As we face the climate apocalypse, the question comes up: “What should we do?” You can ask and answer this question even if you have no reliable prediction about whether you individually, or the human race as a whole, will die in a cataclysm. For those of us with a mystical bent, there is advice available.
A Bodhisattva is a person who supposedly has “achieved enlightenment” (not really a thing), and who chooses to remain in the world instead of departing for Nirvana to be free of suffering. Bodhisattvas remain in the world out of compassion for their fellow beings. Even if you don’t believe the mythology, the vows of the Bodhisattva illuminate the challenges faced by people searching for spiritual grace.
Classically, there are four vows taken by a Bodhisattva:
- Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to free them.
- Vexations are endless; I vow to abandon them.
- Gates of truth are countless; I vow to enter them.
- The Way is inconceivable; I vow to attain it.
How can we use these?
Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to free them.
This is an acknowledgement that your individual self either does not exist or doesn’t matter, or both. You exist only to serve. You exist only inasmuch as you are serving. When you have made this commitment, it’s comforting to realize that your individual suffering is irrelevant. Whatever you experience – be it suffering or joy – it is distributed throughout the whole of the cosmos and all the beings in it.
Vexations are endless; I vow to abandon them.
No matter how pure you are or may become, desire and temptation arise from the illusory world in which we are engulfed. The demon Mara tempted the Buddha himself with the seductive allure of Mara’s beautiful daughters. Satan offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. When we cling to our desires, we cling to ourself. To be free of ourself, we must be free of desire.
Gates of truth are countless; I vow to enter them.
You have to pay attention. Effort is required. You can find whatever truth you are seeking, but you have to push open the gate and walk through it. The gates of truth – in the context of your life – are not necessarily in plain sight, nor is the direction to them obvious. Keep your eyes open for clues!
The Way is inconceivable; I vow to attain it.
You can’t navigate solely with your mind. You must engage your entire being, which is more extensive and complex than you have been led to believe. If you quiet the mind, you may feel the influence of other sensory faculties. These may arise from directions of which you are usually unaware. They can help you become oriented in the wider universe in which you exist, though you usually don’t know it. Also, wherever you’re going, you’re already there; there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. That’s the fundamental riddle of this quest: There’s nothing to do, so apply your whole soul to the task! ⭐️