A student writes:
As a student of Buddhism we have a personal connection to our sangha. We come in contact with the other people in the sangha and we respond to their example. We also come in contact with the Dharma teachings. In both of these things both as an example and a teacher bearing the Dharma, we also come in direct contact with our guru*.
But what about the Buddha? What does it mean to come in contact with the Buddha and how do we experience this? It seems that we feel the echoes of the Buddha within the Dharma and sangha, but we don’t have a direct contact with the Buddha. Unless it is in our own experiences of uncovering the nature of reality and sanity and we imagine that the Buddha is in that direction but has gone ‘all the way’ to wisdom and compassion. But we would almost have to be a Buddha to know the Buddha?
Lama Shenpen responds:
We would have to be a Buddha to truly know the Buddha but the meaning of arriving at the first bhumi* [stages of the Bodhisattva path leading to Buddhahood] is to see the Buddhas face to face. So, Bodhisattvas on the Bhumis see the Buddha.
In fact, there is a very important study by Peter Masefield called Divine Revelation in Pali Buddhism about how originally Right View referred to directly encountering the Dharma in the presence of the Buddha, the Buddha being the Dharma in effect. The Shravaka* was the one who encountered the Buddha in this way and truly saw the Buddha. It was truly astounding and awesome.
Today I was reading your book There’s More To Dying Than Death and I thought that it would be important to think about this in order to form the right kind of karmic connections and intentions. So that you could be reborn in a world in which a Buddha had given his teachings and they were still taught. Does this make sense and could you say something about it?
Yes absolutely. That is why I include the two last areas of pranidhana* [aspirational/wishing prayers] and connections in the Living the Awakened Heart training as explained in the booklet. The way to form those karmic connections is pranidhanas – especially the Samantabhadracharya Pranidhana* and the Mahamudra Pranidhana of Rangjung Dorje.
The whole point is to ensure that you are reborn in a world in which a Buddha has given teachings and they are still taught and also so that we have the capacity to relate to the teachings in the right way and be able to understand, practice and realise them.
One can make aspiration prayers one’s whole practice by noticing whenever we fall short of our Refuge and Bodhisattva vows and then having acknowledged that falling short make a strong aspiration prayer never to fall short like that again and keep resolving like that again and again – ‘May I in future be able to practise equanimity like all the great Bodhisattvas in the past, those of the present and to come’ – or whatever other pranidhana we want to make.
‘May I in future rejoice in the qualities of my teachers and Dharma companions and serve them with respect so that their qualities arise also in me.’ And so on – endless pranidhanas!
Once you understand deeply that Buddha Nature is all pervading and time and space are illusory – then clearly the Buddha is truly present at all times and we are constantly in the presence of the Buddha.
The Guru who points out to us the true essence of our being, that very Buddha Nature, is the embodiment of the Buddha and acts for us like the Buddha and is the connection we need with all the Buddhas and to treat him or her as the Buddha enables the blessing of all the Buddhas to connect with our Buddha Nature directly.
If one can maintain pure vision like this, then the power of the adhistana of the lineage can enter our hearts with great ease. It is a matter of having the simplicity and humility and an open and trusting heart. It’s called faith.
Lama Shenpen Hookham
*Bhumi – (Skt, Tib: Sa) Literally means ‘ground’, ‘level’ or ‘stage’. It refers to the ten Bodhisattva stages leading up to Buddhahood. The first level is when for the first time Emptiness is realised in a profound and irreversible way. Each bhumi is entered as the veils obscuring its presence are removed. Entering the bhumis is more like entering a new world than actually achieving something.
*Guru – (Skt, Tib: Lama) – The principle of Enlightenment as embodied by our teacher. Lama Shenpen’s much anticipated book The Guru Principle explains this in detail and the teacher-student relationship in Buddhism. It’s published by Shambhala on August 17th and available for pre-order now. The book launch event takes place on 17th too, click here for details.
*Samantabhadracharya Pranidhana: A Pranidhana (Monlam) is an aspirational or ‘wishing prayer’ and this one is said to be and is known as ‘the King of Pranidhanas’ – the greatest authoritative textual source of pranidhanas, drawing together into one text the three functions of pranidhana, which are: “Firstly, through listening to it, to arouse the faith of sincerely believing in the meaning and purpose of the pranidhana. Secondly, through reflecting on it, to arouse the joy of realising it is capable of fulfilment. Finally, through meditating on it, to arouse the joy of knowing the nature of Supreme Enlightenment’. (Extract from Lama Shenpen’s translator’s notes of the Samantabhadracharya Pranidhana Booklet. The full text with introduction and notes is available as a booklet here.
*Shravaka: (Skt.) Translates as ‘one who hears/listens and proclaims’, hearing the teachings from the Buddha then proclaiming what they have learnt and realised, and meaning someone who is guided to Enlightenment by a teacher. In the sense here – a follower of the Buddha during the Buddha’s lifetime, striving for the level of arhat – the ultimate goal of the shravaka yana, a sub-division of the Hinayana vehicle of Buddhism. The ‘Shravaka View’ is the first stage of the Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness .For more on this see the book The Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness by Khenpo Rinpoche, edited by Lama Shenpen. Lama Shenpen is teaching on Insight into Emptiness this year.
You might also be interested in: What does it mean to meet the Buddha face to face?
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