I wrote this post a year or so ago but did not have the courage to post. A year later—a year of more learning, a year of more courage—here it is.
All I aspire to be is a Bodhisattva.
Is that too much to ask?
And now 95 percent of you are wondering what the hell a Bodhisattva is. Like you needed that large question looming over your head today. One minute you’re making coffee and the next you’re looking up existential Buddhist terms. My apologies.
I use the term loosely. I’m a seeker. I’m a soul in a body, not a body with a soul. In laymen’s terms, that makes me a little weird.
It also means that while I accept my humanity, I strive for the good within it. I try to overcome the bad. And I know the potential for both sit within me. As it does in all of us.
Some days, I’m a rock star at this striving. Other days, not so much.
An acquaintance has been diagnosed with cancer.
I feel for anyone who gets this diagnosis, whether I know them or not. But this woman’s diagnosis made me feel guilty.
Because I’ve not been very Bodhisattva-like about her lately.
I see her only through her social media presence. We’ve not talked in many moons. We weren’t close back when I briefly knew her. To be honest, I thought she was really vapid. A pretty face but not much behind it. And she talked in a really whispery voice, like a little girl, so even when she did speak you were never quite sure what she’d said.
She sent me a Facebook friend request and I accepted. I have no true dislike for her. I just always sensed she was not my cup of tea.
For some reason, her social media updates load into my newsfeed no matter what. She is always there. And her updates usually consist of photos. She smiles vapidly at the camera and is with an assortment of friends, usually at a party.
Which is fine. Really. However, while I love to look at pics of my friends having fun, their kids, etc., I don’t really enjoy a steady diet of pics of just them. There’s never a backdrop. Never any context. Just a close-up of her and her pals or husband.
This girl put a high price on her looks. Did I mention that?
And therein lies the rub. I have little patience for vanity. Little patience for someone whose days consist of workouts and figuring out which party dress to put on. It’s the whole soul in a body thing. We’re here for more than that. And those looks—well, they fade. Then watcha’ got, sister? Hopefully something substantive inside.
Most days, I try to focus on creating and positive energy. I don’t like to sit and gossip. I don’t like to bitch and moan about people behind their backs. I just like to live life, doing my thing and supporting those I love.
I am also a person who calls a spade a spade. I usually see through bullshit with little effort.
So, as I try to be a spiritual warrior, I find myself tripping on the human side of it all.
These snarky thoughts that pop into my brain when there she is yet AGAIN on my page are not pretty. Usually, I dismiss them.
But, now she has cancer. And a family. And a tough road ahead.
And guilt is seeping into the corners of my mind like water into a leaky boat.
I’ve never wished her ill. In fact, now she’s in my prayers. But if I’m honest with myself, her diagnosis highlights my pettiness. And I don’t like it.
While I was snarkily wondering who in the world posts that many photos of themselves day after day after day, she was getting cancer. And going about her business.
Which makes me, at least temporarily, a schmuck. Schmuckity schmuck schmuck schmuck.
And I think, if you look up the antonym for bodhisattva, it is schmuck.
The literature on being a spiritual warrior tells us many things.
From Shantideva’s Bodhisattvacharyavatara:
In brief, the Awakening Mind
Should be understood to be of two types;
The mind that aspires to awaken
And the mind that ventures to do so.
As is understood by the distinction
Between aspiring to go and (actually) going . . .
Although great fruits occur in cyclic existence
From the mind that aspires to awaken,
An uninterrupted flow of merit does not ensue
As it does with the venturing mind.
I guess I have some work to do to become a venturing mind, rather than an aspiring mind. I want that uninterrupted flow of merit, damn it. That’s my human side.
Or, in laymen’s terms, I want to eliminate the schmuck from my mind. There’s the Bodhisattva in me.
I have to embrace and live with both.
Wish me luck.
29 Comments Add yours
I wonder two things:
1) how this woman is doing
2) how your compassion for her may have radically shifted and blossomed when you chose compassion and health for yourself (as evidenced by today’s “Vroom Vroom” post.
Give yourself a high five. You’re less of a schmuck. 😉
The good news is– my compassion blossomed long before I set out to lose 20 lbs. She is cancer free and looks great! I prefer to think of it as not quite a bodhisattva but will die trying:).
Great news on all fronts. Isn’t life funny that way? It just does its thing as much as we fickle and strain.
In similar moments, when I am mired in an uncharitable thought, peace comes only after I extract the truths I do not wish to hear and claim them as my own. I applaud your vulnerability and honesty in sharing a moment we can all identify with.
Ah, so beautiful and so too! I strive to be a Bodhisattva as well and find a lot of strength and fortitude in the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, among others. Some days are better than others, as you say. While reading your post, I thought about how I had been judging a woman who was taking a lot of photos of herself and posting them on her Facebook (several photos each day). You’ve reminded me that we can never really know what someone else is going through or what his/her motivation might be for doing so. Thank you for this much needed reminder!
From what I know about Buddhism, it talks about compassion, but also acceptance of how things are and that everything passes, so those judgements were maybe just part of the learning experience on your way to being a Bodhisattva! And while you can have compassion for someone’s situation, you don’t have to like them just because they’re ill.
“…if you look up the antonym for bodhisattva, it is schmuck.”
I have people in my life like her, and I’ve come to the realization that though _I_ like to contemplate nature and philosophy, not everyone enjoys it nor (and this was the revelation for me) is everyone capable. I like Shakespeare; others–either through lack of interest, intellect, or education–do not. I may look at a constant stream of selfies from an aquaintance and cringe, but if it makes _her_ happy, if making the choice between two dresses is important to her, who am I to gainsay it? I look at her life and see a shallow, unexamined life, but she may just as easily look at my life and see a dull, uninspiring existence that would make her quite unhappy indeed.
I applaud your introspection and self-evaluation.
Your words are so very true. I realize not all of us are meant to contemplate life’s big questions–I just have so little interest in those who don’t. And need to get over the judgy bit . . .
Best headline ever. Anywhere.
And how lovely to hear someone use the word bodhisattva…I took vows of refuge in the summer of 2011 but did it (she says guiltily but also with Lama’s permission) so I could take Bodhisattva vows, as this is an essential piece of who I am and who I try to be. It’s not easy. I doubt it is meant to be easy.
We did an 8-day silent retreat then, and it was a fascinating and humbling experience when we finally broke silence on the final evening to see what very deep snap judgments we had all made about one another; there were 75 people in the room, teens to seniors…Many of our decisions about one another (and theirs of me) were dead wrong. That left a powerful impression.
I don’t think it makes you a schmuck at all, kay. it’s inherently human to judge (and therein lies the rub), so while we could all try to be less judgmental and more positive (I find that very difficult sometimes), I don’t think you were doing so badly.
cancer’s been on my mind lately. I have an aunt who relapsed and is about to start chemo, and a young cousin who just last week was waiting for cancer test results to come back after they discovered a 10cm cyst under her ovary. scientifically I know it’s just a word for the rather natural degradation of cells, but the pain and worry it causes really leaves me at a loss for words.
I will keep them both in my thoughts and prayers. My sister finished her second round of chemo for ovarian cancer that had spread to her kidney. She is currently cancer free and looking forward to her son’s wedding. It truly puts your head on straight and makes you treasure each day in a different way. The blessing of it all, if there is one . . .
Strive as we might, it is not possible to only think the highest of ALL people ALL the time.
I think that of course, it is awful when anybody has cancer, BUT in life s**t happens and it has not happened because of your thoughts so don’t beat yourself up over it!
Oh…now I’m thinking about my inner schmuck. That’s not always easy to do…but worthwhile to examine it.
I find the most delightful people are those really in touch with their inner schmuck. Those who aren’t tend to have blind spots and a righteousness thing going on . . .
You are not only facing your inner Schmuck, Kay, you are in fact embracing it. You don’t really want to let it go. You just want it to move over and make room for the new Bodhiisattva. I think they can dance together to the old Steely Dan song. Your wee bit of Schmuck had nothing to do with Facebook girl’s sad illness, but we can all feel badly and wish for her recovery nonetheless.
Wise words, Mark. You’re right . . .
Thanks, Kay. I loved your storytelling today.
It has taken me a while to accept that there is no clean slate for the Bodhisattva (or anyone for that matter). There is just the claiming of the self as is and has been. My acceptance of that has not meant that the thoughts have stopped but only that I am more compassionate, as some memories still bring more pain than not. In some form or another, I remind myself that “lasting transformation occurs only when we honor ourselves as a source of wisdom and compassion” (Pema Chödrön). In essence, I begin again and again and….
I’m a fan of Pema’s wisdom also . . . her books always make my brain ping.
This post really spoke to me and highlighted the judgement in all of us…a beautiful reminder. thank you for the post. I loved the honesty of every word…
Was just reading about this lesson last nite (in a book). It’s so hard not to judge others & ourselves. I’m constantly working on it….that whole soul in a body thing..and trying to see others (& myself) that way too.
Oh, can I relate. And now I have a new thing to call myself in my own (frequent) anti-Bodhissatva moments.
Well, first of all — you didn’t wish cancer on the party girl. Second of all — I’m guessing there’s a little Bodhisattva and Schmuckity Schmuck in ALL of us. Like good girl/bad girl (or boy)? Yin and Yang? It’ll all balance out in the end. And if it doesn’t — then it’s not the end. Love your writing. XOXO’s
Indeed. Best of luck. The venturing is rarely easy; it’s not just curiosity that’s required, it’s stamina and courage and being centered within the soul that you are, the soul that is trying so hard to express itself while maintaining its human form. Some of that courage broke through when you posted this.
I agree! Stamina is so key. It’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint. And lots of self-acceptance and forgivenesss necessary.
I too aspire to be a Bodhisattva. It’s not easy, but quite satisfying.