Dharma Topic: Being a Bodhisattva

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday we will practice Invoking theBodhisattvas’ Names, a form of touching the earth whilecontemplating certain qualities that can help us on our path ofmindfulness. You can read the text of the ceremony by clicking here

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, bodhisattvas need notbe taken literally as deities. They are symbols of the wonderfulcharacteristics that we all have within us—compassion andlovingkindness; the ability to listen and understand others; thecapacity to act skillfully; and the vow to help others, regardless ofhow uncomfortable it might make us. Invoking the Bodhisattvas’Names reminds us of our own innate ability to behave in these ways andallows us to investigate our intentions surrounding these qualities inourselves.

Thursday, we will touch the earth while invokingthe bodhisattvas’ names and then discuss whether we are ready tocultivate these qualities in our daily lives; what allows them to flowfrom us readily; and what stops us from embodying thebodhisattvas’ qualities.

We hope you can join us.

Warm wishes,

Scott Schang

From a dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on January 15, 1998:

At the beginning you may believe that the fourBodhisattvas are outside of us. If you practice steadily, you will seethat you are also that Bodhisattva because you also have all of thosequalities.

Some historians may not believe that there was evera ‘real’ Avalokitesvara or Manjushri; they are nothistorical personalities. We cannot say that they were born in such andsuch a year and died in such and such a year… and so you may beembarrassed…. But you must know that the name, Avalokitesvara,is a symbol of deep listening and compassion. Compassion and deeplistening truly exist everywhere, but where is everywhere? You must seethat deep listening and compassion exist in at least one person. Whenyou see such a person you know that that person is not the BodhisattvaAvalokitesvara although they are manifesting the qualities of thatBodhisattva, and so you will feel that you will be able to do it also.I also have compassion and deep listening. Maybe my compassion and deeplistening are not as strong as the other person’s is, but I will trainmyself to increase this ability to love. Therefore, it is not importantwhether Avalokitesvara is an historical personage… if thequalities of love, compassion and deep listening exist, so then mustAvalokitesvara.

We can also see that Avalokitesvara is arepresentation of some of the qualities of the Buddha also. GautamaBuddha is an historical person and he had these qualities… andGautama Buddha said that everyone had these qualities like him. Thequalities of the Buddha, love, understanding, compassion and deeplistening, are also in you…. The key point is for us to be intouch with these four Bodhisattvas within ourselves by using the energyof mindfulness.

From “No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva” by Pema Chodron:

There are many benefits to [prostrating]. First andforemost, prostrations overcome arrogance. Trungpa Rinpoche used to saythat because we have basic goodness, we can take pride in surrendering.We don’t have to hang on to our accomplishments or good fortune.We can afford to be humble and bow down to those who embody wisdom,those courageous ones who worked hard so that the teachings stillremain alive today.

Second, prostrations connect us with our ownsanity. In the presence of an extremely open and compassionate person,we can feel these qualities unfold in ourselves. Some seeminglyseparate person or object of veneration can awaken the clarity andfreshness of our mind. As a gesture of respect, love, and gratitude tothose who show us our basic goodness, we bow down and prostrate.

Third, prostrations serve as a way to overcomeresistance and surrender our deeply entrenched neuroses and habits.Each time we bow, we offer ourselves: our confusion, our inability tolove, our hardness and selfish ways. It’s like opening our handsand saying: “With this gesture I willingly acknowledge how stuckI am. I surrender it all to the vast and compassionate heart ofbodhichitta. Until attaining the essence of enlightenment, I takerefuge in awakened mind.”