Buddhism offers a concept called bodhichitta: the aspiration of becoming a fully awakened being and to dedicate one’s life to benefit all beings. A student asks, “Master, what can I do to help alleviate universal suffering?” The teacher answers, “Indeed, what can you do?”
Well, I could wait to become fully awakened — whatever that means. I could meditate sincerely, go on silent retreats, read good books, and try to emulate my teachers. I could recite certain vows each morning, not step on the little ants in the kitchen, and adhere to the precepts. Then, perhaps, in this lifetime or the next (as some suggest) I might become unburdened from self-centered thoughts and actions, plumb the depths of the mind’s true nature, and truly realize that I’m one with everything. Or something along those lines.
And in the meanwhile, what do I do or not do? Do I wait, trapped in cultural conditioning, until the big light goes on? Do I resign myself to small acts of kindness, trusting that they’ll make the world a better place? Yes and yes. They key to these questions lies in bodhichitta as a quality of intention. It’s like a “powerful river that runs deeply beneath the surface” of our life, writes Bob Preece,
Once [we] step into this river, it is an act of surrender of the normal ego .. to the unfolding of a process that leads to buddhahood. In other words, when we align ourselves with the current of this river, it generates a sense of direction that does not require self-conscious trying. We may not know where it will take us.
It appears that I’m on the right track, in wishing to live honestly and be a servant to others. Except that there is no ready-made right track. Only the intention to do no harm and do good for self and others. That’s all you and I have as we wake up each morning. The rest is unknown and may well surprise us as the day unfolds.
source: Preece, R. (2006). The wisdom of imperfection. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, p. 207. image: Charley River at Yukon ak.water.usgs.gov