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Apr 16

Unpacking a Dedication



This was written for an audience unfamiliar with Buddhism, so apologies if I cover some unnecessary ground, but wanted to share here as well. Dedications like these always do it for me. I love the eloquence, and the meaning behind the words, as well as their poignancy: 

"May the ever-expanding wisdom and compassion of the mahayana Draw us out of our complacent self-concern Into the liberating and challenging playground of the peaceful bodhisattva warrior. May the world enjoy peace, and may all beings be freed from ignorance and suffering."


Most Buddhist works, texts, or talks come with a dedication similar to this. A couple points to help with understanding: Buddhism has three general paths, or 'vehicles.' Mahayana translates as 'greater vehicle,' and is the point when one's practice ceases to be focused on their own improvement and progress towards enlightenment, and becomes focused on others'.


Because 'enlightenment' is a pretty wishy washy term, it can be more concretely recognized as increasing realization and the cessation of suffering, which kind of go hand in hand - Buddhists understand attachment as being the root of suffering. Attachment in many circumstances can be understood as expectation; we suffer when our expectations differ from our reality - by increasing our degree of realization we bring our expectations more into line with reality. We still suffer hardships, but no longer have the additional difficulty of suffering due to a mismatch of expectations; rather, we are able to relate with and execute the practice of working through hardships with a relative sense of joy and buoyancy.


The ever expanding is a reference to the limitless nature of these qualities, and also their continual growth.


We could talk more about the relationship between wisdom and compassion, and how they enable each other; this is developed language within the Buddhist tradition, but our everyday understandings of these words suffice fairly well.


I love the phrase 'complacent self-concern.' Just ....speaks volumes. How much good is left on the table because we traditionally cannot see beyond our own self-interest?

The 'liberating and challenging playground of the peaceful bodhisattva warrior' lots to unpack here.


Starting backwards: 'peaceful bodhisattva warrior' peaceful - no surprise, Buddhist vows of nonviolence etc. That's pretty well known.


Bodhisattva - a person who has taken a vow to withhold from realizing their own enlightenment until all other sentient beings are enlightened. Traditionally, these are people who have reached the final stages of the 'hinayana,' or path focused on individual enlightenment. Highly accomplished, very dedicated in their practice, yet hold back from the final goal in order to help others along the same path - very noble beings.


Opening up the definition a little, it is easy to see how this applies to anyone putting the good of others ahead of their own gain. Charitable work is definitely bodhisattva work! There is real depth to the bodhisattva concept / ideal though, it gets very nuanced and subtle. Just to highlight, there are separate discussions around 'idiot compassion' (which can be understood as a form of enabling behaviour), and occasionally a bodhisattva may do something quite shocking and uncharacteristic of a 'peaceful being,' in order to help people realize the limits to their own conceptual understanding - bodhisattva work often has, but does not require, a peaceful and non-confrontational form. The end results of realization is the more important piece.


The warrior concept comes in because it takes a certain warrior mentality to be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. But again, lots of language around this, creating a different conception from the standard: the weapons this warrior wields are those of tenderness, compassion and discriminating awareness, which creates a nice distinction from our typical view. These require real strength to be able to invoke and use; often we are shielding our tenderness and boxing up our compassion, to be shared only with those we deem worthy of receiving it.


'Liberating and challenging playground' I love this description for life. What could be more true?


Liberating others is both the goal and challenge of the bodhisattva. Making the vow to benefit others is both very liberating and very challenging. Not having to live to fuel one's own ego is very liberating - just think of how many people are, right now, suffering because they are trying to live up to the expectations others have of them, or their own perfectionist tendencies ? 'I have to be pretty, I have to be a certain weight , I have to be funny , I can't go against the grain' ... all these 'I have tos' boil down into a string of self-centered thoughts. 'I...I...I...' it is very liberating to put our preoccupation with yourself down and focus primarily on others. There's a growing amount of science to back me up on this, but it's easy to see how an over-engaged focused on one's own self often could lead cross the boundary into unhealthy thinking that ultimately erodes one's sense of basic confidence.


It's also easy to see how a focus on helping others would reinforce that same sense. Creating good in the world for someone else is one of the most surefire ways to increase the sense of good-feeling we have in our own lives. Also mirrors the expression 'the search for happiness is the end of happiness' - the search implies a lack, which can easily be found once we stop searching for ourselves and start looking to see how we may enable others to realize theirs. Again, it goes deep. Lots of words have been written about this. It is also very challenging to do; people react in ways that are difficult to predict, and all one can do is bring their best efforts, and seek to expand both their wisdom and skillful means. Both wisdom and skillful means play a prominent role in Buddhist teachings and practice, and are flip sides of the same coin.


And playground - love it. Borrowing from Hinduism for a moment, lila is the act that their gods engage in. Lila translates as play, the idea being what else does a god, who has no needs, spend their time doing? They spend their time in play - their games may look very different from the ones we have , but the idea is that it's almost leisurely, and inconsequential to them.


The inconsequential bit doesn't really translate over to the Buddhist understanding - we are all mortal, after all. This existence is our existence, good or bad. There are consequences. But that levity of play carries through; more often than not a heavy sense of seriousness is a result of an ego feeling threatened somewhere. For those with no ego, there are no threats.


And the last line - well, that one is pretty straightforward.


Thanks for sticking with me through this long-winded thought. I wanted to share the dedication with you, and I hope it resonates with and lifts you in the same way it does for me.


In sincerity and solidarity - cheers

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