The Immeasurables and Bodhicitta
If we practice without bodhicitta motivation, there is no way to attain Buddhahood. Yesterday we spoke of the first two immeasurables. It's said the difference between the Hinayana and Mahayana is bodhicitta. But the four immeasurables are preliminary to bodhicitta and it arises out of them. So the distinction between the two is not so clear cut. In this text the cultivation of joy and equanimity is combined. Normally our happiness is tainted by suffering. Many people won't understand this. But whatever happiness we experience arises from conditions and is impermanent. We sit down in a comfortable chair and relax and it feels comfortable for a while. But if we were to remain in that chair for hours, it would change to suffering. If we wish to experience happiness void of suffering it must be based on equanimity. True happiness is untainted by the dualistic feeling of aversion and fixation. If our meditation on love is limited to those dear to us, it will not give rise to bodhicitta.. Even though we can't be intimate with all beings we need to give rise to an impartial love. We can use our love for those dear to us and extend it to all beings without discrimination. Whatever love and compassion we feel, we should train in extending it to all beings. This may sound like nothing more than a nice idea, but it's really a powerful practice. The practice is not merely a conceptual contemplation. We need to contemplate the four immeasurables until we abide in love. It's important to distinguish between a conceptual understanding and genuine feeling.
I'm sure you've all seen someone suffering and wishing that they be free of suffering, but feeling powerless, because you can't do that. All negative karmic actions will inevitably arise as pain. It's impossible for our spiritual masters to clear away our karmic accumulations. Only through our own actions can we clear them away. Even though a spiritual master may wish to relieve our suffering, they cannot do so entirely. What they can do is relieve some of our suffering through their love. Great spiritual masters can change the environment through their presence. The other way they can do so is by offering the teaching.
If we apply ourselves to the contemplation of the four immeasurables and bodhicitta, we will attain Buddhahood. The spiritual master cannot pull us out of samsara, but they can show us the way to escape it. Leading beings to enlightenment is the only way to repay the kindness they have shown us is previous lives as our mothers. I'd like to say a few words about salvation. Relatively late in Mahayana Buddhism the idea of pure lands arose. The pure realm of Sukhavati came into existence through Amitabha's past aspirations. There are many Buddha realms, but most are inaccessible to obscured beings. Amitabha sought to make his realm available to all who had faith in him and accomplished this through his vast aspiration. But we cannot be reborn there without our own active practice.
So far we have been speaking of aspirational bodhicitta, which is a conventional, dualistic mind. But in ultimate bodhicitta, dualism is transcended and our minds are inseparable from the Buddhas. This mind cannot be conceived or grasped. Ordinarily the action of the mind is to think. We are carried along by the current of our thoughts and emotions, but don't look at their face. But when we practice mindfulness, as thoughts arise we see them and they dissolve. As we progress in this practice we will notice smaller thoughts and see them earlier. Mind and thoughts are not separate and are one and the same. There is a tendency to want to not think when we meditate. A meditation which suppresses thoughts goes against the nature of things. Rather than repress thoughts, we need to release them. We need the equanimity to see all thoughts as the same. If we become expert at this, nothing can shake this. Whether people criticize or praise us, our minds are unshaken. Whatever thoughts are in our mind, they can be spontaneously liberated. If thoughts are recognized as they arise, no matter what they are, they can be dissolved and no karma is accumulated. But unless we can do this, our thoughts will accumulate karma.
Devotion is the primary way to realize the nature of mind. The blessing that can arise is transformative. But devotion is easily misunderstood in the West. However much we have devotion, we can still cultivate it further. By recalling the qualities of our teachers we can increase it. If you read the life stories of past masters we can appreciate how they practice. How a dualistic devotion or compassion can lead to non-dual awareness is inexplicable. When the mind is focussed through devotion or compassion it's possible for the nature of mind to be glimpsed. The path to Buddhahood is no more than a habituation to this awareness as an unbroken stream. When we practice bodhicitta we should know that it is not also aspirational, that it also encompasses ultimate bodhicitta.
There are different vows that can be taken in the Buddhist tradition. They are taken for different lengths of times. The bodhisattva's vow is taken until we attain enlightenment. You may wonder how this continues in the next life. If you take it and keep it in this life you will encounter the Buddhist teachings in future lives. The fact that we have encountered it in this life means that we have cultivated bodhicitta in previous lives. The seal of the Drikung Kagyu contains the motto "bodhicitta is the supreme yantra of protection." If we hold bodhicitta, it will protect us in future lives.
At present there are many spiritual traditions available to us. There are many new traditions that are based on the inner experience of a magnetic personality. But how many of these teachers have completely transcended suffering? And if they haven't, how can they lead us to that state? There are other traditions that are ancient, but if the transmission of enlightened mind has been interrupted, it's the same as if the tradition started anew. In Tibetan Buddhism we have a continuous chain of enlightened beings going all the way back to the Buddha. As we are practicing in the same way that the Buddhas of old have practiced, we can be sure we are on an unmistaken path. The generosity of the bodhisattvas is so great that they are able to offer their own limbs when asked without a second thought. We do not have to do that now, nor are we capable of doing so.
My teacher distributes the text "The Thirty Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva," and encourages all his students to study and read it daily. Our tradition does not emphasize study, except as it supports practice. But by contemplating texts such as this eventually we will reach a state where we can offer our own limbs to others.
It's important to repeat the bodhisattva vow daily to keep it fresh in our mind. If we keep the bodhisattva vow, there is no situation we encounter that cannot be transformed into the path to awakening. There will not be any mistake in our practice as long as we keep bodhicitta purely. Sometimes its thought that Vajrayana is apart from the Mahayana. But it is purely Mahayana and without cultivating bodhicitta, you will only have limited benefit from its practice. On the other hand, if we genuinely cultivate bodhicitta, we will have all the requirements for Buddhahood. If their is any further training that needs to be done, we will receive it through the Buddhas' blessings.
Susquehanna Yoga Center
March 8, 2008