Eighth Practice of Virtue
That Difficult to Attain
8. The Practice that is Difficult to Attain (Spiritual Vows)
The Flower Garland (Avatamsaka) Sutra says:
What is the Bodhisattva Mahasattva’s practice that is difficult to attain?
These Bodhisattvas realize the good spiritual roots that are difficult to attain. These are the spiritual roots that are unassailable, indestructible, unsurpassable, inconceivable, and inexhaustible. They are the spiritual roots that bestow the power of mastery and great majestic virtue. They are the spiritual roots that are of the same nature as those of the Buddhas.
When these Bodhisattvas cultivate their practice they will attain an unsurpassed understanding of the Buddha’s teachings and a broad and great understanding of the Buddha’s enlightenment. They will never give up their Bodhisattva vows, and their minds will never tire through the ages. They will never shy away from suffering and hosts of devils will be unable to shake them. Under the protection and care of the Buddhas, they will practice all the difficult practices of the Bodhisattvas. In cultivating the practices of the Bodhisattvas, they will always be diligent and they will never slacken. They will never turn and retreat from the constant vows of the Great Vehicle.
Peacefully abiding in this practice that is difficult to attain, with each and every thought they will be able to get through the countless cycles of Life & Death without ever abandoning the great vows of the Bodhisattvas. If there are living beings that attend them or offer service to them, or that even see them or listen to them, they will attain non-regression in the supreme universal enlightenment. Although understanding that living beings are without any real existence of self, these Bodhisattvas w ill not abandon the realm of living beings.
These Bodhisattvas are like the captain of a ship. The captain does not remain on this shore or the other shore, nor does he remain in the middle of the river. However he is able to transport living beings from this shore to the other shore because he is ceaselessly going back and forth between them without rest. The Bodhisattva Mahasattvas are also like this. Not remaining in the realm of Life & Death and not remaining in Nirvana, they also do not remain in the middle of the stream that leads to Life & Death. Yet they are able to transport living beings from this shore and place them on the other shore where is it safe and where there is no fear or distress. They also do not have attachments to any particular qualities or kinds of living beings. They will not forsake one living being because of attachments to many and they will not forsake many living beings because of attachments to one. They do not increase or decrease the realm of living beings, they do not produce or extinguish the realm of living beings and they discontinue or perpetuate the realm of living beings. They do not discriminate among them and they do not segregate them.
Why is this so? It is because Bodhisattvas deeply enter into the realm of living beings in the same way they enter into the spiritual realm. The realm of living beings and the spiritual realm are in reality inseparable. In this inseparable reality there is neither increasing nor decreasing, there is neither birth nor extinction, there is neither existence nor non-existence, there is neither clinging nor dependence, and there is neither attachment nor separation.
Why is this so? Bodhisattvas thoroughly understand all these things because the spirituality that is the Dharma is without duality. Bodhisattvas deeply enter into the spiritual realm with skilful ways and means because they abide in it beyond any of its aspects. They adorn their lives because they are pure of any of its aspects.
Not retreating from the practice of the Bodhisattvas, they are forever cultivating it with diligence. Ceaselessly learning the practice, they master entry into the pure spiritual realm. It is comparable to drilling a piece of wood and making a fire. With the fuel for the fire being without limit, the fire will never be extinguished. Bodhisattvas are also like this in that the work of spiritually influencing living beings is never finished. The Bodhisattvas always remain in this world and their work is never finished. It is never complete, but it never stops being completed. The Bodhisattvas are not attached to it but they are not without attachments to it. They are not dependent on it but they are not without dependence on it. They are not worldly and materialistic and they have not attained the spiritual enlightenment of the Buddha. They are not ordinary people of the six paths and yet they have not attained the fruit of the Arhat.
Like this Bodhisattvas realize the mind that is difficult to attain. When cultivating the practice of the Bodhisattvas, they do not teach the spirituality of the Two Vehicles and they do not teach the spiritual enlightenment of the Buddha. Nor do they teach the worldly truths of materialism. They do not teach of the existence of living beings, and they do not teach of the non-existence of living beings. They do not teach of defilement and they do not teach of purity.
Why is this so? Bodhisattvas understand that all things spiritual are neither defiled nor to be held on to, and so they neither turn towards them nor retreat from them. When Bodhisattvas cultivate the most subtle and very deep spirituality of serene extinction like this, they do not produce such thoughts as these:
They do not cling to any of the places where there are the aggregates of self. They are attached to neither the inner threefold realm nor the world beyond it - nor are they attached to both of them. With the arousing of the great vow there are the Paramitas as well as all of the teachings, and yet nowhere are there any attachments.
Why is this so? In the spiritual realm there is nothing distinct called ‘the vehicle of spiritual disciples’ or ‘the vehicle of those awakened to spiritual conditions’. There is nothing called ‘the vehicle of the Bodhisattva’ or ‘the Bodhi of supreme universal enlightenment’. There is nothing called ‘the realm of ordinary people of the six paths’ and there is nothing called ‘defilement’,’ purity’, ‘Life & Death’ or ‘Nirvana’.
This is because all of the spirituality of the Dharma is without duality, and at the same time it is not without duality. It is like empty space. Whether one seeks it in the ten directions or in the past, present or future it is impossible to grasp, even though there is nothing that is without empty space. Like this Bodhisattvas observe that all things spiritual are everywhere impossible to grasp, even though there is nothing that is not spiritual. Nothing is different or separate from the spiritual reality as-it-is. Without losing it and without creating it, the cultivation of the Bodhisattva practice reveals that it is everywhere. They do not forsake their great vow to straighten out and subdue living beings and turn the wheel of the True Dharma. They do not violate cause and effect, and they do not contradict the equanimity of the Wonderful Dharma. Everywhere they are consistent with Those That Have Come from the past, present and future. They do not break off the lineage of enlightenment (the Buddhas) and they do not violate the true spiritual aspect of reality. Deeply entering into the spirituality of the Dharma, their eloquence is inexhaustible. Hearing that the spirituality of the Dharma without attachments, they reach to its ultimate source. In skillfully being able to open it up and reveal it, their minds are without fear. They do not forsake the abodes of the enlightenment, and yet they do not contradict the worldly reality. They reveal themselves everywhere in the world but yet they are without attachments to this world. Like this Bodhisattvas realize the wisdom and insight of the mind that is difficult to attain. They cultivate and learn the practices of the Bodhisattvas and root up the three evil spiritual destinies from living beings. They teach and spiritually influence them, straighten out and subdue them, place them on the path of the Buddhas of the past, present and future and make them unshakeable.
And they also make this thought:
Living beings in this world do not recognize their blessings and rewards, and they are hostile to one another. With false views and attachments, confusions and perversions, they are foolish and without wisdom. Not having faithful minds, they follow after evil friends and arouse evil insights. They have various kinds of emotional trouble and are completely filled up with greed, craving and ignorance. This is the place where I cultivate the practice of the Bodhisattva. If the world were filled up with living beings that understood their blessings, were intelligent and illuminated with understanding and spiritual insight, I would not be in their midst cultivating the practice of the Bodhisattvas.
Why is this so? I would have no reason to reach out to them, and it would be pointless; I would seek nothing from them. I would not even seek a single thread, a single tip of hair or a single word of praise from them.
Cultivating the Bodhisattva practice for an inexhaustible number of lifetimes into the future, they never have a single thought for themselves. They only desire to liberate and spiritually uplift living beings, make them pure, and help them attain lasting freedom.
How is this so? For those who would be the spiritual leaders of living beings, it must always be like this. Not holding onto anything and not seeking anything, they only cultivate the path of the Bodhisattvas to make living beings attain the peace and security of the other shore and the supreme universal enlightenment.
This is called the eighth practice of the Bodhisattva Mahasattvas, that which is difficult to attain.
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