If it only were 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. A public servant in the deepest sense, the Bodhisattva even forestalls entering Nirvana, in order to address the suffering of the world. This idea resonated deeply with the inspiration I felt as a young teen as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, proclaiming their intention to even love their enemies, challenged this country to live up to its professed ideals. A few years later, the emergence of SDS and Anti-War movement and the anti-materialistic, psychedelic 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 real and tangible to me.
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 over the years --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. was moving toward withdrawing from Vietnam. We were getting it down and getting it done! The Kingdom of Heaven was at hand!
Now, fifty 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 way of the Bodhisattva is not a Hollywood version of Mission Impossible. The Bodhisattva Vow comes with no guarantees. 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. I had to accept that the good guys are not necessarily going to win the day. I had to open myself to heartbreak.
Now, in my best moments, I can hold the image of what Chogyam Trungpa called the Vision of the Great
Eastern Sun in my heart, let my heart ache with the sadness of
the impossible situation we find ourselves in -- and get of my butt to do what I can to help out.
It tends to keep me pretty busy.
How about you. What are you up to?