In Lotus Buddhism there are similar concepts. One of the texts that Zhiyi commented on extensively is the Vimalakirti Sutra. In that Sutra, those who present obstacles and challenges to bodhisattvas are revealed to be bodhisattvas themselves. Bodhisattvas take on these roles because only they can present obstacles and challenges sufficient to tax bodhisattvas and afford them an opportunity for dharma training.
I really need to read the Vimalakirti Sutra.
That's very interesting.
This summer I was dealing with painful skin infections on my back - from my rear end to my shoulder blades.
It finally got me to slow down and think about my life outside of the gym.
All of a sudden I had all this time to read; 2+ hours a night in the gym became a book or two each week.
I started meditating (to deal with the pain), started going to a local Buddhist Temple, and even started visiting to online sites like here.
A few weeks ago, I was dropping my son off at school.
I remember listening to some Dharma talk playing on the car stereo and reflecting that I felt like I was finally done shopping around as far as spirituality was concerned - that the Dharma seems to make the most sense of anything I've come across and that for once I didn't have that nagging voice of doubt in the back of my head.
After pulling my kid out of his car seat, I was about to shut the car door, when this little yellow spider jumped out of the car.
It jumped out almost slow motion, both my kid and I were staring at it, and we both had the vibe it was staring right back, before it ran into the playground of the daycare.
I looked up the spider on the internet and turns out it was a yellow sac spider (or possibly a yellow crab spider) and it causes bites consistent with the skin infections I've been dealing with. Within a week my son had similar bites all up and down his side, the spider's last gift before running off.
Relating the story to my friends at the Lam Rim group and they joked that the spider was probably a Bodhisattva.
Reading your post, I'm starting to wonder.
Without the unenlightened beings, the Buddha cannot appear. Conversely, you get the surprising twist in Lotus Sutra Buddhism that holds that the unenlightened beings appear only because of the appearance of the Buddha.
That's pretty deep.
I would suggest that the difference with the doctrine you describe is that rather than being distractions from a still mind, in Lotus Buddhism, obstacles and challenges are opportunities to express the function of the Buddha, which invariably does express - though not in the way that we might think at a particular moment. The Buddha function in a given circumstance may not be discernible until one looks from a particular vantage point - another Lotus Buddhism doctrine called "Opening the Trace to Reveal the Root". (Bob Thurman describes a similar doctrine in his "Long Tale")
It was a Robert Thurman talk late last year or earlier this year that made me give Buddhism another look after coming to the conclusion over a decade ago that it seemed to be nihilistic.
I'm really going to have to read more Lotus Buddhism material.
Similarly, sometimes you read in Buddhist texts descriptions of various pure lands in which all phenomena reveal the Buddhadharma. I've heard Bob Thurman describe the ducks in Sukhavati - they are jewel encrusted and instead of quacking "AFLAC" they quack things like, "Bliss", "Nirvana", "All compounded phenomena are subject to destruction". I read those sorts of passages in the Sutras as meaning that if you view this phenomenal world correctly, if you understand that Samsara is Nirvana, that this is the Buddha's Pureland - then all phenomena are constantly revealing the true aspect of reality to us, directing us to right views and the attainment of enlightenment.
I've heard Thurman say the same thing many times.
Today we were talking about how when you strip off the layer of conceptualism from the information you get from your senses, the world takes on a bright, beautiful, "new" quality - like looking at the world through a child's eyes. I'm guessing the further you're able to progress down the path, the more you're able to see the world for the Pure Land that it is.
Even a colicky baby keeping you awake when you have to be up for a full day of work in a few hours is screaming the Buddha dharma and providing an opportunity to practice our Buddhahood (my first is on his way - I am looking forward to him teaching me a thing or two, although I hope he's one of those "good" babies that lets mommy and daddy sleep at least
Joseph Campbell describes the story of the Buddha's birth in one of his talks and about how the Buddha took 7 steps in each direction and declared "Heaven above, Earth below, there's never been another one like me." He relates how Dr. T Suzuki told him that the story was just as much about the Buddha's spiritual birth as it was his physical birth; but he added "all babies are Buddha babies, they just don't know it yet." To which Campbell adds, "so when you hear a new born baby crying, what do you think it's saying? 'Heaven above, Earth below, there's never been another one like me.'"
I would modify that a little bit. I would not go so far as renouncing expectations. In my case, I try renouncing disappointment, which may play out as renouncing expectations if after reflecting on the situation that I realize my expectations were unfounded. However, I expect each and every one of us to be the best person we can be, and I expect that we are always capable of more than we presently are. This may be my Lotus Buddhist background, however, where I take to heart the Buddha's declaration that he is always considering how to make all beings equal to him.
That's pretty much what I was trying to say.
Now I try focus on fewer endeavors, but instead try to perfect them, and most importantly, to be the best friend, son, brother, husband, father (soon) that I can be. Any other creed, even if Gotama did preach it, is useless to me.
This is very much a Japanese mentality.
In what we (Lotus Buddhists) call Provisional Mahayana, and even Separate Teaching, that ultimate release is mitigated only by a bodhisattva career, which in some senses can be perpetual, but always still bounded by parinirvana. Perfect Teaching however provides for a full embrace of all aspects - suffering and its release, but also joy, love, compassion, bliss, and that Bogeyman for most Buddhists, the eternal, "True Self" - not so different from other Buddhists notions of the "uncreate", but often startling, nonetheless.
Definitely more I have to read.
I will say that my Laotian Theravadan coach does embrace the concepts of Metta, Karuna, and service to others - much more so than I gather from some of the Theravadan presence online from here in the west. After reading that wiki page on agreements between Mahayana & Theravada from Ven Walpola Rahula; I was almost surprised to see a mutual embrace of the Bodhisattva path - but then I remembered my coach.
Thanks for the lesson!