Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Abandoning bodhichitta is the heaviest of downfalls

(4.7) How someone who abandons bodhichitta
Can then attain liberation
Is beyond ordinary comprehension –
Only the omniscient can know that.

(4.8) For a Bodhisattva, abandoning bodhichitta
Is the heaviest of all downfalls
For, should he or she incur it,
The whole basis of working for others will be lost.

Why is this the heaviest of downfalls?  When we promise to provide a single benefit and renege on that promise, it is a negative action.  Bodhichitta is the promise to provide every conceivable benefit, so it is infinitely worse.  And bodhichitta promises to do this for every living being, which multiplies how negative the action is by the number of living beings.  Seen in this way, if we understand why generating bodhichitta is the most beneficial mind of all, we can likewise understand why abandoning it is the heaviest of downfalls.

What does it mean to abandon our bodhichitta?  It means with respect to any single individual, we abandon the thought:  I need to become a Buddha for this person.  This needs to be our primary motivation with everybody we meet.  If instead, we actively decide, “I will no longer help this person, they are on their own,” then we have abandoned bodhichitta for that person.

We can also abandon bodhichitta if we make the decision that it is just too hard or unrealistic to help everybody, and instead we are going to just worry about ourself and our own liberation.  We essentially abandon the Mahayana paths and instead decide to focus on our individual freedom for the sake of ourself.

While it is not actively abandoning our bodhichitta if it just fades away, if at some point we become aware that our bodhichitta has faded and we make no effort to try restore it, then this choosing to not bother try is likewise an indirect abandoning of our bodhichitta.  Leaving somebody to die when you could otherwise save them is a form of killing.  In the same way, leaving our bodhichitta to die when we could otherwise save it is a form of abandoning bodhichitta.

If we abandon our bodhichitta we’re not just letting others down, we’re letting go of others.   Perhaps we feel it’s not quite true because we do all sorts of temporary things to help others.  But if we stop there with ordinary help, and we give up on trying to help them overcome their true sufferings and true origins, then we may still have ordinary compassion but we no longer have bodhichitta.  Temporary help may be able to provide conditions for others to experience temporary happiness before they head to the lower realms again.  If this is all we are doing, we need to ask ourselves, are we helping in every way we can?

Our neighbor once turned her back for just a few minutes, and five minutes later she found her 3 year old son dead in the pool when he went in after his ball.  Anybody who has been a parent knows it only takes a few moments of neglect for terrible things to happen.  This is why parents are always extremely vigilant, and the welfare of their kids is never far from their mind.  A bodhisattva should be the same way.  If we are negligent, our bodhichitta can quickly or slowly die, but one way or the other it dies all the same.  The welfare of living beings who we have promised to lead to freedom should never be far from our mind.

We should not be satisfied with simply not abandoning our bodhichitta, but we should treasure it as our most precious possession, constantly nurturing it, caring for it, guarding it and protecting it.  The most precious objects in the world are kept under constant surveillance against thieves or whose who might do them harm.  We should be the same with our bodhichitta, keeping it safe under constant surveillance of mindfulness and alertness.  We naturally treat our Buddha images with respect, placing them on our shrine, putting beautiful offerings before them etc.  In the same way, we should treat our precious mind of bodhichitta with the utmost respect and constantly tend to its welfare.

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