In early 2021, the Kumarajiva Project published its first Chinese translation of an Indian commentary from the Tengyur, Confession of a Bodhisattva’s Downfalls to the Thirty-Five Buddhas. The following music video (Chinese) and a short teaching by Rinpoche expand the reader's experience of the text.
Confession of a Bodhisattva’s Downfalls to the Thirty-Five Buddhas：
Long Life Prayer for H.E. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche：
The Bodhipattideshanapritti, known as བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའི་ལྟུང་བ་བཤགས་པ (Jangchup sempa’i tungwa shagpa)
In all the practice disciplines of the path there are codes of conduct. There are, if you like, ethics, which are basically [guidelines as to] what you can do and what you can’t do. It’s important that people know that, actually, there is no such thing as dharma practice apart from keeping these disciplines. It’s also really important to know that when you are a beginner you are bound to violate, breach, and break these disciplines. Basically, you are not perfect, especially in the beginning. And because you are not perfect, you are practicing [the Buddhadharma]. There is no such thing as, you know, becoming perfect in discipline, morality, and ethics, and then practicing afterwards. If you were already perfect in keeping all of the disciplines, then there would be no [need for] practice other than that.
To put it in a very crude and mundane way: the process of not being disciplined and breaking the rules and at the same time fixing, mending, and restoring these breakages through different kinds of methods found in the Buddhist sutras is basically one of the quintessential [Buddhist] practices - whether it’s the Shravakayana, Pratyekabuddha, or Mahayana path.
One essential thing that we need to know is that all religions have the concept of a code of conduct, as well as the concepts of confession, restoring, mending, amendment, and so on and so forth. But in the Buddhadharma, and especially in the Mahayana, the crucial thing that we need to realize is that the discipline, the breach or breakage of discipline, and also the person who keeps their discipline, morality, and ethics, as well as the person who at times breaks these rules are all fundamentally within the sphere of dependent arising. Therefore, the quintessence, or the nature, of discipline and the keeper of discipline are all sunyata, or emptiness. This is the foundation [of Buddhist practice]. Based on that, we can talk about and use very seemingly religious words like “confession.” So, I think it’s really important to know that, although terms like “confession” can be very similar to [the terms used by] many other religions, the foundation of the Buddhist concept of confession is really, really different.
On top of that, of course, there is the motivation. Especially in this case [of confessing], the motivation is really not to confess and mend your own downfall so that you become kind of pure and quenched and cleared from the sort of “bad book,” if you like, or to get on “the white list.” It really has nothing to do with that, especially in the Mahayana. Remember, in the Mahayana, the essence of practice is bodhicitta, and bodhicitta really has to do with benefitting sentient beings.
When we talk about benefiting sentient beings, we are not talking about just giving them food and shelter. We are talking about awakening them. So, actually, to be more precise, for a Mahayana practitioner, reaching enlightenment is not at all the goal. Enlightenment is never the goal. Reaching enlightenment, or buddhahood, is actually a tool.
So, what is the main purpose of a Mahayana practitioner? The main purpose of the Mahayana practitioner is to benefit sentient beings. That is the real goal, the real aim. And in order to enlighten sentient beings, awaken sentient beings, we need to try to equip ourselves with every possible, you know, tool, attribute. And it so happens that if one attains Buddhahood, [that] is definitely a big tool, because you become omniscient, omnipotent, and can benefit [others] so much. So, with that spirit, with this motivation, you also do the confession or purification. The attitude of doing the confession or purification is really not to “correct” your own guilt. That is not the main goal, though it may be a temporary, sort of, “side bonus,” if you like. The real goal is to awaken sentient beings. Okay?
So, in Mahayana Buddhism there are so many, many different ways to restore or amend the breakage of rules, commitments and vows. And, as I said earlier, beginners especially will keep on going astray from the Buddha’s teachings, breaking their vows, making mistakes, hurting people, and getting distracted from our real goal - that, of course, is happening all the time. All the time. I again repeat that a young bodhisattva should never imagine that after a few days or right from the beginning they will be good at keeping all the vows and commitments and so on.
So, what do we do since now we know that basically almost every moment we will be breaking or violating or doing something wrong? It’s almost impossible to confess and expose our misdeeds because most of the time we are not even conscious of the misdeeds we have created. Only some really gross downfall we may notice, which we feel guilty about, but most of the time, 99.99% of the time, we don’t even know that we are actually hurting or misleading people in one way or another. In addition, all the things that we have done in the past are still there, and then there are also all the wrongdoings that we will end up doing in the future. Now what do we do with this?
This is why this specific sutra, [Bodhyapattisdesanavritti?], is praised, encouraged, and practiced by the great bodhisattvas of the past. We are not just making this up. According to many Mahayana sutras, the Buddha himself declared that by reciting this once a day, bodhisattvas can purify many karmas, karmic debt, and karmic baggage (basically the imprints of negative, non-virtuous thoughts and actions of our many, many lifetimes of the past, present, and also the future).
In this day and age, there are so many of us who have, out of eagerness and with a really good intention, taken the bodhisattva vow; and there are those of us who have joined the Tantric path, which is basically the Mahayana path (because there is no Vajrayana path if there is no bodhisattva path of the Mahayana). So, I urge and supplicate all these people to really do this, if you can, on a daily basis. If not, do it at least as much as you can. And for those who not only want to just get acquainted with this sutra but actually want to know more about its meaning, there are actually translations in English and Chinese. So, please explore this for yourself and for the benefit of others.