What You Can Do Now
As a Bodhisattva, What Do You Hope for and Vow to Do?
The poet Dakotsu Iida (1885-1962) wrote this haiku: "Obeying my pious mother, the Ullambana ceremony." In Japan, we Buddhists usually observe the Ullambana ceremony (Jpn., obon) in July, but in the present circumstances, it may be somewhat difficult for the whole family to visit a Dharma center or Buddhist temple to do so.
Since we are taught that the Buddha's mind is "the mind of liberating all living beings," we can only let our hearts go out to those suffering from the disease that is spreading all over the world and pray that the situation will end as soon as possible. I hope that each and every one of us will think about what we can do and steadfastly put it into practice every day.
This reminds me of the innumerable bodhisattvas in chapter 15 of the Lotus Sutra, "Springing Up Out of the Earth," who emerge from the ground and vow to spread the Buddha's teachings in this saha world and, through their practice of the faith, liberate all people.
These bodhisattvas are represented by four bodhisattvas named Superior Practice, Boundless Practice, Pure Practice, and Steadfast Practice, symbolizing the Four Great Vows of the Bodhisattva that are made when one who is walking the Buddhist Way first aspires to become like the Buddha--in other words, when one first aspires to attain supreme awakening. Each bodhisattva aligns with one of the Four Great Vows:
Superior Practice: the Buddha Way is supreme, and I will definitely accomplish it (the vow to attain the supreme Buddha Way).
Boundless Practice: the Buddha's teachings are inexhaustible, and I will definitely learn them all (the vow to pursue the inexhaustible gateways of the Dharma).
Pure Practice: although my delusions may be innumerable, I will definitely remove them all (the vow to remove innumerable delusions).
Steadfast Practice: although living beings may be innumerable, I will definitely liberate them all (the vow to liberate innumerable living beings).
However, it seems that some people are unclear about how to best align their lifestyle with each of these four vows, and how to put them into practice on a daily basis. The Zen master Taido Matsubara (1907-2009), who explained Buddhism in easily understandable terms, used the following expressions to explain the Four Great Vows of the Bodhisattva as lessons for a life of practicing the faith:
The vow to liberate innumerable living beings: let's serve (make donations to) the people around us.
The vow to remove innumerable delusions: let's pick up one piece of garbage at our feet.
The vow to pursue the inexhaustible gateways of the Dharma: let's learn one teaching a day.
The vow to attain the supreme Buddha Way: let's walk the eternal path, step by step.
Right now, what are you hoping for? What are you vowing to do every day as a bodhisattva who is walking the Buddhist Way?
Now Is the Chance to Study and Practice
People who refer to the Four Great Vows of the Bodhisattva as a way to think about what they themselves can do now are, needless to say, those who have faith in the teachings of the Buddha and the determination to put them into practice. Therefore, they have the same mind as the Buddha.
There may be some people who say, "So I'm told, but . . ." and feel discouraged. However, when we make contact with the teaching and start to feel that we want to become like the Buddha, we are already united with the mind of the Buddha.
The Buddha and us are said to be "one and the same." There is also the saying that "ordinary people and sages are the same in essence." We understand that the Buddha's teachings are sacred because they are informed by his sacred desire to liberate all people--a desire we also possess.
Receiving life as human beings means that we possess the same things as the Buddha. Believing this is faith, which we could also say is the mind of devotion.
In this sense, this time of global crisis may be a good opportunity to reflect on the state of our own faith and, through repetition of the study and practice of the teachings in our daily lives, raise our bodhisattva awareness.
Incidentally, in "Springing Up Out of the Earth," people who are like the aforementioned four bodhisattvas are described as those who "living beings would rejoice to see." In other words, they are those who all people long to see.
For me, too, among my seniors in Rissho Kosei-kai and people of other religious organizations, there are those who make me feel that I "long to see them again." What do these people have in common? They firmly respect and revere God, the Buddha, or other deities while remaining full of loving-kindness and consideration for people who are sinking in the depths of suffering and sadness.
As we aspire for supreme awakening and the liberation of all people, let's continue to be diligent every day..