Friday, October 25, 2013

Darned bodhisattvas!

      I had a friend in Berkeley who was a "sensei" (a "teacher" or "pastor") at a local Buddhist congregation.  We'd get together every so often for lunch.  I'd learn from him, and he from me.  One day he recounted the following story:  He was riding in the car with his daughter -- she was driving.  They were on a particular street in Berkeley that was heavily travelled (ironically, for those of us in Denver, Santa Fe Blvd!).  As is often the case on such thoroughfares, not all drivers were paying close attention to their main task, and she (the driver) was being cut off.  She became increasingly frustrated and started "talking" back at the other cars.  Her dad said, "Calm down, dear, they are bodhisattvas* helping you on your way to enlightenment.  You needn't be attached to arriving at your destination."  As one might imagine, however, this explanation did not completely mollify the daughter/driver.
       Several days later, the driver/passenger roles in the car were reversed, and my friend was behind the wheel.  They found themselves on the same street, and my friend began experiencing the same rude drivers that his daughter encountered.  Like his daughter, my friend became increasingly agitated, using colorful language to express his disdain of those cars.  His daughter gently reminded him that those drivers were simply "bodhisattvas helping you on your way to enlightenment".  His response?  "Darned bodhisattvas!"
       I remember too, a story from a book he loaned me about religious education from a Buddhist perspective.  The author of a particular chapter -- a "Sunday School" teacher in a Buddhist congregation -- bemoaned to another teacher the fact that her own children kept interrupting her daily practice; they were keeping her from focusing on her meditation.  Her friend reminded her that, as long as she had children her children were her practice.  They forced her to reconsider her "attachments" to her practice itself, and to refocus on the present realities:  the needs of those kids.
      "Love your enemies", Jesus is reported to have said (Matthew 5:44, paralleled in Luke 6:27 and 6:35).  I heard this passage quoted in a gathering the other night.  I know the context of the original quotation well (the original had to do with treatment of others--friend or foe), but, for some reason, the stories from my Buddhist friend sprang to mind.   I began to wonder if "loving" my enemies, or those other crazier-than-me drivers, or other distractions (such as MY children) was instructional as to what I might learn from those with whom I differ, or exclude, or demonize, or those who simply annoy me?
       My usual response, when challenged, is to set up my defensive perimeter, and then to prepare my counter-offensive (I suspect I am not alone in this!).  In so doing, I marshall all of my normal opinions, beliefs, and sets-of-statistics.  And, often, after the encounter has passed, I cling to my original position, maybe with some subtle rationalizations as to why I still hold that position -- but stubborn to the last.  I have to wonder what I miss, what opportunities for growth or compassion I've pushed aside.
       Darned bodhisattvas!  Keeping me off-balance like that!  Or, if I let them, are they really re-centering me?


Chaplain Gary

* A "bodhisattva", for some Buddhists, is an enlightened being who understands his/her role to delay entry into Nirvana in order, selflessly, to help others attain enlightenment.

No comments:

Post a Comment