A Bodhisattva's Right Attitude Toward Other Bodhisattvas

A Dharma Talk by Ryuei

July 2003

Good morning. Today I would like to share with a page from the Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines. This page has become important to me because I ran across it at exactly the right time when I needed to reflect on my own attitudes and ways of interacting with others, especially other Buddhists. Let’s read this together and then discuss it.

“I have, Ananda, demonstrated a dharma which includes the possibility of escape, - for persons of the Disciple-vehicle, for persons of the Pratyekabuddha-vehicle, for persons of the Bodhisattva-vehicle. As to the person who belongs to the vehicle of the Bodhisattvas and has quarreled with someone else who belongs to the vehicle of the Bodhisattvas, - if he does not confess his fault, does not promise restraint in future, harbors a latent bias towards hate, and dwells tied to that bias, - of that person I do not teach the escape [i.e. from the consequences of his action], but he is definitely condemned to go on putting on the armor [which enables him to struggle against it] for all that length of time. But I teach his escape if he confesses his fault, promises restraint in future, and reflects as follows: “I whose duty it is to drive away, to pacify and appease the quarrels, disputes and conflicts of all beings, yet I myself engage in disputes! It is indeed a loss to me, and not a gain, that I should answer back as I am spoken to. When I should be to all beings a bridge across the sea of birth-and-death, I nevertheless say to another, ‘the same to you,’ or return a harsh and rough answer. This is not the way in which I should speak. In fights, quarrels and disputes I should not behave like a senseless idiot, or like a dumb sheep. When I hear someone using offensive, abusive, insulting words towards me, my heart should not cherish malice for others. It is not meet and proper for me to perceive the faults of others, or to think that what is being said about the faults of others is worth listening to. For I, since I am earnestly intent [on full enlightenment], should not do harm to others. When I should make all beings happy by giving them everything that brings happiness, when I should lead them to Nirvana after having won full enlightenment, - yet nevertheless I bear ill will! I should not bear ill will even against those those who have offended against me, and I must avoid getting into a rage, and I must make a firm effort in that direction. Even when my life is in danger I must not get into a rage, and no frown should appear on my face.” Of such a Bodhisattva I teach the escape. This is the attitude which a Bodhisattva should adopt also towards persons who belong to the vehicle of the Disciples. Never to get angry with any being, that is the attitude of mind one should adopt towards all beings. What attitude then should a Bodhisattva have towards other persons belonging to the vehicle of the Bodhisattvas? The same as towards the Teacher. He should have the attitude that “these bodhisattvas are my teachers.” Surely, they have mounted on the same vehicle as I, have ascended by the same path, are of like intention with me, have set out in the same vehicle as I. Wherein should they be trained, that is the method by which I should be trained. But if some of them dwell in a dwelling contaminated [by the ideas of Disciples and Pratyekabuddhas], then I should not do likewise. If, however, they dwell in an uncontaminated dwelling, in mental activities associated with all-knowledge, then I also should train as they do. No obstacles to full enlightenment can arise to a Bodhisattva who trains himself in this way in all-knowledge, and he quickly knows enlightenment.”

(The Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines pp. 247-8)

Originally, this page jumped out at me in my readings of the Perfection of Wisdom because it seemed so familiar, especially the phrase “the same to you.” How often have I felt the very same feelings, or used those words or something like it myself. It is very difficult to avoid sometimes, especially when we feel that we are justified, that we have been wronged, or that we have been patient far too long. But it is easy to read passages like this or the story of Bodhisattva Never Despise in the Lotus Sutra - the Bodhisattva who greeted all people with respect even when he was abused in return - it is another thing to actually be able to live in accord with these teachings.

Of course this is where the practice of Odaimoku comes in. The practice of Odaimoku allows us to step back from our situation. We move away from our sense of being wronged and our self-justifications of our own intentions, words, and actions. Instead, we put these aside and center ourselves back on the Dharma through our practice. In this way we can begin to cool down and get a more objective view. This may not be automatic. It may take a lot of chanting to get some emotional distance from the problems we are having with others. But I have found that it does work. Of course, when you get back into the situation new things may be said or new aggravations may arise, and so one must go back again and again to the Odaimoku.

Through chanting and reflection however I have learned a few things. One is that one must be very careful not to attribute motives to others. One may feel that others have it in for you, or that they are being condescending or that they are trying to put you down and get others to pick sides against you. But this may just be one’s own fear and projection. And even if it is not, to retaliate and harbor resentment only adds fuel to the fire. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just let people be who they are. And as the passage says, act dumb. In other words, reserve judgement and try not to take things personally. In the end, our ego, the very one that is hurt and which we are trying to defend, is a much worse enemy than anyone else. Others may or may not be out to get us, but our ego will trip us up every time if we don’t keep a careful watch on it. What I have found is that if we can set the ego aside, most problems can be seen to arise from misunderstandings and/or impatience.

In the end, I am discovering that giving others the benefit of the doubt and taking the time to really listen and understand what the other person is saying can be invaluable. Even if you do not agree at least take the time to hear them out so that you can discover why they think or feel a certain way. Sometimes a seemingly sharp disagreement can disappear altogether when one does this - as one sees that the other person is using words differently than you might, or that a further explanation will clarify where they are coming from and enable you to see something you might have missed. So in the end, I am trying to take this passage to heart through Odaimoku and the practice of patient and active listening.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2003.

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