Guru Varjadhara Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche Teaching Day Two

Guru Varjadhara Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche Teaching Day Two

Removing Obstacles, Rousing Bodhicitta, and the Seven Branches—Teachings on Maitreya’s Aspiration by Guru Vajradhara Kenting Tai Situ Rinpoche Day 2: Part One

Kagyu Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
15 January 2024

On the second day of his teaching, Tai Situ Rinpoche continued his exploration of the history, meaning and purpose of Maitreya’s Aspiration. The second topic to be covered, he explained, was the main part of the prayer, which could be divided into three parts:

a) making confessions in order to remove obstacles;

b) rousing bodhicitta;

c) accomplishing the aspirations.

Rinpoche read the third stanza:

Whatever misdeeds I have done,

Because my mind was overpowered,

I go into the presence of

The buddhas and confess them all. (v.3)

As it says in the Vinaya scriptures, “All dharmas are preceded by intention”.
Rinpoche explained that of the three —body, speech and mind— the mind is primary; it is because of the mind that we engage in actions of body and speech, and it is the mind that determines whether they are virtuous or non-virtuous.

The Treasury of Abhidharma states, “From karma, various worlds are born, volition and what that creates.” Hence, the world arises from karma, and there are two different types of karma: volitional karma and intentional karma. Volitional karma is your mind, and then there is intentional karma, the actions of body and speech that are motivated by the mind, the karma that you intend to do. And, just as it says in the text, the mind, which is the most important, can be overpowered.

There are many reasons why confessing misdeeds is important, Rinpoche commented, but the shortage of time meant he could only discuss them in brief.
The first thing to note is that of the many different types of mind, the fundamental one is the ego-clinging mind, and it is because of ego-clinging that the afflictions arise, and because of the afflictions, we accumulate karma. When we confess, we are confessing our own misdeeds and non-virtues.

When we talk about purifying karma, what we actually need to purify are our misdeeds, but we also need to purify our virtues, because, if we were to feel aversion for our misdeeds and attachment to our virtues, that itself is a form of attachment. It is still clinging, which is ultimately an obstacle to achieving omniscience. However, for the time being, we still need some attachment in order to encourage us to engage in virtue and avoid non-virtue. Tai Situpa gave an analogy, “It's like when you cross a river by boat. When you get to the other side, you leave the boat behind at the riverbank. You don't need to take the boat with you. You've already crossed the river. Carrying that boat along with you, it would just be added baggage, and you don't need to carry so much baggage around.”

The use of “I” in the text is important. In that context it referred to Maitreya but when we recite it we are referring to ourselves. Although we need to bring all sentient beings to achieve the state of buddhahood, all sentient beings have committed their own misdeeds and accomplished their own virtues. We can point out the way to buddhahood, but we can’t take their place or represent them. Of course, it's possible in some exceptional circumstance that this might occur, but it's very rare.

We commit our own misdeeds, so we need to confess our own misdeeds.

Another analogy illustrated this point: if you give someone food, they must eat it. If they don't eat it, they'll still be hungry. Even if you pile a mountain of food in front of them, if they don't take a mouthful of it, they will still die of hunger. In the same way, Tai Situpa emphasised, the misdeeds are ours and we need to confess them ourselves; everyone must confess their own misdeeds.

The text reads, “I go into the presence of the buddhas, and confess them all.”

According to the background story in the sutra, Maitreya manifested all the buddhas in front of him and made this aspiration in their presence.

But we also need the four powers of the antidotes when we are confessing our misdeeds; only then will our confession be effective.

The first of the four powers is the support. We are confessing to the objects of our confession, the buddhas and the bodhisattvas. We can either confess to them in person, or we can visualize them.

The second of the powers is the power of repudiation. It means feeling remorse for our misdeeds, because if we don't feel remorse, we would just be fooling ourselves and others and we would be unable to purify them. If we recognise that our wrongs were wrongs and then confess them with great regret, we will repudiate and eliminate them. If we don’t do this, the misdeed will just grow stronger and stronger.

The third power is the power of the antidote, which could be reciting sutras or mantras or performing the remedial virtuous action. There are antidotes for each of the different types of wrong that we do e.g. the antidote for killing would be to save lives.

The last of the four powers is the power of resolve never to do that non-virtue again.

In order for the confession to purify our misdeeds, we need to have all four of these powers present, and we need to visualise confessing our misdeeds in front of the buddhas and the bodhisattvas, just as Maitreya did.

Maitreya’s entire aspiration is an aspiration for arousing bodhicitta but the next stanza is the explicit teaching on arousing bodhichitta.

May any merit I have gathered

Performing the three types of actions

Become the seed of my omniscience—

May my enlightenment be inexhaustible. (v.4)

The three types of action are generosity, discipline, and dhyana meditation. Respectively, these result in the merit that brings birth in the human realm, the merit that brings birth as gods of the desire realm, and the merit that brings rebirth as gods
of the form or formless realm.

A verse in the Sutra of the Fortunate Aeon best describes how Maitreya roused bodhicitta in a past life, many eons ago, when he was born as a chakravartin emperor during the time of the buddha Sugatha Tuchen. The emperor invited Sugatha Tuchen to the palace for lunch, and aroused bodhicitta in his presence. Rousing bodhicitta means that Maitreya felt great faith and said, “In the future I will become a Buddha just like you.” He made the commitment to “bring all sentient beings who are as infinite as space to the same state of Buddhahood just like you.” This is the resolve of bodhicitta.

The sutra names Buddha Shakyamuni as the fourth buddha of the fortunate aeon and Maitreya as the fifth. Buddha Shakyamuni became the buddha of our time 2500 years ago. In his last life as a god, he was called Deva Svetaketu, and he was Lord of Tushita Pure Land. When he saw it was time for him to descend to this world and awaken to buddhahood, he took the crown off his head and placed it on Maitreya's head, installing Maitreya as Lord of Tushita. Then Deva Svetaketu descended from Tushita and was born to King Shuddhodana and Queen Maya, his wife. This descent from Tushita pure land is the first of the twelve deeds of Shakyamuni Buddha. From that time on, Maitreya has remained in Tushita, from whence he will descend two or three million years from now to awaken to completely perfect buddhahood.

The stanza continues, “May this merit become the seed of my omniscience, And may my enlightenment be inexhaustible.”

Rinpoche elaborated. The ‘seed of my omniscience’ has two different meanings. Firstly, the accumulation of past merit is like a seed. Secondly, the seed of omniscience is the buddha nature, which is the ultimate bodhicitta, the ultimate emptiness. It is the inexhaustible enlightenment, the inexhaustible emptiness. In this way it is the seed of omniscience. When we feel faith, and then do practice, it grows until finally we achieve the unexcelled enlightenment. This is the aspiration we express here—to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.

This aspiration is exactly the same as in the King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct. All 84,000 dharmas are included in this King of Aspirations, so to gather to recite it in the sacred place of Bodhgaya where the Buddha woke to perfect enlightenment is wonderful. This aspiration contains the ultimate bodhisattva resolve, the ultimate conduct, and the ultimate practice. Recited with full attention to the meaning, it becomes the seed for enlightenment.

At this point, Situ Rinpoche assured those who were working for the Monlam and so unable to attend all the sessions, that, because their work was sustaining those offering the prayers, they would receive all the merit of the one million recitation.

He joked that he himself wouldn’t because he was too busy with other things.

He also reminded the monks and nuns that even those assiduously reciting might not get all the benefits. They had to maintain their concentration, remember the meaning, not fall asleep, and always hold the bodhisattva resolve of doing this for the sake of all beings.

The next section deals with the accomplishment of the aspirations and is in three parts:

a) engaging in the accomplishment.

b) accomplishing the practice

c) the accomplishment.

The first part focuses on accumulation and purification and begins with the seven-branch prayer-prostrating, confessing, rejoicing and so forth—though the order is slightly different. The branch of offerings comes first:

The buddhas know and rejoice in

The offerings given to the buddhas

In the realms of the ten directions,

And I rejoice in them as well. (v.5)

The buddhas know because they are omniscient. Merit comes from both actual and emanated offerings. There are many different ways to please the buddhas, but the supreme offering is the practice of making the aspiration of bodhichitta, of putting bodhichitta in practice, and practising the inseparability of emptiness and compassion.

The next stanza (v.6) begins:

I confess my wrongdoing.

This is the branch of confession. ‘Wrongdoings’ include not just actual misdeeds of body and speech but mental misdeeds and those of intention, even if they weren’t carried out.

And I rejoice in every merit.

This is rejoicing in all the excellent accumulations of merit done by both noble and ordinary beings; whether they be defiled merit, undefiled merit, or any other virtuous action, we rejoice in them all. We need to appreciate and rejoice in our own merit too, but here primarily we are rejoicing in the deeds of others.

Then comes the branch of prostration:

I prostrate to all the buddhas.

followed by the branch of dedication:

May I gain supreme pristine wisdom.

In this line, all the merit that we have gathered from the time of rousing bodhicitta until now is dedicated for the sake of achieving buddhahood. We seal all defiled merit with the undefiled; it becomes the cause of the perfect pristine wisdom of the state of buddhahood.

The aspiration continues with the next two stanzas (v.7,8):

I call upon the bodhisattvas,

Who dwell on the tenth level in

The ten directions, to awaken

To great, supreme enlightenment.

After sublime enlightenment

May they turn the Wheel of Dharma

The maras and their hordes subdued,

To give succour to living beings.

This is an exhortation in two parts to all those great beings, the bodhisattvas who dwell in the ten levels, in all the ten directions, to awaken to the completely perfect enlightenment, the unexcelled enlightenment of buddhahood, and then to become the perfect teacher for all sentient beings, to free them from suffering and its causes, and bring them to the state of enlightenment.

The four maras are the maras of the afflictions, the mara of the aggregates, the mara of the child of the gods, and the mara of death. The sixth of the twelve deeds of Shakyamuni Buddha, as he sat under the bodhi tree, was to tame these four maras, before he entered samadhi and then awoke to buddhahood. He quelled their afflictions and tamed their beings.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught the path to buddhahood when he turned the Wheel of Dharma three times, and in many other different times and places.

The final two lines of this section (v.9) summarise the meaning of this prayer:

May the sound of the great drum of Dharma

Liberate beings from suffering.

This image comes from the Lalitavistara Sutra, which gives the example of playing the great drum of Dharma in the realm of the gods to encourage the careless gods to practice the Dharma. The drum contains scrolls of all the Dharani mantras and is beaten with a drum stick. The drum stick and the drum together symbolise the union of means and prajna. When it is beaten, the sound of this great drum is the natural sound of emptiness, the unconditioned sound, the sound of the natural self-arising expanse. Upon hearing this sound, suffering sentient beings are liberated from suffering.

So, here ‘liberation’ means all forms of liberation: liberation from the three lower realms, liberating from the higher realms, and the liberation of achieving the state of completely perfect buddhahood. All of these occur because of hearing the Dharma. It is the source of liberation from all forms of suffering.

The next branch for performing the accumulations and purification is the request to remain, addressed to any buddha who is considering or wishes to pass into nirvana:

May you remain and teach the Dharma

For infinite millions of aeons.

Verse 10 reads:

We sink into the mud of desire,

Bound tight by the cords of existence.

Supreme of gods and humans, look

At us who are bound by all the fetters.

The first line refers to beings in the desire realm, and ‘those bound by the cords of existence’ means all those in the three realms of samsara, who are bound by suffering and the afflictions, primarily greed, hatred and delusion. We are liberated from these cords when we become an arhat or achieve the first bodhisattva level; all other sentient beings are bound by the afflictions.

Rinpoche noted that there is one exception: the stage of forbearance during the path of joining. The path of joining has four stages: warmth, the peak, forbearance, and the supreme worldly dharma. It is said those who have achieved the level of great forbearance will not fall back to the lower realms, so they are not bound by the afflictions.

The next line says “supreme of gods and humans”. A literal translation of this line would read “supreme of those with two legs”. Buddhahood is the supreme state, and ‘two legs’ is a synonym for humans. The Sutra of the Fortunate Aeon prophesies that all 1002 buddhas in this aeon will achieve buddhahood in a human body.

The next verse (11) continues the request to the Buddhas not to pass into parinirvana:

The buddhas do not vilify

Those who have been mentally stained.

May they, with kind and loving hearts,

Free beings from the ocean of existence.

All buddhas care for all sentient beings with great compassion, just as a mother loves her only child with incredible love, wishing only for them to be happy and free from suffering. Buddhas do not vilify, despise or disrespect sentient beings who are suffering, who have the afflictions, and they never give up on them.

The latter part of the stanza asks the buddhas to protect all those sentient beings who need protection by remaining, turning the Wheel of Dharma, and freeing them from the ocean of samsara.

2024.01.15 Pre-Monlam Teaching Day 2