Thursday, April 03, 2008

Shantideva Class 3

On vows

The Four Bodhisattva Vows (the translation we use)

Beings are numberless; I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable; I vow to embody it.

I woke up this morning and put my hands in gassho (palm to palm), saying “yes” to my life once more. I thought about the idea we discussed in class of giving up on a vow as producing very bad karma.

Have I ever given up on this vow? There has certainly been despair at times in this last couple of years. It feels sometimes like giving up. And yet, even in the midst of that despair, I find something in me trying to learn from the despair. What can this despair teach me about surrender, about letting go of an obstacle?

That tells me that I’m not really giving up. That I’m not going back on my vow. That I’m still trying to find my way to fulfilling this impossible vow. It draws me on, and I think that’s what bodhicitta is, what I call courage, that whatever-it-is that keeps me going, keeps getting me out of bed every morning even when I don’t know what I’m doing, don’t understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. Something in me knows.

I find myself calling on everything I know, every being I know or can imagine, everything within me, to keep going, to keep working on fulfilling this vow, keep finding my way to move forward, even when I don’t know where I’m going, how to go on, how to get through the latest manifestation of the obstacle(s) (is it one or is it many? I don’t even know that.).

Shantideva's version of the Bodhisattva Vows (3:18-22) goes like this:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall,
And a lamp for those who long for light;
For those who need a resting place, a bed;
For all who need a servant, may I be their slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,
A word of power and the supreme healing;
May I be the tree of miracles,
And for every being the abundant cow.

Like the earth and the pervading elements,
Enduring as the sky itself endures,
For boundless multitudes of living beings,
May I be their grounds and sustenance.

Thus for every thing that lives,
As far as are the limits of the sky,
May I provide their livelihood and nourishment
Until they pass beyond the bonds of suffering.

It can sound grandiose, like a big ego trip. And yet what I see is humility, the willingness to give up his own version or opinion of who he is and who he should be to serve what meets him. That is what I aspire to, to get my own self out of the way enough to be of real service.


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