“Few of us are satisfied with retreating from the world and just working on ourselves. We want our training to manifest and be of benefit. The bodhisattva-warrior, therefore, makes a vow to wake up not just for himself but for the welfare of all beings.” ~ Pema Chödrön
A bodhisattva is one whose aspiration is to attain buddhahood (enlightenment) for the benefit of all sentient beings. Although the concept comes from Mahayana Buddhism, I believe bodhisattvas can come from any, or no, faith tradition.
Bodhisattvas are healers. Compassionate, kind, real, patient, mindful, and intelligent.
As bodhisattvas, we take vows—we set the intention of serving others. We aspire to be of benefit to all beings, including ourselves.
A lofty goal, right? As Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal suggests, rather than thinking of the bodhisattva concept as some huge ideal, we can think of it as the only thing we can do.
There are famous bodhisattvas like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, but the beauty of the bodhisattva is that it is available to each one of us. There are countless souls working anonymously, right now, for everybody’s liberation and enlightenment. Will we join their ranks?
Here are some of my own favorite renditions of the bodhisattva vows. If they resonate, write them down on a piece of paper and post them in your house where you will see them every day.
The traditional vows:
Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken with them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.
Buddha’s way is insurpassable; I vow to become it.
From Pema Chödrön’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times:
Throughout my life, until this very moment, whatever virtue I have accomplished… I dedicate to the welfare of all beings.
May the roots of suffering diminish. May warfare, violence, neglect, indifference, and addiction also decrease.
May the wisdom and compassion of all beings increase, now and in the future.
May we clearly see all the barriers we erect between ourselves and others to be as insubstantial as our dreams.
May we appreciate the great perfection of all phenomena.
May we continue to open our hearts and minds, in order to work ceaselessly for the benefit of all beings.
May we go to the places that scare us.
The Dalai Lama’s explanation:
The vow of the bodhisattva is that she will not go into Nirvana until every single suffering being has entered Nirvana. One has to understand what this means.
Our awakening is not a personal triumph. We do not have to win a spiritual sprint. We are one mind. Awakening is to penetrate more and more deeply into this truth.
The world is alive. And as long as there is suffering then this living whole is shattered. Whether it is my suffering or the suffering of another, when seen from the perspective of the bodhisattva makes no difference, because, seen from this perspective there is no “me” or “another.”
“Although the Bodhisattva saves all sentient beings, there are no sentient beings to save.” ~ The Diamond Sutra
These vows are practiced in three ways: Restraint from harmful actions. Doing wholesome deeds. Working for the benefit of others.
How can we cause no harm in our actions? What kind deeds can we do for someone today? How are we working for the benefit of our fellow beings? As Martin Luther King put it, “The most important question is—what am I doing for others?”
The world wants—and needs—more bodhisattvas.
Inquire within. Are you up to the task?
Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus
Editor: Lieselle Davidson