This might be too much of a stretch as a comparison, but when I read about the two parts that form the Awakening Mind (the mind resolved on Awakening and the Mind proceeding towards Awakening) I tried to view the concept through the lens of the current state of the world… And the conclusion that I drew is that perhaps we could superimpose the idea of Hope over the concept of the Awakening Mind? It seems to me that the dual nature of this state of mind is not unlike Hope in a way, which is something that we as human beings must hold onto in these times. To elaborate, if the Awakened Mind exists first in the form of a desire to achieve Awakened status and then as an active striding for said status, could Hope not be viewed the same way? By this I mean that we can look at Hope first as an idea/concept/feeling/state we must chose to attain, and then as something that must be actively pursued. To me, Hope is not necessarily something that can always be passively attained or given, but one must take care to consistently strive to grasp and then maintain it…. And upon doing so, we find the tenacity and perseverance to endure even in the most dire of circumstances.
In this time of crisis, one of the messages in the Bodhicaryāvatāra which had a resounding impact on me was the quote in the introduction that:
“All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.” (8.129)
One of the crucial aspect of the Mahayana tradition is this idea of the boddhisattva, a figure who chooses to continue to undergo the cycle of reincarnation and the suffering inherent in samsara in order to help completely alleviate the suffering of others. There appears to be, as Paul Williams the writer of the introduction phrases it, “no higher human sentiment” (ix).
Given that we are in a period where a lot of people are experiencing a great deal of suffering due to this virus, this made me start thinking about the type of person that I am and the type of person who I want to be. If I chose to accept all of the tenets of Buddhism as correct, and I had the opportunity to either escape suffering myself or have the dedication to commit myself to the task of alleviating the suffering of all other beings in the infinite cosmos, what would I choose? If I am being completely honest, it would be hard for me to say that I would choose the latter option. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe, but at the very least it speaks to the endless compassion which those who choose this path must feel towards all beings in the universe.
This has made me begin to think about how I could show more compassion to those in my own life who are suffering in this moment. Even if I would not be ready yet to make the ultimate sacrifice of myself to others, maybe I can start small with helping those around me, and that seems to be its own victory. For me, this has taken the form of spending more time with my family, messaging and talking to friends who have had a hard time with the adjustment, and even volunteering to talk to other people who are going through moments of crisis at this time. As a result, I have even found myself to be happier as a result (confirming the saying above)!
As we go through this together, self-care is extremely important, but it also seems like the reading encourages us to think about how we can help those around us as well. That is a thought which I will continue to ponder as the weeks go by, and maybe one day, as I develop my compassion, I will find myself willing to devote my life and entire existence to alleviating the suffering of others. Until that day, I will do what I can and be content that I have tried my best within the confines of my own experience.
The first chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra contains deep appreciation and praise for the Awakened mind. It discusses the benefits of acquiring this level of mindfulness in great detail and the elation that one feels as a result of this achievement. While not completely applicable to my current life, this chapter does carry familiar ideals to how I feel today. Unfortunately, this virus has left devastating effects throughout the world emotionally, physically, and financially. However, certain perspectives of mine have been strengthened as result of this pandemic. For one, I am consistently more grateful to and for my family members. In quarantine, I now spend all of my time in the vicinity of my family. This has brought us closer together. Surprisingly, it has brought my friends and I closer as well. We video chat everyday for hours on end, proving to me how important they are in my day to day life. While I have unfortunately not achieved the true Awakening that Śāntideva discusses in this chapter, I am satisfied by the deepened appreciation that I now feel for the people I love most.
During trying times, such as one that we currently face, I take refuge in my version of a Sangha, which are my friends. Although there is no teaching or teacher that we collectively follow, if I am allowed to redefine the Sangha as a community, then my Sangha is where I turn to for solace and relief. While I am not able to see my friends face to face, I keep in touch with them as much as I would if I were to be with them in person. It’s definitely harder to keep in touch with friends through digital communication because the level of intimacy and ease of access is not the same but I understand that we are all going through this crisis together so I try to keep in touch as much as possible. I believe everyone should have a Sangha that they turn to, whether it be family or friends. When in times of trouble, it is important to maintain human connections because suffering in isolation can lead to a lot of mental burden. While I don’t necessarily burden others with my issues, just talking and laughing with friends make my day a lot better than if I were to stay isolated, lost in my own thoughts. I am sure that it is also beneficial to those that you stay connected with because they are also facing trying times, so just reaching out can help make a positive difference in others.
Hi everyone. It seems our class members have scattered far and wide — California, U.K, Thailand, Georgia. In advance of our meeting on Tuesday, it would be great to write a little note in the comments here to let others know where you are and to give us some idea of your experience. Where are you? How are you? What are the causes and conditions of your dependent arising?
— Bhikkhu Analayo (oral teaching)
May I be a protector for those without one,
A guide for all travelers on the way;
May I be a bridge, a boat and a ship
For all who wish to cross the seas.
May I be an island for those who seek one
And a lamp for those desiring light,
May I be a bed for all who wish to rest
And a servant for all who need service.
— Śāntideva, Bodhicaryāvatāra 3.17–18
translation by S. Batchelor