Entering the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas
Text Sections 302-306 / Stanza 36
Here, Śāntideva offers respect and homage to all those who have developed the precious bodhicitta in their minds. Bodhicitta is the cause that brings happiness to all beings, the cause that frees all beings from suffering.
A buddha is born from a bodhisattva. After three incalculable aeons as a bodhisattva, Śākyamuni finally attained buddhahood. A bodhisattva is born from compassion. Therefore, you should first offer homage and respect to compassion [snying rje]. Candrakīrti [zla ba grags pa] and Śāntideva said that when you pay respect to a bodhisattva, you pay respect to bodhicitta. You are honoring the compassion of that bodhisattva.
Whoever harms a bodhisattva will eventually be freed from saṃsāra, although he must temporarily take rebirth in hell. This refers to the saying:
“In case of a good connection you will reach buddhahood in one lifetime, and in case of a bad connection you will eventually reach the end of saṃsāra
[bzang ’brel tshe gcig sangs rgyas / ngan ’brel ’khor ba mtha’ can].”
An example for a bad connection [ngan ’brel] with the Buddha is the monk Sunakṣatra [dge slong legs pa’i skar ma], who served the Buddha for twenty-five years and knew the entire tripiṭaka by heart. He thought he was equal to the Buddha and could not see any superior quality in the Buddha. The consequences of that negative attitude toward the Buddha are said to be 500 rebirths as a preta and final rebirth in the Avīcī hell [dmyal ba rdo rje’i gdan].
It is further predicted that Sunakṣatra will be liberated at the time of ‘Buddha Rocana’ [sangs rgyas smos pa / smos pa snang mdzad], the last buddha of this ‘Fortunate Aeon’. This illustrates the case of someone with a bad connection to a bodhisattva or a buddha. Despite his bad connection, he will eventually be liberated from saṃsāra.
Those who have no connection to the dharma at all but who only harm beings will stay in saṃsāra endlessly. Anyone who has a connection to the dharma, however, will eventually reach enlightenment because the root of liberation [thar pa’i sa bon] has been implanted in their minds. It is predicted that at the end of this Fortunate Aeon in which one thousand buddhas will appear, at the time of ‘Buddha Rocana’ all beings with a connection to the dharma will take rebirth in Sukhāvatī, the buddha field of Amitābha.
People who have broken their Vajrayāna samāyas (spiritual pledges) with their root gurus must endure rebirth in the hell realms for a long time, but this does come to an end. That is called reaching the end of saṃsāra [’khor ba mtha’ can]. Root gurus cannot liberate their bad students from the consequences of their broken samāyas. Even the Buddha himself cannot save beings from their karma. The buddhas, bodhisattvas and teachers are only the external conditions enabling sentient beings to develop their internal qualities and to purify their own obscurations. In the case of bad students, since the teacher has implanted the seed for liberation in their minds, even though they must take temporary rebirth in the hell realms, their saṃsāra will come to an end, and they will eventually reach enlightenment.
You might ask,
“Who is better off? Someone with absolutely no contact with the dharma, who commits negative deeds, or someone who practices under a qualified master and breaks all the precepts, commitments and samāyas?”
The answer is,
“The one who breaks all his samāyas will take rebirth in the hell realms but will eventually attain enlightenment due to the blessings and aspirations of the buddhas, bodhisattvas and his root guru.
People who have committed negative deeds on the other hand have no chance to meet the dharma because the seed for liberation was never implanted in their minds.
For the bad student saṃsāra will eventually come to an end; for the bad person without any connection to the dharma, there is no end to saṃsāra.”
What the Buddha has said about this must be understood in the context of infinite time [dus mtha’ med pa]. The Buddha clearly perceives the infinity of time and can see the law of cause and effect directly. Ordinary beings only consider how to make it through the day, the week, a month, a year, or this life. Their view of time is extremely limited compared to the Buddha’s wisdom perception. From the perspective of infinite time, it is always better to have some connection with a bodhisattva, be it a good or a bad one. Seen from a limited perspective of time, a bad connection with a bodhisattva looks very frightening.
In text section 302, Khenpo Kunpal refers to the story of the sage Kṣāntivādin [drang srong bzod par smra ba], whose enemies tested his patience by slowly mutilating his body. This story illustrates that any kind of mistreatment can become a cause for increasing the virtue of a bodhisattva.
The poor and miserable are the cause for the bodhisattva’s practice of generosity. A negative person is the cause for the bodhisattva’s practice of patience. Those in great distress and suffering are the objects of the bodhisattva’s practice of compassion. Everything a bodhisattva encounters enhances the power of his practice [rtsal rdzogs]. Everything serves to remove obstacles [bgegs bsal] and enhances [bog ’don] practice. In this way, bodhisattvas can perfect their skills only by facing the world.
For example, if an evil being physically harms a bodhisattva, that being will definitely take rebirth in the lower realms and experience the ripening of his negative karma. However, as the bodhisattva himself harbors no ill will but instead includes the evil person in his aspiration prayers, the evil person will eventually embark on the path to enlightenment due to the power of the bodhisattva’s aspiration.
Having understood the special qualities of the buddhas and the bodhisattvas, one should actually begin to practice taking refuge, developing bodhicitta, offering confession and so forth. Mere theoretical knowledge does not help to reach enlightenment.
Footnotes and references:
gtam rgyud, page 38, the story of the ’Sage called Proclaimer of Patience’, [drang srong bzod pa can gyi gtam rgyud]; and page 41 / 397, the story of the ’King called Power of Kindness’ [rgyal po byams pa’i stobs kyi gtam rgyud]. See also mdzangs blun, story 11, pages 70-75, and story 12, pages 76-78.