Saturday, August 27, 2011

Will the real Buddha please stand up?


Fifty-five years ago a television game show began running here in the U.S. The show was called To Tell The Truth and involved three challengers, an announcer and a panel of celebrities. The game began with the announcer asking each of the challengers to state their name and their role. All three claimed to be the same person but only one was telling the truth. For example each of challengers might say, “I’m Willie Sutton and I rob banks”. Then the announcer read aloud a detailed description of the claimed identity. The game proceeded by the panelists asking each of the challengers questions and the challengers answered. The goal of the game was for the panelists to determine both the pretenders and the real person. After asking a number of questions the announcer said, “Will the real Willie Sutton please stand up”? If the panelists were successful they would have guessed the real person. Often the pretenders proved to be accomplished liars and succeeded in throwing the panelists off track.

I tell you this because we all play that game ourselves. Only we are both the challengers and the panelist but the goal is the same: To determine our real identity. And just like the game show our ego lies to us, pretending to be who we truly are, and this fellow is a very good liar; so good that we aren’t even aware there is another. And there is another difference: Our true identity is invisible and doesn’t speak. Consequently we’re not even able to ask questions and get answers.

In our imaginations we picture the Buddha as an Indian person in flowing robes with floppy ear lobes who lived 2,500 years ago. And indeed such a person did live. His name was Śākyamuni (“Sage of the Śākyas”) and also known as Siddhārtha Gautama. That person succeeded in the identity game and discovered his true, not to be found non-identity and then came to be known as the Tathāgata which means, paradoxically, both one who has thus gone (tathā-gata) and one who has thus come (tathā-āgata). In other words he found out who he truly was and returned to tell us the truth.

So what did he discover? Who was he truly? And why does that matter to us? He discovered his own not to be found mind and in so doing he discovered who he was not. And it matters to us because the nature of his true identity is the same for you and me. We have the same mind, what is known as bodhi (the mind of enlightenment). In fact this same mind IS the Buddha, not that ancient person with floppy ear lobes.

His true identity, and ours, is the not to be found mind. There is no other real Buddha except that non-identity. We choose names for everything but all names are abstractions rather than the real thing. In the case of a non-identity, what names should be chosen? We could call it any name and each would be as non-good as the next. The Buddha chose the name “mind” but in The Diamond Sutra he said there is no mind therefore we call it mind. The Apostle Paul called it “The mind of Christ”. We could call it “dog” and in each and every case the name would be an abstraction to represent something that can’t be found but nevertheless is the source of everything. The father of Zen (Bodhidharma) said this:

“The Buddha is the mind. There is no Buddha except the mind; no mind but the Buddha.” The term Buddha actually means to awaken, and what a Buddha awakens to is their complete, true self. When that occurs desire (the culprit that sets the engine of suffering in motion) goes away, and the reason is actually quite simple. Desire is the flip side of fulfillment. Only someone who experiences himself or herself being un-fulfilled desires. The experience of completion destroys desire. The ego can never experience completion because it is never fulfilled. However, the real person we are is always fulfilled and it is the real person who wakes up and discovers completion.

So, as peculiar as that may seem, the real question is, “Why does that matter”? It matters because the shocking truth means that we are all essentially Buddhas awaiting discovery. We spend our entire lives trying to find ourselves going down one blind alley after another and every time we find nothing substantial. We are all Don Quixote chasing windmills. The only real and lasting part of us is our not to be found mind. Only that is substantial. Everything else is just a feather in the wind. Come back tomorrow and we’ll explore what happens when we don’t discover our true identity and are left with the pretender.
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