Q. What is the ultimate goal in this life? Should we aim to become enlightened, or postpone enlightenment and help other beings?
A. Enlightenment is one thing and helping other beings is another. To postpone enlightenment to help other beings, or to put off helping other beings in order to attain enlightenment doesn’t make any sense.
I can make a guess as to why you have such a question. According to some Sutras, Bodhisattvas postpone becoming Buddha until they have finished saving all sentient beings. This phrase is so misleading that many people misunderstand it. In order to have a clear understanding, you should know what Bodhisattva means in the first place.
When we realise that everything is empty, everything is one as Emptiness. Emptiness is a state without any discrimination. This state is referred to as Buddha, Oneness, Emptiness, non-Duality and Mind. This state is impossible to describe because it is perfection itself and eternity itself. There is are no sentient beings who should be saved and no saints who will save them in this state. This is so perfect that ancient masters would say that we are wrong even if we only open our mouths to describe it.
When Buddha, or the enlightened make discriminations, or when they see Emptiness as Forms, their actions are called Bodhisattva or Buddha’s compassion. In summary, Buddha and Bodhisattva are not separate from each other, but just one. Bodhisattva is the way Buddha looks when making discriminations to help sentient beings and Buddha is the way Bodhisattva looks when making no discrimination.
So, the scripture ‘Bodhisattvas postpone becoming Buddha until they have finished saving all sentient beings’ means that Buddha, the enlightened, never minds making discriminations in order to help sentient beings, instead of only staying in Emptiness. Helping others after enlightenment is compassion and helping others before enlightenment is practice for enlightenment.
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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