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Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Martin Luther King’

ingassho

Yuanwu writes:

. . .you must not abandon the carrying out of your bodhisattva vows.  You must be mindful of saving all beings, and steadfastly endure the attendant hardship and toil, in order to serve as a boat on the ocean of all-knowledge.  Only then will you have some accord with the Path (page 28).[1]

It is written in the Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen “Earthly bodhisattvas are persons who are distinguished from others by their compassion and altruism as well as their striving toward the attainment of enlightenment (page 24).[2]  For me there are bodhisattvas in all places, in all times, and in all beliefs from religious to ethical, social workers, teachers, nurses and more everywhere in the world.  They are in your family as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and the like.  These people are there for you regardless of your challenges and achievements.

The bodhisattva looks for every opportunity to make this life easier for others, to bring peace, love, and compassion to everyone and everything.  Most do it without fanfare, they do not desire fame and fortune, nor recognition nor reward.  They quietly and consistently provide what they can, when they can, wherever they can.

They may not have great names like: Martin Luther King, Jr, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Jonas Salk, or Abraham Lincoln.  But they are all around you. They live in your neighborhood, work next to you at your job, volunteer at the church or synagogue or mosque, or for the local food bank, Habitat for Humanity, or the animal rescue shelter. They are mowing the lawn of an elderly neighbor, shoveling the snow for a disabled veteran, they come in all colors, races, and places on earth.  And yes, they are race and color blind.

The bodhisattvas are everywhere you look, if only you see with your heart instead of your eyes, if only you listen with your soul instead of your ego you will discover them. You will remember them as your favorite teacher who challenged you and supported you and encouraged you in good times and bad.  They were your band leaders, coaches, Sunday school teachers, the police officers walking the beat in your neighborhood, the cooks in your school cafeterias, and the nurses in your doctor’s office.

Or you could be like my friend Chip. As he watched Irma, a category 5 hurricane, racing toward us he decided he needed to put hurricane shutters on nine elderly neighbor’s homes. He knew he could not do it alone so he called his best friend Jimmy Esbach who owns several halfway houses and asked him if he could hire some of his residents to help with the job.  Chip willingly did the job without charging the owners and paid the workers out of his pocket. Some never even offered him a thank you after the hurricane had passed. But he did not do it for a thank you. He did it because he saw a need and filled it as any bodhisattva would have.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to be a bodhisattva all you must do is spend your life thinking of others before self, doing good and speaking good, and living like you are already a bodhisattva. Regardless of how hard it may seem in the moment, the bodhisattva does it anyway! Don’t worry about “attaining enlightenment” it will come of its own accord when the time is right.

Good luck with that! Let me know how it goes! Shokai

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991) Shambhala: Boston. MA

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As I study the great Zen patriarchs and I come to Huineng I am reminded on this National day of Remembrance another great man who not only said but lived this question: Martin Luther King, Jr.  When Dr. King experienced discrimination in this life he set out to do the things he could do to eliminate it—not just in his life but in the lives of all Americans.  And then there was the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Huineng, who was poor and illiterate and one day as he was delivering wood to a home he heard the words of the “Diamond Sutra” and it is said, “his mind cleared and he understood.”  That led him to seek a teacher.

Janet Jiryu Abels in her book Making Zen your Own (2012) writes this about Huineng’s journey to find his teacher.

“So it was that after what must have been an arduous journey, this poor, insignificant, illiterate, twenty-four-year-old man of lowly birth found himself before Master Hongren himself.  Here is their exchange in an abridged version:

‘Where are you from?  What are you looking for?’

‘I come from the south.   I wish to be a Buddha.’

‘If you come from the south, you must be a barbarian.  How can you be a Buddha?’

‘People may be southerners or northerners, but in Buddha nature there can be no south or north.  I may be a barbarian but what difference is there in our Buddha nature?’

Indeed, what difference?  It is a question to ask ourselves of all whom we meet.  What difference is there in our common essentialness (page 23-24)?”

This is the ancient question that Dr. King grappled with each and every day.  Although he was born into a family of educated parents and was taught to read by his mother, who was a teacher, before he entered school, he too wanted to know why things were not open to him and others of color like him.  He wanted everyone to know that there was “no difference” in their “common essentialness” so much so that he was willing to give up his life for his mission.

I am sure that he, like Huineng, had been called a “barbarian” and worse in his life time, but it did not stop either of them from seeing the truth about themselves and all others.  All men and women are created equal and deserve such equal treatment in the law and everywhere.

Jiryu writes, “Let us leave the sixth patriarch as he gives his last talk before his death:  . . . ‘This is the great way.  After I die, just go on practicing as before, as though I were still here.  If you go against this teaching it is as though my life here as abbot were meaningless.  And so Huineng died.’  The year was 713.  He was seventy-five years old. Today, because of him we can each say to ourselves: ‘I seek the great teaching.  Why should I stop halfway (page 32-33)?’

Dr. King did not stop half way either he gave his life for freedom and justice for all people regardless of their birth, low or high, literate or illiterate, rich or poor, black or white.  He once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”[1]  Today we follow in his footsteps as we continue to work for freedom and justice for all, and as we follow in the footsteps of Huineng and live a life where there is “no difference” in our “common essentialness.”

We too can make a difference in the world in which we live. Today is a very special day to continue on our current path or begin anew.  Not only is it the day we celebrate the life of Dr. King it is the second inauguration day for the first black president ever elected in the United States of America—a feat that could not have been won without the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Through the example of these great men’s teachings and lives we too can help transform the world around us.  So why should we stop halfway—Huineng, Dr. King, and President Obama did not and neither should we.

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