|Stephan Gaskin at the Helm in early 70's|
At first glance that may seem surprising. After all, I do Sit Still Doing Nothing -- a lot.
I meditate for an hour most every morning. Since the heyday of #Occupy Wall Street!, I meditate with some other folks for another half hour at noon most days on the Greenfield Town Commons. I also Sit with four Mindfulness Circles each week. I participate in a Day of MIndfulness each month. You'd think that I'd have downtime down at this point.
If it only was that easy.
Out to Save the World
One thing that drew me to Zen and Mahayana Buddhism in the first place was the ideal of the Bodhisattva, the person who forestalls personal Nirvana in order to address the suffering of the world. This idea resonated deeply with the inspiration I felt as a young teen with the quest of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. A few years later, the emergence of the Anti-War movement and the anti-materialistic spirituality of the youthful "counter-culture" set a trajectory for my life that continues to this day.
Each morning I recite the Bodhisattva Vow as I finish morning meditation. I first came across a Hippy Zen version of these four statements of commitment in Hey Beatnik: This is the Farm Book in 1974. I was transfixed. I got goosebumps. In that moment, I knew that there wasn't anything better to do with my life. (Here is a link to an on-line .pdf version of this classic work.)
By then, like many of us who were navigating our way through the confluence of Eastern Spirituality and the Psychedelic Revolution, I had experienced a number of "Awakenings." The Most Profound One had nothing to do with anything in my bloodstream except the byproducts of meditation, breakfast, and lunch. For a few precious moments, I had a glimpse of Our Perfect Oneness. What had been theoretical and abstract, a belief, became totally real and tangible to me. (I only wish I had had a spiritual mentor at the time-- or even been more inclined to listen to my friends at that point. It may have made things a lot easier along the way. Even knowing what the bottom line is, over the years I've made most every dumb mistake possible. LOL )
Although I have read (and recited) other versions and translations of the Bodhisattva Vows (Some of the Tibetan versions are quite poetic and beautiful), this is the passage I read that day years ago:
"I don't have an ultimate goal in life. I believe in the vow of the Bodhisattva. And that says that sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all. The deluding passions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them all. The way of the dharma is impossible to expound, I vow to expound it. It is impossible to attain the way of the Buddha, I vow to attain it. And that keeps you busy. "
Excuse me. My chest is heaving and tears are streaming down my face -- again. I gotta go get some kleenex. I'll be back.
When I first saw Stephan's Greyhound Scenicruiser with "Out to Save the World" displayed as the destination, I grinned. I thought, "What else is there to do?" I'm down for that. In the youthful bravado we shared in the early 70's "saving the world" even seemed imminent! The Civil Rights Act was law. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts were on the books. The U.S. had withdrawn from Vietnam. We were getting it down and getting it done! The Kingdom of Heaven was at hand!
Now, forty some odd years later, it's obvious that for quite a long while I hadn't really understood the nature of the Real Deal. Although the words numberless and inexhaustible, and impossible (twice, no less) were there in plain sight, they might as well have been in fine print somewhere on the back of the contract. I didn't quite get it.
Although I was mouthing the words each day, until the past several years, I hadn't fully taken it to heart. The Bodhisattva Vow came with no guarantees. As Practice deepened, I had to open my heart and mind more fully to the utter impossibility of the final and perfect enlightenment of myself and all sentient beings -- and commit my life to doing exactly that. Again and again and again.
I'm down for that. It tends to keep me pretty busy.
How about you?