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The Skeptical Buddhist: Bodhisattva Step-Mothers
Submitted by Robert Colpitts on Sun, 5/13/2012, 12:18pm
On this Mother’s Day, the woman who is sort of officially/unofficially my stepmother is standing guard over my father, making sure that he does not kill himself. In the past few weeks, my father has been in the hospital three times, the latest time because of a suicide attempt. A few days ago, my stepmother left to go pick up something at the store, and when she came back, he was, as she told me, bleeding everywhere from cutting himself, and catatonic from having swallowed an entire bottle of prescription pain killers. She repeatedly told me how horrible he looked, as if she could not get the vision out of her head.
My father is in Hell. I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen someone I love start burning up. They start to say things that don’t make sense. They do things that aren’t normal. They lose touch with their ability to cope. Their actions make their life more difficult, and they engage in practices of self-destruction. They are living inside of a nightmare, and they don’t see reality that often anymore.
Part of me thinks that my father will be in Hell until he decides to leave, but my stepmother apparently thinks that she can drag him out of it.
The last time I talked to her—right before he was to be released from the hospital—she told me that her plan was to never let him out of her sight--everywhere she went, he would go with her, and vice versa.
I spent a lot of time on the phone with her. I offered my advice and compassion. I shared everything about Buddhist philosophy that I thought could ease her situation and my father’s. My plan is to subtly get her and my father into contact with basic Buddhist tenets. Her plan is to guard him and drag him forcefully out of his pain.
What is a Bodhisattva? It is not someone who does a little bit of meditation and talks now and then about caring for the world and dabbles in discussions about interdependence. It is not someone who gets a kick out of Buddhism until one confused person comes in and messes all that peace up. It is not someone who at the first signs of difficulty retreats and hides in front of the fireplace with a cup of tea and honey.
A Bodhisattva is someone like my step-mother. In face of someone who is swimming through the deepest Hell, she does everything she can think of to save him from it. She does not sway. She does not give up. She trusts herself. She fights and fights and fights.
You can easily imagine a Mother Bear fighting with every ounce of her being for her cubs. Think of human Bodhisattvas as having the same energy—they would fight like that for any suffering being.
And I mean ANY SUFFERING BEING.
Confusion stands in front of you. It comes in with the face of anger, the face of nightmares, the face of violence, the face of horror. Hell has walked into the room and is headed straight for you. Having compassion for someone who is confused means that you will come face to face with this horror and you must not turn away. You have a job to do. You must save someone from suffering.
It is ok if you want to keep yourself safe. But when you escape, go straight to your meditation cushion and ask yourself why you feel the need to stay safe.
Isn’t the Hell you just left in need of your wisdom? Isn’t the anger that was directed at you in need of your calm? Isn’t that person who offended you in a HURRICANE of fire and terror? Hasn’t the meditation you’ve done freed you from the need to protect yourself? Haven’t you seen your infinite strength?
If you were a Mother Bear, you wouldn’t need to search for your innate wisdom. Those are your cubs. Your Bodhisattva fighting spirit would come out.
As a human warrior, you have discovered that every moment, every difficulty, every ounce of suffering comes from your relationship with your mind. You have nothing to protect. Your life is joyful, calm, and filled with ease. Nothing shakes you, because the moment you lose focus, you catch it, and you are back in the land of centeredness.
But you do not have enough compassion for the world yet. You are secure, sure. But you go on vacation, you hide away in a hut somewhere, you stay safe and warm in halls filled with cushions, and you hide your peace. It is your tiny little secret practice and it is all yours, and you aren’t going to share it. ESPECIALLY with someone who is angry, self-destructive, hurtful, or depressed and is standing right in front of you challenging you. You think that you can only see the truth if you do not come into contact with suffering.
My stepmother has practiced meditation not a day in her life. Yet her instincts to save someone else are so strong that I am ashamed to have thought of myself as a warrior.
And with her doing so much warrior work, far be it from me to think a little thing like Hell can stop me from offering what I know can help relieve the suffering that my father is experiencing. Sure, he is going to refuse it. Sure, he is going to deny it. Sure, it is going to be bumpy. Sure, he may even resent me. Sure, he may die before he accepts it. Sure, it would be easier to give up on him, to let him be just another random guy who walked off the subway car into lifetimes of Hell.
Or, like my stepmother, I can give every ounce of my merit, every ounce of my wisdom, and every breath of my meditation to relieve his suffering, and the suffering of all beings. I can give it all, because I recognize the true strength of Buddha nature comes from seeing the source of suffering and with that clarity strength is always available to me. I have an ever-present source of strength; I have more than enough to share with the world.
And when Hell walks up to me and breathes fire, and presents nightmares, and bears its fangs, I simply present my wisdom. There is nothing to fear from confusion and suffering. I have a source of strength that is deep and present. We all do.
My stepmother, not a day of meditation in her life, in her wisdom, is keeping him chained into life so that he can hear what we have to say.
The moment Hell walks up to you and bears its fangs is the moment that Hell has turned his/her attention to you. Present your wisdom. Now is your chance.
On this Mother’s Day, if you have someone to say, “Happy Mother’s Day” to, bow to the warrior nature of the person who would fight with every ounce of her being for her cubs, and take his/her strength as a reflection of your own.
And this afternoon or evening on your meditation cushion, ask yourself if you, as a good Buddhist, can do what mothers would do for her cubs for all sentient beings.
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