By Andy Wistreich
Interview with an arya bodhisattva on a distant planet in 150 years’ time from now
Q. It is said that you are an arya bodhisattva. What does this mean?
A. It signifies that my mind has directly realised the nature of reality and is pervaded by uncontrived altruism.
Q. Very good, but how can you sustain those?
A. Because I have achieved samatha, I can sustain these realisations indefinitely when I meditate, so consolidating a regenerative inner resource for helping others.
Q. It’s also said that you can recall your previous lives, and that this is the first time you have been born on our planet. If this is true where were you before you were born here?
A. On a planet called Earth. I was reborn there successively many times, in many different cultures and life forms. It was my home and habitat for many lifetimes.
Q. Why did that all stop?
A. Humans and other species became extinct there, so I couldn’t take a human rebirth again there. Being human is the best form for benefiting others.
Q. How did the extinction come about on Earth?
A. The humans destroyed their planet by excessive buring of fossil fuels, excessive livestock farming and widespread deforesting, thereby heating up the planet beyond the point where food could be produced any more. In such ways they destroyed their planet and its resources. Eventually everyone starved to death.
Q. Didn’t they realise what was happening?
A. By the time enough people took the crisis seriously it was already too late. The facts had been known for some time, but people either didn’t believe the evidence, or were too hooked to short-term goals to make wise decisions. There was a general addiction to consumption and economic growth, generated by a culture that put accumulation of wealth by a few people above the needs of everyone else. This culture generated unsustainable use of resources and human lifestyles.
Q. Why did you decide to become an arya bodhisattva?
A. I learned from my teachers that arya bodhisattvas are best able to help those around them, so I decided to engage in the recommended inner work to become one. It was hard work. You must be very determined and have a lot of conviction. The work involves cultivating renouncing attachment to worldly pleasure, altruistic aspiration for enlightenment, and wisdom realising reality, speeded up by the two stages of tantra. We were amazingly fortunate that these teachings and methods were available at that time, because the lineages were still alive. Few people knew, and even among those that did, laziness often held them back. Not everyone who heard about the path recognised how very precious and meaningful it is.
Q. What sort of help can an arya bodhisattva offer in such a situation?
A. As the climate crisis escalated and food production declined, society fell apart – sometimes this was gradual and sometimes there were sudden shocks. The collapse was actually economic and political disintegration which caused a sort of collective mental breakdown. Many people lost their minds, because they lacked the inner resilience to cope with the crisis. Some individuals, groups and nations used violence to grab and hold onto scarce resources. Some people just died from despair. Regimes of heavy repression fuelled by mob hatred sprang up to prevent the starving millions from the hottest parts of the world from reaching places where life was still possible. In such situations, arya bodhisattvas naturally, calmly maintain inner equilibrium, self-discipline and compassionate motivation. Thus, they guide the people around them to non-violent compassionate actions, away from harming and hardening their hearts towards others. Those of us doing this work were not enough of us to save the planet and people, but still we did what we could.
Q. Didn’t you get distressed or overwhelmed by the challenges?
A. Of course it was very sad to witness what was happening, and one could only provide a fraction of the help needed, but it was great to be able to offer support, care and good advice amidst so much confusion and anguish. And some people were helped. Those who could hear what we said could create causes for good future rebirths, by practising virtue and avoiding non-virtue. They could help those around them to some extent, with kindness and generosity. Some of those people are here on this planet living happy lives right now.
Q. Do you have any advice for the people of this planet, given what you experienced on Earth?
A. Avoid harming others, and wherever possible, help them. Live life contented with what you have. Find joy in things without needing to possess them. Avoid grasping for stuff you don’t really need. Remember that the natural environment is precious because it sustains life. Don’t believe humans to be superior to other species – every living being has the right to be treated with respect. Don’t eat animals or steal from them. Don’t allow any section of the community to claim supremacy. Create harmonious social structures free from exploitation and oppression. Teach peace and kindness to your children through your example. Ground your culture in knowledge of reality. If you can do these things, all will be well.
Andy has been studying, practising and teaching Buddhism within the Gelug Tibetan tradition for 40 years. He joined XR in 2019, and is active in his local XR group in South Somerset.
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