“Beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.”
We sit on our cushions and recite this Bodhisattva vow, envisioning a sea of people caught in the throes of greed, hatred and delusion and wishing with all our hearts to free them of their suffering. As Zen practitioners, all we can offer them is the Buddhadharma, which in its essence is just showing up and offering them our unconditional love and unflinching support.
It was out of just this desire to bear witness to the suffering of immigrant families that some members of Bright Way joined thousands of other bodhisattvas last Saturday at a Families Belong Together rally in downtown Portland. We hoped to send a message to all sentient beings on both sides of the political divide that we are all interconnected and that beneath all the fear, hatred and delusion we are all part of the same ineffable Buddha heart. The strength and solidarity generated by the determination of those present to testify to the power of love over hate was very palpable and exhilarating. As it says in the Dhammapada, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule…”
Buddhists practice has traditionally focused on inner transformation by slowly releasing our attachment to ego and the afflictive emotions that this attachment engenders. While this work is essential and can indeed be transformative, it is only when we get up from our cushions and engage with the world that we can truly know whether we have released our clinging to just our own well being and happiness. Also, what is the use of cultivating a heart as wide as Kanzeon’s if we don’t bare witness to the cries of the world?
These are times when the principles of love and empathy are increasingly clouded by fear and delusion. We will all be called to take our practice out into the world to offer support to the distressed and our understanding to the fearful. May we all find what Dr King called “ the strength to love,” to take the fruits of our zazen to all sentient beings, so that when we recite the Bodhisattva vow to save the numberless beings we will know that its not just an empty promise.