Making The Altruistic Vow
To awaken to the Bodhi-mind means to vow not to cross over to the other shore of enlightenment before all sentient beings have done so. Whether lay person or monk, living in the world of celestial beings or of humans, subject to pain or pleasure, all should quickly make this vow.
Though of humble appearance, a person who has awakened to the Bodhi-mind is already teacher of all mankind. Even a little girl of seven can become the teacher of the four classes of Buddhists and the compassionate mother of all beings; for in Buddhism men and women are completely equal. This is one of the highest principles of the Way.
After having awakened the Bodhi-mind, even wandering in the six realms of existence and the four forms of life becomes an opportunity to practice the altruistic vow. Therefore, even though up to now you may have vainly idled away your time, you should quickly make this vow while there is still time. Though you have acquired sufficient merit to achieve Buddhahood, you should place it at the disposal of all being in order that they may realize their own enlightenment in order that they might be of benefit to all beings, helping them to cross over first to the other shore.
There are four kinds of Wisdom that benefit others: offerings, loving words, benevolence, and identification, all of which are the practices of a Bodhisattva. Giving offerings means not to covet. Although it is true that, in essence, nothing belongs to self, this does not prevent us from giving offerings. The size of the offering is of no concern; it is the sincerity with which it is given that is important. Therefore one should be willing to share even a phrase of a verse of the Law, for this becomes the seed of good in both this life and the next. This is also the case when giving of one's material treasure, whether is be a single coin or a blade of grass, for the Law is the treasure and the treasure is the Law.
There have been those who, seeking no reward, willingly gave their help to others. Supplying a ferry and building a bridge are both acts of giving offerings, as are earning a living and producing goods.
The meaning of loving words is that when beholding all beings, one is filled with compassion for them, addressing them affectionately. That is to say, one regards them as if they were his own children. The virtuous should be praised and the virtueless pitied. Loving words are the source of overcoming your bitter enemy's hatred and establishing friendship with others. Directly hearing loving words spoken brightens the countenance and warms the heart. An even deeper impression is made, however, by hearing about loving words spoken about oneself in one's absence. You should know that loving words have a revolutionary impact on others.
Benevolence means to devise ways of benefiting others, no matter what their social position. Those who aided the helpless tortoise or the injured sparrow did not expect any reward for their assistance; they simply acted out of their feeling of benevolence. The foolish believe that their own interests will suffer if they put the benefit of others first. They are wrong, however. Benevolence is all-encompassing, equally benefiting oneself and others.
Identification means non differentiation--to make no distinction between self and other. For example, it is like the human Tathagata who led the same life as that of us human beings. Others can be identified with self, and thereafter, self with others. With the passage of time both self and others become one. Identification is like the sea, which does not decline any water no matter what its source, all waters gathering, therefore, to form the sea.
Quietly reflect on the fact that the proceeding teachings are the practices of a Bodhisattva. Do not treat them lightly. Venerate and respect their merit, which is able to save all sentient beings, enabling them to cross over to the other shore.
Dogen Zenji (1200-1253)
Excerpted from Master Dogen, An Introduction With Selected Writings, by Yuho Yokoi