Sunday, March 18, 2007

Our Life is the Life of a Buddha

A synopsis of part of chapter 1 of the Diamond Sutra:
While dwelling outside the city of Shravasti, as per his usual routine, the Buddha put on his outer robe, took up his begging bowl, and entered the city. After begging for food, and eating the city-dwellers' offerings of rice, he returned to his forest home. He put away his bowl and his outermost robe, washed his feet, and arranged himself on his cushion to begin his teaching.

In the Buddha's time, monks routinely obtained their meals by begging for food from householders (non-monastics). This practice served several beneficial purposes. For monastics, this practice taught them humility. Additionally, they learned to be thankful for the food they received, and it gave them the opportunity to practice non-attachment, as they learned to appreciate whatever food was given them. Begging for meals benefited the layperson as well, who was given the opportunity to practice generosity.

At first glance, this initial chapter of the Diamond Sutra might seem to be just setting the stage for the real teaching to come. But if we view it in that way, we miss the foremost lesson of this sutra. What actions do we see the Buddha performing in this opening chapter? He gets dressed, he obtains food, he eats, he puts his possessions away after returning home, and he washes. In other words, the daily actions of a Buddha do not differ from the daily actions of any one of us!

In the Ten Oxherding Pictures, created during the Sung Dynasty (1126 - 1279) in China as a depiction of the Buddhist path, the first picture is of a person searching for the ox. He walks down a path, and the ox is nowhere to be seen. In the second through ninth pictures, he locates, pursues, struggles with, tames, and eventually rides the ox. The final picture shows the ox herder walking down a path, the ox nowhere to be seen. The first and the last pictures convey the same basic image--the same teaching as that of the first chapter of the Diamond Sutra.

Therefore, while engaging in our daily practice, we need to realize that our true nature is that of a buddha. After attaining Awakening, it is not as if we suddenly don't have to eat or wash or walk. On the contrary, our external responsibilities and actions remain the same. The difference is in the mind guiding the actions. Instead of entering the city and becoming distracted by its many charms, we notice and appreciate the wonders of the city, and avoid attaching to them. Instead of eating our meal, distracted to the point of barely even tasting the wonderful flavors of the food, we eat in mindfulness, thankful for the opportunity to eat this meal, even while engaging our companions socially. Instead of walking with our minds bouncing between current events, the way we handled a meeting with our boss, and what we plan on doing later, we walk with a steady mind, applying it toward a purposefully chosen end.


Emily Lilly said...

Beautiful, Mike. How does the old saying go? "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." Something like that...

Emily Lilly said...

By the way, this comment and the one before it were left by Jeff Lilly. "Emily Lilly" is my wife's name. Her name is on our blogger account now. :-)

Mike said...

Thanks Jeff. That old saying carries much more wisdom than is apparent on the surface. Thanks for reminding me of it.

Ricky said...

Thank you. Deeply. What you wrote gave a form (words) to many clarifying and enlightening Truths.

Thank you.

Mike said...

Thank you for reading and commenting, Ricky. I'm glad you enjoyed this essay.