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The Buddha and Bodhisattva - Eternity and Time

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by Sangharakshita

Aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal

Lecture 72: The Buddha and Bodhisattva: Eternity and Time Mr Chairman and Friends, Last week we began our lecture by permitting ourselves, for a few moments a backward glance, a backward glance over the rather mountainous terrain of the Bodhisattva Ideal, that is to say the terrain which, or through which, we had and in fact have been travelling in the course of these last few weeks, in fact these two months. And as we looked back, as we looked back over the distance that we had traversed during this time, we saw that in this, as it were, mountainous terrain, one peak stood out, one peak seemed to dominate the rest. And this was the mountain peak of the Bodhicitta, the Will to Universal Enlightenment. And in retrospect we saw that all other aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal, all those other aspects, some of which we had touched upon and even explored, seemed, in retrospect, to group themselves around this particular one, this particular peak, just like so many lesser mountain peaks clustering, as it were, around one great peak that towers above them all and dominates the landscape.

We saw right at the beginning that the Bodhisattva was the ideal Buddhist, one who lives for the sake of Enlightenment, for the sake of the Enlightenment of all sentient beings, but we saw, almost from the very beginning, that the Bodhisattva becomes a Bodhisattva only by virtue of the arising, by virtue of the manifestation within him, of what we call the Bodhicitta. And this Bodhicitta we saw, again was not just a thought, not just an idea or a concept in somebody's mind. We saw, and again and again we were reminded, that this Bodhicitta is something Transcendental, something Universal, something which informs and pervades and flows through in a sense, the whole cosmos. And we further saw, both at the time and in retrospect, that this Bodhicitta, this Universal Will to Enlightenment, or this Will to Cosmic Enlightenment, has two great aspects; that it has a vow aspect and an establishment aspect. The first consisting of the formulation of certain vows, the import of which is universal, embracing all sentient beings. We saw, you may remember, that the Four Great Vows are a prominent example of this kind of thing. We saw also that the vow - singular or plural, represents the expression of the one, the Universal, Bodhicitta, in terms of the life and work of the individual Bodhisattva. While the other aspect, the establishment aspect we saw, consisted in the practise of the six paramitas, and these six paramitas we saw in some detail, over some three weeks, were made up of three pairs. First of all giving and uprightness - dana and sila, representing the altruistic and the individualistic aspects of the spiritual life. Then patience and vigour, representing, as we saw, the 'masculine' and the 'feminine' (single inverted commas) approaches to the spiritual life, and finally meditation and Wisdom, which we described as the internal and external dimensions, as it were, of the one supremely Enlightened mind.

And all these pairs of opposites - whether giving and uprightness, whether patience and vigour, or meditation and Wisdom - all these pairs of opposites, on their respective levels, in their respective contexts, the Bodhisattva synthesizes, balances, integrates harmoniously in his own life and work and character and endeavour and achievement. In his life we saw - and this again was insisted upon more than once - in his life there is no one- sidedness, no going to extremes.

Now last week we found ourselves still concerned with this Bodhicitta, still trying to get a glimpse, as it were of this great, this lofty, mountain peak dominating the entire landscape from a slightly different point of view, in a slightly different perspective. Last week we tried to go into the question of the Bodhicitta, not so much abstractly as concretely, because last week, you may remember, we were concerned with the Bodhisattva Hierarchy. In other words those individuals in whom the Bodhicitta progressively manifests itself. And we first of all tried to understand the general principle of spiritual hierarchy itself. We saw that it represented, this spiritual hierarchy represented, the thin veil, as it were, between ourselves and Reality, and at the same time we tried to understand the principle of Universal brotherhood, tried to understand the importance of having contact with what Buddhist tradition calls 'the spiritual friends'. And having done this, we turned our attention to the four kinds of Bodhisattva, who between them make up the Bodhisattva hierarchy.

We saw that in the first place there are Novice Bodhisattvas - those who genuinely accept the Bodhisattva Ideal, and who try to practise it, but in whom the Bodhicitta, as a spiritual experience, as a Transcendental experience, has not yet arisen.

And then secondly we saw that there were Bodhisattvas of the Path - those in whom the Bodhicitta had in fact arisen and who had attained any one of the first six out of the ten bhumis or stages of progress of the Bodhisattva path.

And then we saw that in the third place there were the Irreversible Bodhisattvas - those who are incapable of falling back into spiritual individualism and aiming at emancipation, nirvana, just for themselves alone. These Irreversible Bodhisattvas, we saw, become such by the realisation of 'Great Emptiness', the third of the four kinds of emptiness, 'Great Emptiness' in which all distinction, as between samsara and nirvana, conditioned and Unconditioned, all these distinctions are swallowed up and obliterated, so that in that realisation of the ;Great Emptiness', the Bodhisattva finds, the Bodhisattva discovers, or the Bodhisattva sees, no separate nirvana, no Unconditioned separate from the conditioned, to which he can escape for his own sake, and in this way he becomes irreversible in the eighth bhumi. And then we saw that there are Bodhisattvas of the Dharmakaya, who are Buddhas in fact in Bodhisattva form.

Some of them being human and historical and others purely archetypal, but all of them representing different aspects of Enlightenment, different aspects of Buddhahood. We saw that Avalokitesvara, for example, embodies the aspect of Compassion; Manjusri the aspect of Wisdom, and so on. And we closed last week with just a few words about the Bodhisattva ordination.

Now that's a rather rapid survey of quite a lot of ground, but it should suffice to prepare the way for what we have to say this evening.

And this evening we are still concerned with the Bodhicitta, this Will to Enlightenment, this Will to the salvation, the emancipation, the liberation, of all. But again we are concerned with the Bodhicitta in a somewhat different way. So far in the course of this series we have dealt only with the relative Bodhicitta. You may remember that quite early in the series the distinction was introduced as between the Absolute Bodhicitta and then the relative Bodhicitta, but the Absolute Bodhicitta was just briefly mentioned, and we have in fact all the time been dealing in detail, explicitly with the relative Bodhicitta.

Now today were are going to deal with the Absolute Bodhicitta. As I've said it's been mentioned briefly in a very general way before but we haven't really, we haven't truly, said anything about it. The subject has been anticipated slightly last week in speaking of the Bodhisattvas of the Dharmakaya and the connection may become obvious a little later on.

Now obviously it isn't easy to approach this subject of the Absolute Bodhicitta. The relative Bodhicitta is difficult enough to deal with, difficult enough to get a glimpse of, even from afar off, but obviously the Absolute Bodhicitta is very much more difficult indeed to approach. It's difficult even to get a glimpse of a glimpse of the Absolute Bodhicitta. So perhaps we should work our way into the subject gradually, little by little, step by step, until perhaps we have some, however remote, however indirect, perception of the nature of the Absolute Bodhicitta, and also have some perception, in the words of the title of today's lecture, some perception of the Buddha as well as of the Bodhisattva, of eternity and time.

Now in the course of the previous lectures, one cannot but have received certain impressions. You know how it is when you go along to lectures. You don't usually go along with your notebook. You just get a general impression.

Some thing sort of sinks in, something settles down, as it were, within you, from the lectures, but you may not remember very much in detail, and if you were questioned you might not be able to reproduce very much in detail or even in outline; but at the same time there are these broad general impressions that persist, that remain. And one of these is, surely, that as a result of hearing, as a result of listening to these talks, these lectures, you will think of the Bodhisattva as following a certain way of life. You will think of the Bodhisattva or the would-be Bodhisattva as performing, for instance, the 'Sevenfold Puja'; you will think of him as developing the Bodhicitta, the Will to Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings; think of him as making his 'Four Great Vows', practising the Paramitas, and so on. You will think of him as living and working and unfolding in this way. In other words you will think of him as treading a certain path. And in the same way, you will think of him undoubtedly as aiming at a certain goal - the goal of Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, the goal of Supreme Buddhahood.

These at least are the sort of impressions with which one will be left after sitting through, after listening to, this course of lectures.

And these impressions, though very general - not to say ...

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