Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are you a Bodhisattva?

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

So, Third World hunger. How would a modern Bodhisattva be part of the solution?


  1. Release from suffering doesn't come from solving worldly affairs. People are born and die continuously. They have always done it. They will not always do it. We in Europe used to die of hunger until last century, and somehow we have forgotten that dying is something natural.

    Of course this isn't easy to say when you see so many people suffering each day, but that's the way the world is. Or rather, the way I perceive it: it is full of suffering.

    So, once we assume that, no matter what we do, there will still be problems in the world, what can we do? I'd say do good, refrain from evil. Be heedful and alert, let go of everything, try to help where your help will be well received and useful.

    But I'm not trying to be a Bodhisattva (at least not in the Mahayana meaning), so I could be wrong.

  2. Does being a Bodhisattva mean solving the world’s problems or does in mean something else? If we teach the Dharma to others (in order to help relieve their suffering) are we fulfilling our role as Bodhisattvas? Or do we need to feed the hungry as well?

    What about ending wars? Stopping Crime? Child abuse? Drunk Drivers?

    Since sentient beings are numberless, how can we possibly save them all?

  3. Interesting situation as I look at it -there is a need for more compassion and perhaps Buddhist Activism-and yet I agree with Koro Kaisan, food is just tip of the iceberg in terms of suffering. To alleviate all of this suffering a massive paradigm shift would have to occur.
    Then again you can't please everyone all the time either...the world is attached to it's suffering.

  4. The world is full of suffering, That's what Gotama said. We can't escape old age, sickness and death. So what do we do instead? We learn to live with that. We learn to let it go. Even this "massive paradigm shift" wouldn't change the way the world is, wouldn't make us escape old age, sickness and death.

  5. Everything is working exactly as it should be.

  6. I fill the empty belly with my self... the rest is simple, if not always easy, or obvious to me.

    How many Ways can there possibly be in a moment of infinite potential?

    Regards to All,


  7. All sentient beings (from present, past and future times) are already saved, so we must do whatever we can to make this little world a better one.

  8. There is no solution; there is no 'better'— Even with infinite knowledge of the chain of consequences of our actions. We can let go of attachments and let our unborn nature express itself, and that includes compassion.

  9. Hernán, how do you know that all sentient beings are already saved?

  10. What depressing answers. I wish I hadn't asked.

  11. Were you really expecting an answer?!

  12. Kaishin Michael, if a river is undammed, it will flow toward the sea; if we are uncluttered, compassion will flow toward the suffering. The river does not do it because it solves anything or in order to make anything better. Getting depressed is like pissing into the clear stream.

  13. To Koro Kaisan, Not every river follows the same path to the sea; each must express its nature according to its own properties and in its own context.

  14. @ Superior 'Modern Bodhisattva' Michael:

    C'mon then, Buddhaboy, give us a one-liner or something that'll make the world like a holy picture of Nirvana then.

    Buddhism needs another 'Superman/woman' like a starving person needs a smart answer to your stupid question.



  15. I'd like to use Harry (see above) to illustrate my "answer" to the question.

    Harry is a musician. He plays traditional Irish music. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbnuIYp6HsI&playnext=1&list=PL689DCD6039AD39DE )

    If I asked him to play in a benefit gig to provide shelter for Dublin's homeless people, I'm pretty certain he'd agree.

    He meditates, he studies Zen - but knowing it's all just empty words, he still respects the callings of his heart.

    He wouldn't say that homelessness is a state of mind.

  16. Ok, suppose Harry plays (and very well indeed you play, Harry!) in that gig for the homeless in Dublin. How is that "being part of the solution"? Of course you are helping the homeless. Of course you are "doing good". But does that solve the problem of homeless people around the world? No. Does that prevent more people to become homeless? No.

    I don't know if there is a solution for world hunger or for homelessness, I just know that since humans are humans those problems have been there.

    But anyway, you can still help people you find along the way. Is that being "part of the solution"?

  17. Hi Michael,

    Words aren't empty, words are full of themselves and everything already while we say them, and the mind of the buddhas is grass, stone, lanters, homeless people, African military juntas, smart sayings, stupid sayings, used condoms, missiles, bullet holes, torturers, good intentions, bad intentions... it's actually impossible for anything to be excluded. Not even a single word.

    I'm sorry, I don't do imaginary gigs! Give me a shout when you organise a real one. ;-))



  18. If clinging causes suffering, then less clinging upstream means less suffering downstream (and we are all at both points to all). So it seems that if Harry were to play the concert because it was his nature (to help and to play), and (only) not because he was clinging to some figment of the intellect-like "solving" homelessness, then it would reduce suffering. The only way to end suffering is to give up attachment to the goal of ending suffering - that should be enough of a paradox to keep our intellects from finding a foothold :-D


  19. I'm sorry, I don't do imaginary gigs! Give me a shout when you organise a real one. ;-))

    Who can "if" after this?

  20. There's a big hue and cry about 'compassion' and being an 'Engaged Buddhist' coming out of the US. Now, I'm not going to say that there is not merit in that, that it's not a 'good thing', but the transmission of Zen truth is not of one flavour, is not of one point of view, value system, moral code, and is never yoked to a code or creed or accumulating merit. This is it's nature and it's standard is free action, free conduct, that is responsive to the real situation, not to some 'Engaged Buddhist' set of ideals or compassion club or other movement.

    Here's a few things about what Avalokiteshvara/ Kannon does that I like to keep in mind. The first from Shak and Dogen:

    Old man Shakyamuni said, "Avalokiteshvara turns the stream inward
    and disregards knowing objects."

    That is the meaning. Separation between the two aspects of activity
    and stillness simply does not arise. This is harmonizing.


    Ungan Donjō once asked Dōgo Enchi, “What use does the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion make of his many hands and eyes?”

    Dōgo replied, “He is like someone in the night who reaches behind himself, his hand groping for a pillow.”

    In short 'compassion' (if that is even what the buddha ancestors are indicating above... it seems more fundamental than that to me), or the real act/function of Kannon, is devoid of and actor and a receiver, or a bodhisattva and someone extra or exterior to be 'saved'. It's standard is certainly not conduct whereby middle class, college educated Westerners self consciously set about to save the world from 'the man' in order to feel better about themselves.



  21. It has been suggested above that economic distress cannot be "solved" and that therefore one should not try.

    However, nobody says, "Don't bother teaching dhamma - you'll never cure samsara!"

    I smell hypocrisy. There appears a willingness to give dhamma (which costs nothing and bolsters the teacher's ego!) and an unwillingness to part with cash.

    May I suggest a little thought experiment?

    1. Imagine all cash donations to the Third World brought a 100% tax refund from the government, so actually cost you nothing.

    2.Imagine you had to pay a fine every time you taught dhamma.

    3.Now ask yourself how you could best serve the Third World.

  22. It would still be better to teach the Dhamma, Michale. In the Theravada tradition, there's this saying: "The gift of Dhamma excels every other gift".

    Look at Egypt right now. People are rebelling against their dictatorship, and everyone in the media supports them, and all the governments say democracy is better. And maybe it is. But I look at those young Egyptians, and I see anger, hatred, desire, delusion. They are suffering a lot. Getting a democracy will get them more comfortable lives, better paid jobs, maybe a new car...but it will not free them from suffering. So, how would you help them best? Teach the Dhamma.

    Of course, I imagine it's not in our power to go and teach the Dhamma everywhere, so I do make donations to NGOs whenever I can, and I plan to do some volunteering with the homeless once my timetable is stable, but I try not to lose perspective: this is not getting them any closer to liberation.

  23. Dana is the practice of generosity, as well as, the practice of cultivating generosity. We are taught by commercialized Buddhism that this accomplished by giving money to support the teacher and the temple, but this is not the original meaning of dana.

    The original intent was for the practitioner of Buddhism to selflessly give or share what he/she has for the benefit of others (i.e. those in more need than you). If you have time, talent/skills and/or resources that you can share with those less fortunate than yourself; doing so is the practice of dana. If practiced properly, you will discover that this giving is a very good way to get out of your ego centric way of seeing the world.

    However, this practice can only be perfected by unconditional generosity, which is say, giving without attachment and not seeking results. If we seek praise or feel that we have somehow made ourselves more worthy (gained merit) then we are not really practicing dana.

    Likewise, if we set out to end world suffering or to end world hunger we have already failed, but if we set out simply give of ourselves, to practice generosity unconditionally, we have already accomplished our goal.

    To offer so much philosophical rhetoric without practicing dana, is simply farting into the wind.

  24. Good luck to the Egyptians!

    I met my wife in Czechoslovakia, so I have a first-hand "before-and-after" picture of revolution. (Thanks to the admirable Mr Gorbachev, their revolution was peaceful.)

    My Czech family is happier now than it was under dictatorship - and they know almost nothing of Buddhism. Dhamma is one way to ease suffering and bring joy - but it's arrogant to think it is the only way.

  25. Happiness based on external things means nothing. Dictators come and go, and you never know when your human rights are going to be ignored. It's not that there aren't other ways to bring happiness to your life, but that the kind of happiness that they bring is not reliable. That's not arrogance, that's what I have experienced.

    Besides, I know many people in Spain who still suffer a lot after the democracy. They've changed their "dictatorship suffering" for "democracy suffering". So changing your external conditions doesn't guarantee your happiness.

    Finally, Gotama said that there are four requisites for practice: food, shelter, medicine and clothing. There are many people who don't have those, so I don't expect them to worry about the Dhamma. And, for that, I will help them.

  26. Pablo: "Happiness based on external things means nothing." Zen is about the present moment. The contentment of a belly filled is the contentment of a belly filled.

    Ed: "Kindness begins at home." Most certainly. Is that where it should end?

  27. Hi Michael,

    Where's your home, can you find it for me?

    We usually think of 'kindness' just in terms of emotions and the self-referential self, but kindness is actually manifesting everywhere right now as our life. It has no beginning and no end. Buddhist practice can help us realise this. Kindness is endless then, and it trumps unkindness soundly (because we ourselves make unkindness while kindness is the vast, manifest uncreated).

    I wonder in this regard if expecting others to share our values/ points of view is an act of genuine kindness, or is it a type of unkindness?

    The realised Dharma compared to the 'happiness' that a revolution can bring? Oh dear, what a shitty and feeble Dharma that would be.

    It's clear that our 'self help'/'self improvement' culture has made a squeak of the Lion's Roar.

    The 'happiness' realised in the Dharma is not something you or I 'get', it frees us from the pursuit of that sort of 'happiness'. What we do with that freedom is entirely up to us alone when we realise it. Quite dignified really (or 'noble' as they used to say).



  28. Hi Michael,

    You said it, Zen is about the present moment. People who know Zen (aka the Dhamma) can enjoy the present. People who don't know Zen, suffer. And I can tell you, I don't know many people around me who can enjoy the "contentment of a belly filled".

  29. I've posted a similar reply in Pablo's blog: When someone is starving and suffering from extreme poverty I prefer to relieve that suffering (even when I know it will not lead to liberation) than to teach the Dhamma.

    With an empty belly and no shelter, who will take advantage of Gotama's teachings?

    Without social change, Dhamma will be just another kind of opium.

  30. Hi Kaishin Michael

    You know all this much better than I, but the Dhamma is not a luxury. Beginners (such as myself) often ask about this, in my limited experience; but of course they miss the point. But nor is the Dhamma a panacea for the world's ills - if somebody is hungry and you can help them, then help them; do you really need a religion/spirituality/the Dhamma to tell you to do that? Nor, finally, is the Dhamma a philosophy; it is not a way of thinking, most particularly not a political/economic philosophy. So, what is it?

    "I will teach you the truth and the path leading to the truth ... I will teach you the other shore.'



  31. Nicely put. One could say that the dhamma is a raft, not a lilo.