Summer is fully upon us for some time now and I sit gloriously surrounded by bountiful mother nature with her panoramic spectrum of light soft gentle pink to luscious, passionate deep pink, and likewise with the reds, corals, blues, oranges and yellows that are happily showing their flower faces to the sky. My tummy filled with local organic produce, I feel doubly blessed.
All Buddhist lineages teach non-harming as the basis of spiritual life. Many other religions teach this also, at least in theory. What sets our path apart, and joins us with many others as well, is not only attempting to do no-harm, but our intention to awaken in order to benefit all beings.
For all of us practicing Mahayana Buddhism our motivation and intention is to practice in order to be of benefit to each and every sentient being in the most significant way possible. Full and complete awakening is understood to be the most efficacious method to bring all beings out of suffering into the peace, joy, wisdom and love of who we truly are. This is quite a different motivation than people often bring to their spiritual practice. From the beginning of the path, Mahayana, which was practiced in Tibet, China, Japan, Vietnam, Bhutan, Sikkim and to a lesser extent in other countries, recognizes our inseparability with all beings, with all that is, and encourages us to again and again bring this understanding into our practice. At many times along the path, we come to realize this truth with increasing depth of insight. As Lew Richmond, Zen master and good friend said recently, “We are not doing our meditation for ourselves, we are doing it to transform ourselves to be able to brings all beings to awakening.”
Even though I had been practicing Zazen for some years, it wasn’t until 1977, when I first began to practice Vajrayana after meeting Kalu Rinpoche that this understanding really impacted my meditation. As any Vajrayana practitioner knows, our meditation always begins with generating bodhicitta and ends with dedicating any benefit from the practice to all beings. Bodhicitta is the technical term translated as “mind of awakening,” which means that we are both aspiring to awaken in order to benefit, ie, liberate all beings from suffering and we are actually engaging the path to accomplish this, to actualize who and what we truly are. From the perspective of awakened mind, this has never not been the case, but in order to fully realize this, the Buddhist path has been taught. Well, it was dedicating my practice to all beings that viscerally shifted my meditation. As soon as I started doing that, it was as if a burden fell away, and more spaciousness opened up. Maybe its ironic, that in consciously stepping unto the bodhisattva path, which might seem to be one of great burden—in that we are vowing to help liberate all beings, actually felt like a burden dropping away. I think why I felt such a sense of relief with my meditation practice was due to the shifting away from myself as of primary importance. We can contrast this with the wide spread greed and lust for power that consume the pages of our newspapers. On the bodhisattva path, we cultivate the understanding that we are all equally important and of value. I am not more important and valuable than anyone else. This begins to bring a healthier and even humorous perspective to our own ups and downs.
The bodhisattva path has been said to be one of the noble uprisings of the human spirit. Bodhisattvas are said to appear in all religions, as one of no religion, or even as animals. Think what would happen if each and every human being on this planet took this to heart. As we take this to heart grace descends upon us. The joy and delight of our practice can flow out to all beings. Even in our darkest hours, we can remember all those who suffer as we do and pray that their suffering be liberated through our own. Sometimes our path looks so dimly lit that we can barely see it. At these times we can remember some of the great bodhisattvas of this world, and take heart and inspiration.
In the most classic of Vajrayana bodhisattva prayers states:
Bodhicitta is precious:
May it arise in those in whom it has not arisen.
May it not wane in whom it has arisen,
May it continue to increase more and more!
Zen bodhisattva prayer:
Sentient beings are numberless
We vow to liberate them.
Delusions are inexhaustible,
We vow to transcend them.
Dharma teachings are boundless,
We vow to master them.
The Buddha’s enlightened way is unsurpassable,
We vow to embody it.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s favorite refuge and bodhicitta prayer, from Shantideva:
With the wish to free all beings
Until I reach full awakening
I’ll always go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
Today, in the presence of the enlightened ones
Inspired by compassion, wisdom and joyous effort,
I generate the mind aspiring for full awakening
For the well being of all sentient beings.
For as long as space remains,
Until then may I too abide,
To dispel the misery of the world.
Honored and happy to be on this path with you,