It doesn’t require a thousand years of enlightenment
There are many who feel we have entered an age of entitlement, of serving the self above others. Yet the vast majority of us are not those angry souls carrying flags, guns, and signs. If anything, this pandemic has revealed the essential compassion potential in all of us. It is not driven by material desire or monetary gain, in fact much of it risks sickness or death.
In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a being who works to help others awaken to their best nature and become happier in the process. It is the opposite of selfish. But mythology about these kind people has made becoming one an impossibly challenging goal. You may have to live a thousand lifetimes until all karmic debt is discharged. Or sit for long hours in a cave contemplating emptiness. You might understand why this is not a goal for most of us.
Yet Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh says this:
“If you have a lot of compassion and a lot of insight and awakening, you can act as a bodhisattva in the form of a businessperson, an athlete, a scientist, a politician, an entertainer, or a parent.”
From The Art of Power
When you first approach Buddhism, enlightenment seems like the big prize, so big almost no one gets it and almost no one knows exactly what it is. We read tales of trials and tests, tales enhanced by their settings in remote monasteries or barren refuges inhabited by sages. Sages, who after those trials, experience something that makes them wise beyond the average human.
Sounds pretty unattainable, right? Oddly enough, every Buddhist tradition has thousands of these saints and their stories are often of people started out evil or lecherous, or otherwise messed up. When you dig deeper and get past the new age Western version of Buddhism, a different story emerges.
The word ‘Buddha’ translates as the awakened one or the one who woke up. If you dissect this it implies that he became aware of something that was always there but unseen, because we are asleep. This realization that all beings have this potential was the enlightenment he experienced and shared. If you accept that all of us have this within us then we are all equally potential bodhisattvas.
But what about those people yelling at cars and carrying assault rifles in public? Yup, them too. This is where being enlightened get challenging. We can be kind and compassionate but what about when we face mindless envy and anger? Our natural reaction is to get angry back at them. I know mine is. But has that ever worked?
Earlier I mentioned the worship of the self, the belief that our needs are more important than the needs of others. This becomes the justification for all kinds of things and actions. I need this thing, so…you don’t count.
The problem is that we can only be compassionate to all by stopping this selfishness of spirit. We face an enemy that does not care who it attacks, in fact it is only doing what it was designed by nature to do, to replicate itself over and over. Anyone can be a victim regardless of their belief system, wealth, race, education…anyone and, in this case, being selfish can actually help this thing sicken and kill others. Anyone.
You are a bodhisattva, one who helps others awaken. You just don’t know it yet. You don’t have to sit in a cave for years, unless you want to. All you have to do is stop thinking of your needs before the needs of others. That’s it.