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Lions Roar : May 2017
ward and engage. It’s a balance each of us has to find. Sometimes we rush off to engage before we really think it through, and we don’t necessar- ily become very effective that way. At the other times, we pull back because of fear or hesitation when we really should be stepping out. It seems to me that life is just a whole series of these choices—choices that either uplift the situation or don’t, choices that are genuine and choices that reflect a pho- nier kind of existence. In Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva vows to engage in the world as it is, with all its messiness and sorrow and all its potential and creativity. Then Vajrayana takes the bodhisattva vow and puts it on steroids in a certain sense. It recommends jumping into the most difficult things, the most extreme emo- tions and confusion, not letting fear keep us from doing the compassionate work that we’ve vowed to do. The bodhisattva vow, like everything else, has these two dimensions we’ve been talking about. You act with a sense of a broader view so you don’t get stuck in endless battles that lead nowhere. You take precise action within a vast view. MELVIN MCLEOD: Another way to look at this is that the open mind that sees the ultimate nature of reality is wisdom and how we act in the relative world is compassion. NORMAN FISCHER: Both sides of that equation are key. Going back to the story of the Buddha, he saw the suffering of others and realized that it was his own suffering. There was no separation between him and others—every person’s suffering was his suffering. That’s a very profound thing. Wisdom and compassion were present together in that moment. I recognize that the Buddha’s story been interpreted differ- ently, but I think from a Mahayana perspective that is how it is understood—the Buddha saw the suffering of others, recog- nized that his suffering and theirs were not separate, and went forth to change his life. After the Buddha’s awakening, he could have said, “Fabulous, fabulous, I’m going on vacation now.” But the Buddha was a kind of a workaholic. He worked every single day until he died shar- ing the teachings with other people. He did it because he knew that achieving his own liberation was insufficient. It wasn’t until everybody was liberated that he would have full peace. What a powerful blessing it is if there’s someone who cares about your suffering as if it were their own, someone who takes it personally. They care from the bottom of their heart, and even if they can’t do anything else, that helps you. To care about the world—truly care about the world—is compassion. Skillful means is asking what you can do to help. ♦ The whole Buddhist path started with a question: Why do people suffer so much and how do we deal with aging, sickness, and death? — JUDY LIEF LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 71