Monday, August 8, 2011

The Bodhisattva: His Brothers' Keeper

"When Abba Macarius was in Egypt, he found a man with a mule stealing his belongings. Then, as though he were a stranger, he helped the robber to load the animal, and peacefully sent him off, saying: "We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything with us. The Lord has given, and as he wished, so it has happened. Blessed  be the Lord in all things.""

-- Gregory Mayers --
("Listen to the Desert," p. 32)
This story, which on its face deals solely with non-attachment, has its counterpart in many other wisdom traditions. However, whether it is Abba Macarius, above, Mullah Nasruddin in the Sufi tradition, the Bal Shem Tov in Chassidic teachings, an unnamed bodhisattva (below), or Jesus teaching that if a person forces you to go a mile with him, you should go two (Matthew 5:41), there are similar subtle teachings in all traditions that go far beyond mere non-attachment, which could (after all) be seen as just another form of appeasement.

In his book, "Essential Teachings," the Dalai Lama cites "the Twelfth Practice" of the bodhisattva, which states:
"If in the grip of violent desire or cruel necessity, an unfortunate person steals our possessions or incites someone else to steal them, to be full of compassion, to dedicate to this person our body, possessions, and past, present, and future merit, is a practice of the bodhisattva."
 The guru who is said to have composed this practice, according to the Dalai Lama's account, was said to have run into markedly similar circumstances to those faced by Abba Macarius (above).

"While on route from Sakya Monastery," the Dalai Lama writes, "robbers stole the guru's baggage from him. After having robbed him and fearing that he would call for help, the bandits wanted to (kill him and) flee. He begged them to not do anything to him, and said: "I will not call for help, but if you leave now, you will have 'stolen' my things which will be for you a fault, and so that you will not have to endure the consequences of this act, I will dedicate them to you, (and) give them to you. So, in this way, you will have obtained them completely legitimately."

The outcome, according to the Dalai Lama was that "(t)he wrongdoers were so astonished at this that their minds were transformed and they became (the guru's) disciples."
[Dalai Lama, "Essential Teachings," p. 59.]

Thus, in this telling, the emphasis is not only on non-attachment and non-violence, but also on compassion and non-judgment. In this instance, indeed, the bodhisattva became his brothers' keeper, unsurprisingly, as the bodhisattva's vow is to take continual rebirth until all beings - including those who would harm him or her - become enlightened.

From this perspective, sense is made out of Jesus' admonishments to go the second mile, to turn the other cheek, and to settle quickly with your adversaries, lest you be jailed. All such actions are based not on what is best for one's own interests and salvation, but what is best for one's fellow sufferers. That, in all traditions, is the true nature of compassion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Bruceter

Ice cream tomorrow night with Brit? I can pick you up? I LOVE your blog! I find it soothing and inspiring because I am going through hell again and I need peace.


Hammer GIrl