Saving All Sentient Beings
I have been on a quest to notice wisdom and teachings in odd places. I find myself looking to my Zen teacher or to other “traditional” sources of wisdom and have missed profound teachings coming to me from other sources (more on that concept in another article). A couple of weeks ago, I learned a powerful lesson by a goat. And for clarification, I do mean the hoofed animal kind of goat, an American Alpine goat to be precise.
My uncle lives on 40 acres of land near Asheville, North Carolina. For the last few years, they have had three rather large goats. American Alpine goats are around 200 pounds and stand as tall as I do on all four feet. One thing I always enjoy when I go to visit is helping my uncle “feed up” in the evenings. On my last trip to see them, we served dinner in the pouring rain and found Tristen shaking violently. Uncle John managed to lead him back to the dry shed, but Tristen refused to eat and began crawling back out \after several failed attempts to stand. My heart broke. He was no longer an animal or livestock, he was another being suffering. His pain became my pain and I was overwhelmed by a powerful desire to help in any way I could.
Buddhism teaches there is no separation between self and other. That you and I are the same . I think of this as we are all manifestations of the same universe. When you suffer, I suffer. It also means that if I treat you poorly, I am essentially treating myself poorly.
We often chant during a Zen service about saving all sentient beings. In fact, Zen, as part of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, incorporates the Bodhisattva vow. A Bodhisattva is a being that foregoes their own enlightenment until all beings are enlightened or “saved”. One of these beings is called Kannon or Kanzeon is Japanese, Quan Yin in Chinese, or Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit. She is called the bodhisattva of compassion or “she who hears the cries of the world”.
When Tristen needed my help, he showed me very clearly what it means to experience the suffering of another as your own. When you see things in this way, it is impossible not to act.
Sadly, my uncle decided after several attempts to heal him, to relieve Tristen’s suffering by having him put down. Before he left this world, he taught me a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my days and for that I am eternally grateful. Nine bows of gratitude for a powerful teacher.
Remember, the world can be your teacher if you are open to hearing its lessons.