Day 6: Summoning the World to Buddhahood

On Thu, 23 March, 2023 - 20:44
Vidyamala's picture

Today we arrive at Chapter 9 – The Perfection of Understanding. This is the penultimate chapter covering the final paramita of Wisdom.

The first verse lays out the central importance of this as the culmination of all that has come previously in the Bodhicaryavatara:

It is for the sake of understanding that the Sage taught this entire collection of preparations. Therefore, in the desire to put an end to suffering, one should develop understanding.

‘Understanding’ here of course means the profoundest wisdom that sees into the true nature of things. The problem Santideva has with this chapter is that this true nature is beyond words and entirely empty, according to the Madhyamaka school he adhered to, so how on earth can he communicate this truth using words?

Luckily it was Dhivan, the scholar on the team, who got to play with this material and take us through how Santideva dealt with this problem – mainly by a series of refutations of other existing schools of thought.

He did it full of his inspiration and enthusiasm for the Dharma, all informed by his love of scholarly things and an amazing ability to think critically and clearly. Truly it was a delight to listen to him and I enjoyed the intellectual ‘stretch’ this demanded. [See my notes: Page 1, Page 2]

After his talk we were treated to a debate from Santideva (acted by Dharmamayi) and a Cittamatrin (acted by Dhivan). This was fantastic and a masterclass in Santideva demolishing the poor hapless Cittamatrin’s views.

It was quite a morning of intensity and I think many of us welcomed the grounding effect of baked beans and baked potatoes for lunch!

This afternoon we had the usual groups and Bodhicitta practice followed by the Bodhicaryavatara puja in the evening.

This is the last full day and we all head home in the morning.

It has been an amazing retreat on so many levels and I leave filled up with Dharma, friendship and the mysterious beauty of Adhisthana.

I was reflecting yesterday on how the retreat has allowed us to plunge into the Santideva’s uncompromising, even shocking, approach and yet the atmosphere has been so light, bright and positive. How mysterious! How has that arisen?

Here is a list of the factors that I feel have contributed to that:

  • A committed sangha on the retreat (both residential and online).
  • The presence of the Adhisthana community going about their lives and exuding friendship and welcome to the rest of us.
  • The great beauty of the environment – it has been quietly breath-taking to see nature blossoming this week – quite literally in the case of the magnolia and the bush by the shrine room that I pass each day. I don’t know its name, but I know its colour and scent which have been glorious.
  • The toads and newts that we have all been mindful of as we leave the shrine room each evening – beautiful little creatures that have greeted us on the path.
  • An approach to the Dharma life that prioritises both mindfulness and metta and constantly brings these qualities down-to-earth so they are lived realities rather than just abstract principles.
  • Our Triratna emphasis on friendship and being real with one another, exemplified in the small groups that met each day both residentially and online.
  • Our Triratna emphasis on a broad and deep approach to practice drawing on the whole tradition, so we have been able to hold Santideva’s particular approach in a wider context of understanding.
  • Our Triratna emphasis on the centrality of Bodhicitta – constantly engaging with our Dharma life for the sake of all. Santideva communicates this magnificently as a central theme and we practised the Bodhicitta meditation every day at 5 pm which connected us with this lineage.

This retreat has felt very complete and a rich offering of all that we need to progress along the path:

  • Listening to a Dharma text
  • Magnificent talks each day
  • Meditating together
  • Small group discussions
  • Puja in the evenings

What more could we need?

I very much hope you’ll be able to get on a retreat offered by Adhisthana, either residentially or online.

There is a rich programme that you can see here.

I’d also really encourage you to look at this gorgeous booklet edited by Danasamudra and designed by Dhammarati to mark the 10th anniversary of the existence of Adhisthana.

11 years ago Adhisthana was a school for autistic children. Earlier on it was the headquarters for an oil company. Remarkably, now it is a ‘thin place’ where the contact between realms feels delicate and refined. The golden light of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas feels tangibly present.

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