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We provide transcribed talks by 35 different speakers
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Candradasa, FBA Team
Buddhasiha, Ipswich, UK
Candradasa, FBA Team
Vidyamala, Manchester, UK
Suvarnagarbha, Cambridge, UK
Viriyalila, FBA Team
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... does the series present certain selected aspects, but it is not dealing, it will not deal, with the subject systematically. It will try to deal with it much more directly in terms of the spiritual life and experience itself, with a minimum of historical and doctrinal detail.
So much by way of preface. Now we come to tonight's subject proper, which is, as I've said, the Origin and Development of the Bodhisattva Ideal. And when one comes up against this subject, when one begins to speak upon this subject of the Bodhisattva Ideal, though one might have studied it for many, many years, though one might even have spoken upon it before many, many times, all the same, one hardly knows where to begin. Even in the handful there are so many leaves, as it were, one hardly knows which one to take up first. But these lectures are meant for beginners, as well as for more advanced students, so perhaps it is better this evening to begin right at the beginning, with the word 'Bodhisattva' itself.
It's a Sanskrit word and it may well be unfamiliar to at least some of you. The word Bodhisattva consists of two parts: Bodhi and Sattva. Bodhi means knowledge it means 'Awakening' - not knowledge in the ordinary sense, not awakening in the ordinary sense, but knowledge in the sense of supreme knowledge, spiritual knowledge, knowledge of Reality. And awakening in the same sense - awakening to reality, awakening to the ultimate truth of things; seeing, penetrating to the heart of existence, seeing reality, seeing truth face to face, and becoming one with it. Bodhi is of course in English, in English translations, usually rendered as Enlightenment. And that's good enough, provisionally speaking, provided of course we don't understand Enlightenment in the eighteenth century rationalistic sense; provided we understand it in its full spiritual, even transcendental, sense.
And this Enlightenment, this Bodhi, this supreme, spiritual knowledge, this Transcendental Wisdom, this great spiritual awakening, this we may say is the ultimate Goal of the Buddhist life. This is what we're really concerned with, this is what we're really concerned about, Enlightenment, Awakening, Supreme Knowledge.
Now Awakening', if you like. And therefore the term means a being whose whole life is dedicated to the attainment of Enlightenment. This is what a Bodhisattva means. This is the meaning of the word. A being whose whole life, all of whose energies, are devoted, dedicated, to the attainment of this knowledge of Reality, this state of Enlightenment. So in a sense, we may say, to begin with, provisionally, the Bodhisattva is the ideal Buddhist. The Buddhist, ideally, is devoted, is dedicated, to following the teaching of the Buddha, and, by following that teaching, to reach, to realise, the same spiritual experience of Enlightenment as the Buddha himself. So therefore we may say that the Bodhisattva, the one whose whole being, whose whole life, all of whose energies are devoted to the attainment of Enlightenment, this Bodhisattva is the ideal Buddhist. We may also say therefore, that the Bodhisattva Ideal is the Buddhist Ideal itself, the Bodhisattva ideal is ideal of the Higher Evolution, of one's self- transformation from unenlightened to Enlightened humanity. The Bodhisattva Ideal, in a word, is the ideal of the attainment of Buddhahood.
Now this is the literal meaning, and I've gone into it a little more carefully and closely than usual for the benefit of those who may not have encountered this word or this ideal before at all. So this is the literal meaning of the word Bodhisattva, it's what logicians call the 'denotation' of the term the plain, simple, straightforward, verbal meaning. But there's also what is known as the 'connotation'. The connotation means various associated shades of meaning which are not given directly in the literal meaning of the term itself. And the connotation of the term Bodhisattva is expressed by an, important rider, as it were, to the main definition. A Bodhisattva is defined, a Bodhisattva is described, as one who is dedicated to the attainment of Enlightenment not for his own sake only, but for the benefit of all living beings. This is the full doctrinal, traditional definition of the term Bodhisattva - not just one who is seeking for Enlightenment, striving for Enlightenment, but one who is seeking and striving for it not just for his own benefit, not just for his own individual emancipation, his own private Nirvana, but so that he may benefit, so that he may lead to the same state, all living beings whatsoever. So this is the rider, as it were, which is added. So what is the significance of this rider? Why was it added? Why was it not merely said that the Bodhisattva aims at the attainment of Enlightenment. Surely that was enough. Why add this qualification, this rider, 'for the benefit of all living beings'? Why this implied distinction, as it were, between the attainment of Enlightenment for one's own sake, and the attainment of Enlightenment for the sake of others. Now to understand this matter we have to go back to the origins of Buddhism, we have to get down to certain fundamentals of human life, human nature, human character, itself.
If we think about the matter, if we reflect at all deeply, we shall see that there's a quite important distinction between what a person is and does, and what he or she says, or what he or she writes. And the two, the being and the doing on the one hand, and the saying or the writing on the other, these two are very often incommensurate.
We may find, for example, that a certain person, say a psychoanalyst, may write about love, write a whole book about love, very, very beautifully indeed. They'll explain to you all about it, what love is, how it develops, how it grows, how one is to maintain the state of love, how one goes against it, what one is to do when things go wrong, and so on and so forth, but, very often, if one examines the life of that psychoanalyst, the person who has written that book, all about love, you'll find that, though they seem to know all about it, though they're able to express it, write about, speak about it, very beautifully, very fluently, their own life fails to be, in any way, an embodiment of love. So there is an incommensurability here. Love is manifested yes, in words, in the written word, but not in the life.
On the other hand, one may have the opposite case. One may have the case of a person who really does embody love in his or her life, so that even other people meeting quite casually with that person feel that this person is kind, this person is affectionate, this person, in a sense, radiates goodwill, as the Buddhist expression is. But the person may not have a very adequate verbal expression of that. They may not be able to talk about it, may not be able to analyse it, may not even be able to put it into words at all, even to those to whom they're quite close.
So this is the sort of situation that we find: that as between being and doing on the one hand, and verbal expression on the other, there is very often a sort of chasm - the one does not always correspond with the other.
Now, let us apply this to the Buddha himself. Let's apply it in other words on the very highest level. The Buddha by very definition was, we might even say is, a Fully Enlightened being. Now we hear these words, we even pronounce these words, but it's a very, very difficult thing for us even to imagine. If we try really hard to think, well, what an Enlightened being must be like. We read the scriptures, we read books about Buddhism. We read that a Buddha, an Enlightened one, knows Reality; he's compassionate, he's wise, and so on and so forth, But most of the time, usually, these are just words. We don't really make an effort, an effort of imagination, to try to visualise, to try to realise, what this really means, what a fully Enlightened being really is. And even if we saw, even if we encountered, an Enlightened being, it's very, very doubtful whether we would be able to recognize that that person was an Enlightened being. Now, in the case of a Buddha, in the case of an Enlightened being, his Enlightenment, his inner experience, his knowledge of Reality, expresses itself primarily in terms of what he is, what he does. This is the primary expression, an expression in terms of being. It expresses itself only secondarily in terms of what he says. In the case of the historical Buddha, The Buddha, Gautama the Buddha, he, of course, didn't actually write anything, didn't get even as far as that. There was verbal expression in oral communication, but nothing actually written. And it's interesting, incidentally, to observe that there's no evidence that the Buddha could even read and write, and this is a bit significant. If we think about it, it should give us considerable food for thought, that an Enlightened being like the Buddha, in all probability, could not read, could not write, had never read a book, never read a newspaper, hadn't even read the Dhammapada, hadn't even signed his name to a document, was quite innocent of all these things.
The Buddha just spoke, the Buddha just taught orally, but though he might speak quite a lot, though he might teach quite a lot, though he might even speak about Nirvana, about Enlightenment itself, nothing that he said could fully, could adequately, express what he was. What the Buddha was infinitely exceeded what he said. This is, of course, evident from the parable already cited, the parable of the Simsapa leaves - when the Buddha told the monks that what he'd realised was infinitely greater than what he'd imparted in verbal communication to the disciples. And this sort of thing, this incommensurability between what the Buddha was and what he was able to say, what he was able to express, is underlined in a very striking manner by an ...