I would like to discuss with you the subject of how to become a Bodhisattva.
My outline will be divided into seven main parts. I will cover the following:
We must develop a Right Motive and View to begin our practice aimed at becoming a Bodhisattva. All of our actions are guided by certain thoughts. This is why we have to first talk about thought, views, ideas, and perceptions. The most important basic fundamental necessary to becoming a Bodhisattva is to have the good motives of a Buddhist. We will be talking about the Bodhicitta, Bodhisattva, and Buddha and these three terms all have the same root of Bodhi. Bodhi refers to awakeness: a person who wants to become awakened is a Buddhist; a person who has practiced the Bodhi is a Bodhisattva; a person who has perfect Bodhi and has become fully enlightened is a Buddha. So first we must become a Buddhist, and then become a Bodhisattva, and lastly a Buddha. This conception of the Bodhi must be initially recognized very clearly; What must be awakened? Awakened from what? Awakened to what degree?
To be a Buddhist, the first condition of Right View is to recognize the importance of this Bodhi, this awakening, and why is being a Buddhist different from following other religions. In other religions, as Christianity, one follows the example and doctrine of their God and worships Him. But in Buddhism, we first become Buddhists and then should actually become a Bodhisattva, and finally a Buddha.
According to the common English translation, Bodhi is defined as the Enlightened Attitude. Enlightened is quite the right word to use for awake, but bodhi does not mean attitude because attitude is a term to describe a manner and bodhi is not only an attitude. In the term Bodhicitta, the Citta is just like the Chinese word "Hsin," heart, but this heart, Citta, includes not only the biological heart but also the psychological mind and emotions, and philosophically it is the Truth. So it includes two important concepts of Buddhism: one is the Great Compassion, the other is the Deep Wisdom. Because it means heart, as in the phrases whole-hearted, or sweet-heart, it includes emotion, love, and great compassion, and because it includes the philosophic meaning of the Truth, it also implies the deep wisdom of Sunyata. For the Tantric practitioner, there is no difference between mind and matter so the heart also undertakes the practice of the inner heart chakra and includes both Great Compassion and Deep Wisdom. A Buddhist must strive for these two important conditions, otherwise he is not a Buddhist. But before he can achieve this great compassion and deep wisdom, he must have the preparation of a good motive to push him to start and really practice Buddhism. The right motive is to awake oneself and also to awaken others, to make all sentient beings pursue the Buddha's teachings. For this purpose one is a Buddhist.
I am sorry to say very few Western Buddhists have the good and right motive. The usual motive of Westerners is that they are very tired of Christianity and do not like it, but they want something in place of it. They heard about Zen, with no God, no renunciation, no need of such things; they want everything very easy to do and consider Buddhism just a way of life: "I just follow my self, my life, I do whatever I like, that is right." Some Westerners are rich and eat much food, have much sex, and get very tired so they want to repair themselves and recover to become stronger, to enable themselves to consume more and more food, wine, sex, and amusement. This kind of person likes the relaxation exercises. Some teachers thinking of this will teach them to be stronger and more able to eat and to have more prolonged sex too. This is their real motive. When they go to some Dharma center there are many beautiful girls and handsome boys, so they find it very easy and convenient to love each other. The more boys and girls a center has gathered together, the more it flourishes; everyone pursues their own pleasure and the guru also does not care about Dharma but seems to take refuge from the students. If the students like wine, he takes wine; if the students like sex, he has sex; they like to sleep late, so he gets up late; the students like yoga relaxation, so he also teaches Hindu Yogas. He does not mind that this is not Buddhism but Hinduism. Buddhism has its own exercises but the centers have Hindu Yoga teachers. This is far from Buddhism because their motive is not right. Such centers find out what you want and then accordingly open their doors to sell it. They never tell you, "Oh, you must awaken yourself and have the good mind to awaken others. You must change your habitual habits; you must try to change your bad karma; you must not indulge in so much wine and sex." If you teach like this, nobody will contact you, just like myself. I do not sell anything, so you do not contact me. I just rest and practice by myself but at least I will never be made into your student.
When we talk about awakening, we must also talk about transmigration. Some students say, "You talk about transmigration and that is painful. The four noble truths say that everything is painful but I do not feel full of pain, I feel very happy. I just live with my habits until I get tired and just want to get more happiness and learn something to enable me to enjoy my happiness more, but you say everything is painful. I do not believe such things." So they do not have the motivation of a real Buddhist. There is nobody who comes to the Guru and cries, "I feel great pain from this transmigration and so many people are suffering; for myself I have pity and for others I have pity too. Please let me take refuge and learn something from you to make others awaken and to make myself awaken, to make me free from my habitual karma and bad habits, to make me reborn!"
Everywhere initiations can be found and bought, $50 for this initiation, $75 for that initiation, but students never think what an initiation really means; an initiation really means to be reborn again: from manhood to become a Buddha, that means an initiation. But most persons have no such motive. "Why need a Buddha? I am the living Buddha; there is no need of another Buddha." So they put aside all thoughts of transmigration, impermanence, of all such unpleasant things. "Don't talk about these things; they make me very sad. You must talk about happy things, about the Buddha, how he embraced the Female Buddha, and had sex for a long time without tiring, I just want to learn about things like this. I do not want to think about other things of sadness; I just want more happiness." That is why you cannot find a real Buddhist, so how can you talk about how to be a Bodhisattva. You have heard people say, "His Holiness Karmapa has given the Bodhisattva vow to many students," but in truth afterwards nobody actually practices it. How does a Bodhisattva develop? To be born a man you have to stay in your mother's womb for nine months but who practices the Bodhisattva vows for even one day?
You must have the right motivation which is to awaken oneself and to become able to awaken others. This is the real motive. You must know about transmigration from heaven to hell, how long and difficult it is to be liberated and that this is why you need to practice the Dharma. This is all about the Right Motive.
Then you must develop the Buddhist Right View, the very fundamental basis of which is non-ego Sunyata. You must know about this quite clearly because the philosophy of Buddhism is based upon the Sunyata doctrine and the Sunyata doctrine is based upon non-ego. And non-egoism when practiced may then guide you to get the Final Truth of the Dharmakaya. What does the Bodhi mean? Where does the Bodhi entity spring from? The Bodhi is just from the Sunyata. Because Sunyata is non-egoism and because of this practice of non-egoism, everything including the so-called thirty-seven branches of Bodhi must be done to help others.
To help others, Buddhists develop the Bodhicitta and try to attain the Ten Bhumi of the Bodhisattva. In order to get the Ten Bhumi of the Bodhisattva one must really practice the Bodhicitta and the Six Paramitas. You must know about these matters very clearly and for this you have to learn the Heart Sutra, the Prajna Paramita Sutra, and the Diamond (Vajra) Sutra. Once you have recognized this, you should not stop your very fundamental practice for even one day.
First examine oneself, do I have the motivation to be a Buddhist? Then ask oneself, do I know the fundamental truth of Sunyata and of non-egoism? Then you must not only know yourself but also know others. To know others is to know the six realms of transmigration which are so painful. For the Bodhisattva always thinks of all the sentient beings in all the six realms and what is their relationship with him. To help with this practice, the ancient sages in India and Tibet emphasized the so-called seven conditions of relationship with one's mother. The Bodhisattva knows that all sentient beings must be considered and treated as our mother. Why are they our mother? Because we have transmigrated through so many lifetimes and in each lifetime we have had a mother, even two-mothers as a stepmother and a biological mother. Always our mother has loved us a lot, has done many good things for us, has made our body complete in her womb, suffered in bearing us and giving birth to us, and was troubled by us with so many things. This is very easy to know, but nobody takes it into their thoughts; they just think my mother has so much money and keeps it in the bank without giving any to me, what is the use I call her mother! They just think of these kinds of things as a business. They do not think of mother as a great benefactor. So the Bodhicitta cannot rise up within them. Many centers talk about how to be a good son, but there are no good results as they do not actually practice it. They are far from a Bodhisattva's actions. They just think of the money from their mother, father, but never know how to serve them. This is why their Bodhicitta cannot develop very well.
In my book How to Develop the Bodhicitta, I talk not only about consideration for one's mother as mentioned by the Indian and Tibetan Sages, but also have mentioned many things about other kinds of relationships with sentient beings. In it is said that every sentient being is an object for one's Bodhicitta to benefit. So this sentient being is not only a sentient being but he is the beloved son of other Bodhisattvas. Those who have already achieved the accomplishment of the Bodhisattva always work to benefit others, just like the Earth Treasure Bodhisattva who went to Hell to help and save the hell beings.
When Buddha himself was a Bodhisattva he became a bird to save birds, became an elephant, a deer, became many things as he was able to transform himself into any form in order to help that kind of being. So all sentient beings should recognize that they are beloved by the Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas have gone through many incarnations as sentient beings in order to help others. There have been many incarnations of Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Gods, Holy Beings, and Sages in many forms. So we should think that I may know that I myself am a human sentient being, but all others I meet may actually be Buddha, a Bodhisattva, or God. Holy beings appear in all forms to make you have great compassion.
For example, once a Practitioner tried to practice Great Compassion but for three years did not get any inspiration. He asked his Yidam why it was so difficult for him to be inspired. Once this Practitioner came to a street when he saw a dog who was sick with worms on his body. He wanted to help but thought if he tried to take out the worms with his fingers, it would cause much pain, if he tried to take them out with a stick, it would also cause the dog much pain, then he realized the best method was to use his tongue. He used his tongue to help the dog, but thinking that the dog might still not get well, decided to bring it to his home till its disease was cured. So he held the dog not minding its disease. When he put it down, he saw not a dog but the Buddha called Maitreya, the Next Buddha. This dog was actually an incarnation of the great Buddha.
To an ordinary sentient being, it might seem to be just a dog, but actually, as in this case, a sentient being may actually be the incarnation of Buddha or a Bodhisattva or God. If you have Right View you must have such a conception, "Oh, sentient beings are so many but are not really sentient beings but holy beings." When I feed the pigeons in the park I do not think that I am just feeding a sentient being, but I think that this dove is just the God Jehovah himself, that this dove flies to the heart of Jesus, so I do not feed just birds, but feed God. In this way your feeding actions are just like an offering, like a fire sacrifice. When we send birds or fish free, we should also think that the fish are not really just fish but may be God. Just as the fish sent to Jesus with one dollar in his belly to pay the tax was not really a common fish.
Sentient beings are so numerous; we must always think of them and develop the Bodhicitta to save them, to help them awaken, even if you yourself have not perfectly attained Buddhahood. Actually, every sentient being has already been benefitted by Buddha but holy beings must attempt to become sentient beings and love them in order to help them develop their Great Compassion and their Bodhicitta.
I do not sell my books and many people who receive them just put them away, never carefully read them. If a book is unread, what is its use? They just put the books down and say, "Oh, I want teachings from India or Nepal," so they go there and spend much money, come back and still that book sits on the shelf. I am very disappointed, so many foolish people. They receive a lot of teachings, but they do not take care to utilize them. Nobody writes me, "Why is it like this, why not that? From reading your books, I have such questions." Not many persons ask me such things. They say to themselves, "Your book is of no value; I get it freely and so just throw it away." They do not take care of the teachings, so how can they have questions? If they do not have questions, they do not really completely understand. Then if they do not completely understand, how can they really practice? If they do not practice, how can they get a result?
For the Right View we have to first have the good motive, then know what Bodhi and Sunyata means, and what is meant by sentient beings; then know that all sentient beings are suffering and how to save them. You must also learn what is meant by a Bodhisattva, and you have to know that the final truth of the Sunyata is emptiness and non-egoism and also the deep wisdom of the Sunyata; from this you can yourself get happiness from the Sunyata and also can teach others to recognize this Sunyata and really achieve for themselves this happiness. This is very good. If you give food to a sentient being he just eats it in one day; you give him a book, he may recognize a part and then you must continue to help him until he gets the Sunyata itself. If Sunyata itself is realized, then all ego bondage will be finished. When bondage is finished, there is no sorrow. If there is no sorrow, there is just happiness. This kind of happiness you can neither buy with money nor change with sex: you cannot get it from others but just from the Sunyata itself. Most people get happiness just from some modern conditions and afterwards the result of their happiness is just fatigue; I am very excited, I am very tired, and the happiness ends with sadness. Real happiness lies in the Sunyata; when you have the deep wisdom, nothing can trouble you, nothing can make you sad, nothing can control you. You have nothing to be bonded by.
Everyday I pass by shops on my street and see people whom I have never met before who stop and ask me, "Why are you so happy? You seem to be always happy." I reply, "I just forget myself; if you try to forget yourself, you will be happy too!" But this is not so easy. You have to know the sunyata, why real sunyata, why real non-egoism. You must find Non-Egoism. If the ego is finished, then the Sunyata will appear; when the Sunyata appears, deep wisdom comes; when deep wisdom comes, happiness is there. This kind of happiness does not end even with death. This will be everlasting with the Dharmakaya. This concludes the discussion of the first category, the Right Motive or Right View to become a Bodhisattva.
The next step is that you have to practice. We talk about all these teachings, but all seem without embodiment, just a puff of air: How to really do it? That is why we now come to the subject of practice. First, one must practice and develop Bodhicitta. There are five kinds of Bodhicitta, as have already been written about in my book How to Develop the Bodhicitta. In Tibet, China, and India the Bodhicitta is usually considered to be of three kinds; the Bodhicitta of Will, the Bodhicitta of Conduct, and the Bodhicitta of Victorious Significance. The other two I myself have connected with the Tantra: the Bodhicitta of Samadhi and the Bodhicitta of Kunda--the White Bodhi and Red Bodhi. To really practice the Bodhicitta, all five of these must be practiced with none left out.
The first one, Bodhicitta of Will has been well discussed in my book mentioned above, but although two editions and over 2,000 copies have been distributed, very few people have actually written down their own Bodhicitta wills. The Bodhicitta of Will means that you actually make a will to try to do this and do that; you must have such a will and make a vow to yourself to keep your purpose. Your wills should include how to save others. There are many, many good wills; many Bodhisattvas have passed and each Bodhisattva had his own vow. In my book I have given many examples. After you write your wills down, you must remember them daily and think: I have developed such a vow, now how can I make sure it is really carried out? You must not set it aside; if you do, then what's the use? You have to remember to act according to your vow.
The second Bodhicitta of Conduct is that you must continually carry out your Bodhicitta wills. If I vow that I will do this and that, but even in little things I do not want to help others, then the vow is of little use. If you have enough money, but you do not want to use it to do good; if you have enough to help others, but do not do so, what is the use that you have made a vow in writing? You have to really do it. If you have no money, you must continually try to help others in every way. This is the second Bodhicitta.
The third, the Bodhicitta of Victorious Significance, is practiced through meditation. The significance of the Sunyata you have come to know in its real embodiment. This means that at first you just have a conception, but through meditation more and more the signification of the Sunyata will come to you in your meditation. Samadhi will happen and then the Sunyata is no longer just a concept or an idea but really both a powerful spiritual and a physical thing inside. In this way, through your meditation you can develop many kinds of super-natural powers. This Bodhi can really be accomplished by you.
From this, how can I help others? In the Bodhi of the Sunyata we are all the same entity, the same body. Just as when I take something to help a part of my body, all parts are also helped; so when we recognize that every sentient being is within the same truth and is within the same body of the Dharmakaya, if we pull a single hair out we feel pain and the whole body feels pain. This does not mean that only the hair itself has pain but the pain is felt throughout the whole body. Pain is not only pain in one's heart or pain in one's feet, but if any part of the body is in pain, the whole body will share it. The Dharmakaya includes every sentient being, that is why my good condition can influence you and your good condition can influence me, my pain you may share, your pain I may share. That is why we can help each other.
The Hinayana view is that everyone is separate from one another, each has his own Karma, as is said in Hinayana doctrine, "Your karma you must cure yourself; the Buddha is in Nirvana and cannot do anything for you." This kind of belief is Hinayana because it wants you to help yourself first and to emphasize the self. But actually in the Dharmakaya every sentient being is one body, there are no two Dharmakayas. There is only one Dharmakaya which includes every sentient being. Every sentient being suffers and that is why the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have great compassion because we are all one; while we are suffering they are suffering. That is why they develop so great a compassion. When you suffer they really share it. If you practice the Sunyata and the real embodiment of the Dharmakaya, then you can know the whole body of all sentient beings and can really help them.
The three Bodhicitta of Will, Conduct and Victorious Significance must be practiced first. Then the fourth, the Bodhicitta of Samadhi can be practiced. The Bodhicitta of Samadhi is two-fold. The Bodhicittas of Will, Conduct and Victorious Significance are all connected with mentality, with the mind, and never join with the elements and matter as does the Bodhicitta of Samadhi which connects both mind and matter.
In the Bodhicitta of Samadhi Practice you must visualize one's heart as a lotus and upon this there is a round moon which symbolizes the worldly bodhi. On the moon stands a vajra or dorje which symbolizes extra-mundane bodhi. The dorje has five spokes on top and five spokes on the bottom of its form; the upside five symbolize the five wisdoms, while downside are the five elements. In such a way mentality and materiality are brought together and practiced. Light shines out from this dorje and spreads throughout the whole universe which shares in this light. Through this light all bad and evil things of sentient beings are transformed into light so that Buddha's light is able to save all sentient beings by these kinds of Bodhis. We emphasize light and emphasize the Samadhi Bodhi which is connected with the elements. The Universe is full of the elements which are also transformed into light. Because this Bodhicitta of Samadhi is connected and joined with all the elements of materiality and is not just in the realm of mentality, this Bodhicitta of Samadhi can very easily be manifested and can easily be used to help sentient beings. It is thus very important.
Even though this kind of Samadhi is joined with all the elements of matter, there is still among matter two important subtle principles, the passive and the active, represented by the red bodhi and the white bodhi. The Bodhicitta of Kunda utilizes this white bodhi and red bodhi which are the essential of the elements in the practice of Vajra Love. Through Vajra Love the red and white bodhi help each other meet and mix the Wisdom of the Dakini with the Buddha's Great Compassion. Great Compassion is from the white bodhi and Deep Wisdom is from the red bodhi; when both are perfectly blended together, the Bodhicitta of Kunda can function perfectly. A sentient being is not only consciousness but also matter; not just common matter but also the essential of the white and red bodhi. In this way the Bodhicitta of Kunda is perfectly practiced. For details you may see my book.
Don't think, "Oh, someday I will study and practice this; I have no need to hurry because I already have the teaching in the book." For every two hundred books given away, perhaps one person actually tries to begin the practice. If you are not forced to spend money, you do not think it is a very valuable book. If you cannot recognize the theory, how can you practice it. To practice means you must recognize it, meditate upon it, and visualize it; this is practice.
Conduct refers to what you perform in society. One of my booklets entitled Mahayana Silas mentions the Bodhisattva vows. These concern how a Bodhisattva should practice in society and in the nation. I have translated forty-nine of them very simply below:
Comment: Someone may like only to practice Samadhi so they always keep Samadhi and do not help others. This is not what a Bodhisattva should do. Every day such a one should practice this vinaya to the right degree. If the person is too attached to the experience of Samadhi then he will not do anything to help others and will be lacking in the Great Compassion. This is why this vow forbids such practice.
Comment: If you learn too much Hinayana this is not so good; if you do not take care to learn some Hinayana, this is also not so good. Both are mentioned.
Comment: There is no contradiction between these last two. You must first practice Hinayana to attain the Mahayana position of Bodhisattva. Once you achieve the Mahayana, you should not give up Hinayana. The Mahayana person must still keep impermanence, still keep renunciation. Even if you keep in touch with many persons to save them, you still must keep renunciation for yourself. This is why if any day is without three times of meditation, the person did not keep the Bodhisattva vow.
Comment: This means that you should not only devote yourself to the study of the Dharma but should also learn a little worldly knowledge. Because a Bodhisattva has to teach others, he has to know also about worldly knowledge. Two thirds of your daily study should be on the Dharma, and one third on worldly knowledge.
These vows are not so difficult to practice but must be always continued and held even after death. There are many kinds of vinaya such as the five precepts, namely, no killing, no lying, no adultery, no stealing, no taking in of intoxicants, and also the 250 silas of the Bhikshu and those of Bhiksuhni all of which can be stopped at death; when one dies there is no duty to continue them. But the Bodhisattva vows must be continued even after you die because they are mostly vows of the mind. There is no physical body after death so the vows connected with the physical body can be stopped, but the vows connected with the mind must be continued. If you have a Bodhisattva mind, even after death when you come to the ghost or Bardo state, you must still keep your vows. That is why the Bodhisattva vows seem very easy to practice but they must continually be kept.
You must read one by one the vows that you have accepted every week or every month and reflect upon whether you have kept it or have broken it.
Another part of Conduct is to practice the Six Paramitas which many books have mentioned: give alms, keep vinaya, have patience, diligence, keep samatha, and keep the wisdom. These all are conducts also connected with all sentient beings.
We have talked about the two categories of practice and conduct. Practice means to practice alone, in your Samadhi, with your vows, but Conduct is the performance of conduct which is connected with others. This is not practice alone but practice connected with others, whether you work in a hospital or in an office, or you do something for the nation. All your actions you must examine to see whether you have acted according to your vow or not.
The next topic is the Result or Consequence of becoming a Bodhisattva and refers to the Buddha. The Buddha as we have already said has another name of "Two Noble Feet"; one is the Great Compassion and one is Deep Wisdom. If through your meditation you can perfectly attain these two branches, then this is the Buddha, this is Nirvana. The Hinayana says that when Buddha is in Nirvana he can do nothing for us, but we should know the Buddha is not like this. Actually the Buddha's Nirvana is called "No-Abiding Nirvana." He does not abide in the Nirvana as the Nirvana is naturally there; there is no door to keep it or lock it.
You must always do everything aimed at this final result. This means today I give incense, offer food to the image and just pray, "Please help me and all sentient beings get very close to the full enlightenment, and help me attain all the degrees of the Bodhisattva, all the degrees of the Ten Bhumis very easily, aiming at the Buddhahood." If you do every good merit, as sending fish free or precious vases to the Dragon King not for worldly purposes only but for the attainment of full enlightenment, for the Buddhahood, and have as your aim how to get it, gathering more and more merit, then Nirvana will be closer and closer to you.
Nirvana does not mean that you have supernatural powers, that you can fly to the sky or can call something out from the heavens, this is not really the Nirvana. The Nirvana has four conditions: One is Permanence. We always talk about impermanence but Nirvana is permanent because it is connected with the Truth. The Truth has no ending, no beginning; the truth is, was, and will be, it has no end; that is why we have the Tantra of No-Death. So Nirvana is permanent. The second condition is Happiness. This is a happiness without pain. Much worldly happiness is connected with pain, but the Nirvanic happiness is without pain. This happiness is not so rough but very sweet, very tranquil. The third condition is the Personality of the Holy Dharmakaya. The Holy Dharmakaya is Buddha's personality. Don't think Buddha is empty, for Buddha has his holy personality, without ego. The fourth condition is Purity; Nirvana is very pure, very naturally pure without worldly things. These are the four conditions of the Nirvana of Buddhahood.
To reach this result, I repeat that what is very important is to have the good motive not for sex, not for wine, not for worldliness or money or reputation, not for fame, but just for oneself to be awake and to have the ability to help others to be awakened. This is most important. Always examine oneself.
I have talked about how to become a Bodhisattva, but there are ten Bhumis or Stages of being a Bodhisattva. Now I will talk about these ten bhumis, their names and meaning, what the practices of each of the ten bhumis are and how to shorten the time of the ten bhumis by Vajrayana practice. I will begin with the names and brief description of each of the ten stages:
You may ask, Why are there so many stages? A Bodhisattva has already met the Sunyata in the first stage, and as you said the Sunyata is the most important thing, then why are there so many more stages? The next topic we must thus cover is about the main practices connected with each of the ten Bhumis.
The second part of this practice is that from Sunyata the Bodhisattva has learned the subjective non-form thought method but he still doesn't have the means to conveniently use it to help others. He can not yet really carry out nonform thought, as forms still appear.
This is a basic outline of the practices of the Ten Bhumis. To talk is very easy, the practice is very difficult. We all are not Bodhisattvas but I just speak according to what books and the Buddha have said on this matter. Because this practice is so subtle, so deep and so complex, the Bodhisattva according to Mahayana doctrine must practice a very long time, a duration called the three great Kalpas. A Kalpa is a Sanskrit term which means a certain number of years during which the earth is created and destroyed. Yet it is said that the Bodhisattva should not hate transmigration and must not tire of being reborn many, many times in order to save others. In Chinese history there was a person who announced that he was a Bodhisattva who came back to atone for his past sins and that he would be killed at a certain time by a certain person. He was really killed in such a way and came to show sentient beings the direct chain of cause and effect. He said he would be born again and would not tire of rebirth in order to help others.
The Mahayana scriptures speak of the three great Kalpas of many years necessary to achieve Buddhahood, but the Tantra has a special method to shorten the time of practice to one lifetime.
We are not exactly either Mahayana Bodhisattvas or Vajrayana Vajrasattvas but as we have contacted so many gurus, his Holiness Karmapa and his Tantra, we can at least say we are believers of this Tantra. The Tantra always says everybody can get Buddhahood in this lifetime. How to so shorten the practice? The ten bhumis are a certain distance one has to go, just like on earth we might want to go from Berkeley to Oakland, and from Oakland to San Francisco. There is a certain map, with certain stations and stops along the way. By walking it may take us many days to complete our journey, by bus a few hours, and by airplane still faster. But even an airplane must pass certain places. The pilot may not be able to make them out very clearly, but he must still pass those landmarks. You must know this is Oakland, this is Berkeley, this is Shattuck Avenue. On the map it may be very clear, but the person himself must know the landmarks otherwise he will miss the way.
So how can the Tantra allow you to complete the practice in one lifetime, so short a time, when compared with three Kalpas which are so very long? This is a very important question. According to what I have read in the Tantra, there are many reasons to allow us to believe this.
Along the ten bhumis there are what are called five paths. So when we talk about how to shorten the time of practice, we must talk both about all the five paths and ten stages and the three Kalpas. In the first great Kalpa must be gathered the first two paths. These are the Path of Spiritual Food and the Path of Foregoing, the Preparation. These two paths are preparations before the Bodhisattva reaches the first Bhumi. This means that when a person comes to a Buddhist altar he cannot immediately say he is a Bodhisattva but he must do many things first: worship, offer mandalas, incense, all those things called spiritual food. You have to prepare spiritual food because you have a long way to go and must store up spiritual food to pass through all the necessary places. But this is all still before reaching the first bhumi of Bodhisattva.
The second path of Foregoing, the Preparation, continues the more subtle preparations. As the nine stages of Samatha practice is a kind of preparation for good meditation, the Path of Spiritual Food is a rough, common preparation, as giving offerings, doing something good, giving alms. The second path of Foregoing, the Preparation, is for the concentration, for all the breathing and subtle preparations for the entire practice. These two paths are within the first Kalpa. According to Mahayana, before one becomes a Bodhisattva one has to gather the preparation of these two paths.
The Third Path coincides with the first Bhumi and is called the Path of Right View. The Right View refers to the first, you get the Sunyata View. That is why this path begins with the first bhumi. That means you not only read the Prajna Paramita Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Diamond Sutra, gathering this kind of spiritual food, but really feel the Sunyata, exactly touch and realize the Sunyata; this is called the Path of Right View. You really see it, not just think and read of it. The Spiritual Food Path and the Foregoing, the Preparation, Path are just like a map, but the Right View Path actually brings you inside into the very place. At first you only know Berkeley on the map and you just prepare your car to go there, but the Path of Right View means you have already finished your journey and arrived there at least as far as the boundary and have seen that place in fact. This is the Bodhisattva Path of Right View.
The fourth path is called the Practice Path and extends from the second bhumi to the seventh bhumi. This means that before you have seen the Sunyata you have not really started to practice, for every moment of real practice must be with the Sunyata. Without entering the Sunyata your practice is just a preparation. When you have the Right View of Sunyata you then meditate more and more and enter this Path of Practice, finally achieving the eighth bhumi. The first Kalpa is needed for the first two paths of Spiritual Food and Preparation, while the second Kalpa is used to see the Sunyata and really practice it.
From the eighth bhumi to Buddhahood is called the Non-Practice Path. From the eighth bhumi on, the Bodhisattva actually practices very nicely but he still has a practice, a practical religion, so he must now refine that until it comes naturally, then his practice will seem no practice at all. This is the so-called Non-Practice Path. Through this you can become Buddha. This last Path takes the last great Kalpa to achieve.
Because of this progressive practice, the Mahayana needs the Three Great Kalpas. The first great Kalpa includes the Spiritual Food Path and the Foregoing, the Preparation, Path. From the first bhumi to the seventh are the third and fourth paths, The Path of Right View and the Path of Practice which take the second great Kalpa. From the eighth bhumi to Buddhahood is the fifth path of Non-Practice and the third Kalpa. Now that you know the three Kalpas, you must know how to shorten the time of practice through the Tantra of Vajrayana.
The first Kalpa can be quickly shortened through the Tantra. In other kinds of practices you worship one deity, you repeat his incantation one by one. But in Tantra there are methods to visualize one person worshiping many, many Buddhas and before each of the many, many Buddhas there are many, many practitioners worshiping there. So that when you repeat one incantation, it is not only oneself that repeats it, but also the Buddhas repeat with you and the six realms of sentient beings all follow you to repeat the incantation. For example, yesterday when I performed a cemetery puja I visualized not only all the ghosts in the Piedmont cemetery but all the ghosts of the whole world, and not only those in the whole world but all the ghosts of the whole universe so that all the dead persons in all the cemeteries came together. This kind of visualization is from Tantra and not from Mahayana. It makes the spiritual food of only one minute equal to that of one Kalpa. How can you do it? When you receive initiation from the Guru, the initiation is from the Sunyata and the Sunyata is the whole universe so the whole universe takes part in the practice. That is why when I send fish free I repeat the following stanza which I composed:
I send you from Samsara and Nirvana,
Return to your home--the place of Tathata;
When one is sent, all sentient beings are sent too,
Born from non-born, you are the same as Buddha.
This means that the fish we set free are representative and these fish are not only together with all the fish of the same species, but also all creatures in the oceans and all animals; not only all animals, but all sentient beings, not only all sentient beings but also all those that have no sense, even stones, these all together we set free to return to the Dharmakaya.
Through such Tantric practices, the first two paths can be easily completed! The next question is how to shorten the second Kalpa? This occurs when the Guru gives you the initiation and points out the Sunyata and makes you really see the Sunyata immediately. This is not just talk but really happens when one gets the initiation from a Guru. The practitioner can immediately get the first Bhumi at that very moment. Upon which if again one practices the Mahamudra through some months or years, one may get the seven Bhumis. The sage Biwapa got initiation from Damama and he immediately attained the sixth Bhumi. So this Kalpa is also very easy to shorten, but this cannot be done through talk but the Guru must really have power. If the Guru is a real Guru, and the student is a real student, then this does not become just talk. This is indeed possible as can be seen from the many good examples in history. You yourself may not be able to achieve it, but it has already been attained by others so you cannot say there is nothing to this concept; this is not a lie. The second Kalpa is so gentle because the initiation into the Sunyata which the Guru will give happens in the very moment of the initiation. This is the way to jump over the second Kalpa.
The third Kalpa encompasses the stages from the eighth bhumi to Buddhahood. The Great Perfection of the Nyingmapa can immediately give you the power of the Non-Practice Path. If you can accept it, you immediately can attain the highest stage within that very moment. They emphasize that the perfect view is without practice, without stages, there is no real bondage, hence no need of liberation. So why cannot a person achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime? This is how to shorten the practice. The first Kalpa is shortened by many kinds of good mystic visualizations. The second Kalpa is shortened by the Sunyata power, and the third Kalpa is shortened by the Great Perfection of what the Nyingmapa call Tzobachenpo.
In the Tantric Dharma the Guru must be visualized as Buddha himself and he makes his students also as Buddha. He is able to bring the Buddha himself into your body, your body also meets him and becomes Buddha, your mind becomes Buddha, your speech becomes Buddha, all very quickly. This can indeed be attained, but actually it is not so easy even in one whole lifetime. I have practiced much, but I cannot say I am Buddha. But the theory, the possibility is real and is there. I'm sorry, I'm not a good example of a Tantric Practitioner. Thank You.