Wednesday, July 29, 2020


For this blog, I wanted to share a transcription of the 41st session of the Thargyen teaching about the cultivation of bodhicitta and bodhisattva vows; as some of you may know, I gave an oral teaching on Gampopa's Thargyen, "The Jewel Ornament of Liberation", at the Manjushri Dharma Center in Pacific Grove. Every Wednesday for almost 3 years, I went through the text, speaking and explaining in Tibetan, which was translated by Jampa Tharchin in the presence of the California Sangha. These talks were audio recorded and sent to some of my students in the United States and overseas.
My heart student from Singapore, Tsering Lhamo, undertook the transcription of all the recorded teachings, of which there are hours of audio. So far, she has painstakingly transcribed 41 sessions amounting to almost 900 pages. She anticipates that, upon completion, there will be around 1500 to 1700 pages in total. She listens to the recording multiple times when transcribing, writing and editing to ensure continuity and clarity in her English transcription of Jampa Tharchin’s translation. Below you can read the transcription of session 41 of the Thargyen teaching:

So set your motivation thinking that no matter what, I must attain the perfect enlightenment and eternal bliss in order to liberate all living beings throughout space who have been my mother from the dangers of samsara, solitary peace and nirvana. It is for this purpose that I will listen to these teachings and I will put them into practice. We will be continuing on with the incomparable Gampopa’s composition “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation”. It is very important that we have some understanding of what dharma really means. In general we can speak of two aspects of dharma; the expression of dharma and that which is expressed.

Without the expression of the dharma then there is no dharma that is expressed. And when we speak about the expression, we can categorise that into the teachings that Buddha gave on Vinaya, discipline, concentrative meditation and wisdom. The abhi-dharma, the sutras and the vinaya; these three expressions of the dharma. And based on that expression, the commentaries written by the Indian and tibetan masters, we get the explanation on what that dharma practiced thats being expressed in the scriptures. That which expresses the dharma are the tripitakas or baskets of the teachings as they are called. The sutras, the vinaya and the abhidharma. And then what the three trainings that are described in those teachings are the training of ethical disciple, concentration and wisdom.

So without hearing the teachings, we won’t know what to practice. Therefore we listen and study the three baskets of the teachings and we go on to contemplate those and meditate on them. That is one way which you can say that the listening part is the expression of the teachings. Then the contemplation and the meditation is the actual practice. It is really important that we incorporate the teachings and put them into practice. If we accumulate a lot of knowledge but don’t really practice it then that is not appropriate. Engaging in the three trainings of ethical discipline, concentration, and wisdom are so important.

In practicing ethical discipline, one aspect of that is restraining ourselves from harmful actions. Such as those we have described in the teachings of the ten non-virtues and abandoning them. For example killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and non virtues of speech of lying, divisive speech and so on. It is in order to protect our practice of concentration and wisdom. The reason why we practice ethical discipline and morality is to act as a protective boundary in which we can safely practice concentration and wisdom within that. We can consider the higher training in concentration, which is primarily referred to shamatha type of meditation. Which the mind is brought to single pointed focus quiescence or calm-abiding. Then the training in wisdom can be summarised under the training of special insight; vipassana in Sanskrit.  

Without that expression of the teachings then there is no way to know how to practice them. This step of expressing the teachings and receiving that expression; of hearing the teachings is so crucial to get some kind of understanding for ourselves. So in this six fold outline of the teachings we have reached the fourth section of the outline:

Buddha nature, which is the timeless original nature of all sentient beings.
The basis, the person who attains enlightenment;
precious human rebirth
The condition which inspires that attainment; the virtuous spiritual guide.
The methods for accomplishing it, which are the instructions
The fruits of accomplishing it, the fully enlightened Buddha kayas or bodies of buddhas.
The activities that occur once having accomplished that; non conceptual deeds benefitting living beings.

There are many instructions on impermanence, karmic cause and effect, sufferings of cyclic existence, relying upon a spiritual master,  that have been given which are included. Within these various methods are the instructions on attaining enlightenment. We have reached Chapter 9 in the book; the cultivation of bodhicitta. This chapter is called fully taking ahold of bodhicitta and in this process of cultivating bodhicitta, there are 7 limb prayers that is done in order to support that.  Some of you may not have been here before so I want to mention that what we are doing now is going through the 7 limb prayers for the purpose of cultivating bodhicitta. They are called the 7 limbs or the 7 branch prayers  and it is important for us to understand which part of the branch they are.

In this context it is really for the cultivation of bodhicitta and in this case the 7 limb prayers are really branches in support of the cultivation of bodhicitta. Usually we can consider this 7 limb prayer to be branches of realizing selflessness. The understanding of selflessness or Shunyata in buddhist teachings is so central to all the teachings. First there is the prostration or homage, second there is the making of offerings, third is the confession or the purification of negativity. Fourth is the rejoicing in virtues of others, fifth is the request for giving of the teachings made to one’s spiritual masters. And sixth is the requesting or beseeching the spiritual masters not to pass into parinirvana. Finally there is the branch of the dedication prayer.

These 7 limbs pervade all of tibetan buddhism and you will find these 7 limbs in almost every kind of practice. So it is something that is indispensable. We have reached Part 2; the actual ceremony on Page 162 where the bodhisattva vows are actually taken. The preparation of the 7 limb prayer is now led up to the actual taking of the bodhisattva vow; the actual generation of bodhicitta. So lets read this section on the actual ceremony: 

2. The Actual Ceremony.
Expressing the commitment is explained in the Collection of Transcendent Instructions. When the Arya Manjushri was born as King Ampa, he went to the Buddha Meghanadaghosa and obtained the instructions on the development of aspiration bodhicitta and took the bodhisattva’s vow at the same time. Likewise, we also should take them together. It is said:

From the beginning to end
Of beginningless and endless samsara,
In order to perform limitless activities for the benefit of sentient beings,
In front of the Lord of the World,
I cultivate bodhicitta
And so forth

Repeat this three times.

Or, one can receive bodhicitta instructions by reciting the brief words from Engaging in the Conduct of Bodhisattvas:
Just as the previous Sugatas
Gave birth to an awakening mind,
And just as they successively dwelt In the bodhisattva practices—
Likewise for the sake of all that live
Do I give birth to an awakening mind,
And likewise shall I too
Successively follow the practices.

Repeat this three times. If one wishes to cultivate bodhicitta and take the vow separately, then recite the words separately and receive it. This completes the actual bodhisattva’s vow ceremony

This ceremony of taking the bodhisattva vow is something that we do every day in our retreat. We recite these words at that time and in your own practice at home, make a note of this practice here and you can do this at home. Reciting the first verse on page 163 “from the beginning to end of beginningless and endless samsara In order to perform limitless activities” and so on. Say it three times and then feel that you have really renewed your bodhisattva vows. You can go on to recite the verse from the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s way of life; and repeat it three times.  So you feel that you have generated bodhicitta and think that you have become a bodhisattva. Think that from this day onwards you are going to give up everything associated with selfishness and self importance. And you are going to cultivate everything that has to do with cherishing and caring about others.

So it is good to make this kind of promise or vow around the virtue we are creating. There are two methods for cultivating bodhicitta and the bodhisattva vow. One comes from Maitreya to Asanga and the other one comes from Manjushri to Nagarjuna and so on. So this is the one that comes from the lineage through Manjushri; with is said to be the lineage of the profound view. Whereas the other one is called the lineage of the vast activities. I think this one coming from Manjushri is very auspicious for us since our centre is Manjushri Dharma Centre. Lets read the next section:

3. The Conclusion.
Make offerings in appreciation for the Triple Gem and meditate on vast joy and happiness about the great accomplishment that has been achieved. It is said:
A person with discriminating wisdom Holds bodhicitta with a great, clear mind. In order to further this He should joyfully uplift his mind this way. And so forth.

Thus the tradition of Shantideva has been explained through the preparation, actual ceremony and conclusion.

Let’s read the next section on Dharmakirti down to the bottom of page 165:

B. Dharmakirti. The tradition of Dharmakirti of Acharya Asanga’s school, which was founded by Arya Maitreya, has two topics: 1. cultivating aspiration bodhicitta and 2. holding the vow of action bodhicitta. The former contains three topics: a) preparation, b) actual ceremony, and c) conclusion.

1. Cultivation of Aspiration Bodhicitta.

a) Preparation. The preparation also has three subdivisions:
(1) supplication,
(2) gathering accumulations, and
(3) special refuge.

(1) Supplication. The disciple who wishes to cultivate bodhicitta proceeds toward a qualified spiritual master and does prostrations. The spiritual master gives instructions and, through his instruction, causes the disciple to renounce samsara, develop great compassion toward all sentient beings, create the desire to attain Buddhahood, develop confidence in the Three Jewels, and develop devotion for the master. After that, the disciple repeats after the master this way: “Please hear me, master. As the previous Thus-gone Ones, Foe Destroyers, Complete Perfect Buddhas and bodhisattvas who reside in high levels first cultivated the mind of unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment, likewise I,___________ , request the master to allow me to cultivate the enlightened attitude of the unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment.” Repeat this three times.

(2) Gathering Accumulations. First, prostrate to the master and Triple Gem, then make offerings of whatever you can actually gather, or visualize in the mind all the offerings that exist. The shramanera vows are received from the updadya (Tib. khenpo) and acharya, bhikshu vows are obtained from the Sangha, but the two types of bodhicitta are obtained through the accumulation of merit. So therefore, if one has wealth it is not sufficient to offer just a little; one needs to make a great offering. In previous times, wealthy bodhisattvas made great offerings. They offered ten million temples and then cultivated bodhicitta. The Fortunate Eon Sutra mentions:

During the regency of King Zamlin, the Sugata Drakjim After having offered over ten million temples to the Tathagata Dawaytok Developed bodhicitta for the first time. If one has little wealth, it is sufficient to make a small offering. In previous times, bodhisattvas who had little wealth made small offerings. By offering a lamp made of one blade of grass, they cultivated bodhicitta. It is said: During the regency of Sugata Ronkye Tenpa, the Tathagata Thayewo After having offered a lamp made of a single blade of grass Developed bodhicitta for the first time. Again, if one has no wealth, there is no need to feel sad over the lack of means. It will be sufficient to do three prostrations. In previous times, bodhisattvas did three prostrations and developed bodhicitta. It is said: The Tathagata Yongden Trengdan After having done three prostrations Before the Tathagata Gyi Dan Developed bodhicitta for the first time.

(3) Special Refuge. This is the same as was explained before in chapter 8.

So as it is mentioned here vows of Pratimoksha or individual liberation such as the monk’s vows that Rinpoche has taken. They are taken independence upon the spiritual master and the community of sangha. Whereas as it says here the bodhicitta vow is taken on the basis of accumulations of positive energy. Through having conviction and devotion towards one’s spiritual master; creating a great accumulations of merit. And it is on this basis that the bodhicitta is generated when the bodhisattva vow is taken.

There is relative or conventional bodhicitta and ultimate bodhicitta. The relative bodhicitta is the kind of bodhicitta where we aspire to enlightenment based on loving kindness and compassion. Based on this love and compassion in our mind is the relative bodhicitta. And ultimate bodhicitta in brief is then the realisation of selflessness or Shunyata. If we want to attain these bodhicittas, first of all we have to develop the conventional bodhicitta aspiring to full enlightenment out of love and compassion for sentient beings. And creating the merit or positive energy to be able to sustain that kind of motivation. Then to develop the ultimate bodhicitta which has to be developed on the basis of conventional bodhicitta.

Lets now read from the top pf page 166 all the way through to the conclusion:

b) Actual Ceremony. The master gives instructions to the disciple in this way: “Wherever space pervades, there are sentient beings. Wherever there are sentient beings, they are pervaded by the afflicting emotions. Wherever there are afflicting emotions, negative karma pervades. Wherever there are evil deeds, suffering pervades. These sentient beings who are suffering were all our parents and these parents were very kind to us. Thus, your kind parents are sinking in the ocean of samsara, tortured by innumerable sufferings; there is no one to protect them. There is so much suffering that they are exhausted and overpowered by delusions. So meditate on how wonderful it would be if they met with peace, the face of happiness. How wonderful if they were free of this suffering! Contemplate this meditation on loving-kindness and compassion for a moment.

“Furthermore, contemplate ‘At this time I have no ability to benefit all these beings.’ Therefore, in order to benefit all these beings, I should attain the state of the one who is called the complete Buddha, the one who has fully exhausted all the faults and perfected all the qualities, has all the abilities to benefit sentient beings. Bring this in the mind.”

After that, repeat after the spiritual master: “Please hear me, all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Please hear me, masters. My name is ___________ . By the root virtues I accumulated in other lifetimes through the practices of generosity, moral ethics, and meditation practice, whether I did them myself, asked others to do them, or rejoiced in other’s good deeds, by all those virtues, as the Buddhas, the previous Thus-gone Ones, Foe Destroyers, Fully Perfect Enlightened Ones, Exalted Ones, and the great bodhisattva mahasattvas who reside in the high levels first cultivated the mind of the unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment, likewise I, ___________, from now on until I achieve perfect, unsurpassed enlightenment will cultivate the mind of unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment for the deliverance of all those sentient beings who have not crossed, to release those who are not released, to help those who have not found the breath to expel it, and to help those who have not achieved the full nirvana to achieve it.” Thus repeat three times.

“Beings who have not crossed” means the sentient beings who inhabit the hell realms, hungry ghosts, and animals—those in the lower realms who have not crossed the ocean of suffering. “Deliver” means to liberate them from the suffering of the lower realms and establish them in the higher realms of gods and humans.

 “Those who are not released” means the beings in the human and god realms who are not released from the bondage of iron fetter-like afflicting emotions. “Released” means establishing them in the definite goodness by releasing them from the afflicting emotions and achieving the state of liberation.

“Those who have not found the breath” means those Hearers and Solitary Realisers who have not found the “breath” of the Mahayana. “To expel the breath” means those who have expelled their breath in the view and behaviour of the Mahayana vehicle by cultivating the mind in the supreme enlightenment and attaining the state of the tenth bhumi.

“Those who have not achieved the full nirvana” means those bodhisattvas who have not attained the non-abiding nirvana. “To achieve the full nirvana” means that these bodhisattvas proceed through all the paths and bhumis and then achieve the full nirvana, which means they attain Buddhahood.

“For” means making commitment to achieve enlightenment in order to accomplish all the necessary actions.

c) Conclusion. Having achieved such a great benefit, one should have great joy and should meditate on great happiness. Also, one should receive explanation of all the trainings. Thus, one who has cultivated this mind is called a bodhisattva, which means having the desire to achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, having the desire to liberate all sentient beings after achieving enlightenment, focusing the mind on enlightenment and sentient beings, and, for this purpose, possessing a great warrior-mind and indomitable courage.

This completes the ceremony for cultivation of aspiration bodhicitta.

So the practice of the Mahayana is extremely vast; we talk about developing love and compassion. And this is not just love for one’s family or one’s own country. When we talk about great compassion, here is where it is really described. “Wherever space pervades there are sentient beings. Wherever there are sentient beings, they are pervaded by the afflicting emotions. Wherever there are afflicting emotions, negative karma pervades. Wherever there are evil deeds, suffering pervades.” And so on. It is talking about sentient beings wherever they are throughout the entirety of space. We are not even talking about just this world or universe but through the entirety of wherever there is space.

This is the object of love and compassion when we speak about the great compassion.  Even though we can’t implement this right now, to set our motivation as vast as we possibly can is the idea. Often when people think about love and compassion, they think about it as something benefitting the other person. That you are giving them something so they really don’t think so much about how it is beneficial to themselves. Actually when we develop this love and compassion, the one who receives the most benefit from doing that is ourseves. What is the reason for that? That is because we have wandered everywhere in the sufferings of cyclic existence of samsara. Due to the creation of negative karma which is all on the basis of this self centered attitude of ‘me, me, me’. This has been the basis that has caused us to keep wandering in suffering.

So if we would like to realize selflessness and manifest this realization of Shunyata, there is only one best thing to do in order to accomplish that. That is to give up this sense of self importance; that oneself is the most supremely important of all. And to take up this attitude of cherishing others; that others are supremely important. If we can do that; to cultivate this compassion for others and give up this self centered mind, then it would be easy for us to realize Shunyata or selflessness.   This is exemplified in that verse from Shantideva that I often quote about whatever happiness that arises in the world arises out of love and cherishing the happiness of others. And whatever suffering that exists in the world arises out of the sense of self-importance or selfishness. And the quotation goes on to say that “there is no need to say much just look at the difference between Buddhas who have devoted themselves to the happiness of others and sentient beings wandering in suffering out of their self-centered attitude. Just look at the difference between these two.

We can see here that this book is not just something to be explained or listened to one time and be done with it. It is something that is to be practiced continually. Now going on with Holding the vow of action Bodhicitta up to beneficial effects:

2. Holding the Vow of Action Bodhicitta. There are three topics regarding taking the action bodhicitta vow:
a) preparation,
b) actual ceremony, and
c) conclusion.

a) Preparation. Preparation has ten subdivisions: supplicating, asking about common obstacles, explaining the different types of downfalls, explaining the faults of downfalls, explaining the beneficial effects of taking the vow, gathering the accumulations, asking about the uncommon obstacles, encouragement, developing special altruistic thought, and briefly explaining the training.

b) Actual Ceremony. The disciple should cultivate the desire to accept the vow. The master calls the noble disciple by name and asks, “The basis of training of all the bodhisattvas of the past and those moral ethics, the basis of training of all the bodhisattvas of the future and those moral ethics, the basis of training of all the bodhisattvas abiding in the ten directions in the present and those moral ethics, the bodhisattvas of the past who were trained on the basis of those trainings and moral ethics, the bodhisattvas of the future who will be trained, the bodhisattvas abiding in the ten directions in the present who are being trained on the basis of those trainings and moral ethics—all the moral ethics are the moral ethics of restraint, the moral ethics of accumulating virtues and the moral ethics of benefiting sentient beings—do you want to accept these from me, a bodhisattva with the name of ?” This is asked three times. The disciple should respond, “Yes, I want to” three times.

c) Conclusion. The conclusion has six subdivisions: making an announcement, explaining the beneficial effects of entering into the omniscient wisdom state, warning not to proclaim the vow randomly, making the disciple understand by briefly describing the training, offering as appreciation, and dedicating the root virtues. This concludes taking the action bodhicitta vow. This is the tradition of Dharmakirti.

So here we have the explanation of taking the vow, holding the vow and action bodhicitta. There are two types of bodhicitta; the aspiring or aspiration bodhicitta and the action or engaging bodhicitta. The aspiring bodhicitta is a wish and it takes place in the mind. Meditating on the four immeasurables and it is the wish to attain enlightenment in order to benefit beings. But the action bodhicitta is actually putting it into practice. This means to employ your speech and physical actions to really benefit beings by practicing the six perfections; generosity, ethical discipline, patience and so on. And the four methods of gathering disciples. These actions that are taken up solely to benefit others.

We will stop here for today and if anyone has any questions, we can take some questions.

Question: We were just reading page 166 that says “Beings who have not crossed” means the sentient beings who inhabit the hell realms, hungry ghosts, and animals—those in the lower realms who have not crossed the ocean of suffering. “Deliver” means to liberate them from the suffering of the lower realms and establish them in the higher realms of gods and humans.” I thought at some point it will say that animals for instance could not come into a higher realm. I may not be understanding this correctly.

Answer: While it is true that in that animal state, that animal doesn’t have the capacity to create the causes then and there to attain higher states of cyclic existence or to attain enlightenment. But the reason the animal rebirth is taken because there have been previous negative karma that led to that rebirth. But when the animal dies or passes beyond that state, there are other positive karma that they have created before.  That can cause them to take birth in human realms or the upper realms of existence. It is possible for them to move into the upper realms of samsara or even to go on to attain enlightenment. Because they have created causes previously for upper rebirth and attaining Sukhavati or the purelands.

It is the case of them having created the karma but it didn’t have the chance to ripen when they were still in the animal realm.  It can’t ripen at that moment so it is karma that has been accumulated but not yet ripened. But once they pass away from their animal existence, and another more positive karma ripens for them, and they take birth in the human realm. Then they can then experience the result of those positive karmas that they have created before.

You may not remember this long story about great master Vasubandu; who was the master of the abhidharma teachings of phenomenology which was quite complex. He was teaching on this subject of abhidharma at one time and there were these two pigeons outside his house that would just stay there and listen to him. Then at one point they were eaten by a hawk and the took rebirth as two disciples of Vasubandu. Because of those imprints and predispositions that they received in their minds from hearing him giving all these teachings, they very quickly and easily became his very highly realized disciples.

Going on to our dedication prayer:

Dedication Prayer of the four dharmas of Gampopa:
May all being’s mind turn towards the dharma
May that dharma become the path
May the path be cleared of deception.
May deception arise as innate wisdom.

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