Saving All Sentient Beings without Becoming a Superhero
It can be daunting to take the Bodhisattva Vow to save all beings. Remember, though, it’s a vow that is mean to inspire us to live to our utmost, and to remind us we are never out of work.
I grew up watching TV shows and movies that portrayed superheroes like Luke Skywalker and Yoda defeating supervillains like Darth Vader. I’m still attracted to these kinds of movies, but I also know that we don’t need to be super-human, saintly, or even to become a Buddha to be of service to others or to save the world.
But my vow as a Buddhist is to save all sentient beings, and when I make that vow I sometimes feel like a superhero. My superhero strength is not evident though in my everyday life. The miracles come in my ability to get out of bed, to eat breakfast, to brush my teeth, and to do what I can for my family and sangha. This is fueled by my trust in my own Buddha nature. I don’t always see it, but I have faith that Buddha works in me, and it is this faith that gets me up in the morning.
Becoming a super-human, or a Buddha is not my practice. My practice is to simply be more and more of who I am right now, with all my human fallibilities, and to serve others by recognizing and getting my own ego out of the way.
Zen practice is really comprised of three parts. The first part is to practice zazen. We come to a place of stillness in our physical body and not pay too much attention to thoughts that roam around. Zazen is about grinding up the “me” in practice. While I may not be aware of my own Enlightenment, I have faith in it, a faith that is not blind to the observations of science.
The second part is to save all sentient beings. When I get up from sitting, my practice is to be of service in the best way I know how to those who are right in front of me. I don’t need super-powers to help others, I just need to welcome with open arms those who come, recognizing our shared humanity, that I am in them, and they are in me.
The last part is play. Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is said to “play” in this world of suffering. Play helps us remember not to take ourselves too seriously, and to enjoy our life.
These three parts – zazen, serving others, and playing – make a stable base for zen practice, and helps me get to the great matter of life and death.