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Bodhisattva Practice

The Practice of Bodhisattva Dharma


then civilization is able to expand and go forward. If one has light, then even he, as an individual, can help to disperse the darkness of ignorance. Thus, wisdom and civilization are the right way for everyone to follow, and Buddhadharma illuminates the world.

Just what is Buddhadharma? It is a method to enable all being to become Buddha. "Buddha" means "enlightened One", but the term can be extended to mean enlightening oneself and others as well as enlightening _all_ people and _all_ sentient beings. Because everybody in reality possesses the Original nature of Enlightenment, everybody can, therefore, become a
Buddha. However, people in the world, in their daily lives, are strongly bound by feelings of love and hate,etc.; and they are, also, deeply confused by their own Original Wisdom and cloud their own Buddha Nature and are ultimately overcome by all sorts of obstacles and delusions.

Therefore, the great Dharma Master /Tai-Hsu/ recommended that Buddhism should be promoted and spread everywhere. Thus, all people should be encouraged to understand the Dharma, increase their wisdom, purify their own minds, and be directed onto the open, wide and comfortable Path, that from numerous and various beginning point arrives at last, at the Supreme Bodhi. For this reason, Dharma Master /Tai-Hsu/ wrote _The_ _Practice_of_Bodhisattva_Dharma_, which recommends accepting the Three Refuges to link up with Triple Jewel, practicing goodness and generosity, observing the Five precepts and the Ten Virtues, and diligently performing the Six paramitas and the Four All-Embracing Virtues. So practitioners, whether following Mahayana or Hinayana,
whether monks or laymen, and people of every degree -- with either shallow or deep understanding and ability -- will see, if they practice regularly, responsibly and sincerely, the Fruits of Bodhi gradually increasing day by day.

I fervently hope and desire that all people and friends in the Dharma, after reading this work and following its recommendations, will discover that their blessing and wisdom are constantly on the increase.

Dharma Master Lok To

Young Men's Buddhist Association of America
Bronx, New York
July, 1985


In the Buddha's teaching, the Sutra collection and the Vinaya collection comprise two kinds of Dharma. The Sutras are the collection of the Buddha's discourses given over a forty-year period in the Ganges valley, in India, nearly 2,6000 years ago, and they are concerned with the nature of mind and experience and the reality of the suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and the frustration of conditioned existence. The Vinaya is the collection that sets forth the discipline of body and speech that bhikkhus and bhikkhunis (Buddhist monks and nuns) must practice. This monastic code of discipline is undertaken upon ordination, when one formally leaves home life, and Vinaya of this sort is primarily the concern of the Sangha (monastic body). An expanded version of this Buddhist training is the Bodhisattva ordination, wherein one undertakes the practice of the fundamental bodhisattva Dharma of
body and mind.
This Bodhisattva Dharma encompasses many levels and degrees of practice, both worldly and transcendental, and it is truly wondrous and inconceivable.
Many people are familiar with the term "Bodhisattva", but the genuine meaning of the term could stand some clarification. The average person perhaps considers images made of clay, wood or gold or portraits and paintings of saintly personalities to be some manner of substitute
Bodhisattva. Indeed, through Asian national customs and traditions, we have come to associate religious statuary of this sort with the term "Bodhisattva". Needless to say, this is incorrect. We should understand that there are Buddha rupas portraying a higher degree of practice than Bodhisattva and also images of lesser sages, patriarchs, and even demons
with bodies of oxen and serpents. These images should not be indiscriminately lumped together under the designation "Bodhisattva". Actually, men and women cannot look like the representations of Bodhisattva that artists have created. However, we are human beings with mind, and if we vow to practice Bodhisattva behavior, then we can gradually become Bodhisattvas.

The Sanskrit term "Bodhisattva" is composed of two words: /Bodhi/, which means enlightenment or awakening; and /sattva/, which means being. The designation "Bodhisattva" originally meant a living being who had developed or had determined to hold the Bodhicitta. /Citta/ is a Sanskrit work that means mind or heart; in the East, the two words "heart " and "mind" are synonymous. To search with the great perseverance for the Supreme Bodhi and to develop a compassionate heart in order to effect the liberation of all sentient beings from their states of conditioned suffering -- such is the authentic meaning of the life and path of one who has taken the Bodhisattva vows. Therefore, if we can resolve determinedly to develop the Bodhicitta, to search above for the Tao of the Buddha and seek the below to convert all sentient being to the right path -- not simply in theory but in genuine practice -- then we are practicing real Bodhisattva Dharma. Only one who urges
all beings to strive upward and penetrate the region of the great enlightenment can validly be recognized as and be called _a_ bodhisattva. Thus, it should be clear that image of clay or gold are not the real thing; and only those who have determined the Bodhicitta are genuine Bodhisattvas.

To initiate the Tao of the Bodhisattva, one need not already stand in the highest regions of sanctity. By the same token, when we observe our own natures closely, we see that pure-mind realms are not so very far away. Starting from our worldly state, we march, step by step, toward the highest, holiest region and create purity and freedom. Staring from
the shallow and progressing to the deep, we transform inferior into superior beauty. Beginning as worldlings with the bodhicitta, we eventually shall enter the blessed stage of the final Diamond Heart. This is the condition of the superlatively enlightened Bodhisattva.

Most people who have confidence in the Buddhadharma and consider themselves Buddhists do not vow the develop the bodhicitta. Thus, they remain mere worldlings if they do not choose to add to themselves to dimension of Bodhisattva mind. Genuine Buddhists who have determined the Bodhicitta are as rare as the feathers of a phoenix or the horn of a
unicorn. Another kind of Buddhist are those who, after encountering the Buddhadharma, imagines the accomplishment of Buddhahood to be so lofty as to be virtually unreachable. Because of their inadequate self- confidence, such people fail to realize the real goal and cannot complete the Buddha Tao. They grasp the expedient teaching which was
revealed gradually by the Buddha -- i.e., wholesome karma in this world and the subsequent reward of heavenly bliss. Learning this very shallow dharma, they wish only to satisfy their desire for bliss and blessings in the present life. They can be said to have learned some Buddhadharma, but they are still quite far, in reality, from any genuine, profound
understanding of teaching. In short, they are merely grasping expedient teaching as absolute truth. Buddha was the censure this kind of understanding as /ichchantika/ or the state of being unable to make spiritual progress.

Yet another kind of Buddhist is the sort who is personally aware of the suffering of birth and death and so learns the void dharma of the Middle-Way beyond the two extremes of "is" and "is not". Always grasping the extremes of "is" and "is not", and then one can enter the
stage of void samadhi. Even though this is considered a superior position and can lead to the practice of Mahayana, it is, however, not the Bodhisattva Tao leading to the Supreme Buddha Fruit. Thus, this approach was censured by the Bodhisattva Dharma, whether high or samadhi. The practice of Bodhisattva Dharma, whether high or low,
worldly or transcendental, starts from the human level and proceeds until the complete Tao of Bodhi is won. This characterizes that practice that goes all the way through from top to bottom, and it require nothing apart from determining the Bodhicitta and vowing to act as a
Bodhisattva. This development is analogous, by way of example, to a person beginning kinder-garten and proceeding until he eventually reaches the research institute and earns his doctoral degree; at all stages of his academic career he is called a student. Similarly, in
developing Bodhisattva practice, one begins by vowing to determine the Bodhicitta and progresses to the Final-Diamond-Heart stage. The beginning one approaches the Buddha Fruit. All stages are termed Bodhisattva, and practice is an ongoing matter. The Bodhisattva stage immediately preceding the Buddha Fruit is termed the Final Diamond
Heart. Though it is not easy to carry through, by not letting go of Bodhisattva Mind even for one instant, one will gradually complete the work and achieve the goal.

The practice of this Bodhisattva Dharma is easily initiated by accepting the Three Refuges of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Because it is feared that a person might stray onto wrong paths, one, after accepting the Three Refuges, is encouraged to determine to hold the Four Great Vows. These are:(1) Sentient beings without number I vow to enlighten; (2)
Vexations without number I vow to eradicate; (3) limitless approaches to Dharma I vow to master; (4) Supreme Bodhi I vow to achieve. The purpose of taking the Three Refuges is to enable people to disentangle themselves from erroneous views; the Four Great Vows are used to teach people to hold to no desire for the bliss of men and devas and the void
samadhi of Dviyana (the two yanas of Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas). This path can be termed the direct road of the Bodhisattva Tao that leads one to the Supreme Bodhi. After accepting the Three Refuges and thus inaugurating the Bodhisattva-Dharma training, it is very important for one to practice everywhere, continually turning the wheel of the Dharma
and aiding all sentient beings. Relative to this view, the /Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutta/ says: "The Bodhimandala (place of spiritual practice) of the Bodhisattva is everywhere."


In his acceptance of the Three Refuges, the essential point to be stressed is that the aspirant should develop a very fervent desire to behold the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. While maintaining a spirit of self-sacrifice in relationship to the Bodhisattva Dharma. Extended to
body, mind and even life, one should forge a vow in the following manner:

"I, namely so and so, as a disciple of the Buddha, vow to take refuges in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha throughout my entire life."

While uttering this vow, one should maintain a spirit of great devotion and solace. When one repeats this vow while prostration to the Buddha, one comes to fell great awe as of a great mountain had exploded in front of him. One may experience great solace just as a nursing child deprived of milk might experience if suddenly he met his lovely mother
and had another whelming impulse to surrender himself into her arms. These wholesome emotions, coupled with repentance and joy, are kindled in one's heart. Having experienced skillful mental states such as the above, one states the following:

" I, namely so and so, accept the Three Refuges for the remainder of my life, and, feeling like a bird who once had lost its nest and has once again returned to its home forest or like an infant who is dependent upon his loving mother, I vow never to stray away at
midday (i.e., before the end of my life) and will always hold these Refuges with great devotion."

These Refuges are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, otherwise known as the Three Precious Ones of the Triple Jewel, "Precious" here meaning valuable and worth of respect. Taking refuge as understood here we are also simultaneously taking refuge in the Triple Gem within ourselves. This means that our own fundamentally enlightened mind is Buddha; our
speech, used to teach and aid living beings, is Dharma; and our bodies and behavior are the symbols of Sangha, the enlightened community of Noble Ones. We first go for refuge to Buddha. Buddha means the Enlightened One, who has fully accomplished ANUTTARA SAMYAKSAMBODHI, the perfect Complete Awakening. Therefore, the appellation given to
enlightened ones is simply "Buddha".

This title has been used since the original period of the Buddha's teaching in India. The founder of the Buddhist religion was called SAKYAMUNI, or sage of the Sakya clan; but after he achieved the Supreme Awakening, he was thenceforth called SAKYAMUNI BUDDHA. We go for refuge to Sakyamuni Buddha but simultaneously take refuge in all Buddhas of the
ten directions and in the three periods of time. Because the epithet "Buddha" denotes the attainment of perfect virtue and wisdom, there is complete equality between Sakyamuni Buddha and all other Buddhas. So even though we go for refuge to our original teacher Sakyamuni. It is reasonable that we also, at the same time, take three time periods.
Taking refuge voluntarily, one should concentrate all the energy of one's Dharama practice to realize the perfection of blessedness and wisdom; i.e., one should also harbor no pride whatsoever over one's small storehouse of virtue and wisdom. With feelings of pity and
sadness for the unskillful, one should always maintain a sense of reverence within oneself and dwell in delight and peace.

Secondly, we go for refuge to the Dharma. Because all Buddhas depend on the Dharma as their teacher, the Dharma is recognized as the most important refuge. The Buddha was enlightened and practiced in accordance with the Dharma After his attainment of Bodhi, the Buddha taught all his disciples to practice Dharma and reap the fruit just as he had. One's heart and mind should incline naturally toward the Dharma, and one should feel as if his whole body were embraced by the Dharma.

Thirdly, we go for refuge to the Sangha, the present superintendent of the Three Precious Ones. In India, "Sangha" originally meant harmony. The ability of the assembly to harmonize and stay together is called Sangha. When more than four people live together in harmony, the term "Sangha" can be applied to describe the situation. According to the
Buddhadharma, if disciples leave home to practice (i.e., to become bhikkhus or bhikkhunis) and dwell harmoniously together in a VIHARA, they are called a Sangha. According to the Theravada teaching, those who have practiced and attained the various stages of liberation and sanctity of the Three Vehicles make up the Sangha of Arahants and Sages.
According to the Mahayana teaching, disciples practicing the Bodhisattva Dharma and attaining its fruit make up the Bodhisattva Sangha. When we go for refuge to the Sangha, we should include all the various meaning of the term in our understanding. However, in the beginning stages of Dharma study, it is more important that we take refuge in the present
superintendent Sangha of disciples who have left home. The transmission of the Buddhadharma in this world depends upon this present Sangha to protect and actualize the Teachings. We take refuge with and depend upon them to learn the practice path to Bodhi. Therefore, we take refuge to link up with the tradition of Bodhisattva Dharma practice and initially are not so concerned with which teacher is the wisest and who has developed the highest wisdom and virtue in former lives. We should be primarily concerned with cultivating our own good roots, developing harmony with everyone and universally aiding them to achieve minds concentrated in and focussed upon the Buddhadharma.

One who takes refuge should understand that the Buddha is all-virtuous and worthy of all respect and that the Buddha-Mind represents the incomparable field of blessings in this world. We should understand that the Dharma is a complete teaching that is full of principles explicitly outlining the path to the Supreme Awakening. The Sangha should be
understood to be the pure Dharma teacher, excellent in conduct and expedient methods of instruction. In this manner, regarding the Three Precious Ones with deep admiration, we can successfully go for refuge, even to the end of our lives with full confidence in the practice path. Without recourse to religious or philosophical views, we shall always
remain disciples of the Buddha. This, then, is the beginning of the determination to achieve the Bodhisattva Mind in the practice of Bodhisattva Dharma.


Faith of confidence in the Three Precious Ones is extremely wholesome because synonymous with this confidence is the desire to practice loving-kindness and perform acts of goodness. According to the Buddha's Teaching, to respect, make offerings towards and to contribute to the happiness and welfare of all sentient beings is the primary field in which to sow the seeds of bliss in this world. Building temples or creating statues of religious personalities, etc., can lead to bliss and wisdom and is termed the field of reverence. Offering devotion, respect and gratitude to one's parents and teachers due to the fact that they are one's benefactors is termed the field of grace. We should do our best for the poverty-stricken, the ill, old, weak and disabled, etc., because they are fallen into states of woe and calamity; should we be armed with our practice of generosity and purity of heart, we would then
be able to transform these situations into more fortunate ones.

Natural disasters and catastrophes arise simply as a response to evil minds and unwholesome activities on the part of many living being. If human beings were to determine to use wholesome mind and pure action in all circumstances, then bliss and happiness would follow naturally. All people want a life free from ill and calamity and full of happiness. To expect a life of happiness without performing wholesome and beneficial
activities is not a legitimate expectation. If one does not sow the appropriate seeds, one will surely not reap the desired response or result. The novice Bodhisattva should develop a storehouse of skillful activity and virtue in order to increase the happiness of all sentient

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Master Han Shan's opinion
How to become a Bodhisattva
Power of Bodhisattva