The ten bodhisattva stages

In the Then and Now class, consisting of 37 sessions, Ken makes the classic Tibetan text, Jewel Ornament of Liberation, accessible while also revealing how such texts can be approached by modern readers. I found this clip from TAN36 inspiring.

The ten bodhisattva stages (from TAN36: Then and Now (class) 00:22:31.00 - 00:25:02.05)

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The ten stages are--I think we covered this a little bit last time--the ten stages mark the degree to which the experience of the totality of experience, or the experience of pure being, is present in one’s experience all the time. When a first level bodhisattva is resting in emptiness--he or she is supposedly having the same experience as you’d have when you're Buddha, when you're fully awakened.

But the difference is, when you get up from that meditation, how much is that experience or understanding actually present in your interaction in life? We all know there's quite a difference there.

The technical terms in Tibetan are composure and subsequent understanding or subsequent attainment. Composure is when you're sitting in meditation--that is when attention is unmixed with activity--you know how things are: completely groundless, things arise like dreams, like illusions. You get up from that and at the beginning, that's not too present in your life. By the time you reach full buddhahood, there's no difference between when you're meditating--or when you're sitting unmixed with activity--and when you're doing things.

So what the ten stages of a bodhisattva describe is the extent to which you're are able to mix, to be active and doing things and still have that quality of completely present, awake attention.

And in this sense it's not so much like climbing stairs--it’s actually gradual growth of an ability. I think the better metaphor--rather than looking at it as stages, step one, step two, step three, where that would be the natural question; can you skip steps--is as a process of something growing. And when something grows, it’s a process of evolution. There's no possibility of skipping steps. You're growing gradually in abilities and these things unfold.