Teacher at the Door

Nancy Coker

I’ve always thought of bodhisattvas as kindly, compassionate instructors gracing the doorways to spiritual growth, inspiring and encouraging us. It is said they are committed to staying at their posts till we, their students, have matured and developed as fully as possible. In my imagination I see thousands of them, of all grades and levels, helping us refine ourselves by assisting us to unlock the closed doors of our minds.

Then, too, bodhisattvas seem a cross between lighthouse-keepers and gate-keepers, helping us find important entryways that may at first seem hidden from view. Is there an image more hospitable than that of an open door? Schools and libraries are also open portals to new worlds, inviting us to cross their thresholds to pursue our journeys of research and discovery. Until the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people and himself, I hadn’t considered the immense value of keeping certain doors shut.

Theosophical philosophy often discusses the importance of approaching spiritual studies in a nonphenomenal way. Cultivating psychic development too often leads us into paths of power, and becoming powerful before we become compassionate is perilous. Power without wisdom, strength without compassion, tends to make us arrogant and contemptuous of others. Purity is part of our spiritual path, so if I thought of a teacher barring the doorway, it was only to restrain us from opening inner doors inappropriate to our development. I hadn’t thought much about bodhisattva teachers shutting out danger, keeping us from harm.

The death of Professor Librescu at Virginia Tech, shot through the door as he blocked the entrance with his body, is for me newly iconic of the bodhisattva teacher. His body and being became a literal bulwark against forces of murderous rage explosively trying to empty itself onto his students. He stood firm so they could move to safety. In The Voice of the Silence H. P. Blavatsky tells of a Guardian “Wall of Protection” which was created by “the accumulated efforts of long generations of Yogis, Saints and Adepts” to surround and safeguard mankind. Surely this Romanian-born holocaust survivor has helped strengthen that inner wall. His sacrifice reminds me of the courage and sacrifices of all the compassionate ones, and I am also left wondering what part I play and how I too can help.

In the U.S. in a year when crime rates are down, as they have been recently, more than 400 people are murdered daily. To the horror and despair of their family and friends more than 400 souls are unexpectedly and intensely propelled out of earthly portals. Wars, atrocities, and genocide also fill the news, but their very scale makes them harder for us to really take in, to identify with. It’s difficult not to let our emotions run away with us watching terrible events on TV; but they could help remind us how precious life is and to be grateful for its many wonderful expressions.

In the case of Virginia Tech, it is easy to sympathize with the friends and families of the deceased; yet somehow we also have to find a way to love the shooter. It’s hard to think of it, but clearly those who perform horrible deeds are themselves in terrible need. While we can despise and condemn their actions, we must find a way not to hate them or we help to perpetuate the nightmare they are caught up in. What kind of spiritual starvation must killers be suffering in order to perpetrate such acts? And what response is now called for? If the gunman had not killed himself, no doubt the government would have done it for him. And what does that say? What may the bodhisattva commitment mean at such times? Perhaps that protecting life — even a murderer’s — is always a sacred act, and that we each stand guard at many doorways.

(From Sunrise magazine, Summer 2007; copyright © 2007 Theosophical University Press)

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