The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Way of All Bodhisattvas

Several weeks ago, I came upon a car accident. Cresting a hill, I saw trash scattered all over the street, and thought a garbage truck had lost some of its load.
It's an odd feeling when the senses don't really understand what they are sensing; there is always that split second of emptiness, as all 6 senses scramble to define, categorize, label and gallop down a well worn path of action.

"No!" I said out loud, "It's a car crash!", as if to convince myself.

I pulled my car over, and went to see how I could help.
If you've ever been the first or second person on an accident, you know that those who have been effected are functioning from a place of absolute bewilderment, shock, panic (if they are functioning at all.)
Fortunately, the occupants in both cars were up, out and walking through car parts and glass, but all were obviously dazed.

A young woman from one car was yelling over and over again, "I didn't do anything, I didn't do anything."

A woman from the other car was standing in the street; as cars attempted to pass her, she was checking on something in the back seat. She was in danger of being hit by an on coming car.
It took me several moments to realize she was trying to remove a baby's car seat, as her crushed car billowed smoke.
The passenger from this car, a young man, was wandering away, cradling one arm with the other, completely perplexed, as if the pain he felt was something he needed to understand on a purely intellectual level.

We went to help the woman with the car seat and brought them to the side of the road. The baby, who didn't even whimper, just watched her. He too appeared perplexed, for here were facial expressions and energy he had never experienced before and it is every baby's job to observe and lock away what may be useful for living a life.

The scene became completely orderly.

The yelling woman was taken to sit in the grass some distance from her car. The other passengers huddled with her, she was going into shock. But other cars had stopped and now assisted them.
Someone in a van had stopped and now opened all its doors so that the man with the shoulder injury could sit.

Meanwhile, I stayed with the mom and the baby, stuck to them like glue.

She had taken her son out of his car seat and held him closely as she called first one relative and then another, until finally she had her mother on the phone. Sobbing, she tried to explain what had happened, but it was hard to make sense.

She yelled into her cell phone, "Well, your grandson is fine, in case you were wondering!"
But the look of anguish on her face tore something open in me and the three of us were in some other place
She and I were in the training grounds of the Bodhisattvas, we were training in the ways of wisdom and compassion, and the little guy she held was a new little Bodhisattva who was also in training.

I looked at the baby and saw that his skin color was utterly pale. His clothes were clean, but many other babies had worn them. His head wobbled on a neck that was not strong, and his gaze faltered, wandering between our two faces. There was something unresponsive in his body.
I hugged his mother close to me with one light arm. She mother smelled of cooking oil and fried food and sweat, her hair was unwashed, her clothes ill fitting on a big round body. She was missing teeth and it was impossible to determine her age.

She snapped the cell phone shut and just stood with me.
I tried to engage the baby: I wiggled his shoes and tickled his tummy but no smile came.
I said, "Hey little guy, you have a puppy sticker on your shirt."
She said, "We just came from the clinic, we were with the doctor."
And I said to the baby, "Were you a good little boy? I bet you were."
But his mother began to wailed, "Nooooo, he wasn't good, he hasn't gained enough weight and the doctor says he's not big enough. He's not growing. I don't know what to do now." She sobbing silently, her shoulders heaving.

And here it was all exposed, the deeper pit of suffering, of anguish and heartbreak: a baby you loved and nurtured, clothed and fed, soothed and comforted to the best of your abilities, but who, none the less, failed to thrive.
Despite all her best intentions and selfless desires, there was clearly something not right and she knew it without even being told.

I circled my arm closer around her and tried not to wasn't what she needed from me, or what her baby needed from her.
Here was the wheel of Samsara, turning like an endless turbine in a flood of anxiety for her baby, for their circumstances of poverty that were probably insurmountable, but none the less, still a place where joy and delight for this little Bodhisattva's existence were twined together like vines on a tree.

We stood for some time before one of the EMTs noticed us and came to assist the mother and baby.
The young man in the passenger seat of her car, the baby's father? a friend or family member?, was loaded onto the ambulance. He would need an x-ray.
The EMT also just stood with us.
She said to the mother, "You're baby is fine, you're baby is fine."
Then she asked me quietly, "Are you her friend?"
I said, "No."

We looked at one another, and I knew this too was a gaze that she had shared with countless others who had assisted at the scene of an accident. I wondered how many times the EMT had been altered by these moments of realization, in the way of the Bodhisattvas.

Before I got into my car, a young woman wearing a sari and carrying a toddler, approached to ask if there was anything she could do, was the baby ok? She explained that she had been in her husband's quick-mart there at the corner and was worried about the mother and her baby.
I told her they were fine.

She said, "Thankfully the baby was in his car seat!" Her toddler squirmed to get back on the ground. "I just don't want anything to be wrong with the baby, you know how I feel."
She smiled deeply and hugged her child closer until he fussed.
"Alright, alright," she murmured to her little boy indulgently.

I got in my car and continued on my way. But where was I going? What was I doing, and why?
I drove on, but it would take several days to feel some clarity about the experience.

Now they are all a part of me, and I am a part of them, as in all our interactions with the universe from moment to moment, from catastrophe to supreme joy. This is the life of awakening.
Indra's Net is vast, "a formless field of benefaction", and all Bodhisattvas know the ways of compassion and wisdom.

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