Sometimes it is amazing to read about what people will do to help others. Chinese activist Ye Haiyan volunteered for two and a half days as a prosititute to highlight the plight of sex workers as well as to understand better their situation. She then went on to write about it on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.
In a sense she is a Bodhisattva. But whether this is the only recourse she had to help them is another story.
What is important is that there are people out there trying to make a difference, whether you hear about them or not. The media covers very few newsworthy stories and most are insignificant to making the world a better place.
Like Buddha one should see with their own eyes the truth.
In this talk Thich Nhat Hanh said that Buddhism isn’t a philosophy but that it has philosophy in it. There is a minimum of knowledge of the world necessary in order to follow the Buddhist practice but after that we should get on with the practice and not dwell on philosophical speculation.
Thich Nhat Nanh talks about the much quoted Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta:
“Malunkyaputta, it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, ‘The cosmos is eternal,’ and when there is the view, ‘The cosmos is not eternal,’ there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.”
What is it like to transform the world around you for the better? If you want to know listen to this inspiring talk by Patrick Awuah about his work to positively transform Ghana and the African continent.
I started out in Buddhism with Zen Buddhism. I think it has a lot to offer. But at the same time one should think about what it doesn’t offer. One should weigh the pros and cons.
One of the interesting developments in Mahayana Buddhism (of which Zen is a part of) is that of the Bodhisattva and its (it is both a he and she. And it is a non-existent person) ideal. A bodhisattva is said to strive to save all beings before its leaves this world into Nirvana, the final extinction.
In contrast the Theravada has the Arhat ideal. An Arhat is anyone who has vowed to become enlightened, the highest ideal that leads to contentment. Mahayana sees the Arhat ideal as selfish which is why they developed the Bodhisattva ideal. This was a later development after the Buddha’s time.
So if you ask me which is “correct” I will say both.
I doubt The Buddha meant for his teaching to be selfish (the supposed Arhat ideal interpretation) in any way. But neither did he mean for it to be an active and engaging teaching (the Bodhisattava interpretation) either.