“When you see an image of Guanyin, when you see an image of Kannon, when you see a sculpture of the Bodhisattva, she has a thousand arms. And in every arm, in every hand, there is a different tool.
One arm might have a rake, one arm might have a rope, one arm might have an image of an awakened Buddha, one arm might have an iPhone, one arm might have another app. And these thousands of arms have different kinds of tools. And it’s said that if you want to really put love in action or compassion into action, you need many kinds of tools. So when you go to temples where the centerpiece of the temple is a Bodhisattva, or is Guanyin, or a Kannon, you see an image of a woman or a man with a thousand arms.
I think about this in my life: what does it mean to have tools of compassion? It seems, in my life, having tools of compassion has everything to do with my own woundedness. To be able to take places where I’ve been wounded and recognize that instead of seeing those wounds or those scars as kind of places that hold me back or stop me, maybe my woundedness is also a tool for connecting with others.
What if I can use the ways that I’ve been scarred? What if we can use the ways that we’ve been wounded? As the springboard for action? What if our wounds are actually tools. What if somebody who suffered from an eating disorder, or someone who suffered from depression, or someone who suffers from anxiety, recognizes that the way they work with their anxiety, the way their practices help them overcome depression — what if they see that that process of working with their woundedness actually gives them real tools to take positive and creative action in the world?
In a way, this is what the Bodhisattva represents with all her arms, and with every hand, in all her different tools: is taking the places we’ve been wounded and using those wounds to become real tools for real action.
That’s how it works at an individual level. We all know that when we’re wounded, if we see our wounds as positive, it allows us to connect with others who have the same wounds.
But what about this at a collective level? What if we look at the situation in our rivers? What if we look at the shadow side of nuclear power? What if we really see what we’re doing to the environment, and the disparity in our economic system, and we see this kind of woundedness, and we open to the suffering in what we’re doing, and the suffering we all cause, and instead of being overwhelmed by it, we see it as a place to take action?
We see our woundedness as a tool and we’re able to use those tools to effect positive change. Anybody who has an answer for the complexity of our problems right now isn’t telling the truth. There is no one answer that’s going to solve our problems right now. We all need to look deeply at our woundedness and from that woundedness, take action.”