I have been
studying and writing again about Jizo Bodhisattva. Again and again, this archetypal energy inspires me. I found it particularly inspiring in
helping me practice during the current political climate. If you are in my tribe of politics, the
situation right now is disappointing, paralyzing, depressing or worse, as each
of us reacts in our own ways.
So I find studying
Jizo Bodhisattva again has shown me a way to practice. Jizo is an energetic archetype that I
can tape into and begin to work from a different place in myself.
A bodhisattva is
a person who has found relief for themselves in this world but has made a vow
to help others before they themselves become fully enlightened or a
non-returner. A bodhisattva serves
others, forgetting the self. A
bodhisattvas’ suffering is no longer bound up in self-criticism or
is often paired with Kannon or Avalokiteshevara, the bodhisattvas of
compassion. But Jizo has a
slightly different take. This is
compassion and service work that is specifically directed to the reflection of
great suffering. Jizo goes
willingly into hell, into the worst situations, to help others in any way he or
I love the image
of jizo’s staff. Since Jizo is
associated especially with the transitions in life and in particularly, Jizo
helps with the transmigration of the 6 realms of existence. On the top of his
staff are 6 dangling moveable circles, which represent the six realms. As she walks, the circles clink and
make a soft noise. The shaking of
this staff and the sound of the tinkling, can open the doors to hell and Jizo
willingly enters hell to help people.
What qualities do
we have to have to enter hell?
Certainly, my small ego doesn’t want to enter hell. I’m often in my own hell! Why would I bother to enter someone
else’s hell? If I rely only on my
self, my story and my frontal lobe, I fall apart in hell. But if I can tap into my larger self,
my Buddha self, the largest perspective I know, then basically I can handle
anything. If I can let go of my
opinions, my ideals, my constructed reality, then I can enter hell and its just
another moment to deal with. In
that moment, I can react with kindness to what is in front of me. Kindness and presence helps all
situations. But, and this is a big
but, our practice of having a big mind has to have matured and developed before
we enter a problematic situation. This
endurance and strength is not instantaneous. It is developed. Zazen and sesshin (Zen’s extended
sitting retreats) are one way of developing our resilience to staying with pain
and staying in the moment. As this
practice gets developed, then, we are free to go anywhere and help. With this
practice we can manage our overwhelming feelings and stay in activities that
might produce a solution to the problems.
Even our fear of
death is not a reason to be paralyzed.
Our fear of death has to be abandoned. Like the Heart Sutra says: “When the mind has no hindrance,
there is no fear.”
So here are Jizo
responsibility and teaching karma
No fear – stepping
into the unknown as we die
Patron saint of
are no lost causes only people caught in ignorance.
What follows is
the great Koan! How do we have
Supreme or radical optimism in the face of the current political climate? Our task at hand, if we wish to emulate
Jizo Bodhisattva, is to continue under any circumstances. Radical optimism goes beyond our usual
way of thinking. Certainly for me,
who grew up in a time of doomsday visions, or for my sons who watch TV and
movies about the apocalypse where we all end up as zombies, radical optimism is
a strange concept. What do we have
to do in our minds and hearts in order to have radical optimism? I guess that’s why it’s called radical. This optimism is only perceived through
The next quality is
unflagging determination. One
maturation of our practice is that nothing stops us from doing the right thing
or from doing that which our particular karma allows us to do. We can go beyond our usual complacent
selves, reach out, and help in ways we hadn’t foreseen. Unflagging determination. We continue even if we don’t see the
results we want to see. Part of
Buddhist practice is to work without attachment to result, continuously.
The last quality,
which makes me smile, is – the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. Jizo doesn’t give up. He continues ceaselessly to help the
world even though the world is often royally disturbed. This is samsara, continuously difficult,
and continuously barking up the wrong tree. The world of our ego-centricity is always barking up the
tree of greed, anger and ignorance.
But we can keep attending to this lost cause and keep trying to work
from a different basis of operation in our minds.
Labels: Jizo Bodhisattva, post-election practices, practicing in difficult times, Radical optimism, unflagging determination