Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Transfiguration and the Bodhisattva ideal

Millions of people (if not billions) heard a reading and homily on the Transfiguration this past Sunday, a Biblical story in which Jesus goes up on a mountain and seems to float in the air, glowing brighter than the sun and speaking to past prophets (Moses and Elijah). Forgive me if this image reminds me a little of the Ceremony in the Air from the Lotus Sutra. The meaning and symbolism of this account are varied, because like any good religious image it is rich in potential. I don't want to detract from the message others take away, but there is an aspect I would like to add, assuming it isn't already out there. In Buddhism, particularly those derived from the Mahayana traditions, a Bodhisattva is primarily known as one who has touched their own roots in the heart of the cosmos, they have accessed a part of themselves that is unbounded by time and space. They have awakened to enlightenment. But  they have compassion for those who are still stuck in the limiting and shallow world projected and shared by their collective egos, those who are still mired in samsara, unable to see the infinite wonder that exists all around them. Rather than staying and attaining a fully enlightened state, they return to help others to find their way.

Yes, we can see a continuity between those who spoke for God in the past and that Jesus is taking his place with them by association. Or we can discuss the idea that Jesus represented the fulfillment of the teachings of the prophets of the previous age. But what stands out to me is the imagery of glowing on a mountaintop, which recalls the image of Moses meeting God on Mt. Sinai. The symbolism is rich, and to me it expressed Jesus touching or revealing his connection to the eternal. The divine. It is a glimpse of a larger and more exciting world than we normally experience, and it is no fluke the disciples who were taken to witness it were among the most spiritually mature and intuitive. No one else would have had the eyes to see, the eyes of the spirit (perceiving the ultimate reality in the depth of our existence) rather than only the eyes of the flesh (the superficial aspect of reality bounded by time and space). Peter, having caught just a reflection of this, then interprets it with the paradigm of the eyes of the flesh to which he has become accustomed. Old assumptions and the comfortable expectations of an established worldview are hard to change, as the companions of Jesus constantly demonstrated.

But Jesus returns to Earth and then takes his most faithful followers back down the mountain, to a large crowd which is awaiting their return. A mass of humanity crying out for help, for healing, and for hope. Jesus returns to offer this, even though he know it will cost him everything. And that is always the price for those following such a path. They aren't asked or feel compelled to give a little, or good deal, or even most. They are called to give their all, whatever that might mean to each of them. I suspect it is because after touching their deepest selves, the heart of all, and experiencing that unyielding embrace of wholeness, acceptance and compassion, such people can see no other goal than to share this with everyone. May you and I have the strength, courage and wisdom to pursue this vision as well and to make it a reality for ourselves and the rest of the world.

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