By Novanita Sharma
“May I become at all times, both now and forever,
A protector for those without protection,
A guide for those who have lost their way,
A ship for those with oceans to cross,
A sanctuary for those in danger,
A lamp for those in the dark,
And a servant to all those in need.
As long as living beings exists,
And sufferings afflicts them,
May I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.”
“May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path.
A boat, raft, a bridge for those
Who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick.
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitude of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.”
The Bodhisattva path begins with the generation of Bodhichitta by an individual, chit means mind and Bodhichitta means the mind that is aimed at awakening with wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhichitta is the defining quality of Mahayana Bodhisattva, and the arising of Bodhichitta is the single most significant act in the Bodhisattva vehicle. The Bodhisattvas are spiritually heroic persons who spontaneously work to attain Buddhahood and are driven by great compassion (mahakaruna). Bodhisattvas are adorned with four divine spiritual qualities – maitri (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (empathetic joy), and upeksa (equanimity). The Bodhisattvas inspire all beings with various Bodhisattva perfections- prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom), and Upaya ( skillful means).
The Bodhisattva path is been held with great reverence in different Buddhist schools. In early Buddhist schools as well as in Theravada Buddhism, the Bodhisattva is mainly seen as an exceptional individual. It refers to someone who has made a resolution to become a Buddha and has also received confirmation from a living Buddha that it will be so. According to these schools, only a few select individuals ultimately can become Bodhisattva like Maitreya. However, Mahayana Buddhism encourages all individuals to generate Bodhichitta and walk the Bodhisattva path, to strive to attain their own enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. In a way Mahayana Buddhism encourages a Bodhisattva movement amongst all beings, a unique revolution of love, compassion, and wisdom to end the sufferings of this world.
Spiritually attained great Bodhisattvas such as Avalokitesvara, Maitreya, and Manjushri are widely venerated across the Mahayana Buddhist world, they are believed to possess great magical power with which they help all living beings. The Bodhisattva path is considered nobler than becoming an arhat or a solitary Buddha. The Mahayana Buddhists universalized the Bodhisattvayana as the path led by bodhichitta, open to everyone and for all beings to follow. Beautifully expressed in the words of the 14th Dalai Lama as he speaks about Bodhichitta, ‘the aspiration to bring about the welfare of all sentient beings and to attain Buddhahood for their sake – is really the distilled essence, the squeezed juice, of all the Buddha’s teachings, because ultimately, the Buddha’s intention is to lead all sentient beings to perfect enlightenment.’
Mahayana Bodhisattvas are distinct figures which are venerated across the Buddhist world. These include figures like Avalokitesvara and Manjushri. Avalokitsvara is the Bodhisattva of great compassion and Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of wisdom. They are the two most important Bodhisattvas in Mahayana followed by millions in a centuries-old devotion movement which roots in India. The great Bodhisattva devotion spread across India at one time which is parallel to the development of the Hindu Bhakti movement. The book titled ‘Mahayana Buddha Pantha aru Buddha Bhaktibad’ written by Soumyadeep Datta, an eminent writer and Buddhist scholar writes about this Mahayani Bhakti movement for the first time in Assamese language. This devotion movement spread all over Asia at one time, in the form of the Boddhisattva vehicle refined and taught in the ancient Nalanda Mahavihara.
The Nalanda Tradition of India presents extensive discourses to begin, practice, and excel in this path which epitomize the true essence of Buddha Dharma. Shantideva, the 8th century Nalanda Master included the elements which constitute the rituals and devotional acts developed in Mahayana Buddhism for preliminary preparation for the arising of Bodhichitta. This is found in the seven-part worship (saptÄá¹‡gapÅ«jÄ or saptavidhÄ anuttarapÅ«jÄ) which is followed by a set of ritual acts of mind & body and the recitation of the Boddhisattva vow by the aspirant who is considered ready for the rise of Bodhichitta. The famous Bodhisattva vow written by Shantideva embodies the life and devotion of Bodhisattvas through eons who continue to benefit everyone with their prayers, and real-life actions based on compassion and wisdom.
The 21st century is blessed to have experienced the benevolent prayers, love, and wisdom of the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, the reincarnation of Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva of great compassion. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama leads the Boddhisattva path of a rich lineage which encourages everyone in the contemporary modern world to embrace Bodhichitta as their goal in life.
In Buddhism Avalokitesvara is known as the Bodhisattva which contains the compassion of all the Buddhas. The original Sanskrit form Avalokitasvara, meaning ‘who looked down upon sound’, refers to the cries of sentient beings who need help. In Tibetan, Avalokitesvara is reverently called Chenrezig, the one who looks down with eyes of compassion. Avalokitesvara is related to the six-syllable mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. Recitation of this mantra while using prayer beads is the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism. In Vajrayana teachings, Avalokitesvara is considered as a Buddha.
Dalai Lama is a title given to the supreme spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest and the most dominant of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama institution has upheld a lineage of the great Buddha values and traditions epitomized in the Bodhisattva path which is nurtured to flourish beautifully by great Indian Buddhist masters like Atisa Dipamkara who established the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The title ‘Dalai Lama’ is a combination of the Mongolian word Dalai meaning ‘ocean’ or ‘great’ translated as Gyatso in Tibetan and the Tibetan word ‘bla-ma’ meaning ‘master, guru’.
The Tibetan legends of Bodhisattva incarnations trace to early Tibetan kings and emperors such as Songsten Gampo and later Domtonpa. This lineage includes the Dalai Lamas as incarnations of Avalokitesvara which is been established in the book ‘The Book of Kadam’, the main text of the Kadampa school to which the 1st Dalai Lama Belonged. This book is a compilation of Kadampa teachings and discussions between Aitsa and his Tibetan host and chief disciple Dromtonpa. From the 1st Dalai Lama (1391-1474) to the present 14th Dalai Lama, the world has witnessed an incredible journey of the Bodhisattva movement of Buddhism which essentially is a movement based on the ancient Indian philosophy of ahimsa, karuna, maitri. This is the greatest humanitarian movement that exists in timeless continuity, a commitment to serve this universe till suffering exists in this space. The Dalai Lamas with their radiant spiritual leadership for centuries have acted as the greatest spiritual and philosophical inspirations for millions of people all over the world.
The contributions of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso in this regard is insurmountable. An embodiment of love and compassion, His Holiness has united the world together to fight against the onslaught of violence, giving hope of peace to everyone in a world overpowered by technology and material comfort. His firm adherence to non-violence is evident in the 70 years of peaceful Tibetan resistance movement against the inhuman subjugation of Tibet’s culture, sovereignty, and ethnicity by the People’s Republic of China since 1950. The 14th Dalai Lama is the hope of peace amidst the chaos of the 21st century for the 7 billion human beings. He is the answer to the many prayers of the sentient beings caught up in the cycle samsara, his teachings have benefitted millions of people beyond political, religious, and ethnic boundaries.
The 14th Dalai Lama has enriched the Bodhisattva movement with universal values which transcend beyond the ceremonial boundaries of religion. He has played a crucial role in connecting many lives with the essence of Bodhichitta through his lifelong practice of compassion. He is been quoted to have stated that, long ago Avalokitesvara had promised the Buddha to guide and defend the Tibetan people. In the Middle Ages, his master plan to fulfil this promise was the stage-by-stage establishment of the Dalai Lama theocracy in Tibet.
The resilience of Tibetan people against Chinese repression and the current resurgence of the Tibetans in media, art, literature, education, and other various fields in different countries across the world including India testifies to his words and vision. It was his vision and leadership which rescued the heritage of Tibetan culture and religion despite the state-run cultural and ethnic cleansing inside Tibet.
The young Dalai Lama laid the path of survival for Tibetan Buddhism in the backdrop of the fall of independent Tibet after 1959. Tibetan Buddhism found a new space to flourish with the same ardor and vitality as in Tibet by rebuilding the great three Monastic seats of Tibet – Drepung, Sera, Ganden in India under the leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama. India, considered the Arya bhumi by all Tibetans became an epicenter of Tibetan Buddhism. In a way, this led to the revival of the great Nalanda tradition once again in the heart of India.
This lifelong journey of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama makes him one of the greatest Dalai Lamas of all time and the ever-radiant light of the Bodhisattva tradition of ancient India. The auspicious occasion of his 88th birthday on 6th July 2023 brings immense joy and hope to billions of human beings and all sentient beings in this world.
I bow to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama with deep reverence and prayers for his long life and good health. Sincere gratitude to you for your endless love, benevolence, and blessings.
May you guide us through timeless existences with your ocean of compassion and wisdom. Prayers for freedom and peace in Tibet.
Prayers for the happiness of all sentient beings.
Long Live His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama.
Om Mani Padme Hum.
(The author is a writer and environment activist based in Guwahati. Novanita_21@yahoo.co.in)