Participation in the World
Compassion is undoubtedly the foundation of Buddhist teachings, and it is compassion that resides in the hearts of all Buddhas and bodhisattvas. In order to foster compassion, the initial motivating force of an aspiring bodhisattva practitioner must be strong and secure. He or she must be equipped with correct views and effective methods. More importantly, the foundations for growth-a wholesome personality, compassionate sensibilities, and stability of mind-must be firm. To this end, bodhisattva practitioners should not only meditate regularly, but also make use of every opportunity to interact with the world in order to hone their ability to help themselves and others.
A wholesome personality comes from the cultivation of the bodhi-mind, which can be described as the desire to help others overcome pain and suffering, along with the inclination to put the welfare of others before one's own. To eliminate self-obsession and self-clinging, practitioners of the Dharma, and of Chan in particular, should develop the inner strength needed to let go of self-centeredness and work to reduce their inclination toward craving, aversion, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt. The less dominated we are by these afflictive emotions, the stronger our bodhi-mind, and the greater our opportunity for gaining entry into the Dharma.
The aforementioned inner strength comes from the recognition of the interdependent relationships between ourselves and others. This recognition moves us and draws from us the capacity to reach out toward a deeper and wider circle of sentient beings. Living with this kind of mind-set naturally reduces our feelings of separateness, alienation, and self-centeredness. This inner strength can help us participate fully in the world, allowing us to give ourselves to others and to receive others into our lives. In this way, we can gradually be freed from suffering and eventually reach the safe shore of enlightenment-Buddhahood. Such an attitude is precisely the "right view" we often speak of in Buddhist discourse.
This right view can be manifested in many ways. Acting from the mind of compassion and understanding, one can naturally incorporate the ten good deeds, the five precepts, the four great vows, and the three sets of pure precepts into one's life. Should you feel intimidated by the scope of these precepts, or that you will probably not be able to observe some of the five precepts and ten good deeds with comfort and integrity, you can elect to postpone taking on those particular precepts and provisionally accept only those you feel able to keep, along with the three sets of pure precepts and the four great vows. The point of taking the bodhisattva precepts is not to make practitioners feel guilty or anxious, but rather to plant the seed of compassion and wisdom in their minds. A practitioner who takes and agrees to keep the bodhisattva precepts with some exceptions will still be considered a bodhisattva. By taking the bodhisattva precepts, you enter into the great assembly and become another son or daughter in the family of Buddhas.
As stated before, the goal of attaining complete enlightenment for all sentient beings is intimidatingly lofty. Its realization is subtle and profound, and the path leading to it is long and arduous. The conditions for achieving Buddhahood are rarer and more precious than the finest of this world's jewels. Yet while Buddhahood is extremely difficult to attain, it is not impossible. We can attain it by mustering all our determination and putting forth all our effort. In other words, the "price" of Buddhahood is to give whatever it takes, to implement the Dharma with wholehearted, unreserved devotion. That means striving to achieve supreme wisdom on the one hand, while dedicating ourselves to the lasting, genuine happiness and eventual deliverance of all sentient beings on the other.
By purifying and washing away afflictive emotions and fundamental ignorance, we will increase our insight into the true nature of reality, or wisdom. We can use this wisdom as a mirror with which to not only see ourselves, but to let others see themselves to help them wash away afflictive emotions and ignorance too. To this end, we should work tirelessly to improve ourselves and practice good deeds to benefit ourselves and others. This is precisely the task of a bodhisattva as set forth in all systems of bodhisattva precepts: to keep all pure precepts, to practice all good deeds, and to deliver all sentient beings. Once again, I encourage all practitioners, whatever your abilities or dispositions, to take the bodhisattva precepts, so as to decisively establish yourselves on the path of liberation.