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Awake In the Now – Lions Roar

“Buddha” means “the awakened one.” Karen Maezen Miller on what it’s the Buddha awoke from—and how one can get up, too.

Seated Maitreya Buddha courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art; Illustration © Julietarts /

In a shadowy zendo as day falls into night time, a single voice pierces the silence with the thunderous phrases of the night gatha:

Let me respectfully remind you,
Life and demise are of supreme significance.
Time swiftly passes by and alternative is misplaced.
Each of us ought to attempt to awaken. Awaken!
Take heed. Do not squander your life.

Hearing this pressing reminder late in a day of observe when our heads are nodding towards slumber, we’re at least slightly extra awake than we’d have been a second earlier than. Waking up is the final purpose of Buddhism, however what does it imply to be awake? How, when, and the place can we get up? These are vital questions as a result of they lead us again to observe, the place we will get up and see for ourselves.

In a standard sense, we all know what it means to be awake. Simply put, we’re awake after we open our eyes. And we all know what dreaming is. We dream when our eyes are closed. But in Buddhism, waking up is extra delicate and profound than that.

Indeed, it’s referred to as seeing past seeing as a result of it transcends the topic–object duality with which we normally understand our world.

Not all of us aspire to achieve awakening, or an enlightenment expertise. There are many different bodily and psychological advantages to be present in meditation. But anybody at any stage of observe qualifies as a buddha in the strategy of waking up.

The floor of awakening is selfless compassion; as bodhisattvas we hear the cries of the world and weep without end. Yes, the whole lot is phantasm, and the whole lot issues to the human coronary heart.

Once we see ourselves as a buddha, we will see Shakyamuni’s story of awakening as our personal. Compelled by despair and craving, he got down to discover one thing. Or we’d say that he got down to see one thing: a method past the ache and pointlessness of life. Shakyamuni tried the whole lot. He deserted a lifetime of privilege and self-gratification. He studied with revered academics and endured excessive ascetic practices. He wandered weak and ravenous in the wilderness till his physique almost wasted away. Nothing he tried introduced him to realization, so he stopped punishing himself. He sat down below a tree and resolved to remain put till he clearly noticed the supply of his struggling and easy methods to put an finish to it.

Sitting down doesn’t, in itself, remedy your issues. Anyone who’s ever tried to meditate for greater than a minute is aware of {that a} battle ensues. It’s a battle inside your personal thoughts—a maelstrom of ideas, sensations, ruminations, beliefs, and judgments.

By clinging to this ever-altering thought-stream, and extra importantly, by carrying it round in the cluttered bucket of our heads, we assemble the false id we name the “self.” (There actually isn’t a everlasting self, not less than not one you possibly can acquire in a bucket and carry round.)

In the story of Buddha, the battle is portrayed as an epic battle of excellent versus evil, with the demon Mara tempting Shakyamuni’s wishes for bodily consolation, sensory pleasure, safety, and escape. These, too, are delusions, they usually perpetuate the delusional sense of separation from the world round us.

Shakyamuni prevailed by sheer desperation, sitting quick in a passing storm. Over many days and nights, his focus deepened, his thoughts cleared, and as his internal turmoil subsided, the sense of separation dropped. One morning when he lifted his gaze to the sky, the world he noticed was the identical, but completely different. It now not gave the impression to be on the exterior as a result of there was no sense of a separate self on the inside. His spontaneous utterance conveyed the surprise of getting woken as much as the world of oneness, the place everybody and the whole lot awoke with him: “I, the great earth, and all beings simultaneously attain the way!”

Later on, reuniting along with his buddies, they referred to as him Buddha, which suggests “one who is awake.” I like to check their encounter with the Buddha to what can occur while you run into somebody you haven’t seen for some time. They appear happier, more healthy, lighter, and brighter. It’s apparent that one thing about them is completely different, however you possibly can’t put your finger on it, so that you fumble round and say one thing like, “Did you get a new haircut?”

An internal transformation like awakening is seen with out fairly being seen. It exhibits up as unselfconsciousness, unpretentiousness, and complete presence. Waking up impacts the whole lot about an individual’s bearing: how they sit, stand, speak, stroll, and even simply mild a stick of incense.

Buddha (1904) by Odilon Redon

Dogen Zenji, a thirteenth-century Japanese Zen grasp, skilled enlightenment whereas sitting in a meditation corridor in the center of the night time. The man sitting subsequent to him fell asleep. Then the abbot walked by and shouted, “Studying Zen is dropping body and mind! What’s the use of single-minded sleeping?”

Upon listening to these phrases, Dogen’s thoughts emptied, and he awoke from the phantasm of separation. He went to the abbot’s quarters and supplied incense. Without even questioning him, the instructor authorized his realization. Dogen demurred; his realization, in spite of everything, may very well be short-term. The abbot agreed with him! Everything is impermanent and continually altering, so drop no matter simply occurred. To be awake is to be awake in the now.

The annals of Zen are rife with tales of instantaneous awakenings, and we will’t make a lot sense of them. They aren’t defined. There isn’t a components. But we will discover waking up in our personal observe by turning into conscious of the motion of our discriminating consciousness, the selfish thoughts.

How do you inform the distinction between somebody who’s absorbed in their very own ideas and somebody absorbed in the now? Someone who’s sleepwalking and somebody who’s utterly current? By wanting and listening, it’s straightforward to see when somebody is distracted, preoccupied, or unaware. In my expertise, the gaze is telltale. You can turn out to be conscious of this throughout meditation or face-to-face dialog. When the eyes roll up as if into our heads, we’re in summary thought. If the gaze drifts backward and forward, we could also be misplaced in the previous or fantasizing about the future. But eyes straight forward, centered solely on what is true in entrance of us, we’re awake in the now, freed from our conditioned pondering. What occurs subsequent? You don’t know, however possibly you’ll be awake sufficient to see.

“Your whole problem is that you think you know,” my instructor as soon as mentioned to me. He could have mentioned it 100 occasions till I lastly heard it. Every drawback now we have is as a result of we predict we all know. We flip our previous experiences into future expectations. We cling to emotional storylines that distort our actuality. We accumulate judgments, opinions, and biases that warp our views of individuals and issues. The drawback is that every one this psychological junk will get in the method of seeing something in any respect.

This can be true of written teachings, which we wish to learn, retain, and regurgitate. The dharma merely is, and irrespective of how arduous we attempt, we will’t comprehend it by mental understanding, which is inherently dualistic.

In one traditional koan, a scholar is strolling alongside a instructor, a state of affairs by which you may suppose it’s pure to debate the dharma. The scholar, somewhat enamored with an previous saying, repeats it for the instructor: “Heaven and earth are of the same root. All things and I are of one substance.”

So, the scholar has given an mental description of awakening, the state of oneness, however he’s not awake. Keen to free the fellow from his confinement, the instructor responds by pointing to a close-by flower. “Nowadays people see this flower as if they were in a dream.” Remote, distracted, half-blind. Seeing a flower, they suppose, “I am looking at a flower,” but that doesn’t attain the complete of it. They’re merely giving a reputation to the separation.

When I offered my reply to this koan, I used to be fairly assured I’d conveyed the distinction between dreaming and waking up. Then my instructor held his arms vast and mentioned, “This too is a dream.” It blew my thoughts. I assumed I’d discovered that goals have been inside our head and actuality was exterior our head, that what you dreamed was unreal and what you noticed was actual, however that’s dualistic! Material types are illusory as nicely. They’re psychological projections as empty and impermanent as the whole lot else. Where does that depart these of us nonetheless snarled in phrases?

It leaves us proper the place we’re. Just scent the flower. How difficult is that?

After his enlightenment Buddha nonetheless walked on muddy floor. He was a human being on earth, doing human issues and feeling human emotions. Ignoring nothing, avoiding nothing, resisting nothing. We have to recollect this often, or we return into our judging thoughts, pondering that being a buddha means rising above the grit and dirt of on a regular basis life, a god—and if not a god, an automaton, disengaged from the impermanence of actual life.

If the whole lot is an phantasm, then nothing issues, you may motive. But that proves the limits of deductive reasoning. Try making use of the mental understanding of buddhadharma to actual loss, ache, grief, or trauma in your life.

Marpa was a Tibetan meditation grasp who taught his college students that the whole lot was an phantasm. One day his disciples discovered him weeping over the physique of his son, who had died in a sudden accident. The nice instructor was collapsed in grief.

His disciples have been genuinely perplexed. “If everything is an illusion, why are you carrying on like this?” they requested. Was their instructor a phony and his educating a lie?

Marpa answered them, “Everything is an illusion, and this is the greatest illusion of all.” His darling son had been alive one second, useless and gone the subsequent. How else ought to he reply? His loss was actual, and his tears have been moist.

The floor of awakening is selfless compassion; as bodhisattvas we hear the cries of the world and weep without end. Yes, the whole lot is phantasm, and the whole lot issues to the human coronary heart.

There’s a line from the Amitabha Sutra that goes, “Streams and birds, trees and woods, all recite the name of the Buddha.”

When we actually hearken to the educating, we’re pointed on to the place of our awakening. Then once more, it could actually take a very long time earlier than we hear.

A silent zendo is flush with bells, gongs, drumbeats, chimes, clacks, and the occasional whack of the kyosaku, or “waking stick,” which delivers a fast smack on the shoulders of a sitter to alleviate drowsiness or muscle stress. All this percussion can sound like the vestiges of centuries previous, atmospherics that we will do with out. In the zendo the place I sit, the bell could also be a siren; the drumbeat, a automobile radio; and the chimes, an ice cream truck, noises that may simply register as annoying distractions.

If you hear the sounds as coming from exterior of you, you choose them, making a separation and lacking the level. The sutra doesn’t choose: the whole lot recites the identify of the Buddha, the woke up one. Who is that one? Who hears, who sees, who sits, who breathes? Who else can or not it’s?

In a shadowy zendo as day falls into night time, a single voice pierces the silence, and with it, the veil of phantasm between inside and out of doors, self and different:

Take heed. Do not squander your life.


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