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Great resolve and bodhicitta

Great resolve and bodhicitta

Part of a series of teachings on a set of verses from the text Wisdom of the Kadam Masters.

  • The necessity of an understanding of rebirth
  • How emptiness and rebirth go together
  • Developing warmth and affection for all living beings
  • The determination to become a buddha for the benefit of all beings

Wisdom of the Kadam Masters: Seven-point cause and effect, Part 3 (download)

Last time we got through love and compassion. Based on equanimity we see sentient beings as having been our parents. Particularly our mothers because of that close relationship. Then seeing their kindness. Wanting to repay their kindness. Heart-warming love which sees them as lovable.

That’s a big step, to really see all different sentient beings as lovable. You can see that to really do that in a completely full way…. First of all, this whole method necessitates having an understanding of rebirth. You can do it without an understanding of rebirth, and you can do it saying, “I don’t know if I believe in rebirth or not,” you can do that and have some good results from it, but it’s not going to have the same impact as if you start really looking at sentient beings and thinking that you’ve had relationships with them that have been very close and very protective and very caring, multiple times since beginningless time. If you only look at them as who they are in this life then of course the appearance of an inherently existent jerk is quite strong, and you don’t think of them as a karmic bubble, because if you only think of this life there’s no karma, we’re just kind of born by accident as who we are, and die, and that’s the end of it, go out of existence. But if you really think of people as being products of karma, that they’re not any kind of inherently existent personality, or person, that who they are… When I say a karmic bubble, they’re just a manifestation of whatever karmic seeds happen to ripen at that time, and whatever karmic seeds are ripening during their whole lifetime that influence their habitual actions, their attitudes, where they grow up, so what they’re conditioned in in this lifetime. So it gives you a much broader view in that way, and it’s really quite helpful in terms of understanding that sentient beings aren’t inherently existent with some kind of solid personality.

Do you see, somehow, how rebirth and emptiness go together? Like I said, you can benefit from the Buddhist path without that, but to really go deeply they very much work together. It’s only because sentient beings are empty of inherent existence that then they can be in different forms and different relationships to us in different lifetimes and even in different situations in this lifetime. Seeing that, then that kind of reinforces that they aren’t some kind of concrete personality, which then reinforces we’ve had all sorts of relationships… It kind of goes back and forth that way. But it helps you, especially if you have a problem with somebody in this life, to think whoever this person is, they haven’t always been this person who they are in this life. They’ve been all sorts of other people in previous lives, and so I might be having a problem with them in this life, but in previous lives we were very close. And in future lives we’re going to be very close. That really helps us, it broadens the mind and gives some space for us to think about having a different relationship with somebody because we know that that person is not who they appear to be in that particular moment in this life. That what we’re labeling “that person” is the general “I” that is labeled in dependence upon that “I”s in all the different lifetimes. It gives us some space to not feel cornered and trapped with the same kind of negative attitude towards somebody. And similarly to not feel cornered and trapped by the same kind of attachment and feelings of obligation and expectations and all of that, because all these relationships are changing all the time.

I think that’s very helpful. Especially as we’re progressing through these seven causes and effect to generate bodhicitta, to bring emptiness into it really helps considerably. I think even to have the idea, the foundation of all of this, of equanimity.That also involves some bringing a knowledge of emptiness into it. Because again, if everybody were solid, concrete people, the relationships couldn’t change, the personalities couldn’t change, everything would be fixed. It really gives a lot of space there.

(For example) maybe there’s a rabid dog that bit you. Now you have all the problems of have a rabid dog that bit you, but whoever that living being is, they haven’t always been a rabid dog and they won’t always be that dog, and it has been your kind and loving mother. And you go, “What? That rabid dog has been my kind and loving mother?” Well, why not? We’ve had beginningless lifetimes, there’s plenty of time. And then if you start looking at that dog through the eyes of “well this is my mother… Maybe not my mother this life, but my mother previous lives… And I’m not recognizing them because of the karma they created that caused them to be born in that kind of realm doing those kinds of activities.” You can still open your heart and have some compassion for that dog.

I find this example very helpful. Let’s say you had a really close relationship with your mother (or father, whoever brought you up) and then something happened and you were separated from them for many, many years, and then one day you were walking down the street and you look and there’s this very old person sitting on the street begging, and all of a sudden you realize “oh my goodness, that’s my mother (father, babysitter, whoever it was). And they’re sitting on the curb begging.” And you feel surprised, but would you just walk by that beggar if you realized it was the same person who took care of you when you were a little baby? No way. No matter how that beggar looked you would say, “Mom (or dad, or whoever it is). I’m going to help you.” Automatically that feeling of love is going to come for that person, even though they’re dirty and haven’t taken a shower in a few weeks, and they’re wearing old, ragged clothes. Once you recognize them has having been your kind parent in this life all of that prejudice goes away, and all of that apathy goes away because you recognize them.

In the same way, if we really train ourselves to see that all sentient beings have been our parents, and remember the kindness, then when you see other sentient beings there’s that same feeling of recognizing this person who was your kind mother, or father, or babysitter, or caregiver, and there they are again, and having that same feeling of warmth and affection come up towards them.

I think that’s quite helpful if we can train our mind to look at sentient beings in that way.

I think it was Atisha, whenever he met different sentient beings, in his mind he would say, “That’s my mother, a kind of “hello mom.” And immediately adopt that feeling of closeness and intimacy with that person. And I think His Holiness very much has that kind of attitude, when you see him with people. Automatically this feeling of warmth towards people. So it’s possible for us to develop that, too.

Then, having developed the love and compassion, then the sixth step is the great resolve. This is making a strong determination to get involved in making the situation better. They often give the analogy that it’s the difference between you’re standing on the edge of a pool and somebody’s drowning in the pool, and you go, “oh my goodness, somebody’s drowning, quick save them, you go in and jump in and save them.” Because you have compassion, you don’t want him to drown, but you’re not jumping in yourself… (Because you have your nice lace dress on, and your makeup will get smeared, and your hair, you just had it done, you don’t want it to get undone, so “please, you jump in.”) Whereas the person with the great resolve is “I’m jumping in” and there’s not thought, it’s just, boom, you do it.

I was so impressed with this one man. It was right before Obama’s first inauguration I think, and he was in New York or D.C. somewhere, and a child feel onto the subway tracks, and this man in a split second, even though he had his own child with him, jumped on the tracks, laid on top of that child, and the subway ran right over them, and didn’t kill them. And this guy did it without…. It was just spontaneous. That’s, for me, I can’t believe somebody did that. They invited him to the inauguration. I mean, he was really a hero. But that’s making the resolve that “I’m going to do something.” I’m not standing by and wishing for it. It’s not just in my mind, but I’m doing something.

At that point that leads you to ask, “Well, in my present state am I really capable of doing whatever I can…. I have all these wishes to be able to benefit sentient beings, but am I capable of fulfilling them?” I have this love and compassion, making that commitment to get involved, but do I have the capability to really carry through? Do I have the knowledge to do it? Do I have sufficient compassion? Do I have the skill to do this? And then you realize, no, I’m kind of one screwed up sentient being myself. So if I’m really going to carry out what I would like to carry out, what I’ve committed myself to carrying out, then I have to work on myself, I have to free myself from all the hindrances, develop in myself all of the good qualities. Although I can help now, the help I’m able to give is limited. If I’m able to purify my mind completely, gain all the excellent qualities, then the help that I’m able to give will be limitless.

Those first six were the causes, and then the seventh in the seven-point instruction is bodhicitta, where you then generate the aspiration…. I think it’s got to be more than an aspiration, I think it’s got to be a determination. Aspirations are easy. “I aspire for this, I aspire for that.” We need determination. You have that determination that “I’m going to become a buddha for the benefit of sentient beings.” At that point, then you have… Remember last night we went through the stages of aspiring bodhicitta, aspiring bodhicitta with promise, and then engaging bodhicitta. At that point, when you have the full determination, then you’re going to have the engaging bodhicitta.

But of course, when you first generate that, you’re actually having, for the first time, is probably aspiring bodhicitta, and then it fades a little bit, and then it’s the actual aspiring bodhicitta with commitment, and then it becomes engaging.

Then, in order to do what we’re setting out to do, then we engage in the six perfections. If you’re ever bored and you don’t know what to do, remember this. There’s lots to do. For people who have problems with being bored, I always recommend Dharma practice. You never get bored. There’s always something to do.

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.