Four Ways to Practice Being a Bodhisattva

Mahayana Buddhism encourages everyone to become a Bodhisattva.

What is a Bodhisattva?

A being that is dedicated to working toward the Awakening of all beings. A being who is motivated by compassion and wisdom to help others.

It’s thought that the Bodhisattva ideal was created as an alternative to the monk ideal. In the monk ideal, one would leave the world behind and practice as a hermit in a monastery or cave until attaining Enlightenment. In the Bodhisattva ideal, one stays in the world with the rest of humanity and practices there. This is still debated today. I think disappearing from the world is not all that helpful.

Ram Dass said, “If you think you’re Enlightened, go spend a few hours with your relatives on Thanksgiving.”

Ram Dass is not a Buddhist, but I think his point is really relevant here.

So, here are four methods to help us practice being Bodhisattvas.

1) Cultivate the 6 Perfections: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. These are the positive, active virtues of the Bodhisattva. Once we have resolved to avoid harming others, the next logical step is to cultivate these virtues in order to help them. To me the cultivation of the six perfections is the central part of Buddhist practice.

2) The art of dharma communication. This means the Bodhisattva helps those who are not Buddhists learn about Buddhist practice, not necessarily so they become Buddhists. We aren’t seeking to convert anyone. We only want to spread compassion and wisdom. Also the Bodhisattva helps those who are already Buddhists to become better Buddhists and engage the path more successfully.

3) Bring benefit to others. A Bodhisattva must be generous and helpful. They must praise and encourage others whenever possible. Help others or at least don’t hurt them.

4) Seek Enlightenment for the self and others as a major focus of life. The Bodhisattva must share awakened awareness with others and not use it for personal gain.

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project, the largest virtual mindfulness community in the world. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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