Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 2: Bodhisattvas

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Optional: A recording of the Steely Dan song "Bodhisattva" and a music player

Preparation for Activity

  • Optional: Cue up the song and test your equipment ahead of time. Note: If you can access the Internet in your meeting space, you can listen to the song on Rhapsody, which allows a certain number of free plays before requiring you to purchase music.

Description of Activity

Participants learn the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva and consider the scope and gravity of the choice implied by that concept.

If possible, play Steely Dan's "Bodhisattva." Ask if any of the youth have heard this song and if any have an idea what it is about. Note that while there are few lyrics, the song does refer to an important Buddhist concept: the bodhisattva.

Tell participants that a bodhisattva is a special kind of sacred teacher. In some Buddhist traditions, a bodhisattva is anyone who is wise and generous and who dedicates their life to helping other people on their spiritual paths. Most commonly, though, a bodhisattva is a person who has reached enlightenment-someone who is free from the Wheel of Dharma, but who chooses not to accept nirvana. Instead, a bodhisattva chooses to continue in a human body, helping other people, until everyone is free from bondage and all people are enlightened. Does this concept remind you of anything? [Try to elicit the Universalist concept that none will receive salvation until all receive salvation.]

Ask how many of the youth have heard of the Dalai Lama. Tell them that Dalai Lama means "Oceanic Teacher." Say, in these words or your own:

The Dalai Lama is considered to be a bodhisattva. He is also known as His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso. He is called the "Fourteenth" Dalai Lama because he is believed to be the fourteenth reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion. The Dalai Lama lives in exile now, primarily in the United States. He is in exile because Tibet, where he was the spiritual ruler, was invaded by China in 1950, and he had to flee in 1959 because the government feared his influence on the Tibetan people. More than 50 years later, Tibet is still under occupation by the Chinese government. If the Dalai Lama were to return, he would be arrested.

Bodhisattvas are seen as beings of infinite compassion because they could be free of all the discomforts, disturbances, and suffering of human life, but they choose to continue living so they can help others find enlightenment.

Ask the youth what they think of the bodhisattvas' choice. Ask:

  • Do you think it is worth all the difficulties of human life to help other people?
  • Would you make that choice if you could?
  • Is there something important enough to you that you would endure endless hardship to make it happen?
  • Without thinking of personal gain, is there some change you could make in the world that would be worth many lifetimes of effort? Protection of children? Environmental sustainability? World peace?
  • What is worth not the work of one lifetime, but many lifetimes?

Turn the question around and ask youth if they have encountered people in their life who fit the first definition of bodhisattva: someone who is wise and generous and has taught them important life lessons. Have the youth pair off and spend a few minutes sharing stories and acknowledging these special people.

Including All Participants

If you play the song "Bodhisattva" and the group includes youth with hearing impairment, provide written lyrics to the song.