Yesterday, we attended a Dharma talk delivered by Brother Shieh at the comfy home of Brother Brian and his wife, Sister Connie, with the usual accompaniment of delicious food. The topic of the day was The Sutra of the Eight Bodhisattva Realizations, which is based on Brother Shieh’s English translation of the title of the Sutra in Chinese. This Sutra summarizes the eight essential ways toward attaining enlightenment as enunciated by the Buddha himself. A slight variation of the English translated title, Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, together with the translated full text, is accessible at the website of the Buddha Gate Monastery. In Buddhist parlance, Great Beings is an alternative term for Bodhisattvas.
While perhaps small in number and laconic in verses, each of the eight realizations covers expansive grounds and entails profound ramifications that are inter-related. A practical way to embracing the eight realizations, as outlined by Brother Shieh (seen here doing the preamble outlining his approach to the talk), is to follow the sequential steps comprising:
1) Memorization and recitation of the Sutra. This will ensure that the Sutra will reside in our subconscious and can be invoked at will, much like our own name when asked.
2) Reading interpretative texts and listening to Dharma talks on the Sutra. This will facilitate our understanding of the correct meanings and implications intended by the Buddha.
3) Ruminations on the teachings embodied in the Sutra. We need to contemplate, chew, and mull on the teachings, bringing to bear our unique life experiences conditioned by individual circumstances, and be awe-struck when the realizations hit.
4) Mental Transformation. The realizations should then propel a mental transformation toward actualization and manifestation of the Buddha teachings in our daily life.
From a personal perspective, the first two steps seem passive and relatively easier to achieve. But precisely because the first two tasks do not demand great effort other than prioritizing time for them, most followers also tend to stagnate at this stage, and fail to think long, hard, and deep so as to be able to follow through and eventually benefit from the Buddha teachings.
Brother Shieh spent about three and a half hours leading us through the first three realizations, including a Q & A session at the end. The session was sprinkled with personal anecdotes that helped bring home the messages, interspersed with examples of dealing with specific circumstances such as employing the right tone and nuances for communication.
The first realization encapsulates the notions of impermanence and no-self. This is perhaps easier to grasp if we were to view all things, including life-form, as assemblages or fabrications, or compounds comprising constituents which in turn are assembled from yet minuscule constituents. For example, our body is composed of the four elements: earth (bones and skeleton), water (blood), fire (heat/temperature), and wind (gaseous substance). Our body undergoes regeneration constantly, and we age by the seconds, and experience the great equalizer of all, death. It is the same with any inanimate object, say a wooden table. The wooden pieces are from trees, and in the process of turning a felled tree into wood, various ingredients such as preservatives, are added. Despite that, the finished product continues to undergo physical expansion/shrinkage brought about by changes in heat and moisture content in the air, and other more subtle chemical reactions that manifest in color change. As they say, change is the only constant in life, literally. So if we could internalize that nothing is permanent, then we are more inclined to accept that whatever our attachments to worldly stuff, including our body, our look, and our possessions, are merely transitory. Then letting go becomes relatively painless, much less a struggle.
On the other hand, the notion of no-self does not imply that we disregard our self and do not take care of our body. It’s removing our own selves from the equation, it’s putting ourselves in others’ shoes. It’s about helping others and giving. And to do that, we need a healthy body and a wholesome mind. Here Brother Shieh was driving home the point (as evident from his clenched fist) that we need to take care of our physical body in order to serve a greater purpose: a life of wisdom.
The second realization advocates minimal desires, realizing that craving leads to vicious competition and places excessive demands on our limited resources. When acquiring a new possession, always ask ourselves: do I need it? And not do I want it. In this age of one-upmanship and keeping up with the Joneses, to not to compare may be hard to resist. But the least we can do is to compare with those less endowed than us to satisfy our warped sense of superiority.
The third realization denounces and hence, renounces an insatiable appetite. And we do that by cultivating contentment. Feel blessed with what we already have. Lead a simple life. In the end, a status symbol is just that, a symbol, and an imaginary one at that. It confers no tangible substance, let alone permanence.
Until conditions permit the continuation of the Dharma talk on the Sutra by Brother Shieh, let’s contemplate on the first three realizations. You are more than welcome to share the fruits of your ruminations and experiences of your actualizations in mutual support of our forward march toward enlightenment.