Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Getting our Relationship Right with the Hinayana

Preparation 1:  Overcoming the bodhisattva downfalls associated with the perfection of wisdom.

As with the other chapters, I will first explain the different bodhisattva downfalls with respect to the perfection of wisdom.  Moral discipline is the foundation of all spiritual attainments, and this is especially true for emptiness. 

Bodhisattva downfall:  Abandoning the Hinayana. 

If we regard the holy Dharma of the Hinayana as contradictory to the Mahayana and believe that it must be abandoned we incur a secondary downfall.

This downfall can take many forms.  First, it can take the form of a simple misunderstanding thinking that a Mahayanist abandons the path to liberation in pursuit of the path to enlightenment.  Very often you will hear people new to the Mahayana path mistakenly say that a Bodhisattva forsakes their own liberation and stays in samsara forever until everyone else has been freed.  While no doubt a sublimely compassionate way of thinking, ultimately this is wrong.  We can only save people if we ourselves are on secure grounds.  Likewise, in pursuit of enlightenment, we cannot help but attain liberation along the way.  So such a wish is actually impossible.

Second, we can mistakenly think abandoning our own self-cherishing means abandoning trying to free ourselves.  It can seem selfish to put great effort into our own freedom, so thinking it is selfish we don’t try do so and instead we try to serve only others.  It is true we are to serve only others, but it is because we wish to help others in the greatest possible way that we single pointedly strive to improve our own qualities, skills and abilities to forge ourselves into the most helpful instrument possible.  It is by having improved ourselves that we are freed to help even more.  It is by gaining wisdom and experience ourself that we have something useful to share with others.  It is by having worked through our own delusions that we can skilfully guide others to do the same.  A Bodhisattva seeks every good quality without shame or even the slightest trace of guilt because they know their sole purpose in doing so is to be of greater service to others.

Third, this downfall can take the form of a pride in thinking the Mahayana practitioner is somehow superior to the Hinayana practitioner.  Does a roof think it can stand alone without its walls supporting it?  Can a mountain tower above without the earth underneath it? 

Finally, this downfall can arise from an ignorance grasping at a limited and ultimately mistaken understanding of who we are.  Our ignorance thinks we are this one small being we call ourself, when in reality we are all things.  With the veil of self-grasping ignorance is lifted, the duality between self and others falls away.  All others are parts of ourself.  Our self is the collection of all others.  When we see this, the difference between renunciation and great compassion simply falls away.  Not just in the traditional sense of the mind of renunciation being part of the mind of compassion but more broadly in that the wish to free “ourself” is the same as the wish to free “all beings” because we see the two to be one and the same.

Bodhisattva downfall:  Studying the Hinayana to the detriment of our Mahayana practice. 

If instead of studying the Mahayana we put great effort into studying the Hinayana with the result that our Mahayana practice is weakened we incur a secondary downfall.

While it is true that the Hinayana is the foundation of the Mahayana, this does not mean we stop there.  When travelling a great distance, we know we will pass many places along the way to our final destination.  We do not stay to linger or remain content with what we have already accomplished, rather we push ever onward in our spiritual journey.  We view each stage of the path as a means to a greater end, a stepping stone towards a higher goal.  Just as it is possible to study Mahayana tenets with a Hinayana motivation, so too we can train in the great scope meditations with a Hinayana motivation.  This, too, would be another example of incurring this downfall. 

In some traditions it is taught that we train in one stage of the path at a time, mastering it fully before moving on to the next stage.  While this is no doubt the appropriate way to practice for people of other traditions, within the Kadampa path we train in all five of the principal causes of enlightenment simultaneously.  These five causes are renunciation, bodhichitta, the correct view of emptiness, generation stage and completion stage of Highest Yoga Tantra.  Why do we do this?  There are two main reasons.  First, each stage of the path is intimately interconnected with all of the others.  When we practice them together in the context of a systematic lamrim practice, each direct meditation on any one stage of the path indirectly reinforces all of the others, thus making the attainment of each easier.  Second, by training in all of them simultaneously we will experience their final result simultaneously.  Technically, this is not exactly true in that our experience of the higher stages can never outstrip our experience of the lower stages, but when the results come they will come in rapid succession.  We experience this quite often in our practice, where when we have a sudden breakthrough on one meditation it quickly carries forward into all of our others. 

The key test for this downfall is whether our practice of the lower stages is coming “at the detriment of” the higher trainings.  For example, some people become quite attached to their lamrim trainings and fearful of their Tantric practices, and as a result they never start their higher trainings.  In reality, Tantra is simply a more advanced and rapid way of training in the lamrim.  It is because we wish to deepen our lamrim practice that we take up the Vajrayana path.

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