During this holiday season, the season of giving, it is interesting to add a Buddhist spice to our Christmas eggnog. The Buddha was christened "The Awakened One" because he achieved nirvana, "enlightenment," a state of being beyond words, time, and space. In this space, one is connected to everything, sees everything, understands everything. However, he was also called "The Compassionate One." Instead of staying in this perfect state of bliss, he chose to return and become the World Teacher out of compassion for suffering humanity. As he himself said, "I have come for one thing and one thing only, to liberate humankind from suffering." The Dalai Lama prays every morning. "I am just a simple monk. May I return as many times as necessary until the last person on the planet is no longer suffering." He is the 14th Dalai Lama, returning each lifetime to continue that task. He has quite a job. How many more lifetimes will it take to liberate all of humanity from the suffering caused by greed, fear, anger, power trips, war, poverty, loneliness, grief, and selfish ego? Well, I have no answer to that, only that it is a noble and worthy goal—one that I and many Lightworkers have signed up for.
How do we accomplish such a seemingly overwhelming job with a human nature split between amazing potential and beauty versus self-destructive tendencies and ugliness? Our Light and Dark sides seem to be constantly at war both within us and in the world. Buddhism offers many answers to bring balance into your life, so there is no more internal war—meditation, spiritual teachers, following The Middle Way, and so on. However, one thing that permeates all Buddhist teachings is The Bodhisattva Way. It allows people who are not highly trained in Buddhist discipline and principles to accelerate their personal spiritual growth. However, that is not the goal because Buddhism would tell us that The Bodhisattva Way is not for personal gain or egoistic satisfaction. The Bodhisattva Way is true unto itself as a stand-alone path of pure goodness. If one aspires to follow this path, it is done simply for the benefit of others. So, what is The Bodhisattva Way?
The heart of this path is "altruistic intent." True altruism is never about the self but always about others. The Bodhisattva intent is to compassionately empathize and understand the suffering of all humanity. Even dark and evil people can love and show concern for their friends and relatives. Jesus said as much, but then he took us to higher levels. Love the stranger. (Matthew 25:10-31) "Love your enemies." (Matthew 5:31-40) Again, his last words on the cross were, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34-38) Jesus compassionately understood that if his people and the Romans truly knew the heart of God, they could not hate, torture, or execute him or anyone. The heart of God is love, compassion, and justice, not cruelty and condemnation. So, it is for the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva understands that even dark and evil people who follow unskillful ways suffer.
In my book, A Fresh Cup of Tolerance, we address the liberation of all people.
"We are hoping to change hearts and minds, and that must, of necessity, include the oppressor—also our brother and sister in bondage. Their enslavement is somewhat different, however, for it is a prison with thick bars of ignorance; long, darkened halls of blindness; and razor-sharp barbed wire barriers of fear. And, in some lifetime, as our many years of past life regressions have repeatedly shown, we have been "them."…. No one has been an innocent or a saint in every lifetime, yet, somehow, we eventually manage to escape our dank prison cells and, then, the liberating knowledge is ours to share. Of course, this viewpoint requires looking at the world radically differently and openly leaving judgment in abeyance." (Norris, 108)
That is quite a task. To forgive the people who have harmed us or harmed the world. To recognize their pain and have compassion for them. It is not easy moving into the altruistic intent. Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14) Those who choose the narrow gate will truly come to a life marked by kindness, generosity, compassion, love, and empathy in all things that they do and for all humanity. It actually also includes all living creatures, not just humans. In this, we recognize the interconnectedness of all life.
One of our church members was on a girl's night out with the other women in her ministry class. After dinner and socializing, they headed for the parking lot to their cars. Once in the parking lot, she looked over at a group of people talking and laughing and exclaimed with a beatific smile, "Don't you just love them?" Her friends were confused, "But you don't even know them." She just smiled and said, "But I love them." This had a profound effect on the other women. They began to look at the way they looked at and judged people and strangers, which previously had not been in a very loving or spiritual way. This reflection and change in attitude was a significant step on The Bodhisattva Way.
My wife pointed out that this message is especially relevant at this time because of the suffering that many are experiencing in Ukraine, Russia, Israel, and Gaza. For so many Christians and Jews, Christmas and Hanukkah were not happy celebrations this year. Muslims also revere Jesus and Mary as great prophets. Thus, for so many, there were only traumatic memories and family members and friends missing from the table. Homes bombed. Lives shattered. In fact, this year, the war prevented the celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. She found that profoundly sad. So, in our prayers, let's pray for peace and comfort for those wounded lands.
Rev. Dr. Tom Norris