Creativity is essential to getting something done. In the Buddha’s time, he wanted people to start a new way of life, to begin a scientific, psychological, and social ethical revolution—so he encouraged their creativity and mobilized their creative energy.
Before he became Buddha, the buddha-to-be Siddhartha’s initial creativity manifested as an explanation to his horrified father as to why he would not take his place on the throne as a king of the Shakya nation. He said some- thing akin to:
“I, Siddhartha, as king could only preside over the ordinary subsistence things. Instead, I am going to seek the higher meaning of human life. My dear father, I will not succeed you as king, since I want to help my people and all people and beings solve their real problems, suffering, sickness, old age, death. I think I can do it! So goodbye! I’ll be back, but only when I really know what should be done.”
What inspired logic! He essentially said, “Sure, I could help a few people if I took on the role of king, but think of all the people I could help if I overcame the suffering of all beings.” If you follow Siddhartha’s inspiration here you will naturally reorder your priorities and make a radical leap out of conventional life, even sometimes entering as he did the mendicant way of life. In modern terms this may look like adopting an educationalist lifestyle. Do nothing but find out what it’s all about, and you can easily catch a glimpse of the possibility of a higher reality. You will find people who inspire you. Maybe you’ll meet a buddha or someone with traces of such enlightenment along the way.
As you feel freer, you’ll develop sympathy for those bound to the wheel of blind duty, and you’ll want to get somewhere and be someone who can eventually bring them along too, becoming a bodhisattva in training — a bodhisattva is an open or awake-hearted being who strives to benefit all of those around them over the course of multiple lifetimes, until every being is liberated. You might even be inspired to take the bodhisattva vow, to turn your heart inside out and live to benefit all life.
The only prerequisite for being able to do so, of course, is for you to develop a mindset that has the common-sense reality that lifetimes are unlimited and that you have an infinite future ahead of you, and to realize that this future is inevitably related to other beings, forever interrelated with you. And this sense of boundless future must make sense, not just be a wild leap of faith. It involves working to drop out of the conventionally assumed reality of mod- ern culture that life ends in a dying into nothing. Period. Breaking free of such an attitude, even if it’s subliminal, is what I call “breaking free from the terminal lifestyle”; and the exuberant sense of freedom that receives you supports your newfound “infinite lifestyle.”
The belief that we just end at the time of death is the ultimate killer of creativity. The utterly irrational and un-evidenced belief that something can become nothing is the doorway to despair. You must free yourself of that prison of nihilism to burst into the life energized by altruism—to find the bodhisattva will to optimize reality, to love everyone as much as possible, and to have them love you as you both become enlightened through wisdom, the doorway to creativity. We should all go there and do that before we contemplate too much and escape into artificial detachment. Within the bodhisattva realm, creativity is useful at all levels.
Excerpted from WISDOM Is BLISS Four Friendly Fun Facts That Can Change Your Life
by Robert Thurman.
Robert Thurman is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University as well as Co-Founder and President of Tibet House US/Menla in service of HH Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet. A close friend of the Dalai Lama’s for over 50 years, he is a leading worldwide lecturer on Tibetan Buddhism, passionate activist for the plight of the Tibetan people, skilled translator of Buddhist texts, and inspiring writer of popular Buddhist books. He is the author of many books including his most recent entitled WISDOM Is BLISS Four Friendly Fun Facts That Can Change Your Life (Hay House). In partnership with Nena Thurman and dedicated contributors, he now focuses on making Tibet House US and its Menla Retreat & Spa a global center for the promotion, study, and practice of Tibetan Buddhist healing arts and sciences of body, mind, and spirit, dedicated as a complement to the vast life work of its patron, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.