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Why I’m not keen on the bodhisattva vow

JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matterNetherlands Veteran

I was reading Jack Kornfield’s The Wise Heart, and in the final chapters he talks about the bodhisattva vow, and it reminded me of why I’m not too keen on it. The vow goes something like this: I vow not to accept enlightenment until I’ve helped all other sentient beings into nirvana.

It strikes me that it is a never-ending commitment. There will always be more human beings born, and to help them all into enlightenment is a fool’s errand. It means you would be avoiding your own destiny forever, and you’d likely in the long run either break your vow or stop being a bodhisattva.

A commitment to help others is a good thing, but the way this vow is stated seems to me unreasonable, and undermines the whole reason of a search for enlightenment.

Comments

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    Interesting, @how… certainly for one who thinks there is no self, the whole vow makes no sense. I’ve not yet found a self, and looking inwards so far shows me only things that are devoid of self, yet there is a presence that I would tentatively call ‘I am’. However, if I can observe it, it cannot be the self. So perhaps I am the observer? But what about action, say making a limb move? An observer who can instigate actions, that finally result in the limb moving? That’s as far as my mind has gotten.

    Various people say there is much more to be understood, that we and the universe are one. And I can grasp this, that without all the rest of the universe I would not be here, and that without me being here all the rest also would not be. We are one. But the expansion of consciousness I have yet to experience, I have been told it is possible.

    how
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran
    edited October 21

    I came across this…

    However innumerable the living beings are,
    I promise to set them all free.

    However unfathomable the cause of suffering may be,
    I promise to remove it completely.

    Countless as the gateless gates are,
    I promise to enter them.

    As infinite as the path of awakening is,
    I enter into its embodiment.

    Bodhisattvas are the "superheroes" of Mahayana Buddhism. They personify, often magnified, our beneficial qualities such as wisdom, compassion, decisiveness. The common element of these properties is that they benefit the well-being of all living beings.
    That is why it is also said that each of us is a bodhisattva. After all, they are general human qualities, which each of us has in ourselves. It's our nature, even if that doesn't make us superheroes.
    The vows of the bodhisattva express an intention. The text is deliberately formulated as impossible. The goal can never be fully realized. There is only the open intent.
    The version we recite is one of many possible translations of an original Chinese text. Classical Chinese uses few personal pronouns. The word 'I' was added by the translator, but it could just as well have been 'you' or 'they'.
    The bodhisattva's words resonate with our own wisdom and compassion. We recite them at the end of the meditation, realizing that our meditation practice not only benefits ourselves but is aimed at the salvation of all living beings.

    Source: https://www.levenindemaalstroom.be/nl/gelofte-van-de-bodhisattva

    Which kind of makes more sense and resolves most of my question. What I originally read was part of my course in Gelug Tibetan buddhism.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    In my learning of Tibetan Buddhism, there were said to be three types of bodhisattvas. Jack Kornfield's is just one.

    The shepherd like, that puts the rest of sentient beings enlightenment before their own. Embodied by Avaolkiteshvara.

    The oarsman, one that brings others with them at the same time. Not sure of a bodhisattva example.

    And Kind like, they obtain enlightenment first in order to bring others to enlightenment. Buddha Amitaba is a good example.

    https://thubtenchodron.org/2008/09/bodhisattva-description/

    They give these three examples and they say that actually the king-like bodhisattva’s the one of the highest faculties, because they realized that actually it’s more important to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others then to stay in samsara and not be able to help anybody as well as you could if you were already a buddha. They said that actually all bodhisattvas eventually get around to being king-like bodhisattvas and attain enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings.

    Jeroen
  • … then we have those who choose to beg
    https://tricycle.org/magazine/zen-and-art-begging/

    … And even more heroic those who work to keep the king bodhisattvas humbled …
    https://www.spiritualityhealth.com/humbling-reminders-to-live-heavily-meditated

    some Buddhas are so hidden, we only see their samsara form …

    JeroenFosdickSuraShine
  • I come from a tradition which does not deny or delay attaining Buddha in being a Bodhisattva. Rather the Bodhisattva practice is aiding others in their progress even as we strive to achieve Buddha. Also, upon attaining Buddha, we do not renounce Buddha as we continue to aid others in their striving for Buddha.
    Picture a large plateau atop a steep hill. The hill is difficult o climb Upon reaching and standing upon the plateau is to achieve Buddha. The Bodhisattva is giving others a hand in their climb as he/she ascends. The Buddha is atop the plateau reaching down to give all a hand in their ascent to the plateau. The difference in the actions of a Buddha and the actions of a Bodhisattva are virtually indiscernible.
    Everyone climbing the hill and assisting others is himself/herself performing the actions of a Bodhisattva as they proceed up the hill.
    Everyone has the potential of Buddha.
    Everyone is capable of the actions of a Bodhisattva.

    Peace to all

    lobsterFosdickSuraShine
  • What do you think is a "self"?

    … is it similar to a shelf/plateau/mountain top … somewhere we sit and label?

    How could Enlightenment or Nirvana be anything more than an oxymoron for such an imaginary construct. How do you stop practitioners from simply substituting one attachment for another, like prisoners continually trying to do a make over of their own jail cell, and just show them the cell door that has always been open?

    There I was turning mountains upside down (it is a faith based bodhi thing) when I realised the trapped demons underneath the mountain (so to speak) were now on top …

    I am reminded of the Russian Dolls, another onion peeling, some prison break in or other mind clamp …

    … wait it is not a game … it is real … Thank Buddha for the reminder …

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited October 25

    @Jeroen said:
    The vow goes something like this: I vow not to accept enlightenment until I’ve helped all other sentient beings into nirvana.

    This is a very difficult matter, because different Buddhist traditions interpret what exactly it is to be a "bodhisattva" quite differently. The "shepherd-like oath" is a specific framing of the bodhisattva path that comes from specific currents in Mahāyāna. It is not universal to Mahāyāna, and it is taught generally in a Tibetan/Vajrayāna context.

    Even the matter of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara being the "model" for the shepherd-like oath is not universal. Outside of Tibet, in the wider generally East Asian tradition of Buddhism, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara has the powers and status of a Fully-Enlightened Buddha precisely because he is a Fully-Enlightened Buddha. In the distant past, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara was known as Saddharmapradīpa Tathāgata. Due to the powers of his Buddhic oaths, instead of entering into Parinirvāṇa, when his life-faculty became exhausted, he spontaneously produced the body of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara as a vessel for his oath and took birth within it.

    Karma follows the doer through the air.
    It pursues him among the rocks.
    It accompanies him into the depths of the earth.
    It enters the waters of the ocean with him.

    It lays upon the lit pyre with him.
    It ascends into the air with him.
    It pursues him always and everywhere.
    The shadow of karma is indestructible.

    The oaths of the Bodhisattva follow him through the air,
    into the mountains, into the earth, the woods, and the ocean.
    They accompany him always and everywhere.
    The oath of Bodhi is indestructible.

    As a Bodhisattva, it were better if you were a Buddha. A Buddha is in a far better position to be of service to those bound in saṃsāra. In many forms of Mahāyāna, there is no "shepherd-like oath," and this is just one reason.

    The entire metaphysic that underlies the shepherd-like oath presumes that, once a Buddha attains Parinirvāṇa, his body and mind disappear, him being dead, and he cannot aid living beings. This is the reason why, in these kinds of Mahāyāna, the Bodhisattva actually attaining Bodhi, actually becoming a Buddha, is a disaster. So much work still left to be done, and the worker has abandoned the job site, an abandonment in the form of Parinirvāṇa.

    Other kinds of Mahāyāna Buddhism explain that Parinirvāṇa is not extinction, and thus there is no need to avoid attaining Buddhahood in these traditions. The Buddhas can continue to aid living beings after Parinirvāṇa.

    In the Lotus Sūtra, Old Prabhūtaratna lifts his throne into the heavens, and Śākyamuni lifts the Mahāsaṃgha up with it. Enthroned above, Śākyamuni expounds the Dharma:

    Many aeons have passed since I attained Bodhi,
    countless hundreds of thousands of millions of aeons,
    endless thousands of millions of trillions of asaṃkhyeyas of aeons,
    uncountable innumerable inestimable incalculable aeons.

    Always, I have taught the Dharma.
    Countless millions of livings beings
    I have caused to enter into the buddha-path
    over these countless aeons.

    In order to liberate living beings,
    I masterfully manifest Parinirvāṇa,
    yet in truth I do not pass into extinction.
    Always, I abide here preaching the Dharma.

    Although I always abide here,
    through many godly psychic powers
    I lead the living beings into an error:
    (in that) though I am close by, I am not seen.

    Many see me passing into extinction.
    Widely, they worship my śarīradhātus.
    All of them, filled with yearning,
    are yearning to gaze upon my heart.

    When a living being truly surrenders,
    becoming genuine, straight-minded, and gentle,
    and (he) wholeheartedly desires to see the Buddha,
    he becomes selfless and charitible in this body and life.

    At that time, I and the Mahāsaṃgha,
    entirely without exception, appear upon Gṛdhrakūṭa
    where I, at that time, speak to them, saying:

    "I always abide here, but not in extinction.
    Through the masterful application of my powers,
    I appear to manifest extinction and non-extinction.
    In distant lands, there are living beings
    prostrating to me, trusting in me, rejoicing in me.
    I return to abide at those places
    in order to speak of the Supreme Dharma.
    You, not hearing this that I say,
    all call me ‘extinct’ and ‘destroyed.’
    I see the many living beings
    as drowning in strife.
    That reason why I do not reveal my body
    is to cause them to strive and yearn.
    Because they have been caused to yearn for my heart,
    they then go forth to hear the Dharma.
    Via my godly psychic powers, it has been like this
    for asaṃkhyeyas of aeons.”

    I always abide upon Gṛdhrakūṭa,
    yet I have many other abodes.
    When living beings see themselves taken
    by the great conflagration that burns the aeon,

    my Pure Land is nevertheless peaceful,
    always crowded with the gods
    as they rain down mandāravā petals,
    scattering them over the Buddha and the Mahāsaṃgha.

    My Pure Land is imperishable,
    yet the masses see it completely aflame
    with worry, terror, and rage.
    These things they suppose it is brimming with.

    These many suffering living beings
    because of wicked deeds and predestined fates
    fare on for asaṃkhyeyas of aeons,
    never hearing even the names of the three Jewels.

    All who cultivate virtue and merit,
    who are gentle, genuine, and straight-minded,
    all of them will behold my body
    abiding here and preaching the Dharma.

    For the sake of these many living beings,
    I disclose that the lifespan of the Buddha is immeasurable
    and that I remain so that the Buddha can be seen.
    To others, I say that the Buddha is rare to encounter.

    The power of my wisdom is such.
    The light of my wisdom endlessly shines.
    My life spans countless aeons.
    I remain, continuing to practice the saving of beings.

    You venerable sages,
    do not give rise to doubt concerning this.
    Dismiss all that causes you to doubt in this.
    The Buddha speaks the truth, not lies.

    I am like the physician schooled in many remedies
    who, to treat his mad son,
    truly lives but says he dies.
    This cannot be called 'wicked speech.'

    I am the father of the world
    and the physician of the many suffering invalids.
    The common man is inverted.
    I truly live, though I say that I cease.

    If I am always seen,
    beings’ hearts produce arrogance, self-indulgence,
    heedlessness, and attachment to the five desires.
    They fall into evil paths.

    I always know which living beings
    walk the path and which do not walk the path
    and I accordingly echo their capacities,
    disclosing the Dharma (to them) in manifold ways.

    Always, I naturally arouse this determination:
    "By what means will this living being
    be led to enter into Supreme Bodhi
    to quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?"

    Jeroenperson
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    Thanks for that @Vimalajāti … so this probably went back to the original courses I did in Tibetan Buddhism, where these things were first explained to me.

  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited October 26

    @Jeroen said:
    I was reading Jack Kornfield’s The Wise Heart, and in the final chapters he talks about the bodhisattva vow, and it reminded me of why I’m not too keen on it. The vow goes something like this: I vow not to accept enlightenment until I’ve helped all other sentient beings into nirvana.

    It strikes me that it is a never-ending commitment. There will always be more human beings born, and to help them all into enlightenment is a fool’s errand. It means you would be avoiding your own destiny forever, and you’d likely in the long run either break your vow or stop being a bodhisattva.

    A commitment to help others is a good thing, but the way this vow is stated seems to me unreasonable, and undermines the whole reason of a search for enlightenment.

    I don't think a Bodhisattva really chooses not to awaken or be enlightened (Right Understanding?). I think they just have a different goal than Buddhists that have enlightenment as the final goal because a Bodhisattva doesn't believe in a final goal.

    While many are trying to get to the top of the mountain, the Bodhisattva is winding their way back down.

    I think of it as a sort of reconciliation of the Two Truths by invoking a kind of paradox. There are many versions of the vows so just as an example;

    The stream of sentient beings may be infinite and I vow to liberate them all.

    I know that the earthly body here will not be around to liberate all beings so this is a seemingly impossible task but there is no true separation between beings except by way of individuality. By recognizing our indivisibility, I know that when somebody else takes the vow, I am taking it with them even if this body has decomposed.

    lobster
  • Bravo @SuraShine :+1:
    You have a plan of active engagement. <3
    Om mani padme hum o:)

    SuraShine
  • LionduckLionduck Veteran
    edited November 1

    @lobster
    The imagery of a mountain, a hill or a plateau is for the touchstone of the mind. in the physical reality, a Buddha may be standing or sitting next to you as may be a Bodhisattva, a good friend or a bad friend. When one "rises to a higher level", has he or she physically elevated? Of course not. You may perceive the signs of such mental elevation or not. When you are upon the trail and emerge from the fog, you are still upon the trail. You are just now able to see clearly what was vague or hidden by the fog. Perhaps it is better to see enlightenment (Buddha) as emerging from the fog.

    Peace to all

    lobsterJeroenFleaMarket
  • well said @Lionduck B)

    Does the fog have Buddha Nature?
    You can bet the moon on it … or at least points its Way …

    Not that gambling is skilful. Samsara is Nirvana as they say when the bets are off …

    Lionduck
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