Bow-dee-sot-vah. I had no idea how to spell it until yesterday. The only time I’d heard it was in two CD courses on Buddhism by Dr. Malcolm David Eckel (short and long). Bodhisattvas are like saints in Christianity. They were real people once, and you can ask them for help, just like saints.
Exotic India has the technical definition:
In strictly canonical terms a bodhisattva is defined as an individual who discovers the source of the Ultimate Truth better known as nirvana, but postpones his own enlightenment until he has guided all his fellow beings to this same source of fulfillment.
Don’t get hung up on the “he” part. There are women bodhisattvas, too, just like Christian female saints. But check out that definition! Putting the rest of the world ahead of yourself? Forever? Or at least until we stop procreating? It makes the selfless mother ideal look like a walk in the park!
One of my favorite hymns as a kid was “Saints of God“. It’s written from a youthful point of view, starting out:
I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And includes this encouraging little couplet:
and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn’t be one too.
I wonder if there are Buddhist hymns that encourage their kids to aspire to become bodhisattvas? Becoming a saint or a bodhisattva seems like a lofty goal for a kid. But how about a bishop? Howard Anderson tells us:
But I can say that God willing, anyone I baptize could become our Presiding Bishop. There is no automatic roadblock to anyone who has the gifts for serving [The Episcopal Church] as an ordained or lay leader, like there is in other branches of churches in the Catholic tradition, and these roadblocks of exclusion exist even in the normally inclusive mainline Protestant denominations.
Boys and girls! Imagine sitting down with a kid, and asking that age old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” With Katharine, Barack and Hillary up there, I wouldn’t be surprised if the answers were a little different lately.
But nevermind the kids, what do you want to be when you grow up?