What the hell is a “Bodhisattva?”
The term has become rather popularized in the Western world with the counter-cultural advent of Buddhism as a hip alt-religion. The Dalai Lama is now a household name and, although, perhaps, less popular than the Pope, he is recognized as a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the Great Buddha of Compassion. Forgoing passage into Nirvana (what is sometimes called “Passing into Extinction”), he returns again and again until all Sentient Beings have attained Liberation.
Of course, the Big D isn’t the only one who is bound to this mission. There are innumerable Bodhisattvas who have sworn the Oath and given themselves to this Path. It creates a sense of awe and respect. After all, many of us are trying to simply sort through the shit of daily life and hardly feel ready to take on the burden of the World. I doubt many would raise their hands for a “Bodhisattva Roll-Call.”
Despite this fact, my view of this term has changed over the years, turning away from the conception of a relative few elevated souls who were “ready” to make the leap into an enlightened service far beyond the capability of the average Samsara saturated sucker on the street.
I recall one particular dark and stormy night, many years past, when a young lady blew out of the rain into a small meditation center where I’d been enduring lower back pain and distra….I mean, “getting one with everything.” She seemed to be, if I may use the term, “tweaking.” Her eyes were wide and her voice shaking with a trembling urgency. She wanted to take the Vow of Refuge, right then and there. The leaders of the group were calm and told her there was a formal ceremony in a couple months where she could do this but she would be welcome to come back, meditate and talk more about it. She had no interest in this and was insistent, as if her life somehow depended upon someone saying “OK, I’ll witness this.” I think she said “I have to become a Buddhist NOW!” She vanished off into the night and I never saw her again.
I sometimes wonder what distress had been rippling through her being. So many ways to “read” the situation and no real way to KNOW. But what I DID see was the pressing need to have another person, a perceived authority of some kind, validate her. She was quite vexed when this could not immediately happen.
Now, we might be inclined to view the Vow of the Bodhisattva through the same lens, a thing to be “conferred” by another with the authority and power to do so.
So, do we wait until some ceremonial event-or at least create a romantic setting whereby we make such a sublime step, something which might support the “validity” of our claim, if not to others, at least to ourselves? And what happens afterwards? Do we get high and stay high, deflecting pain and annoyance like dust batted by the Buddha’s eyelash, as we march off to a new life of seamless serenity and good works?
Or do we wake up some moment afterwards and think “I’m just the same asshole I’ve always been?”
Does the Vow then goad us back to our Path of service? And how many times do we need to alternate between “failure” and “success” before we realize we’re in a microcosm mirroring the Life-Death-Rebirth cycle?
Yep, turns out we’re the very same people we swore to “save.”
But then I saw that any conscious taking of this Vow was not the actual taking of the Vow, that it had really been taken aeons past, long before we began rippling as gobs of goo beneath our mother’s bellies. In fact, the reason we exist is because this Vow was followed by our boarding a rocket ship aimed from an “alien” domain and toward this terra. The ride would strip us down, stretch our form and the crash-landing would be none too soft. Amnesia is a common side-effect and, bumbling through the first misadventure on planet earth, we get the Bardo Bounce-back, replete with Karmic encrustations.
Of course, this was all explained to us during the Briefing as we each received our Beacon Implant (just in case we’d get fucked up-which we did…royally).
So, we wake up, bit by bit. We wonder what that little beeping sound inside our chest cavity might be. It seems to get louder and clearer under certain conditions. It might even bring us to some Vow which is actually an Act of Remembering the Objective of the Game.
EVERYONE took the “Vow.” Granted, some are more forgetful than others but it remains a present reality. Nobody “becomes a Bodhisattva.” We only divest ourselves of those elements which have locked down awareness of its ubiquitous Presence. YOU can rise and fall but the Bodhicitta (which is the Enlightened Buddha Nature) is unaffected and perfect. It is your True Nature.
If we confuse the Bodhisattva Path with “being nice to others,” we can find ourselves in a pickle. Not that being nice isn’t nice-but this view evokes a tendency to bring a measuring stick against our actions and actually occlude Bodhicitta in the moment.
For example, how many of the starving masses did you feed today? Talk anyone out of suicide this afternoon?
“Oh, yeah…I opened a few minds at the office, helped change a tire and put in some time at the soup kitchen. But I gotta go and rescue a few baby seals yet before I can provide shelter for the homeless and call it a night.”
Well, that’s plenty to feel good about. It would certainly SUCK if you were stuck indoors for a weekend. You could lose some points sitting around the house and blowing off steam with a video game. You’ve got a rep to maintain and Amida Butsu is keeping score.
Unless, he’s not.
Not keeping score and not even a “he.”
It’s not that those things we mentioned are without merit. It is that there IS no merit. This is a point made by the Buddha to his disciple Shariputra in the Diamond Sutra, a very sacred “Bodhisattva” scripture.
If we want to split hairs, we can take a magnifying glass to any action and see how the “meritorious” could come at the expense of someone’s happiness and wellbeing, how the destructive actions of others can push into a domino effect which blesses or saves someone down the line. And then we could look at how every event is causing every other event, how any manifest thing contains the sum total of everything else. When we consider this, we may find it impossible to discern which actions are truly those given to the “Liberation of All Beings Everywhere.” We’re “damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”
Unless, we just ditch that measuring stick, the divisions of which were created by an imposition of our personal ideas of “how to save others.”
You CAN’T save anyone else. You can help people in temporal circumstances (which is great) but the same setting of those circumstances will roll around and bring back suffering. And it all ends with the death of the mortal form.
So what can we possibly DO?
We manifest Compassion and this is done by unveiling its incorruptible nature within our own Minds. This Compassion is one with Bodhicitta and therefore is not the same as feeling warm and fuzzy-or soft and sad-over other people’s circumstances. It is the recognition of Bodhicitta in what is perceived as the other. This isn’t lip-service played out in our own head-space where we tell ourselves we are really one with that other person. The recognition happens at a deep vibratory level. Its upsurge into conscious awareness evokes Gnosis, a direct knowing of the oneness of the Bodhicitta Itself. As much as dualistic consciousness remains, this upsurging rewires and remakes the mind. It cannot be considered a total transformation if dualistic consciousness remains in any way intact. But the “blowing out” into Nirvana is not the aim of the Bodhisattva. Therefore, there is a Gnostic Awakening which portends further Gnostic Awakening.
If we envision this on a linear timeline, we might want to pin ourselves onto some system of occult “Grades” or “Degrees.” The nature of the Bodhisattva in Time, however, is rushing in as much from the future as it is the past, from other dimensional realms as much as this “Prime Dimensional Reality.” Therefore, the genius of, let’s say, “Grade 8,” (representing a certain “Level of Attainment”) may be actively utilizing the scope of possibility in “Grade 4.” “YOU” may conceive of yourself as “Grade 4” but within the transpersonal Bodhicitta, you are not divided from the “Grade 8” (or any other) consciousness.
These “Grades” may even seem to be manifest as another Being. The point here is that “Beings” partake of “Being” and “Being Itself” is not limited to a human-centric view of Compassion.
E.J. Gold stated that one of the most important things one could do was to become an active and compassionate work partner with one’s Avatar in the Second Life Prosperity Virtual Ashram. This was from a talk where he was addressing the very real concern of impending death. Now, a knee-jerk reaction to this statement might be: “Are you kidding me? My life is ticking down and you’re saying that I should give time to being ‘compassionate’ to a pixel-person in a computer game? What about the people around me? What about the REAL world?”
But we could easily say the same thing about meditation. Why waste time sitting on a cushion and stilling the tide of incoming thoughts being broken on the shore when there are PEOPLE who I could help?
The Key is first understanding that the virtual space is a TOOL to develop the Bodhisattva Nature within ALL virtual spaces we inhabit or encounter, which includes the “physical realm.” Similarly, most people who meditate are equally concerned with a “Post-meditational” approach to the fluctuations of daily life.
But there is more to it than this. By developing compassion with regards to one’s avatar, one begins to sensitize to several important things. Firstly, the field of action for the Bodhisattva is seen to encompass more than Being as it is manifest in the Human Organic Form. The limitations of the Avatar’s form (relative to the humanoid body we temporarily inhabit) find analog in other fields of limitation (or “difference”). The Bodhisattva is fully capable of treating a stone, a bag of trash, a cup of coffee or even situations themselves with Compassion.
This “reflecting” of Awakening Bodhicitta opens to MAGIC, which in some cultures is expressed through Animism. Going beyond superstitious belief or mere regard, the Animist may access the fields of intelligence and empowerment uniquely connected to each form. Having understood the multidimensional relationships between the sundry Grades beyond linear time, our “Grade 4” may access our “Grade 8” through a vehicle regarded by most as “Grade 1.” The word for this is COMMUNION.
These “occult contacts” are really very easily made. In one of his books (I believe “Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior”), Chogyam Trungpa speaks of Basic Goodness inherent in all Minds. He says that almost everyone is capable of at least SOME level of appreciation. A person may be the wickedest creature we know-but he may still be capable of appreciating a good cigar, a stirring tune, a fine meal. This is a start.
We can also learn to appreciate appreciation itself, which allows us to extend it into areas we might otherwise clumsily crash on through. A single moment of attentiveness and compassion arising in such an area has its origin in the Present Bodhisattva Nature.
Future blog entries will explore how this approach is developed in virtual spaces. These spaces (taken as a whole) are not without danger. They can do anything from wasting time to corrupting the Soul. The same, however, is true of ANY space, however we label it. The Tibetan Book of the Dead stresses that all the forms which rise in the Bardos must be recognized as projections of the mind. If this is not done, the ship will capsize and the Voyager will be drawn, magnetically, into a Womb Door according to the nature of their Karmic Matrix. The Awakening to the Illusory Nature of the Bardos (which transforms the “Fierce Deities” into the “Beatific Buddhas”) may be viewed as a type of “Deconstruction.” This is not the only Art practiced by the Bodhisattva. There is also the Constructive Power, which is utterly needed if one is doing more than “strip down” into “Extinction.”
EVERYONE has the potential for both powers-and EVERYONE is also composed of a dynamic between the growth of these powers and the Transpersonal Bodhisattva Nature. Furthermore, this dynamic will ALWAYS have its own series of potential movements. It is not the intellect which will select the right one but Bodhicitta, which, like water, seeks its level.
When we realize in our deep core that we are already there, we can get to the business of being where we ARE.