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THIRD PURE PRECEPT: Zen’s Shorthand for the Bodhisattva Vow







Zen’s Shorthand for the Bodhisattva Vow

A chat delivered at
Empty Moon Zen‘s
Saturday morning Zoom gathering

James Ishmael Ford

To remind you.

The three pure precepts are derived from verse 183 in the Dhammapada, a set of sayings attributed to Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha of historical past. The verse goes: “Renounce all evil; practice all good; keep your mind pure—thus all the Buddhas taught.”

There we clearly see the first two of the pure precepts, ceasing from evil, and doing good.

The third line is rewritten and the fourth is dropped. I recommend that fourth line is pointless in the framing of the pure precepts, though its coronary heart is retained as the precepts writ massive. Critically that third line is shifted as a part of the entire Mahayana venture. The wonderful means, of which Zen is part.

After ceasing from evil. Or making an attempt to know and discovering actions to match that understanding. After doing good. Or making an attempt to know and discovering actions to match that understanding. Here we come to a essential turning. Our instructor Aitken Roshi suggests the rewriting of that line is a “shift from the ideal of personal perfection to the ideal of oneness with all beings.”

Taking all of them collectively. The Zen instructor Daido Loori tells us that this new formulation could be very vital. “’Not creating evil,’ ‘practicing good,’ and ‘actualizing good for others’” he writes, are the basis “upon which all of the moral teachings of the Buddha are based. The life of each one of us.” I feel that is true. It is, I discover, the summation of the moral or ethical container of our manner.

But three pure precepts doesn’t cease there. It is an invite into one thing profound. While “cease from evil” is an invite to show our lives in a path, and the “do good” is an expression of the harmonies of a realized life, that third line opens us into the dynamics of this mysterious life.

The most easy presentation of this third pure principle is “do good for others.” I’m additionally keen on the model “save the many beings.” Although we’ve got to unpack that save half a little bit to totally respect the nuancing. Shunryu Suzuki’s model of the line is “I vow to live and be lived for the benefit of all beings” reveals the great messiness of our manner. Another pal suggests the line may be rendered merely “awaken.” I agree. But once more, that begs quite a lot of unpacking.

At its coronary heart this third of the pure precepts is about the coronary heart of the Mahayana, a flip from a spirituality based mostly in my very own saving, a singular venture. And by the bye, one I don’t disdain, it’s one thing great. But in our manner, that turning is right into a profound realization we’re all on this collectively. Our loss. And our acquire. Yours and mine, they can’t in any remaining evaluation be unraveled.

The phrase for this sense, this name, finally this vow, is Bodhisattva. Bodhisattva is the expression of not exactly two, however not precisely one. It opens us to the dynamic of our understanding of that historical human instinct which is expressed in the dharmic traditions as nonduality. And which trendy religious students have seen is clearly present in all the nice religions. As properly as amongst folks with none specific faith.

In the third pure principle we come to Bodhisattva thoughts and the Bodhisattva vow.

I perceive that every time he would give talks, the early Zen missionary to the barbarians of North America Nyogen Senzaki would at all times handle his viewers as “bodhisattvas.” A pal who is aware of his manner round the dharma life, as soon as steered to me that when Senzaki did this, the sensei was throwing out a web, hoping to snare a sensible coronary heart or two.

To handle one another as bodhisattvas is an expression of realization, and with that, an invite. Not in contrast to a koan.

I typically say to somebody who has finished a small mitzvah, a kindness of 1 kind or one other, “you’re a bodhisattva.” I hope in the identical spirit. Okay, in my case perhaps with a little bit little bit of snark. But then I stand solidly inside my age, and our occasions simply drip with irony. Marx, I’ve heard, opined that historical past repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. While it isn’t at all times clear the place are immediately, tragedy or farce; there appears nonetheless at all times to be room for a little bit sarcasm.

Knowing us. You and me. Looking inside and at one another and realizing sure there may be bodhisattva – in actuality, and in potential. But realizing the relaxation as properly. People as silly and grasping and hateful and overflowing with unhealthy opinions. You know, realizing the mess. For me that calls for a touch of irony when calling one another bodhisattvas. You know. Nothing like a very good joke. Okay, for me, and pondering of what we’re able to, and what typically do, regardless of our bodhisattvaness; I’m not in opposition to even a nasty joke.

And there’s a joke right here. When we are saying about any particular particular person, bodhisattva. At least in the sense of taking one thing that’s in all the glory of the causes and circumstances and decsions which have stored it going, , you or me. And then pushing it, prodding it, pulling it, shaping it, till we discover one thing new. Same stuff, however new. Take your favourite villain. And are you able to then discover the bodhisattva there? The Enlightenment being.

Me, I consider these invites. And the precepts actually are invites. I feel particularly of this third of the pure precepts is inviting us into our true lives as bodhisattvas. And to what that really means in a life. As vow, maybe.

But let’s pause for a second and think about the bodhisattva as an thought.

In its unique use it seems to be what the Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha was referred to as in the Jataka tales, these extracanonical tales of his earlier lives. Mostly they’re youngsters’s tales, they usually typically supply heavy handed morals. They’re additionally enjoyable, once they don’t take actually bizarre turns. Okay that may be enjoyable, too. The level for bodhisattva right here, is that in these tales the being who will probably be Buddha has not totally realized that place, state, nonetheless you would possibly wish to describe it, however is on the manner. Fully on the manner. Maybe much more there than not.

The phrase bodhisattva shifted from that use in the tales, and rapidly got here to be the time period of artwork to explain somebody on the Buddha manner. Specifically for one who has achieved bodhicitta, the thoughts of awakening. The time period is developed in a textual content referred to as the Ten Stage Sutra, itself collected as a part of the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Flower Ornament.

Bodhicitta is a sophisticated expertise. The want for ourselves is pure. It is noticing the harm of our lives and with that wanting one thing. Healing. Saving. Lots of excellent phrases on the market. Each after all, a bit deceptive. And every pointing. This deeply private, all about me half, might be at all times the first half. But that feeling, longing, is barely dipping our toe into the lake. It isn’t sufficient. It seems. We want the full dive. Which is to want that therapeutic, that saving for everybody.

And right here’s the factor. When everyone seems to be a part of our want for therapeutic, for saving, for awakening;  that’s the thoughts of awakening.

In the household of the Great Way a bodhisattva is additional understood as somebody who has walked the manner and has achieved awakening. But slightly than passing from the world, vows to stay contaminated, to be an element, to know the harm, and the longing, till all and every part also can enter the nice awakening.

Now, in Zen this can be a little bit of a bait and change. Back to the jokiness of our manner.

Because we’re all so intimately related that one can’t obtain awakening with out everybody and every part else. And there’s an extra joke inside that joke. That is none of us has ever been separated. Not ever.

As the film says “everything everywhere all at once.”

An Indian monk named Shantideva noticed this all as a vow. You might recall vow. From one angle our precepts are vows. When I consider the third pure principle, Shantideva’s phrases echo in the phrase I vow to avoid wasting all beings. I vow to heal all beings. I vow to awaken all beings.

He sang his vow:

May I be the physician and the drugs
And might I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone seems to be healed.

May I change into an inexhaustible treasure
For those that are poor and destitute;
May I flip into all issues they might want
And might these be positioned shut beside them.

May I be a protector for these with out one,
A information for all vacationers on the manner;
May I be a bridge, a ship, and a ship
For all who want to cross the water.

May I be an island for those that search one
And a lamp for these wanting gentle;
May I be a mattress for all who want to relaxation
And a servant for all who need a servant.

May I be a wishing jewel, a magic vase,
Powerful mantras, and nice drugs;

May I change into a wish-fulfilling tree
And a cow of loads for the world.

And like area
And all the nice components similar to earth,
May I at all times help the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

And till they cross away from ache
May I even be the supply of life
For all the realms of the diversified beings
that attain into the ends of area.*

As an apart, after I learn the beatitudes in the Christian custom, me, I hear this vow. The gates are all over the place when our hearts flip to the thriller.

And with that, briefly again to the joke. I’m a lot taken with the complexities inside this vow. On the face of it, it’s a name to an finally unhealthy state, a whole give up of self to a different. You can’t say one thing extra in opposition to the grain of our tradition and our concepts of what we ought to be doing with our lives. And I agree. Totally. But. Or, perhaps that’s an “and.” I greater than suspect there’s something deeper right here, one thing revealed in that Zen household joke: we’re actually all one on this. And what is completed for one is completed for all.

A dream. It’s like a dream.

Or, perhaps a little bit of a joke.

But additionally severe. As severe as life and dying.

I vow to avoid wasting the many beings.

I vow to awaken the many beings.



* English Translation of the Bodhicaryāvatāra “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva, Translation by Padmakara Translation Group , Shambhala 2011 pages, Section 3.7-34 (barely tailored)


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