Curriculum of Compassion

bodhichitta compassion emptiness guide to the bodhisattva's way of life pandemic shantideva Jul 28, 2020

What are the main building blocks of Buddhahood? There is both the body and the mind of the Buddha. The mind of the Buddha is the mind that realizes complete and utter interdependence or emptiness and the body of the Buddha is of a compassionate, sensitive, capable, skillful agent of change or altruist.

That is where we are in this training for this year. This entire year we accept that we are budding, entry-level bodhisattvas-in-training. We assume the paradigm shift, the perspective of interdependence and of emptiness. We assume the quality of sensitivity for the plight of others as our training ground. We acknowledge the development of compassion as the very vehicle along the highway to Buddhahood and from that motivation there comes a set of very specific practices that will actually allow us to perform in certain ways to reach our objective.

That's why I'm saying if there was no pandemic we would have to construct a problem in our mind to attend to in order to motivate us. But now we don't have to conceive of one. We don't have to fabricate one. It's not only present but it's imminent. This is why I think Geshe Tenzin Zopa's advice at the outset is take full advantage of this. Take full advantage of this. Let's train really hard. Let's train as earnestly as we can. Let's not monkey around. As much as our nervous system is able to tolerate the training, train now because we're going to condense a lot of training into a very pronounced period of time and we will internalize a lot of experiences.

I thought I would read some verses from the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, the guidebook, the manual which you hopefully have a copy of. It would break up some of this with some beautiful poetics. I'm going to read a couple of verses that really caught my attention that highlight the main paradigm picture that I've just laid out, a few verses from each of the first three chapters. I'll start with chapter one which is titled the Benefit of the Spirit of Awakening. The spirit of awakening is bodhicitta. The awakened mind is the mind that aspires or resolves to awaken for the benefit of others.

Verses 1 through 7.
Om, homage to the Buddha.

Reverently bowing to the sugatas,
Who are endowed with the dharmakaya.
Together with their children and all who are worthy of veneration,
I shall concisely present a guide to the discipline of the children of the sugatas in accordance with the scripture.

There is nothing here that has not been said before, Nor do I have any skill in composition.
Thus I have no concern for the welfare of others;
And I have composed this solely to season my own mind.

Owning to this, the power of my faith increases to cultivate virtue,
Moreover, if someone else with a disposition like my own examines this it may be meaningful.

This leisure and endowment which are so difficult to obtain, Have been inquired and they bring about the welfare of the world. If one fails to take this favourable opportunity into consideration, How could this occasion occur again.

Just as lightning illuminates the darkness of a cloudy night for an instant,
In the same way the power of the Buddha.
Occasionally people's minds are momentarily inclined towards merit.

Thus virtue is perpetually ever so feeble, While the power of vice is great and extremely dreadful.
If there were no spirit of perfect awakening, no bodhicitta,
What other virtue would overcome suffering?

The lords of Sages who have been contemplating for many eons, Have seen this alone as a blessing by which joy is easily increased And immeasurable magnitudes of beings are rescued.

It's so beautiful. That's the opening to the guide.
Then later in the same chapter, verses 15.

In brief, the spirit of awakening, bodhicitta, Is known to be of two kinds:
The spirit of aspiring for awakening; and the spirit of venturing towards awakening.

Just as one perceives the difference between a person who yearns to travel to Greece and a traveller,
So do the learned recognize the corresponding difference between these two.

Although the result of the spirit of aspiring for awakening is great within the cycles of existence.
It is still not like that the continual state of merit of the spirit of venturing.
From the time that one adopts the spirit with an irreversible attitude for the sake of liberating living limitless sentient beings,
From that moment on an uninterrupted stream of merit equal to the sky constantly arises even when one is asleep or distracted.

Here he's talking about the two types of bodhicitta, aspiring and endeavoring or engaging bodhicitta. I want to talk about those but I hope that you're just enjoying the eloquence of Shantideva. As you go through your material, it serves as a nice counterbalance to Tsongkhapa or the commentary by Yangsi.

It's nice if you have the time, to just shift directions while you do your study and peruse some of the verses. In Lanie's workbook we have left space for you to just let your right brain and let your soul gravitate towards a few passages and then note them down.
By the end of the course we would have gone through the entire Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life and certain stanzas and verses that deemed of interest to you, resonant with you, jot them down. In a way they will be like verses to reflect on and to come back to and they're really beautiful.

First there are two types of bodhicitta, the ultimate bodhicitta and the relative bodhicitta. For the relative bodhicitta there are two methods for developing bodhicitta. There are not only just two methods for developing bodhicitta, there is the bodhicitta of aspiration and the bodhicitta of engagement. Of the relative type of bodhicitta, there are two methodologies for it's development. One is called the Four Point Exchange of Self and Other and the other is called the Seven Step Cause and Effect method. These are both designed to help inspire altruism as an aspiration. Then there is the engagement version of bodhicitta. In other words, there is the bodhicitta as an aspiration and the bodhicitta of engagement, a practice or a process.

Back up to the top of the list, the two types of bodhicitta. One is called ultimate, the other is called relative or conventional. The ultimate bodhicitta is interdependence or emptiness, the perspective, the paradigm, the one that sees the lack of inherent existence. What does that mean? In the in the situation that we find ourselves I don't want to talk about these philosophies at a distance.

What does emptiness practically mean? It doesn't mean that there is no pandemic. It doesn't mean that there's no one dying. It doesn't mean that there's no problem so just smoke a cigar and enjoy your marshmallows. No, that's not what it means. It means that there's no fixed, intrinsic reality from its own side. It means that because there's no fixed intrinsic reality, everything is interdependent and what does that mean? It means what you bring to a situation transforms it. If you bring more scarcity and more toilet paper grabbing we will make the pandemic worse. If we bring love and compassion, if we use it as a training opportunity, if we take responsibility for our shadow while we're siloed and in isolation, we will emerge as budding bodhisattvas of higher degree than when we started and that is because the situation is empty. It doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It means that it's transformable. It can go one way or the other for each and every one of us. The pandemic doesn't exist from its own side inherently as a complete and utter disaster.

That's why those that have a good firm foundation in emptiness such as Geshe Tenzin Zopa, his Holiness the Dalai Lama, those people that have well acquainted their minds with emptiness, they have less fear. Why do they have less fear? They don't see the world as intractably barreling down at them. They see themselves competently and confidently engaging in it in order to transform it.

Will there be losses? Yes, there will definitely be a lot. Will people die? Absolutely. Have people already died? Unequivocally. Eight hundred a day, possibly, in the United States beginning yesterday. Will there be more? Absolutely. Are we saying emptiness means that doesn't exist? No. We're saying there is a great crisis and at the same time that crisis doesn't have to be one way. It can be many ways. It can bring out the best in us. It can bring out the worst in us.

What would the worst in us look like? It could get a lot worse. It could tumble into civil unrest. We could have absolute crime and pandemonium in New York City in two weeks. How would that dependent origination unfold? Would it happen randomly? Would it just devolve into complete and utter chaos and pandemonium haphazardly and randomly? No, it would be a dependent origination based on the minds of living beings being absolutely terrified, not having confidence in their leadership, not having confidence in the supply chain, not having confidence in the protective measures of society, absolutely descending into their fight flight reactivity grabbing what they could.

If people start to starve on this planet, I guarantee you there will be violence because if it were you or me and we had our children and the day happened where they could starve, we would do whatever it took. I guarantee you that. Wherever it is on the planet, wherever there is starvation there has been violence that very moment.

It could go that way but if it went that way it wouldn't happen randomly. It would have a dependent origination. It would have a pathway, a way of unfolding one domino into the next. But it can go another way. It can go a completely different way. This could bind us together. This could make us more sensitive, more thoughtful, more compassionate. We could rally together. We could choose better leadership. Leadership that would be more accountable to the demand and the need of more people. We could get more creative.

Maybe we would reprioritize our entire national budgets. Maybe it would be less about defense. I don't think people are thinking about wars right now. They might be turning war factories into ventilator factories right now. They might be turning automotive industry into ventilation right now. They might be getting biotech all galvanized around the central hope that we could find a cure not just for the very rich but find a cure inevitably for all people.

All of these are latent potentialities that would be activated and arrived at not by randomness but by sheer intelligence and motivation of a conglomerate of living beings. That's possible and what that shows is emptiness. Emptiness shows that anything is possible. It shows the quantum level of infinite possibilities but then karmically we each have to engage. We have to make choices.

How do we make better choices? We make better choices when we see the bigger picture. We're not just operating under ME. We're not just operating under the hedonic self-interested egocentric, myopic, fight or flight, threat evolutionary defence machine. We operate so much better when we operate collectively and communicatively and collaboratively for the greater good over the totality.

Maybe for the first time in history, the totality now is that we are absolutely as a planet, all in this together. Where that would have been a nice kind of idea or a concept now, is close. It's within reach. That is the ultimate bodhicitta, emptiness. What is emptiness? It is that every appearance lacks an inherent or intrinsic reality. It's more fluid. It's more wave like. You could interact with it and you could create something different out of it. You could reach out into the very fabric of existence through your volition and you could change it. We each do that every single day but we do it unconsciously driven by self-interest. What if we raised the vibration and raised the bar and understood our agency and our power and our sophistication and had universal responsibility between behind each choice and then collectively enough people hit that note that apex.

I think that's what Lynn was talking about from an astrological perspective. I think we are close, cosmically to many more people awakening to the salient characteristics of reality whereas just a month or year prior many more people were in low bandwith frequency of consciousness. This is a great transition towards a Great Awakening. That's how I see it.

If you take a huge step back you are participating in history. You are participating in the tipping point of a paradigm shift. What we do matters, so greatly. I'm not I'm not suggesting that the people in this program can tip the balance. But what I'm saying is we should also not minimize what difference we can make.

I look at all of you and I see people who are joining our network who have their own networks. We each have a sphere of influence. You might go to work and have a sphere of influence of six colleagues. You might go home and be a parent to four little creatures. You might be in education. Some of you have students. You might have clients. We have different spheres of influence.

You can see from degrees of separation that 50 people have a multiplying effect and different networks all over the planet right now, whether they be Dharma or yoga or whatever spiritual networks, are doing the same thing that we're doing. They're realizing the same thing. People are talking right now in their own little bubble about the very same thing that we're talking about. They're talking about interdependence. I guarantee you this.
They're talking about interdependence or possibility and they're talking about compassion and sensitivity.

I guarantee you, the whole conversation of anyone who even has an ounce of sensitivity and a brain that thinks rationally, they are talking about these two concepts and wondering what they can do to make a difference. That is happening for more people now than it may have ever happened. The difference is we have a curriculum from the 10th century about how to do this. We have a curriculum that is reproducible that has withstood the test of time, that has the peer validation and the result of awakened living beings.

Excerpted from the course Awaken the Altruist from the Wise Compassion year of the Contemplative Studies Program. Learn more and register here.