Bodhisattvas' benefits are not always obvious

By The Rev. Shingyo Imai, Honolulu Star Bulletin, Dec 6, 2008

Honolulu, Hawaii (USA) -- We celebrate Buddha's attainment of enlightenment, which is called "bodhi" in both of India's ancient languages, Sanskrit and Pali.

The English language has adopted some Indian Buddhist words such as "Buddha," "dharma" and "nirvana." However, "bodhisattva" has not become popular in this country yet.

"Bodhisattva" is a Sanskrit word that means a person who is pursuing Buddha's enlightenment not only for himself or herself, but also for others. The concept is important for Mahayana Buddhism. In any Mahayana sutra, bodhisattvas are described. In the Lotus Sutra it says that we are all bodhisattvas who have been given a mission to spread the Buddha's wisdom in this world.

The lotus flower often symbolizes the bodhisattva. The flowers are always beautiful and are not defiled by the muddy, dirty water they grow in. This is the attitude that all bodhisattvas, namely us, should have. The muddy water is comparable to this world filled with our worldly desires, such as greed, hatred and ignorance, which are called the Three Poisons in Buddhism.

The two most important attributes of the bodhisattva are respect and compassion.

The image of "Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds" has been popular in China, Korea and Japan since a long time ago. He can change himself into different forms to help and lead people to the Buddha's enlightenment through his compassionate and respectful heart. For example, when you are in the darkness and don't know where you are, he will give you a candle light. When you are hungry, he gives you a loaf of bread or a bowl of rice. When you are in danger, he will come to you and save your life. What a wonderful bodhisattva he is!

When you are driving your car and speeding, suppose there's a slow car in front of yours. You might be angry at the car. But think about it. That car's driver could be Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds. He might be preventing you from an accident or from receiving a speeding ticket. If you think this way, rather than getting angry at the driver, wouldn't you feel much better?

When you are warned by someone like your boss at work, you might get angry or hate your boss. But think about it; they could be right. No one takes the time to warn you unless they like you as their co-worker. They could be Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds and are preventing you from doing something wrong.

Given advice by your friend, you might not want to listen. But think about it. They could be right. Because they like you and care about you, they do that. They might be Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds and preventing you from being ignorant.

If you think this way, rather than being angry or hating them, isn't that feeling much better for yourself?

We, as bodhisattvas, endeavor to increase our understanding and appreciation of what others have given and contributed to us and to develop constant and mindful consideration of how our thoughts and actions will beneficially contribute to others.

The Rev. Shingyo Imai is resident minister of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii.