Compassion is threatening to the ego. We might think of it as something warm and soothing, but actually it’s very raw. When we set out to support other beings, when we go so far as to stand in their shoes, when we aspire to never close down to anyone, we quickly find ourselves in the uncomfortable territory of “life not on my terms.” The commitment traditionally known as the bodhisattva vow, or warrior vow, challenges us to dive into these noncozy waters and swim out beyond our comfort zone. We vow to move consciously into the pain of the world in order to help alleviate it. It is, in essence, a vow to take care of one another, even if it sometimes means not liking how that feels.
This commitment is connected deeply and unshakably with bodhichitta, traditionally defined as a longing to awaken so that we can help others do the same, a longing to go beyond the limits of conventional happiness, beyond enslavement to success and failure, praise and blame.
Bodhichitta is also a trust in our innate ability to go beyond bias, beyond prejudice and fixed opinions, and open our hearts to everyone: those we like, those we don’t like, those we don’t even notice, those we may never meet. Bodhichitta counteracts our tendency to stay stuck in very narrow thinking. It counteracts our resistance to change.
This degree of openness arises from the trust that we all have basic goodness and that we can interact with one another in ways that bring that out. instead of reacting aggressively when we’re provoked, endlessly perpetuating the cycle of pain, we trust that we can engage with others from a place of curiosity and caring and in that way contact their innate decency and wisdom.