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Dhardo Rimpoche and The Bodhisattva Tradition

by Padmavajra

Dhardo Rimpoche and The Bodhisattva Tradition

by Padmavajra

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=OM567
Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, 2002


Brothers in the Dharma,

The quick sap rises in the dry stalk:
On naked boughs the furled green buds appear;
Returning swallows beat about
The clay-built house they left last year.
Earth smiles, and like an almond tree
The Bodhichitta flowers in me.

This was a poem written by Bhante in 1962, and it’s appropriate to read it now, it is after all
springtime, at least the beginnings of springtime. But it’s appropriate in another way,
because it was in 1962 that Bhante received the Bodhisattva Ordination from the Venerable
Dhardo Rimpoche. That was on the 12th of October in Kalimpong. And Bhante said of the
Ordination, that in Dhardo Rimpoche he’d found someone who he could revere as a living
Bodhisattva. He had found, in other words, an Ideal Preceptor; an ideal preceptor for the
Bodhisattva Ordination. He also said that after the ceremony, Dhardo Rimpoche explained
the Sixty-Four Bodhisattva Precepts he’d just given to Bhante in considerable detail. So
today, on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of Dhardo Rimpoche’s death, it seems
appropriate to have a little look at these Bodhisattva Precepts. We won’t have time to
consider all of them, but we can look at the main ones.

But before that, I want to say something about the Bodhisattva tradition that the Bodhisattva
Ordination which Dhardo Rimpoche gave to Bhante is part of. And of course to understand
this, we have to go back to the Mahayana tradition in India. You’re all aware of that
tradition, aware of the great sutras on which that tradition is based - sutras like The White
Lotus sutra, The Perfection of Wisdom sutras, the Vimalakirti Nirdesa, the Sukhavati Sutras
and so on - but there are many other sutras as well, smaller sutras on all sorts of subjects, and
some of them go into quite a bit of detail about the way a Bodhisattva should behave.
There’s sutras which have, which really deal with the precepts of a Bodhisattva, there’s the
questions of Kashyapa, the questions of Upali , the questions of Surata and so on. And a lot
of these go into, in a lot of detail, the way in which a Bodhisattva should behave. So what
you actually find is there is a kind of Bodhisattva Vinaya, or Bodhisattva Pratimoksha.
There’s a kind of codification of ways of behaviour, that go into the details of how someone
who’s dedicated to the Bodhisattva Ideal should actually behave. And these sutras are very
important, and they’re highly influential on the Bodhisattva tradition.

But perhaps even more influential are the works by the great Acharyas, particularly
Nagarjuna and Asanga early on, but also later teachers like Shantideva, Chandragomin and
Atisha, and others as well. All of them wrote not only great philosophical works, but works
dealing with the way in which a Bodhisattva should actually live. And all of this material
was of course transmitted to Tibet, a lot of it went to China as well but let’s just stay with
Tibet, all this material was transmitted to Tibet, and of course the Bodhisattva tradition
became extremely important in the spiritual life of Tibetan Buddhists. It pervades Tibetan
Buddhism very, very strongly. And eventually the great teachers of Tibetan Buddhism of all
schools, whether of the Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and all the sub-schools, discerned
two great traditions which describe the way in which a Bodhisattva should live. First of all
there’s the tradition of the Profound View. This tradition is regarded as having been inspired
by the Bodhisattva Manjushri, was transmitted by Manjushri and was, the kind of lineage
goes, Nagarjuna, Shantideva and so on. And then you’ve got the tradition of Extremely Vast
Conduct - lovely expression, the tradition of Extremely Vast Conduct. And this is inspired
by the Bodhisattva Maitreya, who communicated this to Asanga, and then there’s Vasubandu,
Chandragomin and Atisha.

Particularly important for these traditions, particularly for the lineage of Extremely Vast
Conduct, is the chapter on ethics from Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi. The Bodhisattvabhumi is
a huge work, was written in the 3rd or 4th century, dealing with all aspects of the Bodhisattva
path, it means “the stages of the Bodhisattva,” Bodhisattvabhumi. And the chapter on ethics
is particularly important. Tsongkhapa wrote an important and influential commentary upon
it, and that’s the basis for all later Gelugpa commentaries. So there’s a kind of lineage that
comes down to us. There’s the Buddha, the Great Bodhisattvas, Asanga, or rather Nagarjuna,
Asanga, Vasubandu, Atisha, eventually Tsongkhapa, the Gelugpa school, Dhardo Rimpoche,

So there’s a kind of lineage. Not, of course, that Bhante’s given us the Bodhisattva
Ordination in the way he received it from Dhardo Rimpoche. We’re part of, as it were, a
lineage, but he hasn’t transmitted the Bodhisattva Ordination and I don’t expect he will. As
you all know, Bhante has come to think of these things in a somewhat different way. But I
think we can say, what we can definitely say, is that the Bodhisattva Ordination is, in a sense,
contained within the Dharmachari Ordination that we take at the time of Ordination. The
arising of the Bodhichitta, the altruistic dimension of Going for Refuge is brought out
explicitly in the verses of acceptance that come towards the end of the public Ordination
ceremony. Those verses of acceptance end with ‘for the benefit of all beings I accept this
Ordination’, for the benefit of all beings I accept this Ordination. So it’s quite clear that
you’re receiving the Ordination, and the Ordination is given in the spirit of gaining
Enlightenment for all living beings. The verse before ‘for the benefit of all beings’ is ‘for the
attainment of Enlightenment I accept this Ordination’. So we do accept Ordination for the
attainment of Enlightenment for all beings. So the Bodhisattva Ideal inspires our Order, our
movement, I don’t think anybody would dispute that. Or it should do, it should inspire our
Order, and our movement. If it doesn’t then we’re not being true disciples of Urgyen
Sangharakshita, we’re not true disciples of Dhardo Rimpoche.

Bhante himself speaks of, when he discovered the Bodhisattva Ideal, of being thrilled,
exhilarated, uplifted, and inspired by the Bodhisattva Ideal. And Dhardo Rimpoche himself
was deeply motivated by the Bodhisattva Ideal. At the time of his enthronement, when he
was brought from his Nyingmapa Monastery, from his Monastery on the borders with Tibet,
when he was brought to Lhasa, to the Gelug college where he would do his training -
because, I don’t know if you realize this, Dhardo Rimpoche is an incarnation of a Nyingmapa
Tulku, but who was trained as a Gelug. So he’s sort of thoroughly Gelug, but he has this kind
of Nyingma affiliation as well, rather unusual. But he said when he was being enthroned, and
of course he was regarded as the incarnation of a very great Lama, somebody who was very
close to the great Thirteenth Dalai Lama. He was regarded, he was looked on, when he was
taken to his enthronement, as a living Bodhisattva, as a Tulku. Tulku, I don’t know if you
realize, this translates the Sanskrit Nirmanakaya, but he was looked on as a living
Bodhisattva. But he reflected, “Well, I don’t feel that way, I don’t feel like that, but if that’s
the way people regard me, then I will make myself into a Bodhisattva, I will live like that, I
will become a Bodhisattva”. And it’s interesting, later on when he was talking to Suvajra and
Mokshapriya and some other Order members, he said very, very strongly, he said “what does
it mean to be a Rimpoche? To be a Rimpoche means that you’re a Bodhisattva”. And he said
“I’ve turned myself into a Rimpoche, I’ve become a Rimpoche, you too can become
Rimpoches, you too can become Bodhisattvas, if you live the Bodhisattva life”. So he was
obviously somebody deeply motivated by the Bodhisattva Ideal.

Recently, in order to understand the Bodhisattva tradition more, in order to live it better,
Subhuti has been, in the College of Public Preceptors, leading us through material associated
with the Bodhisattva Precepts that Dhardo Rimpoche gave to Bhante. We spent a week
studying Bhante’s translation of the Eighteen Mulapatis or Root or Major Downfalls. (Yes,
that’s right, we just did the first eighteen). So these are the first eighteen of what Bhante calls
the Bodhisattva Precepts, the Eighteen Root Downfalls from the Bodhicitta. Subhuti’s also
taken us through some of Asanga’s chapter on Ethics, with Tsongkhapa’s commentary, which
these precepts are taken from. And I believe in Tuscany and out in India, he’s given lectures
on Asanga’s chapter on Ethics from the Bodhisattvabhumi. So this material’s beginning to
flow into the Order, and I myself have found it very ...

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