American Zen

I’ve spent a lot of time on this site talking about various aspects of individuality. In the past two and a half weeks, the word “unity” has been used so often in Western civilization that we might as well be tattooed with it. The challenge: how to reconcile the two factors without diminishing either? Nothing ties a nation together like a tangible threat — how do we retain our individualism and freedom of expression in the face of war?

While ruminating on this question earlier, my eyes fell on a scrap of paper tacked to my post-board with a single word written on it: “bodhisattva”. According to the Association Zen Internationale Taisen Deshimaru:

A bodhisattva is someone who understands suffering beings, helps them, and guides them on the right path with compassion. Kodo Sawaki said, “Men are afraid, because they depend only on their own individuality. To do zazen is to be a person in unity with heaven and earth.” For the bodhisattva, life, far from being an obstacle or burden, is the path by which satori (an understanding of the universal law) is realized. The bodhisattva directs his life rather than being directed by it. Even if he dives into the middle of demons, he is not afraid and can save all beings. Thus, the ideal of the bodhisattva is to guide all beings toward the truth, to bring them onto the Path of Awakening.

My friend Greg scribbled the word down at dinner one night, saying that a person dealing with an ailment (i.e. depression) or coming through any similarly rough time who still wants to help others can go by such a title. I keep the word in sight as a reminder: our trials make a little more sense if, through experience, we can teach or help other people.

These past few weeks, America’s been full of bodhisattvas. Everyone’s suffered in their own way and has reached out with compassion to those less fortunate. Can you think of a single person who’s been untarnished by what’s happened? Can you think of anyone who hasn’t tried to help, at least by lending an ear to a fellow mourner?

Each person’s unique reaction to these tragedies makes the cause of freedom stronger. Each person’s determination to remain a thinking, feeling, caring being weakens the terrorists’ grip. So hooray for individuality! It makes America what it is!

Happy Birthday

This message has been brought to you by the letter G and the number 26, in honor of Bodhisattva Greg Braswell’s birthday. Have a great one, honey!