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Sangharakshita The Bodhisattva Ideal


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Windhorse Publications 17e Sturton Street Cambridge cb1 2sn uk Š Sangharakshita, 2019 The right of Sangharakshita to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Cover design by Dhammarati Back flap and front: Detail of Thousand-Armed Chenresi, a Cosmic Form of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Tibet, 14th century, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Typesetting and layout by Ruth Rudd Printed by Bell & Bain Ltd, Glasgow Excerpts from Marion L. Matics, Entering the Path of Enlightenment, reprinted by permission of Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-909314-30-0 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-909314-29-4 (hardback)

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the bodhisattva ideal 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

The Origin and Development of the Bodhisattva Ideal 3 The Awakening of the Bodhi Heart 27 The Bodhisattva Vow 55 Altruism and Individualism in the Spiritual Life 84 ‘Masculinity’ and ‘Femininity’ in the Spiritual Life 118 On the Threshold of Enlightenment 144 The Bodhisattva Hierarchy 168 The Buddha and Bodhisattva: Eternity and Time 199 the endlessly fascinating cry Editor’s Note 219 Introduction 221 Author’s Note to the Second Edition 230 The Seminar: Memories of a Participant 233

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Praising the Thought of Enlightenment: the Guide 239 Praising the Thought of Enlightenment: the Text 280


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3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Confession of Evil and Grasping the Thought of Enlightenment: the Guide 290 Confession of Evil: the Text 324 Vigilance in the Thought of Enlightenment and Guarding of Total Awareness: the Guide 333 Grasping the Thought of Enlightenment: the Text 357 Vigilance in the Thought of Enlightenment: the Text 363 Guarding of Total Awareness: the Text 378 The Perfection of Patience: the Guide 388 The Perfection of Patience: the Text 422 The Perfection of Strength: the Guide 438 The Perfection of Strength: the Text 470 The Perfection of Contemplation: the Guide 488 The Perfection of Contemplation: the Text 625 the bodhisattva principle Notes and References Sources 721 Index 723



A Guide to The Complete Works of Sangharakshita


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In 1977, my life was changed by a poster that caught my eye in Glasgow city centre. Or rather, the poster presented me with an invitation to change my life. I’d already come across Buddhism to some extent, and I’d been fascinated by what I’d read, but I thought it was for navel-gazers, not activists like me. The world needed changing. Injustice, poverty, war, racism, sexism, and homophobia: those were the battles that needed fighting. I’d been an activist in my way, trying to work against injustice through left-wing politics and the women’s movement. But I’d become disillusioned. Could Buddhism offer a better way of ending the world’s suffering? I was a confused young woman, but I’d already started to realize that to change the world I needed to change myself, so the poster grabbed my attention. ‘change your life!’, it challenged, the words emblazoned across an image of the docklands where my father had worked. ‘OK’, I thought, ‘I’ll give it a go.’ When I stumbled into the Buddhist centre I was welcomed by an energetic, charismatic group of young men who immediately invited me to have supper with them in their community. During the class that followed we listened to a taped talk, ‘A Blueprint for a New World’. (It was one of a series entitled ‘Buddhism for Today and Tomorrow’ now included in volume 11 of these Complete Works.) In the talk Sangharakshita laid out his vision of a ‘new world’, one in which ‘we relate to one another as individuals, a world in which we are free to develop to the utmost of our potential, and in which the social, economic, f o r e w o r d   / 

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and political structures will help us to do that’. How, though, were we to bring about such a world – by changing the system or by changing ourselves? Asserting that these two views, one ‘secular’, the other ‘spiritual’, were not mutually exclusive, he outlined his blueprint for a ‘new society’. His vision resonated strongly with my own. I was hooked. Mahāyāna Buddhism, as I was soon to discover, has its own approach to the transformation of self and world: the bodhisattva ideal. On first hearing of it, I felt the world shift beneath my feet, and saw a path stretching out ahead of me. The need to change the world, to put to rest the suffering that we see around us, was finally held within an ideal more profound, more challenging, and more beautiful than anything I’d encountered before, whether in religion or in politics. Sangharakshita himself was captivated by this vision early on in his Buddhist life. He has often spoken of his realization that he was a Buddhist (and had always been one) after reading the Diamond Sūtra and the Sūtra of Wei Lang. It’s possibly less well known that soon after reading those seminal works he came across the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. ‘Its picture of the infinitely wise and boundlessly compassionate bodhisattva … made a deep impression on me.’ Seven or eight years later, now living in Kalimpong, he read Śāntideva’s Śikṣā-samuccaya , and as a result was more strongly attracted to the bodhisattva ideal than ever – so strongly, in fact, that attraction is far too weak a word for what I then felt. The truth was that I was thrilled, exhilarated, uplifted, and inspired by the bodhisattva ideal. (Section 13, ‘Bodhisattva Ordination’, in The History of My Going for Refuge, Complete Works, vol. 2.)

That is why this volume is included among one of the foundational texts within the collection of Sangharakshita’s writings. The first of its three elements, The Bodhisattva Ideal (supplemented by points from study seminars and subtitled ‘Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism’), is based on a series of lectures given in 1969. When I first heard the recordings of those talks less than ten years later, as I became a regular at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre and we talked into the night about our plans to change the world, I was on fire with what felt like love and compassion. Wisdom would hopefully come later – because wisdom and compassion are not separate: x  /  f o r e w o r d

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The bodhisattva ideal doesn’t represent altruism as opposed to individualism, or saving others as opposed to saving oneself.… It synthesizes opposites: helping others and also helping oneself, compassion and wisdom.

The same theme runs throughout The Endlessly Fascinating Cry, the transcript of a study seminar held in 1973 during which Sangharakshita and a small group of his early disciples studied Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra. I read this text in the summer of 1978, having moved to London to join a women’s community, (we used to study the text on Friday evenings in the garden shed), and it laid the foundation of my understanding of Sangharakshita’s approach to the Dharma. Now I understood that the only way to live my life is to dedicate it to ‘one of the sublimest spiritual ideals that mankind has ever seen’, as Sangharakshita described it. Introducing the seminar, he wrote: It should not be thought that the bodhisattva ideal is literally an altruistic as opposed to an individualistic or selfish ideal, or that the bodhisattva devotes himself to the spiritual good of others to the actual neglect of his own – that he helps others along the path which he himself does not follow. What he does, rather, is to adopt an attitude in which the terms ‘self’ and ‘others’ have become meaningless, or rather, in which they have become indistinguishable in the sense of being not ontologically identical but dialectically related, so that in doing good to oneself one does good to others, and in doing good to others one does good to oneself – the one continually passing over into the other in such a way as to suggest a state ‘beyond’ both self and others.

This thrilled me then as it thrills me now. Here is a challenging philosophical truth with extraordinarily pragmatic implications for living life, a teaching that calls for an unflinching transformation of self as a way to a corresponding transformation of the world. The idea is further explored in the final text in this volume, The Bodhisattva Principle, originally a lecture given in 1983 as part of a ‘Mystics and Scientists Conference’, and later published as a booklet, The Bodhisattva: Evolution and Self-Transcendence. Here, Sangharakshita questions the separation between the seemingly objective pole of the f o r e w o r d   / 

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sciences and the seemingly subjective pole of mysticism: Buddhism, following here as elsewhere a Middle Way, represents a dissolution of the subject–object duality itself in a blissful, nondual Awareness.… When expressed in terms of objectivity, this blissful, non-dual Awareness appears as Wisdom; when expressed in terms of subjectivity, it manifests as Compassion – Wisdom and Compassion being the twin ‘attributes’ of Buddhahood or Enlightenment.

Wisdom and compassion are ‘not-two’ (in the Buddhist tradition’s way of putting it), and the bodhisattva embodies this principle, representing an ever self-transcending process of evolution in which wisdom and compassion become ever more present and ever less separate. In the bodhisattva, Buddhism finds its highest expression and its ultimate meaning. The bodhisattva is indeed the meaning of human life, even the meaning of existence.… In terms of Western thought, the bodhisattva principle is the principle of perpetual self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is the ultimate nature of higher evolution and lower evolution alike. Self-transcendence is the ultimate nature of existence. Above all, it is the true meaning of everything that goes by the name of religion, spiritual life, development of consciousness, and so on.

As he explains in The History of My Going for Refuge (in section 8, ‘A Survey of Buddhism’: see Complete Works, vol. 2), Sangharakshita came to see that Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels and the bodhisattva ideal are intimately connected, for The bodhisattva’s aspiration to attain Supreme Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings is in fact the altruistic dimension of the act of Going for Refuge itself, which by its very nature cannot be regarded as having implications for oneself alone.

As he puts it in the first chapter of The Bodhisattva Ideal: ‘To consider this topic is to place one’s hand on the very heart of Buddhism, and feel the beating of that heart.’ So, in the three works in this volume we have an xii  /  f o r e w o r d

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exposition of the bodhisattva ideal, we see the importance to Buddhism of that altruistic dimension, we are invited to follow the pragmatic and yet sublime bodhisattva path, and we are exhorted to go beyond a selfcentred understanding of Dharma practice and to act in ways that will transform not only the self but also the world. Something I find inspiring in Sangharakshita’s approach is that he does not separate the bodhisattva ideal from Theravādin influences, observing that the practice of altruism – the work of cutting through the self–other dichotomy which is at the heart of the bodhisattva ideal – has its roots in the Pāli canon. ‘Hatred never ceases by hatred; love alone can combat hatred’, as we read in the Dhammapada (verse 5). That’s really how to change the world. These teachings were given many years ago and some of the language and ideas reflect the time and the contexts in which they were given. The main points, however, remain fully relevant in this suffering world, in which twenty-first-century problems are still driven by the poisons identified by the Buddha millennia ago: greed, hatred, and delusion. Like the 25-year-old who stumbled through the door of a Buddhist centre over forty years ago, I am still passionate about the need to combat these problems; but now, I have so much clearer a sense of the way to do that, and over the years I have learned at least something about balancing my enthusiasm for the bodhisattva ideal with sensitivity to those around me, who will not necessarily thank me for trying to bounce them into a more other-regarding attitude. Looking back at the young activist I was, I feel no regret about the path I chose, only gratitude that my perspective was broadened. I still consider myself an activist and I believe that the Dharma, and in particular the bodhisattva ideal, offers a way for activism to be effective in the world. At the very end of The Endlessly Fascinating Cry we read: What the whole Bodhicaryāvatāra boils down to is this: With the help of urgent expostulations and rather subtle arguments Śāntideva is trying to talk us into being at least a little bit more unselfish – into considering the sorrows and sufferings of others as our own, and being as sensitive to them as we are to our own. In other words, he is trying to talk us into devoting ourselves – in the bodhisattva spirit – to helping relieve the whole mass of human suffering without going too much into whether it’s your suffering, or my suffering, or anybody else’s suffering. There’s a big black f o r e w o r d   / 

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cloud hanging over the whole human race, and it needs to be dispelled by the united efforts of us all. [My emphasis.]

With all my heart I hope that this volume will ‘talk its readers into’ making that effort. Parami Adhisthana Herefordshire July 2018

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Profile for Windhorse Publications

The Complete Works of Sangharakshita Vol 4: The Bodhisattva Ideal  

The first part of this volume describes the arising of the bodhicitta and the bodhisattva’s path to Enlightenment in a weaving together of t...

The Complete Works of Sangharakshita Vol 4: The Bodhisattva Ideal  

The first part of this volume describes the arising of the bodhicitta and the bodhisattva’s path to Enlightenment in a weaving together of t...


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