In 8th century India, the prince Shantideva renounced worldly life and composed the Buddhist teachings known as The Way of the Bodhisattva
. Shantideva acknowledged the vast suffering that pervaded his world. People everywhere were afflicted by war, hunger, poverty, disease, and sorrow. As if life itself weren't harsh enough, humans were causing harm to each other daily through aggression, ignorance, and greed. Sound familiar?
Shantideva named just one source as the cause of all this suffering: "All the harm with which this world is rife, all fear and suffering that there is, clinging to the ‘I' has caused it! What am I to do with this great demon?" His solution was simple, although not easy. In The Way of the Bodhisattva
, he advocates a way of life dedicated to serving not ourselves, but our fellow humans.
Writing about Shantideva and the bodhisattva path, Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, "When I look at the state of the world today, I know his message could not possibly be more timely." In Chodron's book No Time to Lose
, a modern commentary on Shantideva's text, she defines bodhisattvas as spiritual warriors who long to alleviate not just their own suffering, but that of others. Opening with a chapter titled "People Like Us Can Make a Difference," Chodron writes, "Martin Luther King Jr. exemplified this kind of longing. He knew that happiness depended on healing the whole situation. Taking sides -- black or white, abusers or abused -- only perpetuates the suffering. For me to be healed, everyone has to be healed."
On Monday, January 19, 2009, president-elect Obama has asked that we once again honor the memory of Dr. King with a national Day of Service
. This year's King Day of Service is expected to be the largest ever, and it's not too late to get involved. Visit USAService.org
to find a service event near you.
A day of service is a generous act, and we should all feel proud to participate. But what King, Chodron, and Shantideva propose is a life
of service. Shantideva asks us, "Since I and other beings both, in fleeing suffering are equal and alike, what difference is there to distinguish us, that I should save myself and not the other?"
This is the bodhisattva ideal. The world is a mess. The world has always
been a mess. But there is something we can do to lessen our suffering, and that is to strive to alleviate the suffering of others, whenever and wherever we can. And there's no time to lose. In the words of Dr. King, "Life's most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?"
Labels: buddhism, life purpose, social action, volunteering