How to Become a Bodhisattva
Yogi C. M. Chen

I would like to discuss with you the subject of how to become a Bodhisattva. My outline will be divided into seven main parts. I will cover the following:
1. What is the Right View.
2. What is the Practice.
3. What is the Conduct of one who wishes to become a Bodhisattva.
4. What is the result of being a Bodhisattva.
5. What are the Stages of being a Bodhisattva.
6. What are the Practices connected with those stages.
7. How to shorten one's practice to become a Buddha in this lifetime.

I. The Right View
We must develop a Right Motive and View to begin our practice aimed at becoming a Bodhisattva. All of our actions are guided by certain thoughts. This is why we have to first talk about thought, views, ideas, and perceptions. The most important basic fundamental necessary to becoming a Bodhisattva is to have the good motives of a Buddhist. We will be talking about the Bodhicitta, Bodhisattva, and Buddha and these three terms all have the same root of Bodhi. Bodhi refers to awakeness: a person who wants to become awakened is a Buddhist; a person who has practiced the Bodhi is a Bodhisattva; a person who has perfect Bodhi and has become fully enlightened is a Buddha. So first we must become a Buddhist, and then become a Bodhisattva, and lastly a Buddha. This conception of the Bodhi must be initially recognized very clearly; What must be awakened? Awakened from what? Awakened to what degree?
To be a Buddhist, the first condition of Right View is to recognize the importance of this Bodhi, this awakening, and why is being a Buddhist different from following other religions. In other religions, as Christianity, one follows the example and doctrine of their God and worships Him. But in Buddhism, we first become Buddhists and then should actually become a Bodhisattva, and finally a Buddha.
According to the common English translation, Bodhi is defined as the Enlightened Attitude. Enlightened is quite the right word to use for awake, but bodhi does not mean attitude because attitude is a term to describe a manner and bodhi is not only an attitude. In the term Bodhicitta, the Citta is just like the Chinese word "Hsin," heart, but this heart, Citta, includes not only the biological heart but also the psychological mind and emotions, and philosophically it is the Truth. So it includes two important concepts of Buddhism: one is the Great Compassion, the other is the Deep Wisdom. Because it means heart, as in the phrases whole-hearted, or sweet-heart, it includes emotion, love, and great compassion, and because it includes the philosophic meaning of the Truth, it also implies the deep wisdom of Sunyata. For the Tantric practitioner, there is no difference between mind and matter so the heart also undertakes the practice of the inner heart chakra and includes both Great Compassion and Deep Wisdom. A Buddhist must strive for these two important conditions, otherwise he is not a Buddhist. But before he can achieve this great compassion and deep wisdom, he must have the preparation of a good motive to push him to start and really practice Buddhism. The right motive is to awake oneself and also to awaken others, to make all sentient beings pursue the Buddha's teachings. For this purpose one is a Buddhist.
I am sorry to say very few Western Buddhists have the good and right motive. The usual motive of Westerners is that they are very tired of Christianity and do not like it, but they want something in place of it. They heard about Zen, with no God, no renunciation, no need of such things; they want everything very easy to do and consider Buddhism just a way of life: "I just follow my self, my life, I do whatever I like, that is right." Some Westerners are rich and eat much food, have much sex, and get very tired so they want to repair themselves and recover to become stronger, to enable themselves to consume more and more food, wine, sex, and amusement. This kind of person likes the relaxation exercises. Some teachers thinking of this will teach them to be stronger and more able to eat and to have more prolonged sex too. This is their real motive. When they go to some Dharma center there are many beautiful girls and handsome boys, so they find it very easy and convenient to love each other. The more boys and girls a center has gathered together, the more it flourishes; everyone pursues their own pleasure and the guru also does not care about Dharma but seems to take refuge from the students. If the students like wine, he takes wine; if the students like sex, he has sex; they like to sleep late, so he gets up late; the students like yoga relaxation, so he also teaches Hindu Yogas. He does not mind that this is not Buddhism but Hinduism. Buddhism has its own exercises but the centers have Hindu Yoga teachers. This is far from Buddhism because their motive is not right. Such centers find out what you want and then accordingly open their doors to sell it. They never tell you, "Oh, you must awaken yourself and have the good mind to awaken others. You must change your habitual habits; you must try to change your bad karma; you must not indulge in so much wine and sex." If you teach like this, nobody will contact you, just like myself. I do not sell anything, so you do not contact me. I just rest and practice by myself but at least I will never be made into your student.
When we talk about awakening, we must also talk about transmigration. Some students say, "You talk about transmigration and that is painful. The four noble truths say that everything is painful but I do not feel full of pain, I feel very happy. I just live with my habits until I get tired and just want to get more happiness and learn something to enable me to enjoy my happiness more, but you say everything is painful. I do not believe such things." So they do not have the motivation of a real Buddhist. There is nobody who comes to the Guru and cries, "I feel great pain from this transmigration and so many people are suffering; for myself I have pity and for others I have pity too. Please let me take refuge and learn something from you to make others awaken and to make myself awaken, to make me free from my habitual karma and bad habits, to make me reborn!"
Everywhere initiations can be found and bought, $50 for this initiation, $75 for that initiation, but students never think what an initiation really means; an initiation really means to be reborn again: from manhood to become a Buddha, that means an initiation. But most persons have no such motive. "Why need a Buddha? I am the living Buddha; there is no need of another Buddha." So they put aside all thoughts of transmigration, impermanence, of all such unpleasant things. "Don't talk about these things; they make me very sad. You must talk about happy things, about the Buddha, how he embraced the Female Buddha, and had sex for a long time without tiring, I just want to learn about things like this. I do not want to think about other things of sadness; I just want more happiness." That is why you cannot find a real Buddhist, so how can you talk about how to be a Bodhisattva. You have heard people say, "His Holiness Karmapa has given the Bodhisattva vow to many students," but in truth afterwards nobody actually practices it. How does a Bodhisattva develop? To be born a man you have to stay in your mother's womb for nine months but who practices the Bodhisattva vows for even one day?
You must have the right motivation which is to awaken oneself and to become able to awaken others. This is the real motive. You must know about transmigration from heaven to hell, how long and difficult it is to be liberated and that this is why you need to practice the Dharma. This is all about the Right Motive.
Then you must develop the Buddhist Right View, the very fundamental basis of which is non-ego Sunyata. You must know about this quite clearly because the philosophy of Buddhism is based upon the Sunyata doctrine and the Sunyata doctrine is based upon non-ego. And non-egoism when practiced may then guide you to get the Final Truth of the Dharmakaya. What does the Bodhi mean? Where does the Bodhi entity spring from? The Bodhi is just from the Sunyata. Because Sunyata is non-egoism and because of this practice of non-egoism, everything including the so-called thirty-seven branches of Bodhi must be done to help others.
To help others, Buddhists develop the Bodhicitta and try to attain the Ten Bhumi of the Bodhisattva. In order to get the Ten Bhumi of the Bodhisattva one must really practice the Bodhicitta and the Six Paramitas. You must know about these matters very clearly and for this you have to learn the Heart Sutra, the Prajna Paramita Sutra, and the Diamond (Vajra) Sutra. Once you have recognized this, you should not stop your very fundamental practice for even one day.
First examine oneself, do I have the motivation to be a Buddhist? Then ask oneself, do I know the fundamental truth of Sunyata and of non-egoism? Then you must not only know yourself but also know others. To know others is to know the six realms of transmigration which are so painful. For the Bodhisattva always thinks of all the sentient beings in all the six realms and what is their relationship with him. To help with this practice, the ancient sages in India and Tibet emphasized the so-called seven conditions of relationship with one's mother. The Bodhisattva knows that all sentient beings must be considered and treated as our mother. Why are they our mother? Because we have transmigrated through so many lifetimes and in each lifetime we have had a mother, even two-mothers as a stepmother and a biological mother. Always our mother has loved us a lot, has done many good things for us, has made our body complete in her womb, suffered in bearing us and giving birth to us, and was troubled by us with so many things. This is very easy to know, but nobody takes it into their thoughts; they just think my mother has so much money and keeps it in the bank without giving any to me, what is the use I call her mother! They just think of these kinds of things as a business. They do not think of mother as a great benefactor. So the Bodhicitta cannot rise up within them. Many centers talk about how to be a good son, but there are no good results as they do not actually practice it. They are far from a Bodhisattva's actions. They just think of the money from their mother, father, but never know how to serve them. This is why their Bodhicitta cannot develop very well.
In my book How to Develop the Bodhicitta, I talk not only about consideration for one's mother as mentioned by the Indian and Tibetan Sages, but also have mentioned many things about other kinds of relationships with sentient beings. In it is said that every sentient being is an object for one's Bodhicitta to benefit. So this sentient being is not only a sentient being but he is the beloved son of other Bodhisattvas. Those who have already achieved the accomplishment of the Bodhisattva always work to benefit others, just like the Earth Treasure Bodhisattva who went to Hell to help and save the hell beings.
When Buddha himself was a Bodhisattva he became a bird to save birds, became an elephant, a deer, became many things as he was able to transform himself into any form in order to help that kind of being. So all sentient beings should recognize that they are beloved by the Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas have gone through many incarnations as sentient beings in order to help others. There have been many incarnations of Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Gods, Holy Beings, and Sages in many forms. So we should think that I may know that I myself am a human sentient being, but all others I meet may actually be Buddha, a Bodhisattva, or God. Holy beings appear in all forms to make you have great compassion.
For example, once a Practitioner tried to practice Great Compassion but for three years did not get any inspiration. He asked his Yidam why it was so difficult for him to be inspired. Once this Practitioner came to a street when he saw a dog who was sick with worms on his body. He wanted to help but thought if he tried to take out the worms with his fingers, it would cause much pain, if he tried to take them out with a stick, it would also cause the dog much pain, then he realized the best method was to use his tongue. He used his tongue to help the dog, but thinking that the dog might still not get well, decided to bring it to his home till its disease was cured. So he held the dog not minding its disease. When he put it down, he saw not a dog but the Buddha called Maitreya, the Next Buddha. This dog was actually an incarnation of the great Buddha.
To an ordinary sentient being, it might seem to be just a dog, but actually, as in this case, a sentient being may actually be the incarnation of Buddha or a Bodhisattva or God. If you have Right View you must have such a conception, "Oh, sentient beings are so many but are not really sentient beings but holy beings." When I feed the pigeons in the park I do not think that I am just feeding a sentient being, but I think that this dove is just the God Jehovah himself, that this dove flies to the heart of Jesus, so I do not feed just birds, but feed God. In this way your feeding actions are just like an offering, like a fire sacrifice. When we send birds or fish free, we should also think that the fish are not really just fish but may be God. Just as the fish sent to Jesus with one dollar in his belly to pay the tax was not really a common fish.
Sentient beings are so numerous; we must always think of them and develop the Bodhicitta to save them, to help them awaken, even if you yourself have not perfectly attained Buddhahood. Actually, every sentient being has already been benefitted by Buddha but holy beings must attempt to become sentient beings and love them in order to help them develop their Great Compassion and their Bodhicitta.
I do not sell my books and many people who receive them just put them away, never carefully read them. If a book is unread, what is its use? They just put the books down and say, "Oh, I want teachings from India or Nepal," so they go there and spend much money, come back and still that book sits on the shelf. I am very disappointed, so many foolish people. They receive a lot of teachings, but they do not take care to utilize them. Nobody writes me, "Why is it like this, why not that? From reading your books, I have such questions." Not many persons ask me such things. They say to themselves, "Your book is of no value; I get it freely and so just throw it away." They do not take care of the teachings, so how can they have questions? If they do not have questions, they do not really completely understand. Then if they do not completely understand, how can they really practice? If they do not practice, how can they get a result?
For the Right View we have to first have the good motive, then know what Bodhi and Sunyata means, and what is meant by sentient beings; then know that all sentient beings are suffering and how to save them. You must also learn what is meant by a Bodhisattva, and you have to know that the final truth of the Sunyata is emptiness and non-egoism and also the deep wisdom of the Sunyata; from this you can yourself get happiness from the Sunyata and also can teach others to recognize this Sunyata and really achieve for themselves this happiness. This is very good. If you give food to a sentient being he just eats it in one day; you give him a book, he may recognize a part and then you must continue to help him until he gets the Sunyata itself. If Sunyata itself is realized, then all ego bondage will be finished. When bondage is finished, there is no sorrow. If there is no sorrow, there is just happiness. This kind of happiness you can neither buy with money nor change with sex: you cannot get it from others but just from the Sunyata itself. Most people get happiness just from some modern conditions and afterwards the result of their happiness is just fatigue; I am very excited, I am very tired, and the happiness ends with sadness. Real happiness lies in the Sunyata; when you have the deep wisdom, nothing can trouble you, nothing can make you sad, nothing can control you. You have nothing to be bonded by.
Everyday I pass by shops on my street and see people whom I have never met before who stop and ask me, "Why are you so happy? You seem to be always happy." I reply, "I just forget myself; if you try to forget yourself, you will be happy too!" But this is not so easy. You have to know the sunyata, why real sunyata, why real non-egoism. You must find Non-Egoism. If the ego is finished, then the Sunyata will appear; when the Sunyata appears, deep wisdom comes; when deep wisdom comes, happiness is there. This kind of happiness does not end even with death. This will be everlasting with the Dharmakaya. This concludes the discussion of the first category, the Right Motive or Right View to become a Bodhisattva.

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