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Verse 15-3: Giving up everything for others

Verse 15-3: Giving up everything for others

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

  • Willingness to give everything in order to benefit sentient beings
  • Face our attachment and face our self-centeredness
  • Working with our childish mind

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 15-3 (download)

We’re still on the 15th one:

“May I plunge into cyclic life for the sake of all beings.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when going down a staircase.

“May I plunge into cyclic existence for the sake of all sentient beings.” When we really meditate on the disadvantages of samsara, we want to get away from it ASAP. No dilly-dallying, mañana a la mañana attitude. When we really see the horrors of samsara we want to get out as fast as possible and our whole life is completely dedicated to that. So here’s a bodhisattva saying, “May I plunge into samsara for the sentient beings.”

What this is indicating is, the way the bodhisattva trains the mind in love and compassion and bodhicitta is they’re willing to give everything in order to benefit sentient beings. We’re not capable of doing that right now. We can’t give up everything. Bodhisattvas even give up their bodies. We cherish this body, this thing that makes pee and poop, ear wax and snot. We think it’s a gorgeous thing. We don’t want to give it up. But bodhisattvas, they make charity of their bodies. The story of the Buddha when he’s a prince and gave his body to the tiger. We’re not capable of doing that, but we should start at least with small things that we can give up.

We see that we’re even incapable of doing that. It’s like, “I want my room the way I want my room, and I want the bed here, and I want this here and I want to use these sheets and I want this for breakfast and I don’t want that for breakfast and I have to have enough of this and I don’t want enough of that, and it all has to be my way because otherwise I’m going to collapse and I can’t practise Dharma.”

Forget about giving up breakfast, bodhisattvas give up their own bodies. They manifest millions and zillions of forms to go do everything that as a sentient being they didn’t want to do. And they do it happily for the benefit of us and we just sit back and take it all in, what bodhisattvas do for us.

We’re trying to follow the bodhisattva path, so we should really make some kind of effort to face our attachment and to face our self-centeredness. I’m not saying go find the local tiger and give your body. Actually, we aren’t allowed to do that until we’ve reached the path of seeing. But we should try, at least with some things and nudge ourselves a little bit. Push ourselves a little bit beyond our comfort zone. And I know that’s hard and I know we don’t want to do it and I know that very often we’ll fall back into, “BUT I NEED THIS!” But we should as part of our practice just nudge ourselves a little bit. I’m not saying do a whole lot, just nudge yourself.

It’s like when you have a child who doesn’t want to go to kindergarten. And the kid’s wailing, “I don’t want to go to kindergarten….” You just kind of nudge your kid, you take them by the hand and then they go to kindergarten and they find out they are going to have a good time and they’re not going to collapse without mom and dad hovering over them 25 hours a day. We might find that if we just kind of gently nudge ourselves in the direction the bodhisattvas are practising in, we might find we can be happy. But as long as we stay in this thing of, “I absolutely must have, or I’m going to….” like the earth is going to end, then we’re never going to get beyond our self-centeredness.

I find this line very helpful to keep in my mind, “May I plunge into cyclic existence for the sake of all beings.” Even if we can’t genuinely do that now, let’s at least aspire to, and let’s repeat that line to ourselves over and over and over again. And generate that really incredible, noble aspiration to be able to jump into suffering for the benefit of sentient beings. And then if we repeat that and generate that aspiration enough, then when the day comes to turn the thermostat down by a half-degree, we might realise that we can endure it.

This is all part of our practice here. But really make these noble aspiration, put that noble aspiration out there and focus the mind on it. Instead of “May I rearrange my samsara so that I get everything I want, and practice Dharma,” instead of having that as our aspiration, “May I have so much compassion and so little self-centeredness that I just plunge into cyclic existence,” just like, they use the example in India in the monsoon when it’s hot, like the buffalo plunge into a pool of water, like a little kid on a hot summer day jumps into a pool of water, with that much enthusiasm to benefit sentient beings.

Hold that as our aspiration of where we’re going. And then if you do, you might find that you can actually take some steps in that direction and may not be so hard.

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.