The Buddha, Awake and Alive
Rev. Paul D. Daniel, Minister
While the Buddha proceeded Jesus by more than 600 years, they developed similar outlooks on life and faith. If the mythic stories are to be believe, Jesus visited India and was exposed to both Hinduism and Buddhism in the years preceding his ministry.
While both were destined for greatness, the Buddha rejected his great wealth and went off to discover, to his great dismay, both grinding poverty and death. Jesus however was born into those daily realities. They shared a path to wisdom was through mindfulness, prayer, contemplation into an inner journey to their central core, to love, to God if you will. They became compassionate witness to the world of pain and suffering around them, taking into themselves the world’s pain and returned infinite compassion and boundless love embodied in the reassurance of resurrection and hope.
When the Buddha was asked, “What are you, a God, an angel and saint”, he answered no to each question. They persisted, and he replied enigmatically, “I am awake” as Jesus was to the duel reality of living in the face of death. Both intuitively understood that suffering could be turned to joy through sacred living, following the Dharma as Buddha put it (to salvation and Nirvana). Their lived modeled a better way of living.
The Buddha was known as “the one who brings much good, the one who knows, the enlightened one in Sanskrit. The theologian Houston Smith wrote, “while the rest of the world exists in the womb of sleep dreaming a dream known as the waking state of human life, one of their number roused themselves”. This unique man was born in Nepal. He shook off the daze, the doze of the waking sleep, the dream-like vagaries of ordinary awareness. How many of us zombie like go through our daily routines, numbed by the mundane tasks of our lives and cease to feel or think about who we are and the meaning of our lives. Are we sleep walking through our lives, unaware of our surroundings, even as something as vital as our breathing. Are we so disconnected that we are no longer aware of what it means to be fully human, fully alive, fully awake”?
We can take from both sages how to become fully awake and human and even how to transcend the pain and suffering we must endure to wake to the infinite joy and boundless love of being fully alive. We can ascend to the status of a Bodhisattva, the Hindu for reaching infinite compassion and even forgo Nirvana to help those less evolved to free other from suffering and moving them into a higher stage of enlightenment, awakening.
Life’s suffering distresses the Buddha greatly and he resolved while meditating under that Bodhi tree to find the path to ending human suffering. Great legends arose on his birth, predicting he would become a great king and conqueror, but he confounded his father’s wishes and forsook the world and it’s many pleasures and riches to strive like the later Jesus to become a redeemer of souls. The story of the ‘Four Passing Sights”, tells of the young prince’s ride out of the castle and saw an old decrepit man, broken toothed, gray haired man leading on a staff and shaking with age was not cleared away by the advanced guard. On that day Siddhartha learned the fact of old age. Although the king extended the guard, on a second ride the young prince saw a body racked with disease, lying by the roadside, and on a third journey encountered a corpse. Finally, on a fourth occasion he saw a monk with shaven head, ochre robe, and a begging bowl and on that day knew poverty and the life of withdrawal from the world.” The Kings dreams were thus left in shambles.
While this story is wrapped in myth it embodies an important truth. The Buddha’s teachings show unmistakably that it was the bodies intimate connection to disease, decrepitude, and death that made for human despair of finding fulfillment on a physical plane. The Buddha pondered if life is subject to suffering, age and death; then where is the realm of life where there is neither aging or death.
Those gathered here today understand on some level that emotional and physical suffering is a normal part of life and like the Buddha we fit hard at times not to sink into despair. The Buddha however teaches us that the way out of feeling helpless is to return home to the spiritual universe within…and to give up attachments to things and outcomes.
I invite you to think about your own lives, jobs, your participation in this fellowship and imagine what it would feel like to detach from the results of our labor. Not the effort but the result! Could we detach from our ego which is intimately the notion of success or failure? Would we work more freely, be less stressed, open to different ways of engagement with the problems that confront us, or the co-worker who annoys the hell out of you. Jesus would have admonished us to love our enemy as ourselves, and the Buddha would tell us detach from the person who so distracts us.
Faced with that challenge the Buddha became an ascetic. While I am not urging that extreme adaptation for us I am suggesting we can take back our power from others. He studied and meditated on how one could find contentment through detachment to worldly things and outcomes. After many years of harsh privation, he came to a revelation, described by Hara Ake gar su, “when my life opens up very clearly, I can’t help, from depth of my heart, wanting to bow, (to surrender, to accept). When the mind wats to enemies and friends, demons and Gods, evils and Buddhahood, good friends and bad people…when that feeling comes tumbling out of my deep life, then I am already master of the whole world. I control the entire world, I become friends with all humans and other beings. I am in a UU way, one with the web of existence.
These Buddha teachings are easier to espouse then accomplish. Gautama knew that full well, but persisted in striving to achieve Nirvana, the ultimate stage of reality, complete enlightenment, free of all suffering caused by any attachments to ideas and concepts. To that end he sat under that Bo tree until the “Interconnected Four Noble Truths” revealed themselves.
UU Buddhist minister James Ford writes, “The Buddha opened his mouth and proclaimed, “I and all sentient beings of the great earth have in the same moment attained the way through boundless compassion that was embodied in the Four Noble Truths.
The Buddha’s great awakening had arrived. In that moment he understood with ultimate clarity, the first of the Four Noble Truths…human life is filled with dissatisfaction, suffering, pain, existential dislocation and anguish which can hot be escaped or ignored.” The hope he offered all suffering can end by following this path to enlightenment.
The Second truth is that suffering is ego driven, a thirsting after permanence in a life that impermanent. We become attached to our conscious existence and the “things” we possess, the people we love forgetting that all things pass away and die. When that happens the ego is bruised, hurt, crushed and consumed by anxiety.
The Third Noble Truth…. It is in the realization that our ego is insubstantial; and will also pass away. When that happen we will finally be free of suffering. When we can fully accept our emptiness, impermanence, we can then live with joy. We can celebrate the gift of human existence that is precious because of it transitory nature. These principles acknowledge that all things are connected and that each an individual thing is the source of the entire universe. The existence of our world is completely dependent on ever other sentient being and thing. The Buddha learned that all things within the emptiness are connected, all joined and equal the words of our First Principle, the inherent worth and dignity of all beings and things. Each thing matters to our own existence. Accepting that and we begin to know our place in the universal scheme of things. Accepting that we are equally important as all other things for the existence of the universe can be the road to joy and happiness, the uniting of our first and seventh principle.
The Fourth Noble Truth outlines a middle way between self-indulgence and extreme asceticism. In Ford’s words this truth presents the vehicle to enlightenment and its realization pf suffering, its causes, and it cession. It is encapsulated as the Eight Fold Noble Path, comprised of right view, thought speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and right meditation. This is stuff for another sermon.
This lesson ends now in incompleteness as do most things except death. When the Buddha died after a long prophet hood of over forty he was still teaching with his final breath…on how to die. He warned against the ego, reminding us that each of us have and inherited worth and dignity, encapsulated centuries later in our First Principle. He called for each of us to be self-aware and to act in a sacred manner. These were his final instructions, “Be your own lamp, be your own refuge…hold firm to the truth as a lamp and a refuge and do not look for refuge to anything besides yourselves. A monk becomes his own lamp by continually looking on his body, feelings, perceptions, moods, and ideas in such a manner that he conquerors the cravings and depressions of ordinary persons and is always diligent, self-possessed and collected in mind. Since all things are impermanent, we should not be attached to anything, but should instead exert ourselves diligently to avoid evil, do only good and purify our minds.
Whoever among these monks does this, either now or when I am dead, if he is anxious to learn, will reach the summit, ‘fully awake’, alive and connected to all that is. It is only then that humanity will come to truly under4stand and accept the paradox that life is empty (of ego) yet is full of boundless love and joy overflowing.
We are all in the process of becoming the Buddha.
May it be so!