Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Building Our Spiritual Reliquary

The doubt can arise how can realizing emptiness bestow upon us the abilities of a Buddha to help each and every living being? It seems that if we simply realized that we are empty, then we are no longer able to actually do anything. Further, we can have the doubt that if we no longer have any conceptual minds, then we can no longer think anything so therefore buddhas cannot do anything. How, then, can Buddhas help once anyone has achieved this resultant state, how is it possible to help living beings?  How can living beings benefit from those who have achieved this state if all conceptuality has ceased and there are no longer any conceptual thoughts?  Shantideva goes on to say:

(9.35) Just as wish-fulfilling jewels and wish-granting trees fulfil the hopes of humans and gods
Even though they have no conceptual mind,
So, through the force of the prayers they previously made and the merit accumulated by fortunate beings,
Buddhas manifest physical forms in this world.

(9.36) For example, although the Brahmin who consecrated
The substance in the reliquary known as the “Garuda”
Has long since passed away,
The reliquary continues to alleviate poisons and so forth.

(9.37) In a similar fashion, a Bodhisattva, while training on the path,
Creates the “reliquary” of a Buddha through his collections of merit and wisdom;
And, although he eventually passes beyond sorrow,
He continues to bestow both temporary and ultimate benefits upon all living beings.

This is absolutely one of my favorite analogies in the Dharma. Gen Tharchin explains that we design our own enlightenment on the basis of the pure wishes we generate as bodhisattvas. For example, Avalokiteshvara generated the special wish to help living beings generate compassion. Tara generated the specific wish to help practitioners of lamrim. Manjushri generated specific wish wishes to help people develop their wisdom, and so forth.

In exactly the same way, we need to design our future enlightenment. What kind of Buddha do we want to become? What are the specific skills and abilities we want to have as a Buddha to be able to help others in the future? For example, Gen Samten has epilepsy. As a result, he generated the wish to become a Buddha who has the ability to help others with neurological diseases in the future. When he becomes a Buddha, his blessings will specifically function to help people with such problems.

In a similar way, the specific beings with whom we have a close karmic relationship while we are bodhisattvas will be the beings with whom we have a special karmic connection to be able to lead to enlightenment. For example, Gen Tharchin was on retreat and he told Geshe-la that if he remained on retreat he would soon attain enlightenment. Geshe-la then told him it was time for him to leave his retreat because if he attained enlightenment he would become a “useless Buddha” because he had very few karmic connections with other living beings. He then sent Tharchin out to go teach, which he did in many different countries developing karmic connections with thousands of Kadampas. We now have close karma with him, and as a result we will be able to receive his special blessings when he attains enlightenment. In this way, through the pure intentions we generate as a bodhisattva and the karmic connections we create with other living beings while we are on the path, we shape the type of Buddha we will become and who we will be able to help. This is our spiritual reliquary.

We have all had many examples where we wished for something, and that wish later ripened once all of the other causes and conditions came together. In the same way, if we generate the wish to be able to help living beings in certain ways, when all of the other causes and conditions come together, we will become a Buddha who has this specific ability. The pure wishes we previously generated planted karma on our mind which then ripened in the form of us having these abilities.

The easiest way to understand the reliquary of a Buddha is to consider spaceships. There is no friction in outer space.  If you set an object in motion in outer space it will keep going forever because there is no friction to slow it down. A short period of thrust will then cause the spaceship to remain in motion forever. In exactly the same way, contaminated karma is like friction for the mind. If we purify our mind of all contaminated karma, we eliminate all of the friction within our mind. Then any thought that we put in motion can remain in motion forever. For example if Gen Samten puts the thought that he wants to be able to become a Buddha to help all of those with neurological diseases attain enlightenment in his mind, and he purifies his mind of all karmic friction, then that pure thought of becoming a Buddha with those special abilities will remain in motion forever. Then any and all beings who have neurological diseases will eventually come into contact with him and he will spontaneously emanate and appear in whatever forms are necessary to help those beings overcome their particular problems. All Buddhas work in exactly the same way.

But this does not answer the question of how a Buddha is able to continue to help living beings after they attain enlightenment if they have only non-conceptual minds?  Can buddhas create new karma? Or do they gradually become increasingly irrelevant overtime as the beings with whom they have a close karmic connection either attain enlightenment or become more karmically distant?  If becoming a Buddha means we can no longer generate new karma with living beings and we eventually become impotent because the karma we previously created exhausts itself, then it would make sense to not become a Buddha because that would limit our ability to help others. It would be better to remain forever a bodhisattva. So clearly that could not be the case.

Buddhas can create new karma, they simply cannot create contaminated karma. Because their minds are free from delusions, they can no longer create contaminated karma with living beings. But that does not them from prevent them from creating pure karma with living beings. They do not need conceptual minds to do that because they can use their non-conceptual minds to do so.  

It is really worth considering how the reliquary works.  We make intentions to perpetually become ourselves whatever living beings need.  When this fully ripens, we spontaneously give to others without having to generate anew the conceptual intention to do it.  We can understand this with pure view.  We practice pure view at 50%, then 75%, then 99%, then 100%.  From that point forward, our view and our action collapse into one and we become like a spaceship sent into space without gravity that continues perpetually without new fuel being needed.  Our inner realizations dedicated to others are our real reliquary, and it is this we need to construct within our own mind.

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