Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: HH Penor Rinpoche – Our Kind Parents

mother and child

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

[The second way to adjust one’s intention in order to be in harmony with the special feature of this instruction is through] developing attraction to enlightenment. According to this tradition, what leads one to develop an attraction to enlightenment is the cultivation of love for all beings, which begins by contemplating the suffering of cyclic existence and then cultivating repulsion and weariness [toward that existence].

Think about all living beings that at some time or another, throughout the course of innumerable past lifetimes, have been your own kind father or mother. Consider how a mother will anything for her child–even give her own life, without hesitation. Consider how all living beings have been that kind to you at some time in the past–not just once, but countless times, in countless different circumstances and situations over the course of countless lifetimes since beginningless time. Consider also that to not think carefully about repaying this kindness, and thereby to go through your life without the intention to truly benefit parent sentient beings, and so to actually ignore them, is truly shameless.

Many people in the West may think, “Wait a minute! My parents were not very kind to me. In fact, we are not even close, and I don’t even like them, so why should I feel that I need to repay their kindness now?” If that is what you think, then take a moment to think about how you acquired your body. Is it not due to the kindness of your parents that you have your precious human body? From the time your consciousness entered the union of your father’s seed and your mother’s egg, your mother carried you in her own body. Her body nurtured you as you grew within it. Then with pain and difficulty she gave birth to you. Her kindness did not just stop there: for many years she cared for you and lovingly fed, cleaned, clothed, and wiped you; she provided shelter and cared for you when you were sick, and thus she protected you and looked out for you constantly. If you think you don’t need to repay the kindness of your parents, just remind yourself of those events, which you were the recipient of time and time again.

If that still does not change your attitude, so that you still do not understand the kindness your parents showed you, then think about your body, the gift of your body, which is who you are; your parents gave you that. Because your parents showed you the great kindness of giving you your body, your precious life, here you are. Sure you had the causes for your precious human rebirth, but without parents you wouldn’t have your body. And if you didn’t have your body, you wouldn’t be able to receive these vows.

In our present state of ignorance, we have an inability to recognize that all beings have been our parents in the past, and we certainly don’t know what the particular situations and circumstances of those lifetimes were. Nonetheless, it is certain that we have had countless sentient beings as our parents over and over again in countless past lives. The truth is, at the present time we just do not recognize that.

Imagine you are on the bank of a river with your mother and suddenly she falls in and is being carried away by the rushing water. There you stand on the bank, watching that happen. What would you do? Would you do something to try to save her, such as throw out a rope? Or would your turn your back and walk away rather than risk your own life? Would you be concerned for her, or would your concern be only for yourself? The intention of hearers and solitary realizers can be likened to the later case, while the intention of Mahayana practitioners can be likened to the former. While it is important to develop attraction toward peace, you should never, for any reason, be attracted to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers.

Wandering in a Circus of Appearances

An excerpt from the Mindfulness workshop given by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo in 1999

To develop spiritual recognition, you need to recognize that beings that you see living in a material way that seems so fruitless have the very seed of Buddha Enlightenment within them.  They are That Nature, but piteously confined; blind, wandering in this deluded world of appearances, simply dancing through reactiveness.  Without that spiritual discrimination, there’s no practice.

If we can begin to really push ourselves to give rise to a state of recognition by applying this discrimination and mindfulness, then perhaps we are actually practicing, actually accomplishing something.  It is entirely possible to spend one’s whole life calling ourselves a “renunciate,” dressed up like Dharma, walking around with beads, but if we do not require of ourselves that we move further and further into giving rise to a state of recognition, we might as well be entertaining ourselves.  The very thing we wish to disengage, that deluded ego, that inherent belief in self-nature, is on center stage.  So long as that is happening, we are suffering; we are wandering aimlessly in samsara with no way to understand our Nature: blind, deaf, dumb, unable, mistaking the five primordial wisdoms for our senses.  Our senses that tell us if things are hot or cold, big or small, so we can have them.  Our senses that tell us if things are far away or close by so we know whether to react with repulsion or attraction.  Our senses describe that stuff ‘out there’ so we can determine how we should feel about it.  This deluded and continuous reality that we steep ourselves in is not practice, even if you do it with the robes on; even if you do it with your beads in your hands.  It is awakening to the state of recognition that is most important.

When we see deluded sentient beings, this is an opportunity.  They become to us like gurus.  This is an opportunity to practice.  Have you seen your parents? Though I’m sure they’re dear to you, they’re not really enlightened people.  They’re not like living Buddhas.  We’ve watched our parents age and sometimes very painfully – the aging process is not a comfortable process.  Your body drops out from under you and starts betraying you. Not only have we watched this process go on, but we’ve watched them suffer so much.  We’ve watched them try to attain, one by one, all the goals they were told to obtain and work so hard.

Sentient beings aren’t lazy. Sentient beings are working very hard every day to fulfill their belief systems.  Our parents went to work.  They might have been the worst parents in the world, but they went to work every day.  They worked really hard. Maybe my parents were some of the worst in the world, but I did watch them suffer, suffer, suffer and work, work, work and beat themselves to death.  And the grief that they feel when they look at what they’ve been doing and working so hard for, and it amounts to nothing. What happened?  Now I’m old, nearly dead.  This is not only true with our parents; it’s also true with us.  It’s true with all beings.  These are not bad people; these are not evil people.  The sickness here is ignorance.  The sickness here is a state of non-recognition.  The sickness here is the narcotic sleep called samsara.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo