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Buddhadharma : Spring 2012
SPRING 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 11 THE RELUCTANT BODHISATTVA Hozan Alan Senauke shares his true feelings about his vow to help other sentient beings. There is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolt- ing against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle within the very structure of every individual life... There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Goethe: “There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue.” —Martin Luther King Jr., 1957 If anything I am a reluctant bodhisattva. Secretly I’d just like to be safe and take it easy. So now the secret is out. All I’ve ever wanted was some ease of mind. But my question is, what kind of ease? The ease of safety and comfort, or the ease of Buddha’s liberation? In the Dhammapada (verse 2), the Bud- dha says, “If you speak or act with a calm, bright heart, then happiness follows you, like a shadow that never leaves.” I like to think that the real ease I seek is what the Buddha means by “happiness.” Not conventional happiness, but the ease that comes with a settled heart and mind. In Chinese and Japa- nese, heart and mind are one character: xin or shin. Happiness does not belong to me. If I keep all happiness for myself, it is like trying to hold a box of rain. If I open my hands and give it away, ease and happiness extend to everyone. Often I find myself in the middle of Dr. King’s “civil war.” I am both enlightened and deluded. Most of us are. In the shadowy depths of this would-be bodhisattva there is one who seeks physical comfort and wishes to avoid conflict. One who harbors ambitions and has fears about money and status. One who is reluctant to throw himself into the house of Buddha. One who longs for a soft bed, a warm shower, good food, and com- pany when lonely and traveling in a distant land. In Song of Myself Whitman writes, “I con- centrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.” Yes, I have this aspiration too, to turn toward those who are suffering. Sometimes I almost reach my aspiration. Sometimes I fall short. And sometimes I hear a small voice that says, “Run while you still can.” The Mahayana sutras depict the bodhisat- tvas as grand beings, far more enlightened than we are. This vow—to save all beings— seems like too much. But bodhisattvas are not beyond suffering. Their willingness to enter suffering, to really suffer, is what makes their vow so powerful. Kanzeon, the many-armed, multi-headed bodhisattva who sees the cries of the world, was so overcome by the effort of taking in all our pain and distress that her head split into eleven heads with eleven faces FIRST THOUGHTS ILLUSTRATIONS by ERIC HANSON