Faith and The Way of the Bodhisattva

There are two books that I dip into on an almost daily basis. One contains the shorter and longer Pureland sutras. The other is Shantideva’s, The Way of the Bodhisattva. The Former is epic in its depiction of Amitabha’s valiant vows creating a vast realm of awakening and bliss attainable by all. The latter is a collection of contemplations and meditations to loosen our clinging to self and the world that we believe to be so substantial.

Twenty-Five_Bodhisattvas_Descending_from_Heaven,_c._1300Superficially, these texts seem worlds apart. The Way of the Bodhisattva provides a set of pretty straightforward techniques and trainings in how to cultivate the qualities of a Bodhisattva. It contains chapters on Bodhicitta, Awareness, Vigilance, Patience, Perseverance, Meditation, and other important Bodhisattva practices.

The Pureland sutras, on the other hand, recount a fantastical story that defies rational understanding. They tell the story of a Buddha who lives far to the West and whose compassion and motivation are so pure that he/she has been able to create a realm in which even the most unworthy of individuals can become Buddhas.  Further, the Wisdom and Compassion of this Buddha is so vast that, “There is no place where it cannot be known.” The name of this Buddha is Amitabha (Measureless light), or alternatively Amitayus (Measureless life), or just Amida Buddha (Measureless Awakening).

According to the Pureland sutras, all that is required of us as practitioners is faith in and continuous recollection of Amida Buddha. Doing so ensures our rebirth in Amida’s pureland, where we will eventually become Buddhas. In this life, such recollection of Amida Buddha awakens in us awareness of our connection with the unconditional compassion, deep wisdom, and boundless joy of the Buddha.

Thus we enter the Pureland, and by extension the Dharma, through faith in the Buddha. Faith is not belief. Faith arises as the result of contemplation, examination, and experience. Faith must be reliable, something we can depend on when all else is lost. And to be reliable, our faith in the Buddha must be tested and confirmed by personal experience over time.

Deep faith allows us to let go of “self” centered concern for personal salvation or spiritual perfection, and focus instead on the well-being of others. It is faith in the Buddha that enables us to take up the Bodhisattva Vow to “save all beings.” Faith in, and recollection of, Amida Buddha allows us to participate in the collective expression of Amida Buddha’s measureless compassion. This is the Wisdom Mind-Heart of the Buddhas – Bodhicitta: the desire to free all beings from suffering and the causes of suffering.

This is important. Because if we take up a text like The Way of the Bodhisattva, with the wrong motivation, then we may be confused as to why we are practicing. We may think that we are cultivating patience, for example, so we can become less angry. However, Bodhisattvas cultivate patience not so that they will be less angry, but rather because anger is a barrier to helping others.

We must be careful to avoid making spiritual practice a type of work, a goal oriented practice that we undertake to become better people. The religious life is not about perfecting our personalities. It is, rather, the process of opening. It is the loosening of our death grip on what we believe to be our Self and embracing the Buddha. If we have faith in the Buddha, then awakening and compassion will work through us despite our limitations, flaws, and shortcomings.

If we rely on the Buddha and seek to benefit of all beings, then The Way of the Bodhisattva is an invaluable tool and resource. However, we must be mindful of our motivation. Why are we studying a text like The Way of the Bodhisattva? Do we want to engage in practices primarily to fix ourselves and make us nicer people?  Or do we want dive deep into the ocean of Awakening that is Amida’s Measureless light and become prisms through which that light is refracted in to the world around us?

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Bodhisattvas are the spiritual heroes of the Mahayana. They have dedicated themselves to the wellbeing of others.

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3 Responses to “Faith and The Way of the Bodhisattva”

  1. Bobbing Around Volume 15 Number 9 | Bobbing Around Says:

    […] I read Peace Paul’s words I enjoyed a brief transcendental experience. Time stopped, the Universe opened up, and I was at […]

  2. Pieter Navis Says:

    Thank you Paul, very helpful reminder 🙂

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