Bodhisattva Vow

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a 2-day teaching by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche in Dublin. Kongtrul Rinpoche is a revered Tibetan lama who has spent the last 20 years teaching in the West. This weekend he stressed how we can live a spiritual life amidst the chaos of the modern world. He spoke of the isolation many people feel today, and he touched on themes I have been finding in the work of Alan Watts and others in the past few years. The solution to this feeling of isolation he feels (and the troubles it can cause) is to find the common humanity which we all share, the desire to be happy and free from suffering. From this starting point we can work together.

He also spoke of the Bodhisattva Vow. A Bodhisattva is someone who makes a vow to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of other sentient beings. In this way, the motivation is not for personal liberation, but for the liberation of others. A Bodhisattva vows delay entering Nirvana (and thus leaving the cycle of death and rebirth) until all other beings are also liberated. Whether taken literally or as a metaphor, I find the Bodhisattva Vow very inspirational. It is no less than a dedication to help all others, friend or foe, achieve enlightenment. This requires you, the Bodhisattva, to live and act a certain way, the by-product of a dedication to help others. Dzigar Kongtrul urges us to consider this motivation, even in our everyday secular lives, to help others.

I asked the Rinpoche how we can do this for people who have or are acting in an immoral way. I spoke of the anger many people in Ireland and Europe feel towards a minority of powerful people who have made and are making decisions on our behalf that are destructive to our ways of life, and how it is very hard to feel compassion towards them. He appreciated that we should not roll over and allow these people to rule our lives, but reminded us that in all our dealings to remember that they too are human beings, who want to be happy and free from suffering too. If we can appeal to this, we can find common ground. He was very much tuned into the situation in Ireland and Europe and gave us encouragement to use skillful means to change how things are done here, something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.

As I walked home, I listened to the Beastie Boys’ own “Bodhisattva Vow”, their 1994 song from the “Ill Communication” album, where resident Beastie Buddhist MCA tries to describe the Bodhisattva Vow in song form. By his own words, this was “presumptuous at best”, but I dunno, I think he does a pretty good job. Great song too.

The Tree of Life (2011)

Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is a mad, glorious, ambitious, beautiful mess of a film. Ostensibly it is about a middle-aged man, played by Sean Penn, recalling his youth growing up in Texas, living with two younger siblings and his parents, the tough, stern Brad Pitt and the loving, affectionate Jessica Chastain. But it is much more than that; it is really a meditation on life in its entirety. Penn’s life is placed within a grand cosmic scale, the film breathtakingly showing us the creation of the Universe itself, and the emergence of life on this planet. It also shows us the beauty and ugliness of human life, as the boys parents instill in them both love and fear.

Parts of this film are stunning; the creation of the Universe and the forging of the Earth are truly spectacular. More impressive is the films centre-piece; the 1950s American family life, the shadow of Pitt’s aggressive father looming over everything. But this isn’t a gritty, kitchen-sink rendering. Like the aforementioned cosmic set-pieces, this is presented as grandiose. Boy-hood playing becomes as profound as the emergence of life, the back garden as epic a stage as a galaxy. But it is not all slow-motion gloss; the harsh realities of life are not airbrushed, as the boys content with death, loss, and fear of their own father. His failings too are rendered with utmost clarity.

For me this film is about how everything is sacred. The film clearly treats every second, every person, every thing as a thing of beauty. Every fleeting moment of life, whether it be the birth of a star or a family meal is as important and intertwined into the fabric of being as everything else. All these moments have an effect on how things unfold, no matter how large or small. The fragility and smallness of human life is blown up onto a grand a scale as the creation of everything itself. The film opens with the question of grief, and responds by showing us the vast complexity of everything, by some way of a non-verbal answer.

It is also about a lot more things, but I’ll have to think about them.

(spoilers after the jump)
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