Yongey Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche:
Bodhisattva Commitment and Vow
Kagyu Samye Ling, Scotland, August 2003. Translator: Chödrak
This afternoon we are going to have instructions of taking of the Bodhisattva Vow and the benefits of taking it. Generally speaking, through having desire, anger, pride and many conflicting emotions in our mind, this is the cause of all the suffering that we experience. The suffering is caused by the conflicting emotions and also together with that we have a mind, which has a great grasping.
If we have great grasping and a mind, which is under the power of conflicting emotions, then our mind becomes smaller and smaller. Normally what is the thought that occupies our mind? It is the thought that I am the most important, I should succeed, I should have victory and the other person should fail. If we have a mind state, where we think only about ourselves, and try to put ourselves to be at the top or the best, then generally speaking, whatever we try to accomplish, we are unable to do that. So then we loose both the benefit, which we could have obtained for ourselves, and also there is no benefit for others. It is like what was taught yesterday: if one wears a pair of glasses with blue tinted lenses then everything will be perceived as having blue colour. Or if one wore yellow tinted lenses everything would be perceived as being yellow.
We are going to use an example of somebody who habitually steals. Where-ever he goes he passes by people’s homes and looks in wondering how he could break into them and steal their belongings. If he is in town he looks at the shop doorways and windows thinking how he could get inside and steal things.
Imagine that thief is in his own house with his own belongings, there are jewellery and other precious things that he has. Somebody comes to his house and happens to look of some of the things on the side of the table. The thief automatically thinks: “This person came to my house and after one second he is looking how to steal my stuff!” If you walk into a house where you have never been before, it’s quite natural that you might look around at the windows, doors and the contents of the house. The person does this and the thief is thinking: “Oh, he really is thinking of stealing my stuff and not only that, he is looking how to escape!” So if one is a confirmed habitual thief, he will perceive other people to have that kind of mind state and intention. And if one is a person who has a lot of anger within one’s mind, then you will perceive other people to have anger towards you and ill intent towards you.
What beneficial method could be used at this point? At this point we need wisdom. We need to think: “What appears to me to be somebody else’s anger or whatever is arising, an appearance, is just an illusion. It’s not really real. One needs to know the illusory nature of appearances. So it’s like before in the thief’s house: the man comes in and just generally looks around. He is not thinking of stealing things but your perception is such, that you think he has intention to steal the belongings. The person who has habitual tendency to steal, to be a thief, he will perceive other people to have that intention towards him, and without reason he will shout to this person, abuse them verbally and accuse them of trying to steal his things.
But if the thief realizes that “Oh, the person just entered my house, and it’s just my own illusory appearance that I think he is a thief, if he understands that, if he has the wisdom of that, he won’t make any problem with the person. The fist stage of wisdom really is to recognize if one has for example anger in the mind. One needs to recognize: “I have anger in my mind and this is how it manifests, this is how it makes me think and react.” This is also similar for jealousy.
With the anger there is a person who has always an object to his anger. Having the object causes him to give rise to anger in his mind: seeing the object which makes one unhappy. Then jealousy comes around thinking that self and other beings are on the same level. Thinking that me and this person, we are exactly the same. “But it seems that other people like him better than me. That’s not very good. We are on the same level, same type of person and we have the same amount of belongings. In the future this person may get more wealth than me and that’s not going to be good at all.” Having that fault in mind he starts to think badly about that person, he has thoughts of harming him. The person then returns the harmful thoughts and harmful actions. Your meaning or benefit is lost and so is the meaning of the other person. Both of you end up accomplishing nothing.
Now if we do it with pride, this is based on wanting something to be less or smaller than you. “This person has no qualities at all, he is nothing. I’m the best, I’ve got so many possessions and so much wealth. I’m really famous. He has got nothing. I can meditate really well. He doesn’t understand anything.” The type of realization and experience that I’ve got - nobody has that. That’s what we call pride. If we have pride in the mind we rule out the possibility of having much opportunity to obtain more or extra qualities. The fault we obtain is thinking that nobody else has any qualities at all.
Desire is related to an object which causes happiness and desire in the mind. We are completely out of control, our mind thinks solely about obtaining this object. We are totally obstructed to any other thoughts. One has only one idea thinking one wants to obtain this object.
The ignorance is really the not knowing what is good and what is bad. One’s mind becomes smaller and smaller and one only thinks about small things. That’s what we call the classification of the five emotions (mind poisons). But all of these various emotions really are, if you bring them down to one point, thinking that one is better and one needs things, and others are worse than you.
So, if the person has these five emotions in one’s mind and also the attitude of selfishness and thinking solely about themselves and maybe putting other people down, then this will result in not being able to obtain a mind which has any happiness or peace in it. We will have an example.
If a person has a very strong grasping to the idea that they are the most important, what kind of emotions would come up in the mind of that person? The thing that would come up is that “that person is intending to harm me. I’m very good but that person wants to harm me.” So then he will give rise to anger. Then he thinks: “That person wants to get higher than me, wants to be better than me.” One will give rise to jealousy. Thinking that that person has nothing, no qualities whatsoever, and “I’ve got everything, I’m very clever” or “I’m very famous”, this is giving rise to pride. Thinking that “I need to get this object and I don’t want anybody else to get it, only myself to obtain this”, that’s giving rise to desire. So then, the ignorance is that one’s mind becomes very small and one doesn’t have a light body or a vast open mind and one has thoughts only about very small topics.
The arising of these five mind poisons depend really, if you look at it, on the feeling that I myself, I am the most important, and having a very great grasping on that idea or that concept. The main point is that one thinks about oneself. “That person doesn’t want to do anything nice to me, he wants to hurt me.” Me, me, me. “That person wants to go higher than me, again me, that person and me, we are not the same. That thing I need to obtain.” If we have this kind of mind state, which is pervaded by the five emotions, and the grasping to oneself is being most important, then one will never be able to say: that’s enough now, I’m satisfied. One will never to be able to say that, because one never feels like that. So then one will have a very small and very sensitive mind. You think: “He is not good, that person is not nice…” For example, if you look at somebody, this other person, whom you are observing, he is not doing anything, just neutrally sitting there. You are looking at this person and he just sits. “Hmm, I don’t think he likes me.” You look at him from the corner of your eye. The man, who is just sitting there, minding his own business thinks: “That’s a bit strange, that guy is giving me a really strange look. I haven’t done anything to him, what’s wrong? Maybe he is a bit crazy; he might have a thought of harming me.” Then he looks back at you and thinks: “Maybe you are not very nice.” So then you think: “He did look at me very strangely. Now he is looking me strangely again! That’s twice now. Then the two of you end up arguing and it will get bigger and bigger. There is no meaning to that, that’s what we call misunderstanding. The reason for the misunderstanding, arguing and fighting is that one’s mind has become very small, very sensitive.
We’ll have another example. If we have an argument, it’s normally based on something very small. For example one person puts his watch down. The other person says: “Don’t put it there, put it here.” The first one disagrees. They change it backwards and forwards, “I’m right, you are wrong.” There is no meaning to that. Based on a very small meaning we make it bigger. That’s a sign of having a very sensitive mind. It’s also a sign that one has a very strong sense of feeling that one is important and just thinking about oneself. If we have this very strong grasping, that we are the most important, we will never be able to accomplish our wishes. If we have love for other person they will generate love for us, return love. So, if we give love to another person, that love is the best. Then we can give rise to the best type of love.
Generally speaking, all our problems and suffering start with a very small beginning, at very small point. In the beginning, when we have anger, at the point when the anger arises, we need to recognise that. Then one thinks: “Oh, I’m beginning to become angry.” That’s called wisdom or mindfulness. If one doesn’t have any other type of method, if one just has that method, that’s wisdom. So, one will be able to control one’s mind. Normally one will be able to have this awareness arising, mindfulness.
I’m going to give you a story. This story is related to love and compassion. This story happened in China. There was a husband and wife. Traditionally the wife and her mother-in-law don’t get along very well, they are constantly arguing. One day it happened that they had quite an argument in someone’s home. The wife was thinking that the mother-in-law is very bad and often says very bad things. She gave rise to lots of anger towards the mother. Little bit later she still had anger and actually it had increased. She thought: “I’m going to kill the mother-in-law.” She thought: “How am I going to do it?” She went to a doctor and asked for poison. “I need the poison, because my mother-in-law is always nagging me and shouting and putting me down. So I shall give her poison and then she will die. I’ll be happy.” The doctor agreed and gave some medicine to her. He gave an advice with it and said: “Now you give this medicine to your mother-in-law, but she won’t die immediately, she will die very slowly. So you need to give this medicine a little bit every day with the food. If she dies immediately, then everybody will know that you gave the poison. They will know that I gave the poison to you, and they will take me to jail. So it’s better she doesn’t die straight away.
“Give the medicine a little bit every day and after you have given it, you have to be really nice to her, say nice things to the mother-in-law.” She thought: “This is great.” Every day she put little bit of poison in the food and gave it saying nice things. In her mind she thought: she is going to die soon. A few days later she looked at the mother-in-law and thought: “She doesn’t seem so bad after all.” After a month she thought: “She actually is a decent person, a very good person. Oh dear, I have been giving her poison for a month!” What to do? Although she had given poison to the mother-in-law, now she liked her. Also the mother-in-law’s attitude had changed and she liked the daughter in law, more that her own son.
So the daughter-in-law run off to the doctor again, worrying. She said: “Look I came to you a month ago and asked for poison to kill the old mother-in-law, but actually I really like her now, she is very good. When I thought she was bad before, that was a mistake, I was mistaken. If you have any antidote for this poison, please give it to me. The doctor said: “The way you are thinking, is it really true? Do you believe that?” She said: “Yes, I really believe this.” The doctor said: “Sorry, there is no antidote.” She was very sad. The doctor said: “If you don’t give poison to somebody, there is no antidote. If you do give poison to somebody, then you need an antidote. In this case you didn’t give her poison and I haven’t got any antidote to a poison which hasn’t been given.” Both the doctor and the daughter-in-law were happy. Then the doctor gave her a method. What the doctor told to the daughter-in-law I’m going to tell you. I’m going to give you this method.
In the first instance the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law had a misunderstanding, and they both saw each other in a very negative way, so they had many arguments. At the time the daughter-in-law was speaking very nicely to the mother-in-law, they both changed somewhat, and they both saw each other in a different light. If we have very small and shrilled up mind, we will cause problems for ourselves and others. But if we have a light, open mind we are going to give happiness and peace to others and we will also experience happiness and peace in our own mind. That’s the end of the story.
So, if we don’t have a mind which is intent on benefiting others, we will see other people as enemies and cause harm to them, and we will never going to obtain peace and happiness. As many enemies as we try to subdue we will never be able to do it, there will always be another enemy. If we want to really defeat an enemy, the best way to defeat them is to kill them. If you kill an enemy, behind him are two further enemies. Kill two - four come. If you kill four, eight come. In the end the whole of the world becomes transformed into enemies. Then you will not be able to subdue the enemies. They increase. If you look at it, the real enemy is the anger etc. If we have peace in our mind, peaceful mind, everybody will perceive us as a friend and we have no enemies at all. Whatever we say, people will listen to that. Our friends will become more and more. They will become stronger. As an example, if the leader of Britain (whoever they are) looks after the people in a good way, the people will vote for them, support them and their power will become more. If they don’t look after the people, we won’t vote for them and they will become less and diminish. This is the nature of things, interdependence.
If you take as an example Hitler in Germany, he subdued and killed lots of his enemies. But even at the time he was killing his enemies he didn’t have any peace in his mind and in the final instant he committed suicide. He didn’t achieve his purpose at all.
If we really do have this attitude in the mind to be of benefit to other beings, then our mind becomes open and vast, we have courage and self-confidence and our view will be wide. We will see the other sentient beings as being our friend. All beings will naturally give rise to a feeling of love for us. Then we will see everybody as good. If we wear a pair of glasses with lenses extremely clear and clean, we’ll see everything as being clear and clean. We’ll have no enemies. You have self-confidence, peace and happiness.
There is another example. At the end of this example there will be a question. The question is not difficult. It’s about a man in a forest. The man in the forest walks around, up and down the hills. Long time ago people were like that. While walking, the man was getting stones and thorns into his feet. He thought: “How can I stop my feet being hurt by this gravel and thorns? I know what to do, I’ll cover all the roads with leather.” So he covered the roads, but he only managed to cover about three miles before the leather run out. After those three miles he had to walk on gravel and thorns again. At that point, what method could he use?
Answers: Use shoes. Walk on his hands. Jump from a tree to another. Learn to levitate.
Rinpoche: If it is possible to do all these it’s very good. Now I’m going to tell you. The best method would be to have a small peace of leather, just the size of his feet. That will be enough. Long time ago people did not have shoes. And they weren’t able to meditate very well. If one had just enough leather to cover the shape of one’s feet, then one could go all over the world and it would be the same as covering the whole world with leather. Likewise with us, if we have peace in our mind, if we pacify the conflicting emotions, then it is the same as conquering all the enemies in the world.
Having the motivation to benefit others is a benefit for us in the present life. It’s said that if one has even small particle of compassion, at that moment it purifies countless aeons of negative karma. If we have a mind which benefits others, then demons and ghosts and so on cannot harm us. Also the black magicians cannot harm us, if we have the idea to benefit. If we have the mind which causes harm to other people by generating anger, we also become harmed by that. But if we have the mind which wishes to benefit others and causes our actions to be motivated by that, we will receive the best of benefits and others are benefited, too. So, naturally it arises with both of us, others’ and self benefit.
Following this bodhisattva path to the level of complete enlightenment, buddhahood, this is the way the previous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas followed, and when you reach complete enlightenment, then you will have total omniscience and you will have complete and vast love. One has complete and overpowering power.
What’s the reason for these three qualities arising? The cause is having generated the bodhicitta mind previously and the idea to benefit others. The cause for us to be travelling around in samsara lifetime after lifetime is the selfish idea that we are the best and we should be victorious and others are less and they should lose.
There are three types of mind which wish to benefit others: there is loving-kindness and compassion, there is limitless loving-kindness and limitless compassion, and there is the bodhicitta mind. With these three points one’s mind will become vaster and greater, open. What is the most vast, open and strong of minds? The most vast of minds would be to think that based on the realisation of my natural mind state, my bodhicitta mind, I have the attitude to bring all the sentient beings totally freed from suffering, to the level of complete and perfect enlightenment. For that reason I am going to practice and I will bring all the beings out of the suffering, freedom from that and to the level of perfect enlightenment. Then one’s mind becomes very vast. There is no other way to get a mind so vast, that’s the only way. The big one’s mind, the big the benefit will be.
For example, if you plant a see of a medicinal plant, the root of that plant will be medicinal and beneficial. If you plant a poisonous plant, then the result will be poisonous. That’s the completion of the explanation of the benefits of the bodhicitta mind.
If you take commitments of the bodhisattva vow, what are the commitments we have to stick to, what we have to think about? There are several kinds, but if you want to put them into one there is one main point of advice which contains all types of commitments in one.
One has the intention to bring all sentient beings out of the suffering to the complete level of enlightenment. To have that in mind is the basis of one’s commitment. So even if there is one sentient being one from time to time has arguments with, and who maybe causes harm to you, you don’t abandon them, you don’t leave them out as it was. You think: “At the moment you are causing harm to me, but in the end, even you I’m going to take to enlightenment. But at certain times you might have arguments and unpleasantness between you. If you haven’t completely purified your mind stream of the five mental poisons, then of course it is easy to have arguments with people and unpleasantness from time to time without you being in control of that.
You can’t think: “”I’m going to take all the sentient beings - except that one, to the level of enlightenment, that’s not correct. But it does happen from time to time that we might give rise to some small doubts and think that we are not able to bring all the beings to enlightenment. That’s okay, it is possible something like that may arise, but in your deep mind you still hold onto the idea that to bring all the sentient beings out of suffering to complete enlightenment would be a very good thing. It is very good to have that.
It is said that even if you broke your bodhisattva vow, there is great benefit in taking it in the first place. There are two situations: one is when you have not taken the bodhisattva vow and you are not generating either too much good or negative karma and the second situation is when you take the bodhisattva vow and you keep it a certain period of time, and you again don’t generate too much negative or positive, and you actually come to a point that you break your vow. Out of these two situations the one having taken the vow up to the point of breaking it, that is more beneficial, it is said. But if you can take the bodhisattva vow and not break it, then it is said you swiftly reach the level of enlightenment. That is the completion of the advice about the bodhisattva vow.
Now we are going to start the taking the bodhisattva vow. Whoever who is present here, who wants to take the bodhisattva vow, everyone should have the feeling or visualization: we feel that in space in front of us is the Buddha Sakyamuni, beneath him is the bodhisattva Chenrezig and below Chenrezig there are many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas surrounding him. You feel that they are completely present there. You think that before the Buddha, Chenrezig and all the Bodhisattvas one takes refuge, makes confession, makes offerings and so on. Please keep that in mind although you are not able to do the recitation. Rinpoche does the recitation on behalf of all of you.
Then one has to generate in one’s mind the thought that in front of you are the Buddha Sakyamuni and the Noble Chenrezig and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. One feels that before these noble deities one is going to take the bodhisattva vow. So, how do we think about taking the bodhisattva vow? We think: The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas before me have all generated the bodhisattva vow. They practiced along the path in a gradual way to complete enlightenment, thinking that for the benefit of all sentient beings we are practising and in order to bring them all to perfect enlightenment. Likewise I’m going to take the bodhisattva vow for the purpose of practising and bringing all the sentient beings out of the suffering and bringing them to perfect enlightenment. This is why I am taking this bodhisattva vow now. You think about this and rest in a relaxed state in a few moments.
So then, keeping the reason why one is taking the bodhisattva vow in mind, repeat after me.
That was the second repetition. Now the third repetition. At the final word of the third recitation I will say the final word very slowly. And at the end of that slow last word, at the very final end of the word you must think that the bodhisattva vow has entered your mind stream and you have obtained the vow. Please repeat (third time).
Now you must think that you have received the blessing, and the bodhisattva vow itself has entered your mind stream. So now you all become Bodhisattvas! That’s true! If we change our name, then we transform ourselves, don’t we. So now we have changed to bodhisattvas. So we change our name to bodhisattva. If we change our meaning, we really become a bodhisattva and we reach to enlightenment. So then now, because we become bodhisattvas, we generate joy.
We reflect on the fact that from beginningless time until now, today, we have been unable to accomplish any meaning or any purpose, but now today we have changed and transformed ourselves into bodhisattvas, we have this vow now. From today onwards we can accomplish the benefit of beings, so with that fact, that knowledge we generate great joy. Why you generate joy within yourselves, then we repeat after Rinpoche the words:
Then we also rejoice in the merit of others. Since we have taken the bodhisattva vow today, the different types of deities or the gods and beings, who have positive mind towards Dharma and practise of Dharma, we are kind of introduced to them, and they recognise us, because they are clairvoyant. They rejoice with us. We say to hem: “Think that I am now a bodhisattva and I am going to accomplish your benefit, so please, rejoice with me.
Repeat the words, please.
It is quite feasible for ourselves to generate joy for today, because we have taken the bodhisattva vow, and it is a fact that we can attain to the level of complete enlightenment. It is also permissible that other beings rejoice on our behalf and we will rejoice for other beings because we don’t have the idea that “I am such a small person, I’m very weak, I cannot actually generate the bodhicitta, I cannot accomplish the benefit of other beings. One doesn’t think like that, one truly is a bodhisattva and one has the buddhanature, not only oneself, but all the sentient beings have the buddhanature and we all will reach the enlightenment finally. So it is quite permissible that we generate this joy.
Now we are going to have a wishing prayer. So we make this dedication prayer with the motivation and the wish that the benefit from taking and obtaining the bodhisattva vow will be dedicated to the benefit of all sentient beings, so that they may be free from suffering and all the sentient beings as vast as the space reach the level of enlightenment. This motivation in mind we recite the words of the prayer. And one thinks also along with that, that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are present before one in space: Like you previously dedicated your merit for the benefit of all sentient beings, for the reason of bringing them to enlightenment, likewise, like you did, I copy you today, and following your method and the way you did it, I dedicate likewise all my merit for the benefit of all sentient beings. And repeat the words:
I will repeat again the words of the Four Immeasurables. If you know the words, chant along. If you don’t know them, sit with a relaxed mind and think about the meaning (two more times).
So then we think that the Buddha Sakyamuni, Chenrezig and all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas surrounding him, who were in the space before us, are dissolve to us and are inseparable from us and we relax.
That’s the end. So then we do a dedication prayer.
© 2005 by Mingyur Rinpoche