A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha(Part IV)By Acharya ZhiguangAt Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 2015(b) Introduction to Bodhichitta Teachings in The Exhortation to Resolve Upon Bodhichitta in Chinese BuddhismJust like Tibetan Buddhism, there are also many Bodhichitta teachings in Chinese Buddhism.There’s a great master in Chinese Buddhism named Xing An. He once gave a precious teaching known as The Exhortation To Resolve Upon Bodhichitta in Asoka Monastery in the city of Ningbo. Asoka Monastery is a very famous pilgrimage site for a lot of people because a…
A Brief Commentary on The Sutra Of The Four Practices For Bodhisattvas Spoken By The Buddha
By Acharya Zhiguang
At Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain on July 2015
(b) Introduction to Bodhichitta Teachings in The Exhortation to Resolve Upon Bodhichitta in Chinese Buddhism
Just like Tibetan Buddhism, there are also many Bodhichitta teachings in Chinese Buddhism.
There’s a great master in Chinese Buddhism named Xing An. He once gave a precious teaching known as The Exhortation To Resolve Upon Bodhichitta in Asoka Monastery in the city of Ningbo. Asoka Monastery is a very famous pilgrimage site for a lot of people because a piece of the skull relic of the Buddha is enshrined there. We all know that if we bring forth Bodhichitta in front of holy objects such as the relics of the Buddha, the resulting merits will be enormous. At the time of Master Xing An giving teaching to the followers, he asked everyone to generate supreme Bodhichitta before the relic of the Buddha.
My hometown is Ningbo. I visited Tiantong Temple and Asoka Monastery a lot in my childhood. I once listened to a teaching of The Exhortation To Resolve Upon Bodhichitta from a great master in Asoka Monastery and felt great blessings. After that, I vowed to stop killing and become a vegetarian.
According to The Exhortation To Resolve Upon Bodhichitta, Master Xing An talked about ten know-hows of practicing on generating Bodhichitta from ten different perspectives.
(1) Remind ourselves about the immense loving-kindness from the Buddha.
From The Words Of My Perfect Teacher, we’ve learned that all happiness of everyone comes from the blessings of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and our virtuous teachers. Even the gentle touch of a breeze on the face in hot summer comes from the blessing of the Buddha and our virtuous teachers. If there were no Buddha, life in Samsara would have been in absolute darkness, no light at all. It is the Buddha who has brought light to all sentient beings.
In A Guide To Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life, it is stated that:
“Like a flash of lightning that illuminates a dark cloudy night,
In an instant releasing brilliant brightness,
It is due to the powerful blessings from the Buddha,
That a momentary kindness arises in people’s mind.”
That is to say, even a kind thought arising in a split second comes from the blessings of the Buddha, so is our rebirth as human and having the opportunities of hearing the precious Dharma teaching today. The loving-kindness from the Buddha is incomparable.
Since we’ve learned the kindness of the Buddha, it is unacceptable that we do not want to repay it. Therefore, we must generate Bodhichitta to attain the supreme enlightenment in order to enlighten the infinite sentient beings just as the Buddha did. Only in this way can we repay the kindness of the Buddha.
(2) Remind ourselves about the kindness of parents.
All sentient beings have been our parents before. How should we repay the kindness of parents in all the lives we’ve lived? We must give them temporary and ultimate benefits. The best way is that we develop Bodhichitta and attain the supreme enlightenment. This has been explained in detail in The Words Of My Perfect Teacher.
(3) Remind ourselves of the kindness of our spiritual teachers.
Parents give us the physical body. Spiritual teachers give us the life of wisdom, which is more important.
Without spiritual teachers, it is impossible for any sentient being to attain Buddhahood. The attainment of Buddhahood of all the Buddhas in the past, present and future is all because of their teachers. Without our masters, we don’t even know what the Three Jewels are. Because of our karmic obstacles, we cannot communicate with the Buddha in person to receive his teachings. However, our compassionate masters come and impart Buddhist teachings to us. From this perspective, the kindness of our masters surpasses all that of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions and the Three Periods.
The experience I have gained during my thirty years of Dharma practice can be summarized in one sentence, that is, we must follow the spiritual teachers.
In The Great Commentary On The Preliminary Practices Of The Great Perfection, there is a citation of the teachings from the Ekottarikagama as follows: “All the pure practices are taught by the spiritual teachers. Even the Buddha himself learned from his teachers on the path of obtaining enlightenment.” So we need to know very clearly that the kindness received from our teachers is beyond comparison.
After realizing the incomparable kindness from our masters, we can only repay them by following their footsteps, to cultivate Bodhichitta like they did, to attain enlightenment like they did and to enlighten all sentient beings like they did.
(4) Remind ourselves of the kindness of our benefactors.
Benefactors are those who provide for us. No one can survive without others, especially for practitioners like us. Apart from the blessings of our masters and the Three Jewels, we also need support from many others for our achievements. These people supporting us have immense kindness to us too. Without their support, we would not be able to continue our practice. So we need to understand their kindness and repay them.
How can we repay their kindness in the best way? It is for us to cultivate Bodhichitta and attain enlightenment as soon as possible.
(5) Remind ourselves of the kindness of all sentient beings.
All sentient beings have been our parents before. From this perspective, of course we should cultivate Bodhichitta for them.
Meanwhile, in order to become Bodhisattvas, we need an object for cultivating Bodhichitta. In Practices And Vows Of The Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, the Buddha said that, “Great compassion arises due to sentient beings. Bodhichitta arises due to great compassion. Perfect enlightenment arises due to Bodhichitta.” Because there are sentient beings, we can develop the great compassion. Because of the great compassion, we can generate Bodhichitta. Because of Bodhichitta, we can attain Buddhahood in the future. So all sentient beings are very important to us.
(6) Remind ourselves of the sufferings of life and death.
Because we understand the sufferings in Samsara, we generate Bodhichitta.
It is stated in The Words Of My Perfect Teacher that “There is no happiness at all in Samsara, just like there is no trace of fragrance in a cesspit.” Of course, it is hard for the people in this modern world to understand the meaning of this statement. I suggest that you go find a toilet in a remote area if possible, so you can experience and understand all this. Modern people think that all the toilets are clean. (The Acharya laughed.)
In our modern society, the abundant materials are overwhelming, so sometimes it’s hard for us to generate renunciation. A few days ago, we had a conversation with a friend in Europe. He said, “The human life is happy, and Samsara is good. Why should we question about this?” This is why we say that it is somewhat hard for beings in heaven to practice. Because they have little suffering. According to Buddhism, suffering is very good for us. The Buddha said we should regard the suffering as our teacher. Suffering is our master. Only when we understand the suffering in Samsara, can we see the afflictions of all sentient beings. Then we can generate the genuine great compassion, and then we can obtain the supreme Bodhichitta.
(7) Respect our own Buddha nature.
We should respect ourselves, and our own Buddha nature.
Why? Because the Buddha and all of us have the Buddha nature. The Buddha has attained Buddhahood while we are still trapped in Samsara, although we have the same Buddha nature. So we should feel ashamed of ourselves because we have failed our Buddha nature. This is what we mean by saying “one is a Buddha when awakened, and an ordinary being when confused”. One should become a Buddha so as not to fail his Buddha nature. To become a Buddha, cultivate Bodhichitta first. This is also a very important reason for cultivating Bodhichitta. When not cultivating Bodhichitta, or not becoming a Buddha, you’re failing your Buddha nature.
(8) Repent our negative karmas.
In A Guide To Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life, it is stated that “Bodhichitta is like fire at the end of a Kalpa that can destroy serious sins in an instant.” Just one thought of Bodhichitta can eliminate immeasurable karmic obstacles. It is also stated that “The tree of Bodhichitta constantly grows fruit; it never fades but flourishes increasingly.” One thought of Bodhichitta can accumulate immeasurable merits for us.
The karmic obstacles result in our sufferings in Samsara. If we do not want to suffer, we must cultivate Bodhichitta diligently, so as to eliminate the negative karmas and accumulate merits through the obtained Bodhichitta. Moreover, when we have obtained Bodhichitta, there’s little chance for us to produce negative karmas. So Bodhichitta is one of the most powerful ways to eliminate negative karmas.
(9) Aspire to gain rebirth in the Western Pureland.
There are a lot of obstacles against our practices in this Saha world, while in the Pureland there are many favorable conditions for our practices. All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, including our lineage masters such as H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche always encouraged us to aspire to be reborn in the Western Pureland. The Larung Gar holds an Ultimate Bliss Dharma Assembly every year, during which all the Buddhist practitioners do the Amitabha practice together. Generally, you need to develop Bodhichitta in order to gain rebirth in the Western Pureland.
After we’re reborn in the Pureland, we will not go backwards in our practice. In the Saha world, we go backwards in our practice easily. Of course, there’s one exception. That is, the high-level Bodhisattvas will never go backwards no matter what difficulties they encounter. These Bodhisattvas don’t need to go to the Western Pureland. I believe that many tulkus in Tibetan Buddhism are the warriors in Samsara, so they don’t necessarily need to go to the Pureland. We should pray for their longevity and forever presence in this world so that they can continuously enlighten the sentient beings in Samsara.
(10) Remind ourselves to keep Dharma alive forever.
The tenth reason for generating Bodhichitta is to try to keep Dharma alive for a long time.
As long as Dharma exists in this world, there is hope for the sentient beings, as well as light. Why do we pray for the longevity and presence of all the great masters in the world? This is because Dharma can exist only when they do.
Dharma is very precious. Without it, the whole world would be in total darkness. Being a Buddhist, we must generate Bodhichitta, and follow the steps of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and lineage masters, to spread the teaching of Dharma and benefit all sentient beings. If no one generates Bodhichitta, or learns, inherits, or spreads the Dharma, it will fade and even perish. Therefore, we have to cultivate Bodhichitta to preserve and spread Dharma, as well as benefit all sentient beings.
The ten points above are why Master Xing An believed we must generate Bodhichitta. They are elaborated in greater detail in The Exhortation To Resolve Upon Bodhichitta. Today I only give a very brief introduction.
(c) Bodhichitta teachings of “Four Great Vows” widely adopted in different Buddhist traditions
In Chinese Buddhism, the following four verses are usually chanted when it comes to the cultivation of Bodhichitta:
Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to enlighten them.
Afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to eliminate them.
Dharma doors are immeasurable; I vow to master them.
The path of the Buddha is unsurpassable: I vow to fulfill it.
According to the Buddhist scriptures, all the Buddhas in the past, present and future generate Bodhichitta by these four verses. We should generate the wish to enlighten all the mother beings. In order to do so, we need to eliminate all our afflictions first. Since we have immeasurable afflictions, we need many Dharma doors (sometimes known as eighty four thousand doors) to fight against them. According to The Great Treatise On The Stages Of The Path To Enlightenment, every method of Dharma practice taught by the Buddha is aimed at solving one specific type of affliction. In order to address the innumerable afflictions, we must vow to master the immeasurable Dharma doors. In the end, we will attain the supreme Buddhahood.
(d) Ultimate Bodhichitta in Tangmi
There are many classifications of Bodhichitta in the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings given above mainly center on the worldly Bodhichitta.
There is a deeper elaboration of Bodhichitta in Tangmi. There is a Tamgmi sutra called The Mahavairocana Sutra. It says, “What is Bodhi? It is to know the mind as it truly is.” What is Bodhi? It is to truly realize the nature of our mind. This is the Bodhichitta, the ultimate Bodhichitta. In this sense, the definition of Bodhichitta here is the same as what is taught in Dzogchen.
What are the requirements for Tangmi practitioners? In Tangmi, if a practitioner wants to engage in Yidam deity or other secret practices, they should first realize the nature of mind. According to some Tangmi masters, if you can abide in the nature of your mind, your behaviors, speeches and thoughts will become the Three Secrets of the Buddha. When you abide in the nature of mind, your behaviors, speeches and thoughts will become the respective ones of the Buddha. The same has also been said in the commentaries and books of the previous lineage masters.
Therefore, the teachings of Bodhichitta are actually unfathomably profound. The Buddha said that one should never forget Bodhichitta, or abandon Bodhichitta even at the cost of losing one’s life. So, Bodhichitta is extremely important.
The above is the first key point given by the Buddha to Bodhisattvas, to cultivate Bodhichitta. It is the most important element in Mahayana Buddhism. Without Bodhichitta, we are not genuine Mahayana Buddhists.
(To be continued)
- Different Paths, Same Destination—Interviews and Dialogues Transcending Sectarianism
- A DROP OF GHEE—Twelve Verses from the Lotus Sutra for a Fulfilling and Happy Life
- The Fourfold Path to Buddhahood—A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha
- Part VII – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
- Part VI – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
- Part V – A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of Four Methods of Practice of Bodhisattvas as Taught by the Buddha
- Meditation on Loving Kindness（English）
- Meditation on Loving Kindness（German）
- Dharma Talk of Acharya Zhiguang on the Vesak Day of 2020
- Notice of the Ekayana Dharma Assembly on Qingming Festival to Repay the Kindness of and Perform Transference
- There is certainly a way to help you! —2020 Buddhist Manual of Eliminating Epidemics
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