Dear Still Water Friends,
There are many ways to visualize the spiritual path. As Pema Chodron notes in When Things Fall Apart, it can be described:
as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. At the peak we have transcended all pain.
Or, she notes, it can be visualized as going down:
It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. … We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. … At the bottom we discover water, the healing water of bodhichitta. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.
The metaphor of the upward path to the peak of transcended pain is taught by many teachers. Gaining release from all our suffering is an enticing proposition. However, as Pema Chodron points out, the problem “with this metaphor is that we leave all the others behind—our drunken brother, our schizophrenic sister, our tormented animals and friends. Their suffering continues, unrelieved by our personal escape.”
The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, within which both the Plum Village tradition and Pema Chodron’s Tibetan tradition are rooted, emphasizes the downward path. Bodhisattvas are those who made the great vow to develop their Bodhichitta, their “mind of love” as Thich Nhat Hanh translates it, and stay in the world to help others find liberation.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will Touch the Earth and invoke the names and qualities of the four great Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition: Avalokiteshvara (Great Compassion), Manjushri (Great Wisdom), Samantabhadra (Great Action), and Kshitigarbha (Great Vow). The Bodhisattvas personify energies that exist in each of us as seeds, as potentiality. Just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., continues to inspire millions because of his great commitment, courage, and love, the Bodhisattvas can nourish us and remind us of how we can be in the world. We have the capacity to bring their energies into the world, each of us in our own way.
We will begin our Dharma sharing focusing on the qualities of the Bodhisattvas. Were we especially moved by a phrase in the ceremony? Have we made an effort to emulate the Mahayana Bodhisattvas in our lives? Have we personally known people who manifested the energies of one or more of the Bodhisattvas?
You are invited to be with us.
Below is a recommendation from Thich Nhat Hanh on how we can most benefit from the Touchings of the Earth practice, as well as the text for the Invoking the Bodhisattvas’ Names practice.
Touching the Energy of the Bodhisattvas
from a Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on December 21, 1997
We should not prostrate mechanically. After we have prostrated we should be something different than before we prostrated. We should breathe in and out three times when we touch the earth in order to look deeply, be in touch, and receive the energy of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, because this is a very effective method of transformation. The secret of prostrating is that when our head, arms and legs are touching the earth we let go. We let go of our idea of ourself, we let go of everything which we call my idea of myself, my person, or my worth. Sometimes we think that we are alone and lonely, but when we are touching the earth with five limbs we have to open ourself up, open all the doors of our body and our mind, and the idea about self has to be dissolved. And then prostrating is successful, and the energy of the Buddhas, bodhisattvas and ancestral teachers can enter us. That does not mean that the energy of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and ancestral teachers is outside, that we have to open the door to let them in. In fact that energy is present within us. But if we don’t allow it, it will not manifest.
Invoking the Bodhisattvas’ Names
from the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book
We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara.
We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.
We invoke your name, Manjushri.
We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, through the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.
We invoke your name, Samantabhadra.
We aspire to practice your vow to act with the eyes and heart of compassion, to bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is our own happiness, and we aspire to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species.
We invoke your name, Kshitigarbha.
We aspire to learn your way of being present where there is darkness, suffering, oppression and despair, so we can bring light, hope, relief, and liberation to those places. We are determined not to forget about or abandon those in desperate situations. We will do our best to establish contact with those who cannot find a way out of their suffering, those whose cries for help, justice, equality, and human rights are not being heard. We know that hell can be found in many places on Earth. We will do our best not to contribute to creating more hells on Earth, and to help transform the hells that already exist. We will practice in order to realize the qualities of perseverance and stability, so that, like the Earth, we can always be supportive and faithful to those in need.