Rev. Dr. David Am Koe Beighley, Sunim
January 17, 2023
This past Sunday, three members of the White Sands Zen Center Sangha received the Buddhist Precepts, formalizing their spiritual relationship with the Buddhist Path. It was a wonderful ceremony which you can view on our website, www.whitesandszencenter.org or on our YouTube channel. Independent of one another, each approached me after the service and asked, "What's next??". Their are many paths open to those who have received the Precepts, however, the most common "next step" is to pursue training on the Bodhisattva Path. The typical question becomes, "What is the Bodhisattva Path and what does pursuing this path entail?
The term Bodhisattva refers to "one whose goal is awakening" or an individual on the Path to becoming a Buddha. "In early Indian Buddhism and in some later traditions-including Theravada, at present the major form of Buddhism in Sri Lank and other parts of Southeast Asia-the term Bodhisattva was used primarily to refer to the Buddha Shakyamuni (as Gautama Siddhartha is known) in his former lives. The stories of his lives, the Jakatas, portray the efforts of the bodhisattva to cultivate the qualities, including morality, self-sacrifice, and wisdom, which will define him/her as a Buddha. Later, and especially in the Mahanaya tradition-the major form of Buddhism in Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan-it was thought that anyone who made the aspiration to awakening-vowing, often in a communal context, to become a buddha, is therefore a Bodhisattva." (source: Encyclopaeda Britannica)
Simply put, a Bodhisattva is an individual who vows, in this beginningless and endless cycle of birth and death, to return to earth over and over again, until ALL sentient beings are relieved of their suffering (taken to the "other shore of enlightenment).
There are five Bodhisattva who are referred to throughout the Buddhist texts and should be noted here:
Avalokiteshvara: Guanyin (Chinese), Kannon (Japanese)
Male or female, this Bodhisattva, is most often described as "she who is looking, hears the cries of the world, and responds to all suffering." This Bodhisattva is most often depicted as have countless hands and heads, always looking and reaching out to suffering beings, and is known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Manjushri: This Bodhisattva of Wisdom is most often shown wearing princely ornaments, his right hand holding the sword of wisdom to cut through the clouds of ignorance and delusion and his left hand holding a palm-leaf manuscript of the Prajnaparamita (The Perfection of Wisdom Sutra we recite every week), and is sometimes depicted sitting on a lion or on a blue lotus; and in paintings his sin is often a yellow tone.
Kshitigarbha: "The Womb of the Earth" is known as the helper of the oppressed, the dying, and the dreamers of evil dreams, because he has vowed not to stop his labors until he has saved the souls of all the dead condemned to the hell realms.
This Bodhisattva is most often depicted as a monk with a shaved head but with a nimbus and with a tuft of hair between his eyebrows. He is also depicted carrying the clerical staff with which he forces open the gates of hell, along with the flaming pearl with which he lights up the darkness of the world and the hell realms.
Vajrapani: "The Thunderbolt-Bearer" is said to be the protector of the nagas (half-man, half-serpent deities) and sometimes assumes the shape of a bird in order to deceive their traditional enemy, the hawk-like Garuda. He is often invoked in Buddhism in times of drought.
He is depicted carrying the thunderbolt and is colored dark blue or white. In Tibet he assumes ferocious forms to combat demons and in Japan he guards the Temple doorways.
Dizang: This Bodhisattva is especially committed to delivering the dead from the hell realms, and from the punishments inflicted by the ten Judges or Kings of the hell realms. The judges are always depicted standing when in the presence of Dizang, as a mark of their deference to him. His previous lives included the existence as a Brahman maiden who secured the release of her impious mother from hell by devoted prayers to the Buddha.
He is known for the virtue of filial piety, and closely associated with the Bodhisattva Kshitgarbha.
While these Bodhisattvas are best known throughout Buddhist literature, what does this all mean for those who take the Bodhisattva Vows after partaking in the Bodhisattva training? In today's Buddhist communities worldwide, the Bodhisattva is dedicated to continue honing the skills of these five and continuing to work on them throughout beginningless and endless time, returning to the human form in order to bring enlightenment and freedom from delusion, illusion, and suffering to the suffering being of the world.
A daunting task!! And a worthy undertaking!
May you be well, may you be safe, may you be at peace...