Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The destination. Far away?

“If it weren’t for afflictions, there would be nothing to create awareness. And if it weren’t for awareness, there would be nothing to negate afflictions... Suffering is the seed, wisdom the sprout, and buddhahood the grain.”—Bodhidharma

When we begin a journey it’s important to know where we’re going. Imagine showing up at the airport and telling the ticket agent it doesn’t matter where you’re going, just sell you a ticket to anywhere. That would take you somewhere but the journey we’re on now will hopefully lead us out of suffering, but to where? Obviously there are two sides: where we are presently and where we want to go. So today I want to begin a sequential series on the destination and first take you on a little side trip to begin clarifying the where.

Over the years of extended study I’ve become aware of many different words that speak to the same destination. It is a bit like seeing a color for the first time and realizing there are many different ways to describe it. Regardless, the color remains the same. William Shakespeare used this awareness in his play Romeo and Juliet.  In the play Juliet argues that names of things don’t matter, only what they are. She says to Romeo: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Indeed so, but we do get snared by words and often miss what they represent.

Within that context, a simple question: What’s the Buddha? Without answering that question we can search for an eternity and never arrive at our destination. The average person will probably answer that The Buddha was a man who lived 2,500 years ago in India and he started the religion of Buddhism. Others may say the Buddha is an idol, icon or symbol used to represent a way of thinking and approach to life. Some even say that an idol of The Buddha is heretical since worshiping idols is a sin. That question, and the correct answer are essential to self-understanding. Many enlightened masters answered it in revealing and unique ways.

In ninth century China, Chan Master Yúnmén Wényan (known in Japan as Ummon Zenji) answered in perhaps the most unexpected way. The answer he gave was “A dried shit-stick.” The story goes that upon his enlightenment, Gautama saw the morning star and shouted, “That’s it! That’s it! That’s me that’s shining so brilliantly!” How we understand the mind is also a critically important addition to this matter of words and substance. In the book Meditation on the Nature of Mind, the Dalai Lama writes, “Those who search for the view (of the Buddha) apart from the mind are like rich people searching for wealth. It would be foolish for those who are wealthy to search for money apart from what already exists under their own noses in their own coffers. Likewise, the view is closer ‘than our own jugular veins,’ as the Tibetan saying goes. All we have to do is to turn our attention to the nature of our own minds.” The father of Zen (Bodhidharma) said, “…without beginning, whatever you do, wherever you are, that’s your real mind, that’s your real buddha. This mind is the Buddha.” Likewise, in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, The Buddha himself is quoted as having said, “Seeing the actions of body and mouth, we say that we see the mind. The mind is not seen, but this is not false. This is seeing by outer signs.” So that too must be thrown into the hopper of destination.

 So which is it: a distant realm, or closer than own jugular veins, your very own mind, the man who lived 2,500 years ago, the icon sitting in your foyer, a dried shit-stick or the morning star? In our normal way of thinking the answers are all discreetly different and we want to choose one destination against all others. The answers appear to be quite different yet the real answer is, all of the above and none of the above. That seems most confusing. How can our destination be that answer? Yet when some other pieces fall into place we’ll see how true it is.

This series is about suffering and the role afflictions play in becoming self-aware. It seems to be a major paradox that suffering is the engine driving the process leading to a transformed mind (our destination), and maybe even beyond, but if Bodhidharma is to be taken seriously, “If it weren’t for afflictions, there would be nothing to create awareness.” Today’s post perhaps creates more questions than answers but taken as a whole, these views are a piece of the larger puzzle. Tomorrow another piece.
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