Bodhicitta can be translated as Way-Seeking Mind, or the Mind of Enlightenment. Bodhicitta is the part of us that recognizes and seeks truth and goodness, inspiring our spiritual search and motivating our practice. In a sense, bodhicitta is the part of us that is already awakened, because without it we wouldn’t recognize or seek truth and goodness in the first place. In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhicitta is essential to the path and a cause for gratitude. It also can be seen as the primary source of redemption for humankind, even when it seems the world is dominated by greed, hate, and delusion.
The medicine of suchness is life-saving, because even the happiest and most fortunate human life inevitably contains suffering. And sometimes – in our personal lives or in the wider world – we face terrible things that arouse anxiety, depression, fear, despair, or rage. Our climate and ecological emergency is one such terrible thing, bringing us face to face with loss on a scale never before contemplated by human beings. Our Zen practice offers us suchness as a medicine that can alleviate our despair and help us access strength and gratitude.
As modern, mostly lay Buddhists – particularly those of us who are western, adult converts to the religion – we may seek encouragement and guidance from within the tradition for values we already hold. How much support does Buddhism actually give for things like social action, the importance of justice, honoring our connection to nature, enjoying our family and our daily lives, and learning to love ourselves? If we don’t find support within Buddhism for our values, do we simply look elsewhere, or do we expand Buddhism? In this episode I focus specifically on social action/activism, but the discussion is relevant for any deeply held concern or value you bring to Buddhism.
Parinirvana, the death of the Buddha Shakyamuni, is commemorated by a ceremony in mid-February in most Buddhist communities throughout the world. The Buddha gave several important teachings right before his death, and there is teaching contained in the very manner and fact of his passing. In this episode I describe the Parinirvana (Nehan) ceremony in my lineage and discuss what we can learn from it.
Recent events show how deep a divide has developed within the United States. Those guilty of crimes need to be held accountable, but how do we repair the social fabric of our nation? It may help to renew cultural respect for the value of decorum: Dignified behavior according to social standards for what demonstrates a basic respect for one another’s humanity and acknowledges our mutual dependence. I discuss the teachings on decorum in Buddhism, and how critical it is to social harmony.
Dissatisfaction can lead to Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is a Buddhist term literally meaning “awakened mind” that can translated as “the mind that seeks the way.” It’s the part of us which aspires to free ourselves and others from suffering – arising, ironically, from dissatisfaction. We think, “There must be a better way,” or, “There must be more to life than this.” Then we arouse the determination to find out, and this propels us down the path of practice. Therefore, it is critically important for you be dissatisfied with your life.
Kshanti is the Buddhist perfection (paramita) of endurance. Practice can relieve suffering, but it takes work; it isn’t a magic pill that brings instant peace and bliss. An essential part of our practice is learning how to endure – but not in a passive way, but in a determined refusal to be beaten down, defeated, deflated, or stopped in our efforts to relieve suffering for self and other and bring about a better world.
The Lost Son parable of the Lotus Sutra perfectly conveys the difference between hinayana and Mahayana practice. Despite what we may think of ourselves, we already have everything we need – including the capacity for great liberation and service. At the same time, we need to practice in order to grow into our inheritance.
The emptiness of self is a Zen teaching that may seem rather abstract and philosophical, or even kind of nihilistic, depressing, or disorienting. Why does this matter? In brief, knowing the true nature of our self is what liberates us from fear and suffering.
Understanding people’s actions can be difficult. Sometimes we can’t help but feel disbelief, judgment, or disgust toward people based on how they respond to the suffering of others – particularly regarding the problems we’re facing as a society such as the climate and ecological emergency, the serious undermining of democracy, continued racial injustice, an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. The Buddhist teaching about the Six Realms of existence can help us understand people’s mind states and motivations, hopefully leading us to greater patience, less judgment, and – most importantly – insight into what might work best to get through to people and help them change.