In the earliest Mahayana texts, the Perfection of Wisdom scriptures, the bodhisattva is portrayed as flying on two wings. These sutras explain at length that the bodhisattva doesn’t have any place to stand, because there is no turf, views or possessions that she can call her own. Nor is there a solid self, or an unchanging identity, or any security, as we understand security. What security can there be for the bodhisattva, if you take seriously the Buddha’s teaching of the nature of the self?

Well, the bodhisattva doesn’t need a place to stand because she or he flies -- flies in the "deep space" of the Perfection of Wisdom. And the two wings on which the bodhisattva flies are compassion and wisdom. Instead of looking for a safe harbor, for a place where you’re all protected and cozy and safe, you just fly high on these two wings and place your trust in them.

Alan Watts talked about the wisdom of insecurity. He says when you try to capture water and hold on to it, it becomes stagnant. And so does life. But when you let the water flow, it remains sparkling and fresh. My own private mudra, to help me through the sorrow of leaving beloved people or places, is this: to open my fingers and imagine water running through them, sparkling and touching the light and staying fresh as it moves. In the Buddha’s teachings, that’s what we are, a stream of being, bhava-sota. And vinnana-sota, stream of consciousness. We are not a permanent, unchanging self; we flow like water, with no place to abide. So with no safe place to stand, the bodhisattva flies -- flies on the wings of compassion and wisdom.

We need both of them: compassion, and insight into the radical interdependence of all phenomena. One isn’t enough. We need the compassion because that openness to the pain of the world provides the fuel to move you out where you need to be, to do what you need to do. Yet compassion by itself, without understanding and trusting our interconnectedness, can burn you out. So you need the other wing, the wisdom that knows how interwoven we are in the web of life, inseparable from each other. That wisdom reminds us that we’re not involved in a battle between good guys and bad guys, for the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every human heart. It teaches that we are so interconnected and inter-existing that even the smallest act with clear intentions has repercussions throughout the web of life. But wisdom by itself is not enough to move us forward for the sake of all beings; it needs the steady, heart-opening beat of compassion. Then we fly.

-- Joanna Macy