Lotus Sutra 13: Bodhisattva Vow
Suffering is caused by the stories we’re addicted to.
Maybe we just need to give our addictions a decent burial.
When you try to resolve your crisis the resolution becomes the new crisis.
What if you walked into a room that responded to you? If you were cold it would warm up, if you couldn’t make out the colour of a wall it would move closer to you. What if the house was a living thing? Every time you noticed the relation between body and house there would be a seamless continuity. Perhaps this is how things really are, maybe there is no difference between ourselves and the rooms we find ourselves in. Though most often we are clinging to a view, to the imagining that there is a me, myself, mine, and this clinging and separation causes loneliness and anxiety. Perhaps we could define dukka as the inability to be content in a repetitive way.
When you exhale someone else is inhaling that breath. When you inhale, you are breathing in someone else’s exhale. We are breathing each other inside out. And at the same time you and I are still “me” to ourselves – I am me to me. Practice heals that split and also puts it back together.
A bodhi(to be awake)sattva(to be) is someone who is busy awakening others. I’m providing space for you to be awake. Maybe my freedom depends on your being free. The bodhisattva vow (to enlighten all sentient beings) is the cognitive dissonance between your freedom and someone else’s suffering. If we’re all interconnected then we can’t be free if someone else is suffering. We serve others and it’s more fun.
The bodhisattva vow is to serve all sentient beings. How do you serve all sentient beings? By seeing that there are no other beings. Compassion is the final drop of lubricant that frees your own heart.
Physiology of Compassion
The eyes soften, resting in the back of the skull, and the vision widens (dharma vision). As the field of vision expands, listening is easier, the ears become more receptive. There is the beginnings of a smile in the mouth, and the root of the palette responds by widening, and the soft palette lifts. The tongue relaxes, and the root of the tongue, which is the beginning of language, releases, as language drains away. The heart is open and lifting. This is the physiology of compassion, now you’re ready to receive the world as it is.
When the heart is lifting we find that it’s not enough to take care of ourselves, we need to extend this care to others. You go first, no please after you, personal enlightenment can wait until the last caterpillar has made its way through the door.
The fifth limb of yoga is called “pratyahara” or the withdrawal of the senses. When sitting meditation helps you start getting quiet, you stop chasing after the experience or you can let your ears become more receptive, you become more like a microphone that receives all sounds equally. The eyes soften and peripheral vision increases and when the field is wide, it becomes easier to hear. The tongue goes quiet and this allows us to be in the world without picking and choosing. Then we can see, hear and feel more clearly and creatively. Rather that knowing everything. Rather than adhering to a fixed position.
Instead, there is a quality of spaciousness which grants you more choice, and more possibilities. This is a place where imagination can flourish, because you’re not caught in the description of what you are like, or what you are supposed to be like. Perhaps Buddha nature is simply imagination – your capacity to imagine so it doesn’t use you all the time. You can’t get rid of a viewpoint, but you can multiply viewpoints by using the tool of your imagination. Mediation clears space for imagination to work.
When the central axis clears, the mind creates a formula at the end of the exhale. This formula is a technique.
Who is Breathing?
Maybe settling and letting the mind get quiet leads us to a final set of questions: Who is listening? Who is breathing? It’s not important to answer these questions but to let your whole body become a question mark, to see that your life isn’t fixed the way you think it is.
The practice isn’t about finding some other world that’s better than this one, it’s about fully dropping into your life. To realize who or what you are you start to do something with your question mark.
Mostly people don’t want to be in their body, they’re busy longing for another body, some past edition for instance, or a more perfect version, an upgrade. What we call our body is mostly a collection of ideas. Our “feelings” are patterns of sensations coming into awareness. Every feeling begins as a physical sensation in the body. Can we stay in the body, instead of spiraling out into story telling, losing ourselves in endless descriptions?
Awake in the World (by Michael Stone) Book Launch (Shambhala Centre, June 9, 2011)