My best intentions sometimes turn out so unlike what I hoped for that it’s made me wonder how to be in the world at all. I wish to do good works, to relieve some of the suffering of the world. But I’m saddened – and at times horrified – when nothing I do will help, or I feel I have accidentally caused suffering.
Pondering a recent bout of this, I was reminded of the ancient teachings of the bodhisattva. The word comes from Sanskrit, and is translated as essence of wisdom. The term applies to those who might be considered enlightened and – charitably – those who wish to be better, more peaceful, or more enlightened people (I’m squarely in the latter camp).
Our Dalai Lama describes it beautifully.
…bodhisattvas are beings who, out of intense compassion, never shift their attention away from sentient beings; they are perpetually concerned for the welfare of all beings, and they dedicate themselves entirely to securing that welfare. Thus the very name bodhisattva indicates a being who, through wisdom, heroically focuses on the attainment of enlightenment out of compassionate concern for all beings. The word itself conveys the key qualities of such an infinitely altruistic being.
The ancient teachings are often complex or translated differently, so I asked Rose for some simple and practical guidance. I’ve found it very helpful.
The trauma of life is often connected to the duty one feels to make the world a better place. This sense of duty is not always the best thing, because you will not always have the benefit of the wisdom – or knowledge – needed to appreciate the beauty of the situation or the ability to change it.
So the first lesson is, always choose to be peaceful. No matter what, you will gain virtue through having a peaceful mind.
Two, have the courage of your convictions that having a sane world is going to relieve suffering. There’s not always something you can do to relieve suffering, and you are only one person. However, sanity is key here. Your own foremost.
Next, have faith that the path will show you where to go. The path never leaves you, even when you are no longer physical. Sometimes the path seems treacherous. However, you were never meant to walk it alone. Your contrary self is there to support the best self in working through these issues. The best self is going to be the one in charge as you keep your peaceful mind, as we said in point one.
Next, be at ease with others who rail against the world. You have learned the horror of being a victim in the world of maya, the illusion that you have only one reality and this is it. This is something all people have to go through. The fact is, there are reasons for this suffering, and your ability to relieve suffering can only go so far. Therefore, have faith there is a middle path that allows people to express their frustration, and hold them in the light so they can see their way out of it. There’s nothing you can do sometimes except to love them into the next phase.
Next, indulge your sense of wonder about the beauty of the world. The world is a beautiful place. Have the strength to see it this way even in your darkest hours. The path will not let you down.
Finally, be the change you wish to see in the world. Your actions are important. There is going to be a lasting effect on the world because you are in it. Be the change you wish to see every day starting with being at peace. Then say, “What can I do today to help someone?” Then do that.
The effects of your life will live long after you are no longer physical. Make them beautiful.