“Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken them. Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them. Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them. Incomparable enlightenment is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.”
This commitment is articulated quite beautifully via the bodhisattva vow. However, the sentiment is inherent in other traditions (including the Kaula Dharma) and expressed by true saints and bodhisattvas (regardless of tradition) through out (both articulated and more importantly in the substance of their lives). When one fully absorbs and assimilates a commitment such as this, to the extent that there is no question or doubt, then it is a monumental happening and without any question there will be a major shift. No longer is one’s spirituality and sadhana “their own”, and though one may still struggles with various affliction, even these are seen as mere petty trifles in the light of such a determined commitment. One’s relation with their spirituality often becomes myopic and self absorbed which leads to a certain neurosis. While there may be some noble aims, the paradigm is often self-centered, this even includes the desire to loose self-centeredness because there is still an aspect of self cherishing concern inherent (“I”ll be happy then”, “I’ll not suffer”, “I’ll be liberated” etc.). Until one encounters true penetrated expansiveness, despite insight which may arise, it’ll often just be like a dog chasing its tail.
“As long as space remains, as long as sentient beings remain, may I too remain and dispel the miseries of the world”
The true realization of the work is that one cannot help but do sadhana and live for the whole. Having seen through individual self, one can only sit As and for all. To incorporate this view into sadhana, one must cease the mentality of accumulation (or improvement) and finally take a stand. Often, people never make the profound leaps required for transformation because they fail to take a stand or be loyal to their wisdom. In terms of the Tantric sadhana, the view often remains, “there is “me” and I’m sitting trying to be a Devata (who hopefully graces “me” or gets rid of me) and then maybe I can sit as the whole”. The proper tantric view (and one which is in accord with the bodhisattva ideal) is one of being the whole or rather being the primodial perfect essence inherent in all sentient manifestation, and as this, I manifest as the Devata to serve and function for all sentient beings. Taking a stand within this view, gained from the conviction of insight or transmition, the sadhana will be empowered beyond measure because the work is beyond self concern. Just as the essence is without limit, so too will be the one who moves as the essence manifesting for all.
“Let me return in whatever form required, even under extraordinary circumstances to extinguish suffering. I will be born in times unpredictable and places unknown, until all sentient being are free from samsara.”
As mentioned earlier, for a commitment to have meaning, one must understand what one is committing to and have a perspective which informs the true magnitude of it. In this case, the magnitude is so vast, so the intuitive perspective should also be so. When one knowingly enters into a heart commitment, then there is real power behind it. In the case of committing to the compassionate activity of living for the liberation of all sentient beings throughout time, it is an intention which deserves a depth of contemplation about the various implications. This is not to suggest that one should doubt their heart, but rather have a clarity that will make following the intention doubtless going forward. To understand the commitment, one must understand the staggering scope of space and time, and the cycle of birth and death. Within this scope one must experience the gut wrench of the combined beauty and anguish of it all. It is an understanding of suffering, and being willing to enter the stream of suffering. It is being willing to leave the embrace of your most beloved for eons on end, just to face the heartbreak of meeting her in billions of lives and faces that no longer recognize you. (However, there is also the beauty of that meeting and the moments of recognition).
“Even if only by my hand and heart alone, then may all beings achieve full and perfect liberation.”
The fullness of the wisdom of this compassion is that there in reality is neither sentient beings bound, nor one to help save them. However, it is not a view taken in defense or avoidance; rather it is the culmination of a compassion which is willing to let the weight of collective suffering fully penetrate the heart. Indeed, the seeming paradox is only one of intellect, as the heart navigates without much ado. Everything is inherently perfect, and yet sentient beings are suffering and stuck in cyclical existence. There is nobody to save from suffering, and yet I’ll dedicate my lives and existence to saving them. It is the confidence granted in knowing the innate perfection and timelessness, which allows one to enter a seemingly endless stream of time, lives, and world systems. Just regarding one life of relatively fortunate circumstance, one can see that life can be a pain. Having to go through childhood, schooling, finding livelihood, hurts, loosing people close, are just some of the normal processes, not even to mention more traumatic circumstances which may be encountered. And the deeper one perceives the innate peace of the primordial nature, the more clearly one can perceive just how painful life can be. Indeed, even having to breath is a suffering or at very least an irritant. To truly understand the position and to still willingly take it on is a firm commitment. To say, “even if by my hand and heart alone, may all being attain perfect liberation” is such a large pledge. If one takes those words seriously, then it means that even if every sentient being has to come through my lives alone (billions upon billions of lives, for billions upon billions of sentient beings, over billions upon billions of eons etc.), then that is what I’ll commit too. Anyone who takes that vow seriously, can only feel joy at seeing another being take the same commitment to heart.
One needs to contemplate all the implications, so that matters become serious and wholly sincere because it has to be so deeply ingrained. If it isn’t then it can be lost or will be stolen in the memory destroying experience of death. There is no choice after death in the way people think of the term, and one can’t con the process . What is truly there will be revealed, and those are the choices made, completely honest choices. So for something to continue, it has to be made part and parcel of your essence or being. Even for advanced beings, there is often some “forgetting”, it is another risk of sort that one who willingly incarnates takes out of love. It may take sometime for the spark of that essence to reveal in a life. To the extent that a being is in integrity to ones essence (and that commitment being a part), then to that extent any peripheral loss (or gain) of life memory is without real meaning. If one is something, then it hardly matters if one remembers being it. Just so, if one is love and compassion, then it doesn’t require props. People of depth understand the qualities in substantive terms which are like a current, while others view them as rather flimsily abstractions so need props (via word, behavior etc…While people of depth also use props but they become mudras/symbols, the difference is wholly one of substance).
“May I be like a guard for those who are without protector, a guide for those who journey on a road, and for those who wish to go across the water; may I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.” Shantideva
While there are many different meditative means for generating compassion, it is working backwards in many ways which will always contain some contrivance or split (or at least that potential). Instead, why not first see if this heart of compassion is already present and if the heroic commitments inspire a resonance within it. One may think, “how could I even presume to something such as that, and even if I did, what could I do to help others, I can’t even help myself” Indeed, one needs wisdom and clarity themselves before being able to help others, but by merely stepping beyond oneself, one is demonstrating such wisdom. Often, the taking of the step precedes the empowerment or is the empowerment. People wait around for the wisdom to take the action, when often the action is the wisdom. Certainly, one needs compassion for themselves before they can have it for others. For most people, their hearts are good, but they are too wrapped up in themselves. Once they feels that they are “fine”, then their hearts naturally expand, but life will always provide reasons not to be “fine”. And to take the step beyond self is actually a compassion to self as well. Ultimately, one goes beyond self and other. Some may wonder several “whys” around action which is beyond self and other. Similar queries arise around sadhana, such as “if one is inherently perfect, and if all is inherently perfect, then why do that”. It is a clever question but not a wise one, and it betrays something underneath, which is the assumption that only action of “gain” (what will it do for me) is worthy of consideration. One does out of the pleasure of it and because it is their nature to do so. Why does a musician make music or and artist paint? Just so, living for all, expressing sadhana for all, can be the making of ones existence into art.
“As long as there is suffering, and as long as there are sentient being in the six realms, may I never cross over into nirvana.”
There are many Beings who incarnate and uplift the world in different ways. Compassionate activity cannot be relegated to convention and there are many saints hardly engage with people (or what people call “the world”). Never the less, just their being and breathing uplift the consciousness, and their deep intentions subtly move people in profound ways. (Conventional notions of compassion are largely social notions of “friendliness” and are expectable in expressions of meekness or social work. However, true compassionate activity is much beyond this…is a substance rather then just conventional function or display. Real compassion isn’t concerned about being liked or how it will be viewed.) There are even great Beings who willingly incarnate into hellish realms to liberate, and while we can easily admire (at wide arms length of inspiring story/myths), to make these actions real in our hearts, we must make our hearts real in our dedication. When it is so, then the full grace of all these great beings and their hearts comes as a support, it is sure. One is never left waylaid in noble dedication (though their dedication may be tested). To find resonance with the heart of compassion and the true dedication to all, one should not only discover it within , but also take the association when possible of gurus and others who embody it and will reflect it within them. Those whose subtle confirmation of it will build the trust and confidence needed for a full dedication, and those whose presence acts as a reminder for the heart dedications already made. In Tantric terms, when one can both surrender and take up a presence, be it Guru or Devata, then something within the qualities of the essence is communicated and transmitted and this includes the heart of compassion and living for all. When it is so, then one’s life can be the song of Krishna’s flute, the beat of Shiva’s drum, the cut of Kali’s sword, and the tear from Avalokiteshvara’s eye.