Because I live in Maine, I cannot attend most of the classes in person. I get emailed the recordings. Once a month, our Maine study group gathers at someone's home to discuss the teachings. But most Sundays, I lay my cushion down before my shrine and turn on my iPhone. I put on earphones and tune in to the words of my teacher and sangha friends in New Bedford, one hour south of Boston.
I join them as we move through the stanzas of the poem by this great teacher, whose very motivation for writing it was to illuminate the path to enlightenment -- to show us that the key, the very essence of the path is compassion. It's the active mind that wants to release others from their pain - and of bodhichitta in particular, that we are studying. In the poem, and it's accompanying commentary, Meaningful to Behold, we are learning how to become modern-day Bodhisattvas.
This past week, I have found solace in this poet's mind. As bombs have torn through people and lives, and as chaos has reigned in the region, the country, the world. The accents on the radio and TV have been the same Bostonian accents of my sangha friends down in Massachusetts - and I have thought: these are my people... Then, hearing about bombs and earthquakes ripping through other parts of the world, the thought expands: these are also my people, my people are suffering.
Our Buddhist center was meant to be running a workshop in Boston this weekend, in a church just one street over from where the bombs took place. That workshop, which would have been led by my teacher, Kelsang Pawo, was going to be all about the power of our minds, and how by training our concentration, we can overcome our inner demons - harness our minds to all our good qualities and learn to be of service to others.
The past week, it has struck me that the world needs more people like Shantideva. We need more modern-day Bodhisattvas out there. We need people of all the world's faiths to keep on doing what they're doing: building peace in their own hearts and sharing it with others.
As Buddhists, our focus is to start within. We are taught to spend time in the inner landscape of our own minds, where we train as warriors to overcome all negative impulses - so that we will not harm others. So that we can be like those incredible bodhisattvas we saw on TV, the police and emergency crews who felt the bombs blast through their bodies and then turned, spontaneously, to run straight back into the chaos. To help others.
I have been taking solace in the actions of those people and in Shantideva's advice this past week. I have been contemplating that maybe it's my responsibility to become part of the solution. As Shantideva says, in his own words that shimmer with wisdom and kindness, in the final stanza of the first chapter:
"I prostrate to those who have generated
The holy, precious mind of bodhichitta;
And I go for refuge to those sources of happiness
Who bestow bliss even upon those who harm them."
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Photo credits: Tharpa (above) and Wiki Commons (below).