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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
fall 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 39 blossomed buddhahood, is that at all times she acts unwaveringly with the motivation to benefit others. This clarifies any questions about how an ordinary being can navigate the ambiguity of wisdom and confusion that characterizes our mental states. Our center of gravity and our guiding light is bodhi- chitta, our own altruistic motivation and enlight- ened intent. “May all beings everywhere be free from suf- fering”—this is not just a pie-in-the-sky wish that this will happen eventually. It is an explicit assump- tion of universal responsibility, a declaration that we ourselves will actively help make such benefits possible—beginning with taking responsibility for our own spiritual awakening. But who among us feels worthy of helping other beings right now? Of course Buddha could help people—he was enlight- ened. Of course Yeshe Tsogyal can help infinite beings—she’s gone beyond anger and grasping. But what about us? At what point in our development does the bodhisattva mandate kick in? It’s easy to think that the bodhisattva vow is a practice for people more highly realized than our- selves. It may even seem that Buddhism has a mixed message on this point: on one hand, we’re told in no uncertain terms that we absolutely must become enlightened if we’re to have the discriminating wis- dom that allows us to effectively help others; on the other hand, we must act now. We’ve been born into a world that is in dire need of our help. The fact is, we’re taking some form of action all the time. Since we can’t avoid action, since we’re committed to right action, and since even our thoughts have consequences, we’re compelled to consider the benefits—or detriments—to others from all our actions and omissions. This basic ethic underpins all Buddhist engagement with the world. It is tempting, in considering the bodhisattva vow, to envision a time when we will enjoy bet- ter circumstances in our lives, when the vow will be easier to fulfill. But the extreme examples in Buddhism gently remind us to bring altruistic intent to whatever circumstance befalls us. Yeshe Tsogyal was kidnapped, beaten, mugged, molested, demon- ized, poisoned by a rival, exiled twice, and even raped. It is hard to imagine more difficult circum- stances for practicing the dharma. What qualifies Yeshe Tsogyal to act is not her circumstances but rather her allegiance to pure motivations. Through all her travails, she never stops working for the benefit of beings—including her tormentors. Paradoxically, intense hardship is transformed into an accelerant on the path of awak- ening. The message of her extreme circumstances is this: when enlightened intent is relentless and unwavering, that is when the profound basis of the mind reveals itself to us in all its radiant glory. So what are we sleeping buddhas to do? Act with enlightened intent. Check our motives. Always act from bodhichitta. Keep the bodhisattva vow close to our heart—at all times, and in all situations. Then we can have some confidence, some peace of mind, in everything we do. The day-to-day dis- cipline and commitment to practice for every one of us, lamas and beginners alike, is to do our best to help others. We enlist our lives in the service of relieving suffering and bringing awakening into our world—even though we are sometimes good self, sometimes bad self, sometimes in the lucid reality of no-self, and at still other times confused and suffer- ing with our own problems. Every great Buddhist practitioner ever, in the history of Buddhism, knew their limitations and acted for the benefit of beings anyway.