Practicing with power: Taking the bodhisattva vows

Very often in our deity practices, we retake the bodhisattva vows in front of the guru deity imagined in the space in front of us.  Here, I would like to explain how we can do this with the specific intention to increase our spiritual power.

To help us generate a pure motivation for taking the bodhisattva vows, it might be helpful to consider an analogy.  When I look at the world, I am looking into the mirror of my own mind.  This is how the purity of the Dharmakaya is reflecting in my own mind due to my contaminated karma.  The same is true for everyone else.  Everyone is looking at the Dharmakaya, but seeing their own reflection of it depending on their karma. In this sense, we are all looking at the same thing, just different angles on it.  Buddhas have the angle where they see the whole universe as completely pure.

My mirror is spinning out of control.  This is my samsara.  When I look into the mirror of my mind, it reflects a given world.  For example, the world of Ryan.  When the mirror rotates away, a new world or a new life gets reflected in the mirror.  Right now the mirror is rotating uncontrolledly, and I never have any idea what will be reflected next in the mirror.  I have no idea what my next rebirth will be.  This is also the samsara of others, because they have no existence other than that my mind projects for them.  My job is to align my mirror in such a way that I see directly the Dharmakaya, beyond samsara.

The spinning of the mirror around the vertical axis represents my motivation.  If my motivation is positive, it causes it to rotate upwards, so that the world reflected in the mirror resembles more the upper realms.  If my motivation is negative, it causes it to rotate downwards, so that the world reflected in the mirror resembles more the lower realms.  If my motivation is a pure, spiritual motivation, then the mirror is perfectly aligned, and the world that is reflected in the mirror resembles more the pure land.

The spinning of the mirror around the horizontal axis represents my faith.  If I have faith in samsara, viewing it as the source of my refuge, then it cause the mirror to rotate left or right.  If I have faith in the Spiritual Guide, viewing him as the source of my refuge, then it causes the mirror to be perfectly aligned.  Through this, no matter what we are looking at, we are always looking straight at the exit of the guru.  The rate of spin of the mirror is a result of our concentration.  The more our mind is unfocused, the faster the mirror spins.  When our mind is resting single-pointedly in the concentration on great bliss, then the mirror ceases spinning and is aligned perfectly.

Once the mirror is aligned, I need to remove the distortions in the mirror itself.  Our mind is a repository of all our karma, most of it contaminated.  This karma creates distortions in the mirror producing samsaric appearances.  The meditation on emptiness functions to smooth out the distortions in the mirror until it is completely clear.  Understanding this, when we take bodhisattva vows, we should generate a pure motivation to bring the mirror of our mind into alignment by improving our motivation, faith, concentration and realization of emptiness.  Specifically, we should generate a specific bodhichitta wishing to overcome our biggest delusion so that we can free ourself and others from the problems it creates for us.

The prayer for taking the bodhisattva vows is as follows:

I go for refuge to the three jewels.
And confess individually all my negative actions.

I rejoice in the virtues of all beings.
And promise to accomplish a Buddha’s enlightenment.

By reciting these very blessed words three times a day while intending to their meaning, we have the opportunity to take our bodhisattva vows.  These function like a safety net so that we never take another rebirth without access to the Mahayana path and they function to fully ripen our Buddha seed.  Specifically, we should try to renew our bodhichitta motivation of wanting to overcome whatever is our greatest delusion for the benefit of all living beings.  With the first line, we go for refuge to the three jewels with the intention to overcome specifically whatever is our greatest delusion.  With the second line, we confess and purify all the negative karma we have accumulated as a result of this delusion, including the breaking of our vows.  With the third line, we rejoice in all the efforts of all living beings to overcome this specific delusion.  With the fourth line, we promise to become a Buddha that has the specific power to help people overcome whatever is our biggest delusion.  After the third recitation, we should imagine that all the transgressions of our bodhisattva vows are purified and we receive fresh bodhisattva vows on our mental continuum.

If we have not yet formally taken bodhisattva vows, we should request that they be granted at our local Kadampa center.  We can ask our teacher to give a day course on how to skilfully practice the bodhisattva vows.  Moral discipline is the cause of higher rebirth, and ultimately it is the cause of happiness.  Normally, we think of moral discipline as something that restricts our freedom and enjoyment, but that is only because we are deeply confused about what are the causes of happiness and what are the causes of suffering.  In reality, it is our delusions which make us unfree.  We are slaves to our delusions and have no choice but to do what they say.  Our vows help us directly and indirectly counter all of our delusions.  Our delusions want to go in the opposite direction of our vows.  But our delusions will take us deeper into samsara whereas our vows will take us out.  The practice of vows is very extensive, but it is one of our most precious Kadampa jewels.  Nobody can force vows upon us, we take them from our own side voluntarily.  Generally, we vow only to try our best to go in the direction of the vows.  We should work gradually and progressively with all of the vows until we can keep them all perfectly.  This will take a long time, but if we understand the importance of vows and we are persistent with our effort, we will eventually get there.

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