Do you think you’ve got what it takes to be a bodhisattva?
Are you ready to live in Truth for the benefit of all sentient beings, even if there is no Truth to serve and no others to serve it to?
Do you think you can handle your family for a week straight without losing it?
Do you think that little bit of patience and compassion you’ve cultivated is enough to prevent you from getting sucked into the vortex of drama and reactivity?
Just what the hell is a Bodhisattva, you ask, and why in the multiverse would anyone want to be one?
Literally, bodhisattva means “awakened being” (bodhi= awake, sat= being). But what does that mean? Awakened to what?
To seeing reality as it is.
There are four vows that bodhisattvas take that can help situate you as to what exactly this entails. If you reflect on them, you can perhaps get an idea about what it means to see reality as it is. To do so is a humbling, but inspiring exercise.
Vow #4: Buddha’s way is unsurpassable:I vow to embody it.
At first, this vow might strike you as sounding elitist (and we’re not accustomed to hearing that out of Buddhists!). To call his way unsurpassable– isn’t this thinking a little highly of Mr. Buddha?
To call the Buddha’s way unsurpassable does not mean you go around proselytizing the message, as though following his teachings was something that made you morally superior to everyone else.
The way is unsurpassable because it is a complete package that gives you everything you need to build a meaningful life, something that all true spiritual paths offer.
It’s a bit like building a house. The end goal is a structure that’s stable, watertight, and welcoming, but the means that one takes to construct that depend on the materials that the environment provides, as well as the individual disposition of the builder.
But you know that if you want a house, just finding the materials won’t suffice; you need the skill and means to effectively use those materials. This is why it’s a good idea to enlist the help of experienced craftsmen, who have been through the process and can tell you which tools you’ll need, as well as how to use them.
Tools are very useful when building a house, and even more useful when seeking to construct a mind that can withstand the raging storms that inevitably arise in daily life. On a physical construction site, a good builder uses the tools he has as well as the knowledge of how to improvise and build new tools as he goes along (or use the tools he has in unorthodox and creative ways).
The Buddha left us an incredibly thorough blueprint of the mind. Perhaps more importantly, he laid out the steps you’ll need to take, as well as the tools you’ll need, to build a more structurally sound one for yourself.
But to do this, you will probably first have to call in the demolition crew to raze what you had built on the site before.
You’re probably quite comfy in your little ego-shack, since you’ve spent decades decorating it with your achievements, ambitions, and dreams. It feels familiar because it’s the only thing you’ve ever known. It feels stable even though all the patching the walls merely masks the structural deficiencies.
But now, meditating on the first three vows has sent a hurricane on the heels of a flaming tsunami that unleashed a pack of wild elephants through your ego-house.
You see what all the holy beings from every tradition meant when they said that you are not the center of the world. You understand that there is more to your life than what you think. You’ve seen for yourself how you are chronically misperceiving the world, and you’ve gotten a hint of the way out.
But the path out of your suffering leads along a razor’s edge. Very few will have what it takes to do this, for even one ounce of ego left in your pockets will cause you to lose your balance.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter!
You’ve dropped the whole expectation of getting something for yourself out of this. You’ve even stopped grasping on to the fact that you cannot grasp anything, since that’s another delusion (but you’ve gotten so good at spotting them by this point that you don’t need this reminder!).
This is one reason why the teachings are unsurpassable: in working with them, you have become your own guide. You have learned how to fashion any tool you need out of the materials you have. You needn’t look to religious sages or any other authority outside yourself; you have become a lamp unto yourself, as the Buddha instructed. The doctor has directed you the medicine hidden inside you, and you’re now strong enough to fight off your own infections. You discovered an infinite wisdom existing alongside your boundless ignorance.
You don’t need to read any books to see through the hollowness and vacuity of what ‘the world’ promises. You know from your own experience that the roads of pleasure, comfort, and security lead nowhere. You come to see that living less egotistically, working through your shit, and reflecting on your life leads to more happiness, which is what we all really want. You could have arrived at the same conclusion through following Christ’s or Mohammad’s or Krishna’s or Aristotle’s way, since all these maps cover the same territory.
So the Way (that goes by many names) is indeed unsurpassable.
But practically speaking, how do we embody it?
In the face of an obstinate and ignorant world, you continue to love, expecting nothing in return. You look into yourself as a window through which the universe realizes itself, and consent to the power of Wisdom/Awakening to work through you. And because you know you can’t just to turn your back on all the beings responsible for bringing you into existence (ie. all of them!), you continue acting in the deluded world, accepting and appreciating your limited nature, doing your best to embody the qualities of enlightened consciousness that were lying dormant in you.
It’s natural for moments of doubt and dejection to overwhelm you, when you feel that you’re swimming against the current- and no matter how hard you try, it won’t be enough to change the prevailing waters. There will be times of challenge and adversity when you’ll want to throw in the towel and just give up already, where you’re meditating on your infinite nature when your neighbors blare their music, the person you treated with love and kindness betrays you, and you wish you’d never heard of the Bodhisattva vows.
But you know that even if you act with just a bit more patience, even if you cultivated just a fraction more compassion, you’ve succeeded in bringing that energy into the world and in so doing, nourished that potential inherent in our nature.
All energy is contagious; if we can infect each other with fear, hatred, and violence, then shouldn’t we presumably be able to do the same with love, generosity, and patience?