Determining The Bodhicitta: The Four Great Vows And The Four Defeats Of The Bodhisattva Dharma

Determining the Bodhicitta is spoken of in the last of the Four Great Vows as follows:

"The Supreme Enlightenment we vow to achieve."

Enlightenment is Bodhi; Supreme Enlightenment is the Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi or the Buddha Fruit. Determining the Bodhicitta means using the faith of our worldly minds to vow to complete this path. However, if one is to complete this vow, one should have the support of the other three Great Vows. To arrive at Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi, one should have the desire to spread the Buddhadharma and effect the liberation of all sentient beings. Therefore, the first vow is as follows:

"Sentient beings without number we vow to enlighten."

For a Bodhisattva, the eradication of one's own suffering is joined with the desire to aid in the eradication of all others' suffering as well. The real Bodhisattva identifies the immeasurable distress of all sentient beings as his own. With this immeasurable compassion (Mahakaruna), one can take the second vow:

"Vexations without number we vow to eradicate."

The desire to win Supreme Bodhi, convert and liberate sentient beings, aid in the eradication of their distress, etc., should not be an impulse based on idle sentimentality or romantic notions of spiritual life. This noble aspiration can only come to completion provided that there is a strong foundation of wisdom. With wisdom only, and not otherwise, can one spread the Dharma and assist living beings. This wisdom arises from a keen desire to learn and practice the Buddhadharma. Therefore, the Buddha said, "All Buddhas in the three periods arise from learning and practice." One who is not willing to learn will remain eternally foolish, and what foolish man or woman ever completed the Bodhi Tao, spread Dharma and assisted sentient beings?

As there is immeasurable distress in the lives of sentient beings, there are innumerable methods of Dharma practice. Therefore, the third vow of great compassion is as follows:

"Limitless approaches to the Dharma we vow to master"

When one perceives the suffering of sentient beings, one vows to enlighten sentient beings without number when perceiving the distress in one's life and that of others, one vows to eradicate vexations without end. Perceiving the myriad Dharma doors to enlightenment, one vows to master them all. Perceiving the truth of Nirvana, one vows to attain the Supreme Bodhi. All Bodhisattvas who determine the Bodhicitta hold these Four Vows of Great Compassion.

There are various conditions leading to the deterioration of both the Bodhicitta and the practice of Bodhisattva Dharma. These conditions are called parajika (defeats), and they are acts or thoughts that break or defeat the Bodhisattva practice. This same term is used in connection with the monastic Vinaya, where it denotes the first four rules, the transgression of which calls for expulsion from the order of Bhiksus. The elder Tripitaka Master Hsuan Tsang translated this term as "overcoming by specific conditions". This means that the good roots necessary for the practice of Bodhisattva Dharma are overcome by the specific conditions of unwholesome roots.

The first specific condition which leads to the defeat of the Bodhicitta is the tendency to praise oneself and to slander others. If the Bodhisattva loses his Mahakaruna, he is no longer willing to profit others at his own expense. Being solely concerned with his own name and fame, he loses respect in the eyes of family, friends and society.

The second specific condition leading to defeat is seeing someone in a state of suffering and anxiety and not lifting a finger to help. Losing one's Mahakaruna, one makes no effort to teach or profit those who may come for assistance but, instead, cultivates miserly tendencies.

The third specific condition leading to defeat is not receiving the repentant or those desirous of following the right path. Losing one's Mahakaruna, one allows himself to bear anger and grudges in his mind and, as a result, is not willing to teach or assist those who are repentant.

The fourth specific condition leading to defeat is the act of foolishly deceiving others with pseudo--dharma. Without wisdom, one manipulates heterodox views, slandering the Buddhadharma and deceiving others with what appears to be Dharma but which is, in fact, not genuine.

If a Bodhisattva falls into any of these categories of defeat, he loses the Bodhicitta and also the qualifications of Bodhisattva practice. Therefore, one should preserve the qualifications, protect the Bodhicitta and increase the vast storehouse of Bodhisattva Dharma.