Homage to the enlightened Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
(1.1) I prostrate to the enlightened Buddhas endowed with the Truth Body,
And to the Bodhisattvas and all other objects of prostration.
I will explain briefly, in accordance with the Scriptures,
How to engage in the condensed practices of the Bodhisattva.
Prostrating, quite simply, functions to ripen within our own mental continuum the qualities we are prostrating to. To prostrate means to request that all the obstacles that prevent us from acquiring these good qualities ourself be removed. It likewise is a request that all these good qualities we are prostrating to are bestowed upon us.
In essence, prostration is the actualization of our faith. If we have faith, what we do is we prostrate. By prostrating we develop within ourself the qualities we prostrate to. From this perspective, we can view the entire path of Tantra as – in effect – a giant practice of prostration. There are four main types of faith, blind faith, believing faith, admiring faith and wishing faith. Blind faith is faith without a valid reason. Normally we say blind faith is rejected in Buddhism, but that is not entirely true. Certainly blind faith is not enough, but it can be a stepping stone to higher forms of faith if we are lucky enough to have our objects of blind faith be reliable. For example, those who have practiced it know that the Kadam Dharma of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra are perfectly reliable. Anybody who practices them sincerely will enjoy the results of Dharma practice. If somebody doesn’t know this to be true, but nonetheless develops blind faith in the Kadam Dharma, they can get started on their path, gain some initial experience of its truth, and then these experiences provide them with “valid reasons” upon which they can build higher forms of faith. But it is also possible that we could develop blind faith in incorrect teachings and be led astray. For this reason, we generally say blind faith is unstable, possibly dangerous and certainly not good enough.
The second type of faith is believing faith. Believing faith is faith based on a valid reason. Valid reasons generally are either logical reasons, believing the words of somebody such as a spiritual guide who we know to be reliable, seeing examples in the world or personal experience of the truth of the instructions. These reasons enable us to believe some aspect of Dharma. Believing faith is distinct from wisdom in that wisdom knows its object to be true, whereas believing faith believes it to be true but doesn’t know for sure. In the context of Shantideva’s Guide we can believe that it presents a flawless explanation for how to enter, progress along and complete the Bodhisattva’s path.
In dependence upon believing faith, we then develop admiring faith. Admiring faith admires the good qualities we believe in. If we did not believe the good qualities were true, we couldn’t admire them, but if we do believe them to be true, we cannot help but admire them. The qualities of a bodhisattva and a Buddha are truly extraordinary, and the Guide presents to us how to acquire these qualities for ourself. It is as if we have found a book of magical spells that function to transform us into a holy being. This Guide is beyond priceless. If we truly understood its value, we would gladly offer everything we had in exchange for receiving it.
In dependence upon admiring faith, we naturally develop wishing faith. Wishing faith is a mind that wishes to attain ourselves the good qualities we admire. It is not enough to simply admire the good qualities of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we need to develop these qualities ourselves. Only then can we enjoy eternal happiness and be in a position to help others. Wishing faith is a pure spiritual desire. Desire is not a problem if what we desire is good. Attachment is uncontrolled desire for those things which ultimately harm and deceive us. Wishing faith is controlled, pure desire for those things which ultimately help and free us. We want to develop all-consuming desire for spiritual attainments. Such desire will never deceive us.
Having a wish to develop these good qualities ourself, we then prostrate. We humbly recognize that we ourselves do not possess such qualities, and we quite literally throw ourselves at the feet of those who do requesting them to take us into their care, to remove all of the obstacles that prevent us from acquiring these good qualities, to guide us on how to develop these qualities for ourself and to ultimately bestow them upon us through their blessings.
Modern people sometimes really struggle with the idea of throwing ourselves at the feet of somebody else, especially some spiritual master. The reason for this is two-fold: first, we are incredibly arrogant thinking we know it all and insecure about admitting we have something to learn. Second, we live in degenerate times when there are many charlatans out there who pretend to be some great spiritual master, but are actually nothing more than megalomaniac cult leaders. But we need not have such fear with Shantideva. He is universally revered, and all those who have put his instructions into practice attest to his reliability. He will likewise shatter our arrogance and complacency. Shantideva at times can be quite wrathful, but we need this. Samsara will not coddle us, so it is actually a disservice to us to be treated with kid’s gloves. Shantideva tells it like it is. Sometimes, this can make us very uncomfortable, but we need this. More than our life is at stake. All of our future lives and all of the future lives of all we love are at stake.
Shantideva begins his Guide by prostrating to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We should begin our contemplation of his Guide by prostrating to him. Essentially, Shantideva took all of Buddha’s instructions and organized them in a special presentation for Bodhisattvas. So the origin of these instructions is Buddha, which means they are totally reliable. These instructions are all we need to know about being a bodhisattva. Nothing is missing, so we don’t need to look elsewhere. We have all we need. Our job now is to gain deep experience.