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Buddhadharma : Fall 2016
48 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2016 the road, kill him”—extinguish the sense that you are not a buddha. EJO MCMuLLEN: The practice of veneration is central and vital. How do we become intimate with what it is to take up the path of liberation if we don’t have ways to conceive of it? Human explanations tend to keep things too contained. So the idea that we should just get rid of the “hocus-pocus” is a prob- lem. When I encounter images of the bodhisattvas, I light a stick of incense and press my forehead to the ground. In front of the Buddha here at our temple, we have a small mirror. People tend to interpret that as meaning I’m bowing to the Buddha but I’m also bowing to myself. I don’t like that explanation very much. It’s a bit too precious, like the Buddha is another chance for privileged white people to talk about privileged white people’s problems. When we approach veneration not as a way to ignore our life and try to become some sort of ideal but to bring our broken selves to the altar, then a true call and response can take place. VENERABLE PANNAVATI: Images of the bodhisattvas can be valuable, but as I understand it, they were developed to get a person’s imagination going. The object, of course, is not to see them as the bodhi- sattva as much as to see them as the embodiment of certain qualities and then impute those onto yourself. As a Theravadan, I can develop devotion around the quality itself, so I don’t really need an image. When I’m arousing metta, I bring to mind an experience of when I felt someone’s friendliness toward me or when I felt the joy of that kindness myself. Once I have recall of that event, the feeling comes with that to arouse devotion around compas- sion or around giving someone something without considering my own need. The Buddha said, “My dharma is hard to see, it’s hard to understand, and it cannot be understood by mere reasoning alone,” so when we try to focus our practice efforts on the intellect, we’re missing the point. He is talking about the mind of the heart, the aspect that is readily touched by the infirmities of others. If we stay with that feeling, the heart wid- ens. And then, in relieving the suffering of others, we forget about ourselves. That’s an easy way to meet nonself, because when you focus on the other, you’re not thinking so much about yourself. BuDDhADhARMA: Venerable Pannavati mentioned ear- lier that perhaps we don’t even need vow in order to actualize this path, but of course, in the Mahayana tradition, we associate bodhisattvas with vow, and in particular, we associate bodhisattvas with the vow to save or free all beings. How are we, as human beings, to understand a vow of that scale? EJO MCMuLLEN: How do we understand something that’s so vast? I’d say we don’t; that’s the whole point. We can’t. The awakening of Shakyamuni Buddha is beyond our ability to fathom. The truth is we don’t know the world. We don’t even know our own body, much less the edges of what we call our self. The vow is asking us to deeply investigate the world in each meeting between ourselves and another being. That meeting can be a meeting of liberation or it can be a meeting of co-opting or capitulating; getting someone on board for what we want, or at least our idea of how things are, or giving in to theirs. But that’s the engine of samsara. Right in that meeting, the truth of awakening is also present. That’s where this vow of all beings doesn’t sound impossibly huge to me; it sounds like the immediacy of this life. ANNE KLEIN: In Tibetan, the noun “vow” is rooted in the verb “to bind.” Vows bind us in the sense that we commit to behaving in ways that are consonant with the urgent compassionate aspiration we culti- vate. Rousing our bodhisattva intention begins with a sense of awe, effort, and wonder. We think, Can I really do this? Am I crazy? How is this going to be possible? In order to believe we can do it, we have to feel that there’s something in us that’s not con- strained by our ordinary sense of self. The binding of chosen vows serves to free us from the uncon- scious cage of habitual behavior patterns. Some people can go on faith and just say, “The Buddha says I can do this, so I will.” But here is where I think many modern practitioners may feel doubtful. But there are ways to move through doubt. We can try to find this self that so limits our possibilities. VENERABLE PANNAVATI: If I make a vow, who am I