Matt Brundage

The Bodhisattvic Quandary

Is it possible for a human being to feel compassion for all living beings? It is an ideal that is to be strived for, but is rarely, if never, achieved. It is akin to asking “Do you think it is possible for a human being to never sin?” In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That’s a tough command to follow! Personally, I don’t have any real enemies — I am familiar with people whose actions I don’t agree with, but there is no one whom I would consider my enemy. Furthermore, I find it hard enough to love everyone who isn’t my enemy. Being altruistic and compassionate in all circumstances is admirable in virtually every faith. Bodhisattvas who meditate to become universally compassionate by definition haven’t yet reached the point where they are truly universally compassionate. It’s human nature not to be altruistic.

Is it desirable for a person to have unlimited compassion? Let me answer this question with a few more questions. Does the bodhisattva (who is perpetually storing up good karma) experience suffering? i.e. does he experience the desire to obtain nirvana, and therefore, experience suffering? With compassion and altruism comes sacrifice. Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, was the tortured bodhisattva — he knew that his altruistic suffering came with a price — extreme physical torture. In a similar vein, does the Buddhist bodhisattva experience prolonged mental torture when he realizes that to perpetually be a bodhisattva mean an existence forever outside the realm of nirvana? A fundamental difference between Jesus and a Buddhist bodhisattva is that Jesus’ store of “good karma”, if you will, is infinite. A bodhisattva’s karma is derived from good deeds and exemplary actions, while Jesus’ “karma” is derived from a solitary experience (death on the cross) that epitomizes God’s grace.

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