An old story: The enlighted lay practitioner Vimalakirti became sick. A group of bodhisattvas were curious about how such an enlightened person could fall ill, so they went to ask him about it. They asked him, "Why are you sick?"
Vimalakirti said, "I am sick because the whole world is sick. If everyone's illness were healed, mine would be too. Why? Because bodhisattvas come into this world of birth and death for the sake of all beings, and part of being in this world of birth and death is getting sick. When everyone is liberated from illness, I will be, too."
Like Vimalakirti, I haven't been feeling too good lately. I'm feeling tired, exhausted really, and pretty beaten up. I am prone to fits of rage and despair. My body is in it too, dysregulated in distressing ways. Our latest social trauma, the Kavanaugh debacle, has so many of us contending with both personal and political re-traumatization that can feel soul-crushing. It's literally sickening.
It's a sickness with many names: patriarchy, ;ate-stage capitalism, plain old greed, take your pick. I'll let the other brilliant writers take on the nature of this illness, and it's prognosis. In the mean time, we have to find a way to live in the midst of this shit show. What's a bodhisattva to do?
Vimalakirti points the way. We are each sick because our world is sick. In other words, we are interdependent with each other. The world and I have one condition; I am the sorrows of the world. When the world is healed, I am healed, and we can each have a role in that. It's a poignant thing, to be very sick together, and still able to find ways to offer healing.
Bodhisattvas are born in the moment any of us takes a deep breath, rolls up our sleeves, and does the next right and courageous thing. In Buddhism we take up the Bodhisattva Way to help us become more and more discerning of this path. It involves taking vows that help show us the way, as well as practices that allow us to live into this Way. It's pretty helpful at times like these. And it's pretty helpful to do it together.
Megan Rundel is the resident teacher at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community in Oakland, CA..