What is Bodhisattva?
In Tibetan Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is anyone who is motivated by compassion and seeks enlightenment not only for him/herself but also for everyone…
Becoming a Bodhisattva is a huge step in helping not only yourself, but also every other sentient being, both seen and unseen. Most people are self-motivated and work primarily to solve their own problems, keeping others a distant second. Should someone do an act of kindness, repayment is generally expected whether in the form of a thank you and/or further praise.
A Bodhisattva is motivated by pure compassion and love. Their goal is to achieve the highest level of being: that of a Buddha. Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit term which translates as: Bodhi [enlightenment] and sattva [being]. And their reason for becoming a Buddha is to help others. The Bodhisattva will undergo any type of suffering to help another sentient being, whether a tiny insect or a huge mammal. In Shakyamuni Buddha’s ‘Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines’ it states: “I will become a savior to all those beings, I will release them from all their sufferings.”
When someone first enters the way of the Bodhisattva, they develop Bodhicitta, or, mind of enlightenment. Even as a person strives towards such an exalted goal, they feel as though they are limited by the fact that they, too, are suffering. So that they can be of aid to others, they decide to become Buddhas for a Buddha is capable of unlimited compassion and wisdom.
Also, Buddhas are able to relate to all others at whatever level is needed. To those of lesser intelligence, a Buddha will use simpler words; and to those of great intelligence, a Buddha can explain answers in a more exalted language.
By entering the Bodhisattva way, the mind must become enlightened. And so the training begins by generating the 6 Perfections:
1] generosity, 2] ethics, 3] patience, 4] effort, 5] concentration, and 6] wisdom.
Generosity – How does one become more generous? Is it possible to rid oneself of materialistic tendencies, selfishness and a desire to want to be kind to others and give to those who lack? Being able to provide for people by starting a business and then hiring those who need jobs would be profitable not only for yourself but for those who were previously unemployed. Volunteering your time and talents to those who need them is also a way of cultivating generosity. To share Buddhist teachings so people are able to help themselves and in turn, others, is the finest gift you can offer. You have created a positive ripple effect. The ripples of the teachings will travel far and wide to allow many to be assisted.
The attitude behind your generosity is of the utmost importance; giving with anger or the desire for payment isn’t a good motivation. But if you have a humble motivation to help, then you’re on your way to become a Bodhisattva.
Ethics – Knowing the basic difference between right and wrong is imperative to generating the 6 Perfections. To practice the perfection of ethics means to refrain from doing harm to yourself and all those around you. Killing, sexual misconduct, consuming harmful substances such as alcohol or drugs, being deceitful, and using abusive language must be avoided. All harmful actions are caused by a mind that harbors them, therefore it’s highly important to be mindful of all your thoughts.
Patience – A lack of patience is prevalent in today’s society and this will change if we want to evolve into a Bodhisattva. Patience is the antidote to anger. In Chandrakirti’s ‘Supplement to the Middle Way’ he writes: “It makes us ugly, leads to the unholy, and robs us of discernment to know right from wrong.” When we become angry, our body stiffens, our blood pressure rises, our breathing is impaired, as is our reason. Far too many people languish in prisons due to a few seconds when they went out of control and their anger harmed someone. Anger directed at oneself can result in suicide. Anger causes wars of all sizes.
Patience creates a joyousness within us. Our features become relaxed and we can look many years younger. We are then tolerant and happy and much further along the path of becoming a Bodhisattva.
Effort – Enthusiastic effort is necessary if you want to achieve anything, but for something as noble and challenging as joining the ranks of the Bodhisattvas, effort is definitely a requirement. Who doesn’t want their efforts repaid instantly? However, the way of the Bodhisattva is arduous and requires virtues that many of us currently lack. Laziness is a huge fault that curtails effort. Tomorrow never comes so your effort is needed NOW!
Concentration – Developing a calm mind through meditation will sharpen our concentration. Being able to focus single-pointedly on one object with a non-wavering mind will be a great advantage. The calm-abiding mind develops clairvoyance and abilities to heal ourselves and others. When radiating inward and outward calm, you’ll become like a lighthouse in a stormy night. You’ll inspire others with your strong mental capabilities and they in turn will want the inner peace that you have found for yourself. Concentration is a form of mindfulness. This means that when you pay unwavering attention to what you’re doing, you avoid many frustrations. Lack of mindfulness in the kitchen might result in burning a casserole, which not only wasting the ingredients, but twice as much time will be spent cleaning up the mess. Not practicing mindfulness when driving causes accidents. As Lama Tsong Khapa writes in his ‘Summary of the Stages of the Path’: “Concentration is a king with dominion over the mind, once placed, immovable like the king of mountains.”
Wisdom – Wisdom is the root of all great qualities we can cultivate in this life. As the Sixth Perfection, it is the total of the other five. Meditation on wisdom is essential for entering into the stages of being a Bodhisattva. Buddhist texts emphasize two vital subjects when it comes to knowledge-selflessness and impermanence. Everything changes constantly. One day you leave work at 5:30, the next day it’s 5:45. Nothing is fixed; it’s variable. As for selflessness, we must first discover the location of the self. Is it in the body? If so, where-the mind? The physical world and all living beings are created by the mind. As we are the results of our past actions, so is the world we live in. Since there are places on earth that are like heaven, those areas where so much virtue has settled that people travel great distances to see such wonderful locations. Conversely, the hellish regions are dense accumulations of non-virtue and evil thrives there, keeping people captive to the negative states of consciousness.
To become a Bodhisattva is to be fearless. There is no aversion for those who are hostile and there is no obsessive clinging to those who are closest to us. There is no possessiveness, only love, compassion and discernment into the nature of reality.
Santideva, the 8th century Bodhisattva wrote a book entitled ‘Bodhisattvacharyavatara,’ which is one of the most important texts that students of Tibetan Buddhism study. The title has been translated into ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life’ and is written in verse form. While there are only 10 chapters, dealing with the 6 perfection’s as well as developing the spirit of awakening, in chapter 10, verse 55 the entire essence of the meaning of Bodhisattva is beautifully expressed:
“For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.”