Enlightenment: Awakening to the Heart of Compassion

Zen master Dogen once said, "Enlightenment is intimacy with all things." I really love this quote because it captures the essence of how I feel in my most true moments. I am not always in this state, at times I am forgetful, or I allow the events in my life to distract me. But the moments when I am most true to my heart, I am relaxed, open, attentive, interested, and extraordinarily present to whatever it is that I am directly experiencing. My mind is not interfering with my experience, judging, labeling, or clouding my awareness with thoughts.

Instead, I am here, fully attentive to what is, and from this state of genuine presence, a tenderness in my heart arises. I am filled with care and compassion for every beings that I see--human, animal, insect, plant. I feel the presence of life within them--the same life presence that is within me. I feel for the suffering, the strength it takes to continue through life's obstacles, and for the personal experience that each being is having. I am filled with a love so vast that it holds within it the entirety of life itself. It makes me realize what is most important, and it inspires me to be of service, to help all beings be free, to do what I can so they can suffer less, and so they can experience more joy.

This feeling and understanding is, to me, the essence of what Buddhists call Bodhicitta (Bodhi meaning awakened, citta meaning heart/mind). In Mahayana Buddhism, there is an emphasis on the path of the Bodhisattva (Bodhi meaning awakened, Sattva meaning being). The Bodhisattva is one who postpones the bliss of dwelling in Nirvana (the enlightened state free of suffering) in order to help other beings awaken.

One does this because they have realized deeply their oneness with all beings, and understands that they cannot truly be enlightened until all beings are enlightened. The Bodhisattvas take very beautiful vows, which shows their willingness to endlessly be of service to the liberation of all beings. The bodhisattva vows are often worded differently in different traditions, but essentially they are:

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to free them all.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them all.

Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.

The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

What makes this boundless love possible is not something far-fetched or out of the ordinary. It is simply a willingness to let go of one's self-centered positions in order to see reality clearly. When one empties or quiets the egoic thinking mind, they touch the true nature of their heart, and compassion naturally arises. This love is so necessary to cultivate in our lives, and I believe it is the only thing that can change the state of our world.

This intimacy with all things and understanding of one's true nature, as well as the ability to live primarily from this knowing, is what people have referred to for centuries as enlightenment; and as Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest minds in history once said, "Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment."