Thegchen13 is well known for the Bodhisattva ideal. In Tibetan the word is changchub sempa and it has a specific meaning which differs a little from the Sanskrit word Bodhisattva. Bodhisattva means ‘one who has Bodhi’ or ‘one who is imbued with the awakened-Mind’. If you look at the spelling of this word in Tibetan you will see that it is not a direct translation of the Sanskrit word. The final syllable (which has the phonetic sound ‘pa’) is not spelt ‘pa’ – but ‘dPa’.
The word ‘pa’—as in Ngakpa—means ‘person’. The word ‘dPa’ means warrior. In fact, in the original Sanskrit texts the word ‘bodhisattva’ can often be found with the same Sanskrit suffix and is spelt ‘bodhisatva’ – that is to say, with only one ‘t’. Now, this may sound horribly academic – but there is something to be learnt from this. The spelling ‘dPa’ is a contraction of the word ‘dPa bo’—warrior—so changchub sempa means awakened-Mind warrior.
This could seem contradictory couldn’t it? The idea of compassion set together with the idea of a warrior could seem unusual – so we need to look at the qualities of a warrior in order to understand how this applies. More specifically we need to understand how this idea applies in our practice and our lives. Before anything else, a warrior has to accept death. There is no way anyone can call themselves a warrior unless they can live with the presence of death. No-one can be a warrior unless they are free to die. The possibility of death does not inhibit a warrior.
The warrior lives with this presence – the felt-presence of death. The warrior knows that death can come at any moment – and lives in that knowledge.
This knowledge is liberating. It enables us to be free to act in whatever way we need to act in order to protect others. The awakened-Mind warrior has the capacity to act without reference to personal safety. The awakened-Mind warrior has already given up all there is to give up. There’s nothing to defend – so nothing is a threat.
When we talk about the path of the awakened-Mind warrior, we are not speaking about aggression. We are not speaking in terms of killing people with weapons in the common understanding of what a warrior is. We are talking about the qualities of fearlessness and the capacity to act without the clutter of self-cherishing motives. Fearlessness refuses nothing. If we are invited to go somewhere – we go. If someone wants to talk with us – we talk. If someone wants an ear – we listen. If someone asks a favour – we give it. If someone admires something we have – we offer it to them. In the fullest sense of the word – this is what it means to live the life of commitment to the changchub sempa vow.
To take such a vow is to become public property – so we should think seriously and carefully before we take such a vow. A practitioner who has taken the changchub sempa vow is: everyone’s shoulder to cry on; everyone’s defender; and everyone’s parent.
It is especially important for men to learn what it is to be a mother. To be a mother is to have your egocentricity eroded by your children at every turn. To be a mother is to make allowances for children – forgiving everything and asking nothing in return.
To be a mother is to fully accept being a doormat and to be the most incredibly invulnerable warrior. To be a warrior is to welcome the death of every thought of self-preservation.
I feel it important at this point to say that I wish nothing in what I’ve said to imply that ill-treatment or sexist exploitation of any mother is to be regarded as women’s natural lot. I’ve drawn this image from life as it presents itself – but this doesn’t mean that I would not have that change. There is no sexism in the essential teaching of Buddhism – and what sexism we find is what people have added from the cultural bias of their dualistic derangement. The image of the ‘doormat mother’ is an analogy rather than a societal blueprint. We are looking at a mother’s relationship with her children – not at women’s relationships with men as dominating fathers and husbands.
It is important to remember that to be a doormat is only possible for realised practitioners. If you are so stable, fluid, warm, confident and spacious in your practice that you can accept whatever treatment you receive without resentment, anger, loneliness, anxiety or depression – you are qualified to be a doormat. I’m only qualified to be a chaise longue.
From the changchub sempa’s view, to become a doormat is the greatest victory – and, anyway, doormats aren’t really treated that badly. I’ve never heard of anyone torturing a doormat or burning a doormat at the stake. There would be no point. A doormat is just a rectangular piece of coconut matting on which to wipe your shoes.
In a battle, warriors have to act in reaction to everything that presents itself. Warriors do not run away in fear. They do what must be done—without hesitation—because that is the nature of the life they have chosen.
The Samurai of Japan compared the nature of their lives to cherry blossom. A pretty image isn’t it? Actually it’s quite blunt. Cherry blossom falls at the slightest gust of wind. It drops from the twig at the slightest touch – so the life of the Samurai is as precarious as cherry blossom. It takes a heroic sense of humour—a fearless whimsicality—to feel yourself balancing on that existential razor’s edge. It is however, the most solid unshakeable foundation for nondual action.
People often gain remarkable insights when they know that they are going to die. Priests visiting prisoners in the condemned cells have said what a pity it was that there could be no reprieve at that point, because often the presence of death brings the possibility of change.
The strange thing is that we are all under a death sentence. Death is what we all have in front of us – even though many of us live as if it were not going to take place. If we can come face-to-face however, with the knowledge of death – our way of seeing the world can change. We could begin to live as we have never lived before. We would become totally alive.
With this changed attitude we could establish the certainty required to live the life of the changchub sempa. The vow to lead this extraordinary life is the determined commitment to practice, not for ourselves – but for all beings. We make the vow to renounce the attainment of nonduality until all beings realise their nondual nature. This vow concerns attitude and motivation. It concerns what we would wish to do if we could. To lay down our lives for others is considered to be a noble act – and ideas of self-sacrifice are part of all religions. But the noblest sacrifice we can possibly make is to sacrifice our ‘selves’. True self-sacrifice is to lose the ‘self’, or—to put it another way—our habit of unenlightenment.
Obviously the best possible person to help all sentient beings is someone who has fully realised nonduality. From the perspective of the Sutras we vow to relinquish the nondual state until all beings attain that state – but this is one of the surest methods of attaining the nondual state. It’s a paradox. In fact it’s actually quite funny. The expansive good-heart and open warmth we generate through our intention, projects us inevitably towards our goal – through the practice of giving up our goal.
If we realise that the nondual state is more important than our few fleeting years of life—life after life—and yet generate the strong wish to abandon nonduality until all beings share it – then the practice of shi-nè will develop rapidly. We will then be of real benefit to everyone and everything everywhere. This is an incredibly liberating attitude to adopt and will expand our practice of shi-nè remarkably.
Finally, I would like to touch on the idea of ‘merit’ – and of ‘gaining merit’ through selfless acts. Merit tends to be regarded quite materialistically by some people – so I’d like to clarify. The accumulation of merit through skilful intentionality and consequent activity, does not mean that there is some sort of mechanism within the fabric of life that notices our kind acts.
The circumstances which befall us in the world are—generally speaking—the random functioning of the universe. So merit is not what happens to us – but how we see what happens. If we have kindness-Mind we initiate kindness-action – and kindness becomes the way in which we perceive the world. We become imbued with kindness-vision. Our perception becomes impregnated by kindness-wisdom and we become increasingly open. For this reason, we generate kindness-Mind at the beginning of our practice.
Then—at the end of our practice—we give away the benefits of having generated kindness-Mind. We give away the joy of having experienced clarity through the practice of shi-nè – but here again, we are talking about the development of a feeling. It is not actually possible to give away merit without accumulating even greater merit – but nonetheless, we make the strong wish to give what we have to others. It is important to work on this feeling – because without it our recitation of Tibetan words could be little more than interminable dreary mumbling.
I’ve probably talked too long about kindness and what it means. I hope that what I’ve said will serve to disinhibit the innate kindness that’s bursting to flow from us all. I hope that kindness-Mind will develop in all of us for the sake of everyone and everything – everywhere. This is the only way we will ever change the world or ourselves.