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Receiving the Bodhisattva Precepts

This past Sunday, 16 practitioners in East Bay Meditation Center‘s year-long Practice in Action program received the Bodhisattva Precepts from the most Ven. Suhita Dharma. As a set of ethical guidelines about how to relate to other beings, the Bodhisattva Precepts are particularly important to socially engaged Buddhists as we bring our Buddhist practice into the world.

As one of the practitioners who received these precepts, I feel a great debt to those who have carefully protected and preserved these traditions. Guidelines that millions of people have found to be helpful in living a good life, and might be worth checking out for my own life? Priceless!

As Buddhists living within various forms of national and global capitalism, reflecting on how the teachings of the Buddha can never fully be repaid is one way to scramble our understanding of “debt.” As Katie noted yesterday, wholesome debt might provide the very counterweight we need against the unwholesome debts many of us are forced to carry just to survive. Wholesome debt can generate energy to keep going, to keep sharing the benefits of our practice with others.

As one way to begin to repay this “wholesome debt,” we will be sharing a series of articles on this beautiful ceremony! First up, a sweet letter written from Practice in Action’s teacher, Mushim (Patricia) Ikeda to the participants in the year-long program on what the Bodhisattva Precepts ceremony means. May it inspire your own reflections on the debts you owe the dharma.

~ Dawn

Receiving the Bodhisattva Precepts:
An essay from Mushim to the EBMC Practice in Action participants

When my son and only child was born in April 1989, the nurses placed him in my hands. I looked into his eyes for the first time. I recognized him and he recognized me. I knew at that moment beyond any possible doubt that we had traveled together through many lifetimes and we had been many things to one another – friends, enemies, parents, children, bosses, employees, shade trees and those sitting under them, cat and mouse, and so on. This was incredibly delightful and profound, like running into a beloved old friend unexpectedly.

When I looked into my child’s eyes, I also saw and experienced a magnificent, luminous double helix spiraling back through time to the first one-celled creature. In this dazzling nanosecond I saw that my newborn’s DNA contained every life form that had ever existed and the elements of which they were made, and that I was holding the entire universe in my hands. This was a direct experience of what is called Indra’s Net. When I look at you, or a plant in my front yard, or when I place my foot on the sidewalk, I feel this connection quite vividly. Whether I am experiencing this connection or not in any given moment does not matter, because I know that it exists. It is not something I have to think about or have faith in, in the same way that, if you made a grilled cheese sandwich for me and one for yourself, I wouldn’t have to think about it or have faith in it. It’s right there, and we might as well eat it while it’s hot.

Receiving or witnessing our Dharma friends receiving the Ten Bodhisattva Precepts and a Dharma name is meant to encourage all of us to awaken to our true nature in this very lifetime.

In the Path of the Bodhisattva, awakening to our true nature (our buddha nature) means that we vow to fully awaken (become buddha) and then return, lifetime after lifetime, to fulfill the Great Vow of the Bodhisattva, which is to help to deliver all beings to the shore of non-suffering with wisdom and compassion.

Although we cannot say that we are bodhisattvas right now, we can aspire to be bodhisattvas, and do our best to manifest Wisdom (prajna /panna) and Compassion (karuna) in our thoughts, words, and deeds from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. Bodhisattva practice is motivated practice. The best thing we can do is to learn how to love and care for ourselves in such a way as to become a resource of love and care for others. When we refresh ourselves with a nap, we nap for all beings. When we sorrow and suffer, we understand that this will help us to empathize with others’ sorrows and suffering. When we laugh and delight in beautiful things, we know we can identify with the joyous laughter and delight of others, even if we perceive them to be different from ourselves and even if we do not understand or like them.

Therefore, we do not have “sacrifice ourselves” in order to “benefit others.” We do not have to burn out or become ill and worn out. We try to live balanced, healthy, happy lives. At the same time, we remain focused and alert. If there is a fire in our home, we do not want the fireperson to say, “Sorry, you’ll have to wait until I finish my hour of meditation and yoga” when we call 911. The Bodhisattva always picks up the call and says, “Hang in there, we’re on the way!” This is why it is good to cultivate many spiritual friends and companions on the path. When one person cannot answer the phone, someone else can. Bodhisattvas always have backup.

Mushim Ikeda laughs at Ven. Suhita Dharma’s joke during the Bodhisattva Precepts ceremony. Photo credit: Katie Loncke

There are many teachings and practices you can do to strengthen the Ten Bodhisattva Precepts in daily life. My advice, however, is to always practice in simplicity of mind and simplicity of heart. There is no need to make things complicated. We were not born wearing robes and holding Buddhist beads and sutras, or holding a meditation cushion. We were born in a human body that has grown and aged and that will dissolve back into its constituent parts at some point in time. This is very simple and natural and easy to understand. At some point in time we drew our first breath. At some point in time we will exhale for the last time. However, when we practice deeply, we understand that life itself did not begin with our first in-breath and life itself does not end on our last out-breath. The Ten Precepts are a direct way of liberating us from the concept of “my life” into the universal life stream and to create conditions in which body and mind, name and form return to and emerge from the source, as naturally as a stream becomes the great ocean and the ocean water evaporates and becomes clouds, which rain down into the streams.

We have been fellow travelers on this Dharma path in 2012. May the path continue to open before you and may you always have good Dharma friends, mentors and teachers to travel with you.

With palms together,
November 2012
Oakland, California

Top Photo: EBMC’s Practice in Action with Ven. Suhita Dharma. Photo credit: Holly Hessinger

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Comments (1)

  • Chris Beier

    Congratulations and deep bows, Dawn and all, on making such a powerful and transformative step forward in your practice. EBMC is very fortunate to have you all as part of our sangha.

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