What Is A Bodhisattva?

Zen (Chan) Buddhist practice is interested in exploring the Bodhisattva ideal.

The Bodhisattva ideal is a concept found in the Indian, Tibetan and Chinese Mahayana buddhist traditions. It is the aspiration to achieve Enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, not just for personal emancipation from the cycle of suffering.

This ideal is encompassed in the Four Bodhisattva Vows:

“Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to cut through them
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize it.”

Quite a tall order, even for the most robustly practiced among us.

In addition, many of us initially come to Zen practice for our own personal goals.  Expanding this to include all beings may feel overwhelming.

The longer one practices Zen the idea of an undifferentiated nature of reality laying underneath our delusions is introduced.  Eventually, our consistent sitting meditation practice (zazen-jp or zuochan-ch)  may give us a taste of this undifferentiated nature.

If the truth of reality has this interdependent essence at its heart, our hope to save ourselves IS a hope that can assist others.

In time, through practice, we have the experiential confidence that a vow to save all beings is just as much a vow to save ourselves.