As a school of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen practice is bodhisattva practice. Mahayana Buddhism stands on the twin foundations of emptiness and compassion, sometimes likened to the two wings of a great bird in flight. It replaces the early Buddhist exemplar of the Arhat (one who has achieved Nirvana) with the ideal of the Bodhisattva, literally an “awakening being,” dedicated to continuous practice, lifetime after lifetime, for the benefit of others. For bodhisattvas, love and compassion for the suffering of others is paramount. Bodhisattvas are always in progress, and always devoted to the welfare of others. The cultivation of compassion is at the heart of their practice, and all their activity is Upaya (skillful means), all forms of beneficial action, to fit the uniqueness of every situation on every moment.
Classically, the six paramitas (giving, ethical conduct, patience, energy, meditation, and the wisdom of emptiness) describe the bodhisattva’s practice path. In Zen practice, compassion includes all our activity, which we come to appreciate more and more as our ongoing zazen practice shows us how we are always at the living center of an unfolding world of awakening.