I understand that when he would give talks the early Zen missionary to the Barbarians of the United States, Nyogen Senzaki would address his audience as “bodhisattvas.” A friend who knows his way around, suggested the sensei was throwing out a net, hoping to snare a wise heart, maybe even two.
Years later I sometimes say to someone who has done a small mitzvah, “you’re a bodhisattva.” Maybe in the same spirit. Okay, maybe with a bit more snark. But, then I stand solidly within my age, and our times just drip with irony. Marx, I’ve heard, opined that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. A quick glance at the White House makes it pretty obvious where we are today.
Also nothing like a good joke. Okay, for me, I’m not against even a bad joke. And there is a joke here, at least i the sense of taking something and pushing it until we see something new. Me, I think of those invitations, the good teacher Senzaki Sensei, me, all who are called to inviting us into our true lives as bodhisattvas. And to what that actually means in a life. Who, we might ask is a bodhisattva? And to ask that, perhaps first it would be helpful to ask what is a bodhisattva.
In its original use it appears to be what the Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha was called in the Jataka tales of his previous lives. But, it quickly came to be the term of art to describe someone on the Buddha way who has achieved bodhicitta, the mind of awakening. It is a complicated experience, where we wish for enlightenment, but not just for ourselves, rather for all beings. The desire for ourselves is natural, and probably almost always the first part. But, it is only dipping our toe into the lake. It isn’t enough. We need the full dive, to wish for everyone. And when everyone is part of our desire, that’s the mind of awakening.
In the the family of the Great Way a bodhisattva is further understood as someone who has walked the way, and has achieved awakening, but rather than passing from the world, vows to remain contaminated, to be a part, until all and everything can also enter the great awakening.
Now, in Zen this is a bit of a bait and switch. Because we are all so intimately connected that one cannot achieve awakening without everyone and everything else. And, there’s a further joke inside the joke. That is none of us has ever been separated, not part of the great dance.
So. There you go. Circles of invitation. All in that one phrase, hello Bodhisattvas!