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Introduction to Buiddhism
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Machig Labdron
Shantideva
Yeshe Tsogyal

    No web site on Buddhism would be complete without a presentation of Shantideva's Bodhisattva Vows and it is for this reason that they are presented here. My commentary follows at the bottom.

Shantideva's Bodhisattva Vows


May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.

May a rain of food and drink descend
To clear away the pain of thirst and hunger
And during the eon of famine
May I myself turn into food and drink.

May I become an inexhaustible treasure
For those who are poor and destitute;
May I turn into all things they could need
And may these be placed close beside them.

Without any sense of loss
I shall give up my body and enjoyments
As well as all my virtues of the three times
For the sake of benefiting all.

By giving up all, sorrow is transcended
And my mind will realize the sorrowless state.
It is best now that I give all to all beings
In the same way as I shall at death.

Having given this body up
For the pleasure of all living beings,
By killing, abusing, and beating it
May they always do as they please.

Although they may play with my body
And make it a thing of ridicule,
Because I have given it up to them
What is the use of holding it dear?

Therefore I shall let them do anything to it
That does not cause them any harm,
And when anyone encounters me
May it never be meaningless for him.

If in those who encounter me
A faithful or angry thought arises,
May that eternally be the source
For fulfilling all their wishes.

May all who say bad things to me
Or cause me any other harm,
And those who mock and insult me,
Have the fortune to fully awaken.

May I be a protector for those without one,
A guide for all travelers on the way;
May I be a bridge, a boat, and a ship
For all who wish to cross the water.

May I be an island for those who seek one
And a lamp for those desiring light;
May I be a bed for all who wish to rest
And a slave for all who want a slave.

May I be a wishing jewel, a magic vase,
Powerful mantras, and great medicine;
May I be a wish fulfilling tree
and a cow of plenty for the world.

Just like the space
And all the great elements such as earth,
may I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

And until they pass away from pain
May I also be the source of life
For all realms of varied beings
That reach into the ends of space.

Just as the previous Lords of Bliss
Conceived the enlightenment spirit,
And just as they successively lived
By the Bodhisattva practices,
Likewise for the sake of all that lives
Do I conceive the spirit of enlightenment,
And shall I too Successively follow the practices.

In order to further increase it from now on,
The intelligent who have vividly taken
The spirit of enlightenment in this way
Should extol it in the following manner:

"Today my life has borne fruit;
having well obtained this human existence,
I've been born in the family of Buddha
And now am one of Buddha's children.

Thus whatever actions I do from now on
Must be in accord with the family tradition.
Never shall I do anything to disgrace
This holy, faultless family!

Just like a blind man
Discovering a jewel in a heap of trash,
Likewise by some coincidence
I have found the enlightenment spirit within me.

It is the supreme elixir
That overcomes the lord of death;
It is the inexhaustible treasure
That eliminates all poverty in the world.

It is the supreme medicine
That cures the world's disease.
It is the evergreen that shelters all beings
Wandering tired on the roads of life.

It is the universal bridge
That frees beings from wretched lives,
It is the rising moon of mind
That dispels the torment of addictions.

It is the great sun that burns away
The mighty ignorance of the world;
It is the quintessential butter
From the churning of the milk of Dharma.

For all guests traveling the path of life
Who wish to experience the true happiness,
The spirit will satisfy them with joy
And exalt them in the highest bliss.

Today in the presence of all the saviors
I invite the world to be my guests
At the feast of temporal and ultimate bliss.
May gods, titans, and all be joyful!
Tashi Delek!

 

    Every time I read this I can't help but say, "WOW!" If eloquence is an indication of mastery Shantideva without doubt was a master. For the longest time I have studied these words to try to understand if his statements were intended to be taken literally or metaphorically. The truth is that I can see how both ways seem to work equally as well. Buddhists always have two perspectives, an absolute and contemporary perspective. From an absolute perspective I think each word is to be taken literally. Yet from a contemporary perspective I think each word is to be taken metaphorically and that both views are equally valid for the arena that they deal with.

    Considering the statement by the Dalai Lama to General Chang, "You cannot liberate me General Chang, I can only liberate myself." There really isn't much a bodhisattva can do for others except to show the way by the examples we demonstrate to others, by how we live our own lives. By doing so we demonstrate to others that other ways of behavior are possible. 

    People have to be in a position where they are so sick of their own lives that they are willing to look at other possibilities and other ways of living. That is why it is often said that Buddhism only works well for those who are dissatisfied with their lives. Considering this, where is the logic in allowing yourself to be ridiculed, stolen from, or possibly killed in the name of helping these people to gain enlightenment? Unless by doing so you are attempting to teach others, by demonstrating your degree of self mastery, and there appears to be no other way to reach them. Nobody respects a fool and anything that diminishes me, diminishes my ability to help others by taking away my resources to do so.

    It is self evident that not all beings on this planet have set themselves on the path to enlightenment or even care to do so. It is self evident that these folks are indeed the most sick and in need of a doctor, but it is impossible to cure someone of a disease that they don't believe they have.

    In times when I am confronted by ridicule and crimes perpetrated against me, I must not respond to these acts in a way that creates negative karma for myself. Which implies that I must respond in some altruistic manner, in an attempt, however ineffective it may prove to be, to demonstrate to these people that their actions are wrong, or choose not to respond at all. What we are dealing with here is the contemporary perspective. It may not represent the pristine idealism of the absolute perspective, but on a daily basis we are not dealing with an absolute or perfect world. The truth is that we live in a world of savage barbarism. How we respond to this world is of the utmost importance because our response demonstrates for all the world to see our level of skillful means in dealing with it.

    Which brings me to my next point. Bodhisattva's aren't the kind of beings who spend all of their days in blissful meditation in a monastery somewhere, visualizing world peace and the enlightenment of all sentient beings. Although a bodhisattva will do this when he / she needs healing themselves. Bodhisattva's are people who have the desire and ability to get down in the trenches with the unenlightened suffering, in an attempt to help to heal them by suffering right along with them. Only by encountering the pain and suffering with these people, are they shown how to deal with their problems in a transcendent way. Bodhisattvas teach by example and by showing how its done. This automatically implies getting your hands dirty. It also implies taking risk and the possibility of getting hurt yourself. A bodhisattva does this out of love and compassion for others and no other reason.

    When practicing this it is important to remember that progress is always very slow. A bodhisattva is not involved in a work that takes fifteen minutes. A bodhisattva is engaged in a work that takes AEONS, over the course of many lifetimes. As such it requires the commitment to keep coming back over successive lifetimes and endure the suffering of human existence for those that the bodhisattva has committed himself to. If you possess the love and compassion to do this for just one person you have become a bodhisattva. The next step is to expand this to include all sentient beings, even the ones you don't like. This is where we discover our limitations. The objective then becomes to rise above our limitations. The truth is that we all meet with varying degrees of success in this matter and one should never berate themselves or others  over the degree of success they experience in doing this.

 

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