Sunday, September 4, 2011

No Time to Lose

I am currently reading No Time to Lose:  A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, a commentary on Shantideva's work by Pema Chodron.  In Mahayana Buddhism, there is a bodhisattva vow where we ask to awaken for the benefit of all beings.  When we first begin to practice meditation, our motivation may simply be to remove our own personal suffering.  But as we continue to practice, we come to realize the level of suffering of all beings, from our close circle of family and friends to beings around the globe.  All one has to do is watch the news every night to hear about murders, wars, natural disasters, illnesses and the like.  For me personally, this can be very disturbing and I often feel powerless to do anything about it.  The problems of the world seem immense and overwhelming.  Shantideva wrote The Way of the Bodhisattva over twelve centuries ago.

 "The Sanskrit term bodhichitta is often translated as "awakened heart" and refers to an intense desire to alleviate suffering.  On the relative level, bodhichitta expresses itself as longing.  Specifically, it is the heartfelt yearning to free oneself from the pain of ignorance and habitual patterns in order to help others do the same.  This longing to alleviate suffering of others is the main point.  We start close to home with the wish to help those we know and love, but the underlying inspiration is global and all encompassing.  Bodhichitta is a sort of "mission impossible":  the desire to end the suffering of all beings, including those we'll never meet, as well as those we loathe."  (Pg xiii  No Time to Lose)

Basically, the process involves working with our mind first and dealing with our habits of thought and working to remove such impulses such as anger, jealousy, hatred and greed.  Once these veils are removed from our mind, then we are in a position to act wisely and compassionately in the world to help reduce the suffering in the world, perhaps one mind at a time.  Realistically we don't have a clear vision of how our thoughts and actions impact the world around us but it is our hope, that as a result of the work we do on ourselves, we are able to act with wisdom and wholesome intention and positively effect change in the world.

My dharma teacher suggested that we read articles written by Noam Chomsky.  His website is  He is a prolific writer with a lot to say about how the United States government conducts its business in the world.  I found it quite distressing to read about the manipulations by the powers that be that is motivated by greed for power and an exaggerated view of the importance of the United States.  When I think about the trillions of dollars spent on military budgets alone, plus the economic bailout of a few short years ago and I think about the pittance spent on providing people with the necessities of life, I can feel very discouraged.  No Time to Lose is a good antidote to those feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness that reading Chomsky induces.

The modern day epitome of compassion has been the Dalai Lama and how he deals with the Chinese invasion of Tibet.  I know it fills his heart with sorrow to think about how Tibetans have suffered since the occupation began.  But he looks for a compassionate and nonviolent resolution that provides autonomy for the Tibetan people that does not necessarily involve China withdrawing.  The Dalai Lama says that his religion is kindness and his example is one that I would like to emulate in my life.  Not only is the Dalai Lama saddened by the suffering of his people but he is also saddened about the harm that is brought to the perpetrators as a result of their unenlightened actions.  Karma says that there is a wholesome result for wholesome actions and an unwholesome result for unwholesome actions though we cannot predict what those will be.  Karma works on the small scale and on the large scale.  If I wish harm to another, even though the other causes harm, I cause harm to myself.  Karma will take care of the consequences.  I don't have to take part in that.  But the bodhichitta view would be that perpetrators will be released from greed, hatred and delusion and awaken to apply bodhichitta in their lives.  That is the ultimate goal.  Maybe someday.....

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