In understanding the concept of the Bodhisattva, there is an important question, an all en

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In understanding the concept of the Bodhisattva, there is an important question, an all encompassing question, that's answer can sum up the entire crux of Mahayana teachings. This question is: Since the Bodhisattva's vow is not to enter Nirvana until all beings are liberated, will the Bodhisattva ever attain enlightenment? To understand this question and to comprehend the answer, important concepts must be interpreted. First it would be useful to discuss the meaning of enlightenment. Buddha nature, or the nature of enlightenment, is thought to infiltrate the entire universe. Therefore, the thought of attaining enlightenment is absurd. It is like the story of a king who ran around looking for his head, only to find that it was on his shoulders all along. The nature of enlightenment is already present in every individual. Enlightenment is: ...the realizations of all living beings. Maitreya, at the moment when you attain ultimate liberation, all living beings will also attain ultimate liberation. Why? The Tathagatas do not enter ultimate liberation until all living beings have entered ultimate liberation. For, since all living beings are utterly liberated, the Tathagatas see them as having the nature of ultimate liberation." (Vimalakirti, 34) The question then arises: If the world has buddha nature, then why does reality manifest itself in such a pathetic, spoiled way? The Buddha answers this question by explaining that the world appears impure so that those of inferior spirituality can mature and realize the true, perfect nature of reality. If everyone were to see the world as it really was (a characteristic ability of enlightenment), they would see that the world was not spoiled. In a dialogue between Sariputra and Brahma Sikhin, Brahma Sikhin said: "The fact that you see such a buddha-field as this as if it were so impure, reverend Sariputra, is a sure sign that there are highs and lows in your mind and that your positive thought in regard to the buddha-gnosis is not pure either." (Vim, 18) So, everyone possesses enlightenment and the world is perfect, but it is up to the individual to realize their enlightenment and to see the world in all its glory. Once it is known that one is already enlightened, next step is to find out how to realize this truth. The idea of enlightenment as something to be attained, or something to be worked for, is completely alien and totally contrary to Mahayana philosophy. In fact, according to Mahayanists, the best way to avoid enlightenment is to search for it. Enlightenment is beyond conception and beyond searching, it is: ...the arrival at detachment, through freedom from all habitual attitudes....Enlightenment cannot be realized, either physically or mentally. Why? The body is like grass, trees, walls, paths, and hallucinations. And the mind is immaterial, invisible, baseless, and unconscious. (Vim, 35) Enlightenment is in a realm that cannot be conceived by the mind. It is beyond conception and thought, it is "...neither somewhere nor nowhere, abiding in no location or dimension." (Vim, 35) So the question remains: How does one attain enlightenment? How does one attain the unattainable? The answer to this question does not lie in a normal, logical line of reasoning. To attempt to achieve liberation, as mentioned above, is useless. "The bondage of liberative technique not integrated with wisdom consists of the bodhisattva's planting of the roots of virtue without dedicating them for the sake of enlightenment, while living in the grip of dogmatic convictions, passions, attachments, resentments, and the subconscious instincts." (Vim, 47) Attaining enlightenment is performed through selfless, enlightened activity, for the sake of others, without regards for oneself. That means that purposely attempting to help others for the sake of oneself will not do any good, and would only cause attachment to the acts involved. The Bodhisattva way is a just as concerned with why something is done as it is with what is done. "The Dharma is not a sight, a sound, a category, or an idea. He who is involved in sights, sounds, categories, and ideas is not interested in the Dharma but is interested in sights, sounds, categories, and ideas." (Vim, 51) Therefore, from an unenlightened position (A), to achieve enlightenment (C), one must perform bodhisattva actions that embody enlightenment for the sake of others (Q), rather than searching selfishly for ones own enlightenment (B). The subtle problem involved is that one must not be trying to get to "C" from "A", but must be legitimately performing "Q", enlightened actions, just for the sake of helping others and nothing else. Therefore, only those not interested in enlightenment can attain it. With that in mind there is a saying from D.T. Suzuki that states: "There is a spade in his hands and yet the tilling of the ground is done by him empty-handed." (Suzuki, 97) It is said that for the enlightened individual, desired results come into being instead of being forced into existence through deliberate actions. To answer the original question then: Since all beings are already enlightened, and the soiled world (samsara) is identical with the enlightened world (nirvana), There is no nirvana to be entered into and no entering to be performed even if one could go there. By living an enlightened bodhisattva life, the bodhisattva attains liberation in this lifetime even though every other individual has not realized enlightenment. Tilling with Empty Hands by Gary L. Ray Religious Studies 506 Religions of India San Diego State University


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