And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may the people think of benefiting one another”
― Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva
Stephen Gaskin is my "root guru".
I came of age in the late sixties. The Spirit was on the land. More than anyone else, Stephen Gaskin seemed to capture the essence of the
Collective Kensho that occurred during era. A marine veteran of the Korean War who went on to become an English instructor at San Francisco State, he transformed the energy of tripping
with friends in Haight-Ashbury into a bustling community in Tennessee that at one point included about 1700 people. (He also was a central part of an inexplicable
occurrence that touched my life the week after he died in 2014. (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Lighten Up!, July 12, 2014)
When I first saw"Out to Save the World"boldly displayed in the destination window of Gaskin's Greyhound Scenicruiser, it brought a grin to my face -- and stirred something deep in my heart. I thought, "Of course. What else is there to do?"
As I reflect on it here at age 74, I sense that I had already been propelled in that direction by a series of events in my youth. In the midst of the trauma and pain of a chaotic childhood, I had been touched deeply by the kindness and courage of "strangers" more than once. There was a type of energy in those interactions that was palpable. I felt it.
Then, one day in eighth grade during recess, I discovered something about the nature of reality that still rings true. Standing alone, once again the new kid in school (I had gone to ten different schools by then), I was watching the
schoolyard interactions on a surrealistically gorgeous autumn day. A dance of color and sound, Life played out in front of me like a movie. Some kids were being kind. Others were not. Some kids appeared to be having fun. Others were not. At a certain point -- Zap! I got it. It was obvious. Through our attitudes and actions, we humanoids are individually and collectively creating the
world we experience each moment!
Seeing that clearly, the key to life seemed like a no-brainer. What Jesus was preaching in the Bible was just plain, common sense. (It would be another ten years before I read that Buddha had a similar take on things.) As you sew, so shall you reap. If we would just get our act together and love one another, the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.
Easier Said Than Done
Of course, I quickly learned that a lot of folks hadn't quite seen that yet. I also saw that consistently being kind was not all that easy. Fear and doubt and confusion were powerful forces. It was going to take some serious work to pull it off. It would take a real commitment.
Stephen Gaskin brought that point home as I discovered his teachings in my mid-20's. Although I'd read about the ideal of the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, I hadn't actually seen the four fold Bodhisattva Vows until I read Gaskin's rendering of it in Hey Beatnik*:
I got goosebumps when I read that.
Although I was a couple years away from sitting with my first embodied Zen
teacher, those four lines seemed to capture the essence of what I felt
my life to be about, and it pointed out the work to be done. A few years later, when I discovered the Mahayana Buddhist teaching that there could be no final and perfect enlightenment until everyone was enlightened, I broke into tears. It just made sense. Like many of us back in the day, I'd
already peaked out (even without LSD) to experience our Essential
Oneness. It just made sense that a Bodhisattva wouldn't punch out and go home to
Buddhahood until everyone was covered.
Rather than me taking the
Bodhisattva Vow at that point, the Vow took me. Looking at the condition of the world around me, I
couldn't see anything more worth doing then to get my act together and try to help out. Now, fifty some odd years later, it seems even more important as our species continues to careen toward disaster.