In Mahayana Buddhism, bodhisattva is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. A bodhisattva is one of the four sublime states a human can achieve in life (the others being an arhat, buddha or pratyekabuddha).
Boddhisattva means many things depending on the time, or the place, or the people who have interpreted it. But to me, it’s always meant one thing: someone who helps others — despite their own interests — out of great compassion for Life.
As one interpretation goes, the Boddhisattva is a person on the mountainous path to enlightenment who, upon the cusp of attaining their goal, instead turns about and shepherds others toward the top. This is a gift of extreme self-sacrifice — putting aside one’s own desires in order to help others — and it’s an ethos that I’ve always admired.
There’s virtue in attaining enlightment, of course. It’s a Sisyphean task that many have struggled toward for ages. Enlightenment means peace, an unshackling from the difficulties of the human condition, and a deeper understanding of ourselves.
But true enlightenment comes at a cost. My mind conjures images of the Buddha-recluse: detached from humanity’s suffering, unable to relate to the people who need their help the most. A person removed from the reality of everyday people.
I personally am neither enlightened, nor self-sacrificing. I’d like to be better at the latter, and often look toward the tradition of the Boddhisatva; striving for enlightenment, but always keeping others needs in mind over their own. We sometimes lose track of what motivates us, drives us — our animus. Or, at least I have… many times; now being one of them.
The last year has been very good to me and my family. We’ve continued to raise healthy children and have a happy home life. Personally, I’ve gone from Silicon Valley to becoming a professor, expanded my consulting, and run a successful second-year Maker Faire.
That’s not enough, though. Really, for me at least, it’s not much of anything. It’s not enough to celebrate what you’ve done well when there are so many others who need help. I’ve come very far in the past decade, but how many have I helped? How can I do better?
This is a new year, arbitrary as the calendar may seem. And we have time to repair things like these, and charge ourselves with new purpose to help create a better, more humanistic world.
I wish you peace, while selfishly hoping to become a better person.