The Buddha in Your Mirror
Practical Buddhism and the Search for Self
By Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin, Ted Morino
Middleway Press Copyright © 2001 SGI-USA
All rights reserved.
THE BUDDHA IN YOUR MIRROR
When deluded, one is called an ordinary being, but when enlightened, one is called a Buddha. This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished.
If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.
— Albert Einstein.
Birds sing. The wind blows. The earth turns. Stars flare and die. Galaxies spin gracefully through space. Man is born, lives, grows old and dies. The patterns of existence are mysterious and immeasurable. Who can even begin to comprehend them? Our mundane daily lives are, in a way, no less complex. Who can always fathom, for example, the needs of a three-year-old child, let alone the inexplicable demands of one's in-laws or one's boss? During a single day, we rejoice at times while we despair at other times. Our feelings change from moment to moment. Trivial things can make us temporarily happy, while temporary setbacks can make us inexpressibly sad. Worries easily take the place of happiness. Life may be interpreted as a continual battle against problems large and small.
Never before in the history of the West have so many people turned to the timeless wisdom of Buddhism for answers to the great questions of life as well as to master the problems of daily existence. This is no coincidence, for we live in an age of experimentation and scientific inquiry, and Buddhism has no conflict with the world of science. Indeed, Buddhism has been called "the science of life."
Certainly the images and language of Buddhism have been surfacing with increasing regularity in contemporary culture, from movies and pop songs to magazines and television shows. There is the Buddha of the novel The Buddha of Suburbia, or the dharma of the TV sitcom, Dharma and Greg. The word karma has entered the Western vernacular and is blithely applied to everything from health-food shakes to nagging relationship problems. Everyone we don't particularly like or understand these days seems to have "bad karma." And there seems to be a Zen to everything, from playing golf to vanquishing your foes at office politics to perhaps even folding your laundry. Obi Wan Kenobi may not be portrayed as a Buddhist, per se, but his acumen in wielding the metaphysical Force of the epic Star Wars cycle, a mystic power that permeates the universe and ennobles its masters, resembles both the Buddhist concept of "life force" and the legendary powers attributed to the Buddhas in ancient scripture.
The actual meaning of these words, from the standpoint of Buddhist tradition, has become somewhat clouded. In the West, Buddhism has long been perceived as an elitist or beatnik religion, something to be discussed over espresso along with radical politics and difficult art. This lasting image perhaps stems from the Beat period of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, the explanatory books of Alan Watts and countless literary scenes featuring bongos and satori (the Japanese term for enlightenment used particularly in Zen). One could easily gain the impression that Buddhism is primarily a system of intellectual abstraction or a means of escaping from material reality. For many the overriding popular image of Buddhism is that of an abstruse and impenetrable mystical teaching studied in monkish isolation, the goal of which is inner peace as an end in itself. There is a famous story about the historical Buddha that demonstrates why this view is incorrect.
While walking one day in Deer Park in Benares, India, the Buddha came across a deer lying on the ground. A hunter's arrow had pierced its side. As the deer slowly died, two Brahmans, or holy men, stood over the body arguing over the exact time life leaves the body. Seeing the Buddha and wishing to resolve their debate, they asked his opinion. Ignoring them, the Buddha immediately approached the deer and drew out the arrow, saving the animal's life.
Buddhism is a beautiful philosophy, but above all, it is about action.
If the pop images and adaptations of Buddhism are sometimes offhand and imprecise, they nevertheless point to a surprising truth: The language and wisdom of Buddhism are increasingly being applied to the complexities of modern life because they actually seem to fit. Buddhist concepts and strategies, as applied to happiness, health, relationships, careers and even the process of aging and dying, pertain to the truth of modern existence — the actual pulsing reality of life. Buddhist ideas are entering the mainstream because they contain a descriptive power well adapted to the flux and flow of the modern world, without the weight of a dogmatic morality.
Buddhism explains the profound truths of life. But it also provides an immensely practical method for overcoming obstacles and transforming oneself. What you learn in these pages can be applied to every area of your existence: family, work, relationships, health. And it can be applied by anyone.
This book has the power to change your life. Although it is not, strictly speaking, a self-help book, it includes the most time-honored and effective self-help secrets ever formulated — the all-embracing system of thought that is Buddhism. It is titled The Buddha in Your Mirror because of its most fundamental insight: the Buddha is you. That is, each and every human being contains the inherent capacity to be a Buddha, an ancient Indian word meaning "enlightened one," or one who is awakened to the eternal and unchanging truth of life.
By tapping into this vast inner potential, our Buddha nature, we find unlimited resources of wisdom, courage and compassion. Instead of avoiding or fearing our problems, we learn to confront them with joyful vigor, confident in our ability to surmount whatever life throws in our path. This latent potential could be likened to a rosebush in winter — the flowers are dormant even though we know that the bush contains the potential to bloom.
But on a day-to-day basis, this higher self, this enlightened state, is hidden from view; it is the proverbial "treasure too close to see." This fundamental aspect of the human predicament is illustrated in the Buddhist parable "The Gem in the Robe," as told in the Lotus Sutra. It is the story of a poor man who visits a wealthy friend:
The house was a very prosperous one
and [the poor man] was served many trays
The friend took a priceless jewel,
sewed it in the lining of the poor man's robe,
gave it without a word and then went away,
and the man, being asleep, knew nothing of it.
After the man had gotten up,
he journeyed here and there to other countries,
seeking food and clothing to keep himself alive,
finding it very difficult to provide for his livelihood.
He made do with what little he could get
and never hoped for anything finer,
unaware that in the lining of his robe
he had a priceless jewel.
Later the close friend who had given him the jewel
happened to meet the poor man
and after sharply rebuking him,
showed him the jewel sewed in the robe.
When the poor man saw the jewel,
his heart was filled with great joy,
for he was rich, possessed of wealth and goods
sufficient to satisfy the five desires.
We are like that man.
This parable depicts the blindness of human beings to the preciousness of their lives and the fundamental life-condition of Buddhahood. The purpose of this book is to help you discover this stunning jewel within and polish it till it shines brightly, illuminating not just your life but the lives of those around you. For Buddhism teaches that one's own awakening (or transformation) also has an immediate and far-reaching effect on his or her family, friends and society. This is a key point. When we reflect on the lessons of the twentieth century, stained by bloodshed and suffering, we must acknowledge that efforts to reform and restructure the institutions of society, to truly deepen human happiness, have come up short. Buddhism stresses inner, personal transformation as the way to promote lasting, sustainable resolutions to world problems.
So what does it mean to be a Buddha? The word Buddha was a common noun used in India during the lifetime of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. This is an important point in the sense that enlightenment is not regarded as the exclusive province of one individual. The Buddhist sutras talk of the existence of Buddhas other than Shakyamuni. In a sense, then, Buddhism comprises not only the teaching of the Buddha but also the teaching that enables all people to become Buddhas.
The Life of the Buddha
Unlike the Western religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Buddhism makes no claim of divine revelation. Instead, it is the teaching of a single human being who, through his own efforts, awoke to the law of life within himself. He was a man who wrote nothing down and about whom we know very little — but what is known has become the catalyst for changing millions of lives.
The historical Buddha, whose given name was Siddhartha (One Who Has Achieved His Goal) and family name was Gautama (Best Cow), was born in Northern India approximately 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. Opinions differ as to the actual date, but modern research tends to place the Buddha's birth in either the sixth or fifth century b.c.e. The timing, while not exact, remains significant. As the German philosopher Karl Jaspers has noted, Siddhartha was born at approximately the same time as Socrates in Greece, Confucius in China and Isaiah in the Judaic world. The simultaneous appearance of these great men, according to Jaspers, marked the dawn of spiritual civilization.
Siddhartha's father was the ruler of the Shakya clan, a small tribe located near the border of Nepal, hence the Buddha came to be known as Shakyamuni (Sage of the Shakyas). Since the written record is scant, the details of his early life are sketchy. We know that Siddhartha was born a prince and lived in affluence. And we know that he was endowed with keen intelligence and an introspective nature. As a young man, he took a wife, Yashodhara, who bore him a son, Rahula. Eventually he forsook his wealthy, privileged existence to pursue a path of wisdom and self-knowledge. What drove him to leave the luxury of home and the security of family is expressed in the legend of the four meetings.
The young prince is said to have left his palace in Kapilavastu on four different occasions. Exiting from the eastern gate, he encountered a man bent and shriveled with age. Leaving through the southern gate, he saw a sick person. On a third outing, emerging from the western gate, he saw a corpse. Finally, going out through the northern gate, he came upon a religious ascetic. The old man, the sick person and the corpse represent the problems of old age, sickness and death. Together with birth (or living itself), these conditions are called the "four sufferings" — the fundamental problems of human existence. Shakyamuni's motive in abandoning his princely status for an ascetic life was nothing less than to discover how to overcome the four sufferings.
In the manner of ancient Indian arhats, or holy men, who wandered the countryside in quest of ultimate truth, Siddhartha began his journey. We know that the path was arduous and filled with physical and mental challenges. He first traveled south and entered Rajagriha, capital of the kingdom of Magadha, where he practiced under the teacher Alara Kalama, who, through meditation, was said to have attained "the realm where nothing exists." Quickly attaining the same stage, Siddhartha found his questions unresolved. He turned to another sage, Uddaka Ramaputta, who had attained "the realm where there is neither thought nor no thought." Mastering this meditation as well, Siddhartha still had not found answers to his deepest questions.
As Daisaku Ikeda, one of the foremost modern interpreters of Buddhism, has written in The Living Buddha: "For yoga masters like Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, yoga practice had become an end in itself. ... Both yoga and Zen meditation are excellent practices developed by Asian philosophy and religion, but, as Shakyamuni made clear, they should be em ployed as methods for attaining an understanding of the ultimate truth, not looked upon as ends in themselves."
Siddhartha then embarked on a series of ascetic practices, including temporary suspension of breathing, fasting and mind control. After several years of tormenting his body almost to the point of death, he finally abandoned the rigorous ascetic pursuits that had debilitated him and proceeded to meditate under a pipal, a type of fig tree (later named the bodhi tree) near Gaya. Eventually, around the age of thirty, he attained enlightenment and became a Buddha.
The Buddha's Enlightenment
It is impossible to know exactly what the Buddha realized beneath that tree. But based on his many teachings, which, like Homer's Odyssey, were first orally transmitted by his followers, we know that sitting under the pipal tree he attempted to reach beyond ordinary consciousness to a place where he perceived himself as one with the life of the universe.
It has been recorded that in the early stages of his meditation he was still bound by the distinction between subject (himself) and object (exterior world). He was aware of his own consciousness being surrounded by a wall — the boundary of his body as well as the environment outside of himself. Finally, according to Daisaku Ikeda in The Living Buddha:
Shakyamuni had a clear vision of his own life in all its manifestations in time. According to the doctrine of transmigration, which had from early times been expounded in Brahmanism, the life of a human being is by no means something limited to the present. Shakyamuni, meditating under the Bodhi tree, clearly recollected all his previous existences one by one, and perceived that his present existence was part of the unbroken chain of birth, death, and rebirth that had been continuing through incalculable eons in the past.
This was not something that came to him as a kind of intuition, nor did he perceive it as a concept or idea. It was a clear and real recollection — not unlike, though on a very different plane from, the events deeply buried within the recesses of our mind that we suddenly remember when we are in a state of extreme tension or concentration.
He understood the true aspect of reality as "impermanence." So what does this mean?
All things, all phenomena are undergoing constant change. Life, nature and society never cease to change for even a single moment. It looks as if the desk you are sitting at or the book you hold in your hands or the building you live in are solidly constructed. But they will all crumble someday. Buddhism clearly explains that suffering emerges in our hearts because we forget the principle of impermanence and believe that what we possess will last forever.
Suppose you have a good-looking girlfriend or boyfriend. Do you spend a lot of time wondering what she or he will look like in thirty or forty years? Of course not. It is human nature to feel that health and youth will last forever. Similarly, there are few wealthy people who imagine that their money could someday be gone. There is nothing wrong with people thinking this way. Nevertheless, we suffer because we have such notions. You may want to keep your sweetheart young and beautiful forever and may make intensive efforts toward making love last. Still, if and when the time comes to depart from your loved one, you will feel the deepest pain. Because people want to accumulate wealth, some will go so far as to struggle against others; and if they lose that wealth, they must taste the bitter fruit of suffering. Even the attachment to life itself entails suffering, because we fear death. Buddhism teaches us to recognize these cycles of impermanence and have the courage to accept them.
In addition to his understanding of impermanence, the interrelatedness of all things is said to have unfolded in Shakyamuni's awakened mind. The universe and everything in it are in flux, arising and ceasing, appearing and disappearing, in an unending cycle of change conditioned by the law of causation. All things are subject to the law of cause and effect, and consequently nothing can exist independently of other things. This Buddhistic concept of causation is also known as "dependent origination." Shakyamuni awakened to the eternal law of life that permeates the universe, the mystic aspect of life in which all things in the universe interrelate and influence one another in an unending cycle of birth and death.
The substance of Shakyamuni's awakening is explained in the concept of the Four Noble Truths, which explains that (1) all existence is suffering; (2) suffering is caused by selfish craving; (3) the eradication of selfish craving brings about the cessation of suffering and enables one to attain nirvana; and (4) there is a path by which this eradication can be achieved, namely, the discipline of the eightfold path. Here we can see the earliest indications that the process of achieving absolute happiness emancipated from the sufferings of life is a path or journey.
Dispelling ignorance and establishing a correct view are the centerpiece of Buddhist practice. They are also the motivation that initiated a three-thousand-year search — beginning with Shakyamuni himself — to elucidate the vehicle (or method) that would carry a Buddhist practitioner along the path to the cessation of suffering and the attainment of absolute happiness. All of the various Buddhist schools and practices have developed in an effort to create such a vehicle. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Buddha in Your Mirror by Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin, Ted Morino. Copyright © 2001 SGI-USA. Excerpted by permission of Middleway Press.
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