The beauty of Mahayana Buddhism: a definition


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Mahayana Buddhism (or the Mahayanas) can be defined as a major movement in the history of Buddhism which has its origins in India. It comprises many schools and reinterpretations of fundamental human beliefs, values and ideals, not only those of the Buddhist teachings themselves. The recorded starting point for Mahayana, known also as the ‘Great Vehicle’ (Maha meaning great, yana meaning cart or vehicle in Sanskrit) because it embraces so much, is 2nd century C.E., but it is assumed that this tidal wave of shifts began to grow before that date building on existing schools and systems. The exact origins of Mahayana Buddhism are still not completely understood because it is so broad and encompasses so much.

To help to clarify this complex movement of spiritual and religious thought and religious practice, it may help to understand the 3 main classifications of Buddhism to date: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. These are recognized by practitioners as the 3 main routes to enlightenment (Skt: bodhi – awakening; Jpn; satori or kenshö), the state that marks the culmination of the Buddhist religious path. The main countries which practice Buddhism currently are China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Tibetan Buddhism due to the Chinese occupation of Tibet (June 1950) has been adopted by international practitioners in a variety of different countries.

 

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The main schools of Buddhism or Mahayanas practised today are: Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren, Shingon, and Tendai; Tibetan Buddhism is classified as Vajrayana (the Vajra vehicle, focusing on the Tantric teachings, a set of advanced and mysterious techniques to bring practitioners to enlightenment quickly).

It is significant that Theravada texts appear exclusively in Pali (thought to be the spoken language of the Buddha’s lifetime) and concern the Buddha’s life and early teachings; whereas, due to widespread propagation (spreading of the teachings), Mahayana and Vajrayana texts appear in at least 6 languages. Mahayana texts contain a rich mixture of ideas, the early probably composed in south India confined to strictly monastic Buddhism, and the later written in northern India and no longer confined to monasticism but lay thinking also.

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The term ‘Mahayana’ was first mentioned in the Lotus Sutra (among the final teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha) at an indeterminate date between 5th and 1st century C.E. However, according to recent scholars, it may have been a mistaken term because instead of ‘yana’ meaning ‘vehicle’ or ‘cart,’ it could have been mahajana, ‘jana’ meaning ‘knowing,’ therefore ‘great (maha) knowing.’ In this era, the Dharma, (Pâli: Dhamma), the natural law of all existence according to Buddhism, was no longer regarded as a doctrinal element but as a medicine that would heal all worldly suffering.

 

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The main tenets of this epoch of Buddhism are compassion (karunā) and insight or wisdom (prajnā). The perfection of these human values would culminate in the Bodhisattva, a model being who devotes him or herself altruistically to the service of others; in contrast is the preceding pursuit of self-interested liberation (Hīnayana or Sravakayana). The term Hinayana has been incorrectly referred to as the ‘Small Vehicle’ (in contrast to the ‘Great Vehicle’), but ‘Vehicle of the Hearers’ or Theravada is perhaps more appropriate, ie. those who follow the teachings of the Buddha exclusively in order to become enlightened.

Compassion can be tangibly used by Mahayana practitioners in the transfer of merit to all sentient beings which is accumulated through devotional practice.

Wisdom or insight can be used to transcend the human condition via the conviction that all beings have been sown with the Buddha seed so can, therefore, become a Buddha. The basis of the Bodhisattva vow is the 6 paramitas (Skt:perfections): generosity (dãna), morality (śīla), patience (ksãnti), courage (vīrya), knowledge (jñãna) and intuitive insight (prajñã). In early Buddhism, there were 10 paramitas and later in the Mahayanas they were increased again to 10 to match the 10 stages (bhūmi) of a Bodhisattva’s spiritual progress. Liberating or saving those who were lost or suffering becomes the sole life-purpose of those who take this Bodhisattva vow, even today.

 

 

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Another feature of Mahayana Buddhism is the presence of stūpas – religious towers or domes which evolved from pre-historic burial mounds and eventually had tall spires becoming known as pagodas, common structures found throughout Asia. Buddha Gautama instructed that on his death a stūpa should be constructed over his relics.

Today, surviving stūpas often contain sacred objects such as texts as well as relics or remains of revered beings. Their popularity as representing a place of worship increased as Buddhism spread to the masses who were illiterate laymen (see my article Chunda: the first lay Buddhist https://niume.com/post/118268) On the inside walls of stūpas pictures were inscribed and sculptures made depicting the life of Buddha and his previous lives as a bodhisattva.

 

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Biographical literature of the Buddha first appeared during this Mahayana era and aided the rapid spread of Buddhism across the Silk Roads to the east of India and north into Nepal and Tibet. In addition, Buddhist poets expressed their faith using literary expressions which transcended the doctrinal lines between the different schools.

The new Mahayana epoch long after the Parinirvana (death exclusive to a Buddha) of Buddha Gautama was accompanied by a canon of scriptures or sutras known as the Prajna-paramita Sutras (‘Perfection of Insight’). They are characterized by the doctrine of emptiness (Skt:sūnyatā) which entails viewing Buddha for the first time as a supernatural being worthy of devotion. This later led to the doctrine of his nature as the trikāya or three wheel bodies – the Dharmākaya (the enlightenment or truth body), the Sambhogakāya (the bliss or clear light body) and the Nirmānakāya (the form body manifesting in time and space).

 

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After this, new schools started to appear such as the Mādhyamaka, the Yogācāra, the Pure Land tradition, and the Vajrayāna. Mahayana Buddhism is prevalent in north Asia having spread from northern India, then to Tibet and central Asia, China, Korea and lastly Japan. Due to the cultural influences and diversity of countries, the scope of Buddhist practice has widened even more to include: the Tantric practices – (Tantra meaning techniques to reach Enlightenment more quickly) and Shamanism – (a shaman is an intermediary who has access to the world of spirits and healing) from central Asia; Taoism and Confucianism giving rise to the Ch’an school of contemplation in China and Korea which developed eventually into Japanese Zen, and so on.

Notable figures of this movement are: Aśvaghosa who wrote ‘The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana’ translated into Chinese circa 550 CE; Maitreyanātha who compiled the ‘Mahayana path from the Yogācāra perspective’ made up of 800 verses; Nāgārjuna, founder of the Mādhyamaka school, born in circa 2nd century in south India and Aryadeva, his foremost disciple; Dõgen known for his teachings on Buddha Nature in Japan; Kūkai, founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan; and Huayan for the ‘Flower Garland’ tradition in China, Korea and Japan.

In the 21st century it is estimated that 488 million (9-10% of the world population) people practice Buddhism. Approximately half are practitioners of Mahayana schools in China. Mahayana Buddhism continues to flourish.

 

 

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Images courtesy of megapixyl.com and Linden Thorp

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Good Messages: Disintegration

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We have to let go of the fragile ‘self,’ to throw away all the masks, to turf out ‘wanting’ and ‘needing,’ in order to reach our higher consciousness and step into the bright light of the expanded field of awareness.

We must realize that the images we have of ourselves are dictated by the media and other forms of propaganda designed to keep down our true nature. We cling on to every word of praise or denigration from others, desperate to be accepted and approved, as if it were the last drop of water we will ever drink, the last crumb! But while we are putting all our animal effort into clinging, like a dog does to a bone, we can no longer hear our higher minds calling to us. ‘Let the bone go! Let someone else have it!’

There is no trust left in the world! If we give our precious bone to another dog, why do we doubt there will be another. Why are we so afraid of loss and scarcity when fear and craving do not exist in the expanded field of consciousness. We have to take risks which means the disintegration of the permanence we have cobbled together out of dreams. Now is the time to make way for the new integrated world. Let the papier-mache reality we have thrown together be rained on incessantly until it becomes pulp once more and flows away down the drains. Let our greed evaporate: in the integrated world, there more than enough for everyone because we are all One with the planet and Mother Nature.

Not until we listen and follow our higher consciousness will the new world be created because we the divine are the only way. The world was made of materials doting on form, and forms were preserved at all cost because we had ceased to trust in what we could not see or prove or collect. We always need evidence and perpetual witnesses to make us memorable in our massive communities and societies, and in the face of death and disappearance.

But in losing trust in the universe, we have lost our integrity. We have become weak and dependent, devoid of spiritual confidence. Integrity of mind does not signify that we have to go to live in the wilderness: we are too weak to survive that. It means that we live happily in this world we have created, loving and supporting each other, and always aspiring to higher states of awareness. Our environment may not change quickly to reflect this integrity because it is matter, but our attitude to it, our view of it, will change totally. There will be different priorities. Without greed there is enough to go around for everyone, and with that sharing mass anxiety will be decimated.

Our energy can flow where it wishes if only we stop throwing up countless obstacles in its way. But the real key to disintegrating and dismantling our complex, immovable ‘selves,’ is having sincerity inside our hearts. Then, once we are certain of our integrity, our wholeness, we must generate the confidence and courage to be always honest and honourable with others. This is the embodiment of pure unconditional love, which is our divine essence.

Words have become small explosives we react to as if our life depended on it. They can easily undermine the fragile selves we live by. Let those plaster statues crack and collapse as those of Stalin and Lenin did after the Soviets were deposed. Let the crumbling heads and hands roll and smash, until we are in a thousand pieces. Then, and only then, will we be free like desert winds and ocean currents. Then rapidly we will integrate ourselves into the fabric of the universe once more, standing deep inside a rock, living with the sun and moon, and walking among the gods.

So, make a start with the dismantling. Listen to yourself honestly, remaining untouched by external views and pressures. At least once in every day, be pure and honest with yourself and with others. This will coax to the surface your true nature, which is indestructible and eternal, and ‘good.’ Please know this well.

True nature needs no fabric, no stone shelters, no secrets, no paraphernalia. It belongs to the Earth and the Universe. So, stand naked and free like the wind and the sky.

This is INTEGRATION!

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Article 7: The Land Immovable

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The assembly of distinguished monks and dignitaries under the twin Sala trees implored the Buddha for his final instructions and blessings about how bodhisattvas in the Land Immovable (in Nirvana) attain wisdom and become masters of great virtue. He states them from the clarity of his pure treasure mind, stipulating exactly those who may be reborn in the Land Immovable (Nirvana).

The important requirements are:

  • not to harm any living being
  • to abide by the precepts
  • to accept the Buddha’s teachings without question
  • to not steal from others but instead to give to others indiscriminately

He then gives instructions for living in human life and not monastic, which as we saw from the last article, was a departure from all previous teachings aimed at monastics. But now, by accepting lay Chunda’s offering and praising his sincerity above his knowledge or religious practice, he broadens the field so that all beings may become enlightened to Nirvana.

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He cites the building of living quarters and lodges for monastic practitioners, and the creation of Buddha images. If great joy is taken in these undertakings it is a sure way to be reborn. And those who do not seek worldly profit, or harbour fears or tell lies about themselves or others, are good candidates. Those who do not hurt or harm teachers of the Dharma, stay away from unwholesome circles, and try to harmonise with everyone they come into contact with in their interactions, will become enlightened. The Buddha stresses the importance of choosing and saying proper words to the appropriate people at all times.

reciting sutrasHe wishes his disciples to be able to stand whole-heartedly in the shoes of others, to share their pain and their joy, and for them to avoid making others worry or suffer through their behaviour. Also, to speak always in a kind way to their parents, and to avoid having wrong views of life in general. Reciting sutras every day for the welfare of others, and observing the precepts (8 precepts- the usual 5 and the 3 monastic precepts on certain days of the month) are essential.

legacyThen he implores his disciples not to violate the precepts in daily life, or to mingle with those who violate them, and he strongly requests that they should speak sternly to anyone who slanders the sutras. All Buddhist paraphernalia should be protected and cherished, and the ground around monasteries should be cleaned regularly. Those who give their wealth to Dharma teachers, and copy and recite the profound teachings of all Buddhas will, without doubt, be born again in the Land Immovable.

This is the legacy that the fading Buddha leaves, entrusting it to his disciples, and instructing them to go forwards into the future, scrupulously handing down the wisdom and compassion to their own disciples so that the Dharma can be preserved forever. This is also the legacy that we have been handed from our gurus and masters today. It has been flawlessly transmitted through the lineages and adapted to new cultures and epochs. Today, in the 21st century, Buddhists follow his last instructions still, though various schools emphasize earlier teachings.

turtleIt is a truly marvelous and auspicious privilege to be connected to the Buddhadharma, and especially so today when the beings in the world are mostly intent upon satisfying their own self-centred needs. To repeat a sentiment from an earlier article, encountering the Buddha’s teachings is tantamount to a sea turtle poking it’s head through a hole in a piece of drift-wood on the surface of a vast ocean (see Hearing the Dharma article). I personally could have no physical connection with Buddhism in working class northern Britain, and yet I heard a radio feature in my childhood introducing the rareness of encountering the Buddha’s teachings, and so developed an aspiration to find the Buddha and his Dharma. You can read more about my spiritual journey into Buddhism in ‘My Path So Far.” (see may article, http://wp.me/P3O6mn-i)

In respect of Holy Precepts, Holy meditation, and Holy wisdom, the Buddha a little later goes on to advise against straying from the correct path. He benefit seekerswarns that the precepts are to be followed for the happiness of others, not primarily our own, so that the Dharma may be protected for eternity. Neither must we vow to keep the precepts out of fear of falling into the lower realms of existence. They should not be practiced in order to gain benefits and to access the superb power to be liberated from all happiness. He warns too about not mindlessly heeding the precepts in order to avoid damage to your reputation.

True practice of the precepts then is to generate Bodhicitta, the force which will liberate all beings from suffering and protect and uphold the Dharma and the Dharma still to come, to enlighten the unenlightened, and coax people back to the sacred, their natural state. In one respect, as chronological time moves in a linear way always forward, we humans are getting further and further away from our original state of Grace. Once, before the Buddha’s time, Indian having already started to decline when he started to teach in this way, the divine was near at hand. It is said that in the Golden Era, the gods walked among men so there was no distance between the secular and the sacred, no dualism. All beings were sacred and quickly attained enlightenment. Nowadays, many of us are far from the sacred, and the divine spark which we are all blessed with, is virtually extinguished. We need to approach the sacred once again and polish our true nature. (see my article, http://wp.me/p3O6mn-cF)

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He also tells his disciples that those who truly abide by the precepts are not aware consciously of doing so. When they are sincerely practicing for the liberation of all sentient beings at every possible moment, their practice is not self-conscious. In other words, they are not aware they are doing anything special or unusual. They have naturally connected with their divine nature and are able to accept everything that occurs in their lives with natural practiceequanimity, and to live with sincere joy.

In terms of Holy Meditation, his instructions are also very clear. Again, if the motivation to meditate is to achieve one’s own enlightenment and to gain benefits, then this is not the correct way. If, on the other hand, the aspirant is practicing for the sake of other beings or the protection of the Dharma, and to stay away from the impurities of the body, greed, disputes, and physical violence, then this is the correct way. Focused meditation in these last teachings is defined as ‘altruistic action that benefits others.’

Another way of expressing this is through mindfulness. If we practice mindfulness at every moment of our daily lives as householders, we can: preventfor the sake of others regression into lower states of mind; have pure faith; work for the sake of others; protect the precious Dharma; encourage all beings to aspire to become enlightened; be free from delusions; achieve an unwavering state of mind; acquire merit by reciting dharanis (mantras); be able to expound the Dharma freely; and finally, to perceive our Buddha Nature or True Nature.

It is clear that the motivation or intent to meditate must be pure. It should be conducted at an unconscious level, without attention to form or even to be aware of meditating, and certainly to have no outcomes in mind. If our conscious state shifts when we meditate, approaching a state of emptiness, then we can truly connect with the flawless Dharma stream directly to the Buddha, the Dharmakaya or body of the unconscious mindteachings.

Holy Wisdom follows a similar vein. It should not be conscious or self-serving. If the aspirant is seeking an aim to or level of wisdom, then they will never acquire ultimate wisdom. True wisdom is closely dovetailed with compassion. We can vow to take on the agony and suffering of others, to release them from their negative wrong views and from the cycle of perpetual rebirth in the lower realms. The wise are able to put aside their own needs and wishes entirely and be willing to stay in samsara expressly to help to liberate others who are trapped in their delusions. In conclusion, the wise wish all beings to attain perfect universal enlightenment – in Sanskrit – anuttara-samyak-sambodai-shin.

If we are truly wise, we do not recognize the acquisition or form of that wisdom. There should be no conditions placed on attaining wisdom. We train wholly for the sake of others, and eventually the mundane ego-mind entirely disappears. To put this more succinctly, someone who observes the precepts, meditates in the fashion described, and acquires wisdom unknowingly, is called a Bodhisattva. (see my article -http://wp.me/p3O6mn-6r)    Kannon

As an aspirant myself, I try to abide by this advice. I have found it useful to keep the following in mind when aspiring. To help us to aspire in the right way, we might remember that our origin, before our appearance in the physical dimension as a human of flesh and blood, was spirit. And when our human body decays, as the Buddha’s did, we will return to the spirit world. We take on the form of a human being to learn how to become a Bodhisattva, how to become consistently compassionate and unconditionally loving. We can easily connect with our spiritual pathway if we open our hearts and empty our minds, then devote ourselves to the Bodhisattva’s Way for the sake of all sentient beings.

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Article 8: The Importance of Meditation.

The Ultimate Teachings: the Buddha’s Last Will and Testament

Nirvana Buddha by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Nirvana Buddha
by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

In Japan, the death day of Shakyamuni Buddha falls on 15th February. Everyone has heard of the Buddha, but in case this is your first meaningful acquaintance with him, here is a brief biography. It is important to know a little about his life for several reasons: first, his life is inspirational for those who wish to fill their lives with all that is sacred as opposed to secular; secondly, he had profound insights into how to live fully as a human being instead of existing in a twilight zone, pressurized by sufferings and loss; thirdly, his spiritual evolution throughout his 84 human years of life helps to make sense of the lessons left to all generations of humans to follow, known as the great Nirvana Teachings, given on his deathbed.

He was born a Prince of the Shaka Kingdom, hence the name Shakyamuni Buddha, about 2600 years ago. His birth was acclaimed as highly auspicious, the result of the descending into the lower human kingdom of previous Buddhas, Manavaka and Dipamkara. At his birth he proclaimed himself ‘the holy one of heaven and earth’ and vowed to end all sufferings in the human world. When he was 7 years old, the young Prince started training in civil and military arts so that he would be able to take his father’s place as King. But while attending a festival with his father, he was disturbed by the sight of a small bird pecking at a worm turned up by a plough. He hid in a nearby grove and naturally entered into a deeply meditative state highly praised by his father.

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As the Prince’s privileged life progressed, his distress deepened and became apparent to the whole Palace Court. His father became worried about him and so arranged for him to marry the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. But even his love for his new wife could not distract him from his ingrained sadness about the suffering in the world and his birth vow to end it all. Eventually, on learning more about the suffering and death which came to all beings of flesh, he decided to leave his life at the Palace to seek a way to relieve them. His determination to become a monk caused great distress to his family, but he cut off all his hair, put on a simple robe and set out with his begging bowl. After 6 years of terrible austerities, which almost caused his death, he decided to take a Middle Way and to sit in deep meditation until he became enlightened. He then spent the rest of his life sharing what he had experienced with as many people as possible.austerities

The Nirvana teachings reveal the true nature of Nirvana, which roughly translated means ‘release from or the extinguishing of all fear, suffering and craving.’ Another more positive way of viewing it is as freedom or liberation, a state in which we can awaken to the truth of the Universe. In Nirvana, we can become one with the Buddha Shakyamuni and with all beings. There is no longer any separation. At the end of his long ministry, the Buddha had amassed incredible wisdom and insight into samsara (Sanskrit), the sufferings of human life. As he was about to leave the human world and shift back to the celestial realms he had descended from, naturally he wished to leave his fearful mourning disciples a storehouse of teachings and practices, which would motivate them to keep their faith.

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He announced to them that when his physical body had disappeared, his storehouse of teachings would embody his eternal spirit, and he would be with them always. This body of teachings was known as the Dharmakaya (I wrote an article on this last year – ref:https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/dharma-kaya-the-body-of-truth/) So, as energy is indestructible, and as all the Buddha’s disciples have flawlessly protected the teachings for the last 2,600 years, today, in the 21st century, we can become one with the Buddha’s incredible energy. In this way, if we train using the Nirvana teachings, we are intent on realizing and acquiring the true mind of a tathagata, a fully enlightened Buddha. (see:https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/dharmata-or-tathata-the-essence-of-enlightenment/)

Tathagata

The Buddha bequeathed these final teachings to all beings, saying that all the teachings that had gone before paled in significance compared with them, and that their mystical quality was beyond judgment or intellectual analysis. A Bodhisattva, as mentioned in a previous series on Bodhi (ref:https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/bodhisattva/), is a being driven by compassion supported by wisdom, who pursues the path to Enlightenment through practicing the 6 Paramitas or perfections (which are: giving, moral discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and wisdom). The Buddha on his deathbed declared that Bodhisattvas dwelling in Great Nirvana are superior to all others who seek enlightenment for their own sake. He said, “Even if they suffer numerous agonies in hell for the sake of all beings, it will not bother them. For them, it will be as if they are in the midst of the serene pleasure of meditation. Therefore, it is wondrous.”

Kannon

Kannon

Pure actions are the key to attaining Nirvana. We are taught that we must accept everything showing our respect for all beings, who are after all Buddhas, and that we must recognize what they are attached to and help them to acquire it while introducing them to the Nirvana teachings. There may be those who speak badly of the final teachings, but we must be tolerant while expounding this wisdom to them. Universal compassion is paramount in our daily lives and thoughts, and towards this end, the analogy is made with doctors curing illnesses. The tathagata administers sweet medicine, which prevents death and rebirth. We can see that in these final teachings the Buddha makes the vow, made at his birth to liberate all people from suffering and loss, complete.

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I am so fortunate to have encountered these wondrous final teachings in the evening of my life here in Japan. For me, they are the culmination of all the previous teachings, most of which I have studied and practiced as I mention in ‘My path so far’ (ref: https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/my-path-so-far/) My guru, the founder of Shinnyo Buddhism, had also experienced many teachings before he came upon this Mahaparinirvana Sutra, but he felt that his mission was to find a teaching that the world most needed at that time 78 years ago. In Japan there was war and deprivation, as well as a Dharma crisis in which all religious leaders fell under suspicion. He realized the absolute suitability of the last teachings and boldly stepped forward to make them the core of a new stream of Buddhism in Japan.

Kinkakuji

Most schools here revere the Lotus Sutra, the penultimate teaching, so Shinnyo Buddhism is unique to date in Japan. In addition, Master Shinjo in his determination to bring all sentient beings to Nirvana, decided to sculpt a Nirvana image as the principal image. He had never sculpted anything previously, though he showed considerable artistic talent as a young person. But his prayers, one for each strike of the hammer on his chisel, drove him on and soon he had completed a 4 metre long image to guide us all. He worked tirelessly to finish it as a true Bodhisattva, with no thought for his physical condition.

Shinjo Ito sculpting

We can all find Nirvana in this life if we make the necessary efforts for the sake of others. It is that sincere altruism which brings us closer to the heart of the Buddha. The Nirvana teachings are truly magical and mystical, teachings of the pure heart. There is nothing to analyze or question. The pathway is clear and perfect for this troubled epoch of materialism and cynicism.

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The topics of the following 9 articles in this series ‘The Ultimate Teachings’ are:

Article 2: Buddha Nature; Article 3: Emptiness; Article 4: Tathgata; Article 5: Hearing the Dharma; Article 6: Stupas; Article 7: Junda; Article 8: Lifespan; Article 9: Everpresence; Article 10: Supreme Enlightenment

Bodhisattva

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As you may be able to imagine, following on from the last article on Bodhi and the aspiration for enlightenment, a Bodhisattva is someone who is working towards enlightenment, or oriented towards it. He or she is the spiritual embodiment of someone who puts the Buddhist precepts (the moral codes) and practice (working to purify and cleanse Buddha nature in order to summon Bodhi and the paramitas) in the centre of their lives, and models themselves on the Buddha’s life before he became enlightened. Enlightenment? The extinguishing of all cravings and worldly anxieties.

So the first thing a Bodhisattva does is to generate the aspiration to become enlightened for the sake of all beings, making a strong vow. These words are rare in modern English – ‘aspiration,’ ‘vow,’ etc – an indication of how secular our lives in developed countries have become. But once, when there were divine beings living amongst us, to ‘aspire’ and to ‘vow’ were commonplace expressions. In the last days of the Dharma or Law however, mentioned in the first cycle of articles on Dharma, the possibility of encountering the divine in human life, is quite remote, and yet all beings have the potential to become Bodhisattvas. Some of you may already be Bodhisattvas but not realize it.

The Buddhist precepts are the basic laws of moral discipline. At first you may think they bear some resemblance to the Christian or Muslim Commandments, laid down by a divine authority. But the precepts are rational principles of sheer goodness, intended to promote human well-being. They are flexible according to the period of history, the society in which precept-abiders live in, etc. They are not laws, but a kind of warning or guidance. Remember, there is no omnipotent ‘God’ in Buddhism who exercises compassion or wrath on his flock depending on whether thy sin or not. We followers of the Buddha are each potential Buddhas, equipped with all we need to realize that potential. There is no intervention from on high! Of course, as we saw in the Dharma article cycle, we do have Dharma Protectors who vary in the nature of their support, some are strict, some compassionate, etc.

So, given that framework of moral discipline, if we follow the guidance, we can be sure we are in the right condition to become enlightened. If we break the precepts, perhaps by accident, then as there is no punishing agent, we can easily repent and vow never to make that mistake again. If we remain awake and mindful, the Dharma Protectors will make sure we are on the right course. Then, given that strong foundation of moral discipline, we simply practice.

On the Buddha’s pathway to enlightenment, as was the way in ancient India, ascetic practices were undertaken by those seeking enlightenment. Such things still go on in India today, but eventually after almost dying, the Buddha realized that his pathway should be the middle way, balanced and within human endurance. There are more subtle ways to rid ourselves of the deluded ego than acute pain or deliberate attrition. So, the core of our practice is the 6 paramitas  – which are: giving; moral discipline; patience; courage or exertion; meditation; and wisdom. These are compatible with living a normal life in society. In fact, they can be joyfully executed amongst people around us. I find I can usually generate unlimited Bodhi for all the people I encounter in my daily life.

In Japan, as we also saw in the Dharma articles, we can, through ancestor veneration, generate Bodhi for beings in the past. Especially our maternal and paternal lineages, going back through the ages. We want to take their spirits to enlightenment with us too, and they are often with us as we practice. Through my own bodhicitta generating and meditation I made contact with an ancestor of mine who belonged to a religion pre-dating Buddhism and Christianity, who led an ascetic life high in the mountains. He was a healer who people and creatures flocked to, and he handed on his gift to me. It’s true that I am qualified as an Alexander Technique (a method of body-reeducation) teacher and do use healing powers on my pupils. I feel this ancestor is very close to me, working with me towards enlightenment.

So, how can we become a Bodhisattva? You may have a feeling that you are not of this time, that the suffering both psychological, social and physical is so acute, and at times too much to bear. Remember that it is highly likely that your ancestors were Bodhisattvas, and that they exist in all faiths – Mother Theresa in Christianity, Ghandi in Hinduism, Kukai in Shingon Buddhism, and numerous other Buddhist Saints too numerous to list here. etc. Those traces of the divine are in our DNA somewhere and surface at some point. So, the spiritual path can choose us, as it did me, so that we can continue on from where our ancestors left off.

Finally, I am certain my mother and father were both Bodhisattvas, and of course after their decease I could appreciate that even more than when they were alive because of my great arrogance as a younger person. My mother became ill and died about 10 years ago and I and my two siblings were amazingly able to be with her alone when she shifted her spiritual being out of her physical body, despite the long queue of loved ones waiting outside her hospital room to say goodbye. The three of us were talking closely holding her hands, touching her tenderly, when suddenly her heart jumped in her chest and she passed away. It was a breathtaking moment for each of us as a part of her body, but it was peaceful and deliberate. My mother chose to die when only the three of us were there. Tearfully, we made a pact to carry on her bright light into the world, perpetuating the legacy.

Later after the funeral as so many family members and friends filed out to say thank you to us, some of them were visibly shocked when they shook my hand because they thought I actually was my mother! I had always had a strong physical resemblance to her and a similar energetic character, but as they remarked I truly felt I was my mother.  The DNA, the spirit, all amalgamating into one! Bodhisattvas begetting Bodhisattvas, continuing on the goodness of enlightenment and the Bodhi mind. She certainly loved everyone equally and did everything she could to make them smile, their dreams and pain being singularly her own. She was not a practicing Buddhist herself, but before she died I did talk to her about general Buddhist ideas and she accepted them.  I am certain this made her passage into the spiritual world smooth.

two water pots

A story:

There were two water pots: a watertight one and a leaky one. The water carrier would carry the two pots filled with fresh water on a yoke across his shoulders every day to the king. By the time they arrived, the leaky pot was half empty. This pot was very unhappy feeling guilty that he couldn’t do the job expected of him; was failing in his life’s mission. But the kind water carrier advised him not to worry, and instead to notice the beautiful flowers along the pathway on his side. The water pot noticed them, but still felt uneasy that he was a failure in some way. He told the water carrier about his dissatisfaction, but the carrier asked him if he noticed how healthy and abundant the flowers he passed were, and how everyday they could be picked and taken to adorn the king’s palace. Perhaps the leaky pot didn’t realize his real mission in life, which was to water the flowers rather than supply a full pot of water to the king.

Every Bodhisattva has a unique mission which Buddhist practice to attain a Bodhi mind will reveal.