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Verse 21-2: Seeing the buddha in others

Verse 21-2: Seeing the buddha in others

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

  • Seeing sentient beings as buddhas, a way to control negative mind
  • Not taking everything literally, use our wisdom in conventional situations

41 Prayers to cultivate bodhicitta: Verse 21-2 (download)

We’ve been on Verse 21:

“May all beings meet the Buddha.”
This is the prayer of the bodhisattva when meeting someone.

Seeing sentient beings as buddhas is a practice that is done more elaborately in the Vajrayana, the idea being that by seeing sentient beings as buddhas then we don’t create so much negative karma in relationship to them. At least this is one of the benefits of doing this. Because if you see somebody as an enlightened one, then you monitor your own mind more and you don’t tend to let your anger take over and lash out at them or get attached or be resistant to or whatever.

Just as if we met an actual buddha we would have a feeling of respect and an open mind. Or we would try to. Then we try and do that with everybody that we meet. And they say that because we don’t know who’s a buddha and who’s not, it’s good to not criticize anybody.

This can also get confusing because then you hear that, “Well, everybody’s a buddha, you see everybody as a buddha,” then you see two people quarreling and what do you do with that? Or you see somebody behaving inappropriately, what do you do? Say, “Oh, it’s just my misunderstanding, they’re really buddhas and this is a display for me to learn something from it, I don’t need to intervene at all and help correct the situation.” Somebody’s sick and then you just say, “Well, they are a buddha, I don’t need to help them, they’re just manifesting that for my benefit.” You know, it could get a little bit weird.

It sounds weird when you talk about it like this, but believe me, when you hear these teachings about, “You see everybody as a buddha and you transform them like this,” then it can get a bit strange for you. So, we also have to be quite practical and the idea is, if you’re going to see others as buddhas, that you do that clearly knowing that this is a way so that you don’t get angry or attached or resistant or resentful or belligerent.

It’s a way to control your negative mind, but it doesn’t mean that you react on a verbal, physical level as if they’re all buddhas. So two people are beating each other up on the street, you bow to them and you don’t interfere because they could be buddhas manifesting that way to teach you or to teach everybody around them. It doesn’t mean that. You might still have respect for them, but you still intervene and you try and break up the dispute. Or if somebody’s doing something unethical, you don’t just let them continue do it.

You try and do what you can to prevent that but you do it with an internal attitude that is not with the judgmental, critical, disrespectful mind. On the external thing, we may respond in a way appropriate to the situation, as you would with “ordinary sentient being,” but internally your mind is completely different. Because if you don’t do that, then it really gets quite weird.

I think this is the root of some of the big problems that the Buddhist community had in the early 90s, of people taking everything very literally like that. “Oh they’re all buddhas, so just let it be. They’re all buddhas, my teacher wants to sleep with me, he’s a buddha, I guess I should sleep with a buddha.” Well, NOoooo, for goodness sakes! [laughter] Don’t get into that weird state of mind. We still have to use our wisdom in conventional situations.

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.