Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Meditation and Wisdom for the Bodhisattva and Superior Person

While previous posts since the very beginnings of this blog have discussed the superior person, the previous nine posts starting with the October 23rd post look at the bodhisattva as well. The bodhisattva in Buddhism is the one who, having reached the very threshold of Nirvana, refrains from entering and instead returns to help all beings reach the ultimate state. Shantideva, the 8th century buddhist scholar, wrote A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, or the Bodhicaryavatara. This is the final post along the thread of comparing the traits of the superior person of Confucianism with some of the traits of the bodhisattva. Shantideva gives the instruction:

Strive at first to meditate
Upon the sameness of yourself and others.
In joy and sorrow all are equal.
Thus be guardian of all, as of yourself.

The hand and other limbs are many and distinct,
But all are one-one body to be kept and guarded.
Likewise, different beings in their joys and sorrows,
Are, like me, all one in wanting happiness.

Looking at the Humanity we saw that loyalty to one’s self and empathy toward others were its practices. Here Shantideva urges the bodhisattva to meditate upon the essential sameness of ourselves and others. Taking their pain as our own to dispel in with appropriate means, how could we ever become arrogant. How can we be arrogant with a deep understanding of our essential sameness, the principle of humanity within us all? To truly deepen our understanding of humanity, to meditate on that which is essential within all of us, we must seek to experience the principle of humanity in our daily relationships. We can then see all that is fleeting, all that is deluding ourselves and others from the essential principle. The bodhisattva meditates on sameness and becomes better able to see uniqueness. Confucius often had different answers for students asking the same question because he saw this uniqueness. The superior person understands the uniqueness of individuals by ‘meditating’ on their unique relationship to humanity. Confucius answered different students, when they asked him, ‘What is humanity?’ in different ways because he understood their uniqueness. Without meditating on that which is the same within us, we would have no frame of reference to empathize with others. When we hear, ‘What is humanity?’ without the frame of reference of an individuals relationship to the principle of humanity we will answer ineffectively. A parrot can answer that question, but without the insight gained from meditating upon the essential sameness of beings, the answer is entirely meaningless. Once we have an understanding of our deep sameness, we can cultivate the ability to empathize thus understanding uniqueness. We cultivate the ability to empathize by seeing how each unique individual relates to the essential, the sameness we share, within them.
When individuals begin to harmonize this relationship within it is the beginning of happiness. Shantideva urges us that, in order to harmonize our relationship with the essential within, we must cultivate an understanding, through meditation, that most things we identify with and yearn for are fleeting. The thing we really yearn for is the essence of life, or ‘humanity’ for the superior person. Through meditation, letting go of desire for fleeting material things, the essential principle can arise and a relationship with our true selves can begin. Confucius answered one student that ‘to restrain one’s self and return to propriety is humanity’. Here we can see that to restrain ourselves from overstepping our bounds we can return to what it is we should be doing and, in the end, what every one should be doing, in their own way, finding the way back to themselves, back to humanity.
Shantideva continually advocates this same restraint and return. The bodhisattva must continually examine his or her self and, if finding fault in their behavior or demeanor, discipline his or her self to return to their vow to benefit all beings. For the bodhisattva, meditation is the continuing return to the proper way of life. Meditation is the continual reinvigorating of the bodhisattva vow. Meditation is the discipline continually enforced upon oneself so that we may achieve the goal of benefiting all beings. Shantideva outlines many possible disorienting false priorities that can creep up and distract us from our goal. He shows one by one how they are void of any true meaning for the bodhisattva and how, through meditation on true meaning, on our vow, we can return to the proper orientation.
Shantideva reaches a crescendo culminating in the explication of wisdom in the final chapter. The bodhisattva, for the sake of all, should become the meditator, the one who continually seeks to live in connection with the essence of humanity. For the superior person it is their love of learning, the acknowledgement of a lacking, which brings them near to wisdom. It is this sense of lacking that propels the superior person to continue their learning, to continue their ‘meditation’ ceaselessly, until death.

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