Verse 19-3: Bodhisattva practices
Verse 19-3: Bodhisattva practices
Part of a series of talks on the 41 Prayers to Cultivate Bodhicitta from the Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Ornament Sutra).
- The importance of aiming for a precious human life, even if that’s not our long-term goal
- The far-reaching practices of a bodhisattva
The 19th one:
“May I lead all beings to the higher forms of life.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when going uphill.
We have been talking about higher forms of life, and precious human life. The most important thing we need to do—even if we aim for liberation and enlightenment—is to get a precious human life. Because if we aim for enlightenment but we don’t have a precious human life—or rebirth in the pure land—next life, then forget about helping sentient beings, forget about practicing the path. We can’t even help ourselves.
While we have the far-reaching aims for definite goodness—which means liberation and enlightenment—we also have the aim for precious human life, but that aim for a precious human life is not our final goal. It’s just a provisional thing so that we’ll have the opportunity to practice in future lives to fulfill the long-term goals of liberation and enlightenment.
In the bodhisattva practices they talk about how a bodhisattva does the six far-reaching practices for both the purpose of full enlightenment and because completing them gives them a precious human life to continue to practice.
- For example, to receive a human body and a human mind, the bodhisattva practices ethical conduct because that’s the main cause for receiving an upper rebirth. But just having a human body and a human mind isn’t enough.
- You also need resources if you’re going to practice. If you are totally poor then you can’t practice yourself and you have nothing to be able to give to others. They practice generosity in this life in order to have resources in the future lives as bodhisattvas.
- If you are a bodhisattva and you have a precious human life, and you have resources, if you have a very unappealing look then it’s going to be hard to meet people, so it will be hard to meet teachers. Even if you want to benefit people, if your parents are kind of disgusting and ugly, they don’t want to come near. So you practice patience in this life, because patience creates the cause to have a pleasant appearance in future lives.
You can see that, it’s very direct. When we’re angry in this life we don’t have a very nice look. When we practice patience, our appearance even this life becomes nice, so of course in future lives, by abandoning anger, we are going to create the karma for a pleasant appearance.
- Even if we have that, if we have the inability to complete what we start out to do, then having a good human life and a pleasant appearance and resources goes to waste. We practice joyous effort in this life so that we will have the ability to complete projects in future lives, because joyous effort helps us to complete what we set out to do in this life. Any kind of practice we undertake, or study we do, or retreat that we are able to complete in this life, that sets the habit in the mind to able to complete it within future lives.
- In future lives we also need the ability to focus. If our mind is all over the place it becomes difficult to study, it becomes difficult to meditate. We practice meditative stabilization, the fifth far reaching practice, in this life to develop more ability to concentrate and to hold the objects of meditation, especially to hold the bodhicitta, the wisdom realizing emptiness, in future lives. We develop in this life to carry us over to future lives.
- Then of course we develop the far reaching wisdom, and we especially want to have that in future lives because having that is what is going to enable us to really break free from samsara and have all the tools of an omniscient being to be able to help all sentient beings. To create that ability in a future life then we practice far-reaching wisdom in this life. And it works in a few areas because by practicing wisdom in this life, when we are in future lives we are able to distinguish what is a correct teaching and what is an incorrect teaching, what is a fully qualified spiritual master and what is not. That’s really important to be able to discriminate in future lives. Otherwise we meet a kind of a Bobby the Bozo, who is the spiritual mentor and you know, we follow him like people followed Jim Jones and that’s really dangerous. We need to practice wisdom this life to have the ability in future lives to discriminate what to practice and what to avoid, which teachers to follow and which teacher not to follow.
Also by practicing the teachings on wisdom this life then in future lives we have more familiarity with them. Many say that when somebody who is a fully ripened vessel for the teachings on wisdom comes in and they hear a teaching on the emptiness of true existence, then they start weeping and the hairs of the body stand on end. That’s because of their practicing in previous lives. How do we practice in this life? Well, we listen to teachings. We try and put as many imprints on understanding the teachings on emptiness as we can and then, slowly, slowly we become a more receptive vehicle in these different lives. But just because you cry in teachings and your hair stands on end doesn’t mean that you are necessarily the perfect vessel, because my hair is standing on end right now, because I am cold. We have to really actually have the wisdom inside to become the perfectly suitable vessel for understanding those teachings.
That’s how we practice now in order to receive a really beneficial precious human life or rebirth in the pure lands in a future life. Doing the practice towards enlightenment and then knowing all of this also, how we encourage, and how we lead other sentient beings by teaching them. It is the same kind of thing. How we lead them to higher forms of life.
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.