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Are We Bodhisattvas-in-Training?

Do you know any Bodhisattvas-in-training? That is: a person practicing to be a Bodhisattva.

Do you know anyone with Buddha Nature? If you have Buddha nature, then you can become a Buddha, right? If you can become a Buddha, then you can become a Bodhisattva - so even now you are a Bodhisattva-in-training!

Now you might ask what is a Bodhisattva? According to The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, a Bodhisattva is "A being who seeks Buddhahood through the systematic practice of the Perfect virtues but renounces complete entry into nirvana until all being are saved. The determining factor for his action is compassion supported by highest insight and wisdom. A Bodhisattva provides active help, is ready to take upon himself the suffering of all other beings, and to transfer his own karmic merit to other beings. The way of the Bodhisattva begins with arousing the thought of enlightenment and taking the Bodhisattva vow."

The Bodhisattva vow is:

Sentient beings are numberless
    I vow to save them all.

Deluding passions are inexhaustible
    I vow to end them all.

Dharma Gates are limitless
I vow to master them all.

The Buddha's Way is Supreme
I vow to attain it.

So even now you are a Bodhisattva-in-training if you practice compassion and the Perfect Virtues. Those virtues are generosity, patience, meditation, will power, wisdom and right means.

OK, so we're a little weak on wisdom and insight. Perhaps will power needs some work, too. But after all, we call following the Buddha's way, practice. The word practice does not suggest perfection but rather the lack of perfection. I find it rather interesting that long after Lord Buddha became completely enlightened, he continued to PRACTICE meditation. Surely we who haven't become enlightened yet, need to practice it even more.

You don't need to be a Bodhisattva to practice compassion or the Perfect Virtues. If you're going to wait until you wake-up - until you're a Bodhisattva - then it may be a long, long time because without the practice of compassion you will never become a Bodhisattva. So isnít that a good reason to practice compassion now, rather than wait until you attain Buddhahood? Just because you are not a Bodhisattva yet, doesn't mean that you can't be compassionate right now. Be a Bodhisattva-in-training.

There are some people who feel that being compassionate means thinking "I'm so sorry" but that's as far as they go. Compassion without action is pretty worthless. And some people think that you can be compassionate without being mindful. But if you're not mindful how would you even notice there is anything to be compassionate about?

And let's talk about being mindful for a minute. I know some people think that being mindful is being aware of breathing in and breathing out, watching where they step - being ever so careful not step on so much as an ant. But they don't seem to have any problem with walking all over other people's feelings. I know of a monk who is very mindful. When he walks, he walks. When he eats, he eats. He is aware of his breathing in and his breathing out. Unfortunately, he is not terribly aware of other peopleís feelings and needs. One day not long ago he was taking a walk with a man who had a lot of questions about Buddhism and life in general. The man didn't want to sound silly or stupid and was hesitant about bringing up his concerns. As they walked along he began to relax, and taking a deep breath, he asked the monk, "May I ask you a question?" The monk immediately stopped, turned to the man, and said, "When I walk, I walk. When I talk, I talk. I do not walk and talk at the same time because I am being mindful." and again set off on his walk, totally oblivious to the man's need to be heard and understood. Without mindfulness there can be no compassion.

I know that it is much easier to be compassionate for someone you like but usually it's not so much the likable people who need your compassion and actions.

Of course some people use any excuse to avoid an act of compassion. I know of a woman who worked for a nursing home. She was required to care for a person confined to a wheel chair because of severe birth defects. She told her employer that she couldn't touch this person because this person must suffer these birth defects because of his bad Karma from his last life. Hey, bad karma doesn't rub off! Karma is action, good or bad. It is cause and effect and condition. How you react to karma generates more karma, good or bad. The only bad karma this woman was going to have from the situation was the bad karma that she herself was generating by her lack of compassion.

One of things that bothers me sometimes, is that many people spend a lot of time worrying about the next life. Will they be reborn or not? Will they be reborn in the Pure Land? Will they be reborn as a human being or as an animal or in the Hell Realms? I'm sure that you all know the story that the Buddha told about the man shot by a poison arrow. He said that worrying about metaphysical things was like being shot by a poison arrow and telling the doctors not to pull it out and treat you until you found out who shot you, whether he was tall or short, from the city or the country, what kind of the feather was used in the arrow and what kind of wood the bow was made of. Of course by the time you found out all these things youíd be dead. It's a matter of taking action in matters that you can change rather than agonizing over things you can't change.

It seems to me that the problem of our next life will take care of itself if we are mindful of the people around us, if we have compassion for them, and act on that compassion. Surely that will generate all kinds of good karma and the next life will take care of itself.

You know we are told that if you do something for merit, there is no merit but there is merit when we do something meritorious without thought of that merit. Some people think that since there is no merit if they do something for merit, they neednít bother doing it. This is where compassion comes in. Do it because it needs to be done! That's all! Just do it because it needs to be done and merit and karma will take care if themselves!

In one of the sutras, the Buddha said that we are an island to ourselves. He wasn't saying that we should cut ourselves off from other people. Islands are attached to the rest of the world even though they are surrounded by water. What he was saying was that we should be responsible and depend on ourselves, not look to other people. Just as an island is attached to the rest of the world, so we are part of the rest of the world. Everything we do has a ripple effect. When we ignore the pain around us, we are generating more pain. But a smile begets a smile and sometimes just that is enough to give some relief to anotherís pain.

Donít tell me that "there is so much suffering out there and you are only one person, so what can you do?" Siddhatha left home to find the reason and cure for suffering. When he finally became enlightened and became the Buddha, he had a hard decision to make. Should he go out into the world and tell people who probably wouldnít understand what he was saying or just accept Nirvana? Arenít we lucky he didnít take the easy road but in his great compassion spent the next forty five years walking across India teaching what people needed to know.

Be mindful, be compassionate, act on your compassion. This is the way to combat anger, hatred and greed and give yourself a shot at learning wisdom and becoming a Buddha. So be a Bodhisattva-in-training!

First given at Bao Quang Temple, San Antonio TX on May 2, 2004