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Lions Roar : March 2018
This implies that social transformation is also necessary in order to address the structural and institutionalized suffering perpetuated by those who benefit from an inequitable social order. Is there something specific within the Buddhist tradition that can bring these two types of transformation together in a new model of activism connecting inner and outer practice? Enter... the bodhisattva. According to the traditional definition, the bodhisattva chooses not to enter the state of perfect peace, nirvana, but instead remains in samsara, cyclic existence, to help all sentient beings end their suffering and reach enlightenment. Instead of asking, “How can I get out of this situation?” the bodhisattva asks, “What can I contribute to make this situa- tion better?” Today, more than ever, we need to understand the bodhisattva path as a spiritual archetype that offers a new vision of human possibility. Wisdom and compassion are the two wings of the Buddhist path, and we need both to fly. Wisdom is realizing that there is no “me” separate from the rest of the world, and compassion is putting that realization into practice. The vision of socially engaged Buddhism is to help develop an awakened society that is socially just and ecologically sus- tainable. It seeks to open up new perspectives and possibilities that challenge us to transform ourselves and our societies more profoundly. This brings us to the bodhisattva’s path as a new archetype for social activism. Bodhisattva activism has some distinctive characteristics. Buddhism emphasizes interdependence (“we’re all in this together”) and delusion as the cause of our problems (rather than evil). This implies not violence (which is usually self-defeat- ing anyway) but a politics based on love (more nondual) rather than reactive anger (which separates us and them). The basic problem in our society is not rich and powerful bad people but institutionalized structures of collective greed, aggression, and delusion. The bodhisattva’s pragmatism and nondogmatism can help cut through the ideological quarrels that have weakened so many progressive groups. And Buddhism’s emphasis on skillful means cultivates the creative imagination, a necessary attribute if we are to construct a healthier way of living together on this earth and work out a way to get there. Yet those attributes do not get at the most important contri- bution of the bodhisattva in these difficult times, when we often feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge and are tempted to despair. The bodhisattva’s response? To quote the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “The difficult we do immedi- ately. The impossible will take a little longer.” According to the classical formulation, the bodhisattva takes a vow to help liberate all living beings. Someone who has volun- teered for such an unachievable task is not going to be intimidated by present crises, no matter how hopeless they may appear. ♦ DAVID R. LOY is a Zen teacher and analyst of social, political, and environmental problems from a Buddhist perspective. He is one of the founders of the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center. Guanyin seated on a lion; Marble Mountain, Vietnam. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 73