Saturday, 4 April 2009

The Bodhichitta Heart

When I sat in the presence of Master Chunyi Lin, asking for advice, this is what he had to say to me: "Find your compassion."

Grandmaster Yap has taught me countless things, but if there is one thing he has gone out of of his way to hammer at me, it is this: "Kaye, develop your bodhichitta heart."

And Jeddah took forever in my apprenticeship with her to wrestle my awareness enough in meditation so that I would sit in compassion.

I would like to imagine some of that wisdom finally seeped through. So, this is my humble attempt to describe bodhichitta, in my own words (always dangerous, that one). I do not represent it as an authoritative study, but thoughts I've had along the lines. Be forewarned!

Let's start with Wiki:

In Buddhism, bodhicitta[1] (Ch. 菩提心, pudixin, Jp. bodaishin, Tibetan jang chub sem, Mongolian бодь сэтгэл) is the wish to attain complete enlightenment (that is, Buddhahood) in order to be of benefit to all sentient beings – beings trapped in cyclic existence (samsāra) and have not yet reached Buddhahood. One who has bodhicitta as the primary motivation for all of his or her activities is called a bodhisattva.

Etymologically, the word is a combination of the Sanskrit words bodhi and citta. Bodhi means "awakening" or "enlightenment". Citta is derived from the Sanskrit root cit, and denotes "that which is conscious" – mind or consciousness. Bodhicitta may be translated as "awakening mind" or "thought of enlightenment".

So, there is an element of compassion, and an element of wisdom in it. We can see it as two wings holding up one of the most precious methods of Buddhism. I am drawn here to emphasise the word "wish", and to say that it has to do with motive. Enlightenment has a lot to do with motive, and whether or not we experience it could turn on how we phrase our motive. Bodhichitta is a selfless motive, one that at the very least draws our attention to others outside ourselves, and I believe in its higher expressions abides in complete selflessness, a recognition of the illusion of identity.

We are told by Rigpawiki:

Bodhi means our ‘enlightened essence’ and chitta means ‘heart’ or 'mind', hence the translation ‘the heart of enlightened mind’.

The most famous definition of bodhichitta appears in Maitreya's Abhisamayalankara:

Arousing bodhichitta is: for the sake of others,
Longing to attain complete enlightenment.
[...] This has twin aspects or purposes: 1) focusing on sentient beings with compassion, and 2) focusing on complete enlightenment with wisdom.

I like the "heart of the enlightened mind" better. Again, we see that it has compassionate wisdom at its core. Compassion is an interesting one - it can act in a few ways that I see in the spur of the moment:

1. For the seeker who is yet unrealised, compassion is the holding of others before himself, and in so doing he makes himself smaller, gently cutting at ego's hold on him, as he begins to inject the bodhichitta wish into himself.

2. For the realised, it is a way to hold onto the realisation, for the bodhichitta forces his mind open, preventing pride from taking root, and preventing competitiveness from forming.

3. For the bodhisattva, the bodhichitta is the energy of expression, the way of living, completely beyond the grasp of ego. This relates to morality in its highest expression, where every move is motivated by wisdom expressed for the benefit of all. This has to do also, I believe, with the expression energies of the throat chakra. See here.

There must be countless others, and this list cannot be considered complete or even correct.

According to Wiki again:

  • Relative bodhicitta, in which the practitioner works for the good of all beings as if it were his own.
  • Absolute, or ultimate, bodhicitta, which refers to the wisdom of shunyata (śunyatā, a Sanskrit term often translated as "emptiness", though the alternatives "openness" or "spaciousness" probably convey the idea better to Westerners [3]. The concept of śunyatā in Buddhist thought does not refer simply to nothingness, but to freedom from attachments (particularly attachment to the idea of a static or essential self) and fixed ideas about the world and how it should be. The classic text on śunyatā is the Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya Sūtra, a discourse of the Buddha commonly referred to as the "Heart Sūtra."
Notice that the difference is merely in how much identity is left in the practitioner. Someone who is still abiding in the personality of individualised identity expresses relative bodhichitta, whilst someone abiding in the grand nothing, the permanent identity, expresses absolute bodhichitta. Now that I come to think of it, I wonder if they can both be simultaneously present at all.

I believe that relative bodhichitta still has a sense of judgment to it, a belief that beings should be one particular way. At the absolute bodhichitta level, you want exactly what people want, for you are in COMplete sync with other's PASSIONs, no more, no less. And you are always ready to give when called upon, but not before, for you have no judgment around which level they are. Thus, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

The same Wiki page goes on to describe a preference for certain kinds of bodhichitta:

Bodhicitta may be viewed as having different levels: one useful classification is that given by Patrul Rinpoche in his Words of My Perfect Teacher. He states that the lowest level is the way of the King, who primarily seeks his own benefit but who recognizes that his benefit depends crucially on that of his kingdom and his subjects. The middle level is the path of the boatman, who ferries his passengers across the river and simultaneously, of course, ferries himself as well. The highest level is that of the shepherd, who makes sure that all his sheep arrive safely ahead of him and places their welfare above his own.

I submit that the lowest and highest levels are placed not because one is more admirable than the other, but because of how the self diminishes as you rise through it. The ultimate realisation is that we are all one, and a person abiding in that reality has genuine passion for relieving his suffering partners, for they are extensions of himself. And in that act of selflessness, he has eliminated himself from the equation instantaneously anyway.

Quoting from the same page:

Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches that the broader motivation of achieving one's own enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings, bodhicitta, is the best possible motivation one can have for any action, whether it be working in one's vocation, teaching others, or even making an incense offering.

How is it that offering incense can be of use? It is because any action is governed, as always, by motive, and it is the motive the guides the enlightenment, not the action itself. Thus, we can have bodhichitta just expressed through the act of breathing in and out, which is in fact the practice of tonglen. On the subject of incense, I further submit that the acknowledgement of a higher power, one greater than oneless, also further cuts into the ego, which is the primary reason why I believe prostrations are considered important in the Buddhist lineage. They are the physical expression of what is happening in the mind - the bowing down of the Ego-self to the permanent self.

That brings up the interesting question of whether one can be a bodhisattva and a Buddha at the time. I had thought it possible, but it seems to be how the terms are used. In terms of a status recognition, a Buddha is considered higher than a bodhisattva. However, from an innate standpoint, I believe that a bodhisattva can have a Buddha's realisation.

Consider the extract from this page:

Within Tibetan Buddhism, Manjusri is a tantric meditational deity or Yidam, and considered a fully enlightened Buddha.


Manjusri leads the dragon king's daughter to enlightenment in the Lotus Sutra and he gives the second to last summation on emptiness in the Vimalakirti sutra. Tsongkhapa who founded the Gelug sect of tibetan buddhism received his teachings from visions of Manjusri. He is one of the four great bodhisattvas of Chinese buddhism, the four being: Kshitigarbha, Manjusri, Avalokiteshvara, and Samantabhadra. When he attains buddhahood his name will be Universal Sight. His pure land will be one of the two best pure lands in all of existence in all the past, present and future. Manjusri says in the "Manjusri Speaks on the Inconceivable State of Buddhahood" sutra that if Shakyamuni has attained buddhahood then he [Manjusri] has attained buddhahood. He is a dharmakaya bodhisattva, which means that unlike an ordinary 10th stage bodhisattva who still has a bit further to go before full enlightenment is attained, Manjusri has no further to go and can attain buddhahood at any time but has yet to achieve buddhahood because his vows are not yet fulfilled.

It says in a sutra[citation needed] on Manjusri's attainment of Buddhahood that the benefits gained by keeping Manjusri's name in mind are superior to the benefits gained by keeping in mind the names of billions of Buddhas. This sutra can be found in "A Treasury of Mahayana Sutras".[citation needed]

I have gone on for quite awhile now, so I will draw this to a close. There is much to think on, because the expression of the compassion born in the heart occurs in the throat chakra. It is, I suspect, no coincidence that Manjushri Bodhisattva is also known as "Sweet Voice" and the "Lord of Speech".

The realisation of the "chitta" bit will have to wait for another post, perhaps.

P/S: The two types of bodhisattvas are dharmakaya bodhisattvas and rupakaya bodhisattvas.

No comments: