Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The responsibility of being a holy being

While a Bodhisattva does not seek to be praised or honored, they don’t shun it either.  Being held in high esteem enables the Bodhisattva to help others more extensively.  They actively seek to avoid other’s hatred and to live up to other’s faith placed in them.  Being worthy of respect doesn’t entitle us to anything, rather it makes us responsible for everything.

(1.34) Buddha said that whoever generates an evil mind
Towards a Bodhisattva, a supreme benefactor,
Will remain in hell for as many aeons
As the moments for which that evil mind was generated;

The reason why is because anger is a mind that seeks to harm the object of our anger, and since a bodhisattva seeks to help all living beings, to harm a bodhisattva is to indirectly harm all living beings.  The problem is we do not know who is and who is not a Bodhisattva, so it is simply best to not get angry at anyone.

But from the perspective of the Bodhisattva, it is important that they realize the responsibility that comes with being such a person.  Because everything we do is for the sake of all beings, everything others do to us has implications on all living beings.  Thus, we become a karmically supercharged object of other people’s actions.  When people get angry at us, they create incalculably negative karma for themselves.  This is not a warning to them to not get angry at us, it is a warning to us to not act in ways which elicit anger from others.  We seek to spare them from creating such negative karma for themselves by striving to be on good terms with everyone, to apologize whenever our actions result in harm, and to compensate others for any losses we might cause.  Sometimes, of course, a higher virtue may dictate that we say no to somebody’s wrong desires which might make them angry with us, but we should try do so in a skillful way so that they understand our saying no to them is actually an act of love.  If they don’t understand and get angry nonetheless, we should seek blessings to know how to heal the situation, engage in purification practices on their behalf and engage in the practice of taking on their delusions and negative karma upon ourself to try minimize the karmic fallout to them.

It is also worth noting that guilt is just anger directed towards ourselves, and if we are a bodhisattva in training, guilt is anger directed towards a bodhisattva with all the negative karmic implications.  Many Dharma practitioners can easily fall into the trap of the more they learn and read of the good qualities of the Bodhisattva, the more they develop self-loathing for all of their shortcomings.  The qualities of the Bodhisattva are ideals we strive for, not standards we judge ourselves a failure against.  When we make mistakes, we should realize the fault lies with our delusions, not ourselves.  Our delusions rob us of control.  They take possession of us and force us to engage in harmful actions.  They fool us into thinking vice is virtue, so we become a willing participant in our own destruction.  When we make a clear distinction between our true self, which is beyond stain, and our delusions we can be utterly ruthless with our delusions while still being loving and compassionate towards ourself.

(1.35) But, for whoever generates a pure mind of faith,
The effects of good fortune will increase even more than that.

Generating faith in a bodhisattva results in infinite virtue for the same reasons, but since the karma that is created is non-contaminated (and thus indestructible) the good results are greater than the bad results.

When we become bodhisattvas and others generate confidence or faith in us they generate infinite virtue.  So we need to make it a priority to become a bodhisattva and help others generate confidence and faith in us.  By doing so, we can enable them to generate infinite, indestructible merit.  This is a real act of kindness.

How do we help others generate faith in us?  Our motivation has to be completely free from self-cherishing – we want them to have faith in us because we know how much we have to share and we want to help them.  People generate confidence in us when we are able to benefit them.  People don’t have faith by virtue of our position, but by virtue of how helpful we are to them.  The best way to help others generate pure faith in us is to generate pure faith in our own spiritual guide and teachers.  This creates the causes for others to have faith in us.

At the same time, we need to be careful to not do anything that causes others to lose their faith in us.  When great spiritual leaders fall, usually as a result of some form of sexual misconduct or other hypocrisy, many people who had faith in us wind up losing their spiritual lives.  Knowingly doing something that could others to lose faith in us is recklessness in the extreme, no different than spiritual manslaughter.


3 thoughts on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  The responsibility of being a holy being

  1. Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for this article. I find it really helpful and it gives me a lot to think about.

    What do you think about trainee bodhisattvas who are, of course, making mistakes? This can lead to others losing faith in them. Do you think it’s best for the trainee bodhisattva to be open about their mistakes or do you think they should continue to act like an actual bodhisattva? Mainly, I’m thinking there is that human quality in there and I feel I would have more faith in a trainee bodhisattva who can admit their faults. This would also help to take the pressure off me when trying to be a bodhisattva myself.


  2. Hi Chenma,

    Kadam Morten says there are two types of masters, those who show the final result and those who show the path of getting there. Of the two, he says, the latter is more beneficial because we can relate to them easier and we see how we ourselves can do it.

    I 100% think we should never pretend to have qualities we don’t have – that is pretentious pride, and let’s face it, people aren’t stupid. They can see right through us. If they can’t, and later our faults come to the surface, then the people will lose even more faith because we are seen as a hypocrite.

    I think we should be 100% honest with people about our struggles, delusions, and where we are at. In Chinese, the word for sincerity has two parts: true and heart. We are supposed to be sincere practitioners, which means we need to adopt internally and externally a true heart.

    That being said, we shouldn’t share our delusions with those who have no means of handling them. That would be like sneezing in somebody’s face, infecting them with our cold. We can talk openly about our delusions with our teachers and close Sangha friends. As a teacher, we can talk about those delusions we have where we have at least realized the wisdom opponent, even if we still forget it. For example, we all have attachment to chocolate, and we can talk about our struggles with that attachment and the wisdom we have which counters it. We may not realize it perfectly – we are still training – but we have realized the wisdom opponent. So we share our delusion and we share our wisdom opposing it, and we share our experience of actually practicing.

    We, as a tradition, have some experience of high level teachers who pretended to be father along than they were. That didn’t work out too well for anybody involved.

    I say we all keep it honest.


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