What is the Path of the Bodhisattva?

This a brief introduction that describes the path of the Bodhisattva. It covers who aspiring Bodhisattva's are, the qualities they cultivate, why it is the path of a warrior, and how these teachings can be helpful for those of us on the plant medicine path. At the end of this article, I link to related articles that explore this path in greater depth and how we can apply these teachings in our everyday lives.

The teachings of the Bodhisattva are truly wisdom teachings for these chaotic, divisive times. There have been few teachings that have captivated my attention like the teachings of the Bodhisattva. These teachings are a comprehensive body of wisdom that offers tangible advice for anyone aspiring to end suffering and wake up and improve their lives for the benefit of themselves and all human beings. 

The Bodhisattva teachings are dear to my heart. They have quite literally saved my life more than once. I know I’m a far cry from calling myself a Bodhisattva, but that doesn’t deter me from aspiring to stick with the path.

These teachings offer spot-on guidance for the increasingly challenging places we all have to face. Situations on the global level are intensifying. How do we learn how to be strong enough to face this kind of suffering with kindness and compassion without fear causing us to shut down or numb out? This is the kind of training these teachings can offer us. 

After two decades of working with sacred plant medicines, I have found that the medicine we can receive from these teachings are incredibly congruent with the medicine we receive from our plant teachers. For those of you dedicated to working with psychedelics and sacred plant medicines, the Bodhisattva teachings are the most welcome companion for the inner work of psychedelic integration. These teachings are effective transformational tools we can draw upon to help us translate the wisdom from the plants into the fabric of my everyday life. 

Almost everything I’ve learned about this path, I’ve learned from Pema Chödrön and her teachers Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Dzigar Conchul Rinpoche, Shantideva, as well as from my primary plant teacher, ayahuasca. 

The teachings of the path of the bodhisattva are incredibly timely. When it comes to waking up, as Pema Chödrön says, “there’s no time to lose”.

Who is a Bodhisattva?

A bodhisattva is someone who:

  • Dedicates their lives to benefiting other people
  • Takes action to help reduce the suffering of all sentient beings
  • Aspires to wake up to help contribute to the awakening of humanity
  • Cultivates compassion, wisdom, loving-kindness, equanimity. 

Right now, with the state of affairs on our planet, it doesn’t take much to see that we need more people who are willing to move beyond self-absorbed living, to take a wider stance on contributing to the solution in some shape or form. 

Interestingly, this is exactly what ayahuasca, as well as other psychedelics and sacred plant medicines, help us to do. They help us to move beyond ego-centric living and encourage us to take action towards helping, in whatever way we can. 

“The Buddha said, how do we know a baker? A baker bakes. How do we recognize a bodhisattva? A bodhisattva shows concern for the world and responds to that concern with powerful words and actions.” Venerable Pannavati

Aspiring Bodhisattva’s choose not to harm themselves or others. They choose loving-kindness, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and gentleness towards the world. Bodhisattva’s approach life with a completely open heart and mind, free from fear and prejudice.

Aspiring bodhisattva’s practice the teachings so they can get better and better at showing up to shine an inner light in the darkest realms of human suffering, because they genuinely want to help.

In the process, bodhisattvas hold steadfast to the aspiration that we can all be free from suffering and come to understand the root, underlying causes of our suffering, and hold the wish that all beings everywhere can come to know, and connect with, a fundamental quality of joy and happiness. 

Recognizing Our Common Humanity

One of the core aspects of walking the bodhisattva path is understanding that we are all inherently connected. It moves beyond being left or right, on this side or that side. It moves beyond age, income, race, nationality, and culture. This path levels the playing field so-to-speak. A Bodhisattva sees every human being as equal, regardless of their situation. I think of it as realizing that we’re all in this one leaky boat together, so we need to learn how to work together to make the situation better. 

It’s also not about trying to “save” anyone. It’s not another way we can puff up our egos and think that we totally have our shit together, so we can go forth to save others. When we have compassion for someone, it’s not this sense of being someone who’s better-than someone who’s weaker. It’s more about being willing and strong enough to just show up and sit with someone in the dark, and you’re showing them that there’s nothing to be afraid of. 

The teachings point to this shared sense of connection as one of the primary catalysts for waking up. The act of reaching out to help then becomes our path for awakening. In the process of helping others, we inadvertently help ourselves. 

Why is it a Warrior Path? 

I think of a Bodhisattva as a warrior. Not a warrior in the traditional sense; not a warrior or harm or aggression but a peaceful warrior of light, compassion, peace and loving-kindness.  

The path of the Bodhisattva is referred to as the path of a warrior because we have to be willing to go through serious training, and stay committed to this path for a very long time. 

Why? Because we need to train ourselves to become strong and resilient enough–physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually–to be able to show up and help in the midst of very challenging situations.

We are witnessing chaos and crisis unfold on a daily basis, like the outpouring of grief and anger sparked by ongoing police brutality or the millions of people losing their incomes and livelihoods as a result of the economic devastation from the coronavirus. 

In addition to facing what happens around us, we also have to face the uncomfortable emotions that arise within ourselves, and neither are easy to face.

When we walk the path of the bodhisattva, we train ourselves so we can cultivate the courage to show up and be present in the full range of extremely dire situations we encounter, with the heartfelt intention to help –both ourselves and others–in whatever way we can.

We need to train so we contribute and help, and prevent ourselves from inadvertently doing more damage than good. If someone is drowning and we jump in to help, but we don’t know how to swim, we’re not helping but rather hurting the situation; despite our good intentions, we are contributing to the problem rather than the solution. 

This kind of warrior training first requires a willingness to try, a willingness to be open, especially within the face of the places within ourselves that we have been avoiding our entire lives. Courage grows as a result of experience. As you experience the path and face your fears your courage will grow. 

Bodhisattva’s on the Plant Medicine Path

Plant medicines also teach us how to cultivate courage, empathy, kindness and compassion. This is one of the primary reasons why the Bodhisattva teachings can go hand in hand with the work we do with sacred plant medicines. These powerful substances have the wisdom to usher us right into those uncomfortable places that scare us, offering us what I consider to be an advanced training ground for waking up. They teach us that the darkness will always be transmuted to light

If we’re willing, with the help of these teachings, we learn that these uncomfortable places are a lot more workable than we originally thought. If we choose to be willing to try, we will foster the courage to face these places that scare us. Rather than continuously run away from them, we discover a powerful recipe for the alchemical process of transformation. 

Bodhisattva Teachings for these Reactionary, Divisive Times

We live in highly reactive, divisive, us-versus-them times, where it feels like violence, anger, and hatred are spiraling out of control. 

Whether we feel like we are contributing to the situation or not, the Bodhisattva teachings show us the importance of connecting with our own tenderness and vulnerability and offers on-the-spot guidance to do what we can to help immediately diffuse the global situation.

Read: Bodhisattva Teachings for these Reactionary, Divisive Times

Working With Challenging Emotions (Both In and Out of Ceremony) with the Bodhisattva Spirit

We can learn how to apply the Bodhisattva teachings when being confronted with challenging emotional experiences.

The suggestions offered in this guide focus on navigating intense emotional territory, primarily while in ceremony or in the midst of a psychedelic journey, but many of these suggestions can easily be applied to the increasingly chaotic emotional terrain of our everyday lives.

Read: Working With Challenging Emotions (Both In and Out of Ceremony) with the Bodhisattva Spirit

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