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The Boundless Energy of No-Self

Zoketsu Norman Fischer on his deep love for Shantideva and the way the nice instructor’s insights lead us unavoidably to a path of vigorous service to the world.

“Hands Together, 2018” Courtesy of Bildhalle © Paul Cupido.

According to legend, Shantideva’s nice eighth-century textual content, the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, (the Bodhisattvacharyavatara, which may be shortened to the Bodhicharyavatara), is claimed to have been spontaneously spoken by Shantideva, in rhymed Sanskrit verse, as he slowly floated up into the air above Nalanda University. Even when he was completely out of sight, folks might nonetheless hear his booming voice. The textual content he spoke is as wonderful because the story of its composition. It compels not just for its cleverness and outrageousness, but in addition as a result of it strikes a well-known and galvanizing chord within the human creativeness.

Humans have at all times imagined that life is greater than it seems to be: that the tangible, tough world we stay in will not be all there’s, and that we ourselves are rather more than we seem like. Yes, we’re poor souls misplaced within the battle for survival and recognition, huddled along with our buddies, surrounded by troublesome and typically hostile others. At the identical time, although, we think about we’re extra: loving and brave creatures motivated by our dedication to the well-being of others.

The Bodhicharyavatara makes the case that the strange materialistic self-oriented view of life is inaccurate, irregular, scary, and harmful.

We think about—and we cherish this, we are able to hardly stay with out it—that the world could be a higher place.
Given human historical past and our personal on a regular basis expertise, these hopes and goals appear preposterous. And but we have now held onto them for millennia.

In the Bodhicharyavatara, Shantideva tells us that these hopes and goals will not be solely worthy, however that they’ll, and should, change into actual. The different, he says, is ugly and intolerable.

If we don’t change into bodhisattvas, altruistic non secular heroes, Shantideva says, if we insist as a substitute on our small-minded, self-centered approach of dwelling, we’re assured to endure terribly. Individually, we’ll be stressed, dissatisfied to the purpose of despair, and compelled to take up all kinds of sad and harmful methods of coping. Collectively, our self-protectiveness will ultimately end in societal deadlock—infinite wars, intractable injustices, environmental collapse. It is crucial, then, that we throw off our limitations and enter the bodhisattva path. There isn’t any different approach.

An Absurd Commitment

A bodhisattva is a non secular Superman or Wonder Woman, a fearless and invincible Super Person with the dual Super Powers of innocence and common love. Bodhisattvas not solely love all beings equally and work tirelessly for his or her well-being with out noticing any obstacles—in addition they fully establish with beings, gathering all their sufferings and joys into themselves. Without any thought of private benefit, or any sense that what they’re doing is impossibly idealistic, they’re fully with out guile.

Far from the same old view of self and different as inherently at odds, bodhisattvas know that there isn’t any self aside from others. And this information will not be merely philosophical or aspirational—it’s bodily, emotional, non secular, cosmic, and it propels bodhisattvas to expansive and salvific heights.

In Zen follow we chant the Four Bodhisattva Vows:

Beings are numberless, I vow to save lots of them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to finish them.
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to change into it.

Who with a straight face might chant such verses? And but we chant them and imply them, understanding that they don’t describe accomplishments within the strange materials world, inside strange time frames. Instead, they affirm the imaginative non secular course we’re dedicated to, a approach of life we stay, come what could.

The Bodhicharyavatara is a handbook for growing the bodhisattva approach of life. It begins with reward for and strategies for growing bodhicitta, the altruistic spirit of awakening, a surge of inspiration that propels us ahead into unending effort on behalf of others. From there it teaches us the way to develop important bodhisattva practices: mindfulness of ideas and conduct; forbearance with difficulties, in order to remodel them into the trail; joyful effort that takes enjoyment of each step of the way in which, with out fear about outcomes; meditation to stabilize physique and thoughts; and, lastly, the knowledge that sees that the world is way in any other case than it seems. By the time Shantideva is completed, he has satisfied us that the bodhisattva path—outrageous and unimaginable because it appears at first—is a down-to-earth approach of life we are able to really stay. And that this manner of life is extra actual and extra sustainable than the flimsy fiction of life as we have now recognized it.

The Bodhicharyavatara is one of the world’s nice motivational texts. Using colourful and infrequently startling language, it makes the case that the strange materialistic self-oriented view of life is inaccurate, irregular, scary, and harmful. By distinction, the bodhisattva view—gloriously transcendent and joyful—accords with issues as they really are. In the course of explaining the way to develop forbearance, joyful effort, mindfulness, knowledge, and different non secular qualities, Shantideva consistently coaxes us into desirous to develop them.

Fractured and Confused World

As nearly everybody I do know is consistently repeating, we stay in unprecedented instances. Although we have now extra materials know-how and prosperity than ever, we’re conscious of monumental long-standing social and financial injustices, and of struggling all around the world. We see how fractured and confused our societies are. And we’re shocked to comprehend that our materials progress has led to environmental collapse, together with the demise of many treasured species. No one within the trendy world may be unaware of all this. It’s no marvel the common individual is gloomy.

This is why chapter seven of the Bodhicharyavatara, the chapter on virya paramita, appears particularly salient.
Virya paramita actually means the perfection of virya. The phrase virya, like its English cognate virile, implies energy and energy. But virya paramita includes not solely vigor, but in addition pleasure, zest, and ardency. Shantideva tells us that bodhisattvas rely on virya paramita above all else. They are moved by it simply as wind strikes timber and grasses. Joyful effort is the important power of bodhisattva follow.

Strength or energy, as we often conceive of it, is aimed toward conquest or domination. But effort expended to regulate or to win is grim, and inherently weak. Every hero might be introduced low and each victory will ultimately finish in collapse or defeat.
But not so for bodhisattvas.

They can by no means be defeated, as a result of they aren’t making an attempt to win. Since their aim—common love and well-being—is limitless, their joyful effort can be limitless. It by no means flags. Love is the one really sustaining motivation.

Watch Out!

In the strange world, selfishness appears so cheap. “It’s rough out there, watch out!” Be vigilant, ceaselessly able to defend your self, your loved ones, tribe, nation. No one can argue with this. Even first rate, well-meaning folks, as most of us are, know they’d be fools to not look out for themselves and their households as they scan the realm for threats. It’s a threatening world. Self-protection is pure.

Provocatively, Shantideva calls this regular on a regular basis angle restricted and lazy. It requires no deep thought, no nice braveness. But a deeper look will present that it’s unworkable, as a result of it lacks creativeness and leaves out one unavoidable undeniable fact that renders it infeasible: demise. Shantideva personifies demise as Yama, Lord of Death, who devours you ultimately, abruptly, and far earlier than you deliberate. Self-protection is a sham, a defective idea. Its failure is assured.

Shantideva conjures up a vivid deathbed scene. Here we’re, terrified in our final delirium, undone, wracked with guilt and remorse for all we did that we must always not have achieved and all we didn’t try this we must always have. And as we glance dimly up on the unhappy, bewildered faces of our family members standing spherical our mattress, not realizing what to say or do, we really feel their remorse and cluelessness too, because the screeching demons of unfinished enterprise swirl spherical our heads like a smoking whirlwind.

All this as a result of we lacked the braveness and creativeness to look extra deeply into our lives, as a result of we didn’t commit ourselves to what we knew all alongside was proper and good, didn’t prioritize love over all the opposite issues we thought have been mandatory or compelling.

We thought we have been making a giant effort, however in reality we have been lazy—distracting ourselves with ineffective exercise. And now that the

Lord of Death is about to leap into our throat, we understand it.

Too late.

A Rare Opportunity

Human life is a treasured vessel, Shantideva reminds us, uniquely succesful of crossing the stream of struggling to the shore of love and liberation. Everyone is aware of this however few take it to coronary heart. Let’s not waste this uncommon and treasured alternative. Let’s begin proper now to show our boat round.

Practice instantly, Shantideva says, the equality of self and different and the trade of self and different. These practices will free us from our crabbed and lazy small-mindedness and lead us into the open. The practices of the equality of self and different and exchanging self and different quantity to a radical revision of our sense of identification. Rather than figuring out with my physique, my ideas, my historical past, my emotions, and so forth, I come to comprehend that considering of all this as me has at all times been a painful lifeless finish. And there’s actually no cause for it. Once I study it carefully, I see that my sense of identification is nothing greater than a lazy behavior.

When I open my eyes, am I not what I see in entrance of me? When I hear the wind, am I not the wind? Am I not the meals I eat, the books I learn, the individuals who have influenced and liked me and whom I’ve liked? When I have a look at one other individual and fill my coronary heart with that individual’s presence, am I not that individual?

The “I” that I feel I’m is a place, a alternative, a behavior. Must I take that place, make that alternative, reinforce that behavior? Especially once I know that it’s assured to result in struggling not solely ultimately (keep in mind Lord Yama’s scary tooth—if I’m not my physique, who will he kill?), however it can result in struggling on daily basis, as I battle to defend my treasured self towards the strange insults, fears, and anxieties which have at all times been an element of my life.

Everything Other than Myself

As Buddhist educating so merely factors out, I need to be glad and keep away from struggling in precisely the identical approach everybody else does. The Japanese Zen masters are saying the identical factor of their humorous approach once they level out that all of us belong to the identical nose-hole society. In different phrases, we’re all in the identical boat; self and different are equal. Knowing this dispels all worry, loathing, and judgment of others. It’s common brotherhood/sisterhood/otherhood that liberates me from my painful and small self-cherishing.

To acknowledge that what really constitutes myself is all the things apart from myself—all that I see hear scent style contact assume of sense and keep in mind—is to trade self and different. I’m you and you might be me. We rely on one another. As Shantideva says later within the textual content:

All the struggling there’s on this world arises from wishing our self to be glad. All the happiness there’s on this world arises from our wishing others to be glad.

Shantideva’s dialogue goes on. You could object, saying, “That’s a great idea for someone but not for me. I am too selfish and too weak; it is beyond me.” More laziness! Bodhisattvahood is lofty and nice, sure. But it’s inherently accessible to all. Even gnats and houseflies with a bit effort change into buddhas. Certainly each human being, born with the innate capability for language and due to this fact the power to differentiate between proper and unsuitable, is succesful of it. We will all change into buddhas. So why not you? Are you actually that particular?

OK, you say, perhaps. But it’s so arduous. It takes so lengthy. All that meditation and deprivation. I’m frightened of the trouble and the sacrifice.

Well, sure, effort is concerned, however give it some thought: when you’re sick the physician prescribes medication that isn’t essentially tasty or nice. But you might be glad to take it, as a result of it’s so significantly better than the choice. Besides, it seems that the trouble and sacrifice you’re afraid of is definitely fairly invigorating, in the identical approach that strenuous bodily effort that at the beginning appears onerous is a superb pleasure when you practice a bit. Moreover, as you proceed, your thought of what’s tough and scary turns inside out, and also you understand that it solely appeared like a sacrifice out of your restricted level of view. In truth, it’s no sacrifice in any respect, however pure pleasure!

These arguments may strike you as a bit facile. But I’ve discovered them to be true. It consistently amazes me that folks assume of strange life as informal and enjoyable, and spiritual life as dour and tough, when really the alternative is the case. It doesn’t take lengthy for the noise, agitation, and rigidity concerned in what we often name enjoyable to put on us out, and the pressures and deflations of on a regular basis life are all too clearly not a lot enjoyable to start with. On the opposite hand, the enjoyment of silence and of merely and loving the world retains getting higher and higher as your follow goes on.

You don’t surrender strange life: how might you as long as you might be alive? Altruistic non secular follow makes life a lot simpler and extra joyful. Because, as you overcome caught habits, oceans of pleasure rush in. Proceeding from happiness to happiness, despair dissolves as you trip the sailboat of awakening, which glides easily previous all fear and weariness—that is what Shantideva guarantees.


Next Shantideva cajoles us into growing what he calls satisfaction and need. I think about the verses right here to be intricate within the authentic language, turning as they do on a set of verbal, non secular, and psychological reversals. Because it’s precisely satisfaction (self-centeredness) and need (greedy and clinging) that bodhisattvas should heroically overcome. And how do they overcome them? With satisfaction (buddha confidence) and need (bodhisattva love). “I will be an obstacle to obstacles!” Shantideva insists we declare. “I will conquer conquering and being conquered! For I am a child of Buddha.”

Just as the attention can’t style nor the ear see, so the bodhisattva is not the type of human being who fears difficulties or shrinks within the face of daunting duties. Bodhisattvas see no difficulties, solely steps within the infinite path ahead. They are intoxicated with the follow of joyful effort; they’ll’t get sufficient!

Bodhisattvas can by no means be defeated, as a result of they aren’t making an attempt to win. Since their aim—common love and well-being—is limitless, their joyful effort can be limitless.

Ordinarily, we do all the things for a cause, with a aim in thoughts.

A superb deal of the time we don’t obtain the aim. And even once we do, we’re more likely to be disillusioned. And even when we aren’t disillusioned, ultimately we might be, because the preliminary pleasure of the accomplishment or reward wears off. In truth, the entire proposition of goal-oriented motion, apparent because it appears, is kind of shaky.

For bodhisattvas who’ve unimaginable targets, issues are fully in any other case. Every step of the way in which is joyful. Since each second of the trail fully disappears as quickly because it arises, there’s nothing to develop weary of. There is simply step after step. Bodhi­sattvas plunge into every successive exercise with delight, simply as an elephant, overheated within the noon solar, plunges right into a cool watering gap. Disappointment and frustration are unimaginable.

Resting and taking care of oneself is a mandatory half of this infinite joyful effort. Bodhisattvas know the way to regulate themselves. When hungry they eat, when drained they relaxation. They know they want train and good meals to proceed their duties, so that they be sure that to get simply as a lot of this stuff as they want, no more, not much less, for they don’t take care of themselves for themselves. They take care of themselves for others. And they do what they do with flexibility and improvisation. No guidelines, simply wit and weal and a great spirit, come what could.

There’s a Zen poem about this easygoing bodhisattva spirit known as “Song of the Grass Hut.” It’s a couple of hermit who builds a grass hut and lives a life of ease, taking naps when he desires to and having fun with his mountain life. At one level he writes, “Bind grasses; never give up!” This is an expression of the disciplined joyful effort of the bodhisattva, practiced in simplicity and easefulness.

Shantideva ends his chapter on joyful effort with a lovely picture. Just as a skinny piece of cotton, he writes, is wafted this manner and that by a heat summer season breeze, so ought to the bodhisattva make joyful effort to be a blessing for the world.

The material relaxes to collaborate with the wind simply because the bodhisattva relaxes to collaborate with actuality. Bodhisattvas know they aren’t alone and that it’s not all as much as them. So they’re by no means determined, by no means discouraged. They are totally conscious of course that life brings good instances and unhealthy, well being and illness, beginning and demise. They are grateful for all of it, and move with it gracefully.

When Shantideva’s life story is advised, his uncommon profession at Nalanda is at all times talked about. Less well-known is what occurred to him after he disappeared into the sky. Legend tells us that his subsequent profession was varied: he lived for a time quietly as keeper of a shrine; later, by way of miraculous powers, he introduced peace to warring nations; after that he occupied himself feeding the poor; and nonetheless later he served as bodyguard for a king, whom he successfully defended utilizing a picket sword. A really versatile bodhisattva, Shantideva went past his monastic coaching, past his devotion to meditation and research, as a result of he understood that bodhisattvas at all times go forth to do sensible service in a needy world in no matter approach they’ll.


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