Vows, commitments and modern life: Claiming that a Bodhisattva need not abandon samsara.

Some people assert that we can attain enlightenment without abandoning samsara or delusions while working for the welfare of sentient beings.  If we hold this view and encourage others to think the same we incur a secondary downfall.

It is quite a popular misconception in society to think that Bodhisattvas do not strive to escape from samsara, but they instead seek to remain within it so that they can help living beings get out.  The belief is quite similar to the idea of Shepherd-like Bodhichitta, which is the idea of a shepherd who tends to their flock and only once all of their flock is safe do they themselves get to safety.  It is like the Captain of the Battalion who is the first man on and the last man off the field of battle.  Such an attitude is sublime, and there are some very profound Highest Yoga Tantra ways of practicing this type of view, but ultimately it is not the most compassionate mind possible and is in fact karmically impossible to accomplish.

It is not the most compassionate mind possible because what happens if the shepherd is killed before all of his flock is safe?  For example, it is only once we are in the life boat ourselves that we are in a position to help others get up into the life boat.  If we drown, then all those who are not yet in the boat will drown with us.  The popular misconception is based on a false belief that once we attain liberation or enlightenment we are somehow incapable of coming back to save people.  This is completely wrong.  Once we become a Buddha, we can send countless emanations out into the world of beings to help people along.  From the safety of the pure land, we can help everyone for the rest of time.  But if we remain in samsara ourselves, we are always in danger of being swept away and all of the beings who we otherwise would have helped if we had escaped will continue to suffer.  It is not karmically possible to be the last one out because our compassionate mind of cherishing others will swiftly bring us to enlightenment whether we want to attain it or not! 

Understanding that king-like bodhichitta (the wish to attain enlightenment first so that we can rescue all others) is the highest mind, there is a danger, however, that our self-cherishing can hijack this Dharma fact and use an internally insincere application of king-like bodhichitta as the rationalization for our self-cherishing of putting ourself first.  We should never underestimate the ability of our delusions to hijack our Dharma understandings for their own deluded purposes. 

So how do we protect ourselves against this danger?  The answer is simple.  We go about our life from the perspective of shepherd like bodhichitta, always putting others first, serving ourselves last, etc.  But when it comes to our formal practice we use king-like bodhichitta.  For example, when we engage in our formal practice or go on retreat, we are, from an external point of view, not helping other people.  We could be using that same time to help other people, and it can seem selfish to go off to meditate or to go on retreat.  This is particularly a problem for parents, especially when the partner in the relationship is not also a practitioner.  But if we spend all of our time out “helping people” and we don’t create any time for our formal practice, then our ability to actually transform our mind will remain quite limited.  The reality is sometimes we can transform our mind at a deeper level when we are in meditation than when we are out engaging in activities.  The more deeply we meditate, the more deeply we reprogram our mind, which then filters up into all of our other activities.  So even if it creates some tension (within reason of course) with our family or partner, we should make a point of taking the time to engage in our daily practice and to engage in retreat, and we should ask our partner to respect that this is the only thing we ask for in our relationship and we would like their support for this.  They may be unhappy about this at first, but if they see that over time after you do your formal practice or after you go on retreat you come back more loving, more patient, more kind and more serving, then eventually your daily practice and your going on retreat will become a priority for them.  Then, there are no problems and everything gets easier.


One thought on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Claiming that a Bodhisattva need not abandon samsara.

  1. Its worth noting that according to Highest Yoga Tantra we don’t directly cultivate our need to ‘get rid of’ our delusions at all because this is mentioned thoroughly in Sutra. Buddha gives advice on this in some detail. This appears to contradict Sutra but it doesn’t. The main thing we abandon in Sutra is delusion and in Tantra, we seek to abandon impure energy winds in which the conceptual minds of delusion are mounted. So indirectly we abandon delusion but it is not a primary goal because it can be seen as beneficial to enhance spiritual practice once a practitioner is adept in controlling wind. We use winds associated with attachment and anger and so forth to great effect by using specific techniques mentioned within Tantra.

    Where do all those popular misconceptions come from regarding Bodhisattvas?

    In general though, it is wise to adopt recognising, reducing and abandoning delusions. This serves to pay dividends later on at creating a solid foundation. This is also common sense to a Buddhist. I don’t ever recall meeting someone who disagrees with this. But in Tantra, delusions become less a focus. Winds are very, very much more important. Either way, delusions are unhelpful and unpeaceful states of mind and we should seek whatever methods necessary to be free of suffering. Tantra goes way beyond delusion.

    Apparently, we don’t actually attain enlightenment until all parts of our mind are enlightened.

    Some interesting FAQ questions from practitioners: So what happens when we attain enlightenment? If a Bodhisattva realises exchanging self with others, then others suffering is his suffering? How does a Buddha, who has fully exchanged self, discern your suffering? Are Buddhas separate from our mind and suffering? Where does samsara go when I attain enlightenment? Where do all living beings go? Were they even there to begin with?

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