Wednesday, March 21, 2007

He Turned His Awareness to What Was Before Him

"After crossing his legs and adjusting his body, he turned his awareness to what was before him." (Pine, 2001. Pg. 1)

After the Buddha had finished eating his meal, he sat on the appointed seat to begin his teaching to the full assembly of bhikshus and fearless bodhisattvas. Just like the first part of the first chapter I discussed here, this sentence of the Diamond Sutra is full of meaning. Before beginning his teaching, the Buddha sat cross-legged on his seat and focused simply on that which was before him. Such mental composition is a model for our actions.

The Buddha was about to convey that which is now considered to be his principal exposition of emptiness. One might say that his next act subsequent to sitting down was going to be one of the most important of his life (given the vital importance of emptiness in the Buddhist tradition). Notice that he did not fret, did not roll his mental reel to practice his speech, did not look about him haphazardly. Rather, he "turned his awareness to what was before him." This is a wonderful teaching. No matter what we are about to do, even if it is potentially the most important thing in our lives, we can do no better than to bring our attention to the present moment--in time and place--and ground our thoughts, words, and actions on this foundation.

Sometimes it is easier to remember to bring our practice to such momentous occasions than to the everyday, seemingly unimportant actions such as shopping for groceries or talking to our spouse. But if it is important to turn our awareness to what is before us prior to a very important act, it is doubly so for our common actions. Such actions provide us many more opportunities to bring our mindfulness to bear on all aspects of our lives. And if we are capable of attending to the most meaningless action with the full force of our attention, imagine how much more powerful such attention will be when applied to critical events.