16 Bodhisattvas: the name and the spirit behind it

Our name comes from a great old koan:

 In the old days there were sixteen bodhisattvas. They all got into the bath together and realized the cause of water. They called out, “This subtle touch reveals the light that is in everything. We have reached the place where the sons and daughters of the Buddha live.”

Who used all the hot water?
Who used all the hot water?

The name 16 Bodhisattvas reflects a sense of being submerged in this life together; it’s an acknowledgment of the way that we find awakening not only through our own personal practice, but also through our connection to others. When we move, ripples flow outward in all directions and when the wind rustles through the trees, something in us rustles, too. It’s good to have company: we support each other, we irritate each other, and we teach each other. We can’t really ever know which we’re doing at any given time, so the best thing might be to just dive in with an open heart. We don’t get enlightened on our own–even the uneven sidewalks and crunchy autumn leaves play their part–and even if we did awaken in isolation there would be no one with whom to share the luminous life we’d found.

A word about bodhisattvas: bodhisattva is an old Sanksrit word that, from what I understand, appears to mean something pretty vague like “enlightenment person.” A kind of rough mythology is that bodhisattvas are those who have taken up the path of awakening for the benefit of all beings (formally, there are vows and ceremonies and some accoutrements that go along with this status). In a looser way, perhaps anyone who seeks enlightenment for any reason is a bodhisattva. Certainly, any increase in the enlightenment quota of this world is a good thing, so maybe even seeking our own liberation is a boon to others.

Does a flea have buddha nature?
Does a flea have buddha nature?

Surely there are many interesting ways to look at the bodhisattva concept that are far more scholarly or accurate than mine, but I like to think that anyone who attempts even 1 second of meditation is officially a bodhisattva. From the first moment we try this practice, we have already moved in the direction of freedom, and that is enough. In fact, let’s break it down even further to suggest that even those people who are not intentionally seeking some experience of spiritual freedom, and even further those who seem to be causing more harm in the world than good–perhaps they are bodhisattvas as well. Perhaps our connections to them carry the light of awakening no less than our connections to friends and family, to the bright red cardinal in the snow, and that squirmy feeling in our guts.

So even if you’ve never meditated, or if you’ve done it a lot but have somehow managed to do it wrong all this time…if you’ve read this far, you might be a bodhisattva and anyway I welcome you to our group. Although I value the time I spend practicing at home, there is an undeniable something special about sitting with others and having conversation. That something special is what I would like this group to be about.

So that being said, there’s a nice hot bath waiting for you. You’re already in it, but you can always decide to notice it.

Go on! Kick off those shoes.


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