Some years ago, I was reading Red Pine's translation of The Diamond Sutra, and my mind just stopped. The Buddha was teaching how a bodhisattva steps out of the thinking mind, and everything just stopped. In Reflections on Silver River, I put the same exercise in contemporary language and added an additional reflection that brings out the complementary aspect of "bodhi" or "awakening mind".
Take a moment and consider all the beings in the world-people in every walk of life, animals, even insects-billions upon billions. Each and every being is just like you-struggling with life in different ways, struggling to survive, struggling with change or struggling to make sense of it all.
Imagine you have the ability to free all these beings from their struggles and from the pain those struggles cause them. Now imagine you do free them, one by one, over the course of countless eons, no matter how long it takes.
While you embrace the possibility of freeing countless beings over countless eons, recall that there are no beings. All those beings and all your efforts are just your experience of life, nothing more and nothing less.
Everything drops away. Rest right there-in that open clarity. Nothing at all, but what a nothing!
That is awakening mind.
Open to the world, to the whole universe, from this empty clarity. What do you see?
You see joy and pain, beauty and ugliness, love and hate, confusion and wisdom, and everything in between-the whole panorama of the human condition.
What do you feel? A mixture-peace and freedom on the one hand, sadness and compassion on the other. In your heart is a longing, a yearning, to help all beings find a way to live in which they are not struggling with their lives, not driven by emotional reactions, not confused and bewildered about who and what they are and why they are here.
This also is awakening mind.
This is what it means to be awake: to know directly, unmediated by thinking and emotional reactions, that there is nothing but what you experience and, simultaneously, to know directly an intimate connection with all that you experience and the caring that naturally arises with that connection.
In such knowing and caring, concern for own welfare, for just what you want or need, disappears like mist in the morning sun. You cannot imagine living life so narrowly. To do so feels like a form of sleep, and you want nothing to do with it.
How that takes expression in your life is totally up to you. There are no rules. For Milarepa, it took expression as living in mountain solitudes and offering guidance to all who sought him out. For Maha Ghosananda, it took form as leading a walk through the Cambodian countryside, reconnecting people with their land which had been heavily bombed and mined in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. For my own teacher, it took expression as teaching and establishing retreat centers right up to the end of his life.
First, wake up. Then let that awakening take expression in your life.