Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sukhavati: Bodhisattva Training Academy

Here are two accounts of rebirth to Amitabha's Pure Land in recent times. These stories demonstrate and prove to us that rebirth in Sukhavati is still possible in the 21st century. It's so easy. You only need to recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha". These stories were related by Ven. Heng Sure, a disciple of the late Ven. Master Hsuan Hua.

Account # 1
The first case is of the mother of a Silicon Valley whiz kid who probably earns 6 or 7 figures American dollars. He stayed in California and he had a neighbour staying nearby there who is a overseas Chinese residing in the USA. They can hear knocking on her wooden fish everyday, reciting Amitabha's name. One day he noticed that she didnot come out to empty her trash for the last few days and he was worried. So he went over her house and found the door not locked. He found her on her bed and wearing the robes of a lay Buddhists. She was in meditation posture with the wooden fish still on her hands. She obviously knew her coming death and was ready to take rebirth in the Pure Land.

Account #2
The second case is also of another elderly woman who called upon her relatives and friends one day saying that she was about to go away. Her family was surprised because they knew she didnot have any passport. "Where did she think she was going?" they asked. But the elderly woman just asked them to gather around her bed and she was also in her lay Buddhist robes. After telling the family not to worry and that she was going to take rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land, she passed away.

So, in Pure Land dharma door, there is no complicated meditation practice, no generation and completion sadhana, and no initiations needed. You only need to have faith in Amitabha Buddha and his Vows. In the 40th chapeter of Avatamsaka Sutra, it is said that even Samantabhadra Bodhisattva exhorted sentient beings to recite Amitabha Buddha's Name so that they can take rebirth in Sukhavati. In Sukhavati, you don't stay there to enjoy. You can stay if you choose to or are not ready, but even in Pure Land the method of teaching isn't just sit and listen. There will come a time when you need to do your "practical training" back in Samsara. You can attain some stage of enlightenment and then be able to manifest yourself to go back to samsara. Learning the Buddha dharma isn't just sit and study. There are many things when you need to actually "get your hands dirty", as the saying goes in order to learn and progress along the way. For instance, in order to perfect the Paramita of Giving or Generosity, the bodhisttva need to be able to give up their entire life for others. Before being able to give up the whole body, you learn to give smaller things such as money, time, your material possessions, etc. Then your body parts such as giving your kidney, while you're alive, for instance to someone who needs them desperately. According to Master Hsuan Hua it is better to give while being alive, and not wait till death then only give. As trainees, you learn to interact with all kinds of sentient beings (including gods, ghosts, etc). So, it's said in the Sutras, that you traverse over many worlds in order to perfect your training, and in the process interact with millions and millions of sentient beings. Our Sakyamuni Buddha took 3 great aeons to perfect his training. What makes you think you can do better? Inate qualities such as compassion, loving-kindness and generosity, effort, and others takes a long long time to perfect. These are things that is not possible to perfect by sitting down on a meditation cushion. Can you become more compassionate by moving your winds and channels? Isn't that artificial? Even though tantra talks about enlightenment in a single life, the final perfect, complete Buddhahood is really more difficult to achieve than it seems without actually developing these inner qualities. But it can take you to a certain level of enlightenment and you take it from there to develop further.

In fact, in Sukhavati, accoding the Ven. Heng Sure, there is a Bodhisattva Training Academy there and those enrolled in that "college" usually make vows to further their practice by going back to the six realms of existence to not only help sentient beings but in the process also move themselves closer to their own Buddhahood. As Master Hsuan Hua said, "...to leave Sukhavati and return to this world, you'll be riding on your vows". So, they remain as bodhisattva trainees for aeons and aeons (depending on your speed of progress), trying to progress in the bodhisattva levels. Externally they could be like you and me, unenlightened...they don't look any different, yet they are different in the sense that they are bodhisattva trainees from Amitabha's Sukhavati. They take the risk to perform the practical training by returning to all the mess in samsara. And they are willing to do that to perfect their compassion and other aspects of the cultivation. It is a risk because as unenlightened trainees, they are subjected to the same roots of evil as other sentient beings. If samsara gets the better of them, then they will be subjected to karmic retribution just the same. And many trainees have not done so well and end up spending aeons in the lower realms. But even then, they could, when sparks of their potential return, they could perform their bodhisattva deeds in hell or as ghosts or animals. That explains the cases we see on TV or in the news of anmals helping to save human lives. Coming back to the world based on your vows to help sentient beings but having had to go to hell sometimes, eventually strenghtens your resolve. Their bodhisattva vows will remain with them life after life and with guidance from Buddhas and enlightened Bodhisattvas, as well as protection from Dharma Protectors, these unenlightened trainees will eventually achieve enlightenment and become enlightened bodhisattvas in no time. Then they proceed to higher and higher levels of enlightenment until Perfect Complete Buddhahood. Their attainment is for certain, that's why it is said that those who have attained rebirth in Sukhavati are considered in the stage of non-retrogression.

These trainees may not even recognise themselves as unenlightened bodhisattvas but from their actions and deeds, you can see that they teach and transform people everywhere they go. People really must respect these trainees. In the Lotus Sutra, the chapter where Sakyamuni Buddha rejected the offer of "outside" bodhisattvas to protect the dharma in the Saha world, first suspected that even Sakyamuni's Saha world has his own Training Academy. Then I started using the words Bodhisattva Training Academy. Only recently did I hear Ven. Heng Sure use those same words in a recorded dharma lecture. My eyes opened wide when I heard those words that I thought I was the only person using them. Sometimes I like to fool myself that perhaps I am one of these unenlightened trainee bodhisattvas. And so could you! Hahaha...! The journey to Complete, Perfect Buddhahood is long and hard. When the Buddhas tell you to aspire to rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land, or any Pure Land, of course, they first entice you with the lovely environment and lovely life there. And it is probably true. But after a certain stage, you cannot expect to progress if you keep on living a life of leisure in lotus flowers while sentient beings are suffering in samsara. Once you have developed your compassion to a certain level, you will inevitably find yourself wanting to jump back into samsara even though you have not yet achieve any enlightement. But that's the way it is, and that's why understanding the 3 principle aspects of the path is so important.

1. First, renunciation - desiring to leave samsara (i.e. entering nirvana)
2. Second, bodhicitta - desiring to enter samsara to help sentient beings
3. Third, wisdom emptiness - the final state of non-abidance in samsara or nirvana.

You need to develop all three aspects. This last bit of interpretation is something not in Ven. Heng Sure's lecture but my understanding of the final state of enlightement based on Khenchen Konchog Gyalsten's guru yoga, Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara and connecting it to the Three Principle Aspects of the Path. I don't think you can get it any where else. But if you can, do let me know.

Today I have written 2 posts which I hope will be of some benefit to the readers. Namo Amitabha Buddha! (note: this article was expanded further on 31 May 2010).

14 comments:

s said...

nice post, share the same belief about unenlightened bodhisattvas and also the training academy... some people come back down with mission... but i think some don't do too well, and get lost in samsara's distractions and attachments too...

Mahabodhiyana said...

Yes, agreed... some end up getting into samsaric problems themselves. Back to square one. The journey to enlightenment is not an easy one. But how else do we get practical training except by "getting our hands dirty", as the saying goes?

So when the tantric masters say that you can become enlightened in one life time, there is more to this than people think. It is not that they don't need the practical training. They do. Perhaps they already did. But some Zen and tantric masters in the past or present, need not necessarily achieve the highest enlightenment. There are many levels of Bodhisattva bumis, for instance. For normal humans, we will not know which level they have achieved enlightenment. For us, we don't have to know but for them, they may still need to struggle on. That explains why the interpretation of dharma in some aspects are different from one master to another.

s said...

i once asked a master, are all tulkus who come back first bhumi and above, he was shocked at my question and said , "of course not!"

Be224nWann1 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
s said...

can i know where you or Ven Heng Sure got this concept of Bodhisattva academy and whether there is basis in the sutras / any texts?

s said...

Also, although it is said people who reborn in Sukhavati become 1st Bhumi bodhisattva, wonder if you have any explanation on that with regard to Unenlightened bodhisattvas who come back from the academy?

Reason i'm so interested in this is that last night after reading your update, an interesting reaction occurred and i was thinkng about this topic and couldn't sleep for first part of night...

Mahabodhiyana said...

1. No, you don't automatically become 1st level bumi bodhisattvas the minute you are in Sukhavati. Where did you get that idea?

2. Ven. Heng Sure was quoting chap. 40 of Avatamsaka Sutra. I thought I mentioned it in the post.

Mahabodhiyana said...

I just want you guys to know that my blog was spammed with comments that has nothing to do with Buddhism. Instead it was a comment inviting people to go to their sexually explicit site. Therefore it was deleted.

Mahabodhiyana said...

If you are unenlightened and in Sukhavati but choose to go back to samsara, I think it is a one way ticket. You can only go back there the same way you went there in the first place. You think very hard and make your choice.

s said...

thanks, i 'd check up chap 40.

the idea abt 1st bhumi is very well stated in Tibetan Buddhist literature and i think it shd be also in the amitabha related sutras... u can do some research to see...

s said...

you mean they mentioned "Bodhisattva Academy " in chap 40?

Mahabodhiyana said...

Chap. 40 does not speciofically mention those words. But the idea of the Pure Land being a place for unenlightened beings with much negative karma to pack up their karma and go there to cultivate is well-established. For the ones with heavy negative karma, I think the Sutra says you are reborn inside a lotus bud and stay inside until you have purified your karma.

Then when you hear the teachings of the Buddha and practice there, then maybe you have some hope of attaining 1st bumi. When you attain 1st bumi you can manifest yourself in in samsara to help others. But 1st bumi is still not completely enlightened, you know right? unenlightened bodhisattvas. Or rather, not-completely- enlightened bodhisattvas. But that's too long.

s said...

See emptiness directly = 1st Bhumi = enter into path of seeing...
Chakme Rinpoche did say that will attain 1st Bhumi. If i see other sources, i'd let u know.

Thanks for your direction. I have been reading Chap 40 and Ven Hsuan Hua's commentary last night and it has been so inspiring and overwhelming. Now reading Chap 26. This Avatamsaka sutra is very very powerful and full of blessing.

Mahabodhiyana said...

Generally I have not read of any sources from the non-tibetan Mahayana texts or masters saying that once rebirth in Sukhavati, they attain the 1st bumi. When it comes to Pure Land Buddhism, I refer mainly to Pure Land sources.