The Bodhisattva Stands Alone

Here is something that I posted several years ago. I’m posting it again because I may have picked up a few readers since then who missed it.

I think this is a tremendously powerful piece that captures the spirit of sacrifice and dedication central to the Bodhisattva Path and I find it very inspiring. It’s actually two passages strung together from the “Vajradhvaja Sutra” and “Aksayamati-nirdesa,” both Mahayana sutras. I first ran across this piece in an anthology, “World of the Buddha: An Introduction to the Buddhist Literature” by Lucien Stryk. I’ve adapted it from the original English source, “Shantiveda’s Sikaasamuccaya (Compendium of Doctrine)” ed. Cecil Bendall; St. Petersburg, 1902

The word “bodhisattva” means “enlightening-being.” In Tibetan Buddhism, a bodhisattva is referred to as a “mind-hero.” The bodhisattva, motivated by compassion, makes a vow to liberate all beings by taking on all their sufferings:

The bodhisattva stands alone, without a companion, and she puts on the armor of supreme wisdom. She acts on her own, leaving nothing to others, working with a will steeled with courage and strength. Strong in the strength of her own strength, she resolves thus: “Whatever all beings should obtain, I will help them to obtain.

Kuan Yin contemplating Samsara

“The virtue of generosity is not my helper, I am the helper of generosity. Nor do the virtues of morality, patience, courage, meditation and wisdom help me, it is I who help them. The actions of the bodhisattva do not support me,  it is I who support them . . . I alone, standing in this round and adamantine world, must subdue all evil, and develop supreme enlightenment with the wisdom of instantaneous insight!”

Just as the rising sun, the child of the Buddhas is not stopped by all the dust rising from the four continents of the earth or by wreaths of smoke or by rugged mountains, so the bodhisattva, the Great Being is not deterred from bringing to fruition the root of good, whether by the malice of others, or by their sin, or error, or by their agitation of mind. She will not lay down her arms of enlightenment because of the corrupt generations of men, nor does she waver in her resolution to save the world because of their wretched quarrels. She does not lose heart on account of their faults . . .

“All creatures are in pain,” she resolves, “all suffer from bad and hindering karma and they cannot see the Buddhas or hear the Excellent Dharma or know the Community of Followers. All that mass of pain and evil karma I take into my own body. I take upon myself the burden of sorrow; I resolve to do so; I endure it all. I do not turn back or run away, I do not tremble,  I am not afraid,  nor do I despair. Assuredly, I must bear the burdens of all beings for I have resolved to save them all. I must set them all free. I must save the whole world from the forest of birth, old age, disease, and rebirth, from misfortune and sin, from the round of birth and death, from the toils of delusion. For all beings are caught in the net of craving, encompassed by ignorance, held by the desire for existence; they are doomed to destruction, shut in a cage of pain. They are ignorant, untrustworthy, full of doubts, always at odds with one another, always prone to see evil; they cannot find a refuge in the ocean of existence; they are all on the edge of the gulf of destruction.

“I work to establish the realm of transcendent wisdom for all beings. I care not at all for my own deliverance. I must save all beings from the torrent of misery with the raft of my omniscient mind. I must pull them back from the great precipice. I must free them from all misfortune, ferry them over the sea of suffering.

“For I have taken it upon myself, by my own will, the whole of the pain of all living things. Thus I dare try every abode of pain, in every part of the universe, for I must not defraud the world of the root of good. I resolve to dwell in each state of misfortune through countless ages, for the sake of all beings. For it is better that I alone suffer than that all beings sink into the worlds of misfortune. I shall give myself in bondage, to redeem the entire world from the pits of hell, from the province of death. I shall bear all grief and pain in my own body, for the good of all living things, speaking the truth, not breaking my word. I shall not forsake them.

I must be the leader of all beings, I must be their torchbearer, I must be their guide to safety, and I must not wait for the help of another, nor lose my resolve and leave my tasks to another. I must not turn back in my efforts to save all beings nor cease to use my merit for the destruction of all pain.”


6 thoughts on “The Bodhisattva Stands Alone

  1. Now that’s something to focus on… “other” – thanks for that. I never realised such beautiful works existed in the Mahayana Sutras. I’ll have to start reading them now as I’ve only (predictably) read the Lotus…

  2. Thank you very much. It is not only bringing tears to my eyes, but a clear sense of resolution towards the Path.

    You’re really kind in sharing this wonderful text with us.

    Thank you.

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