Carrying the fire

The Dalai Lama just concluded an eight-day visit to Sikkim, a state in the northeastern part of India, where he gave teachings on Nagarjuna’s Commentary on Bodhicitta. He also visited the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and, according to The Tibet Post, he told the students “that the concept of ‘we and they’ should be removed from every individual. His Holiness said people should only talk about ‘We’ reflecting the unity. He said that one should judge the people not by their external beauty but by ‘inner beauty’. He said the external beauty does not last for long but the internal beauty is eternal.”

This is something we’ve heard a million times: beauty is only skin deep and so on. It is so familiar and so simple that perhaps it often goes in one ear and out the other. Yet, it’s definitely a major part of the Bodhisattva Path. In the SGI, they used to tell us that we should “look for the diamond” in others. This guidance was given especially if you were complaining about the people around you. Don’t complain, our seniors would say, they are only reflections of you. When you change, they will too.

Obviously, one’s power to change others is rather limited. What actually changes is the way you look at them. When you begin to transform yourself, you look at others differently. You begin seeing their diamonds, their inner beauty.

The job of a Bodhisattva is to not only see the diamond in other people but to help them see it in themselves and then to help them polish the diamond. They, in turn, help someone else polish their diamond. In this way, we create a chain of diamonds. We transform the chain of Dependent Origination from a chain dominated by suffering to a chain of sparkling jewels.

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the film based on Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic vision of the world. (Photo: Supplied)

It’s like passing a torch. It’s like the father and the son in Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road who are on a journey through a landscape devastated by some unnamed cataclysm that has destroyed all civilization and nearly all life on earth. At the end of the book, when the father cannot go on any futher, he tells his son that he must keep going and find the “good guys” (meaning anyone still alive who has not turned to cannibalism). He tells his son that he must do this because “You have to carry the fire.”

The boy says that he doesn’t know how to carry the fire and his father replies, “Yes you do.” But the boy say he doesn’t know where it is, and the father says, “Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.”

In his novel, McCarthy keeps this phrase somewhat ambiguous. However, it’s rather clear that along with whatever else it might represent “carrying the fire” also symbolizes a sense of hope (there’s that word again), and further, it reminds us that lighting the torch of hope in ourselves and others is an eternal, fundamental, and utterly necessary, human mission.

We really have no choice. We have to search for the diamond. Find the inner beauty. Light the torch. See the “we” instead of “me.”

Why? Because we’re carrying the fire.

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