This is a series of talks I gave from Shantideva’s “Way of the Bodhisattva”
I hope these talks give you some benefit.
“Entering the Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva Reading + Talk Chapter 1.
Explaining the Benefits of Bodhichitta What is the mind of awakening? How does opening our hearts help ourselves and others? The book I’m reading from can be purchased here: https://www.shambhala.com/entering-th…
If you want to donate to support this work, you can do so here: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/danie…
I told the story of the monk Shantideva, who wrote the classic text “The Way of the Bodhisattva”.
We can all find some inspiration in his story.
Shantideva was not a popular guy. He lived at a monastic college with 500 other men and had no friends. Everyone thought he was a lazy jerk and they looked for creative ways to bully him. They were wrong about him. They thought they could make him so embarrassed that he would leave forever. Instead they got one of the greatest spiritual teachings of all time, The Way of the Bodhisattva.
Bodhicitta is the quality that drives away the suffering in ourselves and others. “Bodhi” means awake, free from delusion. “Citta” means mind. So this is about the mind of awakening that we’re trying to develop and strengthen.
The way of the Bodhisattva is the way of compassion and wisdom, of realizing your own boundless potential. It comes from realizing that Enlightenment is our true nature, that we have a basic goodness and wakefulness that is fundamental to our being.
Bodhicitta is what the diligence of the Bodhisattva is based on. It’s what helps us overcome the delusions that keep us from seeing our true nature. These delusions are things that we can overcome. They are impermanent like everything else. They may obscure our minds, but we can overcome them. Bodhicitta is our tool for doing this.
In “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” Shantideva said this about Bodhicitta:
The mighty buddhas, pondering for many ages,
Have seen that this, and only this, will save
The boundless multitudes,
And bring them easily to supreme joy.
People have been talking about the great benefits of Bodhicitta for a long time. Although the same words aren’t always used, these kinds of spiritual teachings have been present throughout history. Bodhicitta is so powerful because it helps us combat our self-centeredness. It gives us a chance to put down some of our egotism. We all share the same suffering and craving. By having that aspiration to save all beings we free ourselves from that mind that thinks “I-Me-Mine” all the time. We can think about our shared humanity. These teachings are here to direct us toward more compassionate living.
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There’s a long section in “Way of the Bodhisattva” where Shantideva writes about mindfulness. I’d like to share some of it with you here.
Those who wish to keep a rule of life
Must guard their minds.
Without this guard on the mind,
No discipline can be maintained.
Wandering where, the elephant of mind,
Will bring us down to hell.
No beast, however wild,
Could bring us such calamities.
If, with mindfulness’ rope,
The mind is tethered,
Our fears will come to nothing,
Every virtue will drop into our hands.
Training our minds to be here is called mindfulness training. Mindfulness is like a rope that keeps our minds in control. Mindfulness brings us back to our experience, to this moment, to being here now.
It’s important that mindfulness brings us to this moment. It takes effort to cultivate mindfulness, but mindfulness is important. Our mental habits take a long time to work on, so we need to start with diligence. The quality of patience helps us a great deal.
Tigers, lions, elephants, and bears,
Snakes and other hostile beasts,
Those who guard hell,
All ghosts and ghouls,
By binding this mind,
All these things are bound.
By taming this mind,
All these things are tamed.
For all anxiety and fear,
Their source is the mind itself,
Thus the truthful one has said.
Shantideva is telling us that all of our problems go away if we tame our minds. I’m not sure if this is true, but I am sure that many many of our problems are created in our own minds. We often let ourselves be consumed by trivial things and the reason for this is because of our minds. When we are present, our emotions don’t take control of us and dominate us quite so much.
The hellish whips to torture living beings–
Who has made them and to what intent?
Who has forged this burning iron ground;
Whence have all these demons sprung?
All are but the offspring of the mind,
Thus the mighty one has said.
Thus throughout the world
There is no greater bane than the mind itself.
Shantideva is being more direct here. He’s telling us, “These problems come from your mind”. Our minds distract us and lead us to all sorts of harm. Only with mindfulness can we bring our minds under control.
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Nagarjuna is one of my heroes in Buddhist history.
He was a scholar and adventurer, a mystic and wanderer. And a prolific writer whose work is still with us today.
He’s sometimes called the Second Buddha. He’s the only figure given such a high distinction. He lived in the second century and he’s considered a key figure in several different branches of Buddhism. He’s revered in Zen Buddhism as a patriarch and in Vajrayana Buddhism as a treasure revealer.
He came from the southern part of India. It’s said that he lived for 600 years, but of course that’s a legend. It’s said that he came from a Brahmin family, but other than that very little is known about his life before he became a dharma teacher.
He was a Buddhist monk but also a renegade scholar. He traveled around teaching everyone, not just monks. He presented the same kinds of teachings to everyone, rather than giving some teachings to monks and lesser teachings to everyone else. This was probably unheard of at the time. It seems that he just traveled around giving teachings, but also doing an incredible amount of writing. There’s a tradition of mystic scholars in Buddhism now but Nagarjuna is really one of the early ones.
He was an adherent of the Mahayana School, which emphasizes the Bodhisattva path of wisdom and compassion. He defended Mahayana practice, which many Buddhists at the time believed wasn’t authentic Buddhism. He founded his own branch of Buddhism called Madhyamika, or middle way.
Buddhist Vows remind me of New Years Resolutions sometimes.
When we take these vows we are, in effect, saying, “I know this is impossible, but I will vow to do it anyway.” Why? Because it’s important.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the ideal of practice is to become a bodhisattva who helps others discover their Buddha Nature. The Bodhisattva Vows are vows taken formally by a Buddhist to do exactly that. The vows also are an expression of bodhichitta, the desire to realize enlightenment for the sake of others.
The exact wording of the Bodhisattva vows varies from school to school. The most basic form is:
May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
A passionate variation of the vow is associated with the iconic figure Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva —
“Not until the hells are emptied will I become a Buddha; not until all beings are saved will I certify to Bodhi.”
The Four Great Vows
In Zen, Nichiren, Tendai, and other Mahayana schools of Buddhism there are four Bodhisattva vows. Here is a common translation:
Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.
These four vows encompass all of Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism: The Root and Secondary Bodhisattva Vows
In Tibetan Buddhism, the term “Bodhisattva Vows” usually refers to two sets of vows, sometimes called the “root” or “secondary” vows, or the root or secondary downfalls. These are lists of behaviors that a bodhisattva should avoid, many of which are also found in the Precepts.
Shantideva was a monk and scholar who lived in India in the late 7th to early 8th centuries. His Bodhicaryavatara, or “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” presented teachings on the bodhisattva path and the cultivation of bodhichitta that are remembered especially in Tibetan Buddhism, although they also belong to all of Mahayana.
Shantideva’s work includes a number of beautiful prayers that also are bodhisattva vows. Here is an excerpt from just one:
May I be a protector to those without protection,
A leader for those who journey,
And a boat, a bridge, a passage
For those desiring the further shore.
May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.
May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.
Vows are not intended to be easy.