This post is part of a 5-week series in relation to the Five Bodhisattvas and a Reflection Group I put together and am part of with a few sangha friends of mine.
Bodhisattva literally means “enlightened being.” The Plum Village chant book defines it as such: One committed to enlightening oneself and others so that all may be liberated from suffering.
In our practice tradition, we are especially urged not to regard the bodhisattva’s as external separate entities but more as qualities in which to actively cultivate within our own self, for the benefit of all beings. While the Bodhisattva’s are mentioned as actual human beings – and disciples of the Buddha – in the sutras, we are encouraged to see them as representing skill-sets and capabilities in which to hone and sharpen in our own life.
We read and reflect on one bodhisattva at a time for one full week and then answer three reflection questions each Sunday, which we email out to the group of participants.
These are the bodhisattvas in the order most commonly encountered in our tradition:
Avalokiteshvara: Bodhi. of Great Compassion
Manjushri: Bodhi. of Great Understanding
Samantabhadra: Bodhi. of Great Action
Kshitigarbha: Bodhi. of Great Aspiration
Sadaparibhuta: Bodhi. of Never Disparaging
This last week was week #3.
Here is the verse, my journal entries, and my answers to our group reflection questions for Samantabhadra:
We invoke your name, Samantabhadra. We aspire to practice your vow to act with the eyes and heart of compassion, to bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is our own happiness, and we aspire to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species.
This is the bodhisattva I resonate with personally the most. This is the bodhisattva of Great Action, and I often refer to myself humorously as a Woman of Action.
There are so many lovely lines in the verse – and I find the especially lovely because I’ve personally encountered and experienced them in my life. I am someone who puts great emphasis on practicing joy on the path of service. And in doing so, I’ve seen firsthand how true it is that the happiness of others is my own happiness; how every word/look/action/smile can bring happiness to others; and how when I practice wholeheartedly, I am able to becomes an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for others.
For me, cultivating joyful-based actions is my highest and most important aspiration on my path of practice. When I set my compass in this direction, I see clearly the ripple effects that occur as a result, everywhere I go.
When I read this verse, I think to myself: I wonder if when others read this, they include themselves in the mix when thinking about bringing joy to one person in the morning and easing the pain of one person in the afternoon. My sense is that it’s probably not very common to include our own self in the equation. But it’s because I’ve seen clearly how my joy effects others and others’ joy effects me, that I am able to include myself as one of the people that I choose to intentionally bring joy to and ease the pain of. And it’s because I cultivate this ability for myself on a daily basis that I have the potential to offer this to others.
How can I bring joy to someone else and forget about bringing it to myself? How can I elevate and prioritize someone else’s joy over my own? This would not be sustainable. We can do this for a time, but eventually we’ll get worn out and exhausted. In order for my energy to keep flowing out in support and love of others, I need to bring in and replenish the energy of support and love for my own self. Energy in = energy out.
Practicing wholeheartedly to me means taking full responsibility for my own well-being, and staying diligent in putting forth skillful effort in my practice of cultivating mindfulness, kindness, and understanding, in order to be of the most benefit and support to others. Practicing wholeheartedly means to practice self-care, every day – to prioritize the watering of my own seeds of joy, ease, and connection, so that I can help water those same seeds in others. And when I invest in self-care on a regular ongoing basis, I have directly experienced the ability to be an inexhaustible source of support for others.
1. How would you summarize this verse in your own words?
We’re all in this together. There is no such thing as an insignificant moment. With joyful action, we can change the world.
2. What do you see as being your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the qualities of this bodhisattva?
Strength: Joy is the foundation for which I build the rest of my practice atop. Watering my own seed of joy so that I am able to bring joy to others is one of my practice priorities every day. Practicing joy on the path of service is a vital investment of time and energy for me. I’ve been intentionally strengthening this seed for quite some time now, and will continue to do so based on the fruits I’ve experienced from doing so. My seed of joy is strong, vibrant, and resilient and I find that I am often able to carry its qualities within me into varied situations and environments. Weakness: Sometimes I have the tendency to do what I call over-caretake for others, meaning I attempt to take personal responsibility for another person’s sense of well-being. While it’s extremely important to me to do my best in terms of how I show up and how I affect others, I can take on too much responsibility for how someone else thinks, feels, and acts, in my desire to rid them of suffering and make them feel better. I can also sometimes squelch and ignore my own feelings of upset, in an effort to seek to understand the other person, which is detrimental to myself, and ultimately to the other person too.
3. What is something you’ve gleaned by reflecting on this bodhisattva this past week?
What’s resurfaced for me around this bodhisattva verse can be summed up in a line I came across in the Plum Village Chanting Book just yesterday:
If a bodhisattva does not rely on any concept while practicing generosity, the happiness that results from that virtuous act is as great as space.
– from The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion
I must ensure that when practicing to bring joy to others, that I am approaching and offering it in the right spirit – which is to say: without expectations or need of validation or recognition. To practice wholeheartedly means to practice without limits of thought, without concepts of reciprocity, without ideas of grandeur; not caught in the three complexes: inferiority, superiority, equality; not caught in the false notions of separation between self and other.