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The Buddha is a unique spiritual leader in the history of mankind. Where others preached dogma or worked for a particular land or race of people, the Buddha’s compassion extended to all beings. Gods, rituals and the after-life were not part of his philosophy; rather, his teachings were concerned with the here and now – a prescription for living by a code of ethics that would alleviate misery and ultimately lead to self-enlightenment.
A Bodhisattva is a Buddha-in-the-making, one who puts off attainment of nirvana in order to allay the suffering of his fellow beings. Can anyone become a Bodhisattva? Theoretically yes, and indeed, the term has been applied through eastern history to many renowned Buddhist teachers and rulers. In the Jataka Tales which recount the Buddha’s past lives, he often refers to himself as a Bodhisattva. This popular parable captures the essence of a Bodhisattva.
Three travelers in the desert were in desperate search of water. Seeing a high wall ahead, they hurried to it but could find no way to enter. One man climbed upon another’s shoulders to see what was behind the wall. He let out a whoop of delight and jumped in. The second one followed suit. The third man clambered up the wall with difficulty. Looking down, he saw a cool, verdant garden with fruit trees. Instead of following his companions, he jumped back into the desert to look for other wanderers and share with them, his discovery of the garden and how to reach it. Who do you think was the Bodhisattva among the three?