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The Awakening of the Bodhi Heart

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by Sangharakshita

Aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal

Lecture 66: The Awakening of the Bodhi Heart Mr. Chairman and Friends, The present series of lectures, as those of you who came last week will not need to be reminded, began in what we might well describe as the depths of Winter, and they will end, if we are able to carry them to a successful conclusion, as we do hope, they will end, more or less, roundabout the beginning of Spring. And in between these two events, the beginning of the series and the end of the series - in the course of these eight weeks, during which the talks will be going on - there will have been, in the world about us, in the world surrounding us, what we may describe as a rebirth, as an awakening, of nature herself. In fact we might even go so far as to say, we might even be so bold as to say, that that awakening, that rebirth, has already begun. In the course of the week, even today, the weather has been unusually mild, unusually fine. We are told it's the mildest January for twenty years, and myself when I looked out of the window, while preparing these when I saw blue skies, clear blue skies, floating white clouds, I thought that for one moment that I was back in India, back in Kalimpong. But when, of course, I looked up into the blue sky for some glimpse of the Himalayas I didn't see any Himalayas, I saw rows and rows of rooftops and chimney stacks and spires and so on, and I realised of course that after all I was back in London, in the middle, or rather towards the end of January. But be that as it may, we know, we feel sure in our bones that Spring is in fact on the way, and it is therefore perhaps appropriate that tonight's lecture should deal with another kind of awakening, with another kind of rebirth on another plane. Should deal in short with a spiritual awakening, an awakening of the heart, an awakening of the spirit, should deal with an awakening of which Spring herself, nature, in all her glory, is often regarded as the most appropriate symbol.

So tonight's talk, tonight's lecture is entitled 'The Awakening of the Bodhi Heart', and as you've just been reminded it's the second in our series on 'Aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal'. But before we begin let us just very briefly give a backward glance over last week's lecture. Last week's lecture dealt - you probably remember, those of you who were here - with the origin and development of the Bodhisattva Ideal, and you may remember that we were not concerned, on that occasion, with historical, even doctrinal factors, development, etc., but rather with what we may describe as the deep, the underlying, spiritual motivations which gave birth eventually to the Bodhisattva Ideal, in the course of the efflorescence of Buddhism, especially in India. We saw, we tried to point out last week that the Bodhisattva is in fact simply the Ideal Buddhist. The Bodhisattva, as the very term itself means, as the very term suggests, the Bodhisattva is one who lives for the sake of spiritual Enlightenment, who is one pointed, who is concentrated, who has that goal, that objective, that ideal alone before his eyes, and whose total energies and interests are oriented in that direction, the realisation of that Supreme Goal, that ultimate, that overarching goal, or Enlightenment.

So we saw therefore that the Bodhisattva Ideal was in general a statement, a broad statement a succinct statement, of the Buddhist ideal itself, the ideal of the attainment of Enlightenment, Buddhahood. The ideal, to put it into slightly more modern terminology, the ideal of the Higher Evolution, of the evolution of humanity in the person of its most gifted sons and daughters, from an unenlightened to an Enlightened state, a state of Enlightened humanity or Buddhahood. But we saw that the Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva Ideal itself was at the same time rather more than that. We saw that the Bodhisattva was further defined as 'one who seeks to gain Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings'. Not just one who seeks to gain Enlightenment, there's an amplification here, one who seeks to gain it for the sake of all sentient beings. So why the amplification? - Why that qualification, why that rider? - for the sake of all sentient beings, and in pursuing and exploring this matter we saw that after the parinirvana, after what we would call the death of the Buddha, which was simply the withdrawal of his physical form, amongst his disciples, especially his monastic disciples there arose two parties. Two parties. One party was quite satisfied with the Buddha's verbal teaching - Four Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Five Skandhas, the Twelve Nidanas - they concentrated on this and they thought "Here is Buddhism".

So they were satisfied with, they were contented with the verbal teaching. They identified this with Buddhism, they regarded this as constituting the whole of Buddhism, the teaching the verbal teaching.

But the other party, or rather the disciples who belonged to the other party, and they seemed to have been in the majority, were not so satisfied. They of course accepted the verbal teaching, they fully recognised the value and the importance of teachings like those of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and the Five Skandhas and the Twelve Nidanas, but they felt that this was not all, they felt that Buddhism wasn't just the verbal teaching.

They felt that it was rather more than that. They felt that the personal life, the personal example of the Buddha himself also entered into the question. They felt that these two should be taken into consideration in any formulation of the teaching. They considered, in other words, that what the Buddha personally was by virtue of his supreme spiritual attainment, and what he did, these were at least as important as what he had actually said.

And we summarised the matter, as it were by saying that the verbal teaching of the Buddha gave expression to his Wisdom, but his life, his Enlightened life and activity, gave expression to his love and to his Compassion. And the second party among the disciples, the majority party, they contended that Buddhism comprises both of these together, that it comprises both the Wisdom revealed in the teaching and the love revealed in the life, and it therefore also held that both were to be taken into consideration in the formulation of the spiritual ideal. And to underline this, as it were, to accentuate this, as it were, they said that the Bodhisattva, the ideal Buddhist, seeks to gain Enlightenment - yes, by all means - this gives expression to the Wisdom aspect of Buddhism, but they also said in addition that he seeks to gain Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, and this gives expression to the Compassion aspect of Buddhism. And in this way we see that the Bodhisattva Ideal is a balanced ideal, a balanced spiritual ideal. It derives its inspiration, not only from what the Buddha said, not only from the verbal teaching, but also from what he was and what he did. In other words the Bodhisattva Ideal incorporates, integrates, both Wisdom and Compassion. And it was in this way, out of these considerations, out of these sort of spiritual stresses, that the Bodhisattva Ideal, historically speaking, arose.

Now, having understood who or what a Bodhisattva is, there arises a most important, practical question, and that question is: How does one become a Bodhisattva? How does one embark upon the actual realization of this sublime, spiritual ideal, the Bodhisattva Ideal? And this is where we come in this week.

So let us, without further ado plunge straight into our subject. And the answer to this question - How does one become a Bodhisattva? - the answer to this question is quite short and quite straightforward, but it will require, it does demand in fact, considerable explanation. And the traditional answer to the question is: one becomes a Bodhisattva, one becomes one fully oriented in the direction of Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings upon the Awakening of the Bodhi Heart. Upon the Awakening of the Bodhi Heart, and this, of course, is our subject for this week - 'The Awakening of the Bodhi Heart'.

Let us go back for a moment to the original Sanskrit term. And this is bodhicitta-utpada. Bodhi means of course, as we saw last week, 'spiritual Enlightenment', or 'spiritual awakening', which consists in the seeing of Reality face to face. Citta is one of these very ambiguous, multi-meaningful terms, which one encounters so often when one studies Buddhist Sanskrit. Citta means 'mind', it means 'thought', it means 'consciousness', it means also 'heart'; it means all of these things. Utpada means simply 'arising' or, if you like, more poetically, 'awakening'.

So this term, the bodhicitta-utpada, is one of the most important terms, we may say, in the whole field of Buddhism, certainly in the whole field of the Mahayana. And it is usually translated into English as 'the arising of the thought of Enlightenment', but let me say at once that this is exactly what it is not. In a sense you could hardly have a worse translation. It's not a thought about Enlightenment at all. We can think about Enlightenment as much as we like. We can read about it, think about it, talk about it. 'Enlightenment is both Wisdom and Compassion' the words come very glibly from our tongues, and we think we know all about Enlightenment. We are thinking about Enlightenment perhaps even now. We are thinking about Enlightenment. The thought about Enlightenment undoubtedly has arisen in our minds as we sit here, but the Bodhicitta has not arisen - we haven't become transformed, as we sit here, into Bodhisattvas. So the Bodhicitta is not just a thought of, a thought about Enlightenment, it's something very very much more than that indeed. Guenther translates it as 'Enlightened Attitude'. I personally sometimes ...

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