Deferred Gratification

Without exception,
All suffering comes from wanting happiness for yourself;
Perfect buddhas are born from wishing to benefit others.
Thus, truly exchanging your own happiness
For the suffering of others
Is the practice of a bodhisattva.

-- From Thirty-Seven Practices by Ngulchu Thogme

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay
down his life for his friends.

-- Jesus of Nazareth

In Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a person on the path to enlightenment who delays its attainment until all sentient beings can find liberation. Given the parlous state of many sentient beings, at least the two-legged variety, we might imagine this to be an exceedingly long-term proposition. In Buddhism, of course, enlightenment is always viewed as an undertaking that requires many lifetimes. Even so, as much as we might admire the selflessness of his or her intentions, the bodhisattva seems to be carrying deferred gratification to ridiculous extremes. But then, selflessness in its most literal sense is precisely the point. In this pursuit, the distinction between self and other is eventually found to be illusory. The bodhisattva takes a vow to awaken with all other sentient beings and discovers this is the only way awakening ever happens. Enlightenment is the end of “me” and the beginning of “we.”

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