Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Is there a bodhisattva in your life?

Posted on June 01, 2008 by jimparedes

Sunday, June 1, 2008

According to Buddhist belief, a bodhisattva is one who delays his own enlightenment or ascent to heaven in order to save others by leading them to their own salvation. They are the heroes who help get others liberated first before they enjoy their own liberation.

I think of the people who enter our lives and wonder who the bodhisattvas are. Some of them are obvious. I remember an uncomplicatedly clear example, that of a Japanese woman who clearly saw my confusion in a busy train terminal in Tokyo one day. Despite the fact that it was rush hour, she took the time to ask me where I was going, guided me to the right platform, and waited until I got on the right train. Bless her!

I have no doubt there are many more who appear in our lives. But do we notice them? There are simple ones and there are more meaningful encounters. Who are those who guide us through the lessons we need to master by pointing out the obvious mistakes we should have learned earlier but keep repeating? These are the everyday bodhisattvas in our midst.

The bodhisattvas who leave an indelible impression are teachers, therapists, best friends, confidantes, parents, gurus, etc. Some may even be strangers who have unintentionally found their lot in with ours. I am talking about unexpected chance encounters with people who are good for us. We recognize them because they patiently stay with us and tide us through the process of working out our pains and issues as we go through the fire, converting the black, ugly coal of our indiscretion and addictive behavior into diamonds that we can keep as hard-earned treasures.

True bodhisattvas will do whatever it takes, including, and especially, tough love where they risk their own alienation from us just so we may move on to a more enlightened and liberated state. They call us on our bullshit when we ourselves can’t see it. We may reject them at first, or fear them for their persistence, but we end up learning from them. Have you ever had a strict teacher who intimidated you but made you a better person? They help us reorient the way we see our own identities so that we may consciously choose to “lose our small selves” and find the big Self!

Then there are the pseudo-bodhisattvas, those who derail our journey to authenticity by “saving” us the trouble of having to go through pain. Most of them may be well intentioned, but unlike true bodhisattvas, they are far from “awakened.”

These are the people who unwittingly peddle toxic love — well-meaning friends, parents, people who love us but who do not know better. They allow or tolerate us when we are crazy because they do not have the heart or the guts to hurt us by telling us off. They pretend we are behaving normally when we are not. In psychoanalytic parlance, they are co-dependents or enablers. Why? Because they claim and believe that sparing us a few painful words is an act of love. It may feel like love but it might not be what’s good for us. They mistake their “idiot compassion,” as Ken Wilber puts it, for the real thing.

And then there are others who are out-and-out toxic and want nothing else but to lead us down the road to destruction and further separation from Self. These are the ones who play on our weaknesses, who deceive us, who pretend to want to help us go through the pain of addiction by feeding it, or making us believe they are easing our trauma by our not facing them.

They do so by numbing our minds, sometimes with drugs and at other times with wrong thinking to counter the painful nagging that screams from our consciousness telling us that something is wrong. They insinuate themselves into our lives until we begin to “need” them. They keep us occupied and entertained with noise, shallowness and vacuity, and busy with frenzied activities, or numbed with substances so that we can avoid all suffering.

In place of heaven, they keep us lost in an intermediate bardo world of confusion, a plane where we are neither “here nor there.” Their aim is to permanently trap us in the cage of the small self. They divert us from true self-discovery. They keep us isolated from ourselves. They prevent us from walking the path that leads to the heart of fear so we may never conquer it and move on to who we are really meant to become.

But even when we are in the grip of such people who are not good for us, I believe there are always other people whom we can run to if we open our eyes. In a confusing situation, to be able to tell them apart — that is the first step in freeing ourselves.

The other important task is to ask ourselves which one among the examples above are we to other sentient beings who walk this earth. At times, I know that I dish out idiot compassion when I should be serving tough love. If we are to become bodhisattvas, we must learn that there is pain we ourselves must go through if we are to liberate others. We untangle the knots in people’s lives and suffer with them in the process while we remain untangled throughout.

Where do bodhisattvas come from? What type of thinking leads one to become one? I suspect it comes when we awaken to a perspective beyond our own local, personal setting. And when we do, we are able to widen our identity to include others. The wounds of war, for example are the same in every part of the world. In a profoundly holistic way, one can claim that there is no peace if there’s a war going on anywhere on the planet. The same type of thinking goes for the environmental movement and all other liberation efforts everywhere.

There was a Chinese policewoman in the news, a young nursing mother who showed up for work to breastfeed infants rescued from the ruins of the recent earthquake. In an interview, she said that she could not help but do for these children what she does for her own child. She saw her own child in every child that was rescued.

The true bodhisattva therefore does what he or she does for “selfish” reasons, and that is to save him or herself. Except that to the bodhisattva, the “self” is the whole world, or the entire cosmos if you will. Instead of taking a solo flight to freedom, the bodhisattva opts to go back and take all of humanity to heaven.

8 to “Is there a bodhisattva in your life?”

  1. Willa says:

    I know what you mean,I think I encounter many of them,the last time was when I was travelling with my two boys, (5 & 1 by then) and this nice filipina offered her help to hold my luggaged so i can hold the boys both hand, she saw my predicament,although the boys didn’t really give me a hard time but it still good to get an extra help in a times when you least expected it.

  2. Mon says:

    I… I guess I need a bodhisattva now. Man, I am so depressed. I should be taking my board exam today. But I can’t. I am really depressed.

  3. auggie says:

    Yes, it’s true. We encounter them. It’s that we only lack awareness of who are they. First time I encounter the word, was from a track of STEELY DAN.
    BTW, we have met decades ago, in the early 80s at the IRRI, Los Banos, Christmas program for its employees. We have talked awhile prior to your performance with the APO.

  4. Bass Poet says:

    Hi Jim,

    I believe we are all called and chosen to be a Bodhisattva in our life time. One classic example for me is “Jesus Christ”. I remember what Father Philip Chircop, a Great Jesuit Priest when he said ” that we must die while living in order to experience eternal life.” For me, Bodhisattva is entering a person’s “chaos” – an extension of empathy and compassion. When we are in the “chaos” of the people we are with, we are practicing “Bodhisattva”. When we are feeling their pains and struggles from within, that is “Bodhisattva” – a path to true liberation. When pain and compassion intertwined, that is true liberation.

    To end my commentary, I strongly feel that to be true “Bodhisattva” is to experience joy, freedom and liberation when practicing acts of compassion and empathy – in being God and Be God.

    Bass Poet

  5. mitch says:

    These people are blessings in our life.. Most of the time we’re not aware of this but I think we should truly appreciate these people. May it be your friend, relatives or a total stranger.I hope we can all be a bodhisattva to everybody..God Bless!!

  6. jimparedes says:

    bass poet–what a beautiful way you put it, thanks.

    mitch,willa–Yes. We will all experience meeting and being one at one time or another.

    auggie–I have good memories of our shows in Los Banos.

    mon–I send you my best, healing wishes.

  7. kenjebz says:

    I’ve been following your blog anywhere, here at pansitan or at multiply. Me and my wife being expats here in Saudi Arabia are fascinated of your thoughts and amazed on how you can convey the wonderful messages and musings that it is so delightful to read. now I have this courage to make a comment, in a hope that someone we look up too will somehow visit our site and leave a comment. I especially like your entry ‘We will be back to fight another day’ because that was the time we are moving here in Saudi also…my family, a wife then, but with a new born baby now. Thank you for touching our lives. You may not know it, but you are a bodhisattva in our life, and im sure to many others.

  8. kenjebz says:

    Our blog here in saudi arabia, http://jbsolis.blogspot.com

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