Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Training in Bodhicitta

The second point in Mind Training concerns the main practice, which is training in bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment.  There are two aspects to bodhicitta, ultimate and relative.  

Ultimate bodhicitta is connected with the perfection of generosity.  It has the quality of openness, not holding anything back.  This is the vision of the Mahayana, that we can be open, that we have a boundless store of love and compassion that can be shared with the world around us.  The opposite of ultimate bodhicitta is the mind that fixates on our own self-interest.  It is a mind that closes in on itself, focusing on 'I' and 'mine' with its attendants of anger, attachment, jealousy and arrogance.  

Also connected with ultimate bodhicitta is the principle of emptiness.  Emptiness refers to the true nature of phenomena and the true nature of our own mind.  When we examine the world around us and even our own minds we find that everything is interconnected, that there is no independent self to be found.  Since all phenomena arise dependently, we can say that they are empty of a truly existing, autonomous self.  Saying that phenomena are empty in their nature does not mean that they do not exist at all, but rather determines the way they exist, which is interdependently.  Once we realize the empty nature of the self, then generosity and compassion arise very naturally because we have nothing to hold onto, nothing to lose.  

We can speak of ultimate bodhicitta in terms of openness and emptiness, but on another level we can relate it to our own buddhanature, or tathatagarbha.  

The tathatagarbha, often translated as the seed of awakening, can be identified with the soft spot in our hearts.  No matter how much armor we put on to try and protect ourselves from all the hurt in the world, there is always this tenderness or vulnerability that is exposed.  Everyone, no matter how callous, jaded or cruel, wants happiness and to be free from suffering.  

In the Uttaratantra-shastra:
If buddhanature were not present, there would be no remorse over suffering;
There would be no longing for peace, nor striving and devotion towards its aim.   
The tathatagarbha is innate in all beings.  In our meditation, as we sift through the layers of agitation, dullness, irritation, neurosis and projections, we begin to discover our own basic goodness, this naturally present fullness of being.  It is this process of coming home, an abode of natural peace and rest within.  As we recognize this in our own heart and mind, we can see with our own eyes that awakening is possible.  
We can also approach the tathatagarbha on a more subtle level.  Tathata in Sanskrit means suchness, meaning the true nature of reality just as it is, the union of appearance and emptiness.  Garbha can be translated as womb.  In this sense tathatagarbha can be interpreted as the womb of suchness, the true nature of reality and the nature of our own mind that gives birth to the world of samsara and nirvana, bondage and liberation.  We never part from this true nature.  However it manifests, whether as happiness or suffering, we can recognize and abide in this innate buddhanature, the nature of mind.  It is the single sphere, which having never existed as anything whatsoever, can manifest in any way at all.  
The Tathagatas, those thus gone to suchness, abide always and forever in the womb of suchness, the nature of mind free from coming and going in which they endlessly carry out the benefit of beings.  
Of course, all these words may sound nice, but this is something that must be identified in one's own meditation and not merely left as words.  

Relative bodhicitta is how we carry that experience and insight we gain during meditation into our daily life.  It is the practical application of wisdom and compassion.  Having recognized the capacity for awakening in ourselves, how do we bring that onto the path?  How do we let it infuse our life and work?  

Relative bodhicitta is connected with discipline, how to actually carry out the practice.  Discipline refers to how to actually walk, for without discipline it is like trying to walk the path with no legs.  The way the Buddha taught us to tread the path to enlightenment is through the bodhisattva path, exemplified by the six perfections.  

The slogans on relative bodhicitta are quite simply but also very direct.  They reflect the practicality of the Mahayana path, we should make a lot of effort to recall them in our day especially when we are faced with difficult situations. 

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