Whether we practice or not is based upon how we respond to the joys and suffering in the world in which we live. And so at times when we feel challenged we need to “refresh” our connection to the practical nature of the Buddha’s message, what it means, and how to apply it.
When the Buddha gained insight into the secret of the universe, he revealed the powerful principle of pratityasamutpada, which is commonly known in its English translation as “dependent arising.” Pratityasamutpada describes how everything we experience—both material and conscious—arises, plays out, and falls away in reliance upon an infinite web of contingent relationships. In other words, it is because things “depend” that life moves and we can experience it.
This insight has deep implications. It means that as citizens of the great nature of contingent expression, we are not in total command and only see a little piece of things. Because the world is dynamic and not a singular truth for any one individual, it is not a resolvable situation. But this doesn’t mean we are not effective. Because “everything leans,” everything we do matters. And so we need to move through life with special care–everything has reverberating effects. This is deeply instructive.
From this humble stance, I can respond to the joy and suffering in the world without the anxiety and desperation that comes from thinking I can fix it. When I receive an email with a petition concerning the pipeline at Standing Rock, it moves me deeply and I sign it. If I see someone on the street that needs food, I help them out. All day long there are ample opportunities to “see” people–to extend love and warmth. This kind of human care and contact is powerful and effective. It is not a principle, but a matter of the heart.
The embodiment of this kind of approach is the practice of a bodhisattva. I ask myself, what is a bodhisattva? It is someone whose path of awakening is intrinsically linked with serving others. And it is also the wisdom of knowing that the world itself is not a fixable situation. If I were to define a bodhisattva I might say: it is someone who burns with love in a world that can’t be fixed. We have a choice to not fall into despair, check out, or try to fix. Can we bear the bigness of such an approach?