The Bodhisattva Vows

Joanna Macy refers to ecological activists as “Bodhisattvas”, what does that mean?

It doesn’t matter how much you do, and in which of the dimensions of the Great Turning you are engaged in, but if you are reading this post, you are most probably a Bodhisattva.

Bodhisattva (which can be approximately translated as “Awakened to Truth” or “Enlightened Being”) refers to saviour-like figures found in Mahayana Buddhism, famous for embodying compassion and other noble qualities.

Their motivation seeks to aid all beings, rather than themselves. Their goal is complete enlightenment for all instead of extinguishing merely their own suffering.

In the context of the Great Turning, you are a Bodhisattva even if your acts of activism are small and you don’t even know it or give credit to yourself. If you vow purposes, which are higher than yourself, every act of not doing, doing, or undoing, each step you take, follows the path of the Buddha. You are taking part in an engaged form of Buddhism that does not move away from the suffering of our world, but actively seeks to end it for all beings, human and other-than-human. Your engagements can be as seemingly small as for example sharing your tools, recycling your waste, relearning and restoring the cycles of nature, speaking the truth, advocating for regeneration in all areas of the web of life, not buying GMO… Or they can be as big as green building a house that is self sustainable – and even gives back to the Earth resources that it is built with and upon-, leading holding actions to lobby destructive corporate initiatives before they come into poisonous fruition, or leading spiritual retreats to help people reconnect with themselves and their greater ecological body. Whatever the route of your activism, you are a Bodhisattva.

Bodhisattvas see sunyata, or emptiness, as the deepest truth. The theme of “śūnyatā” emerged from the Buddhist doctrines of Anatta (nonexistence of the self) and Pratitya-samutpada (Interdependent Arising). 

Far from nihilism, śūnyatā inspires us to recognise our interbeing with all species and our planet, and that in separateness we do not exist.

The Mayahana doctrines that Joanna Macy has build the WTR upon are further reinforced and complemented with the knowledge of Systems Thinking and the principles of Deep Ecology too. The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts of course and we are a small part of the huge, bigger-than-life-, web of life.

So whenever you take a step as Bodhisattva, you are acting as Gaia, along with millions of Bodhisattva warriors and through those acts we all play a crucial role in the Great Turning to a life sustainable society.

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