Monday, November 1, 2010

Reverence, Sincerity and Shantideva's 'Confession'

The superior person should keep reverence in their mind as when Shantideva seeks to “gain this precious attitude” in his ‘Confession’ (Shantideva. The Way of the Bodhisattva. Shambhala. Boston and New York, 1997. p. 39). Confucius recommends that the superior maintain this sense of reverence regarding those who gave us life, dealings with our parents and extending back to our ancestors. So when we offer sacrifice (ceremonial sacrifice is common, but more important is sacrificing our own wishes for the sake of fulfilling our responsibilities and duties) to them as when Shantideva offers sacrifice to the buddhas we should keep reverence in our mind. This is to say, whether we believe in spirits, ancestors, or buddhas is not necessarily the important matter. Who knows whether these beings exist, the important matter is we honor them with deep sincerity in our mind. This is the same with one’s parents. Whether they are good or bad parents is not the important thing. The important thing is that the superior person maintains reverence for their own life, which, of course, is a product of their parents’ life. This life is a precious, precious gift inherited from our ancestors. Our parents are the most immediate link to this precious gift. The superior person values their physical life as such a gift, as when Shantideva emphasizes the importance of a human birth. The superior person reveres the past sages for a similar reason, except in this case we have inherited a lineage of learning and working for others beyond mere physical inheritance.
Shantideva shows this reverence when making his offerings to the buddhas, just as a superior person should keep reverence when making sacrifices to the ancestors. Shantideva maintains deep reverence bowing to the learned masters and abbots just as the superior person does to those teachers who maintain the lineage of the ancient sage kings. In the chapter on ‘Confession’ we can certainly feel Shantideva’s sense of reverence in his offerings. While his tone changes many times throughout the Bodhicharyavatara, the sense of reverence conveyed in the first chapters permeates the work. This sense gives the work a richness of meaning, a certain importance that inspires attentiveness in the sincere student. Shantideva acknowledging his deficiencies, his sense of lacking, confessing, shows that he is ready to learn. The superior person, the scholar, must too acknowledge this sense of lacking in order to begin to study. We will see later that for Confucius this sense of lack is necessary for wisdom. The arrogant fool who thinks he knows enough can never become a bodhisattva, a superior person, a true scholar. They will never pursue the path of learning because in their mind there is no sense of lacking to which to confess.

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