The Practices of the Bodhi Mind

10) How to Develop the Bodhi Mind

Awakening the Bodhi Mind, as indicated earlier can be summarized in the four Bodhisattva vows:

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all; 
Afflictions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them all; 
Dharma doors are boundless, I vow to master them all; 
Buddhahood is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it.

However, it is not enough simply to say "I have developed the Bodhi Mind," or to recite the above verses every day. To really develop the Bodhi Mind, the practitioner should, in his cultivation, meditate on and act in accordance with the essence of the vows. There are cultivators, clergy and lay people alike, who, each day, after reciting the sutras and the Buddha's name, kneel down to read the transference verses: "I wish to rid myself of the three obstructions and sever afflictions ..." However, their actual behavior is different: today they are greedy, tomorrow they become angry and bear grudges, the day after tomorrow it is delusion and laziness, the day after that it is belittling, criticizing and slandering others. The next day they are involved in arguments and disputes, leading to sadness and resentment on both sides. Under these circumstances, how can they rid themselves of the three obstructions and sever afflictions?

In general, most of us merely engage in external forms of cultivation, while paying lip service to "opening the mind." Thus, the fires of greed, anger and delusion continue to flare up, preventing us from tasting the pure and cool flavor of emancipation as taught by the Buddhas. Therefore, we have to pose the question, "How can we awaken the Bodhi Mind?"

In order to develop a true Bodhi Mind, we should ponder and meditate on the following six critical points:

Point 1: the Enlightened Mind

Sentient beings are used to grasping at this body as "me," at this discriminating mind-consciousness which is subject to sadness and anger, love and happiness, as "me." However, this flesh-and-blood body is illusory; tomorrow, when it dies, it will return to dust. Therefore, this body -- a composite of the four elements (earth, water, fire and air) -- is not "me." The same is true of our mind-consciousness, which is merely the synthesis of our perception of the six "Dusts" (form, sound, fragrance, taste, touch and dharmas).

Take the case of a person who formerly could not read or write, but is now studying English or German. When his studies are completed, he will have knowledge of English or German. Another example is a person who had not known Paris but who later on had the opportunity to visit France and absorb the sights and sounds of that city. Upon his return, if someone were to mention Paris, the sights of that metropolis would appear clearly in his mind. That knowledge formerly did not exist; when the sights and sounds entered his subconscious, they "existed." If these memories were not rekindled from time to time, they would gradually fade away and disappear, returning to the void.

This knowledge of ours, sometimes existing, sometimes not existing, some images disappearing, other images arising, always changing following the outside world, is illusory, not real. Therefore, the mind-consciousness is not "me." The ancients have said:

The body is like a bubble, the mind is like the wind; they are illusions, without origin or True Nature.

If we truly realize that body and mind are illusory, and do not cling to them, we will gradually enter the realm of "no self" -- escaping the mark of self. The self of our self being thus void, the self of "others" is also void, and therefore, there is no mark of others. Our self and the selves of others being void, the selves of countless sentient beings are also void, and therefore, there is no mark of sentient beings. The self being void, there is no lasting ego; there is really no one who has "attained Enlightenment." This is also true of Nirvana, ever-dwelling, everlasting. Therefore, there is no mark of lifespan.[15]

Here we should clearly understand: it is not that the eternally dwelling "True Thusness" has no real nature or true self; it is because the sages have no attachment to that nature that it becomes void.

Sentient beings being void, objects (dharmas) are also void, because objects always change, are born and die away, with no self-nature. We should clearly realize that this is not because objects, upon disintegration, become void and non-existent; but, rather, because, being illusory, their True Nature is empty and void. Sentient beings, too, are like that. Therefore, the ancients have said:

Why wait until the flowers fall to understand that form is emptiness?

The practitioner, having clearly understood that beings and dharmas are empty, can proceed to recite the Buddha's name with a pure, clear and bright mind, free from all attachments. Only when he cultivates in such an enlightened frame of mind can he be said to have "developed the Bodhi Mind."

Point 2: the Mind of Equanimity

In the sutras, Buddha Sakyamuni stated:

All sentient beings possess the Buddha Nature; they are our fathers and mothers of the past and the Buddhas of the future.

The Buddhas view sentient beings as Buddhas and therefore attempt, with equanimity and great compassion, to rescue them. Sentient beings view Buddhas as sentient beings, engendering afflictions, discrimination, hatred and scorn.[16] The faculty of vision is the same; the difference lies in whether we are enlightened or not. As disciples of the Buddhas, we should follow their teachings and develop a mind of equanimity and respect towards sentient beings; they are the Buddhas of the future and are all endowed with the same Buddha Nature. When we cultivate with a mind of equanimity and respect, we rid ourselves of the afflictions of discrimination and scorn, and engender virtues. To cultivate with such a mind is called "developing the Bodhi Mind."

Point 3: The Mind of Compassion

We ourselves and all sentient beings already possess the virtues, embellishments and wisdom of the Buddhas. However, because we are deluded as to our True Nature and commit evil deeds, we revolve in Birth and Death, to our immense suffering. Once we have understood this, we should rid ourselves of the mind of love-attachment, hate and discrimination, and develop the mind of repentance and compassion. We should seek expedient means to save ourselves and others, so that all are peaceful, happy and free of suffering. Let us be clear that compassion is different from love-attachment, that is, the mind of affection, attached to forms, which binds us with the ties of passion. Compassion is the mind of benevolence, rescuing and liberating, detached from forms, without discrimination or attachment. This mind manifests itself in every respect, with the result that we are peaceful, happy and liberated, and possess increased merit and wisdom.

If we wish to expand the compassionate mind, we should, taking our own suffering as a starting point, sympathize with the even more unbearable misery of others. A benevolent mind, eager to rescue and liberate, naturally develops; the compassionate thought of the Bodhi Mind arises from there. For instance, in a situation of war and famine, the young, who should be cared for by their parents, grow up orphans, helpless and forsaken. Likewise, the old, ideally, are supported by their children. However, their children having been killed prematurely, they are left to grieve and suffer alone. Witnessing these examples, our hearts are moved and we wish to come to their rescue. The compassionate thought of the Bodhi Mind, which up to that time had not developed, will spontaneously arise.

Other examples: there are young men, endowed with intelligence and full of health, with a bright future, who are suddenly cut down by bullets and bombs. There are also young women in their prime who suddenly lose the parents and family members upon whom they depend for support and therefore go astray, or they become orphans, their future livelihood and survival under a dark cloud. Witnessing these occurrences, our hearts are deeply moved and we wish to come to their rescue. The compassionate thought of the Bodhi Mind, which up to that time had not developed, will spontaneously arise.

There are people who are sick but cannot afford the high cost of treatment and must therefore suffer needlessly for months or years, to the point where some even commit suicide. There are the poor and unemployed, whose wives and children are undernourished and sick, their clothing in rags; they wander aimlessly, pursued by creditors, enduring hunger and cold, day in and day out. They can neither live decently nor die in peace. There are people who face difficult mental problems, without family or friends to turn to for advice and solace. There are those who are deluded and create bad karma, not knowing that in the future they will suffer retribution, unaware of the Dharma and thus ignorant of the way to emancipation. Witnessing these occurrences, our hearts are deeply moved and we wish to come to their rescue. The compassionate thought of the Bodhi Mind, which up to that time had not developed, will spontaneously arise.

In broader terms, as the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra taught in the Avatamsaka Sutra:

Great [Bodhisattvas develop] great compassion by ten kinds of observations of sentient beings: they see sentient beings have nothing to rely on for support; they see sentient beings are unruly; they see sentient beings lack virtues; they see sentient beings are asleep in ignorance; they see sentient beings do bad things; they see sentient beings are bound by desires; they see sentient beings drowning in the sea of Birth and Death; they see sentient beings chronically suffer from illness; they see sentient beings have no desire for goodness; they see sentient beings have lost the way to enlightenment. [Bodhisattvas] always observe sentient beings with these awarenesses. (Thomas Cleary, tr. The Flower Ornament Scripture [Avatamsaka Sutra].Vol. II. p. 343.)

Having developed the great compassionate mind, we should naturally develop the great Bodhi Mind and vow to rescue and liberate. Thus the great compassionate mind and the great Bodhi Mind interpenetrate freely. That is why to develop the compassionate mind is to develop the Bodhi Mind. Only when we cultivate with such great compassion can we be said to have "developed the Bodhi Mind."

Point 4: The Mind of Joy

Having a benevolent mind, we should express it through a mind of joy. This mind is of two kinds: a rejoicing mind and a mind of "forgive and forget." A rejoicing mind means that we are glad to witness meritorious and virtuous acts, however insignificant, performed by anyone, from the Buddhas and saints to all the various sentient beings. Also, whenever we see anyone receiving gain or merit, or prosperous, successful and at peace, we are happy as well, and rejoice with them.

A "forgive and forget" mind means that even if sentient beings commit nefarious deeds, show ingratitude, hold us in contempt and denigrate us, are wicked, causing harm to others or to ourselves, we calmly forbear, gladly forgiving and forgetting their transgressions.

This mind of joy and forbearance, if one dwells deeply on it, does not really exist, because there is in truth no mark of self, no mark of others, no mark of annoyance or harm. As stated in the Diamond Sutra:

The Tathagata teaches likewise that the Perfection of Patience is not the Perfection of Patience; such is merely a name. (A.F. Price, tr., "The Diamond Sutra," p. 44. InThe Diamond Sutra & The Sutra of Hui Neng.)

The rejoicing mind can destroy the affliction of mean jealousy. The "forgive and forget" mind can put an end to hatred, resentment, and revenge. Because the mind of joy cannot manifest itself in the absence of Enlightenment, it is that very Bodhi Mind. Only when we practice with such a mind, can we be said to have "developed the Bodhi Mind."

Point 5: The Mind of Repentance and Vows

In the endless cycle of Birth and Death, all sentient beings are at one time or another related to one another. However, because of delusion and attachment to self, we have, for countless eons, harmed other sentient beings and created an immense amount of evil karma.

The Buddhas and the sages appear in this world out of compassion, to teach and liberate sentient beings, of whom we are a part. Even so, we engender a mind of ingratitude and destructiveness toward the Triple Jewel (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha). Now that we know this, we should feel remorse and repent the three evil karmas. Even the Bodhisattva Maitreya, who has attained non-retrogression, still practices repentance six times a day, in order to achieve Buddhahood swiftly. We should use our bodies to pay respect to the Triple Jewel, our mouths to confess our transgressions and seek expiation, and our minds to repent sincerely and undertake not to repeat them. Once we have repented, we should put a complete stop to our evil mind and conduct, to the point where mind and objects are empty. Only then will there be true repentance ... We should also vow to foster the Triple Jewel, rescue and liberate all sentient beings, atone for our past transgressions, and repay the "four great debts," which are the debt to the Triple Jewel, the debt to our parents and teachers, the debt to our spiritual friends, and finally, the debt we owe to all sentient beings.

Through this repentant mind, our past transgressions will disappear, our virtues will increase with time, leading us to the stage of perfect merit and wisdom. Only when we practice with such a repentant mind can we be said to have "developed the Bodhi Mind."

Point 6: The Mind of no Retreat

Although a practitioner may have repented his past transgressions and vowed to cultivate, his habitual delusions and obstructions are not easy to eliminate, nor is the accumulation of merits and virtues through cultivation of the six paramitas and ten thousand conducts necessarily easy to achieve. Moreover, the path of perfect Enlightenment and Buddhahood is long and arduous, full of hardship and obstructions over the course of untold eons. It is not the work of one or two life spans. For example, the Elder Sariputra [one of the main disciples of Buddha Sakyamuni] had reached the sixth "abode" of Bodhisattvahood in one of his previous incarnations and had developed the Bodhi Mind practicing the Paramita of Charity. However, when an externalist (non-Buddhist) asked him for one of his eyes and then, instead of using it, spat on it and crushed it with his foot, even Sariputra became angry and retreated from the Mahayana mind.

We can see, therefore, that holding fast to our vows is not an easy thing! For this reason, if the practitioner wishes to keep his Bodhi Mind from retrogressing, he should be strong and firm in his vows. He should vow thus: "Although this body of mine may endure immense suffering and hardship, be beaten to death or even reduced to ashes, I shall not, in consequence, commit wicked deeds or retrogress in my cultivation." Practicing with such a non-retrogressing mind is called "developing the Bodhi Mind."

The six cardinal points summarized above are sine qua non for those who aspire to develop the Bodhi Mind. Those who do not earnestly practice on this basis will never attain Buddhahood. There are only two roads before us: revolving in Birth and Death, or liberation. Although the way to liberation is full of difficulties and hardships, each step leads gradually to the place of light, freedom, peace and happiness. The way of Birth and Death, while temporarily leading to blessings in the celestial and human realms, ultimately ends in the three Evil Paths, subjecting us to untold suffering, with no end in sight.

Therefore, fellow cultivators, you should develop a mind of strong perseverance, marching forward toward the bright path of great Bodhi. The scene of ten thousand flowers vying to bloom in the sky of liberation will be there to greet you!

11) Teachings on the Bodhi Mind

The sutras have expounded at length on the Bodhi Mind, as exemplified in the following excerpts from the Avatamsaka Sutra.

In such people arises the [Bodhi Mind] -- the mind of great compassion, for the salvation of all beings; the mind of great kindness, for unity with all beings; the mind of happiness, to stop the mass misery of all beings; the altruistic mind, to repulse all that is not good; the mind of mercy, to protect from all fears; the unobstructed mind, to get rid of all obstacles; the broad mind, to pervade all universes; the infinite mind, to pervade all spaces; the undefiled mind, to manifest the vision of all buddhas; the purified mind, to penetrate all knowledge of past, present, and future; the mind of knowledge, to remove all obstructive knowledge and enter the ocean of all-knowing knowledge. (Thomas Cleary, tr., The Flower Ornament Scripture [Avatamsaka Sutra], Vol. III, p. 59.)

Just as someone in water is in no danger from fire, the [Bodhisattva] who is soaked in the virtue of the aspiration for enlightenment [Bodhi Mind] is in no danger from the fire of knowledge of individual liberation ...

Just as a diamond, even if cracked, relieves poverty, in the same way the diamond of the [Bodhi Mind], even if split, relieves the poverty of the mundane whirl.

Just as a person who takes the elixir of life lives for a long time and does not grow weak, the [Bodhisattva] who uses the elixir of the [Bodhi Mind] goes around in the mundane whirl for countless eons without becoming exhausted and without being stained by the ills of the mundane whirl. (Ibid., p. 362, 364.)

We can see that in the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas explained the virtues of the Bodhi Mind at length. The above are merely a few major excerpts. The sutras also state:

The principal door to the Way is development of the Bodhi Mind. The principal criterion of practice is the making of vows

If we do not develop the broad and lofty Bodhi Mind and do not make firm and strong vows, we will remain as we are now, in the wasteland of Birth and Death for countless eons to come. Even if we were to cultivate during that period, we would find it difficult to persevere and would only waste our efforts.[17] Therefore, we should realize that in following Buddhism, we should definitely develop the Bodhi Mind without delay.

That is why Elder Zen Master Hsing An wrote the essay, "Developing the Bodhi Mind" to encourage the Fourfold Assembly. In it, the Master described eight approaches to developing the Bodhi Mind, depending on sentient beings' vows: "erroneous/correct, true/false, great/small, imperfect/perfect." What follows is a summary of his main points.

1) Some individuals cultivate without meditating on the Self-Nature. They just chase after externals or seek fame and profit, clinging to the fortunate circumstances of the present time, or they seek the fruits of future merits and blessings. Such development of the Bodhi Mind is called "erroneous."

2) Not seeking fame, profit, happiness, merit or blessings, but seeking only Buddhahood, to escape Birth and Death for the benefit of oneself and others -- such development of the Bodhi Mind is called "correct."

3) Aiming with each thought to seek Buddhahood "above" and save sentient beings "below," without fearing the long, arduous Bodhi path or being discouraged by sentient beings who are difficult to save, with a mind as firm as the resolve to ascend a mountain to its peak -- such development of the Bodhi Mind is called "true."

4) Not repenting or renouncing our transgressions, appearing pure on the outside while remaining filthy on the inside, formerly full of vigor but now lazy and lax having good intentions intermingled with the desire for fame and profit, practicing good deeds tainted by defilements -- such development of the Bodhi Mind is called "false."

5) Only when the realm of sentient beings has ceased to exist, would one's vows come to an end; only when Buddhahood has been realized, would one's vows be achieved. Such development of the Bodhi Mind is called "great."

6) Viewing the Triple World as a prison and Birth and Death as enemies, hoping only for swift self-salvation and being reluctant to help others -- such development of the Bodhi Mind is called "small."

7) Viewing sentient beings and Buddhahood as outside the Self-Nature while vowing to save sentient beings and achieve Buddhahood; engaging in cultivation while the mind is always discriminating[18] -- such development of the Bodhi Mind is called "imperfect" (biased).

8) Knowing that sentient beings and Buddhahood are the Self-Nature while vowing to save sentient beings and achieve Buddhahood; cultivating virtues without seeing oneself cultivating, saving sentient beings without seeing anyone being saved -- such development of the Bodhi Mind is called "perfect."[19]

Among the eight ways described above, we should not follow the "erroneous," "false," "imperfect," or "small" ways. We should instead follow the "true," "correct," "perfect," and "great" ways. Such cultivation is called developing the Bodhi Mind in a proper way.

In his commentary, Zen Master Hsing An also advised the Great Assembly to remember ten causes and conditions when developing the Bodhi Mind. These are: our debt to the Buddhas, our parents, teachers, benefactors and other sentient beings; concern about the sufferings of Birth and Death; respect for our Self-Nature; repentance and elimination of evil karma; upholding the correct Dharma; and seeking rebirth in the Pure Land.

On the subject of rebirth, he stated, quoting the Amitabha Sutra:

You cannot hope to be reborn in the Pure Land with little merit and virtue and few causes and conditions or good roots.

Therefore, you should have numerous merits and virtues as well as good roots to qualify for rebirth in the Pure Land. However, there is no better way to plant numerous good roots than to develop the Bodhi Mind, while the best way to achieve numerous merits and virtues is to recite the name of Amitabha Buddha. A moment of singleminded recitation surpasses years of practicing charity; truly developing the Bodhi Mind surpasses eons of cultivation.[20] Holding firmly to these two causes and conditions assures rebirth in the Pure Land.

Through these teachings of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Patriarchs, we can see that the Bodhi Mind is essential for the practice of the Way.