BAM

A Myth For Our Times?!

On Tue, 8 May, 2018 - 13:30
mokshini's picture
mokshini

However innumerable beings are, I vow to deliver them;

However inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to extinguish them;

However immeasurable the teachings are, I vow to master them;

However incomparable the Buddha Truth is, I vow to attain it

Prajnaketu shares his thoughts for BAM 2018 and invites us all to discuss and explore how we can bring the myth of the Bodhisattva Ideal more into our lives in a practical way.

He writes - ”As we enter into Buddhist Action Month we consciously co-operate with the myth of the Bodhisattva. And in doing so, our actions, whatever they may be, acquire deeper significance…. 

People want a myth they can get behind, a positive myth about what their lives can become, a myth that locates humanity in a Universe of meaning, possibility and potential. But more than this, by co-operating with one another under the Universal myth of the Bodhisattva, something else emerges that far exceeds the sum of our collective actions. This is the myth to which we aspire in the Triratna Buddhist Community: share it – this BAM and beyond.”

For the whole article by Prajnaketu, read on: 

A myth for our times?

 On our way back from leading a retreat at Metta Vihara, Akasajoti and I found ourselves at the end of possibly the longest queue I’ve ever been in. That was, until more people joined it, and it snaked back on itself to nearly double in size. We were in Brussels, waiting for the Eurostar, the Easter Monday before the French railway workers began striking. Alongside us in the queue was a youngish man – a stranger, randomly thrown into this transport chaos with us – who, seizing the opportunity of a captive audience, began to unfold his vision of life to us. With some curiosity, we listened. Brought up in a loosely Catholic family, he had become dismayed at how the truths of science had been obscured from him as a child, and he had eventually fallen into the hands of the ‘Four Horsemen of Atheism’. Now, having matured a little, he had come to long for something more than what he perceived to be the rationalistic sniping-for-its-own-sake characterized by those authors. He longed for a myth.

 And he’s not alone. Arguably the prevailing myth of our times is, in fact, an anti-myth: the critical deconstruction of stories of meaning and value, leaving its proponents with the lazy sense of superiority at having been able to find fault, but little else, in its wake. I’ve noticed sometimes in myself a peculiar satisfaction at picking holes in other’s cherished beliefs: it’s easy to do – after all, no belief is immune to criticism. But I can see that to indulge this kind of mentality actually stifles my own creativity and demoralises those prepared to take the initiative where it’s most needed. Motivation arises out of our beliefs – and we’re going to need strong motivation to radically transform the world for the better. What we’re missing is something to believe in. We too need a positive myth.

 So let me tell you what I believe.

 Around fourteen billion years ago, for the first time ever, stuff happened. I don’t know what kicked it off, I don’t know why, and I don’t even know for sure what kind of stuff actually happened. All I can say is that, for the first time, there was stuff. Now, out of that stuff, other stuff emerged – stars, galaxies, black holes, planets, minerals, water – stuff that you couldn’t have foreseen before it emerged, but which seemed to unfold in regular ways once it did. Out of this emerged more stuff still: life, photosynthesis, awareness, and awareness of awareness… Had the conditions been otherwise, it might have looked very different. But it seemed that whenever stuff co-operated with other stuff in the right kind of way, something new emerged, something more than the sum of its parts: a couple of atoms getting a little friendlier than usual and fusing to begin a star; single-cells joining forces into multicellular organisms; plant cells and gases coming together to store the energy of the sun. And these emergent phenomena took. The universe, it would seem, looks favourably on emergence.

 Then around two hundred thousand years ago the first anatomically-modern humans emerged on our planet – our great great great great……… great great grandparents. They were a bit slow to make their mark, mostly quietly hunting and gathering, until around ten thousand years ago when, out of a another new kind of co-operation, agriculture emerged. We’ve been on an increasing slope of technological innovation ever since. Stonehenge and the Pyramids came on the scene in the last five thousand years. And then some quite unprecedented circumstances sprang up simultaneously around two thousand five hundred years ago in a number of different places (ancient Greece, China, and India to name but three): a material abundance sufficient to sustain a whole subculture of spiritual seekers. These drop-outs made it their objective to investigate directly what all this stuff was really about – and this became the catalyst for the next big emergent phenomenon: Awakening. 

The Buddha – the Awakened One – was part of this subculture of seekers. Drawing from the teachings of the time he hit upon something completely new. He discovered that when awareness ‘co-operates’ with itself in particular ways, completely new qualities of mind emerge – refined, expansive, and blissful states. But not only this, the Buddha discovered that through bringing awareness to this process, we can go even beyond positive mental states – that it’s possible to transcend self-centredness altogether, and simply co-operate with the Universe in the emergence of increasing selflessness, freedom, and creativity. He also discovered that this emergence flourishes most naturally out of friendship, communities of those who are self-aware and deeply aware of one another.

 The Buddha was clearly an exceptional individual, but he’s not a one-off. He was only the first of a wave of Awakened beings whose influence has flowed down through the centuries. And our own lives have coincided with the extraordinary meeting of a developed Western culture and this wave of Awakening in the myth of the Bodhisattva. This myth is about becoming like the Buddha – co-operating with, and serving, this propensity for emergence in the Universe through the creation of communities that support Awakening. Whilst it’s an Ideal, though, it’s not naively idealistic. Crucially, the Bodhisattva holds both the enormity – and, indeed, futility – of the task of fixing a world as fraught with issues as our own, alongside the highest Idealism of working (and playing) for the Awakening of all. This is beautifully expressed in the four great vows of the Bodhisattva:

 However innumerable beings are, I vow to deliver them;

However inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to extinguish them;

However immeasurable the teachings are, I vow to master them;

However incomparable the Buddha Truth is, I vow to attain it

 As we enter into Buddhist Action Month we consciously co-operate with the myth of the Bodhisattva. And in doing so, our actions, whatever they may be, acquire deeper significance. In fact, we begin to act on many different levels. There’s the straightforward benefit that we bring to those beings we encounter in our neighbourhoods and the wider world. There’s the up-swelling of joy we can experience in engaging our energies collectively for the good. There’s the creation of friendships and community amongst us, those essential vehicles for human flourishing. And then there are the subtle ways in which our actions communicate the myth itself: that a better life is possible, that we can transcend suffering together, and that the Universe supports our efforts to grow.

People want a myth they can get behind, a positive myth about what their lives can become, a myth that locates humanity in a Universe of meaning, possibility and potential. But more than this, by co-operating with one another under the Universal myth of the Bodhisattva, something else emerges that far exceeds the sum of our collective actions. This is the myth to which we aspire in the Triratna Buddhist Community: share it – this BAM and beyond.

 Action:

What do you believe in? And how might we bring the myth of the Bodhisattva into our lives more practically? You could bring these questions into your study groups and discussions at BAM events over the coming month.

Log in or register to respond