Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heart of Compassion | Way of the Bodhisattvas

1.
~ Nama Lokeshvaraya ~
Praise be to Lord (Eeshvara) of the Worlds (Lok)

First of all I should make an effort
To meditate upon the equality between self and others:
I should protect all beings as I do myself
Because we are all equal in wanting pleasure and not wanting pain.

Although there are many different parts and aspects such as the hands; As a body that is to be protected they are one, likewise all the different sentient beings in their pleasure and their pain have a wish to be happy that is the same as mine.

The suffering that I experience
Does not cause any harm to others.
But that suffering is mine because of my conceiving of myself as "I";
Thereby it becomes unbearable.

Likewise the misery of others does not befall me.
Nevertheless, by conceiving of others as "I" their suffering becomes mine; therefore it too should be hard to bear.

Hence I should dispel the misery of others
Because it is suffering, just like my own,
And I should benefit others
Because they are sentient beings, just like myself.

When both myself and others
Are similar in that we wish to be happy,
What is so special about me?
Why do I strive for my happiness alone?

Those who cause me suffering
Are like Buddhas bestowing their blessings.
Since they lead me to liberating paths
Why should I get angry with them?

"Don't they obstruct your virtuous practice?"
No! There is no virtuous practice greater than patience;
Therefore I will never get angry
With those who cause me suffering.

If, because of my own shortcomings,
I do not practice patience with my enemy
It is not he, but I, who prevents me from practicing patience

- Bodhisattva's Way of Life, Shantideva (credit)

2.
Bodhisattva's Radical Heart of Compassion

Bodhisattva's are illuminated beings who vow to serve others in the spirit of compassion for all sentient beings. The name also means wisdom beings, a name given to anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain realization for the benefit of others.

In the Mahayana tradition, those who have the courage to undertake the profound change of attitude required to develop true compassion are called bodhisattvas. Their great resolve - to consider others’ needs as paramount, and thus to attain enlightenment for the sake of all living creatures - carries them beyond the limits imposed by the illusions of “I” and “mine,” culminating in the direct realization of reality, transcending dualistic notions of self and other.

What would be the practical implications of caring more about others than about yourself? This is the quest of the radical heart of a compassionate bodhisattva.

'Thirty-seven Verses on the Practices of Bodhisattvas' is a core scripture from Tibetan Buddhism has been relied upon for six centuries as a synthesis of the Mahayana teachings, and more specifically as a condensation of the famous (but longer) text called Bodhicharyavatara (The Way of the Bodhisattva) by Shantideva, a sage of Bengal. The teachings outline the path of the Bodhisattva, which is a unique and deeply psychological revolution. Understanding the deep message of this scripture intellectually is totally different from experiencing it. Every authentic traditions are based on experience, not intellectualism. This scripture is a food for meditation and daily practice.

From the description of the Book, The Heart of Compassion: The Thirty-seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva I quote, (it) is an extraordinary set of instructions, a training manual composed in the fourteenth century by the Buddhist hermit Ngulchu Thogme, translated by Dilgo Khyentse one of the great Tibetan Buddhist masters of the twentieth century.

This classic text presents ways that we can work with our own hearts and minds, starting wherever we find ourselves now, to unravel our small-minded preoccupations and discover our own potential for compassion, love, and wisdom. (Follow to read in full)

3.
A personal note, in defense of appreciation

Often time I am asked to explain that why I sometime bring in reference of Buddhism (specially when I come from the background of Islamic faith tradition)? Due to how our mind words, out of long conditioning, person born in one faith tradition has always been trained by the religious authority to be closed to other faith traditions and this is very true to Abrahamic traditions which each are quite exclusivist.

I see Buddha as a perfected human beings, a gnostic, insan kamil to borrow sufi term. Even though he is often misunderstood by people of Abrahamic faith tradition simply because Buddha's ingenious teaching avoided the direct usage of the G-word, God. Two earlier post Why Buddha is So Special, Is there God in Buddhism? can be read for some interesting thought reference.

Budha's mastery as spiritual genius can be appreciated well when one understand that he encouraged emptying one's heart and mind. Thus his emphasis was on freedom from attachment and craving because thats the central impulse that drive people into suffering. Buddha himsef helped people break free from superstitions, demigods, idol worship at a time when idol worship was rampant in India and everyone was inventing false gods. He knew well that the overly conditioned mind first be emptied so that human beings can be free from form.

Now Sufis knows well that when heart is sweeped clean, it become ready for the Truth, for the True King to take its Seat. And this Truth is beyond words, this special King has no comparison or description - so Buddha remained perfectly silent on the question of God because the very audience who ask the G-word are already full of ideas. Instead his mission was to free people from the bondage of forms. He himself never bowed to any statue, nor did his holy companions but they adored the Supreme Within Who is beyond Words and prepared the Heart by emptying it. Buddha's teaching of Emptiness is one of the most profound that pointed to the One Reality Indescribable (hence empty of conscious boundary of human mind) and thus often misunderstood by many (even so called Buddhists).

Buddha as I see him, was a perfected gnostic, a being of superluminal heart and the proof is that those who came to sit with him also received that quality of heart. This alone is a testimony for a great teacher. Every tree is known by its fruit, so is the authenticity of a tradition is known by the very flower it gives birth to. The brilliance of Buddha is already evident in the innumerable saintly beings this great path once gave birth to who carry the heart filled with the quality of loving-kindness, compassion and mercy. That alone speaks for the authenticity of the teacher.

Yes many of the original Buddhist teachings are lost and their subsequent explanations might not be of Buddha's, never the less the essential teaching of Buddha remains as valuable as it was in the beginning. To my personal view point Buddhist teachings are a common spiritual heritage of shared humanity regardless of what faith one is born into. The universal values that Buddha's teaching carry, if sincerely internalized by any human being - can help flowering a beautiful, balanced human heart and being.

4.
However endless the worldly life's delusions are, I vow to extinguish them all.

However innumerable souls are,
I vow to help awaken them all.

However innumerable spiritual disciplines are, I vow to master them all.

However beyond word 'The Truth' Is,
I vow to realize It completely.

- The Bodhisattva's Vow

5.
The Way of the Bodhisattva, a Sufi Perspective

Out of their compassionate heart the bodhisattva's make vow to be in the highest service to others. To compare from Sufi Perspective with an intention to offer an inclusive understanding, the vows that bodhisattvas take are like the bayat (taking hand) or holy vows in Sufi Path. Just as a Sufi vow is made for the pursuit and preservation of the highest ethical or moral alchemy as prescribed in the sharia (the greater Way or Tao), so is the vow of bodhisattva to hold highest the noble aim of human existence, namely to serve others.

The being of a bodhisattva is a quest which begins when a flame of deep compassion is ignited within the inner heart. By this flame one passionately feel compassion for other to the extent that in the process others take precedence before the self and its selfish needs (thus one cures the disease of selfishness or egotism). In this regard the path of a bodhisattva is a quest for a compassionate heart and thus carry the beautiful universal quality of Sufi path which is also a path centered around the heart and compassion being one of the foundation in the path.

A traditional definition (of something that is undefinable) of a Sufi describe:

......."A Sufi is one who possesses a heart
................ as soft
.................and
.................as warm
.................as wool."

This definition of a Sufi interestingly gives reference to one of the root meaning of the word "Sufi" which comes from the word Suf, meaning wool. This is because many Prophets such as John the Baptist, Jesus and both of their disciples and many companions of Prophet Muhammad used to wear a coarse woolen garb as a sign of simplicity and holy poverty. At the same time this definition that "A sufi is one who possesses a heart as soft and as warm as wool" is a testimony how compassion is the defining attribute of sufi heart.

Some mystically oriented scholars of Islam see the journey of ascension of Prophet Muhammad as an interesting example that can be seen through the spirit of bodhisattva. The journey of ascension is symbolized as the journey to the Highest, the Supreme Experience of Nearness to God, which is the ultimate goal of most faith traditions, to be close to God. But this journey once achieved was followed by a descent to the dusty earth.

When one to contemplate why after achieving the very purpose of the soul, that is the union with the Supreme Soul, why there is a descent again to planetary existence - if one is familiar with the way of the bodhisattva, one can't help but appreciate this journey back to earth from Supreme Presence as a hallmark of the perfected bodhisattva who postpone even the most desired goal, (namely Nirvana) for the sake of others.

A bodhisattva perspective will explain that the descent back from heaven to earth is only for the giving to the other. So instead of dwelling at the Highest Realm we find that the Prophet returned back to dusty earth so that he can magnanimously give the gift that he has received from the Divine. This is a selfless action of a realized human being, this is an example of perfect bodhisattva who after attaining the Highest (Nirvana) returns for the sake of those who are yet to attain the same. (its worth pointing out the connection that the primary gift that Prophet brought down with him from the Miraj or Ascent is the prescribed Islamic prayer, or salaat of islam and he himself said, 'Salaat is the Miraj of believers' - an interesting parallel from the way of bodhisattava that what he experienced, he came back to offer the same means and path to others).

6.
The Universal Spirit of Bodhisattva

The spirit of bodhisattva, serving in total selfless spirit where 'the other' is put before the self is found universally in the life of every major world teacher and great beings alike. Jesus washing his disciples' feet at the blessed evening before the Passover is an excellent example from the life of Christ. His saying reflect this: "Now that I, your Master and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the One Who sent him."

In terms of realizing the Great Truth and helping other to awaken to the best of one's ability, Christ's saying, "Seek the Kingdom first, everything else will be given unto you" is a pointer to that quest of bodhisattva. Needless to say, Loving one's neighbor, meaning loving 'the other' is a message of compassion found also in the way of the bodhisattva.

In case of Prophet Muhammad, the example of his building the community (ummah) in medina in early days of Islam he demonstated the greatest example of bodhisattva ever. Any conscious reader of Prophet's authentic biography will find it recorded. The spirit of brotherhood in community (sangha in buddhist term) that was formed is historically unparalleled. He taught and lived his saying, "None of you are a believer (forget about your empty claim) until one loves for his brother what he loves for himself." In another place the companions ask the Prophet, "Ya Rasool-Allah, what shall we love for our brothers?" where the Prophet replied, "That they become fully divinely surrendered beings (muslims)." Selflessly emptying everything of his own was his way. "Ya Ummati", "Ya Ummati" (O my holy community, sangha) was his cry in his life time and also will be on the day of intercession - is a concern of a perfected bodhisattva. As an affirmation, the Prophetic model is description in the Quran as, "Harisun 'Alaykum bil mu`mineena Ra'ufun Rahim", 'ardently concerned about the believers, to the believers he is most kind and compassionate'

The Quran speaks of the highest modality of selflessness, in an example of charity, "And they feed, for the love of God, the poor, the orphan ... (saying),"we feed you for the sake of God alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks".

The teaching of Spiritual Chivalry (Futtuwah) which is defined as "that native and foreigner are the same to you, no difference between the other and the self" is same the spirit of bodhisattva. The sufis masterfully crafted guideline of practicing spiritual chivalry which are equivalent to Santideva's outlined practices of bodhisattva in a sense that their goal is to create human being of highest sense of service to others, human beings who truly love their neighbors, put 'the other' before themselves.

7.
Practices of Bodhisattva

Now that I have this great ship, a precious human life, so hard to obtain, I must carry myself and others across the ocean of samsara.
To that end, to listen, reflect, and meditate
Day and night, without distraction, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Like dew on a blade of grass, the delights of the three worlds
By their very nature evaporate in an instant.
To strive for the supreme level of liberation,
Which never changes, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

Through reliance on a true spiritual friend one's faults will fade
And good qualities will grow like a waxing moon
To consider him even more precious
Than one's own body is the practice of a bodhisattva.

If, lacking discipline, one cannot accomplish one's own good,
It is laughable to think of accomplishing the good of others.
Therefore, to observe discipline
Without samsaric motives is the practice of a bodhisattva.

If those who wish for enlightenment must give away even their own bodies, How much more should it be true of material objects?
Therefore, without expectation of result or reward,
To give with generosity is the practice of a bodhisattva.

- Selection from Thirty-seven Verses on the Practices of Bodhisattvas


:: Reference:
. The Heart of Compassion: The Thirty-seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva by Dilgo Khyentse (Google Book)
. The Thirty Seven Practices of the Path of the Bodhisattva, a Commentary by Dalai Lama
. The 37 practices of a Bodhisattva
. Shanti Deva Online
. The Way of the Bodhisattvas by Shantideva
. Buddha's Wisdom and Islamic Teachings
. Buddha never bowed before a statue Pin It Now!

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