上求佛道,下化眾生

reflection from 預修班,led by Master Moon 月師父

 I believe this short phrase “seeking the highest Buddha path, sharing the illumination with fellow sentient beings” illustrates the ontology and teleology of the Bodhisattva path. I think this is about the proper path and practice of kinship in all worlds and times. Practicing kinship means cultivating relationality in a world that is rapidly breaking.  This reminder serves as a dynamic ground to practice from in our current time of crisis in relationships with dharma, with all living beings of the many realms, with all human beings, with the living earth and land and water and air.  In Buddhist language, this phrase evokes the spirit of the Bodhisattva path.  In more colloquial terms, this is about the cultivation of true friendship.  

In the sutras, one of the famed friendships is between Śāriputra 舍利佛 and Maudgalyāyana 目犍連.  In their friendship, they cared most dearly and deeply about the realization of the wisdom which liberates for themselves and each other.  They both went on diverging paths but were united in direction, promising each other that whoever finds the answer first must return and share with the other.  By this time, each wise man had a sizable number of disciples who were driven by the same urge towards freedom via wisdom.  Thus, this shows the unity of the Buddhists’ effort and the freedom which complements the practice of friendship with the dharma and fellow aspirants.  In a sense, this example of compassion in friendship is what we should aspire to actualize with our all of our friendships as well.

It is honest and best to begin by seeing one is afflicted as much as any other sentient being.  And equally and preciously, from this realization, one begins to grow the aspiration to accomplish the best way of Buddhahood.  This is is beginning wisdom and compassion.  In other texts, we see this phrase clarified by Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chemo, the Steps on the Path to Enlightenment.  Tsongkhapa speaks about how we must cultivate a trusting friendship/relationship with our teacher to seek treatment for our dire spiritual illness.  “Suffering from this spiritual disease, we have been continually ignorant.   We have created the basis of our own disease.  You must take powerful medicine over a long period of time.   To cure our inner disease…constant practice, like a flowing river that never stops, is the medicine that will bring complete relief from the disease of serious mental afflictions.”  

I draw on this passage because it is critical to note here, first as a reminder to myself, that the ontology and teleology of the Bodhisattva path is directed at one’s own cosmology first before directing it outwards.  And to break one of the modern age’s problems, which is the ignorance of self-reliance.  Why do we need teachers, why do we need 上求佛道,in order to 下化眾生?  Because where we are is so deeply afflicted by illusory self-created poisons, but this illusion inherently is not something to guilt oneself or one another for in that Catholic punitive ways, nor is it to escape into savior mode, as the Christian, western, hegemonic, patriarchal or even the Confucian, eastern, patriarchal model espouses.

I also confess that this tendency is one of my current flaws, which is to first seek external action and solutions without consequent, or simultaneous or prioritized inner work.  Also, I tend to prioritize friendships over wisdom, so this is why I must remember the first part of the phrase.  From my personal experiences observing and participating political work, many of us seek to help others without first adjusting ourselves, which magnifies the harm amidst already hurt people and beings.  Yet, this idea, this pride of self already being purified enough to sufficiently help others is a significant beginning of harm and draws on western, patriarchal, capitalist and Christian and/or Confucian, masculine, feudalist based notions of salvation, or any cosmology that portends to have some sort of greater stable Emperor/God-like self, which are paths that are distinct from the path of liberation espoused by not just the Buddha, but all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who’s wisdom is an emanation of, as the Tibetan traditions call, Mahaprajnaparamita, the mother of all wisdoms. It is critical to note that the Buddha himself is not the savior as some more patriarchal traditions have painted him as, but as one emanation of the greater illumination of wisdom. Surely, the teachings of truth, or dharma, are the method, the medicines for our afflictions. But even the Buddha himself and the Bodhisattvas cannot force any sentient being towards liberation, that must begin within one’s own xin-mind-heart. The path to Buddhahood is cultivated within, our relationship to sentient beings begins within as well.  We chant this in every evening class.  We seek and cultivate unbreakable wisdom as a gift, a medicine we share with self and friends out of cultivated compassion and merit.  

As a friend, we naturally desire to give the very best gift, via the very best medium.  Should we give a wondrous gift in a poisoned package?  No, that ruins the gift, the giver, and if received, the receiver as well.  What makes a good gift?  One which is from the best source—purified, wise, compassionate and enlivening, like the medicine of water.  This is the essence of 佛,cultivated/applied in the 道。To whom do we give this cultivated gift?  All 眾生 sentient beings who earnestly seek and practice wise freedom and purified compassion, beginning with oneself.  

Published by tingl1

indigenous (+) buddhist citizen

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