Aaron recently completed, Course 3 of the Sravasti Abbey Friends Education (SAFE) program, which focuses on bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. He wrote this end-of-course final sharing in an airport, illustrating all he had learned.

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A Well-Timed SAFE Course

These last several months have been a whirlwind for me. Not only did I move to a new city, which is the biggest I’ve ever lived in, but I also started a new job and saw a lot of growth within myself, much in part due to this SAFE course. Not only was I learning about bodhicitta through the course, which in itself was a blessing, but I was able to do so by sharing my experiences with Venerable Kunga and such an insightful community of peers walking this Buddhist path alongside me.

Overall, any attempt to encapsulate my experience of the last several months couldn’t happen without expressing the gratitude I have to Venerable Thubten Chodron and Sravasti Abbey for allowing this type of learning environment to exist and impart the wisdom of the Dharma.

Opening the Heart

In my first reflection for this course, I had talked about how my heart had felt closed moving to a new city and how I was trying to work with that. Looking back at that first post today, I can definitely say my heart is a lot softer and open as I aspire to continually cultivate bodhicitta using the methods and meditations I’ve learned in this course.

I am writing this from an airport terminal as I’m waiting to fly back to the state where I was born to visit family and have realized that my travels today have incorporated what I’ve learned over the last several months in the SAFE course.

All Sentient Beings Have Been Our Mothers

Since arriving at the airport earlier this morning, I had to work with a range of emotions. When encountering people who weren’t wearing masks in the airport like they were supposed to, I was able to remind myself that the anger I felt welling up in myself was misguided and a response that wouldn’t help those who refused to keep others safe, and it also would not help my own mind. I tried to work with that anger by remembering that all sentient beings had once been my mother, even these people I felt anger towards, and thankfully doing so helped me move towards trying to figure out how I could feel more compassionate towards them.

Equalizing and Exchange Self and Others

Many times when I found myself overwhelmed by the number of people at the airport, I went back to thinking about equanimity and equalizing self and others. Reminding myself that everyone around me are all trying to be happy and avoid suffering brought peace in an otherwise hectic airport, helping me to remember one of the first meditations I did in a SAFE course, which was recognizing that my mind is the source of happiness and pain.

Challenging the Self-Centered Attitude

When getting ready to board my first flight of the day and experiencing delays, I was able to take the impatience I felt and turn towards my personified self-centeredness and say, “This impatience is because of you! There is nothing wrong with waiting, especially because this delay comes with the kindness of the airport workers who are disinfecting planes and generously helping us all get home to loved ones for the holidays.”

Taking and Giving with the Breath

During my first flight when I felt anxiety about flying, I was able to practice tonglen, imagining that I was taking in all the flying anxiety many must feel during this holiday season and using it to open my heart and give my body back to those people as radiant light so they wouldn’t have to feel anxiety or other negative emotions when traveling during another wave of COVID.

Applying Thought Training Techniques

After getting off my first plane, I heard a woman talk about how she refused to get the vaccine, and I was able to remember the importance of cherishing others when I felt annoyed with the opinions I was overhearing. I was able to remind myself that she, just like all other sentient beings, made possible the adversity that I could turn into the path to liberate all sentient beings utilizing the right training.

Developing Bodhicitta

All these experiences with traveling today reflect the way this course has given me the knowledge to try and cultivate bodhicitta. It helps me to not only want renunciation from samsara for myself, but for all those around me who in one way or another, this lifetime or another, have been kind and helped me. It made me realize that I want to try and attain enlightenment to help benefit them the best way possible.

Aligning Our Life with the Dharma

Knowing that I still have so much to learn is humbling. Even reviewing my different responses or going through the weekly topics of the course syllabus reminded me that there is so much from this course alone I need to brush up on and spend more time thinking about and reflecting on.

Regardless, what I picked up from the course significantly changed my outlook towards others and helped me move closer to existing in the world in a way that relates to others with compassion and love, which is important to me as I try to align what I am learning from the Dharma with the value of social justice I’ve been chasing my whole life.

While I still have many questions and uncertainties, I know that encountering the Dharma is central to being able to embody someone who can help bring about a more socially just world. I feel grateful that karma from my past life has ripened in a way to give me this opportunity to have these realizations, questions, and aspirations to eventually be a bodhisattva in order to help all sentient beings be free from suffering and have happiness and its causes.