To be a bodhisattva today means not just helping other people to wake up individually, but also working with others to address the socialized dukkha. Work hard to help to heal the earth.
In your book A New Buddhist Path: Enlightenment, Evolution, and Ethics in the Modern World you dedicate an entire chapter to “The new Bodhisattva.”
Maybe we should put the “new” in quotation marks because it’s not so different. Originally a bodhisattva continues to work on herself, [her] own meditation that sustains [her] and helps [her] to get in touch with [her] true nature, Buddha nature. This becomes really important, because the other side of the bodhisattva path is to become engaged in the world. Traditionally in Asia it was to help other people to wake up individually.
What’s special nowadays is that we have socialized dukkha and a political and economical system that is destroying the world’s ecology. To be a bodhisattva today means not just helping other people to wake up individually, but also working with others to address the socialized dukkha. Work hard to help to heal the earth.
How can we as Western Buddhists support and strengthen our own faith communities when it comes to ethics?
First of all I would emphasize the importance of community, because, at least in the US, that is something that is not developed fully. We have a lot a Buddha, Dharma, teachers and teachings, but in the Zen and vipassana world the focus has been on our own individual suffering and awakening. I am not sure that was the traditional intention of the Buddha, but [it is] the way it has developed historically.
Buddhism also emphasized monasticism, the sangha, but today we need to understand community as all practitioners. In that regard we should not make big distinctions between monastics and lay people. We really need to focus on helping and sustaining each other, because we will enter some hard times socially and ecologically. As those unfold, the most important thing is not what food we have stored in our basement, but are we part of a loving community where people actually cherish each other and are concerned to take care of each other?
All of this starts with individual transformation and, if that happens, naturally we will have some influence on the people around us. That is necessary but not sufficient. We also need to become socially engaged, to address the institutionalized causes of dukkha today. Furthermore, if we have a genuine Buddhist community that is engaged in work for the larger social and ecological good, it will be a good example for the rest of the world.
David Loy is a Sanbo Zen teacher and the bestselling author of a Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolutionand A New Buddhist Path: Enlightenment, Evolution, and Ethics in the Modern World.
Matthias Luckwaldt is a freelance journalist and student of Religions and English and American Literature at the University of Hamburg. The Buddha Dharma helped Matthias to rediscover his Christian roots.
The content from this post was originally published in Quaker Universalist Voice, April 2017 as 21st century Buddhism: Facing institutionalized suffering, An interview with David R. Loy