The Bodhisattva Path

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The Path of the Bodhisattva

The process of maturing involves both leaving behind concern for your self and reorienting yourself to the benefit of other sentient beings. Then you will be ready to bear inconvenience, trouble, suffering, and vexation on others' behalf. To save sentient beings from suffering, as Buddhists vow to do, requires that you give whatever is needed, time, money, or all your effort. When you give, it may seem that you lose something. A bodhisattva pays no attention to loss. It is the responsibility to other sentient beings that is important.

To voluntarily abandon your own benefit, to actively help and when necessary suffer for the sake of sentient beings is the correct attitude. When our actions in the interest of others are voluntary, our own suffering diminishes. It is when suffering and vexation are involuntary, that they are difficult to bear. Those on the bodhisattva path must disregard their own benefit, despite the discomfort this may bring. Even if the sentient beings we help do not express gratitude, we will have no regrets. This is wisdom and compassion, and way of a bodhisattva.

The Chan View of Life, Dharma Talk by Master Sheng Yen, Oct. 1993

Some of the specific practices of the bodhisattva include:

Observing the bodhisattva precepts

In addition to the five basic precepts, undertaking the additional precepts of the bodhisattva enables one to ascertain the path and establish oneself on the path. The precepts are not "commandments" as much as they are "protectors" against wayward mind and delusive and unwholesome habits. For the bodhisattva the precepts are like a roadmap to virtue and to bodhi-mind. The bodhisattva precepts consist of the Three Cumulative Pure Precepts and the Ten Virtuous Precepts

The Three Cumulative Pure Precepts are the precepts to

  • regulate one's personal behavior.
  • practice and cultivate virtue
  • practice leniency and benevolence to all sentient beings.

The precepts are cumulative in the sense that one practices them through one's successive life cycles.

The Ten Virtuous Precepts include the five basic precepts not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct, lie, or indulge in intoxicants, along with, for those taking the bodhisattva vows, precepts not to slander monastic or lay bodhisattvas, praise oneself and defame others, be miserly, give rise to aversion, or slander the Three Jewels.

Taking the Four Bodhisattva Vows

Along with these bodhisattva precepts, one may also take the bodhisattva vows.

  • Sentient begins without limit I vow to deliver.
  • Afflictions without end I vow to sever.
  • Approaches to Dharma without number I vow to master.
  • The unexcelled enlightenment of a Buddha I vow to attain.

This means one has given rise to bodhicitta ("mind of awakening") and has aroused the ultimate aspiration towards buddhahood.

Practicing the Six Paramitas

The paramitas, or perfections, are to be practiced:

  • generosity
  • morality
  • patience
  • diligence
  • meditation
  • wisdom.

To truly practice the paramitas is to be free from self-attachment and self-cherishing.

In addition to the basic Six Paramitas, bodhisattvas may also practice an additional four: skillful means, determination, spiritual power, and equanimity.

A consequence of practicing the paramitas is the spontaneous nurturing of loving-kindness and compassion.The means for reaching "the other shore" (the meaning of paramita) thus becomes precisely through serving others out of compassion.

The path of the bodhisattva is inseparable from the true practice of Chan. While actively cultivating the methods of dhyana, the Chan practitioner follows the bodhisattva path as the most effective way of lessening vexation, alleviating karma and helping sentient beings. When all the practices of the bodhisattva are harmonious and perfect, one is then practicing the One Buddha Vehicle.