Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Bodhichitta has the power to purify all of our negative karma

Shantideva now begins his explanation of the benefits of bodhichitta.  In Buddhism, we identify things by their uncommon characteristic.  The uncommon characteristic of a human life is the ability to accomplish spiritual goals.  Most human beings actually have the mind of an animal.  How do we know this?  Because the goals they seek are no different than what an animal does (gathering resources, defeating enemies, experiencing some samsaric pleasure).  The goal we pursue determines what level of mind we have.  The highest goal we can accomplish with this human life is full enlightenment – in other words, acquire the ability to lead each and every living being to full enlightenment.  In other words, we can solve all of our own problems and put in place the eventual solution to all the problems of all living beings for all their lives.  To attain enlightenment, we need to want to do so.  This wish is bodhichitta.

Bodhichitta is the mind that spontaneously wishes to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others.  It has two wishes.  The principal wish is to lead each and every living being to full enlightenment.  This wish is great compassion.  The assistant wish is to become a Buddha ourselves so as to be able to accomplish the principal wish.  From a practical point of view, normally we think of bodhichitta in terms of the assistant wish because we are in the process of trying to become a Buddha, but we should always keep foremost in our mind the principal wish.  If we don’t know why we are training so hard, it is very easy to simply stop training.

(1.6) Thus, while our virtues are mostly weak,
Our non-virtues are extremely strong and fearsome.
Other than bodhichitta – a compassionate mind wishing for enlightenment –
What virtue can overcome the heaviest evils?

The first benefit of bodhichitta is it is the most powerful method for purifying our negative karma, more powerful than conventional methods of purification, such as Vajrasattva or the 35 Confession Buddhas.  The reason for this is the mind of bodhichitta is directly orthogonal to all of the negative karma we have accumulated towards all living beings since beginningless time.  All negative actions are, one way or another, harmful to others.  In our countless past lives, we have harmed each and every being in a wide variety of ways.  All of these negative deeds have left a good deal of negative karma on our mind.

The mind of bodhichitta wishes to correct for all of our past deeds with respect to everyone.  When we wrong somebody, it is normal that we try set things right with them by making it up to them in some way.  When we do, we usually repair the relationship and purify the negative karma in the process.  Giving flowers to our wife after we have forgotten our anniversary is kind, but its benefits are quite limited.  Promising to take personal responsibility to one day lead her to the permanent freedom of full enlightenment purifies not only the negative karma of forgetting the anniversary, but all of the harm we have ever done to her in this and our countless past lives.  It makes up for all of our past wrong, and karmically purifies everything, even the deepest negative karma.  Bodhichitta wishes to do the same for all that we have wronged, in other words, all living beings.  In this way, it purifies all of our negative karma.

To purify our negative karma we practice the four opponent powers:

The power of regret is the most important.  Regret quite simply is a mind that realizes we have previously made a mistake and that if we don’t purify the negative karma we created, we will regret it.  We think, “damn, I wish I hadn’t done that.  If I don’t fix this and purify, I am going to have to experience terrible suffering as a result.”  Regret accepts the fact that we are still a deluded being and we can’t stop delusions from arising in our mind and taking possession of us, but at the same time it does not accept the validity of these delusions.  It knows they are wrong and when they arise it sees through their lies.  Regret, however, is not guilt.  Guilt blames ourselves saying that we are bad.  Guilt is a form of anger directed against ourselves, and like all anger it seeks to harm the object of the anger, which in this case is ourselves.  Regret makes a clear distinction between ourselves and our delusions.  Just as we are not our cancer, so too we are not our delusions.  They are the sickness of our mind, but they are not us.  We wish to completely destroy our delusions to free ourselves.  Regret it like compassion for our true selves.  It sees us as the victim of our delusions and their karmic consequences, and wishes to free us from their hold over us.  Regret is also forward looking.  It looks to the future and realizes what we must do to avoid the consequences of our negative karma, it doesn’t look back and beat ourselves up over our mistakes.  Here we acknowledge that we have enormous negative karma on our mind, and that if we don’t purify our future will be painful.  This naturally leads to the conclusion:  I need to purify to avoid this fate.  In the context of bodhichitta, we realize that as long as we allow this negative karma we have with others to remain on our mind we are unable to help those we love.  It is important to note that the specific regret we generate determines the specific negative karma we purify.  For example, if we generate a specific regret for all the negative karma we have created with respect to our family or the people we work with, then when we engage in purification practice we will purify that specific negative karma.

The second opponent power is the power of reliance.  The power of reliance can be understood with analogy of falling on the ground.  To get back up, we need to rely upon that which we fell.  Our engaging in negative actions towards living beings is like falling upon them, but we then rely upon them in the form of using them as the objects of our bodhichitta.  We need to purify to set things right with all of them and to undo all the harm we have inflicted upon them.  When we engage in negative actions, we likewise are falling on the holy beings.  Because the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas love all living beings, to harm any living being is like harming the holy being.  We don’t actually harm them because they are utterly beyond being harm, but it is no different than the reaction a mother would have when her children are being harmed.  To purify, though, we turn to them asking them to illuminate the sky of our mind.

The third opponent power is the power of the opponent force.  This is any virtuous action engaged in motivated by regret.  When we harm people and later regret having done so, we naturally do something nice to them to make it up.  We try undo the harm we have inflicted upon them and we apologize to try set things right.  This is the power of the opponent force.  The rest is just the different means or methods by which we set things right.  The ultimate opponent force is bodhichitta.  The mind of bodhichitta is a mental promise to another living being that for as long as it takes we will do everything to eventually lead them to full enlightenment.  As stated above, this is exactly opposite to all the different negative actions we have committed against a particular person, so it functions to purify all the negative karma we have with respect to that person.

The final power is the power of the promise.  This is a promise to not engage in a specific action again towards that person.  In this context, our promise is our promise to never harm this person and to never abandon the intention to lead this person to enlightenment.  For as long as we do not go back on this promise, it continues to function to purify all of our negative karma towards this person, even while we sleep.

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