Bodhisattva Never Disparaging

At this time there was a Bodhisattva monk named Never Disparaging. Now, for what reason was he named Never Disparaging? This monk, whatever persons he happen to meet, would bow down to them and speak words of praise, saying, ‘I would never disparage you, because you are certain to attain Buddhahood!” The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 20 “The Bodhisattva Never Disparaging

Inspired by the story of Never Disparaging in the Lotus Sutra, Greg Fain and Ben Gustin, while in retreat at Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery, were inspired to write a song based on the story of Never Disparaging called “Our Hero.”

The first verse is “There’s a book called the Lotus Sutra, you really oughta know about. A holy book that has the power to remove all fear and doubt. And this book tells the story of a man who means the world to me, who could just as well be a woman if not for male hegemony. They call him the Bodhisattva Never Disparage, or the Bodhisattva Never Despise. And I’m makin’ it my life’s ambition to see the world through his pure eyes.” The chorus is: “I would never disparage you or keep you at arm’s length. Where you only see your weaknesses, I only see your strength. I would never despise you or put you down in any way. Because it’s clear to me, I can plainly see, you’ll be a buddha someday. I love you.”

Alan Senauke has recorded this song on his album “Everything is Broken: songs about things as they are,” released this year ( He and Jon Stolle sang this song at the Ocean Gate Benefit Concert (April 13th) last night. Alan and Jon had graciously offered to help Ocean Gate by coming to Santa Cruz and giving a concert we called  “Bluegrass, Blues and Buddha.”

What is the lesson of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging? Never Disparaging was not always well received, but his practice was sincere and his heart big. He would just run up to people and say “I would never disparage you, because you are certain to attain Buddhahood.” To be honest, he was a little annoying and people were not always receptive to his message. Yet he never gave up. He would just back up out of harm’s way and repeat his affirmation. Sometimes people were quite adamant about their rejection of his message, but he never returned their anger with anger. He responded with patience and generosity.

The point is not that we should necessarily run up to people and tell them they are buddha, but that we should practice affirmation of self and others, patience and generosity. Dogen Zenji, the 13th century founder of Soto Zen, taught what he called practice-realization. This is all one word. Our practice, the things we do to cultivate our wisdom and compassion, and the motivation for that practice are the same thing. We are motivated by our buddha-ness, our true nature or our big mind. When this is our motivation, although we might miss the mark, we are engaged in wholesome affirming actions.

Never Disparaging was not always skillful in his enthusiasm for the Dharma, but his intention and effort were strong. Like Never Disparaging we want to cultivate a good will that helps us to affirm the effort of others. Later when Never Disparaging became enlightened, all those people wanted to be his student. He never reminded them of their previous animosity toward him, he just met them where they were and was happy to help them as best he could. This is the generous mind of a buddha at work.

Even when we make mistakes, or when someone is a problem for us, we should never forget our own and the other person’s inherent buddha-ness. When we do this, our mind will become a mind of equanimity and wisdom. Cultivating generosity and gratitude will always stand us in good stead. Never Disparaging is a heartening story of one man’s difficulties and how he persevered with his effort in practice.

We do not want to disparage ourselves or others, but to try to realize each other’s effort in this saha-world of being human: being foolish human beings. We are all groping around in the dark and we hope that other will help light our way, as we might light the way for others.

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