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GAUTAMA, THE BUDDHA
624-544 B.C.E., NEPAL
One might say that the Buddha needs no introduction, as he is undoubtedly the most famous of all the enlightened ones included in this book. Yet his story remains an enduring classic and model of the spiritual search and its successful completion.
The pampered prince, Siddhartha, had a beautiful wife and son, dancing girls, sumptuous food, and three palaces for his own use, and was completely sheltered from the world. One day he left the palace surreptitiously and witnessed, for the first time in his life, disease, suffering, old age, and death. This led the prince to renounce his worldly treasures and family to find Truth and a release from suffering for himself and all sentient beings. For six years he pursued ascetic practices in the forest, reducing himself through meditation and fasting to a mere skeleton, at the point of death. At the last moment, he accepted rice milk from a cowherd girl and was revived. Abandoning the ascetic life of the forest for the middle path between indulgence and asceticism, he nevertheless vowed not to move from his meditation seat beneath the Bodhi tree until he reached enlightenment. Defeating Mara, the incarnation of ignorance and evil, all of his past lives appeared before his eyes, and he fell deeply into contemplation of the nature of life and suffering. He sought to transcend birth, suffering, and death. And he succeeded, ultimately attaining the perfect peace of Nirvana. He was absolutely free, liberated while alive.
By means of his exalted state, the Buddha went on to acquire disciples, found an order of monks that persists today, and spread great wisdom and compassion throughout Asia and beyond. Over the past 2,500 years, the Buddha's story and example have inspired countless others to dedicate their entire lives and renounce all the aspects of worldly life to attain Nirvana for the benefit of everyone. Even those who have not yet given up the world have been deeply affected by the Buddha's insights, compassion, and teachings. The Buddhist concepts of the middle path, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, the bodhisattva ideal, and the ultimate release from the sufferings of countless human lifetimes have captivated entire cultures. Throughout Asia, Buddhism is deeply engrained in the fabric of society and forms a primary basis for religious expression. Buddhists throughout the world form what is known as the Sangha, or community of those following the Buddha's example.
The Dharma, as Buddhist teaching is called, has become increasingly popular in the past fifty years in the West as well, as the great diaspora of Buddhist teachers has captivated new generations of spiritual seekers looking beyond their own cultures for Truth. The Buddha did not set out to found a religion and did not even have a concept of God in his teaching. His only mission was to share the truth of his experience, to en-lighten others as he had been enlightened, and to save others from the fear and sufferings of old age, sickness, and death. He wandered and taught for forty-five years, giving instruction even on his deathbed, to guide seekers to self-realization. With his dying breath he instructed those by his bedside: "Decay is inherent in all component things, but the truth will remain forever. Work out your salvation with diligence!" His compassion was unbounded, his wisdom supreme. Now read the culmination of the story in which Prince Siddhartha became Gautama, the Buddha, the Awakened One.
The Buddha's story was originally oral history told to his disciple Ananda, approximately 2,500 years ago, and recorded in various sources including the Pali Canon, the Lalitavishtara Sutra, and the Buddha-charita. The material has been collected and presented here by Sherab Chodzin Kohn, a modern Western Tibetan Buddhist author.
FROM SUFFERING TO NIRVANA
The Buddha's Liberation
THE BODHISATTVA had triumphed over Mara. The air cleared and was still. The full moon rose in the sky and shone softly. The bodhisattva, unmoving, entered into the first level of meditation. The night was utterly silent; even insects made no murmur. As the moon continued to rise, the bodhisattva's composure deepened, and one by one he mastered the levels of meditation until he reached the fourth. His concentration was bright and unblemished, full and balanced. Then through great confidence and trust, he relinquished the watcher, and his mind entered into a fathomless openness untroubled by content. Here the bodhisattva naturally rested until a profound contentment pervaded him. But as one who already knew the way, he did not become caught up in this. Rather, with utter clarity and tenderness, he turned his mind to untying the knot of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
He saw that the condition for old age, sickness, and death is birth. Once birth happens, the rest follows inevitably. He saw that the condition for birth lay in processes of becoming already set in motion; that the condition for this was grasping or craving; that the condition for this was desire; and the condition for desire, feelings of happiness, suffering, or indifference; and the condition for these, sensual contact; and the condition for sensual contact, the fields of the senses; the condition for sense fields, the arising of mind-body; the condition for mind-body, consciousness. He saw that mind-body and consciousness condition each other to make a rudimentary sense of self. He saw that the condition for consciousness was volitional impulses, and finally that the condition for volitional impulses was ignorance.
Thus he saw that the whole process ending in old age and death begins when basic intelligence slips into unawareness of its own nature. In this way all-pervading intelligence strays into the sense of a self.
After the bodhisattva had penetrated the nature of the process of birth, old age, sickness, and death, the clarity and openness of his mind increased yet further. Then in the first watch of the night, his inner vision became completely unobstructed. This is called the opening of the divine eye. Then he turned his attention to the past, and he saw his and others' countless past lives stretching back over many eons and ages of the world. Even back through world ages separated from the present one by long intervals of universal destruction, he knew that at a certain time he had been thus and such a person. He had been this kind of being, of this sex, of this race, had eaten this food, and had lived this long. Then he had been born again this or that way and once more lived through certain circumstances, and thus had been born and had died and been reborn again an incalculable number of times. This he saw in relation to himself and all other beings.
Then, in the second watch of the night, moved by compassion, he opened his wisdom eye yet further and saw the spectacle of the whole universe as in a spotless mirror. He saw beings being born and passing away in accordance with karma, the laws of cause and effect. Just as, when one clears one's throat, one is next ready to speak, past deeds create a certain inclination. When the basic condition of ignorance is present, the inclination takes shape in a certain kind of volitional impulses, which engender a certain consciousness, and so on up to old age and death, and then once more into ignorance and volitional impulses. Seeing birth and death occurring in accordance with this chain of causality, the bodhisattva saw the cyclic paths of all beings. He saw the fortunate and the unfortunate, the exalted and the lowly going their various ways. He saw how, ignorant and suffering, they were tossed on the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
In the third and last watch of the night, he applied himself to the task of rooting out this suffering once and for all. He had clearly understood the wheel of dependent arising in which each stage follows from a preceding cause, beginning with ignorance. And he saw how beings were driven on it by the powerful motive force of karma. Now his divine eye sought the means of liberation. He saw that through the cessation of birth, old age and death would not exist; through the cessation of becoming, there would be no birth; through the cessation of grasping, no becoming—and so back through the sequence of causation to ignorance. He saw suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and at last also the path to cessation.
At the end of the third watch, at the first light of dawn the bodhisattva saw through the very last trace of ignorance in himself. Thus he attained complete and utter enlightenment and became the Buddha. The first words that came to him were these:
Seeking but not finding the House Builder,
I traveled through the round of countless births:
O painful is birth ever and again.
House Builder, you have now been seen;
You shall not build the house again.
Your rafters have been broken down;
Your ridge pole is demolished too.
My mind has now attained the unformed nirvana
And reached the end of every kind of craving.
Then he thought: "I have attained the unborn. My liberation is unassailable. This is my last birth. There will now be no renewal of becoming."
A compilation from the Pali Canon, the Lalitavishtara Sutra, and the Buddhacharita.
Hui-neng is one of the most beloved teachers in Zen Buddhism and exemplifies that neither wealth nor formal education is a prerequisite for enlightenment. He was the last in a line of founding teachers in the Zen tradition and served as inspiration for the Southern School of Zen. The title of sutra (scripture) given to the documents of Hui-Neng's life and teachings, traditionally reserved for the Buddha himself, give evidence to the high degree of respect accorded this woodcutter turned enlightened master.
The T'ang dynasty, considered by many to be the culmination of Chinese culture, provided the backdrop for Hui-Neng's life. During this era tremendous progress was made in the development of Chinese Buddhist teachings and writings. Legend has it that at the moment of Hui-Neng's birth, in Chou of Kwangtung, beams of light illuminated the air and the room was blanketed with an unusual fragrance. At dawn, two mysterious monks are said to have paid a visit to the newborn's father, instructing him to give his child the auspicious name of Hui-Neng. His childhood was that of a simple, uneducated peasant. An illiterate wood-cutter, Hui-Neng was said to have attained enlightenment (as told in the accompanying selection) in a momentary flash. His teachings pro-vide immediate and direct insights regarding the nature of awareness at its very essence.
As a result of his sudden enlightenment while still a young man, Hui-Neng inherited the title of Grand Master of Zen. That a simple man lacking name, fame, and riches was chosen for this appointment over others far more learned and influential was a threat to the old guard. Persecuted by those who were envious of his attainment, Hui-Neng fled to the mountains. He did not reappear until his middle-age years, at which time he resumed his mission of spreading the knowledge of Zen to the masses. His mode of expression was simple and to the point, placing the wisdom of Zen within the reach of many who would have otherwise been excluded from such teachings. The disciples of Hui-Neng were many, including common folk and Confucian scholars alike. It was not uncommon for him to offer teachings to over a thousand scholars, officials, monks, nuns, and laypeople at a time.
Instructing students and disciples to seek equanimity and under-standing of the true or essential nature, Hui-Neng cautioned against stagnation. He emphasized humility rather than self-aggrandizement, detachment from thoughts, and remaining true to one's essential nature. Shaving one's head and receiving ordination as monks and nuns was fruitless without evenness of mind and straightforwardness of action. The way to enlightenment or buddhahood, advised Hui-Neng, was through purification of the mind and recognition of the Pure Land within the body. Rebirth without enlightenment, he counseled, is a long road. Better, he taught, to realize the "birthless reality of immediacy." Hui-Neng had a tremendous impact on revitalizing the quiet asceticism of his own Buddhist section and on the spread of Zen in China. His successors were numerous, and countless thoughtful students continue to benefit from his teachings.
This story is told in first person by Hui-Neng as part of what is known as the Altar Sutra. It was translated by Thomas Cleary from a version by a monk named Tsung-Pao that was compiled in 1291 from earlier sources, including a version from Hiu-Neng's disciple, Fahai.
FROM ILLITERATE WOODCUTTER TO SIXTH ZEN PATRIARCH
AFTER HAVING gotten my mother settled, I left right away and reached Huang-mei within thirty-odd days. There I paid respects to the Fifth Grand Master.
The Grand Master asked, "Where are you from, and what do you want?"
I replied, "I am a peasant from Hsin Province in Ling-nan. I have come from far away to pay my respects to you only because I seek to be a buddha, nothing else."
The Grand Master said, "You are a southerner, and an aborigine; how can you be a buddha?"
I said, "People may be southerners or northerners, but the buddha-nature originally has no south or north. As an aborigine, my social status is not the same as yours, but what difference is there in our buddha-nature?"
The Grand Master wanted to talk with me more, but he saw that his followers were all around, so he had me do chores with the workers.
I said to him, "My own mind always produces wisdom. Not being alienated from one's own essential nature is itself a field of blessings. What work would you have me do?"
The Grand Master said, "This aborigine is very sharp! Don't say any more. Go work in the mill."
So I retired to a back building, where a worker had me splitting firewood and pounding rice. I spent over eight months at this, when the Grand Master saw me one day and said, "I think your insight is reliable, but I was afraid bad people would harm you, so I didn't talk to you. Do you realize this?"
I said, "I do know your intention. That is why I didn't dare walk in front of the auditorium, lest one be careless."
One day the Grand Master called all his disciples to him and said, "I tell you, for people in this world the matter of birth and death is serious. You lot just seek fields of blessings all day long, and do not seek to get out of the ocean of misery of birth and death.
"If your own nature is confused, how can blessings save you? Let each of you look into your own wisdom, grasp the insightful nature of your own basic mind, and compose a verse to show me. If you have understood the great meaning, I will bequeath to you the robe and the teaching, and make you the Sixth Grand Master.
Other people hearing this all set their minds to rest, saying, "We will rely on Master Shen-hsiu after this; why bother to compose a verse?"
Shen-hsiu reflected, "The reason the others won't present verses is that I am their mentor. I must compose a verse to present to the teacher—if I do not present a verse, how will the teacher know the depth or shallowness of the insight and under-standing within my mind? If my intention in presenting a verse is to seek the teaching, then it is good; if it is to seek the rank of Grand Master, that is bad—it would be the same as the ordinary mentality. How would it be different from usurping the rank of a sage? If I do not present a verse, I'll never get the teaching. This is very difficult, very difficult."
Excerpted from MYSTICS, MASTERS, SAINTS, AND SAGES by Robert Ullman, Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman. Copyright © 2001 Robert Ullman and Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1 Gautama, the Buddha (624–544 B.C.E., Nepal)
2 Hui-Neng (638–713, China)
3 Yeshe Tsogyal (757–817, Tibet)
4 Jalaluddin Rumi (1207–1273, Afghanistan)
5 A Disciple of the Kabbalistic School of Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291,
6 Saint Catherine of Siena (1347–1380, Italy)
7 Kabir (circa 1440–1518, India)
8 Gendun Gyatso Palzangpo (1475–1541, Tibet)
9 Saint John of the Cross (1542–1591, Spain)
10 Hakuin (1686–1769, Japan)
11 The Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760, Eastern Europe)
12 Bahá'u'lláh (1817–1892, Iran)
13 Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836–1886, India)
14 Ramana Maharshi (1879–1950, India)
15 Swami (Papa) Ramdas (1884–1963, India) and Mother Krishnabai
16 Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952, India)
17 Meher Baba (1894–1969, India)
18 Krishnamurti (1895–1986, India)
19 Franklin Merrell-Wolff (1897–1985, United States)
20 Peace Pilgrim (Early 1900s–1981, United States)
21 Gopi Krishna (1908–1984, India)
22 Lester Levenson (1909–1994, United States)
23 Jean Klein (Circa 1916–1998, Czechoslovakia)
24 Ramesh Balsekar (1919–present, India )
25 Robert Adams (1928–1997, United States)
26 Bernadette Roberts(1931–present, United States)
27 Deepa Kodikal (1941–present, India)
28 Gangaji (1942–present, United States)
29 Eckhart Tolle (1948–present, Germany)
30 A. H. Almaas (?–present, Kuwait)
31 Shantimayi (1950–present, United States)
32 Mata Amritanandamayi (1953–present, India)
33 Suzanne Segal (1955–1997, United States)
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