Taking the Bodhisattva Precepts
A Talk given by Linh Le To at CTTB, on August 22, 2009
All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, All Dharma Masters and Good Knowing Advisors, Amitabha.
My name is Linh and I was given this opportunity tonight to share with everyone my experience and thoughts in taking the Bodhisattva precepts this year. If I say anything that is not in accordance, please kindly correct me. I was rather excited at the opportunity to take the precepts. However, I was also a bit anxious about taking them. The reason is because I felt that I hadn’t upheld the five precepts well and made many mistakes along the way. I’m still learning to uphold the five precepts, should I really take the Bodhisattva precepts? I remember reading this saying in the Dharma talk series, “People aren’t sages or worthies, who can be without fault? To courageously correct one’s faults is the greatest good of all.” I also remember the Venerable Master saying something like this, “Don’t be afraid that you will make mistakes. It is only to be feared that you will not correct them.” Some Dharma Masters have encouraged me to take the precepts as well. They said, “It is precisely because we are not perfect, that is why we have to take the precepts and learn to uphold them. If we were perfect then we wouldn’t need to take the precepts.” These words of wisdom gave me the courage to apply to take the Bodhisattva precepts.
When I think about the Bodhisattva precepts, it often reminds me of the kindness and compassion of the Bodhisattvas. I remember at the end of each day during the 10,000 Buddhas Repentance, we would recite the repentance verses and I would be so moved because it depicted how the Bodhisattvas are able to give away everything including their eyes, hands, tongue, and body to help living beings. We hear of their great compassionate deeds and it inspires us to open our hearts to help others. Although when we think of Bodhisattvas, we often think of Guan Yin Bodhisattva, Earth Store Bodhisattva, Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, and so forth. However, if we stop to look at all the kind and compassionate people in the world, we will realize that Bodhisattvas are not in a far - far away land. They are just those people who bring forth the kind and compassionate hearts to help and benefit others. We just fail to recognize the Bodhisattvas right before us. I previously worked with a group of dialysis nurses who were so kind, compassionate, and patient that I really admired them for having these qualities. They were like Bodhisattvas. They would toil and struggle everyday to take care of severely ill patients. What deeply impressed me the most was their genuine kindness and compassion for these patients. They would care for them like they would care for their own family members.
I remember one incident that happened at the hospital. This nurse had just finish taking care of a patient and sent him home. We were eating lunch together and she seemed very concerned and frustrated at the same time. She said to me, “He’s not getting any better.” It turns out that she was concerned about this patient because it was already three or four days into his treatment and his infection did not seem to improve. However, his doctor and I weren’t really concerned because the patient was being treated according to the standard. We thought we had done all the right things for him already and so we didn’t really pay close attention.
When I spoke to her, I could see that she was genuinely worried and concerned. I remembered exactly what she had said to me. She said, “Linh, I just don’t want him to die like the other patient. Do you remember that patient? His effluent looks exactly like that.” She finally made me realize the seriousness of the situation. I then sat down with her and went over the treatment guidelines to see if we had missed anything or if there was anything else that we should or could do to make sure that every possible scenario was covered. We had given him coverage for all the possible bacteria and the only one that was not being covered was fungus. It was rare to have a fungal infection and so we didn’t expect for him to have this kind of infection.
If it was a fungal infection, this patient had a greater than 50% chance of dying from the infection unless he was treated immediately with antifungal medication and surgical removal of his dialysis tube. I had to call my colleague in infectious disease to get his opinion and expertise. Hearing how serious of a case this could be, he managed to get someone in the lab to look at this patient’s culture right away to see if anything had grown. He finally contacted me back and told me that although it was still too early to report, the lab technician said that they could see under the microscope that fungus was growing from the culture. With that critical piece of information, we contacted the physician and he immediately said to call the patient back and have him admitted into the hospital for treatment and surgical removal of his dialysis tube. With the right treatment, in a day or two the patient showed signs of improvement and the source of his infection was removed.
Luckily for this patient, he had a good nurse taking care of him. If it wasn’t for this nurse’s dedication, vigilance, and concern, we wouldn’t have detected this fungal infection so early, and by doing so, this prevented the patient from becoming severely ill. Since this all happened on a Friday afternoon, if it wasn’t for her concern, the patient would have most likely had to wait until Monday before the doctors would have detected this and by then the patient would have been deathly ill because the fungus would have had the time to invade his system. He would have ended up severely ill and perhaps he would have died like the other patient. Incidents like this happened many times while I was working in the dialysis unit. I was so impressed by the kindness and compassion that these nurses had in taking care of the patients day after day and year after year. I came to realize that they were good examples of “real life” Bodhisattvas.
I felt that these patients were really lucky and fortunate to have such good people taking care of them. They would never have received the same kind of treatment elsewhere. In fact, I, myself felt really fortunate to have worked with such a good group of people. To be surrounded by kind and compassionate people, it was my blessing. To be honest, I was actually ashamed that I was Buddhist and yet I didn’t have the same level of kindness and compassion that they had. This was something that I needed to learn from them.
I decided to take the Bodhisattva precepts, in part, because I was motivated by seeing the kindness, compassion, patience, and generosity of the people that I had worked with. It was the Bodhisattva-like qualities in them that I aspired for. During the Bodhisattva precepts classes, I’d learned to view the Bodhisattva precepts from a different perspective. We shouldn’t view them as a form of restraint or something that is meant to restrict us. In fact, we should view the precepts as helping us to do good things, do things that are beneficial and helpful to others, if we don’t then we would have violated the precepts. We can think of the precepts as helping us to cut off all evil, practice doing all good deeds, and save all living beings. I’m very grateful for all the Dharma Masters who taught us at length on the precepts during that week. I learned so much and I was more inspired to take the precepts.
To me, the most memorable part was the very last day, the day of precept transmission. I remember walking into the Buddha Hall and hearing the drum being beaten and the bell being rung. I was overcome with this uplifting and inspiring feeling. The ceremony was so adorned and lofty that I was in awe. I remember being really anxious and nervous regarding the instructions on what to contemplate during the part when the precepts were being transmitted. I lack any kind of imagination and therefore couldn’t get myself to make that contemplation so I chose to sincerely recite the Buddha’s name instead. I was very tired that day and I didn’t know if I had the energy to be mindful throughout the whole ceremony. Fortunately, after single-mindedly reciting the Buddha’s name for a few minutes, I found that my fatigue and exhaustion had gone away and I was full of energy and spirit. I was filled with joy, peace, serenity, and inspiration. It’s difficult for me to exactly describe what a wonderful feeling it was.
After the ceremony, I felt like there was a change, a new beginning. It has been almost two months since I took the Bodhisattva precepts and although I have made some mistakes such as forgetting to first make offerings of new food to the Triple Jewel and putting on lotion on one of the six days of holding the eight precepts, I feel that the precepts have helped me to be more mindful of my actions and thoughts. And instead of feeling limited or restricted during the six days of upholding the eight precepts, I am actually thankful to have the chance to uphold the precepts and live a more pure and simple life. Although I hesitated to take the precepts at the beginning, I am so very grateful that I have taken them.