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Verse 2: The dimension of reality

Verse 2: The dimension of reality

Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).

  • Tantric practices use the extremely subtle mind to realize emptiness
  • The need to study and understand emptiness before practice
  • Transform the process of sleep with a bodhicitta motivation

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 2 (download)

Good morning. We’re going to go onto the second of the 41 Verses to Cultivate Bodhicitta. This one says, “May all sentient beings attain the dimension of reality of a buddha.” “Dimension of reality” is the dharmadhatu and that refers to all phenomena, in some instances. In other instances it refers to emptiness. I think in this particular place it’s referring to emptiness because the verse reads:

“May all sentient beings attain the dimension of reality of a buddha.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when going to sleep.

The reason that when going to sleep one makes the aspiration to attain the dharmadhatu of a buddha, or the realization of emptiness of a buddha at that time, is because from the tantric perspective, at the time we go to sleep, the gross levels of winds are dissolving and so is the mind, the mind is becoming more subtle. It’s not the very subtle mind as in the time of death, but it’s more subtle than during our waking times. And again from the tantric perspective, what we’re trying to do is get the mind to the extremely subtle state and then have that mind realize emptiness. It’s one of the features that makes the tantric vehicle very quick, is being able to access the extremely subtle mind and have that realize emptiness because that purifies the defilements and removes the defilements very quickly.

Going to sleep is an analogy to accessing that extremely subtle mind in the sense that going to sleep the gross levels of wind and mind are dissolving and becoming more subtle. So it’s analogous in that way. So if we are able, when we go to sleep to—instead of just zoning out—be more aware (especially in the state of deep sleep which is a non-conceptual mind) and use that to realize emptiness, then it really speeds us along the path because it’s helping us to get in touch with subtler states of mind and use them to realize emptiness.

Of course, to use an extremely subtle state of mind to realize emptiness you have to have a good understanding of emptiness already, and some realization of emptiness already. So it’s not just to think, when you fall asleep your mind’s empty because you are completely zoning out and that’s the realization of the ultimate nature of reality. Because if that was, we would have become buddhas every night and then deluded every morning. It’s not like that, we really still have to study emptiness, understand it conceptually, understand it with gross levels of mind and then be able to maintain that awareness even as the winds dissolve and the mind becomes more subtle. Because then eventually when we get to the point in the tantric practice when we are able to dissolve all the winds into the central channel and use that extremely subtle mind to realize emptiness, then we’ll have some preparation there.

When we go to sleep at night usually we just kind of lie down and go “ahhhh” and just think, “how good this feels.” Well instead of just indulging in our own sense pleasure at that time, to make a strong prayer, “May I and all sentient beings attain the Dharmadhatu of a Buddha,” at that time of going to sleep. If we can have that thought as we’re going to sleep, we have quite a virtuous thought and then that transforms our whole process of going to sleep.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.