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The power of reliance: Bodhicitta

The power of reliance: Bodhicitta

Part of a series of teachings given at the Winter Retreat from December 2011 to March 2012 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Bodhicitta as the antidote to harming sentient beings
  • The reasons to generate bodhicitta
  • Ways to restore the relationship with others

Vajrasattva 13: The power of reliance: Bodhicitta (download)

We have begun the Vajrasattva practice and the first opponent power, the power of reliance. For purification practice to work (so that we can really purify our destructive karma and refrain from doing actions again in the future that to harm) we need to build that intention on a really firm base. A few days ago, we talked about one of those supports which is restoring our relationship with holy beings. This is taking refuge. We take refuge in their marvelous qualities: the cessations and the realizations on their mindstreams. They are most reliable guides to help us to develop our own compassion, wisdom, and to know what to abandon and what to cultivate. This is a crucial support for our purification practice as well as all of our practices. This restores our relationship to holy beings.

Today we are going to talk about the second support within this opponent power which is the generating the altruistic intention. This is the motivation on why we are doing a purification practice of our body, speech and mind. What’s the driving force behind why we’re doing what we’re doing? Generating bodhicitta restores our relationship to sentient beings. Since beginningless time, we have been harming and creating huge amounts of negative karma in relationship to them. It’s not that we haven’t created virtuous karma, we certainly have. But the fact that we have been in the service of the self-centered thought and self-grasping ignorance since beginningless time, I venture to guess that our negative karma far outweighs our virtuous karma. We have been in and continue to be in very troubled waters in relationship to them. Bodhicitta helps to calm and to pacify those troubled waters because it is the most powerful antidote to harming sentient beings. It is an exact opposite attitude to that. So it becomes this powerful antidote for the negative karma that we have created in relationship to them.

Then the question is: Well, why do we want to restore this relationship in such a vast (and as Venerable Chodron said the other night) and “outlandish” way? It’s going to take us more than three countless great eons, and I am sorry, but who are these people again? Who are these sentient beings again, that I am going to be doing this for three countless great eons? Well, I would say that all of our teachers, bar none—all we have to do is to look at the way they benefit sentient beings every moment of their lives from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on down. There are many reasons why we have this motivational relationship to them.

One of them that I have found the most pivotal for me, even thinking about being able to generate bodhicitta in my mind spontaneously in some future life, is a passage in the Lamrim Meditation Outline book from Kopan Monastery. It’s from one of the quintessential examples of bodhicitta in body and speech in our world, Lama Zopa. Every time he opens his mouth to teach, there’s bodhicitta. Every time he moves, there’s bodhicitta. He exudes bodhicitta in the most remarkable, unique way. This is what he said, this is the succinct essence of one of the reasons why we go to these type of measures:

Throughout all my rebirths since beginningless time, all sentient beings have provided me with every single enjoyment and need, from food and drink, clothes and shelter, education and medicine, to transportation and gadgets of all kinds, as well as their love. In fact, there’s nothing I can point out as not coming from others’ hard work, and there’s no one I can point to and say, “This being has not benefited me.” In fact, the kindness of others is inconceivable and unimaginable, and they all deserve my respect and full attention. And to serve my kind mothers is the only reasonable response towards them.

The profundity of that statement! We could meditate on that for the rest of our lives, and it would certainly nourish the bodhicitta aspiration. When the teachings say our awakening depends on sentient beings, this is what they are talking about. Both figuratively and literally our awakening depends on them. Now, there are some beautiful teachings in the lamrim that help us to generate bodhicitta. This is just one of them.

We have these teachings because it’s very difficult to do. It’s said that the teachings on bodhicitta don’t take very long to impart. But generating it spontaneously in our mind? It takes a minimum of several lifetimes. Most assuredly, an eon or so…? So we have these teachings to continuously feed and nourish this.

On a practical level, how do we start working on restoring the relationship to all these mother sentient beings? How do we start nourishing this possibility of generating bodhicitta? Venerable Chodron says we start by restoring the relationship with sentient beings by starting with those in our life right now. You know, for all of those relationships in our present life that are in very serious troubled waters; whether it be a tsunami or hurricane or typhoon. We apologize, we forgive, we let go of the grudges. For those that we are able, do that directly.

Then we move out to those who have died, those we’ve lost contact with, or those who are not ready to contact us. Within our own minds we generate those same feelings. We apologize, we forgive, we let go of the grudges. We cultivate love and compassion. Then she says, even farther out than that is to restore the relationships to all sentient beings. Most sentient beings right now are in some other existence. We have no idea where they are. They have been our mothers endless times. Who knows what suffering situations they are in? So, once again, we hold them in that place of forgiveness, we hold them in the place of love and compassion. We commit to attaining awakening so that we can eliminate the causes for all these troubled waters—for all these horrible things that we have done in relationship to them. Instead we cultivate only the wish to help, to serve, and to benefit.

For those who’ve been in a Vajrasattva retreat, we are going to do the refuge prayer, in the middle of page 41 [The sadhana can be found here]. As we do this bring to our awareness all the holy beings. We’re never out of their attention; we’re never out of their awareness. Imagine all mother sentient beings in the space around us. Really see that refuge and bodhicitta are not only the support to our purification practice, but they are a necessary support for all of our practices from now until awakening.

We just hold that in our hearts, hold all the sentient beings in our hearts, with this deep aspiration to become awakened for their benefit.

We’ll do this three times:

I take refuge in the Three Jewels. I will liberate all sentient beings and lead them to awakening. Thus, I perfectly generate the mind dedicated to attaining awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings. (3x)

Next time we’ll continue with the power of regret.

Venerable Thubten Semkye

Ven. Semkye was the Abbey's first lay resident, coming to help Venerable Chodron with the gardens and land management in the spring of 2004. She became the Abbey's third nun in 2007 and received bhikshuni ordination in Taiwan in 2010. She met Venerable Chodron at the Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle in 1996. She took refuge in 1999. When the land was acquired for the Abbey in 2003, Ven. Semye coordinated volunteers for the initial move-in and early remodeling. A founder of Friends of Sravasti Abbey, she accepted the position of chairperson to provide the Four Requisites for the monastic community. Realizing that was a difficult task to do from 350 miles away, she moved to the Abbey in spring of 2004. Although she didn't originally see ordination in her future, after the 2006 Chenrezig retreat when she spent half of her meditation time reflecting on death and impermanence, Ven. Semkye realized that ordaining would be the wisest, most compassionate use of her life. View pictures of her ordination. Ven. Semkye draws on her extensive experience in landscaping and horticulture to manage the Abbey's forests and gardens. She oversees "Offering Volunteer Service Weekends" during which volunteers help with construction, gardening, and forest stewardship.