Words are boats that hold ideas. We place an idea into its little boat and send it off across the void, whether that be the physical space between my lips and your ears, or the virtual spaces of the internet, web, blogosphere, what have you. We can only hope that our boat carries the idea as we meant it and that nothing is lost in transit. It’s an imperfect system at best! It can be absolutely frustrating when we choose the wrong word.
So why take the name Brodhisattva? It is sort of a weird, made-up word after all. What does it even mean? Let’s start by breaking it down into its constituent parts.
The root word here is bodhisattva. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but actually a simple idea. I would say it’s also a lovely concept that can be useful to anyone, Buddhist or not.
Bodhisattva simply refers to anyone who is on the path to Buddhahood. Historically, in traditional schools of Buddhism, it specifically means someone who has resolved and declared an intention to become a Buddha and has received confirmation from a living Buddha that they will do so. For what should be obvious reasons, this strict definition is not exactly what we are going for here. Now, we are not Buddhists. I have been greatly influenced by Buddhism in my life as I have by many traditions. My personal waters are a bit muddy. It’s been a long time since I was a clear-eyed, firm-minded youth with steadfast faith in the Southern Baptist Jesus Christ. I have prayed and meditated in Buddhist temples. In fact, I still meditate (almost) daily. But I am not a Buddhist.
I prefer a more relaxed definition of bodhisattva, such as that offered here in Tricycle Magazine:
Now the name or title of Buddha means “enlightened one,” “awake one,” or “knower.” So to move “in the direction of Buddha” means to progress towards enlightenment or awakening. It means to still be human, but to be someone striving to be a better human.
This is more the gestalt we are going for here at thebrodhisattva.com. We’re just a couple of ordinary guys who got sick of our lives as they were progressing (or not progressing). We want to be better men. Therefore we are actively moving in the direction of a more enlightened life. Do I plan on becoming Enlightened (with a capital E)? Do I think I’ll actually become a Buddha? Well… in my more reasonable, humble moments, I’ll have to say no. But as a goal, with the desired result of getting incrementally better day-by-day, it’s hard to beat.
OK, but why the bro?
This… is totally a fair question.
Bro has been used as a term of endearment or short form for brother for centuries. However it’s really since the 1970s that it has come to mean “guy friend.” My bro. My dude. Sup, bruh?
NPR’s Code Switch discussed bro-dom in a short article and came up with this Venn diagram illustrating the 4 major aspects of bro-dom with real-life examples:
I like to think we fit somewhere in the bottom left of this image, on the stoner-ish side of things. Notice I said stoner-ish, not stoned. The use of psychotropic substances may be implied in this type but is not necessarily so. We’re not too jockish or preppy. We’re sometimes dudely but not terribly so. We’re definitely not shooting for the “platonic ideal” of Ryan Lochte.
You should also take a look at the BroBible’s rebuttal of Code Switch’s article. They make a strong case that all of this hand-wringing and apologetic reckoning about what it means to be a bro is neither enlightening nor helpful.
Despite their take however, bro has taken on a lot of negative connotations, especially in the last few years. It can be seen to mean the worst of white, wealthy male entitlement. Some people hear misogyny in it or hints of racism. That reputation, while possibly earned in some quarters, strikes me as unfair to the word as a whole. There’s a homey chumminess in it that I find charming. It invokes a hapless goodwill. The bro may not always do what’s right, but he generally means well.
I never joined a fraternity, but I’ve been demonstrably “Bro-ey” in my time. Drinking too much. Telling too many crude jokes. Lots of arm slugging and grab-assery in questionably appropriate situations (if there even are appropriate situations). I once broke my wrist swapping licks with my bro. I have non-ironically drunk cheap beer and whiskey from a comically oversized flask and taken my shirt off on a golf course. I’ve also had a pretty serious back injury from a rolled golf cart (I won’t say who was driving, but he has a blog on this site!). I’ve been up way too late at strip clubs at an age when it was hard to come up with any justifications for it. I’ve also taken myself too seriously as a stoned-out free thinker on a higher level than most mere mortals I encountered. I have actually, and I shudder typing this, actually told a girl, while trying to convince her to sleep with me, to not “be afraid of pleasure.” Feel free to take a barf break.
So, yeah, there’s all of that too.
I think the “bro” in brodhisattva is there to keep us humble. That, and we just thought it was funny.
I think the name actually describes us very well. It at least describes who we think we are, who we want to be. Despite having a long, long, long, long, long, long way to go, we are moving towards the Buddha, towards enlightenment. We are trying to be better men, 10% less shitty at a time, and that’s what this is all about. We wanted to create a space and a community for openness and vulnerability both for us and other men who might want to join us on that journey.
Bodhisattva alone just doesn’t seem to fit. It’s too serious. It carries too much weight. Frankly, any association with the two of us would cheapen the word. In our lives we are moving towards the Buddha, but we’re not exactly approaching Buddhahood.
So we are brodhisattvas. Urban dictionary has this definition that doesn’t fit us exactly but is kind of hilarious:
Describes a man who is extremely full of himself. So much in fact, it’s as if he thinks he has achieved enlightenment. This can be seen in his blank stares and smirks to others of his kind. Brodhisattvii (plural form) tend to only hang out with other brodhisattvii and love plastic women. They are surprisingly unlikely to get into physical altercations, but will if repeatedly provoked. If one looks closely, they tend to have just enough weight so as to appear athletic, but actually are slightly to moderately overweight. Semi-attractive meatheads and Lacoste-wearing transplants from the east coast are brodhisattvii. The Marina district bars of San Francisco are full of them.
Etymology: The first part refers to the word brodie, and suggests a surfing connotation. The second obviously refers to the Buddhist Bodhisattva.
*Conversely, when the word “true” is placed before it, the word then becomes an endearing term often used by one friend when referring to another.
“We went to a party last night. It was full of brodhisattvas so we left.”
“Stavros is a true brodhisattva.” by Dolph “Hans” Lundgren January 07, 2009by Dolph “Hans” Lundgren January 07, 2009
So maybe I should qualify it and say we are “true” brodhisattviis. We may be a little full of ourselves. Okay, we’re clearly full of ourselves. Humble people who don’t feel like their words are worth listening to and recording for posterity don’t start blogs. But we’re also coming at this with some measure of humility, compassion, and vulnerability. Sort of the Dude (Lebowski may actually have attained Buddhahood) meets McConaughey meets Brené Brown.
We’re taking Bro back from the meatheads, the lunks, and the poseurs. We’re taking it back from the entitled frat boys and the coked up junior traders. We’re going to channel that bro energy into something beautiful and dynamic that will not only make us better, but also make the whole goddamn world better. I can see a day, not that far into the future, when one man looks at another, sees his struggle and pain and with compassion in his eyes and kindness in his voice voice asks, “Bro, do you even meditate?”