Thursday, February 13, 2014

‪Bodhisattvic Polyamory?

In my study of bodhicitta (Wangchuk 2007), of which I am neither too proud nor too ashamed, I briefly discussed an idea in the Bodhisattvabhūmi, according to which “a bodhisattva cares for all sentient beings as a man does for his wife but still remains unaffected by the worldly aspects of such a bond.” This is how I attempted to translate the pertinent passage: 

“These two are the unique, amazing, [and] extraordinary qualities of a bodhisattva who has firmly generated the initial resolve [to become a buddha]. What are the two? [a] [He] embraces all sentient beings as [though they were his] wife, and [b] yet is not tainted by the fault of having taken a wife. In this regard, the fault of taking a wife is this: the defiled gratification or hostility (kliṣṭānurodhavirodha) that comes from the benefit [received or] detriment [sustained by one’s] wife. But these two are not found in a bodhisattva.” 

As a footnote to the word “embraces,” I made the following comment: 

“The choice of the verb parighāti is noteworthy here because it means not only ‘to embrace’ and ‘to assist’ (among many other things), which fit the context better when sentient beings in general are the object, but also means ‘to take (a wife)’ or ‘to marry’ (MW, s.v. pari-grah). The pun, which is certainly intended, conveys the idea that a bodhisattva cares for all sentient beings as a man does for his wife but still remains unaffected by the worldly aspects of such a bond. This issue is addressed once again in Bodhisattvabhūmi 3.2 (Wogihara, p. 362.5–10; Dutt, p. 249.5–7): “Even upon his having first generated the resolve [to become a buddha], all sentient beings are embraced by a bodhisattva as [though they were his] wife. [He will make the following resolution:] ‘For them, all types of [resources required for] their benefit and happiness will be gathered by me to the best of [my] ability and to the best of [my] power.’ And [he indeed] does just that. This is the bodhisattva’s simultaneous embracing of all sentient beings” (prathama eva cittotpāde bodhisattvena sarva sattvadhātu kalatrabhāvena parighīta | eā mayā yathāśakti yathābala sarvākārahitasukhopasahāra karaīya iti | tathaiva ca karoti | aya bodhisattvasya saktsarvasattvaparigraha |). This simile was already noted by Dayal 1932: 63.”

So today on St. Valentine’s Day (14.2.2014), I wish to (by way of fun) discuss briefly if we can speak of “Bodhisattvic polyamory,” or even “Bodhisattvic polygamy” (at least as a metaphor or simile). There is a long entry on “polyamory” (Wikipedia, s.v.) and it is said to be from Greek πολύ (poly), meaning “many” or “several,” and Latin amor, “love” and is said to be “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” If we take the main components of the concept of “polyamory,” namely, “more than one” and “loving,” then we might say a bodhisattva loves more than one but unfortunately, it does not involve an “intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” It is a one-sided love. A bodhisattva is a kind of an “anonymous lover,” an “anonymous husband/wife” of all sentient beings. At least in Tibetan a bodhisattva is described as an “unacquainted kin/relative/friend” (ma ’dris pa’i mdza’ bshes). If we can at all speak of “love” in such a case then perhaps a “Bodhisattvic love” is a “Platonic love.” An important question in this context, in my view, is: Is amor possible without intellectual-emotional defilements (kleśa: nyon mongs pa)?


  1. Hi, the message will be splitted...;
    a complete translation of the Bodhisattvabhumi would be superb! It´s a pleasure to read your notes! The fine key points concerning the bodhisattva-ideal ended with a pertinent question: Is amor possible without intellectual-emotional defilements (kleśa: nyon mongs pa)?”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

    I dare to give a clear answer:

    --> No !

    Why this reaction sounds so direct and ready?

    Allow me, in following up your healthful notes, to propose a short, skeleton explanation/interpretation of this perhaps precipitated appearing, quick witted answer in introducing the following question:
    What happens in the psyche of a Bodhisattva?, or casually speaking,
    How does a Bodhisattva “tick”?

    When a Bodhisattva comes to the grounding bodhisattvic conviction (1st bhumi = sunyata direct perception) of “universal, compassionate fraternity”) he/she, thereby, has (re)found a decisive connection to the network of being. What exactly is this finding?

    The bodhisattva “sees” with personal/private assurance [= confirms his/her previously (through countless, multiple existential expressions) intuitive world-directedness] the existential banality and obligation of all sentient beings to act in their irrevocable reality-thrownness. It´s the act itself, in terms of the ontological thrownness of being (the spatio-temporal situatedness), which, inevitably and continually, absorbs/swallos the cognitive compelling confrontation with reality and in emitting/vomiting the cognitive processing/digestion of this reality-confrontation, the volitional dynamic of ourselves “decides” between “samsaric” or “nirvanic” cognitive determination. The pivotal point of this psychosomatic balance lies in the “zooming” identity focus of the vision itself!
    A bodhisattva “sees” this “seeing” in “seeing” and thereby simultaneously “knows without fail” his/her own cognitive ejection from authentical/innocent thrownness in being, precisely by the seeing itself (this means, that the bodhisattva feels obliged to enter into the very delicate “as-if-attitude” towards reality because otherwise the bodhisattva will have no chance to offer others the opportunity to enter into the liberating vision each for their own part – we try herewith to stimulate reflexions concerning the hidden relation of prthagjana (ordinary cognition), buddhata (Buddhahood) and bodhisattvahood and the meaning of samsara/nirvana in relation to parinirvana and apratisthita-nirvana); sincerly, mikael

  2. continuation...
    Now, the 1st bhumi is of vital importance concerning the career of a bodhisattva because with this first flashing moment of direct perception of emptiness [which is not contrary to Sravakas and Pratyekas cognition (hence, by the way, Sravaka and Pratyeka evidently have sunyata-direct-preception) but more farsightedly orientated/implied towards conventional reality] the bodhisattva conclusively reaffirms his/her already intuitive striving (bodhisattva-gotra) towards a “harmonizing world-funcionality” [functional/effective union of the two truths (satyadvaya)]. Therefore, after the first vision of sunyata-direct-perception (or otherwise said, when coming out of this meditative absorption), the bodhisattva innerly “is confronted” with a paradoxical appearing situation where the simultaneous permeation of, on the one side, a rapturous joy (in seening the epistemological, liberating possibility of nirvana) and, on the other side, an overwhelming sadness (in seeing the ontological, oppressing tragedy of samsara) must be brought to a common denominator [in traversing the 10 cognitive spheres (bhumi) of the bodhisattvabhumi] considered as the definite solution towards the painstaking perplexity of “collective-thrown-existence” (again and again it reminds me on an astonishing event in my own early childhood, where during a visit to a circus I was so deeply moved when I saw for the first time the roguish circus clown with one eye laughing and the other eye weeping…, it was instantly clear and simple to my childish naivety…).

    We have “no chance to come out” (collectively meant here) of this “samsaric tragedy” in thinking/dreaming that we could “escape” either by means of whatever sophisticated philosophical theories or through mystically imagined soteriologies. This sounds very hard for the “unprepared” but I say it in such a clear and unambigious tone since our inclination here (thankfully initiatied by your excellent hints and orientations…), I think, is to emulate consciously the bodhisattvic dynamic of beingness [through a deliberate participation to establish a “buddhaksetra” (a compassionate existential atmosphere of collective being)]. So, definitely, the above simple directness shouldn´t be depressively apprehended as “we cannot come out at all” of samsara; sincerely, mikael

  3. continuation...
    Rather, we see, it´s like this: The ontological innocence (unawareness) of the cognitive situation of each sentient being guaranties the deeply felt affinity and connection among us all. The bodhisattva “sees” the ontological necessity of causing cognitive blending (innocence of cognition) and causing cognitive disentanglement (bearing/tolerating awareness) in the metaphysical sphere of being, as the Buddha himself as often as possible had demonstrated by his “pratityasamutpada” (interdependent origination) exposition, which goes far deeper (prajna/sunyata) and wider (upaya/karuna) than, for example, the imputed Pratyekabodhi (“solitary” Buddha-awared cognition) could imagine.
    The bodhisattva makes no big fanfare about “this seeing” because, in fact, he/she doesn´t even especially like to “see” this vision but rather a bodhisattva wants (!) (kleśa: nyon mongs pa) to mingle completedly with ordinary cognition (prthagjana) for being in conformity with “everyday naïve cognitive indifference” (therein lies the deep secret necessity of cognitive beingness) and thereby becoming able to enter in authentic, dynamic relation with reality as such (tathata --> parinirvana = the total extinction/immersion). Yet, simultaneously and precisely, herein lies “the frustratingly felt problem”, of which a bodhisattva is acutely aware, namely:
    The conscious bodhisattva cannot undertake this melancholically sensed objective of total reality-integration in his/her cognitive intuition (the felt “Weltschmerz”, world-weariness), because if the bodhisattva will really do that, then instantly he/she would become “powerless” in helping others because, in return, the bodhisattva would “loose” the capacity required ( = awared sunyata-direct.perception) for the fundamental bodhisattvic vision itself and without this grounding reality-penetration itself the use of “upayakausalya” (“bodhisattvic pedagogical cleverness”) would become impossible.

    So what, in this respect, “must/should” a bodhisattva do?
    He/she “gnoseologically retards/exchanges” bodhi (enlightenment) for eons of eons in order to perpetuate a fully equipped support for others
    (in Tibetan this wonderful, secret/private practice is named “Tonglen” = “exchange with others”). Sincerely, mikael