Morality

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The rest of chapter five deals with the perfection of morality and the guarding of awareness. In verse V.11 Śāntideva asks, “Where can fish and other creatures be taken where I might not kill them? Yet when the mental attitude to cease from worldly acts is achieved, that is agreed to be the perfection of morality.” As with the perfection of generosity, the important thing for Śāntideva is the cultivation of an underlying attitude of non-violence and self-discipline, rather than merely trying to arrange external relations so as to keep oneself from harming others. He continues in verse V.12, “How many wicked people, as unending as the sky, can I kill? But when the mental attitude of anger is slain, slain is every enemy.” The idea seems to be that if you don’t make enemies, you won’t have enemies, and in this way one rids the world bit-by-bit of enmity starting with one’s own attitude. Of course, others may try to make you into an enemy, but if you are a bodhisattva you will not reciprocate their enmity, and will instead try to change the adversarial relationship into something more productive. In verses V.13-14 Śāntideva reflects, “Where is there hide to cover the whole world? The wide world can be covered with hide enough for a pair of shoes alone. In the same way, since I cannot control external events, I will control my own mind. What concern is it of mine whether other things are controlled?” The perfection of morality is here defined as minding one’s own business. Instead of trying to control the outside world and other people we instead focus on controlling our own minds so that instead of seeing problems (or making) problems we see and implement solutions.

Śāntideva points out that our practice will come to nothing if we are not aware of what we are doing. We need to be vigilant and aware of the causes that we are making or failing to make. In verse V.16 he says that the Buddha has “declared that all recitation and austerity, even though performed over a long time, is completely useless if the mind is on something else or is dull.” In vese V.17 Śāntideva warns, “Those who have not developed this mind, which is hidden and contains the whole sum of dharmas, wander the compass in vain trying to attain happiness and destroy suffering.” Unless the practitioner is mindful, any other practice they undertake will be undermined by thoughtlessness and carelessness, whereby the true spirit of even the most excellent teaching and practice will be lost. Verse V.18 states, “Therefore I should manage and guard my mind well. If I let go of the vow to guard my mind, what will become of my many other vows.”

In terms of Nichiren Shū practice, it is not enough to simply chant the Lotus Sūtra or the Odaimoku, we must be fully present to our practice and the true spirit of our practice. This is the purpose for the unzō, or passages for “directing thought,” used in Nichiren Shū practice. Their purpose is to help focus one’s thoughts in a deep and contemplative way on the practice of reciting the sūtra or Odaimoku. Otherwise, faith, practice, and study will all be undermined by lack of awareness. As Śāntideva says in verses V.25-26, “What is heard, reflected upon, or cultivated in meditation, like water in a leaky jar, does not stay in the memory of a mind which lacks awareness. Many, though learned, possessing faith, and though absorbed in effort, are befouled by offenses due to the fault of lacking awareness.”

In verses V.27-33, it is argued that mindfulness should always be guarding the door of the mind from the robbers of the defilements. The shame one feels for having committed offences, the respect one has for one’s teachers and for the buddhas and bodhisattas who have unobstructed spiritual vision can therefore observe one’s actions, and fear of falling into the hells are three things that enable one to always maintain mindfulness of one’s actions (V.32).

Śāntideva resolves that he “should act at all times as if lacking senses, like a block of wood.” (V.34, see also V.48-53) In other words, one should not be constantly pushed and pulled by one’s attachments and aversions but remain still and silent, acting only in an intelligent, thoughtful and helpful way and not impusively under the control of the defilements. As he says, “in all situations one should proceed only after ascertaining what needs to be done.” (V.38) One should always keep the mind concentrated and not let it wander, and when acting he says, “One should think of nothing else other than that which one has decided to undertake, with heart fully involved there, until it is completed. For in this way everything is done well.” (V.43-44) Also, “When one wishes to move or speak, first one should examine one’s mind, and then act appropriately and with self-possession.” (V.47) This is a prescription for living life in a thoughtful and intentional way, with a mind as unshakeable as Mount Sumeru (V.58).

Verses V.59-79 are a reflection on how the bodhisattva should relate to his or her body. Here Śāntideva reflects that it makes no sense to identify with the body or act more protectively of the body than the mind. He reflects on the impurity of the body (filled as it is with sweat, mucus, urine, feces, and other substances that we usually consider dirty) and that if analyzed there can be found no unchanging essence that can be identified as the sef-nature. Śāntideva does acknowledge that the body should be protected, but only so that it can be utilized as the “implent of action for the benefit of humankind.” (V.66) Even though one protects the body, it should never be forgotten that the body cannot last and will inevitably become food for vultures (V.67-68). One should therefore regard the body like a laborer, or a ship that can be set on course to “fulfill the needs of beings.” (V.69-70)

Śāntideva also addresses the relative importance of each of the six perfections and exceptions to their practice. In verses V.83-84 he says, “Each of the perfections, beginning with generosity, is more excellent than its predecessor. One should not neglect a higher one for the sake of a lower, unless because of a fixed rule of conduct. Realizing this, one should always be striving for others’ well-being. Even what is proscribed is permitted for a compassionate person who sees it will be of benefit.” (See also V.42) This means that morality has more precedence than generosity, partience has more precedence than morality, and so on up to the perfectin of wisdom, which is the guide and ultimate aim of the first five. Overriding this order of precedence, however, is the well-being of others, and for the sake of others even what would not normally be permitted can be done. This can lead to all kinds of rationalizations, however, so it must be emphasized any action must be motivated by compassion and guided by wisdom.

In the Perfection of Skillful Means Sūtra, the Buddha tells a story about his past life as the leader of a group of five hundred traders (who were also bodhisattvas) to illustrate such an exceptional case wherein even a bodhisattva might have to kill out of compassion. Among the traders was a robber who was planning on killing them all, a crime for which he would have to spend many ages in hell. The bodhisattva, named Great Compassion, learns of this plot and so kills the robber himself, so as to protect the lives of the five hundred bodhisatta-traders, and to prevent the robber from performing an evil action that would land him in hell. Great Compassion is even prepared to fall into hell himself for the act of killing. The Buddha explains, however, that because he had killed the robber as a skillful means motivated solely by compassion he was able to avoid suffering and attain buddhahood and even the murdered robber was able to be reborn in heaven rather than hell. (Chang, pp. 456-457) The moral, so to speak, of the story is that the morality of the bodhisattva is not guided by rigid standards or fixed set of rules but only by compassion and an ability to discern what precise action will best alleviate the suffering of all concerned in any given situation.

An important caveat to all the self-sacrificing idealism appears in verses V.86-87. “The body serves the True Dharma. One should not harm it for some inferior reason. For it is the only way that one can quickly fulfill the hopes of living beings. Therefore one should not relinquish one’s life for someone whose disposition to compassion is not as pure. But for someone whose disposition is comparable, one should relinquish it. That way, there is no overall loss.” This would appear to mean that the advanced bodhisattva would not give their lives for another unless that other person were also an advanced person, and that giving one’s life even to protect an innocent though not suffiently advanced person is not appropriate. It would also seem to invalidate all the past life stories of the Buddha wherein he gives his life to save others, including even a family of hungry tigers. These two verses raise a lot of questions, but at the very least they warn the bodhisattva not to become an indiscriminate martyr but to think through all the consequences of their actions for other beings in the long term.

Many of the other recommendations in chapter five have to do with minor monastic rules and matters of etiquette and propriety. Verse V.90, however, is something that modern Buddhist practitioners should make sure to keep in mind. It says, “One should not restrict someone who is worthy of the higher teaching to the lesser teaching, nor, disregarding the matter of good conduct, beguile them with the Scriptures and spells.” One should not restrict practitioners to provisional teachings, nor disregard the basic sanity and common decency taught in the provisional teachings. In other words, if someone has the awakening mind of a bodhisattva, do not try to restrict them to teachings whose only aim is the attainment of arhatship, the cessation of birth and death for oneself alone. On the other hand, do not teach others (or fool oneself in thinking) that the practice of sūtra recitation or mantras is so beneficial that one can ignore the provisional teachings dealing with the law of cause and effect without repercussions. The aim of any of the teachings and practices of Buddhism is to enable self-cultivation (and eventually selfless compassion). Thinking that one can act as one pleases by presuming upon the merit gained from rituals and formal observances is to misuse otherwise legitimate practices and decieve oneself into thinking that one can act without fear of consequences.

The chapter ends with further exhortations such as “One should do nothing other than what is either directly or indirectly of benefit to living beings, and for the benefit of living beings alone one should dedicate everything to Awakening.” (V. 101)

Śāntideval also succinctly defines awareness as: “the observation at every moment of the state of one’s body and one’s mind.” (V.108) This is the way to guard one’s mind and direct one’s actions towards the liberation of all beings and the full flowering of the awakening mind.

Generosity

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Chapter five, “The Guarding of Awareness,” begins with a reflection on the importance of guarding the mind (V.1-8), because all suffering arises from the mind. Without guarding the mind, there can be no practice of Buddhism. By guarding the mind that is prone to wander, one guards not just one’s own life but all other beings as well.

Śāntideva wonders, “If the perfection of generosity consists in making the universe free from poverty, how can the previous Protectors have acquired it, when the world is still poor, even today?” (V.9) In other words, if the buddhas perfected generosity while they were accumulating merit over the course of their innumerable lifetimes cultivating the six perfections as bodhisattvas, then why haven’t their efforts eliminated poverty? The response in verse V.10 is that, “The perfection of generosity is said to result from the mental attitude of reqlinquishing all that one has to all people, together with the fruit of that act. Therefore the perfection is the mental attitude itself.” From this, it would seem that it is the thought that counts far more than any practical effects in the real world. We have already seen that the offerings made in II.1-25 and in III.6-21 were for the most part imaginary. It must be remembered, however, that Śāntideva is a monk with no personal wealth, so he has no material goods to present. What he can do is cultivate generosity as a spontaneous and genuine willingness to relinquish all that he has and all that he is to the buddhas and the liberation of all sentient beings. What is being cultivated is not just formal acts of charity but the underlying attitude. A bodhisattva who is generous and able to relinquish all things who also has the means to help those in need will certainly utilize those means without holding back.

The question, however, still stands as to why the innumerable lifetimes of efforts of buddhas and bodhisattvas to practice generosity has not had an appreciable effect on alleviating the poverty of sentient beings. Śāntideva does not attempt to answer that. His concern is with underscoring the importance of the practitioner cultivating his or her own views and motivation. A possible response, however, might be that despite the efforts of countless buddhas and bodhisattvas over countless lifetimes, sentient beings are infinite in number and for as many who are able to encounter and receive the generosity and assistance of buddhas and bodhisattvas there are many others whose karmic affinities do not allow them to come into contact with such beneficial influences. For as many stars as there are in the sky, there are still great spans of darkness. Previously in verse IV.13, Śāntideva admitted that through his own fault he had put himself beyond the healing care of the buddhas. In addition, the buddhas and bodhisattva do not and cannot override the free will of other sentient beings, who must each live with the consequences of their own actions. The buddhas and bodhisattvas will not force their help on those who do not want it. This is not to say that poverty should be blamed on karma or that those in need of help should be turned away because they presumably caused their own suffering. What it means is that there are helpers in the world, but they cannot magically fix other people’s lives. Also, the best assistance is not a sentimenal or condescending pity from a being who sees themselves as superior to a perceived lesser, but the help freely given as to a brother or sister and freely accepted, and not the kind of help that offends dignity or causes dependence but that empowers those who receive it to help themselves and go on to help others.

It is believed that in earlier versions of the Bodhicaryāvatāra the second and third chapters were a single chapter (See Crosby and Skilton, p. xxxiii and p. 9) dealing with  a form of Mahāyāna liturgy known as the anuttara-pūja, or “unsurpassable worship” that is also known as the saptāṅgavidhi, or “seven-branched worship,” though there are also forms with only three or five parts or more than seven. According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism the three-part liturgy consists of:

  1. confession of transgressions,
  2. rejoicing in the virtue or merit of others, and
  3. dedication of merit. Sometimes the third part is instead a request for the buddha’s to teach the Dharma (see the entries in the Princeton Dictionary for pūjā and triskandhaka).

According to Crosby and Skilton, a sūtra translated into Chinese in the late second century, the Dispelling the Regrets of Ajātaśatru Sūtra, outlines a five-part ritual consisting of:

  1. going for refuge in the Three Treasures,
  2. confession of transgressions,
  3. rejoicing in the virtue or merit of others,
  4. requesting the buddhas to teach
  5. arousal of the awakening mind (Crosby and Skilton, pp. 9-10).

The locus classicus of the seven-branched worship are the “Verses on the Vows of Universal Sage” (S. Bhadracaryā-praṇidhāna-gāthā) which appears at the very end of the Flower Garland Sutra (Ibid, pp 9-10, and the Princeton Dictionary entries for pūjā, Bhadracarīpraṇidhāna, and saptāṅgavidhi, and also Cleary, pp. 1511-1518). Crosby and Skilton note that in Śāntideva’s other work, an anthology of sutra passages called the Compendium of Training  (S. Śikṣā Samuccaya) reference is made to the verses (Crosby and Skilton, p. 9). So these parts of a Mahāyāna liturgy were well known to Śāntideva. The seven-branched version consists of:

  1. praise or obeisance (S. vandanā; J. raikyō-shobutsu; 禮敬諸佛),
  2. worship or making offerings (S. pūjana; J. kōshu-kuyō; 廣修供養),
  3. confession of transgressions (S. pāpadeśanā; J. sange-gosshō; 懺悔業障),
  4. rejoicing in the virtues or merit of others (S. anumodana; J. zuiki-kudoku; 隨喜功德),
  5. requesting the buddhas to teach (S. saṃcodana or dharmacakrapravartanacodana; J. shōten-bōrin; 請轉法輪),
  6. begging the buddhas not to abandon beings by entering nirvāṇa (S. prārthanā or (aparinirvṛtādhyeṣaṇa; J. shōbutsu-jūse; 請佛住世), and
  7. dedication of merit (S. pariṇāmanā; J. fukai-ekō; 普皆廻向)

If chapters one and four of the Bodhicaryāvatāra are included with chapters two and three then a nine-part liturgy emerges (Ibid, pp. 10-11). This would consist of:

  1. praise of the awakening mind in chapter one,
  2. going for refuge at the end of chapter one and in verses 26 and 46-54 of chapter two,
  3. making offerings in verses 1-25 of chapter two,
  4. confession of transgressions in verses 27-45 and 55-66 of chapter two,
  5. rejoicing in the virtues or merit of others in verses 1-3 of chapter three,
  6. requesting the buddhas to teach in verse 4 of chapter three,
  7. begging the buddhas not to abandon beings in verse 5 of chapter three,
  8. dedication of merit in verses 6-21 of chapter three, and
  9. arousal of the awakening mind in verses 22-33 of chapter three and all of chapter four.

Many of these elements are also present in Tiantai Buddhist practice. The Lotus Samādhi outlined by Tiantai Zhiyi in his Great Calming and Contemplation consists of the following ten items (Swanson, pp. 305-311 and 1807-1814):

  1. adorn and purify the meditation chamber,
  2. purify the body,
  3. make an offering of your physical, verbal, and mental deeds,
  4. petition the buddhas,
  5. pay homage to the buddhas,
  6. performing the “fivefold repentance”:
    1. repenting of the offences committed through the six senses,
    2. petitioning the buddhas to expound the Dharma,
    3. rejoicing in the presence of virtue,
    4. transferring one’s merits,
    5. arousing the vow to save all beings.
  7. circumambulate the buddha image,
  8. recite the Lotus Sūtra,
  9. sit in meditation
  10. realize the true aspect of reality.

It can be seen that many of the items listed as parts of the Lotus Samādhi and the fivefold repentance are also part of the seven-branch liturgy or even the nine parts of the first four chapters of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, though they are in a different order. Many of these items are also part of the structure of Nichiren Shū services and ceremonies, and in particular the Dedication to the Lotus Sutra Ceremony (J. Rai Hokke-shiki; 禮法華式) which is the Nichiren Shū version of the Lotus Samādhi.

The Shutei Nichiren Shū Hōyo Shiki also describes Ten Rightous Practices that are the ten core stages of Nichiren Shū services, and many of these also correspond to the items found in the first four chapters of the Bodhicaryāvatāra. These ten are (Hirai & McCormick, pp. 263-276):

  1. invocation (S. adhyeṣaṇā; J. kanjō; 勸請): This is a sincere request for the manifestation and compassionate protection of the Three Treasures and all the buddhas for the blessings of the Dharma to fall like rain upon all sentient beings. (Ibid, p. 263)
  2. worship (S. vandanā; J. raihai; 禮拜 simplified as 礼拜): The performance of acts of reverence in a spirit of sincerity so as to arouse faith and inspire others. (Ibid, pp. 263-269)
  3. extolling  (S. stotra; J. sandan; 讚歎): Extolling the virtues of reciting the Lotus Sūtra and Odaimoku before and after doing so in order to arouse respect and faith.  (Ibid, pp. 269-271)
  4. sūtra reading and reciting from memory (S. svādhyāya; J. dokuju; 讀誦 simplified as 読誦). (Ibid, pp. 271-272)
  5. directing thoughts (J.unzō; 運想): To reflect deeply on meaning of the sūtra passages that were recited and to bring about a pure mind for the Odaimoku chanting that is to follow. (Ibid, p. 272)
  6. daimoku chanting (J. shōdai; 唱題). (Ibid, p. 273-274)
  7. transfer of merit (S. pariṇāmanā; J. ekō; 廻向 simplified as 回向). (Ibid, pp. 274-275)
  8. declaring vows (S. praṇidhāna; J. hotsugan; 發願 simplified as 発願). (Ibid, pp. 275-276)
  9. taking the Three Refuges (S. triśaraṇa; J. sanki; 三歸 simplifed as 三帰). (Ibid, p. 276)
  10. valediction (J. busō; 奉送): Giving a reverent send-off to all that attending sacred beings. (Ibid, p. 276)

At this point, let’s review the nine elements or parts of Mahayana liturgies that appear in the first four chapters of the Bodhicaryāvatāra and how they are utilized and understood in Nichiren Shū liturgies.

Praise or obeisance is the first part of the seven-branch liturgy. As mentioned above, praise of the awakening mind and those who have aroused and developed it is the theme of the first chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra. It appears that praise is equivalent to the “righteous practice” of “worship” in Nichiren Shū, which is described in the Hōyō Shiki in terms of the various postures and prostrations appropriate to Nichiren Shū practice. The “worship” or giving of “offerings” occurs in the first 25 verses of the second chapter, Śāntideva imaginatively offers up the whole world and himself as a slave of the buddhas and their sons (the bodhisattvas) and imagines himself serving them as one would a guest by bathing them, adorning them, and offering them food and drink, and many other pleasing things. Here we see the cultivation of the perfection of giving, by offering up everything that one is and everything that one knows to the buddhas and offering to do all that one can to help the buddhas benefit all sentient beings. All of this culminates in the taking of refuge in the 26th verse. All three of these could be associated with the third of the ten items of the Lotus Samādhi, to “make an offering of your physical, verbal, and mental deeds” which is specifically done by paying homage to the Three Treasures by performing prostrations while singing the liturgical hymn (J. shōmyō) that is known as Sanbō-rai, or “Worship of the Three Treasures,” in Nichiren Shū. Sanbō-rai is usually supposed to follow the shōmyō called Dōjō-ge, or “Verse on the Place of Practice,” that opens most services and itself expresses homage to the Three Treasures. Of course, all of the shōmyō used in Nichiren Shū involve one or more of the liturgical elements of praising, offering, or taking refuge.

Now these days many people object to the idea of worshipping invisible spirit beings as nothing more than superstition or a scam by a priestly class to subordinate and control people. There are good reasons why people may feel that worshipping, bowing down to, giving offerings to, and taking refuge in beings who do not tangibly exist is a slight to our own dignity and autonomy. It may even be taken as an insult to our intelligence to be told we should take refuge in entities that we cannot even prove exist. People in Judeo-Christian-Islamic cultures also find the seeming worship or adoration paid to images and statues to be idolatrous. Certainly to have practitioners submit themselves uncritically and with such wholehearted devotion to masters or gurus or some kind of priestly class is an invitation to corruption and exploitation that only needs to be proved by consulting the news on any given day. Furthermore, many people come to Buddhism precisely because they believe it is a rational and scientific (or at least science-friendly) wisdom tradition (not a religion!), and upon encountering these kind of exhortations to devotional practice they are deeply troubled and even disillusioned. Some may reject these very traditional practices as being an inauthentic form of Buddhism because they do not match their preconceptions, and others may reject Buddhism entirely as just another obsolete religion whose aim is to put people under the control of a priestly class that claim to represent the demands of divine beings who cannot be directly appealed to.

While understandable, the rejection of these devotional aspects of Buddhist practice may be short-sighted. Certainly people should not become uncritical or subordinate themselves to a priesty class or practice a superstitious kind of idolatry. The Buddha even taught that one of the ten fetters that prevents liberation from suffering is to falsely believe that rules and observances can, in and of themselves, lead to liberation or awakening. The Buddha also taught that practitioners must be their own lamps and an island unto themselves in terms of their practice. So what is the aim of these devotional practices in Buddhism if it is not to create some kind of subordination or dependence on supernatural beings? The point is to acknowledge that there have been and are beings in the world (and perhaps even in heavenly realms and pure lands) who have admirable qualities and the virtue of the awakening mind, both in development and in its full-flowering. Appreciating the merit and wisdom of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and to be so moved as to offer praise is to uplift our own consciousness. It is meant to be edifying and inspiring to, at least imaginativly, lower our own ego, pay respect to, and put our lives at the service of the personification of our ideals. Finally, taking refuge is a matter of resolving to attain awakening by emulating the Buddha, learning and practicing the Dharma, and supporting and being supported by the Sangha of fellow practitioners. Through devotional practices such as praising, making offerings, and going for refuge we dedicate our hearts as well as our minds to our practice and the cultivation of the awakening mind in our daily lives.

In Nichiren Buddhism there is a verse that is sung called Honmon Sanki, which means “The Threefold Refuge of the Original Gate.” The Original Gate refers to the teachings of the latter half of the Lotus Sūtra which in Nichiren Buddhism is believed to contain the deepest and most profound teaching of Buddhism. In terms of this Original Gate, the Three Treasures that Nichiren Buddhists take refuge in is specifically the Buddha as the “Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha, our Original Teacher, who attained awakening in the remotest past,” the Dharma as “the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, the Teaching of Equality, the Great Wisdom, the One Vehicle,” and the Sangha as led by the “Original Teacher Superior Practice, our Founder, the Great Bodhisattva Nichiren Shōnin.”

The confession of transgressions follows in II.27-45, and appears again in verses II.55-66. This corresponds to fivefold repentance of the Lotus Samādhi. Except for the line “We can expiate our transgressions, do good deeds, and buddhahood by the merits of this sūtra,” in the Kaikyōge (Verses for Opening the Sūtra), confession or repentance does not play a part in most Nichiren Shū services. In the Dedication to the Lotus Sutra Ceremony of Nichiren Shū, however, there is a long passage for recitation called the Sangemon (懺悔文), or Statement of Repentance that expresses a practitioner’s deep reflection on, and regret for, all possible transgressions that may have been accumulated “since the infinite past,” and also his or her profound joy in encountering the Lotus Sūtra and the practice of Odaimoku that makes it possible to overcome it all. The Sangemon also borrows from the Contemplation of the Universal Sage Bodhisattva Sutra, the third part of the Threefold Lotus Sūtra, in the lines “The [Lotus] Sūtra states that the vast sea of evil karma is created from illusion to the truth. If I embrace the desire to repent my sins and sit erect in observance of the true aspects of life, I will see that the offences of mankind are just as frost and dew which dissipate in the warmth of the sun.”

Repentance is another practice that some people may find troubling if they have come from religious backgrounds where they were constantly made to feel inadquate or sinful and always wanting in the eyes of some god or savior figure. Repentance seems to be the practice of denigrating oneself in accordance with the demands of other people or an alleged divine being and then throwing oneself upon the mercy of the savior figure and promising to be more obedient in the future. This approach to repentance does nothing to uphold the dignity or even the integrity of responsible mature adults.

So what is repentance in Buddhism? In Buddhism, repentance is not about feeling bad about oneself for transgressing against the arbitrary rules of a divine being or a priestly class. It is about coming to a realization that one’s thoughts, words, and deeds have been harmful to oneself and others. It is to recognize that one has been sabotaging one’s own life and causing more suffering for others who, ultimately, are not really other because we are all interdependent.  In Buddhism repentance is to reveal and feel regret for what was done unwholesomely or unskillfully but not to wallow in remorse. Rather, one resolves to do better, not out of obedience to some outside authority or standard but because one recognizes for oneself the value of refraining from making bad causes, and instead making the effort to cultivate good causes for the benefit of oneself and others. This recognition and resolve is itself a powerfully wholesome cause. At the very least, it leads to the restoration of the integrity and ease of mind of the practitioners, without which sincere practice is exceedingly difficult if not impossible. Furthermore, repentance in Buddhism is not simply about confessing misdeeds, it is also about turning away from delusion and ignorance and turning towards the true nature of reality through contemplative practice. This is the deeper and more important meaning of repentance in Buddhism: to repent of error and resolve to attain awakening. It is what the Lotus Samādhi calls the “great repentance” (Swanson, p. 1814).

The third chapter begins with three verses of rejoicing in the virtues or merit of others. The aim of this, as above with the other devotional practices, is to recognize virtue, and to acknowledge and find joy in it. This is important, because if one cannot appreciate virtue, then why would one try to emulate or cultivate virtue? In Nichiren Shū, the practice of sandan, or “extolling,” fulfills this function. There are several passages that can be used for sandan in Nichiren Shū practice, but the two most commonly used are the Kaikyōge, or “Verse for Opening the Sūtra,” that is said before the chanting of the Lotus Sūtra, and the Hōtōge, or “Treasure Tower Verse,”  that is recited after the chanting of the sūtra and the Odaimoku.

Requesting the buddhas to teach follows in verse III.4. Begging the buddhas not to abandon beings follows in verse III.5. The function of these requests for the buddhas and bodhisattvas and other benevolent beings to be present is fulfilled by the kanjō, or “invocation,” in Nichiren Shū services. There is also the bujō, or “Verse of Invitation,” that may be used in place of the Dōjō-ge and is also an invitation to the “buddhas and all wise sages” to come to the place of practice. In Nichiren Shū there are no outright requests or “begging” for the buddhas to teach the Dharma or remain in the world, probably because the whole basis of Nichiren Shū faith and practice is that the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha has already taught the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma and in chapter 16 of the sūtra has already revealed that he is always present, if undetected, and always thinking about how to help all beings attain buddhahood quickly.

The dedication of merit is expressed in verses III.6-21. It may strike some readers that the aspirations expressed here, such as to become food and drink for those who hunger and thirst, or to give one’s body over to those who would abuse one or falsely accuse one of wrongoding, or to be a causeway or a light for sentient beings, sound very much like the things said by or about Jesus in the New Testament. The big difference is that these are not the attributes of a unique savior who must be entrusted to do these things for us. Rather, these are expressing the aspiration that every bodhisattva should have when arousing the awakening mind. In Nichiren Shū, the ekō, or “transfer of merit” that expresses the wish that the merit of our practice be shared with all beings is a major part of every service.

Finally the intent to arouse the awakening mind is expressed in verses III.22-33, while chapter four expresses further reflections and admonitionments to maintain one’s resolution to liberate all beings. In Nichiren Shū, services end with the hotsugan, or “declaration of vows,” namely the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows that express this same determination.

In the reflections expressed in the fourth chapter, “Vigilance Regarding the Awakening Mind,” Śāntideva considers the enormity of what it means to attempt to attain buddhahood and liberate all beings from suffering, but that it would disgraceful to go back on one’s promise to liberate all beings (IV.6). Furthermore, the life we are living is a rare opportunity to practice Buddhism, so we must not let this opportunity pass by in vain (VI.14-19). He compares the rarity of being able to attain the human state opportunity to the likelihood of a turtle poking its neck through the hole of a yoke floating in the ocean (IV.20). He admonishes himself not to become dejected by the difficulty of attaining buddhahood but to courageously make the effort now that one has aroused the mind of awakening. He also encourages himself by observing that our true enemies, the defilments, are internal, weaker than we think, and once eradicated they cannot return to plague us because they have nowhere else to go. He also determines to use the defilements to end the defilements, such as by turning his feelings of enmity against enmity itsef (IV.43). The chapter ends with a determination to be firm in his resolve and to follow the way of training to the end (IV.48).