by Andreas Kretschmar | 246,740 words
The English translation of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara (“entering the conduct of the bodhisattvas”), a Sanskrit text with Tibetan commentary. This book explains the bodhisattva concept and gives guidance to the Buddhist practitioner following the Mahāyāna path towards the attainment of enlightenment. The text was written in Sanskrit by Shantideva ...
Generally, the thought or wish to establish all sentient beings in the fruition, the level of buddhahood, is called bodhicitta of aspiration [smon sems]. Committing to the practice of the six perfections in order to establish all sentient beings on the level of buddhahood, the fruition, is called bodhicitta of application [’jug sems]. These two kinds of bodhicitta [byang chub kyi sems gnyis] are identical with the bodhisattva
precepts [byang chub sems dpa’i sdom pa] and also with the three disciplines of the bodhisattvas [byang chub sems dpa’i tshul khrims gsum].
The three disciplines of the bodhisattvas [tshul khrims gsum] are:
- The discipline of refraining from negative conduct,
- the discipline of practicing virtuous dharmas and
- the discipline of fulfilling the benefit of sentient beings.
(1) The discipline of refraining from negative conduct [nyes spyod sdom pa’i tshul khrims]:
A bodhisattva avoids all ten non-virtuous actions [mi dge ba bcu] like poison and keeps the basic training [bslab gzhi] of at least one of the seven precepts of individual liberation [so thar ris bdun], which are the precepts of
- a fully ordained monk [dge slong; skr. bhikṣu];
- a fully ordained nun [dge slong ma; skr. bhikṣunī];
- a monk [dge tshul; skr. śrāmaṇera];
- a nun [dge tshul ma skr. śrāmaṇerikā];
- a male lay practitioner [dge bsnyen; skr. upāsaka];
- a female lay practitioner [dge bsnyen ma; skr. upāsikā] and
- a probationary nun [dge slob ma; skr. śikṣāmāṇā].
(2) The discipline of practicing virtuous dharmas [dge ba chos sdud kyi tshul khrims]: While maintaining discipline of gathering merit by practicing any type of virtue, a bodhisattva studies and contemplates the sublime teachings and practices the teachings that lead to enlightenment, such as the six transcendental perfections.
(3) The discipline of fulfilling the benefit of sentient beings [sems can don byed kyi tshul khrims]: This is how a bodhisattva benefits sentient beings by appropriately meeting their expectations and needs.
Why are the two types of bodhicitta identical with the three disciplines?
(1) The first discipline is refraining from negative conduct [nyes spyod sdom pa’i tshul khrims]. The essence of this discipline is giving up harming others, including the basis for such harm [gzhan gnod gzhi bcas spong], and accomplishing the benefits for others, including the basis for such benefit [gzhan phan gzhi bcas sgrub]. These two aspects are also present in the bodhicitta of aspiration and of application.
Bodhicitta of application and the discipline of refraining from negative conduct are identical when you make the following commitment:
“I will free all mother-like sentient beings, equal to the reaches of space, from all suffering of existence and peace and establish them on the level of complete and perfect buddhahood. For this purpose I will give up the ten non-virtuous actions.”
(2) The second discipline is the discipline of practicing virtuous dharmas [dge ba chos sdud kyi tshul khrims].
The bodhicitta of application and this second discipline are identical, being the thought:
“In order to liberate all sentient beings from their suffering, its causes and results, and to establish them on the level of omniscient buddhahood, I will practice generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditation or wisdom, any of the six perfections.”
(3) The third discipline is the discipline of fulfilling the benefit of sentient beings [sems can don byed kyi tshul khrims] and again is identical with the bodhicitta of application. Bodhicitta and the discipline of fulfilling the benefit of sentient beings are identical when you make the following commitment:
“In order to free all mother-like sentient beings, equal to the reaches of space, from all suffering of existence and peace and establish them on the level of complete and perfect buddhahood, I will tirelessly work to fulfill the benefit of beings.”
Discipline [tshul khrims] refers mainly to disciplining your mind. The precepts [sdom pa] are also nothing other than the mental resolve to safeguard one’s body, speech and mind from non-virtuous actions.
Precepts and bodhicitta are identical in the commitment:
“In order to liberate all sentient beings from their suffering, its causes and results, and to establish them on the level of the omniscient buddhahood, I will safeguard my conduct of body, speech and mind from non-virtuous actions.”
The term precept [sdom pa] simply means making the resolution:
“I will abstain from the ten non-virtuous actions.”
Even after taking the precepts to abstain from the ten non-virtuous actions, we still unintentionally slip into them from time to time. Without meaning to hurt others, due to our habitual patterns we still say words that are painful and cause harm. What is crucial then is to repeatedly re-evoke the intention to abstain from harming others. If one intentionally commits any of the ten non-virtuous actions, however, this is in total contradiction of bodhicitta.
In this manner the two types of bodhicitta, that of aspiration and that of application, are the very precepts of the bodhisattvas [byang chub sems dpa’ sdom pa]. With body, speech and mind, one inflicts not the slightest harm on other beings but benefits other beings with body, speech and mind as much as one is able.
Bodhicitta as such is endowed with different aspects, as in the example of the precious wish-fulfilling jewel. This jewel can cure small pox [rims nad], grant all wishes and needs, and dispel darkness. Just as the wish-fulfilling jewel eradicates infectious diseases, bodhicitta dispels all negativity [sdig pa]. Just as the wish-fulfilling jewel grants all wishes, bodhicitta gives rise to all virtuous qualities [dge tshogs]. Just as the wish-fulfilling jewel dispels darkness, bodhicitta naturally enacts benefit for others [gzhan don byed pa].
Bodhicitta thus includes the three disciplines. As the wish-fulfilling jewel eradicates infectious diseases, bodhicitta is the discipline that safeguards against negative conduct [nyes spyod sdom pa’i tshul khrims]. As the wish-fulfilling jewel grants all wishes, bodhicitta is the discipline of practicing virtuous dharmas [dge ba chos sdud kyi tshul khrims]. As the wish-fulfilling jewel dispels darkness, bodhicitta is the discipline that benefits sentient beings [sems can don byed kyi tshul khrims].
Furthermore, the six perfections are included in the bodhicitta of aspiration and of application. Generally, the six perfections require that you actually do something. These perfections, however, are also included in the attitude of bodhicitta, which is the motivation. The characteristic of generosity [sbyin pa’i mtshan nyid], for instance, is to have a generous mind [btong sems]. It is the thought:
“In order to liberate all sentient beings from their suffering, its causes and results, and to establish them on the level of omniscient buddhahood, I will donate rice to this beggar.”
In the same way, discipline [tshul khrims] is a mind bent on renunciation [spong ba’i sems]; patience [bzod pa] is a mind unruffled by upset [sems mi ’khrugs pa]; diligence [brtson ’grus] is a mind that enjoys virtue [dge ba la spro ba]; meditation is a mind that does not stray from its focus [dmigs pa las mi g.yo ba]; and wisdom [shes rab] is the mind’s capacity to distinguish all phenomena [chos thams cad rnam par dbye ba], to understand all distinctions clearly. In this fashion the bodhicitta of aspiration and of application includes all six perfections.
Bodhicitta of aspiration and of application is the basis of all paths. Endowed with bodhicitta, one can achieve buddhahood. Without bodhicitta, there is no chance to attain buddhahood. Bodhicitta is the unfailing seed for achieving buddhahood. It is compassion as it focuses on all sentient beings. It is wisdom as it focuses on buddhahood.
As explained above, bodhicitta of application requires the intention to actually do something, to engage in certain conduct with a particular motivation. Bodhicitta of application is the thought:
“In order to liberate all sentient beings from their suffering, its causes and results, and to establish them on the level of omniscient buddhahood, I will make this donation.”
Even if you cannot actually complete the act of generosity, it is still sufficient. The most important factor is having the sincere motivation and mindset to do so.
Bodhicitta [byang chub sems] differs from conduct [spyod pa]. Bodhicitta mainly depends on motivation. Mind is the primary factor; conduct is secondary. Conduct always refers to an act of body or speech. Mind is that which puts body and speech into action. Even if the actual conduct is not engaged in, as long as your mind has made a decision, bodhicitta of application is already in place. When you act on this intention, you are carrying out the actual conduct of a bodhisattva.
If your mind has the true motivation of bodhicitta, even if your physical and verbal conduct seem non-virtuous from a traditional point of view, you are still accumulating virtue. If your mind is not imbued with the motivation of bodhicitta, even if your physical and verbal conduct are virtuous, your virtuous conduct does not lead to the attainment of enlightenment. Arousing bodhicitta is entirely a mental event.
So far we have been discussing relative bodhicitta [kun rdzob sems bskyed], but it is important to note that the difference between relative and absolute bodhicitta is marked by the absence or presence of the ’three factors’ [’khor gsum]. If these three factors are present, bodhicitta is relative; if the three factors are absent, it is absolute bodhicitta.
The three factors are fixations [’dzin pa]:
- holding on to subject,
- to object
- and to the action.
For example, holding on to oneself as a donor, the subject, someone who donates a gift; holding on to a recipient, the object, someone who receives the gift; and holding on to the act of giving, the action. Absolute bodhicitta is free from these three fixations. The bodhisattva performs generous actions without holding on to these three fixations. The actions of a bodhisattva who is truly beyond these fixations are called ’transcendental perfections’ [pha rol tu phyin pa].
If you want to become a bodhisattva, you should receive the bodhisattva commitments [byang sdom] from a qualified preceptor during a proper ceremony. In that ceremony you request the Buddha, the bodhisattvas and the vajra master to consider you with kindness.
You visualize the Buddha and bodhisattvas in the sky in front of you, and you repeat the words of the bodhisattva precepts after the preceptor three times.
Following the third repetition, the preceptor snaps his fingers; at that moment you should imagine that the precepts have taken birth in your mind. By receiving the precepts in this way you take upon yourself the commitment to keep the three disciplines [tshul khrims rnam pa gsum] of a bodhisattva.
The main point is to never forsake sentient beings. Always maintain the wish that you want to free all sentient beings from suffering and that you want to establish them on the level of perfect buddhahood. Through our habitual patterns, our mind is not greatly concerned with the welfare of others most of the time. This is normal for a beginner and does not mean that you have lost your bodhisattva commitment. Only if you consciously make up your mind not to help others, particularly when you have an opportunity to benefit them, have you truly lost the bodhisattva precepts.
Having occasional negative thoughts about others or sometimes speaking in an improper manner about others comes from the force of your former bad habits and will definitely impair your bodhisattva precepts. This level of negativity will not destroy the precepts. However, you should re-take your bodhisattva precepts on a daily basis. The tremendous positive momentum of bodhicitta will gradually change the negative patterns of your mind and increase your positive tendencies.