Forget about heroes
Forget about heroes. The ones we want to watch for now are the bodhisattvas. These are the mindful and mysterious men, women and children who seem to recognize, almost from Day One, their peculiar function on this planet. These people aren't flashes in some heroic pan; they've signed on for the whole menu. They are indeed adventurers; and the terrain they navigate reaches across all levels of human experience, from the cancer ward to the recording studio.Thoughts for Easter from Jeff Greenwald's highly recommended 1990 book Shopping for Buddhas. We will all have our own personal bodhisattvas to add to that list; from past posts On An Overgrown Path (the links lead to those posts) I would nominate Edith Cavell, Thomas Merton, Antonia Brico and Brother Roger of Taizé, the latter is seen below.
Recognising them isn't always easy. Their urnas and ushnishas have been corrected with skilful surgery, the rings around the neck concealed with scarves and collars, the eyes raised level, the wardrobes expanded. But there are always clues, giveaways, by which the great compassionate beings reveal themselves to us ...
Who qualifies? How long does it take one of your garden-variety bodhisattvas to recognise what she or he is? Am I one? Are you? Would we know if we were?
Alas there is no test. There is no model. There are no answers. But please consider, merely for the sake of argument, the following cases:
* Vincent van Gogh, the preacher in the coal mines, lover of street whores, epileptic Dutch mahatma, reeling drunk on the sweet, wheat-scented oxygen of this mad, spinning planet he raged and painted.
* Daw Aung San Suu Kyi [seen below], the Light of Burma, whose clarity, compassion and courage may yet prevail against her nation's brutal military regime.
*Woody Allen, jazz clarinetist and perfect Fool, provoking our laughter in the face of samsara - that big, busy running-wheel of life, death and human suffering upon which we are all hapless hamsters. "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve it through not dying."
* Mother Teresa [header photo shows a nun of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity], for deciding on the spur of an instant to be the conscience of the entire human race.
* Pablo Picasso, earnest clown and animal lover, yet perhaps the only bodhisattva capable of sitting through a bullfight; reborn on this Earth in order to keep artists from taking themselves too seriously.
* Martin Luther King, Jr, last best hope of an era that now seems distant indeed; a man blessed with wisdom, compassion and the courage to carry these ideas into America's savaged streets.
* Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise, and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry - for helping us believe in a future that brings humanity not to ruin and despair, but to justice, genius and nobility.
* Helen Keller, bodhisattva of humanity's blind trapped soul, smiling with pure inner light in every photograph. And wasn't Anne Sullivan, Miracle Worker, a bodhisattva as well?
* Tenzig Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, who is believed to be a direct reincarnation of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion. Throughout his long exile, and in the face of countless atrocities commited against the Tibetan people, he has remained our best example of Buddha-nature at its inventive best.
* Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinary, master of vajrayana, the lightning path; who gave us film and music, and so opened our eyes and ears to the plights and delights of sentient beings everywhere.
* Anne Frank (and the family who hid her!), for the tragic metaphor of her life - and for her poignant, classic sutra on suffering.
* Alexander Calder, delighted comic sculptor, who taugt art how to dance.
* Arthur C. Clarke, writer and scientist, who invented the greatest tool of our century - the communications satellite - and never put a patent on it.
* Satchmo Armstrong, bodhisattva, humble and lusty monk with trumpet-bell begging bowl: "Early in life I set myself out to be a happy man, and made it."
Wolfgang Mozart, Josephine Baker and Mahatma Gandhi; Thich Nhat Nanh, John Lennon and Jonas Salk; Florence Nightingale, Hildegard von Bingen and Rigoberta Menchú; Sir Edmund Hillary, Joanna Macy and Dr Seuss ... How can we list them all? How can we possibly recognize the whole lot of them? The ones who have risen to fame; the ones forever lost in obscurity; the moms and dads and water carriers, translators and teachers and hermits, those exalted into the pages of People magazine or buried, fully content, in simple lives of service.
Bodhisattvas known and unknown walk the Earth, large and small, young and old, knowing or naive, but all brought to us through the same, ultimate sacrifice: by having agreed, in spite of temptations we can barely comprehend and could never resist, to be reborn on this insane planet one more time, full of their egos and their afflictions, their inflamed tonsils and itching hemorrhoids, to bring some tiny measure of knowledge or compassion to the plaintive, bewildered inhabitants of Earth.
* Soundtrack - Passion and Resurrection by Jonathan Harvey, a composer who may well be on the path to meeting Jeff Greenwald's criteria for a bodhisattva.
Happy Easter everyone!
Shopping for Buddhas by Jeff Grenwald is published by Lonely Planet Journeys ISBN 086442471X, my copy was bought online. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk