By Sensei Alex Kakyuo
In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is a being who has vowed to realize enlightenment in order to save all sentient beings from suffering.
Teachers will often tell stories of Bodhisattvas and their great feats/vows of compassion in order to motivate students and give them an example of enlightened behavior. For example, Amitabha, the Bodhisattva of infinite light, is said to stand at the doorway to paradise; refusing to enter until all sentient beings can enter with him. In contrast, Jizo, the Bodhisattva of hell-beings, spends his days roaming the deepest, most torturous parts of hell. He can leave any time he wants, but he refuses to do so until all of the demons can leave with him.
So we have one Bodhisattva who refuses to enter heaven, and we have another who refuses to leave hell until their misbehaving brothers and sisters can come with them. That, my friends, is called being a team player. But how do we put these lessons into practice?
There’s so much hate in the world, so much needless suffering. It’s almost impossible to browse the internet with out reading about school shootings, environmental destruction, political corruption and a host of other man-made tragedies.
In spite of all this pain, Amitabha refuses to enter heaven, and Jizo refuses to leave hell.
Their actions are noble. But on the surface they also seem incredibly naive. After all, people get sent to hell or denied entry to heaven for a reason. Why would Bodhisattvas postpone their own salvation until other people get their acts together?
That’s a fair question, but the premise is misguided Amitabha and Jizo aren’t postponing their own salvation. Rather, they’re living it exactly where they are.
Buddhism is a religion of personal responsibility.
We’re responsible for our minds. We’re responsible for our actions. We’re responsible for our own liberation from suffering. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path provide a framework which allows us to critically examine our actions, determine which ones cause harm, and learn to make better choices. In this way, it doesn’t matter if we’re in heaven, hell or somewhere in between.
Liberation is always possible because we’re the source of our salvation. Amitabha and Jizo both know this, that’s why they’re happy staying exactly where they are. But more than that, they understand the power that resides in simply setting a good example.
I don’t know what the hell-beings think when they see Jizo walking happily through the halls of the lower realms, flames licking at his feet. I imagine there is a lot of confusion, but I also like to think that there’s a bit of inspiration mixed in there as well. Assuredly, the demons don’t change their ways overnight, but seeing Jizo reminds them that another path—one free of greed, anger and ignorance is possible. Similarly, all sentient beings don’t go tumbling through the door to heaven just because Amitabha is standing next to it.
Like a lighthouse on stormy night, the Bodhisattva of infinite light is a constant reminder that liberation from suffering is possible.
As Buddhists, we have this same power
In a world filled with hate, we can choose to walk with kindness and compassion. We can show mercy when others are cruel. We can give compliments when others shout insults.
And we can show the people around us that another path; one free of greed, anger, and ignorance is possible every time we walk that path ourselves.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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