Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The uncommon wish of a Bodhisattva

(1.23) Does our father or mother
Have such a beneficial intention as this?
Do the gods or the sages?
Does even Brahma himself?

I am a father of five, and there is literally nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids.  I have been practicing Dharma for more than 20 years now and know all of the benefits of bodhichitta, etc., but if I am honest with myself, most of my wishes for my kids are still worldly wishes – hoping they get good grades, get into a good college, meet somebody nice, get a good job and so forth.  Our parents love us very much, but they only wish for us samsaric happiness.  That is about as virtuous as my mind gets.  The intention we should have for others is not simply that they experience a better part of samsara but that they be completely free from all contaminated aggregates.

But a bodhisattva’s wish infinitely exceeds such trivialities, and they have this wish not only for their children, but for all living beings without exception.  Venerable Tharchin says he believes that at the time of the ancient Greeks, there was a much closer relationship between the human realm and the realms of the gods and demi-gods.  The gods and Titans (demi-gods) of Greek mythology were very powerful and they did much to protect their followers, but they still showed partiality.  The God of Abraham in the stories of the Bible has done tremendous things over the millennia for the sake of his people, but he did not hesitate to smite their enemies.  Noone can doubt the love of the God of Abraham for his chosen people, but the love of a Bodhisattva far exceeds even that.  The bodhisattva does not wish to merely free a chosen people from Egyptian or Babylonian bondage or even to one day abide with them forever in heaven, but he wishes for all living beings to transcend even heaven and to become themselves one with the Dharmakaya (the Godhead).  (Yes, I am aware there are Christian mystic traditions, including the Mormons, whose practice and love is for all living beings without exception.  I am merely invoking the example of the God of Abraham according to conventional appearance to make a point.  Forgive the poetic license).

(1.24) If, before generating bodhichitta, these living beings
Do not even dream of such a mind
For their own sakes,
How will they develop it for the sake of others?

Even if we have been practicing Dharma for a very long time, most of us (or at least myself) usually think, “liberation and enlightenment would be nice,” but if we check our actions they are still primarily aimed at securing the happiness of this life alone.  Despite our words, our actual actions reveal our real, deep-seated desires.  There is no shame in admitting this.  If we can’t honestly acknowledge where we are at, how can we possibly get any better.  If we arrogantly think we are some advanced bodhisattva when in reality we are quite ordinary, progress becomes impossible.

The reality is, despite having been around the Dharma for a long time, we still don’t genuinely wish for the attainment of spiritual goals.  Perhaps occasionally we do, but most of the time our thoughts and aspirations lie elsewhere.  If we do not wish for liberation and enlightenment for ourself, we cannot possibly genuinely wish it for others.  We might give lip service to compassion and bodhichitta, but it will not be very qualified.  Even though we are Mahayana practitioners, we should take the time to develop a genuine and personal wish for liberation from samsara.  Only then do we have a chance at generating a qualified bodhichitta.

I believe the key to being a long-term Dharma practitioner is to make a correct diagnosis of our problem.  When we first encounter the Dharma, it is all new and wonderful, and it is relatively easy to sustain joyful effort for the first several years.  After about 10 years in the Dharma, though, the novelty of it all wears off.  Sure, it is fun hanging out with our Dharma friends and travelling the world to the different festivals, but that is not enough to sustain the effort and discipline required for a daily practice that continues to blossom year after year.  Yet, we have no difficulty whatsoever generating sustained effort in all of our samsaric pursuits, even in the face of repeated failure.  It is worth checking, “why the difference?”

I believe the explanation for this difference is we have misdiagnosed what is our problem.  We naturally and effortlessly generate effort to work on solving whatever we perceive to be our problem.  By nature, we are problem solvers.  Unfortunately, though, we are confused about what is our problem.  In my view, one of Geshe-la’s most liberating examples is that of the car breaking down.  When our car breaks down, we normally say, “I have a problem.”  No, our car has a problem.  Our problem is our deluded mental reaction to our car breaking down.  That is what is making us unhappy in the face of our car breaking down.  He says we need to clearly distinguish between our outer problems, which require outer solutions; and our inner problems, which require inner solutions.  When we make this distinction, we will naturally apply effort to two different solutions to two different problems, the mechanic for the car, the Dharma for our mind.

All of the Lamrim is really a systematic method for realizing what our problem really is.  We have a precious human life with which we can accomplish all spiritual goals, but we can die at any point.  Because we haven’t purified our negative karma and we routinely respond to misfortune with delusion, there is a very real danger that when we die we will fall into the lower realms.  It is said it is easier to attain enlightenment once born human than it is to be born human once having fallen into the lower realms.  Even if we manage to avoid the lower realms at the time of our death, we will be thrown somewhere else in samsara where we will continue to experience the suferings of being born, getting sick, growing old and dying.  In reality, samsara is a meat grinder in a slaughterhouse, time and time again, we are slaughtered only to be revived to be tortured and killed again.  Each time we are killed, we again play Russian Roulette where virtually every chamber in the karmic gun will send us tumbling into the lower realms.  This is the reality of our situation, it is not just some random theory Buddhists believe.  We must escape.  But not only are we trapped in such a house of horrors, so too are our kids, parents, friends, spouse, neighbors, etc.  How can we leave them in such a state?  We must free them too.  This is the reality of our problem.  If we see this – really realize this to be truth – then we will have no difficulty generating the necessary effort to sustain our Dharma practice.

Without this realization of our problem, bodhichitta will never be anything more for us than a new word we banter on about with our Dharma friends.


One thought on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The uncommon wish of a Bodhisattva

  1. The way you’ve written this is so brilliant – that we are problem solvers, but need to realise what our problem really is.
    Thank you very much for your kindness in writing this 🙂

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