the same.  One requires mental discipline in order to truly practice the Bodhicitta.   Practice the contemplations.  Practice daily mindfulness, and then, in the practice of the repetition of the vow of the Bodhicitta, begin to remain absorbed in this idea, in the reality of the Bodhicitta.  Remain absorbed in the stability of mind that one experiences when one is not busy manipulating and grasping.  This is real progress on the path, real progress, much more so than talking the dharma talk and walking the dharma walk and doing the dharma routine.  Developing a good heart at last.  This is real result, and it is lasting.

You won’t be able to take your dharma talk and your dharma rap and your dharma scene and your dharma clothes and your dharma deadly do-rights, or anything that you have accomplished in this lifetime, into the next rebirth.  You will not be able to take any of that into the bardo. But a good heart and vajra compassion? Yes, you’ll take that into the next life. And it is one of the main causes for the conditions of your next rebirth.  This is valuable.  This is your treasure, this heart of the Bodhisattva.  It is the first step to a truly happy life.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved