Posts Tagged ‘Vow’

Other Centered Salvation

March 3, 2014

As religious practitioners it is good to be aware of our motivation for practicing religion. Buddhism identifies two basic religious motivations: self motivation and other centered motivation. In the former, we are primarly interested in our own salvation. Religious practice is about ensuring our own personal liberation form suffering. Self salvation may be an assurance of our own rebirth in heaven. It might also take the form of self perfection, in which we undertake various practices or austerities to help us transcend the sufferings of existence. Self salvation can also be found in striving for a personal religious experience of release or transcendence. All of these are important and common forms of salvation.

The desire for salvation from suffering can, however, also arise as a compassionate response to the suffering of others. This is other centered salvation. It is seeking salvation to alleviate the suffering of others. This altrusitic motivation is the force that motivates Saints.

We can walk into any church or temple and find many good people who are practicing the way of self salvation. However, it is also likely that we will find a few people whose hearts are so on fire with compassion that they must live their lives in the service of others.

In Buddhism we might call these people Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas have vowed to save all of the numberless sentient beings. It is not a vow to save just the nice and good people. It is a prayer to save all, even those who are causing great harm in the world. It an aspiration to save all beings, whether they are animals, ghosts, demons, celestial beings, or humans.

Of course, we are imperfect and deluded human beings. Our motivation tends to be mixed. Sometimes we just want to escape. At other times we are moved by concern for others. The Bodhisattva path can itself be a form of self salvation, a sort of justification of self by good works.

Therefore the Bodhisattva path must be rooted in both compassion, for the suffering of others, and wisdom, which takes us beyond self. As long as we are caught up in the limitations of self centeredness, we will judge. That is the human condition: judgeing and comparing. To get beyond judging there must be an encounter with that which is measureless. This is the nature of religious experience. It is the arising of Wisdom. Bliss and joy are just side effects. The real power of awakening, of transending self, is that we are overwhelmed by unconditional love and compassion.

Touched by the measureless, we find the strength to persevere in the endless work of saving all beings. Those whose hearts have been awakened by the pain of others are not be content to abide in heaven while others continue to suffer. Such a life would be hell. We must get our hands dirty and strive to help all. It is not that Bodhisattvas are better than those who are content with their own salvation. Bodhisattvas are just driven to help all who suffer. The very existence of suffering beings is unbearable to the Bodhisattva.

If you are called to walk the Bodhisattva path, do not think that your will end suffering with some heroic act or effort. That is the thinking of self centeredness. Humbled by encountering the measureless, we accept our limitations. We recognize that we will not be able to see or understand the fruits of our actions. Therefore we try to live in such a way that our very lives embody, in some small way, the potentiality of unconditional love and compassion.

Feed the hungry. Strive to end war and hatred and violence. Work to stem the tide of greed and consumerism. Do these things because suffering is unacceptable. The way of the Bodhisattva is the way of love and compassion. Violence, greed, and ignorance are the very roots of all suffering. They are the three poisons of existence. The antidote is indiscriminate love and compassion administered consistently and with the patience of the Buddhas.

Peace, Paul

The Works of Mercy

February 4, 2013

I am a Buddhist, not a Christian.  Yet the teachings of Jesus are part and parcel of the way I see and understand the world.  It is my personal belief, that the Sermon on the Mount is one of the best and most succinct teachings on living a spiritual life.  The Works of Mercy offer a concrete guide to acting compassionately in the world.  Dorothy Day, cofounder of the Catholic Worker and an exemplar religious practitioner, is reported to have said, “the Sermon on the Mount is our Manifesto. The Works of Mercy are our rule.”

The Works of Mercy can help us Buddhist avoid an overly inward and cerebral understanding of Compassion. They can ground our compassion in relationships that help us see the reality of the suffering of poverty, lack, and powerlessness. Like the street retreats conducted by Roshi Bernie Glassman, the Corporal Works of Mercy can challenge our understanding of the world and who we are.

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

  • To feed the hungry
  • To give drink to the thirsty.
  • To clothe the naked.
  • To visit and ransom the captives.
  • To shelter the homeless.
  • To visit the sick.
  • To bury the dead.

The Works of Mercy teach that the thought of compassion is not real until it is manifest in action. The Works of Mercy reminds each one of us to take responsibility for the care of our brother and sister beings.

The Saints are inspiring because of their willingness to personally take responsibility for the wellbeing of us all.  Look at some the great beings, the religious lights, from the past 100 years: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung Sang Sue Kyi, Corrie Ten Boom, Bishop Tutu, Dorothy Day, and so many more.

They show us the way. Each of us, if we so choose, can try to follow their example in our lives. We begin with the little actions of our day-to-day lives. Responding to little hatreds and sufferings with compassion and love, trusting in the Dharma and Amida’s saving grace. We can strive every day to remember that Amida’s great vow encompasses all: the hungry, the dysfunctional, the criminal, the dirty, the homeless, the addict, the thief, and even those who are good and holy.

All are already saved by Amida’s Vow.  The Works of Mercy offer us an opportunity to share in Amida saving grace, to see Amida’s light in all beings, and to participate in the creation of a pureland right here and right now.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul