Yesterday I pulled the three plastic boxes out from under my plywood bed. These boxes protect my best clothes, my special occasion clothes, from all the many kinds of peril. I pull out my gold lace skirt and my black back-less shirt. It is a special day. I am getting bodhisattva’ed.
Of course, that’s not the correct way to put it. I am in fact taking my Bodhisattva Vows for the first time. After lunch, I walk the long hike up to Red Feather, my meditation seat under on arm, the hot sun and the cool breeze behind me. Red Feather has been restricted these last few weeks for Sutrayana Seminary participants, but the Bodhisattva Vows which twenty of them will be taking are also open to staff. There are two of us taking them this time.
I relax for a while on the lodge porch before heading over the to white shrine tent with the others. Tom, the mustached Assistant Director with the booming voice walks us through the ceremony, showing us when to stand, when to bow, when to prostrate, when to kneel, etc. on the bare zabutons of in the front two rows. One last chance for a bathroom break then we sit in silent meditation in the hot shrine tent as the audience files in. I don’t even bother to try shamatha. I just sit, my thought whirling in my head, my back aching, and study the ikebana arrangement before me.
Finally Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown arrives and we rise. She speaks about the Bodhisattva vow in a soft, clear, smiling voice. She talks about generosity and the treasure of bodhicitta (mind of enlightenment) which we posses, cultivate, and offer to the world. She talks about the community, gathered here to support us, and all the buddhas and bodhisattvas who have gone before. It is a very big day, she says, a wonderful day.
We renew our refuge vows, hands in anjali at head, throat, and neck, then a half-prostration. Three times for the three jewels. We supplicate to the teacher to consider us and help us “arouse the mind that aspires to unsurpassable, perfect, complete, great enlightenment.”
The teacher repeats the instructions to the disciples: “Generally, wherever there is space, there are sentient beings. Wherever there are sentient beings, there are kleshas (poisons, corruptions). Wherever there are kleshas, there are negative actions. Wherever there are negative actions, there is suffering. All these sentient beings who suffer have been out fathers and mothers, and they have been only kind to us. These kind parents of our are drowning in the great ocean of samsara….”
Then we take the Bodhisattva Vow: “All buddhas and bodhisattvas dwelling in the ten directions, please consider me! … from now until I reach supreme enlightenment - in order to take across sentient beings who have not crossed over, to liberate those who have not been liberated, to encourage those who need encouragement, and to establish in complete nirvana those who have not been established - I, Tsetan Dolkar (my refuge name), will arouse the mind that aspires to unsurpassable, perfect, complete, great enlightenment.” Repeated three times.
Then, together with the assembly of sanga before, behind, and beside us, we say the first stanzas of the Bodhisttva Vow of the Mahayana Morning Liturgy:
“… So may I become sustenance in every way for sentient beings To the limits of space, until all have attained nirvana.
“ … So I to, for the benefit of beings, shall give birth to bodhicitta And progressively train myself in that discipline.
“At this moment my birth has become fruitful; I have realized my human life. Today I am born into the family of the buddhas; now I am a child of the buddhas.”
We offer a gift, placing it first in Acharya Judith’s hands then on the table beside. This gift need not be expensive, but only of value to us. It is the beginning of the act of generosity. My difficulty in choosing my gift arose when I considered that all the things that I posses which are most important to me where gifts from others, whom I did not want to disrespect by giving away what they had given me. David arrived at a wonderful suggestion. I had briefly thought to give me hair, but I cut my hair off almost ritually every few years anyway, so I did not think that would be enough. David suggested I have a fundraiser and let other people shave my head and then donate both the hair and money. I think that is a wonderful idea, but as it was only an hour before the ceremony, I think I shall save it for another time. There will be other vows, other teachings, other seminaries, I am sure.
Finally, we complete the liturgy with the final stanza: “Today, witnessed by all the protectors, I have welcomed the sentient beings and sugatas. Devas and asuras rejoice!”
Remember this moment, Acharya Judith tells us, 4:15 p.m. on June 24, 2007. It is special.
We stand once more to pass before the teacher to receive our bodhisattva names. The night before we interviewed with Acharya Judith and these names are her gift to us. They may be considered both highest praise and greatest insult, for they represent both our greatest strength and obstacles. As the names are read, in their Tibetan and then English translations, there are smiles and some laughter, some rueful grins. These names are not public names, though not secret, but generally to be shared only among the community of bodhisattvas.
My names suits me perfectly. It is in two parts, as they all seem to be. Both fit me and yet the first is certainly my greatest obstacle to the second. It is ironic and makes me smile. And it is beautiful. The others who have heard it also grin with humor for they can see that it is me.
Afterward, we rise and stand in respect as the teacher departs. We all gather in the lodge of a reception. Toasts are raised to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, to the lineage, to Acharya Judith (who almost cries when the young woman offering the toast praises her children), and to us, the newest of bodhisattvas, still squeaky and shining.
Two small glasses of wine go a long way at higher altitudes and I carefully walk back downtown, my meditation seat under my arm. There are many hugs and congratulations from those I meet. I drink lots of water and eat a hearty dinner before setting off to bed. It was a good day.
So how does it feel to be bodhisattva’ed - slightly tipsy, and I don’t think it’s from the wine.