How to Be a Bodhisattva? (P1)

Update: 24/01/2019
By Thich Nhat Hanh, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Judy Lief, Bell Hooks, Christina Feldman and The Karmapa
 

How to Be a Bodhisattva? (P1)

 

It may seem like an unattainable ideal, but you can start right now as a bodhisattva-in-training. All you need is the aspiration to put others first and some inspiration from helpful guides like the Buddhist teachers found here.

Everyone Is Your Guest

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche on your life as a future bodhisattva

Many Mahayana scriptures speak of inviting all sentient beings as our guests. When we invite a guest, we have a sense of the importance of that relationship. Guests are usually fed specially cooked food and receive extra hospitality. The life of a bodhisattva is relating with all sentient beings as guests. The bodhisattva invites everyone as a guest, constantly offering a feast.

Inviting all sentient beings as our guests is the starting point of applying compassion in the Mahayana. By viewing sentient beings as guests, the bodhisattva has a constant sense of the impermanence of the relationship, because eventually all guests leave. So we view the time with our guests as precious. There is a sense of the preciousness and the impermanence of the relationship. Our guest may be our husband, our wife, or our child—everybody is the guest of everybody, constantly. On a day to day level, all relationships for a bodhisattva are based on relating with guests.

Compassion is a combination of maitri, or loving-kindness, and generosity. It is a journey outward, a journey of communication. On one level, compassion is feeling friendly toward ourselves. On another level it is experiencing a sense of richness, that we can expand the warmth we feel toward ourselves to other sentient beings.

It is said in the scriptures that just as fish cannot live without water, compassion cannot develop without egolessness and without the experience of emptiness, or shunyata. It may seem that this view of compassion is somewhat abstract, but in fact it is the heart of the practice of meditation in action.

Compassion is a combination of maitri, or loving-kindness, and generosity. It is a journey outward, a journey of communication. On one level, compassion is feeling friendly toward ourselves. On another level it is experiencing a sense of richness, that we can expand the warmth we feel toward ourselves to other sentient beings.

It is said in the scriptures that just as fish cannot live without water, compassion cannot develop without egolessness and without the experience of emptiness, or shunyata. It may seem that this view of compassion is somewhat abstract, but in fact it is the heart of the practice of meditation in action.

The presence of compassion is experienced as a sudden glimpse, a sense of clarity and warmth simultaneously. According to the scriptures, that glimpse, if you analyze it, takes one-sixtieth of a second. It is so fast and so sharp. The sharpness is the intelligence of the compassion. Compassion also means being open and communicative. It contains warmth. So, first there is maitri, trusting in the heart.

Second, there is a gap in which you experience the openness of tathagatagarbha, or buddhanature.

Third, there is a sense of communication—having already woken up at that level, there is a sense of freedom to expand and to relate with your actions, whatever you are doing. That seems to be how to develop compassion.

6 Baby Steps to Kindness

The path of compassion, says Judy Lief, starts with stepping out of your usual storyline. Here are five ways to do it.

It is amazing how often we think we are out in the world interacting with and helping others, when actually we are simply acting out our preconceived internal storyline. Our vision is clouded and we can only take in what feeds into our plot line.

One way to soften this pattern is by exploring some basic steps that can lead us in the direction of kindness. Instead of trying to will ourselves to be kind—presto!—we can create an atmosphere congenial to the development of loving-kindness.

Here are five small steps to kindness you can practice. You can explore these steps singularly or in combination. The idea is that if you create the right atmosphere, compassion naturally arises. It is already present, just waiting for your invitation.

1. Settle Down

There has to be a here to be a there, and a connection between the two. So the first step is to slow down and let your mind settle enough that you are able to drop from the heights of conceptuality back into your body, a simple form in space. Can you really feel present, in your body as it is, right where you are?

2. Be in the Moment

Now that you are more solidly somewhere, you can let yourself be more clearly sometime. When your thoughts drift from the past or the future, from memories and regrets to plans and dreams, you can gently bring yourself back to the present moment.

3. Drop Escape Routes

Stay put in this particular place and time, just the way it is.

4. Pay Attention to Space

Notice the quality of space within you and around you. Pay attention to the boundaries of your physical body and the space in front, behind, and on each side of you. Also pay attention to the mental–emotional space that accommodates the comings and goings of sensations, thoughts, moods, and emotional upheavals. Whatever arises on an outer or inner level, notice the space in which both you and your perception rest.

5. Share the Space

Explore what it is like to share this space with whoever is there with you. Notice the power of accommodation, acceptance, and nonjudging. When you sense the arising of territoriality and fear, accommodate that too in greater spaciousness.

6. Alchemy

What ordinary people see as lead, alchemists see as gold in disguise. Like alchemists, we can learn to uncover the gold hidden within our human condition—no matter how conflicted and unpromising we humans often seem to be. Our dramas and fascinations, our obsessions, our loves gained and lost may captivate us, but they are fundamentally ephemeral. However, anything that awakens and touches our hearts even a little bit can open us to the possibility of something more. Within the fluctuating passions of the human realm, we can discover the unwavering force of selfless compassion and loving-kindness.

You Deserve Compassion Too

Compassion makes no distinction between self and other, says Christina Feldman. Care for your own suffering in the same way you care for others’.

Some people, carrying long histories of a lack of self-worth or denial, find it difficult to extend compassion toward themselves. Aware of the vast suffering in the world, they may feel it is self-indulgent to care for their own aching body, broken heart, or confused mind. Yet this too is suffering, and genuine compassion makes no distinction between self and other.

The Buddha once said that you could search the whole world and not find anyone more deserving of your love and compassion than yourself. Yet too many people find themselves directing levels of harshness, demand, and judgment inward that they would never dream of directing toward another person, knowing the harm that would be incurred. They are willing to do to themselves what they would not do to others.

The path of compassion is altruistic but not idealistic. Walking this path we are not asked to lay down our life, find a solution for all of the struggles in this world, or immediately rescue all beings. The path of compassion is cultivated one step and one moment at a time. Each of those steps lessens mountains of sorrow in the world.

(cont...)

Lion’s Roar

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