The Commitments of the Bodhisattva Vow

(From a teaching by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche given at Kunzang Palchen Ling in May 2010. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, transcribed by Alan McCoy, edited by Basia Coulter. Copyright 2010 Bardor Tulku Rinpoche and Peter O’Hearn. All rights reserved.)

The commitments of the bodhisattva vow are divided into three categories: 1) the commitments of bodhichitta in general, and 2) the commitments particular to aspiration and 3) those particular to implementation bodhichitta.

The commitments of bodhichitta in general are: to respect teachers of the mahayana; to avoid the four negativities; and to never mentally abandon any sentient being. The four negativities are: to deceive the venerable or those worthy of veneration (it does not mean elderly); to cause another to regret an action that is not regrettable, so to cause someone unnecessary or inappropriate regret or guilt; to revile or denigrate the holy; and to deceive all beings. Deceiving all beings means to give up bodhichitta, because since you have promised to bring about the awakening of all beings, if you give it up, that is called deceiving all beings. Among the three commitments—respecting teachers of the mahayana, avoiding the four negativities, and never mentally abandoning any sentient being—the most important one is never mentally abandoning any sentient being.

The commitment particular to aspiration bodhichitta is to maintain the intention to achieve buddhahood for the benefit of others.

And the commitments particular to implementation bodhichitta are: to dedicate any virtuous deed you perform to perfect awakening for the benefit of others; and to avoid avoidable wrongdoing.

In addition to this summary of the commitments, it would be good if you would study the extensive treatises on the training of bodhichitta such as the Bodhicharyavatara, its commentaries, and other books.

There are two things that are most important for us to keep in mind regarding the generation and cultivation of bodhichitta. The first is what was mentioned as the most significant commitment of bodhichita in general, which is not mentally abandoning sentient beings. Not mentally abandoning sentient beings does not simply mean not generating the intention to never ever help any being whatsoever. No one generates that. It means not mentally abandoning any one sentient being. And we are in some danger of doing that especially when we become angry. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye in discussing the training of bodhichitta said that the greatest danger for practitioners is to become so resentful of someone else in a situation of conflict that they think, “Even if in the future I have a chance to help you, I will not do so.”

Simply getting angry does not constitute mentally abandoning beings, but when we form the resolution to never help them in the future, that is mentally abandoning them. When we experience conflict with others, we need to remember that there is a great deal of difference between dharma and practitioners of dharma. Dharma itself is pure and unafflicted. Whether we are thinking of dharma as tradition (the buddhas teachings) or dharma of realization, they are both free of affliction. So when someone acts inappropriately and we become outraged, or we think they are acting inappropriately and we become outraged, we first of all have to remember that they are acting in contravention of dharma, not in accordance with it. And if they are fellow practitioners, then this should inspire our compassion rather than our resentment, because they are acting against the course of what they have chosen to do with their life. If you can view it that way, then instead of feeling so much resentment towards the person, you will make the compassionate aspiration that you will be able to help them in the future. In that way a situation of potential conflict can become a source of great compassion that will fuel your bodhichitta.

So the first thing to keep in mind regarding bodhichitta is mentally to never abandon any sentient being even under circumstances of conflict. The second is to understand how a projection of faults works. We are all human beings. Maybe if we were buddhas, we would be different. I am saying that because if we look at the Buddha Shakyamuni’s life, there were plenty of people who did not like the Buddha, who thought that the Buddha was full of defects.

When we see a fault in someone else, whether that fault is there or not, we tend to obsess upon it. When we see a tiny fault in someone else, we fixate on it and give it the importance of a much greater fault. On the other hand we remain largely ignorant of our own faults because we are so clever at hiding our faults from ourselves and sometimes from others. About this Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye wrote in his Calling to the Gurus From Afar, “I conceal a mountain of faults within myself and yet obsess upon a sesame seed’s worth of fault in another.”

There is a connection between our ignorance of our own faults and our awareness of the faults of others. The more we conceal our own faults, and therefore allow them to remain undisturbed, the more aware of and the more irritated by others’ faults we will be. If we can reverse this, if we can start to pay attention to our own faults including our own kleshas [afflictive emotions] and not those of others, and if we can insure that we never mentally abandon any sentient being—although we are still going to have outbursts of mental affliction—we will be in far less danger of ever losing bodhichitta.

To become authentic practitioners we need to be fearless about samsara. In samsara, we are going to experience dissatisfaction and we need to be prepared for that. As is taught in all commentaries on the preliminary practices, it is simply the attribute of samsara that we are going to encounter enemies, be separated from friends, sometimes fail to get what we want, and sometimes lose what we have. An authentic practitioner in such a situation needs not to feel that they have somehow been singled out for persecution or victimization by the world; needs not to think, “Why is this happening to me?” We need to remember that this is simply the way it is, and in such situations, when we find ourselves dissatisfied, we should consider how much worse many others have it. And if in thinking of their plight, we can sincerely wish to remove their suffering and to prevent other beings from suffering, then we will succeed in transforming a situation of potential misery into one of great joy. It is the characteristic of samsara that the way people relate to one another is utterly uncertain. Someone who is your friend today might be your bitterest enemy tomorrow. Someone who is your enemy today might be your friend tomorrow. Really, the dealings between persons are like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, then going back behind another cloud, then coming out from behind the clouds, and so on. It is just not stable. We need to maintain the type of fearlessness that comes from the perspective of seeing beyond our temporary identification of people as friends and enemies. For example, the arhat Madgalyayana once saw a woman nursing her baby while eating some fish and trying to keep a dog away that was trying to get the fish. Seeing this, Madgalyayana laughed. He realized that the woman’s parents, whom she loved very much, had died. An enemy of her parents had also died. The enemy of her parents, whom she had hated during that enemy’s life, was reborn as her child whom she was now nursing and holding in her lap with great affection. Her father, whom she had loved very much, now became the fish that she was eating; and her mother was reborn as the dog that she was kicking trying to keep it from stealing the fish. And so he said, “She is eating her father’s flesh and driving her mother away, holding her worst enemy with great affection in her lap. Samsara makes me laugh.”

If we can develop this kind of perspective, then we will be able to develop stable bodhichitta. One instant of that kind of stable bodhichitta accumulates so much merit that, if it had physical form, it would be larger than all space in the universe. Furthermore this merit continues to accumulate even when we are not thinking about it, even when we are asleep, because the commitment to bodhichitta remains. For this to work, we have to actually take responsibility for the development of our bodhichitta and to train our minds. It is not enough simply to hear lamas talk about aspiration bodhichitta and implementation bodhichitta, and how great they are. Even if you hear hundreds of lamas extol the benefits of bodhichitta, even if you take the bodhisattva vow hundreds of times, if you do not take responsibility for training your own mind and training bodhichitta then you will have generated it, but it is not really going to develop. So I hope that you will train your minds and cultivate bodhichitta, and I offer you my best wishes.

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One Comment

  1. Rich
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    This is a very important teaching- not to mentally abandon any sentient being.