This is about presence:
Bodhicitta, the awakened mind,
Is known in brief to have two aspects:
First, aspiring, bodhicitta in intention;
Then active bodhicitta, practical engagement.
From bodhicitta in intention
Great results arise for those still turning in the wheel of life;
Yet merit does not rise from it in ceaseless streams
As is the case with active bodhicitta.
For when, with irreversible intent,
The mind embraces bodhicitta,
Willing to set free the endless multitude of beings,
In that instant, from that moment on,
A great and unremitting stream,
A strength of wholesome merit,
Even during sleep and inattention,
Rises equal to the vastness of the sky.
Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, 15, 17-19
Bodhicitta is the (student of the) awakened mind. Verse 15 points out that the awakened mind takes 2 distinct aspects: aspiring with intention and active engagement. For Christians, this should ring some bells. Its the Mary (Being) and Martha (Doing) story. The awakened mind being practices PRESENCE – aspiring to be in the moment so that any intention directed into action will be mindful. If you think about it, intention can be both aspiration and action. We can set our intention on being present and also on doing mindful action. So the student of the awakened mind, you and I, Mary or Martha, the bodhicitta, must always practice Being Present (as Mary was) to the mind of higher consciousness (or the Christ-mind, if you are Christian) in order to bring mindfulness to action, to the Martha, the Doer.Shantideva then tells us that the bodhisattva of intention is great for Being, but in order to truly put practice into action in a way that will “be the gift that keeps on giving,” so to speak, we must bring that cultivated Presence of being to our action, to our doing. This is what is meant by “merit rising from a ceaseless stream.” The presence of the practitioner must be brought to the action. Mindfulness in practice equals mindfulness in action.
Now there are other implications of this mindfulness practice. One is that we can make discernments about our actions in a more conscientious way if we take the time to be present/mindful. So in verse 18, when Shantideva speaks of “willing to set free the endless multitudes of beings,” he is saying, we can sort the voices or thoughts in our heads that direct our actions, in a responsible way if we practice presence or meditation so that our actions will be directed skillfully. In meditation practice, or through cultivating presence, we learn to free our thoughts and allow for inner wisdom to inform an action intention. This part requires what Christians would call “faith,” because many of us have been taught to doubt the validity of our inner truth. But “truly I say to you” all people have the wisdom of ages available to them from within, stored in the unconscious mind from literally thousands of generations of those who proceeded us in life.
Hebrews 11:1 “…faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Do you have the faith that if you can free yourself from the busy mind of thoughts that quickly directs you to act according to the safety of ego, that you might make better, more skillful choices of action?
Ego security is always on patrol in our thoughts. Ego defends us, always helps us save face, be right, come out the winner, even if its at someone else expense. Our rapid response from ego is like the Martha character who would rather her house be perfect and the food be delicious than spend time present to the honorable guest, Jesus. Let me tell you what drives the ego at the very roots of its arising: fear. The ego is our defense for survival, for power and control, for esteem. And all of those “needs” arise from fear, if we look deeply and honestly at them.
Shantideva tells us in such beautiful prose that when we “set the multitudes of beings free,” when we quiet the thoughts that direct our actions like voices, for example:
“… there is the lover, the fool, the cynic, the optimist, the rancorous, the generous, the unforgiving, the doubter, the believer, the narcissist, the extrovert, the coward, the nihilist, the compassionate, the despicable, the serious, the vain, the self-righteous, the saint, the selfish, the atheist, the violent, the meek the capricious, the arrogant and the humble.” Raymond Carl Sigrist, Apophatic Mysticism
“A great an unremitting stream of wholesome merit…rises to the vastness of the sky.” We tap into higher consciousness, what some call Buddha-nature and others call Christ-mind. Higher consciousness is expanded awareness, a consistent mindfulness that becomes who I am so that when I direct my action, which is truly what humans are on the planet to do – to act and interact, – my action issues forth with my highest integrity of being.
Actions play out in many ways, of course. Have you ever made a mindful choice or been so present in your activity that you seem to lose track of time, or you feel a sense of such bliss or synergy that you don’t have to even think about whether or not you are on the right track? Most of us have felt this. Often we realize we just, “had the best time ever,” in retrospect. That’s because you are PRESENT in those moments.
When we learn to be PRESENT, that is, to trust or have faith or “aspire” always to our bodhisattva of intention (our Christ-mind, our Buddha nature, our inner truth; that inner wisdom of the ages), when we have faith in that, our actions will derive from our highest consciousness and they will transcend all the thoughts or voices that we use to qualify, minimize, analyze and otherwise ground our reality in rational thinking. It feels like acting on a different plane of consciousness and it is. This is where we meet the story of Peter walking on water.
Few people trust themselves, their inner truth, this way. Highly intuitive people do, but we all are capable of using intuition. Many people look to an external authority to tell them what is true, or they may say, “what is right.” But “right” is the wrong word. “Just” is a better word and it means balance or equanimity, not right or wrong.
When read only with the rational mind, the story of Peter walking on the water is described in a way that appears to seek external authorization or assistance. In fact the whole story of Jesus is widely interpreted in this way, setting Jesus the Christ outside of our own being, as if Jesus is meant to represent someone else, not our self. There is another way, a transformative way, of understanding the story. It is through awakened intuition or a “spiritual” or wisdom way of comprehension. The rational way of understanding story makes great use of the human tendency for projection. Many of us need an object upon which to project our glory and our failings. Many of us need someone else to “save” us, to love us, to keep us on track. But let’s get real. In reality, we must do these things for our self. The wisdom way, or contemplative way of understanding scripture identifies the self with Jesus, the enfleshed man of action and the mind of Christ, the awakened or enlightened consciousness. Buddhist philosophy does not use projection. It speaks directly the the responsible awakening individual without an avatar. Removing projection from the Buddhist wisdom literature, facilitates, for many of us, recognition of inner truth. We are not tempted to look to another for blame or for authority, but rightly assume with confidence, responsibility for our own being and action.
True empowerment, the true healing (Shandtideva even says, “A strength of wholesomemerit,”) comes from realizing our self as capable of having a mind of enlightened consciousness. Peter doesn’t trust his inner truth. Unenlightened minds don’t. They rely on law and rules to set their authority. They are not ready for wisdom. So Peter asks Jesus to give him the faith to walk on the water and Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” In other words, have faith in what your eyes do not tell you! Don’t let your ego prevent you from confidence in your higher power, your mind of presence and intention, your inner truth and wisdom of the ages. Peter steps out boldly. He sees Jesus and he feels empowered. Just hearing Jesus’ encouragement, Peter trusts. He has faith that “Christ will save him,” which is to say, he no longer doubts his own capacity because Jesus is there. In truth, he just needed the encouragement. He is relying fully on his own mind of Christ, his highest nature…the awakened bodhisattva in action, through which higher consciousness (merit) flows in ceaseless streams, allowing presence (the bodhisattva of aspiration and intention) to guide his steps.
He is in the ZONE! J
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt? Matt 14:25-31
Oops! Peter lost it! His ego fear let his eyes tell him he could not walk on water; that doing so is physically impossible. He relinquished his faith in a higher power to the rationale of the world as it appeared to his eyes. Don’t we all? We can hardly continuously act from our mind of presence, as fallible and ego-protected humans. But we can do better. We can keep practicing contemplative prayer and meditation, methods that bring us to presence and mindfulness and can be translated to skillful, mindful actions. Contemplative practice, it’s that simple. We must take quiet time for self reflection, to quiet the ego thinking, to allow inner truth and wisdom to make itself known to the discerning mind. This is the ultimate way of being human. To bring our inner wisdom and peace through presence to all our actions in the world, so that harmony, balance, equanimity and justice are the way that we live in relationship with our self, with each other and with the planet. This is how we live in “a great and unremitting stream, a strength of wholesome merit, rising equal to the vastness of the sky.” This is how we learn to walk on water.