The Bodhisattva Precepts
A Talk given by Amy Chang-Chien at CTTB, 2009
Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, Friends in Dharma, Amitofo, my name is Amy Chang-Chien. When the Dharma Master asked me to speak on the lay Bodhisattva Precept experience, I thought I could get out of it because I didn’t take the class this time. When she asked me to instead share my experience of holding the precepts over the years then I got really worried. I feel truly unqualified. For I had taken them a long time ago and I haven’t upheld them very well.
Over 10 years ago, I took the 5 precepts and the lay bodhisattva precepts. At that time, in my mind, there was no question of taking them. It felt natural like something that I should and needed to do. After first taking them my Bodhisattva spirit was high. As a new bodhisattva I was really motivated and always wanted to jump in and help out and not consider too much. The Bodhi resolve was really strong. It was as if I was a newly charged balloon, its rubber skin taut, and ready to take flight at any moment. However as time passes, the helium starts leaking slowly out of the balloon - a slow enough process where one does not observe the actual leakage . After all we common beings’ habits (past karma) are strong and outside influences are strong. After a while, I was forgetting to make offering before eating, not reciting the precepts regularly, sometimes missed the fasting days and sometimes forgetting my Bodhisattva vows.
About 5 years ago, I went on a ski trip with my sister and her friends. When skiing, one goes down different trails of difficulty. The more advanced the trails the steeper they are. On the first day of the trip a person in our group found a very challenging trail. The next morning he took me on this trail. He went down the trail first. I followed. The trail was very advanced, extremely steep and narrow. Because it was difficult, no one else was in sight. I knew I had to make very short turns, one after another. I had no fear because it was not beyond my ability. I calmly started making my way down. After a few turns, somehow one of my skis got caught by the snow and the ski came off. Since it was a narrow trail, I needed to quickly make another turn but on one ski, which was a difficult feat. I lost the second ski. With both skis gone, I started tumbling down the mountain uncontrollably, like a snowball.
I was taught a technique to stab the ski pole into the snowy ground, like planting a stake, to stop oneself from sliding. I tried that. But I was rolling down the slope so fast that it didn’t help, instead, the pole was jerked away from my arm. I was tumbling down the hill so fast that snow flew everywhere, including in my face and blocking my entire vision. There was no visibility whatsoever. Sometimes I slid with feet first, sometimes head first, sometimes on my back, sometimes on my stomach. After losing one pole, I threw away the second pole to protect my self. I didn’t want to break a limb so I pulled my arms into my body. I was taught another technique to dig the heels of the ski boots into the ground to slow oneself down. I tried that, but the momentum of my body was so great that I rebounded from the ground, in a somersault, and like a rolling, bouncing ball.
I kept tumbling, not panicking, simply trying to think of what to do, sometimes picking up speed, occasionally slowing down depending on the pitch of the slope. At times when I started to slow down I thought I would come to a stop but no, I would pick up speed again. Like a rollercoaster, occasionally fast, occasionally slow, building momentum at different times. At this point I realized there’s absolutely nothing that I could do and my life was at the mercy of gravity. Since I couldn't do anything, I thought of reciting. I recited Namo Amitofo. Just after one recitation I came to a natural stop. I breathed deeply and laid on the ground resting. But immediately I heard someone calling out my name, yelling “Amy”, “Amy”. It was my sister’s friend. I sat up and saw not too far in front of me, were many trees. In another 3 seconds I would’ve hit the trees and maybe broken my neck. Miraculously I avoided hitting any rocks and trees on the way down. The friend was scared for my life and was frantically calling my name. I was okay. No major injury, just a swollen eye but no broken bones.
In the process of rolling down the hill, I had caused the friend to lose both of his skis and poles as well. He was able to reach out and grab a tree branch. He stopped himself this way but dislocated his shoulder in doing so. The ski patrollers came later, put him on a stretcher and took him to an open space area so that a helicopter could lift him to the closest hospital. The ski patrol could not carry him back to the main lodge due to the remoteness of the area we were skiing in. The route back was not accessible by ski patrols carrying a person on a stretcher.
I skied back to meet up with my sister and other friends and drove to the hospital to pick up the injured friend. When we got out of the hospital, it was ~ 3pm and we went to eat lunch. While eating, I suddenly realized that it was a fasting day. I had forgotten about it completely. The night before I had slept on a California king size bed. A California king size bed is larger than a king size bed. It is so big that 3 people can fit on it. I had certainly forgotten to practice mindfulness.
Perhaps the dharma protectors left me on that fateful morning. In all my past years of skiing I’ve never come close to losing my life on the slope except that day. Perhaps they were still around watching over me so I did not lose my life or suffer any major injury. I do not know. But I learned a few lessons. 1) The warning was clear, that life is fragile. We live from breath to breath. We never know what may happen at the next moment. Simply doing something to me as easy as walking, the next moment my life could be hanging on a thread. One moment I was perfectly poised and in total control, the next moment I was tumbling down the hill uncontrollably. 2) As one advances in doing anything, the risk becomes higher. Making a small mistake can result in major error. A small slip on a steep slope can quickly turn into a life-threatening disaster. I need to pay extra attention when the risks are high. 3) I lost touch with my Bodhi resolve that day. I put my life at risk and I put others’ lives at risk.
I repented after the accident. I had offered to pay for the cost of the friend’s medical expenses, the helicopter ride and the emergency room visit, follow-up, etc. I felt responsible both for his physical and financial damage. In my mind I knew the cost would be high and it was unclear whether his company’s health insurance would cover the expense. Perhaps my repentance was sufficiently sincere - a month later he informed me that his company would cover the expense, which amounted close to $10,000.
To keep the Bodhi resolve balloon charged, we should draw near good people, immerse ourselves in good environment, attend repentances and lectures regularly. Receiving the Bodhisattva precept is like taking the first steps, I know I still have a long way to go on the Bodhisattva path.